Friday, February 26, 2010

The Case for Dolphin Consciousness

Excerpted from David Kaiser

The largest brain ever to appear on the planet belongs to the sperm whale (Physeter catodon), a member of the Cetacean Order, whose brain can weigh up to 9200 g, with an average of 7818 grams. One scientist has suggested, solely on brain weight, that the sperm whale possesses a higher development of conscious-ness than humans, despite a relatively low brain-to-body weight ratio: 37,093.0 kg to 7.8 kg, (Lilly, 1967). Opinions vary as to how indicative brain size and other neuroanatomical correlates are of brain function and overall intelligence. How to measure a creature's intelligence, or level of consciousness or sapience, is problematic (as noted by cf. Jerison, 1986); the relationship between the brain and the mind is not an obvious one. Ignoring dualist arguments, consciousness is a brain function, a product of a specific organization of neural groups, but its anatomy and phylogeny are unclear. Consciousness in its present form in Western cultures may have emerged recently, during historic times but features of consciousness may be prevalent to different degrees in other mammals, specifically in larger-brained species such as apes and higher primates, carnivores, elephants, and whales.

Dolphins demonstrate many behaviors that show signs of conscious awareness. For instance, behaviors which are illicit and punishable are often performed only when a dolphin believes no one is around (e.g., Savage-Rumbaugh and Hopkins, 1986). When a dolphin squirts water at a human (to show annoyance), he will often raise his head out of the water to curiously observe the effect his behavior had on the unsuspecting victim (personal observation). Both examples show an awareness of effects one's behavior has on others. They also have voluntary penile erections, which may suggest that they are conscious of things of which humans are not.

Whatever cases are made for or against dolphins possessing human-like sapience, it is interesting to remember that they already possessed their present mental life (presumably) 15 to 25 million years ago.

This belief that mental experiences are a unique attribute of a single species is not only unparsimonious; it is conceited. it seems more likely than not that mental experiences, like many other characters, are widespread, at least among multicellular animals, but differ greatly in nature and complexity. -- D.R. Griffin, 1981.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All Dogs Go To Heaven?

Although it might have been 'staged' I have to say that there are a lot of people out there who go to church and say their prayer with far less intensity than this young boy's friend.

Animal consciousness is not being aware of what's on the TV or in the news. It doesn't work that way. It's about seeing the importance and recognizing it, sometimes without knowing what it's (life) is all about.

We all have pets we talk to. We even believe they understand us. Is it only extended to our pets? I remember watching a National Geographic episode, which took place around a watering hole. There were many kinds of large and small animals. Elephants, for one and turtles, for two. In this case there was a small turtle beneath a large elephant. As the elephant began to move forward, one would have thought that the elephant would have simply crushed the small turtle without care or concern. Instead, the elephant carefully and determinedly, stepped around the turtle, careful not to crush it.

Two completely different species. One acknoweledges the other and gives life. Consciousness is not just being self-aware, it is also being 'other-aware'.

Maybe the above is just a cute photo. But even if just a game, the dog participated. And got a result.

We attribute more awareness to our domesticated pets. But the truth is they have no reason to be more aware than their distant 'wild' relatives.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Watching Whales Watching Us in California

Joel Reynolds

In New York Times Magazine ("Watching Whales Watch Us"), author Charles Siebert lays out a compelling case for what many people have long suspected: that great whales are conscious, social, interactive animals with complex social structures and cultures. The article is beautifully written and full not just of anecdotes of remarkable whale-human interactions but interviews with leading scientists who have documented that whales teach, learn, cooperate, grieve, and even use tools in their quest for food.

Using the 'friendly gray whales" at Laguna San Ignacio on the west coast of Baja California as the touchstone, Siebert covers a range of topics in making his case -from military sonar (calling NRDC's litigation to control it a "turning point" in the relationship between humans and whales) to commercial whaling to personal and historical anecdotes of interactions with these massive creatures in the wild. He suggests the remarkable proposition that these ancient creatures, once hunted virtually to extinction by humans, may somehow have learned now to forgive and even trust us, in spite of our centuries-old efforts to slaughter their ancestors for oil and other whale byproducts. Siebert argues that whale-human relations have long been characterized by a "stark dualism: manic swings between mythologizing and massacre; between sublime awe and assiduous annihilation, the testimonies of their slayers often permeated with a deep sense of both remorse and respect for the victims."

And nowhere is this more clearly the case than at Laguna San Ignacio.

