Original Research - Special Collection: Challenging Building Blocks

Building blocks of consciousness: Revealing the shared, hidden depths of our biological heritage

Juri van den Heever, Chris Jones
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 76, No 1 | a6055 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v76i1.6055 | © 2020 Juri van den Heever, Chris Jones | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 April 2020 | Published: 20 November 2020

About the author(s)

Juri van den Heever, Faculty of Science, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Chris Jones, Department of Systematic Theology & Ecclesiology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


Human consciousness has been a hard problem for thousands of years and, in the course of time, variously interpreted and often too narrowly defined. As a result, the possibility of animal consciousness, sentience or even the possibility that animals can experience pain, received no, or very little, attention. Driven by the trope that animals lack the basic neural attributes to even experience pain, humans have seriously endangered the natural existence of untold multitudes of sentient organisms. However, humans are not the only conscious organisms on the planet, as suggested by a variety of research results, attesting to the fact that even lower vertebrates possess sentience and feel pain. Multiple research findings have now stressed the need for a phylogenetic approach to consciousness, which, in the long run, will have extensive theological implications. Succinctly put, these findings indicate that we live in a world of minds, and that only some of them are human.

Contribution: This article is part of a special collection that reflects fundamentally on the origin and evolution of the universe as well as what the future possibly might hold. It is based on historical thought and contemporary research. Different, conflicting sources are being interpreted, and the research approach is in line with the intersectional and interdisciplinary nature of this journal. We do not directly engage theology and religion, although the research and empirical data are underpinned by a moral imperative that cannot be avoided by theological and religious disciplines.


Animal consciousness; Sentience; Cognition; Awareness; Neural biology; Nociception


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Crossref Citations

1. Building blocks of imagination
Chris Jones, Juri van den Heever
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies  vol: 79  issue: 2  year: 2023  
doi: 10.4102/hts.v79i2.8925