The Brain and Mind discussion

Cognitive Science > Books on animal cognition/consciousness

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:27PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments I've been on a real 'Animal Consciousness' kick the last few months, reading a lot of the more recent work coming out by cognitive ethologists and other animal experts that makes an ever-strengthening case that non-human animals must experience some kind of consciousness. I'll recommend three of the best books I've read on this, and I'd love to get some recommendations/refutations from others:

Wild Minds, by Marc Hauser

The Cognitive Animal, edited by Bekoff, Allen and Burghardt

Animal Minds, Beyong Cognition to Consciousness. by Donald Griffin (2001 edition updated and reivised)

message 2: by Tracy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:28PM) (new)

Tracy | 5 comments How are you defining consciousness?

message 3: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:28PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments I'm not 'defining' consciousness, mostly because there is no clearly agreed-upon definition out there so far as I know. I'm using the term in the same way as most writers I've read on the subject, to refer to the basic state of awareness or mental tool kit (+ or - the capacity for self-awareness, another ill-defined term) possesed by the animal(s) in question.

message 4: by Tracy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:29PM) (new)

Tracy | 5 comments Okay, I would agree upon that. Have you read any journal articles about the matter and the different methodologies that they use. I attended a lecture the other day on the neurobiology of emotions. They used flies and mice in their experiments. How they concluded flies experienced fear was a little perplexing to me. I believe it was work done by David Anderson at the California Institute of Technology.

message 5: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:29PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments Fear in flies? Wow, even I wouldn't go that far, but apparently David Anderson has, so I'd be really interested in the methodology of that myself. The methodologies I've seen vary pretty widely depending on the species studies, and it sounds like you probably have way more access to current journals than I do, but one really fascinating source I've seen and read pretty regularly is Marc Hauser's Cognitive Evolution Laboratory website, where Hauser posts all his most recent papers for the general public. You can google the lab name and check it out. Another great book I've seen recently was the one I posted at the beginning of the topic, The Cognitive Animal, which is basically just a lot of short case studies.

For me the real issue after reading all this (and taking into account my admitted pro-animal bias) is that most popular books on human consciousness go through the same formula of rigorously refuting the old Cartesian Dualism, but then happily fall into another, equally disturbing one of admitting conscious experience to humans while denying it a priori to non-human animals whose biological structures would at least suggest a capacity for a similarly rich cognitive capacity. The books written by scientists tend to be a little better in this, while those written by philosophers are for the most part more lame.

message 6: by Matt (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:30PM) (new)

Matt Who denies that animals are conscious? Descartes thought animals are mere non-conscious automata; but he's the only philosoher, at least, I can think of who denied consciousness to animals. Certainly no cognitive scientists deny that (at least some) animals are conscious. This suggests that Tracy's question about how you're defining consciousness is quite apt. I think it's safe to say that no one denies that many perhaps most animals are conscious, where 'conscious' means something like "able to perceptually experience ones environment". The controversial questions about animals, I would think, involve whether they have conceptual thought, or whether their mental lives include things like emotions or intentions or memories, etc.

I don't know what philosophers you have in mind when you claim that philosophical work on consciousness is mostly lame, but something to be said for most philosophical work in this area is that it pays attention to the distinctions here.

message 7: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:30PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments Just last week I read an interview with VS Ramachandran where he says outright that animals are not conscious. You can find it in 'Conversations on Consciousness' by Susan Blackmore. So there are cognitive scientists and philospohers who deny that animals have conscious experience. He's the one who comes to mind, but there are others, though you're probably right that this is an extreme example and most people in the field would not take such an extreme position.

And the point I was trying to make about most popular writers on human consciousness is not that they deny, as Ramachandran does, that animals are conscious, but rather that they dismiss the very real possibility that non-human animals experience a rich variety of mental and emotional phenomena, either by ignoring the issue altogether or by claiming that animals just can't have this rich experience, for whatever reason. Just a few examples of prominent philosophers who do this are Dennet, Pinker, and the Churchlands.

What I think is disengenuous about this position is that the vast majority of cognitive philospohers rely very heavily on a Darwinian framework for their arguments. That framework includes the entire spectrum of living organisms, and to cherry-pick from it to justify any given position regarding human consciousness, while at the same time dismissing the implications for the rest of the living world, is bullshit.

