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What does an animal mind look like. Are they like us? Are they conscious beings with emotionally and mentally complex minds? Or are they primitive beings that act out of necessity? The following essay will analyze the many arguments that are floating around on animal minds look like. It will also, contrast non-human animals from humans in order to limit the scope of the essay. In both cases philosophic and scientific papers will be consulted in order to fully underscore popular arguments.
Animal minds are enigmatic. Humans look at the world from in certain constructs, and create language and meaning from these constructs. Other animals do this as well, but because they do it in such a foreign manner that it is hard to understand what it is they are thinking, or if they think at all. Because we live in different realities it is hard to imagine the reality of other human beings much less that of other species. Also we tend to be fascinated with defining are reality as the only reality, and thus if animals do not conform to these definitions such as love, beauty, or mathematics, than there brains are considered to be less than that of humans.
David Hume, who was considered a “ great skeptic who called into question causality, necessity, and even the existence of self” (Jamieson 1998) believed that animals were “endowed with reason” as well love, sympathy, passion, and communication. He goes on to conclude that animals have the same agency as humans. Hume is not alone in supposing that Animals are as emotional and psychologically complex as humans. There are many advocacy groups around the world like PETA that would support this believe. This is also true of some religions who see some animals as holy.
The problem with seeing animals as being in some ways equal to human is the implications that this might have for society. Our global society is one that is built upon the backs of animals. Mankind uses animals for food, transportation, clothing, and scientific testing. Animals are also killed, and driven off their homeland because human society deems that their needs supersede those of animals. The point is that it is easy and necessary for humanity to see animals as being less than humans. Otherwise the whole structure of what humanity stands for collapses.
Hume’s argument that animals possess reason comes from the idea “that humans and animals are both part of the natural order”(Jamieson 1998). From a philosophic standpoint, what that means is every being has agency. Look at an ecosystem: if you take away one of the pieces, the whole falls apart unable to support itself. Apply this to an animal, and it becomes irrelevant on whether or not their minds are complex, because they are necessary for the survival of all, and thus they are created with reason that allows them to fill a space in the natural order.
Most science, and philosophy would agree that animals have reason. How else can it be explained that they survive. They must understand an immense amount of material in order to function. For instance, they must know how to hunt, gather food, store food, mate, and take care of their offspring. The truth is that today most humans don’t even know how to do that much. Yet society often dismisses this intelligence and being primitive, but is it?
Structuralist and Post Structuralist Thought
Intelligence, like most human constructs is relative. Structuralist, and post- structuralist would all argue that there is no meaning, no truth, or beauty, and that reality is a construction of an individual (Barry 2009). For most human’s intelligence is a structure that involves, ones aptitude for understanding math, science, technology, art, and other components of human culture. Yet a structuralist would argue that intelligence is not even that important, for there is no center to reality, and so understanding reality through the human idea of intelligence is pointless (Barry).
If post-structuralists and structuralists are right than is there any consciousness at all. If we as humans cannot possible be awake to our own reality, than how can animals. That being said, who is to say that non human animals are not awake in reality in way that humans are not. Perhaps this is the biggest barrier in the separation between us. Maybe humans need to construct realities, and meanings, while animals don’t. In this case, understanding them, would become key in understanding our own selves.
What is interesting about structuralism, when applied to animals, is that it reminds us that humanity is not the authority on what is important. Are we not a little inferior in that we need to fill are lives with non essential diversions like shopping, eating more than we need, and traveling to feel that our lives our full. When by contrast, animals only focus on surviving, and furthering the existence of their species.
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The Houser and Marler Study
Still, some scientists persist in analyzing animals with human constructs. Colin Allen and Marc Hauser are to such philosophers who insist on doing so. In their paper Communication and Cognition: Is Information the Connection Allen and Hauser (1993) claim that communication is they key to “comparing animal minds” and that if one understand their communication, than understanding the wilderness of animal minds is just around the doorstep.
The type of communication that Hauser, and Allen seem most interested in is the very basic cause and affect of animal noises. They uses the Houser and Marler study on rhesus monkeys to point out that when these monkeys find food an acoustic exchange happens:
“Under experimental conditions, 45% of all individuals who found food announced their discoveries by producing food-associated calls whereas the remaining animals were silent. There were no notable differences between the individuals or experimental conditions which would explain the vocal behavior of the subjects tested. Females called more than males, but not all females called. Animals at the top of the dominance hierarchy did not call more than those at the bottom. Hungry animals called at higher rates than those who were relatively satiated, but level of hunger was not a good predictor of the probability of producing at least one food-associated call” (Allen and Hauser 1993).
Marler and Hauser come to the conclusion that while the rhesus monkey does communicate within its species, this is not indicative of their mental or emotional lives.
So far all the evidence that has been presented suggest that non-human animals act out of necessity, and perhaps even humans act out of pure necessity as well. Does love really even exist? Or is it a construct of society put in place to protect offspring, and encourage reproduction? Perhaps what scientists wish to see most desperately in other species is a validation of our own emotional complexity.
