Do fish have con­scious­ness? Some seem to know who feeds them

The Guardian - G2 - - News -

Mary Finelli

Sci­en­tific tests have shown that fishes can re­mem­ber hu­man faces and dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from those of dozens of strangers. They can recog­nise other fishes, too, and some reef fishes (“cleaner fishes”) can dis­crim­i­nate be­tween hun­dreds and pos­si­bly thou­sands of them. Fishes demon­strate so­phis­ti­cated forms of learn­ing and to sur­vive in the wild they re­quire numer­ous cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties in or­der to per­form a va­ri­ety of be­hav­iours. As marine bi­ol­o­gist Cait New­port stated in a re­cent ar­ti­cle: “Even ba­sic tasks like find­ing food or mates, or es­cap­ing from preda­tors, can re­quire mem­ory and con­sid­er­able in­tel­li­gence.” There are fishes that co­op­er­a­tively hunt with other species, which re­quires per­cep­tion and plan­ning. They also hide from oth­ers, which, as ethol­o­gist Don­ald R Grif­fin ex­plained in his 1994 book An­i­mal Minds, demon­strates self­aware­ness. Ad­di­tion­ally, they are known to in­ten­tion­ally de­ceive oth­ers, in­di­cat­ing aware­ness of what oth­ers might think.


It’s easy to con­fuse con­scious­ness with in­tel­li­gent be­hav­iours.

I be­lieve that is be­cause we tend to be most aware of our own be­hav­iour when we have mo­ments of de­lib­er­a­tion and plan­ning or while rec­ol­lect­ing the past. How­ever, the ra­tio­nal as­pects of hu­man/an­i­mal be­hav­iour have been eas­i­est to repli­cate with­out con­scious­ness pop­ping up (that we are aware of) – this is what the com­put­ing in­dus­try is built on.

Peter Lowthian

We kept two gold­fish, un­til the day came when we found one life­less in the tank. His com­pan­ion of so many years was gen­tly nudg­ing him, try­ing to make him move. Peo­ple say if you are mak­ing a proper cup of tea you should keep the pot warm with a tea cosy. But if that’s cor­rect, wouldn’t it be even bet­ter to keep the tea re­ally warm by boil­ing it while it’s brew­ing?

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