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Are Insects Conscious?

Have you ever looked at a honeybee and wondered what its life is actually like? How do bees sense the world around them? What would your decision-making process be? Do bees feel?

Scientists and philosophers have theorized a lot about whether insects are conscious. And they're still thinking as they expand the field of consciousness research.

A Declaration of Consciousness

In 2012, for example, a group of neuroscientists released the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness. Part of what their declaration states is that insects and non‑human animals do have some brain structures and neural circuits very similar to those we know to be associated with human consciousness.

That declaration answers one of the above questions. If you were a bee, you would have neural circuits that are thought to support attentiveness and decision‑making.

What it doesn't answer is how much awareness of the world does a bee have. It's a really difficult question.

Life According To A Bee

Some scientists think insects have the capacity for subjective experience. For creatures that have a spinal column (vertebrates), an area in the midbrain creates a representation of the world from the animal's perspective. That part of the brain is responsible for subjective experience.

Vertebrates include mammals, birds, and fish. Insects, which are invertebrates, do not have a midbrain.

They do, however, have a structure in their brain thought to perform a similar function. Therefore, some scientists claim, the insect brain has the capacity for subjective experience.

Thank you to Armin Moczek of Indiana University's Biology department for reviewing this episode's script.

Sources And Further Reading:



  • Gorman, James. "Do Honeybees Feel? Scientists Are Entertaining the Idea." New York Times: Science. April 18, 2016. Accessed August 24, 2017.



  • Low, Phillip (multiple editors)."The Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness." Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge. July 7, 2012. Accessed August 24, 2017.



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