Truthfully though, animals and humans are complex, if at the very least just biologically complex. Theories of evolution suggest that species are constantly changing so as to better fit their environment. Supposedly man was once ape-like, but over thousands of years became what we are today. If this is biologically true, than perhaps it is also emotionally and mentally true. Perhaps over time non-human animals become more mentally and emotionally complex, and that right now most of them are at the same stage that humans were when they were ape-like.
Theories of evolution suggest that special identity is fluid. What this means is that the differences between man and non-animal may be very minor. If a pig’s heart can be used in a man or woman’s body, than who is to say that their brain, which fires in the same way a humans does, doesn’t create, emotions and experience consciousness. As was earlier mentioned, society wants to ignore this possibility, because who would want to eat an animal capable of love, sadness, betrayal, etc?
While there are many that would argue that animals experience consciousness, feel love, compassion, and are intellectually complex, there are just as many individuals who would argue that animals are machines. The question has to be asked: Why would a mother eat her offspring? Why would lemmings run off a cliff when their population grows to large? Why do females often eat their mates? Science believe the answer to all of these questions springs from that of necessity. Humans don’t naturally behave in such harsh ways, and if they do they are cast out by society. Furthermore most humans would take their own lives rather than that of their offspring. Which leads philosophers to believe that humans feel incredible pain and loss, while animals that think in terms of survival do not.
It could be argued that in the case of animals who eat their young, or attack the people who have cared for them for many years, that there exists no consciousness. Without provocation, the animal he had loved, and spent many years providing for attacked Roy Horn. How could a conscious animal do that?
Louis Boutan, one of the earliest zoologists, would argue that animals do not have consciousnesses. Instead they react out the need to fulfill their basic requirements for survival. To make this point Boutan presented a situation in which a magpie that had been taught to talk said hello to its mistress every time he saw her. According to Boutan, “its speech act was driven by the basic instinct of hunger and certainly not by the consciousness of recognizing its mistress. Hence the magpie acted much as dogs, horses or apes which were trained to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli using fear or greediness”(Thomas 2005). However, once again human standards were used to evaluate a non-human animal. It kind of makes one wonder how non-human animals would see humans.
Boutan went on to liken the “blackbird level” of language to “the sage at which a child learned to say rudimentary words such as mummy or daddy” (Thomas 2005). For Boutan this meant that animals and children “were on the same continuum, ” but while a child would grow into a conscious being, an animal would not. Inadvertently this means the non-human animal species could over a long period of time evolve into a species with a consciousness similar to mans’.
This essay is only supposed to cover the philosophic argumentation on animal minds, but it has bled into scientific conjecture. However, in this case the two are inextricable linked, for through science comes reason, and reason is what allows one to form cohesive thoughts. In all of the science that has been discussed, there have been certain scientific arguments that underline both the similarities and the differences between humans and non-humans.
Looking For the Sameness to Define Animal Intelligence
The truth is, if we focus on our differences than an argument can be made that animals do not experience consciousness and do not have mental lives, but lead lives like those of robots. Yet, if we focus on our similarities it is not hard to see the possibility of emotions, and mental complexity. It is a catch-22 because in both scenarios one has to choose the grounds on which to analyze the animal minds, and you can help but do that from our own special bias.
What philosophers and scientists are really looking for is sameness. According to Francis Raab this process of understanding is a vital part in how humans define everything. “ To verify assertions of on-and-the sameness short of continuous observation we look for repetition of many or all previously noted characteristics, or we may look for single identifying marks previously known to us (Raab 1965). Because animals are not humans it is not to judge them in this way, but we do. We look for the sameness, the part of them we see in ourselves in order to validate who they are.
A dog is a good example of animal in which this sameness is palpable. Dogs are obedient, seemingly affectionate, and loyal. Very rarely are they observed attacking their masters, or behaving violently to humans. For this reason humans love dogs, treat them like they are part of the family, and cry when they die. It is only because of the sameness though that humans feel that their pets are mentally and emotionally complex.
It should also be noted that this essay has grouped humans against non-humans. The animal kingdom is incredibly vast. It would be impossible in this paper to simply relegate all non-humans into the same category. Unless one is making the argument that all animals, human, and non-human have minds that work similarly.
Maybe it is only human nature that makes us want to believe that we as a species are not alone. Perhaps this is the only reason we see emotional and mental consciousness in animals. Yet at the same time we have to ignore the complexity we do see, otherwise our society would not be able to consume and exist the way it has since the beginning of its evolution.
Overall it seems like we will never know the answer both philosophically and scientifically on whether or not animals have minds that are similar to humans. More importantly it seems as if we will never be able to look past our human bias to what may be more incredible than intelligence and consciousness the way that humans define it. Either way the argument is both interesting, and may lead us to better understand reality, and ourselves as animals. For after all no matter what we are all animals in one way or another.