At this extraordinary place - now a World Heritage Site, a biosphere reserve, and the last undisturbed breeding and calving lagoon of the California gray whale - this large baleen species that migrates each year along the west coast from Alaska was hunted by whalers like Charles Scammon, who would trap the calves in the shallow lagoon as a means of enticing the full-grown mothers within range for harpooning. After reaching near-extinction at levels below 1,000 whales, the species began to rebound when commercial whaling was outlawed in the mid to late 20th Century, with the eastern Pacific gray whale stock now reaching an estimated 18,000 gray whales at least - one of the most dramatic recoveries of any large whale species. It is in this lagoon today that whale-watchers come every winter to ride the protected waters to see and even touch 40-ton, 45-feet long wild animals and their babies in their natural habitat.

As but one example of the continuing, post-commercial whaling threats to these magnificent animals, it was in this lagoon that, in the 1990's, Mitsubishi Corporation and the government of Mexico proposed to build the world's largest industrial salt works - 116-square miles of industrial development, with 17 enormous diesel pumps sucking 6,000 gallons per second from the lagoon 24-hours a day; a million-ton stockpile of salt; a two-kilometer pier into the Bay of Whales where ocean-going tankers would dock to receive the salt for transport to Japan; and billions of gallons of toxic salt brine, stored in ponds adjacent to the lagoon and eventually dumped into coastal waters. Together with the largest environmental coalition ever formed in Mexico and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, NRDC mounted the largest public campaign in its history to challenge and, against tremendous odds, ultimately defeat the salt works project. Now, ten years after President Zedillo of Mexico announced that the project would be abandoned, NRDC and a coalition of international and Mexican non-profits have undertaken a conservation initiative to preserve in perpetuity one million acres around the lagoon through easements and land acquisition - to ensure that the whales will be protected from a return of the salt works project or any other major development.

This is a success story, but the international struggle to protect and restore whale populations around the globe will never end. Charles Siebert's article is a powerful statement of why that struggle, by NRDC and others, is essential.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Basic Scientific Facts about Whale and Dolphin Consciousness

This is an excerpt taken from David Noha:

I have seen numerous statistics on whale and dolphin brains; unfortunately these are the kinds of statistics that people get emotional about and hence tend to exaggerate. Several smart science authors I trust have repeated this general point: neuron counts in the neocortex are about ten times higher in humans than chimps, about the same in humans and bottlenosed dolphins, and some whales have up to ten times as many as humans. Of course neurons have synapses, around 5000 per in humans (increasing with age) and I haven't seen numbers on cetacean or sirenian synapse counts.

What "consciousness" is, of course, is not a question we have one solid answer to. Symbolic reasoning may be a better characteristic to consider. Those who argue against animal reasoning typically cite primate research and ignore dolphin research. Dolphins have certainly been shown to have the capability of understanding sentence structure and prepositional relations.

For me, the deeper moral issue is decided by the principle of parsimony (akin to Occam's Razor). If the preponderance of evidence suggests that whales and dolphins may be conscious, we shouldn't be murdering them. Since we can identify the neocortex as the seat of consciousness, or at least symbolic reasoning, and we can observe a rough correlation between cortical complexity and behavioral complexity, I think it's rather obvious that we should look before we leap/kill for the two classes of animals with neocortices similar in complexity to humans: dolphins and whales.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoughts from Adam Henne

Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again.

I just picked up at the library, but have yet to read, Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce’sWild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. I’m intrigued by the way animal behavior researchers are letting go of their fear of anthropomorphising animals and beginning to acknowledge and investigate their social and even moral relationships.

Especially compelling about this whale story, beyond their social complexity and apparent morality, is the appearance of new relations with researchers. When a whale consciousness encounters human consciousness, what does that look like? There’s a now widely available essay by Derrida in which he discusses his relationship with his cat –L’Animal que donc je suis. His cat meets his eyes, his cat sees him stepping naked out of the shower, his cat is the archetypal alien Other. But! An Other undeniably engaged in a two-way relationship with Derrida, a relationship whose very nature is premised on the incommensurable difference between their species. What does it mean to be seen by your cat? Or, as it appears in the Times article on whales:

The baby gray glided up to the boat’s edge, and then the whole of his long, hornbill-shaped head was rising up out of the water directly beside me, a huge, ovoid eye slowly opening to take me in. I’d never felt so beheld in my life.

To me, the ur-text on understanding relationships between species is Donna Haraway’s recent-ish When Species Meet. Like everything she writes, it is brilliant, rigorous, fun, and impossible to summarize. Building off (way off) of her earlier Companion Species Manifesto, Haraway examines the nature and quality of relationships between humans and non-humans – in particular the way that history and power have interleaved with evolution and ecology to produce strange and sometimes beautiful hybrid assemblages. Like especially, of course, the domestic dog. What Haraway does that Derrida (not to mention Buber) do not is consider what kind of responsibilities emerge from the relationships we generate. What we as humans owe to dogs, for example, for having enrolled them in our 10,000 year co-evolutionary strategy.