As to lameness, I never said these philosophers' work was lame in general, but that their off-hand dismissal of the possibility for a richer form of 'consciousness' in non-human animals is lame, which it is.

message 8: by Tracy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:31PM) (new)

Tracy | 5 comments Cognitive psychologists and scientists focus on the perception, memory, learning, attention and language... Unfortunately they do not focus on emotions. There is a good scientist --> Joseph Ledoux at NYU that studies the brain and emotion using mouse models. He mainly makes the point of fear. Most scientists have trouble proving that animals have emotion and the way they do it is usually through a fear model or by showing how an animal avoids. I am a big science fan vs. a philosophy fan. Science has a method for proof; whereas philosophy tends to rely on wording.

message 9: by Mark (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:31PM) (new)

Mark Try "Animal Architects" by James Gould. This may not be exactly on point, but his argument is that the ability of creatures to adapt their hard-wired building programs to respond to novel situations shows a level of intelligence and awareness that many scientists have devalued or ignored. He has one whole great chapter on the bowerbirds, whose males build elaborate bowers to court females, purely decorative structures (not used as nests), and which they decorate in often individualized ways with an apparent sense of aesthetics. There are even records indicating there have been trends in bower design over different time periods, implying cultural transmission.

message 10: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:31PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments I loved 'Animal Architects', until my copy disappeared. I keep meaning to get another one, because I didn't get that far into it. Gould has a pretty interesting chapter on cognitive maps in honeybees in The Cognitive Animal as well.

message 11: by Matt (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:31PM) (new)

Matt Andrew, are you saying the philosophers you mentioned deny the possibility that non-human animals have a rich mental life or are you saying they don't deal with it (though they should)? It's the later, no? Also, I'm confused about your complaint about writers on consciousness denying rich mental lives to animals "for whatever reason". Surely, you're not suggesting that NO reason for denying this should be considered or discussed by such folks. Are you claiming that they don't give adequate reasons or don't provide any arguments to support them? I'll have to look at the Ramachandran interview you mention -- his claim, on its face, seems ridiculous.

Tracy, I don't undrestand your criticism of philosophy (of mind?). Your charge is that philosophy doesn't have a method of proof, and that science is therefore better equipped to prove that animals are conscious. But I don't think (many) philosophers of mind take themselves to be in the business of _proving_ (a priori, as it were), that, say, animals are conscious. Some things philosophers do is construct theoretical models of how the mind works and articulate necessary and sufficient conditions for determining whether an animal is conscious. These are not attempts to prove anything, and they're none the worse for that.

message 12: by Andrew (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:33PM) (new)

Andrew | 17 comments Yeah, I'm making the latter claim: that pholosophers don't deal adequately with the possibly very rich mental lives of animals when writing about consciousness in humans. But I would also make the complaint that many of the most prominent philosophers of consciousness have indeed been dismissive of the very possibility that animals could be conscious. Dennet comes to mind here, though I don't have any of his books readily avaialable to cite exactly where he says this.

I can see how one could make the case that philosophers' of consciousness in humans are concerned with human consciousness, and it's just not within their scope to consider whether the same or similar aspects of consciousness are present in non-human animals. That's a fair point, but the problem I have is that the vast majority of these philosphers are basing their arguments on the standard Darwinian framework and using that to explain, for example, why the kind of complex awareness humans have might have evolved. If you're going to do that, it seems to me you have to be consistent and then go on to explain to what extend these same forces responsible for giving rise to consciousness in humans are or are not at work in other animals, and why.

The writers I most respect in the arena of consciousness are those, mostly scientists and researchers, who recognize that if we're going to achieve a theory of consciousness in humans that is even close to adequate, we're going to have to do it on a continuum with the rest of the animal kingdom. Marc Hauser, Frans de Wall, James Gould, Donald Griffin, etc. I see this as what they're doing, though I'm sure even some of them might disagree.

Philosphers who do not adequately consider consciousness as it happens across such a continuum are, in my view, falling into a kind of dualism that places humans on one side as the most highly evolved, sole owners of consciousness, and the rest of the animal kingdom on another side, to be examined and explained separately from humans. They may not say this explicitly, but they imply it by their refusal to consider the full implications of cognition in non-human animals.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (JoshingThySelf) | 6 comments I've recently added those Griffin and Hauser titles to my to-read list.

I recommend the recently released book Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins by Maddalena Bearzi and Craig B. Stanford.

message 14: by Ricardo (last edited Nov 04, 2015 07:23PM) (new)

Ricardo Acuña (r1co) | 4 comments Chapter 15 of the The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Science is a good source to look at for the Animal Cognition topic. It also contains a big list of references.

message 15: by Boradicus (new)

Boradicus | 2 comments I've been reading Imitation in Animals and Artifacts and it discusses self-awareness in terms of the self-recognition of a mirrored reflection. Some animals simply see another animal and do not display any awareness of being able to map their own body parts and motions to those the the reflection that they see, whereas others animals, such as certain primates, seem to be able to solve the Correspondence Problem through experimentation and seem to show signs that they recognize the image as a self-reflection.

back to top