Dolphin Mental Abilities Paper
II. EXPERIMENTS with MALIA and HOU
by Kenneth W. LeVasseur <Cetaman@aol.com>
There is a relatively new area of research in animal behavior being pursued called cognitive ethology. This effort strives to study the mental and emotional abilities and tendencies of animals in their natural environments or at least as natural an environment as possible. When the natural environment does not allow the manipulation of specific conditions to demonstrate the research objective, the demonstration is moved to the more controlled environment of a laboratory. This blending of psychology and zoology has usually been conducted as simple ethology, but the revival of the cognitive approach to psychology has lead to the recognition of this approach as a new discipline. One effect of this merger has been to recognize and scientifically research the myriad questions surrounding "mind" in non-human animals. The most vocal proponent of this area of research, indeed the initiative behind it, has been Donald R. Griffin, who expounded on the new discipline in the early eighties after the very positive reception of his 1976 book The Question of Animal Awareness: Evolutionary Continuity of Mental Experience.
Donald Griffin's book Animal Thinking (1984, revised 1990), clearly shows the inadequacies of behaviorist and cognitive thinking that denies conscious awareness in mammals and thinking in animals possibly as small as insects. This total re-evaluation of the previous research and its conclusions is eye-opening, to say the least, and should be read by any serious student of animal behavior and cognition. One of Griffin's most telling statements from the book occurs in a discussion of the reluctance researchers show toward even mentioning in their research reports the possibility that their subjects might aware or thinking.
"I suspect that animal awareness has been neglected not only for the commonly stated reason that it is difficult to study, but even more because this possibility threatens to open up a sort of Pandora's box of ideas that migh contaminate science with messy and ill-defined topics." (page 20)
Griffin brings his arguments tightly around to show that in their reasoning about how difficult, or better yet impossible, it is to study animal thinking and awareness, researchers, are ignoring the solipsist's argument. This solipsist statement is "I am the only conscious creature in the universe because my consciousness is the only one that I can verify empirically" (not Griffin's exact words). Yet, Griffin points out, researchers manage to find ways to assume that humans are aware, conscious and think. Griffin states:
"Many of the objections to investigation of animal thoughts and feelings seem to be on a sort of 'species solipsism'. It may be logically impossible to disprove the position that all other animals are thoughtless robots, but we can escape from this paralytic dilemma by relying on the same criteria of reasonable plausibility that leads us to accept the reality of consciousness in other people." (page 28)
The banner of cognitive ethology has been lifted by other researchers and philosophers. Carolyn Ristau, Colin Beer, Jonathan Bennet, Gordon Burghardt and many others in the 1990 book Cognitive etholoy: the minds of other animals: essays in honor of Donald R. Griffin, edited by Ristau, as well as many researchers and philosophers in the two volume book Interpretation and Explanation in the Study of Animal Behavior, edited by Marc Bekoff and Dale Jamieson, are setting the groundwork for new scientific discoveries about animal behavior in the 90's. Among the bastions of Cartesian behaviorism to fall to critical review have been the negative connotations of anthropomorphism and what Morgan's Canon really means.
Anthropomorphism is now being recognized as a "common sense" approach to understanding animal and human behavior, but is limited by what amounts to phylogenetic closeness. Specific empathetic conditions can scientifically bridge gaps of understanding when applied to animals just as they are used with humans, as long as sensory and cognitive conditions are defined and maintained throughout the discussion. The previous aversion to this approach has been found to not be based on scientific principles (Griffin 1977, 1984, 1990; Fisher 1990; Rollin 1990).
Bernard Rollin took-up the challenge to go back and look at the original writings of many of the "allegedly proto-Behavioristic figures". In particular Charles Lloyd Morgan. He "ironically" found that Jaques Loeb, H. S. Jennings, Edward Thorndike and Morgan all saw a place for animal mentation in science. Morgan's Canon which states that;
"In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of the exercise of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one which stands lower in the psychological scale" (Morgan 1894:53)
This is an interesting case of generalized misinterpretation. According to Rollin, Charles Lloyd Morgan - who developed the canon - meant for the canon to differentiate between instinct, intelligence and reason. Rollin points out that Morgan believed animal consciousness was involved in intelligence at basically a "trial and error" level and that reason was a human faculty. Rollin says that Morgan also stated he would not be surprised if animals were shown to be capable of reason "before the close of the present year" which was 1893. According to Rollin, Morgan's canon was never meant to exclude animal thought or awareness from scientific study. This policy was later developed as a politically expedient strategy and retrofitted into interprelations of these philosophers and scientists work.
The diversity of thought on the subject of animal thinking will always make for enlightening discussion. Now there is a scientific forum for that discussion - cognitive ethology.
Presented by "Whales in Danger" - Whales on the Net - http://www.whales.org.au
|Back to MENU||Back to CONTENTS|