What might this tell us about whales?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teresa Wagner's blog about Whales

One of the most transformative and pivotal things the whales told me many years ago is that “higher consciousness is not related to species, breed, intelligence or ego. It’s the result of a soul’s choice to accept and embrace opportunities to grow, regardless of the form (or formlessness) a soul may be experiencing at any time.”

Before hearing this from the whales, I had placed them and their wise messages on a towering pedestal, assigning them a greatness I thought achievable only by whales and perhaps saints and bodhisattvas. They called me on the carpet for this view!

I was told that “wisdom is not meant to be shrouded in mystery, intellectualized, or admired from afar as if unattainable, but to be utilized and lived.” Furthermore, they admonished me (affectionately!), “not to idolize or worship others’ greatness but to access it as guidance as I find my own greatness and live it.”

Another significant message came when a client asked “What is the future of the whales?” The response was:

The whales will be fine.
The tides have turned.
The energy of light consciousness on earth has passed the 50% mark.

50% doesn’t represent numbers of people or animals who have changed, but the amount of light that has been generated.

Great compassion has been increased within the consciousness of many who are witness to violence and wrong doings on earth. It may not appear so. But there is light greater than we can see.

The energy of love and light emanated from beings on earth now is greater than the energy of confusion and fear. The light in the heart of one being with pure intention to share love with others can serve and help millions in one moment.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What Do you do think?

I was traveling on the dirt back roads of Entre Rios, a province of Argentina. The land is flat and fertile and it was summer. As we were rolling along the road and with three other passengers, I suddenly saw a huge four and one half foot (1 1/2 meter) lizard on the road, struggling.

I signaled our driver to stop and back up, as we were traveling about 60 km/hr, which is about 45 miles per hour in the U.S. No one had seen the big lizard except for myself.

When we stopped near him, I realized that he had been hit by an earlier car. There was no blood, but I could see he was struggling to gather his wits and get to the side of the road. By now my wife was next to me. He was slightly hissing and looking at the both of us, but I could see he had not recovered from the impact and was having difficulty moving to the side of the road.

I looked at him and with my mind, I said " I can help you but you have to trust me." The large lizard stopped thrashing and lay there, looking at me.

"You can speak with me?"

"Yes. You are in pain."

"Yes, I am. It is hard for me to move."

Looking at this huge lizard, I had never come in contact with one before. Apparently they are native to Argentina and called 'Tegus'. I knew that they are related to the monitor family, and so if bitten I would possibly receive a very infectious bite or even poisonous one, as well as the fact that this kind of lizard, once having a hold of anything, does not let go.

I knew I could not leave him there in the road to take his chances. He was beautiful shades of reds and greys.

"You will have to trust me. I can leave you here, but doing so you may be hit by the moving machines once again. Your life may end. Or you can trust me. Allow me to pick you up carefully and I will put you off this path. I cannot care for you, but I can move you to safety, where you may have a chance to recover."

The lizard looked at me.

"Then do it so."

"What are you going to do?" asked my wife.

"Trust, me, Dine."

And with that I carefully knelt down and gently placed one hand under the rear legs of the massive lizard. All the while he watched me. Then, ever so softly, I said "I am now putting my hand under your neck. Then I will lift you carefully and take you to the side."

The lizard never took his gaze from me.

"I will trust you, but if you squeeze I will bite. I hurt."

"I understand my friend, trust me."

With that I lifted the large lizard up. By now our friends in the car had their heads out and watched me in amazement as I gingerly carried the creature to the side of the road, gently placing him on soft tufts of wheat grass. All the while he looked at me. His breathing was now smooth and not erratic.

As I took my hands away from him, I said

"I am going now, the rest is up to you."

We exchanged glances.

"Remember you are not alone. We are never alone. There is a great hand that guides us all, as it guided me to you."

Getting back into the car, my friends looked at me in amazement. We then went on our way.

So tell me, are animals really just wild and they bite and they have no awareness. What was that which just happened?

You tell me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Science News Begins to get it right

A recent report by Susan Gaidos peers into the possibility that animals do have consciousness. But where it goes off is that it tries to equate brain synapses and a nervous system is responsible. This might be an answer but for one thing, not all animal brains, creature brains are the same. So what is consciousness after all? See if you can figure it out. Is it just meat and synaptic charges, or is it something else?

By Susan Gaidos, Science News

One afternoon while participating in studies in a University of Oxford lab, Abel snatched a hook away from Betty, leaving her without a tool to complete a task. Spying a piece of straight wire nearby, she picked it up, bent one end into a hook and used it to finish the job. Nothing about this story was remarkable, except for the fact that Betty was a New Caledonian crow.

