An article in Discover magazine reports on some scientists willing to take an open-minded approach to these ideas. These scientists are making discoveries about insects' brains.
"Many people would pooh-pooh the notion of insects having brains that are in any way comparable to those of primates. But one has to think of the principles underlying how you put a brain together, and those principles are likely to be universal."Going against the flow of established thought, another scientist says,
"We have literally no idea at what level of brain complexity consciousness stops. Most people say, 'For heaven's sake, a bug isn't conscious.' But how do we know? We're not sure anymore. I don't kill bugs needlessly anymore."The first sentence in that quote is worded a bit awkwardly. He means that as he looks at smaller and smaller brains in studying insects, he can't point to one level and say, this animal cannot be conscious.
A lot of the article is not for the squeamish, and it avoids raising the question of ethics of doing these experiments on conscious animals. But this is how scientists study brain function, and they are finding great similarities between insect brains and human brains.
"Probably what consciousness requires is a sufficiently complicated system with massive feedback. Insects have that. If you look at the mushroom bodies [a part of the cockroach's brain], they're massively parallel and have feedback."I have an anecdote that, to me, demonstrates the similarities between the way humans think and the way insects think. One Spring, I had to knock down a wasp's nest--I had no choice, it had been started under one of the folds of our pool's winter cover. Soon after I did this, the wasp returned. He went immediately to the post where the nest had been. Not finding it, he went to neighboring posts on the pool wall, first to the right, then to the left. Still unsuccessful, he backed up to get a view of the entire pool, then flew to the post where the nest had been. Since this didn't work, he backed up further to get a view of the entire yard, and again returned to the post. Failing again, he flew off out of sight, in the direction he had come from originally, presumably to get a bearing on whether he had the right yard. And then he flew straight in to the original post. Finally, he realized something had happened to the nest and he gave up.
As I watched him, it struck me that this is exactly how a human would act if his car had been stolen from a parking lot.