Science mistaken to dismiss animal consciousness?
|July 8, 2013||Posted by News under Animal minds, News|
Further to “Cockatoo cracks lock unassisted” and Vince Torley’s skeptical response, “How clever is that cockatoo?”, followed by “Bird Brains: An ID definition of intelligence”, a recent article in Aeon Magazine provides some background to questions re animal intelligence:
By emphasising the kinship between animals and human beings, Darwinian taxonomy could have opened the door to thinking about the consciousness of individual animals. But, instead, the opposite happened. Even as evolution’s mechanics were accepted and expanded, the views of Darwin and Romanes on individual animal consciousness were rejected, consigned to cautionary tales of how even the most brilliant scientists can get things wrong. By the 1940s, when the great systematist Ernst Mayr settled on a fuzzy but useful standard definition of a species — as a population with a common reproductive lineage that could interbreed — the possibility of animal consciousness and individuality, so evident to anyone with a pet dog or cat, was largely eliminated from mainstream science. We could accept our animal bodies, and classify ourselves on that basis, yet had to avoid the implication that animals might have human-like minds.
A new age of machines and industry spawned the behaviourism of the psychologist B F Skinner who, echoing Aristotle and Descartes, proposed that animals were nothing but conduits of stimulus and response (as were humans). Seeming evidence of higher thought was an illusion produced by some simpler mechanism. It’s true that behaviourism helped to establish protocols by which animal cognition could eventually be studied in rigorous, scientifically acceptable fashion. But the price was steep: decades would pass before scientists began to allow that some animals might be more than biological automata.
Indeed, author Brandon Keim argues for consciousness in animals.
Unfortunately, all such claims tend to become anthropomorphic (a risk the author prefers to the alternative). The consciousness of a dog or cockatoo is probably not at all like human consciousness. We need to reread Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?”