Betty isn’t the only crow with such conceptual ingenuity. Nor are crows the only members of the animal kingdom to exhibit similar mental powers. Animals can do all sorts of clever things: Studies of chimpanzees, gorillas, dolphins and birds have found that some can add, subtract, create sentences, plan ahead or deceive others.

To carry out such tasks, these animals must be drawing on past experiences and then using them along with immediate perceptions to make sense of it all. In other words, some scientists would say, these animals are thinking consciously.

Many people (some scientists among them) would like to believe that consciousness sets the human mind apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. But whether in humans or other creatures, behavioral signs of cognizance all arise from the tangled interactions of neurons in the brain. So a growing number of scientists contend that animals with brain structures and neural circuitry similar to humans’ might experience something like human awareness, even if a bit less sophisticated.

Still, everyone agrees that consciousness is one of science’s great unsolved mysteries. Something goes on in the heads of people when they are seeing, thinking or feeling that does not occur during dreamless sleep. For two decades or so, researchers have been conducting studies to see what kinds of brain activity match up with those specific experiences.

Drawing on this information, scientists are now poised to explore the possible presence of consciousness in animals. Neurobiological information gleaned from studies of brain activity, together with studies of animal behavior, may help scientists identify various types of conscious states in animals, says neurobiologist David Edelman of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. He and collaborator Anil K. Seth outlined a framework for probing animal consciousness in the September Trends in Neurosciences.

“In many cases, we still know nothing about the brain areas that would control consciousness in a particular animal,” Edelman says. “But we now have data in the human domain that suggests where to look and what to look for.”

Past studies have shown that specific monkey brain structures do what they do in humans when the animals engage in certain activities, such as tracking objects in their visual field. “This raises the intriguing question whether conscious experience requires the specific structure of human or primate brains,” biologist Donald Griffin wrote in Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness in 2001.

But today, Edelman says, most neuro scientists agree that consciousness probably correlates with the degree of complexity of the nervous system, not just a specific brain architecture. And studies are exploring self-awareness beyond monkeys and apes, even beyond mammals.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Another Voice for Animal Consciousness

I know that I am not alone in my thoughts. There many like me, but not necessarily willing to put up a blog about animals. All the same, it does me good to see their thoughts and the thinking:

After reading some articles ( on animal consciousness, I was surprised to find that so many scientists, psychologists and philosphers regard almost every animal but homo sapein as completely unconscious. They were making arguments such as animals feel pain, but they don't know they feel pain, basically they reposnd as if they feel pain, but they are not really experiencing it. Some of them, referred to as Cartesians, were theorizing that consciousness did not evolve until the development of art and other forms of culture in the Upper Paleolithic. Is it just me or is this just as non-sensical as multi-culturalism? Why would otherwise intelligent, educated people espouse such ridiculous ideas?

This all began with Descartes who proposed that man's soul was a 'ghost in a machine'. To Descartes it was the ghost that made man aware of being aware, etc. I had a philosophy professor who told me one time that Descartes was a *VERY* subtle philosopher and to exercise great care in how you go about interpreting him.

His driving passion, so to speak, was his fear of the Catholic Church and the Office of the Holy Inquisition. The royal treatment they handed out to Galileo was in Descartes' lifetime. Descartes' writing about the 'ghost in the machine' was one of those subtleties. Cartesian dualism might rest entirely on a mistaken interpretation of Descartes' writing. Suppose he wanted to criticize some aspect of Church teaching, such as the doctrine of the seperate existence of the soul. He could develop an argument that would lead to an obviously false conclusion that he assumed everyone as intelligent as he would get. Except nobody got it. He proposed that there was within man a ghost (the ghost in the machine) that was not present within animals. He then deduced that animals were not conscious. In line with this hypothesis he would have assumed that since it was obvious that animals are conscious and do feel pain that the theory of the ghost in the machine would stand as refuted and so would the church teaching about the soul (without him being guilty before the Inquisition). In other words, it was his intent to set up his own theory to fail in order to refute a church teaching. However, it backfired. He was taken for serious and so was his 'ghost in the machine'. Anyway, if I am right on this, so-called Cartesians are as thick as his contemporaries and just do not get it.

It should be obvious to any rational person that animals are conscious and do feel pain. If I can doubt that animals feel pain I can just as well doubt that fellow humans feel pain. What is the difference? They both emit noises when injured but since I am the only one I know for sure is conscious how can I be sure other humans feel pain? This shows that the whole argument amount animals not being conscious reduces to solipsism.

I should also add as a P.S. that many scientists would adopt animal non-consciousness as a methodological premise. In other words they would study animals, and sometimes humans, as stimulus-response machines. This would be, however, to reduce the number of variables in their behavioral model and not because they are really thorough going Cartesians.

