The Complexity of the Animal Mind
Do animals think? This question has been debated for centuries and no clear answer has yet to be decided. By looking at television, comic books, and children’s literature it would seem that animals do think and act intelligently. The fictional characters are given human movements, behavior, and language. In contrast, science, philosophy, and many other academic fields do not believe animals to think, feel, or behave intelligently. Animals are merely machines that have neither feelings nor conscious thought (Schultz & Schultz, 2008). René Descartes first expressed the view of animals as machines in the early 1600s. It was not until Charles Darwin speculated about animal mental experience in his book The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and the Animals (1872) that science and philosophy explored the possibility that animals were more than machines. George Romanes really initiated this scientific exploration of animals in his books, Animal Intelligence (1882) and Mental Evolution in Animals (1884), when he analyzed the intellectual abilities of different animals and then compared them with the abilities of humans. Since Romanes, the field of animal intelligence experienced several approach changes—Structuralism, Functionalism, and Behaviorism. Ristau (1983) believes that the current approach uses mostly behaviorist methods, but asks different questions. These questions provide evidence that animals are more than a mindless box behaving through innate mechanisms. Ristau (1983; as discussed in Goldman & Hoage, 1986) presents one of the questions currently asked by researchers, “Why might we think that animals think?” For one, similarities between humans and other animals lead us to believe animals think. “Many examples of specie similarities, including humans, are provided by the history of evolution” (Goldman & Hoage, 1986). There are anatomical and behavioral similarities according to Ristau (1983). Anatomical similarities include body symmetry and the respiratory system. Behavioral similarities include the formation of social groups and communication within the social groups. If animals are assumed to not be thinking, then “what is it that is so distinctly different about our nervous system that precludes consciousness in other species?” (Ristau, 1983).
Second, animals face problems in which thinking is beneficial. Animals need to escape from predators and if there is no thought process, then how do they know to run away or hide? Also, the predators have to hunt their prey, either alone or in cooperative groups. A study done by Berg, Cooper, Holekamp, and Smale (1997) found that hyenas form into hunting groups of 11 members and attack larger animals. The hyenas rush a group of animals—such as zebras, buffaloes, or giraffes—and then stop to observe the weakest and slowest one. The chase and the kill occur after the weakest prey is spotted. The ability to think and reason is quite useful, and necessary, in those situations. Ristau (1983; as discussed in Goldman & Hoage, 1986) also poses the question, “Does thinking require language?” If thinking requires language, similar to human language, then animals do not think. But, if thinking can be done without words, then it is possible for thinking to occur in animals. Malcolm (1973) expressed the belief that “the relationship between language and thought must be so close that it is really senseless to conjecture that people may not have thoughts, and also really senseless to conjecture that animals may have thoughts.” Others have dissented from Malcolm and express the belief that thought is applicable to any mental experience, or “the ability to represent not only objects and events that are occurring here and now but also ones remote in space and time, a property known as displacement” (Pylyshyn, 1978).
A study by Gardner and Gardner (1978) used a baby chimpanzee, Washoe, in order to test...
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