At the end of the day they would still go home and play with their dog and yell at their cat.

Monday, February 8, 2010


If you thought the legend of the horse whisperer was impressive, here's an animal tale with even more bite.

Rather than trying to tame wild stallions, fearless Costa Rican fisherman Chito prefers a playful wrestle in the water with his best pal Pocho - a deadly 17ft crocodile.
The 52-year-old daredevil draws gasps of amazement from onlookers by wading chest-deep into the water, then whistling for his 980lb buddy - and giving him an affectionate hug.

Chito made friends with the croc after finding him with a gunshot wound on the banks of the Central American state's Parismina river 20 years ago.
He had been shot in the left eye by a cattle farmer and was close to death.

But Chito enlisted the help of several pals to load the massive reptile into his boat.
He says: "When I found Pocho in the river he was dying, so I brought him into my house
"He was very skinny, weighing only around 150lb I gave him chicken and fish and medicine for six months to help him recover.
"I stayed by Pocho's side while he was ill, sleeping next to him at night. I just wanted him to feel that somebody loved him, that not all humans are bad.
"It meant a lot of sacrifice. I had to be there every day. I love all animals - especially ones that have suffered."
It took years before Chito felt that Pocho had bonded with him enough to get closer to the animal.

He says: "After a decade I started to work with him. At first it was slow, slow. I played with him a bit, slowly doing more.
"Then I found out that when I called his name he would come over to me."
At one point during his recovery, Chito left the croc in a lake near his house. But as he turned to walk away, to his amazement Pocho got out of the water and began to follow him home.
Chito recalls: "That convinced me the crocodile could be tame." But when he first fearlessly waded into the water with the giant reptile his family was so horrified they couldn't bear to watch. So instead, he took to splashing around with Pocho when they were asleep.
Four years ago Chito showed some of his tricks to friends, including getting the animal to close his eyes on command, and they convinced him to go public with a show.
Now he swims and plays wit
h Pocho as well as feeding him at the lake near his home in the lowland tropical town of Sarapiqui ..

The odd couple have now become a major tourist attraction, with several tour operators, including Crocodile Adventures, taking visitors on touring cruises to see the pair.
On the Crocodile Adventures website it describes the spectacle as: "One of the most
amazing things that no cruise ship passenger will want to miss, the adventure show between the man and the crocodile."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

They Are Out There

I just found a site about a naturalist/artist, extraordinaire. Robert Bateman.

A rather incredible being. Animals caught in the act of being themselves and communicating. ONe can definitely see Bateman's passion for the environment. It's wonderful.

Sometimes people don't hear animals talk and communicate. And yet they DO hear animals when you see the end result of their communiaction as portrayed in their art.

Animal Mind?

This is an excerpt from a book written by one of the leading behavioral ecologists in the twentieth century, Donald Griffin.

There has been a recent explosion of scientific research on animal mentality. Are animals consciously aware of anything, or are they merely living machines, incapable of conscious thoughts or emotional feelings? How can we tell? Such questions have long fascinated Griffin, who has been a pioneer at the forefront of research in animal cognition for decades, and is recognized as one of the leading behavioral ecologists of the twentieth century.

With this new edition of his classic book, which he has completely revised and updated, Griffin moves beyond considerations of animal cognition to argue that scientists can and should investigate questions of animal consciousness. Using examples from studies of species ranging from chimpanzees and dolphins to birds and honeybees, he demonstrates how communication among animals can serve as a "window" into what animals think and feel, just as human speech and nonverbal communication tell us most of what we know about the thoughts and feelings of other people. Even when they don't communicate about it, animals respond with sometimes surprising versatility to new situations for which neither their genes nor their previous experiences have prepared them, and Griffin discusses what these behaviors can tell us about animal minds. He also reviews the latest research in cognitive neuroscience, which has revealed startling similarities in the neural mechanisms underlying brain functioning in both humans and other animals. Finally, in four chapters greatly expanded for this edition, Griffin considers the latest scientific research on animal consciousness, pro and con, and explores its profound philosophical and ethical implications.

The point is, something is happening and something that is being measured scientifically. It's no longer something one just wonders about, but something that surrounds us everyday. We just have to listen, if we wish to.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Debate for Animal Consciousness Continues...

Here's a paper written which spells out the dilemma taken from Behavior Online:

    So, are some animals conscious? We see now that the question itself is irrevocably tied to the human conscious experience, because human consciousness is all we can imagine. Consider a more fruitful enquiry, in my regard: How do animals interact with each other and their environment, and why do they behave in those ways? We can construe answers to these latter questions without the equivocation that discussions of consciousness carry in cross-species analyses. Further, we can build models of animal behaviour from a base of absolutely minimal assumption, exploring their world as one alien to our own rather than searching it for qualities that are familiar to us. It may well be that some animal species outside Homo sapiens share sensory experience akin to ours; to that end we would like to treat consciousness not as an all-or-none quality but something that can exist to many degrees. One may object: How could we study animal cognition this way? It’s impossible to imagine being half-conscious, or a third conscious! Yes, exactly: animal mental states may be so foreign to us that representing them would be akin to conveying eleven dimensions on a flat piece of paper. Rather than leaping into a cursory attempt at knowing exactly how non-human animals think and feel, it may be wiser to study the consequences, which are readily observable, of their mental states. Let us treat animal minds as an unknown landscape that acquires shape by virtue of its shadows, which we see in their behaviour. Dawkins takes steps toward this approach at the end of her book, but her analysis of emotional expression in animals again presupposes in them a degree of human consciousness. After describing an experiment on hen behaviour, the author suggests that, in their effort to reach nest boxes, hens “experience a strong state of frustration at not being able to find one” (Dawkins 1998, 155). This passage may seem relatively innocuous, but in fact it assumes that hens are conscious animals with mental states so similar to our own that they can “experience . . . frustration.” Her description makes no sense unless we take it in stride that hens are conscious like we are, at least in the limited context of emotional response. It is precisely such slips of thought and diction that we must avoid.

    Explaining human conscious experience is among the most daunting and exciting projects modern science faces. The progress we’ve made to that end is exhilarating and uplifting, but, tempted as we may be to do so, extending our intuitive inferences about human minds to animal minds is not conducive to understanding cognition outside our species. Why: because those inferences carry tacit assumptions about human mental worlds, which do not apply to non-human mental worlds. We will probably never be able to put ourselves into animals’ shoes, so to speak, but we can certainly build extensive, impartial records of animal minds’ input and output. By exploring the patterns in those input and output records, we can achieve a greater understanding of cognitive architecture outside Homo sapiens.

    Literature Cited

    Boyer, P. Religion Explained. New York, USA: Basic Books: 2001.

    Dawkins, M. S. Through our eyes only? The search for animal consciousness.
    Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press: 1998.

    Dennett, D. C. Consciousness Explained. Boston, USA: Back Bay Books: 1991.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Can an Animal Reflect?

Here's an article written in 2009 which sheds some light about any animal's ability to think and reflect about itself or life:

ScienceDaily (Sep. 15, 2009) — J. David Smith, Ph.D., a comparative psychologist at the University at Buffalo who has conducted extensive studies in animal cognition, says there is growing evidence that animals share functional parallels with human conscious metacognition -- that is, they may share humans' ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind.

Smith makes this conclusion in an article published the September issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Science (Volume 13, Issue 9). He reviews this new and rapidly developing area of comparative inquiry, describing its milestones and its prospects for continued progress.

He says "comparative psychologists have studied the question of whether or not non-human animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states by testing a dolphin, pigeons, rats, monkeys and apes using perception, memory and food-concealment paradigms.

"The field offers growing evidence that some animals have functional parallels to humans' consciousness and to humans' cognitive self-awareness," he says. Among these species are dolphins and macaque monkeys (an Old World monkey species).

Smith recounts the original animal-metacognition experiment with Natua the dolphin. "When uncertain, the dolphin clearly hesitated and wavered between his two possible responses," he says, "but when certain, he swam toward his chosen response so fast that his bow wave would soak the researchers' electronic switches.

"In sharp contrast," he says, "pigeons in several studies have so far not expressed any capacity for metacognition. In addition, several converging studies now show that capuchin monkeys barely express a capacity for metacognition.

"This last result," Smith says, "raises important questions about the emergence of reflective or extended mind in the primate order.

"This research area opens a new window on reflective mind in animals, illuminating its phylogenetic emergence and allowing researchers to trace the antecedents of human consciousness."

Smith, a professor in the UB Department of Psychology and Center for Cognitive Sciences, is recognized for his research and publications in the field of animal cognition.

He and his colleagues pioneered the study of metacognition in nonhuman animals, and they have contributed some of the principal results in this area, including many results that involve the participation of Old World and New World monkeys who have been trained to use joysticks to participate in computer tasks.

Their research is supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Science Foundation.

Smith explains that metacognition is a sophisticated human capacity linked to hierarchical structure in the mind (because the metacognitive executive control processes oversee lower-level cognition), to self-awareness (because uncertainty and doubt feel so personal and subjective) and to declarative consciousness (because humans are conscious of their states of knowing and can declare them to others).

Therefore, Smith says, "it is a crucial goal of comparative psychology to establish firmly whether animals share humans' metacognitive capacity. If they do, it could bear on their consciousness and self-awareness, too."

In fact, he concludes, "Metacognition rivals language and tool use in its potential to establish important continuities or discontinuities between human and animal minds."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Cat That Can Predict Death

Here is a recent article about a cat that has outsmarted even doctors:

SYDNEY (Reuters) – When doctors and staff realized that a cat living in a U.S. nursing home could sense when someone was going to die, the feline, Oscar, was portrayed as a furry grim reaper or four-leggedangel of death.

But Dr. David Dosa, who broke the news of Oscar's abilities in a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, said he never intended to make Oscar sound creepy or his arrival at a bedside to be viewed negatively.

Dosa said he hopes his newly released book, "Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat" will put the cat in a more favorable light as well as providing a book to help people whose loved ones are terminally ill.

"After the New England Journal article you got the feeling that if Oscar is in your bed then you are dead, but you did not really see what is going on for these family members," said Dosa, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

"I wanted to write a book that would go beyond Oscar's peculiarities, to tell why he is important to family members and caregivers who have been with him at the end of a life."

Dosa said Oscar's story is fascinating on many levels.

Oscar was adopted as a kitten from an animal shelter to be raised as a therapy cat at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, which cares for people with severe dementia and in the final stages of various illnesses.


When Oscar was about six months old the staff noticed that he would curl up to sleep with patients who were about to die.

So far he has accurately predicted about 50 deaths.

Dosa recounts one instance when staff were convinced of the imminent death of one patient but Oscar refused to sit with that person, choosing instead to be on the bed of another patient down the hallway. Oscar proved to be right. The person he sat with died first, taking staff on the ward by surprise.

Dosa said there is no scientific evidence to explain Oscar's abilities, but he thinks the cat might be responding to a pheromone or smell that humans simply don't recognize.

Dosa said his main interest was not to delve further into Oscar's abilities but to use Oscar as a vehicle to tell about terminal illness, which is his main area of work.

"There is a lot to tell about what Oscar does, but there is a lot to tell on the human level of what family members go through at the end of life when they are dealing with a loved one in a nursing home or with advanced dementia," he said.

"Perhaps the book is a little more approachable because there is a cat in it. We really know so little aboutnursing homes, and this tries to get rid of this myth that they are horrid factories where people go to die."

Dosa said the story of Oscar, who is now nearly five years old, initially had sparked a bit more interest in families wanting to send their loved ones to Steere House.

Oscar has even been thanked by families in obituaries for providing some comfort in the final hours of life.

But he said Oscar remains unchanged by the attention, spending most of his days staring out of a window, although he has become a bit friendlier.

"The first time I met Oscar he bit me. We have warmed over the years. We have moved into a better place," said Dosa.

"I don't think Oscar is that unique, but he is in a unique environment. Animals are remarkable in their ability to see things we don't, be it the dog that sniffs out cancer or the fish that predicts earthquakes. Animals know when they are needed."

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Animal Consciousness?

I found an article, which, can make sense from a very linear viewpoint. I have made some comments in italics and red.

What do you think? If you read my soon-to-be-released book, maybe you should read this one more time and see how you think about it then.

The late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould concluded that consciousness has been “vouchsafed only to our species in the history of life on earth” (1997, p. ix). Is Dr. Gould correct? Or do other creatures possess self-awareness as well? Certainly, the answer to such a question hinges on the definition one assigns to “consciousness.”

One way to approach the problem is to define consciousness with the broadest possible stroke and in the simplest conceivable terms. Steven Harnad, editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, did exactly that when he defined consciousness as “the capacity to have experiences” (as quoted in Lewin, 1992, pp. 153-154). Roger Penrose followed suit in The Emperor’s New Mind when he said of animals: “I do not ask that they are ‘self-aware’ in any strong sense. ...All I ask is that they sometimes simply feel!” (1989, p. 383, emp. in orig.).

If these are the sole criteria for defining consciousness—the capacity to “just have experiences” or to “sometimes simply feel”—then animals obviously possess consciousness. The problem is that such simple definitions of consciousness are woefully inadequate. And, by and large, those within the scientific and philosophical communities have acknowledged as much. Robert Ornstein, in his book, The Evolution of Consciousness, noted: “Being conscious is being aware of being aware. It is one step removed from the raw experience of seeing, smelling, acting, moving, and reaction” (1991, pp. 225-226, emp. added).

That “one step” is a mighty big step, however! The difference between merely “being aware” (i.e., “just having experiences” or “simply feeling”) and actually being “self-aware” (i.e.,knowing that you are having experiences, and knowing that you are feeling) is colossal—a fact that appears to have eluded some who wish to imbue “other species” with the trait of consciousness. Are other species “self-aware”? Ian Tattersall admitted:

I have already said that nonhuman mammals are far from being automatons, and this is clearly true; but does it necessarily follow that they have a concept of self that would be broadly familiar to us? The answer to this is almost certainly no; but it has to be admitted that the degree to which nonhuman primates may or may not have an internal image of self is a devilishly hard question to approach (2002, p. 63).
This is a good point as far as primates could be concerned, however what do you do when a creature, such as a whale, talks about it's own soul?

Do other species “think about themselves” in “productive and adaptive” ways? Remember: we are not asking if animals possess instinct. Nor are we asking if they can “adapt.” We are inquiring as to whether or not they are self-aware—to the extent that they actually “think about themselves.” Sir John Eccles concluded: “It has been well said that an animal knows, but only a man knows that he knows” (1967, p. 10). Nick Carter said that we might think of animals “as beings that have extension and sensation, but not thought” (2002). In the context, he was speaking specifically of “higher thought”—i.e., the ability to think, to think about thinking, and to let others know we are thinking. Humans not only possess such self-awareness and thought capability, but also the ability to let other humans know that they possess those two things!

Paul Ehrlich confessed (from an evolutionary viewpoint): “...[H]uman beings are also the only animals that seem fully aware of the consciousness of other individuals and thus have been able to develop empathy, the capacity to identify emotionally with others” (2000, p. 111). Nowhere is this more evident than in the human response to death. Theodosius Dobzhansky concluded: “Self-awareness has, however, brought in its train somber companions—fear, anxiety and death awareness.... Man is burdened by death-awareness. A being who knows that he will die, arose from ancestors who did not know” (1967, p. 68).

But consider (to choose just one example) the animal that evolutionists contend is our closest living relative—the chimpanzee. Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey admitted:

[C]himpanzees at best seem puzzled about death.... The chimpanzees’ limitation in empathizing with others extends to themselves as individuals: no one has seen evidence that chimps are aware of their own mortality, of impending death. But, again, how would we know?... Ritual disposal of the dead speaks clearly of an awareness of death, and thus an awareness of self (1994, pp. 153,155, italics. in orig., emp. added).

Dobzhansky, et al., also addressed this point.

Ceremonial burial is evidence of self-awareness because it represents an awareness of death. There is no indication that individuals of any species other than man know that they will inevitably die (1977, p. 454, emp. added).

The information contained in the two quotations above can be summarized as follows: (1) chimpanzees are unaware of their own mortality, and have no ability to empathize emotionally with others (a peculiarly human trait, according to Ehrlich); (2) in fact, there is no indication that individuals of any species other than humans know they will inevitably die; (3) death-awareness arose as a product of self-awareness; and (4) ceremonial burial is evidence of self-awareness because it represents an awareness of death.

Now, note the logical conclusion that inescapably follows. Death-awareness and ceremonial burial are allegedly evidence of, and products stemming from, self-awareness. But chimps (our nearest supposed relative), like all animals, do not comprehend the fact that they will one day die, (has anyone asked them?) and do not perform ritualistic burials of their dead. If understanding death and burying the dead are evidence of self-awareness, and if no animal understands death or buries its dead, then no animal is self-aware! (Notice the sentence begins with "if")

The scientist who literally “wrote the book” on animal consciousness, Donald R. Griffin, published the first edition of his now-famous work, Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness, in 1992, and the second edition in 2001. In that second edition, he offered the following assessment of animal consciousness. “The principal difference between human and animal consciousness is probably in their content” (p. 15, italics in orig., emp. added).

OK, so two chimpanzees don't discuss the stock market or the latest football game. Yet in their environment they DO show awareness at their level of existence. This is known to be true. How about the one who learned to communicate with sentences and express emotion?

That statement must surely rank as one of the greatest understatements of all time. “Other than your husband’s assassination, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” “Except for the difference in their content, what’s the difference in human and animal consciousness?” Does anyone besides us see something terribly wrong here? As Tattersall put it:

But comfortable as monkeys may become with mirrors and their properties, it has also been shown that they cannot identify their own reflection in a mirror.... What do we make of all this? First, it is evident that there is a qualitative difference among the perceptions of self exhibited by monkeys, apes, and human beings (2002, p. 65, emp. added).

Key in on Tattersall’s reference to monkeys and mirrors, and allow us to explain the significance of his statements. For more than three decades, researchers have tried to concoct a way to test—objectively—whether any given animal is “self-aware.” Griffin noted: “Both reflective consciousness and self-awareness are often held to be uniquely human attributes.” Then, in speaking of animals, he asked: “What sorts of evidence might indicate whether or not they think about their own thoughts?” (2001, p. 277).

Good question. What “sorts of evidence” could lead scientists and philosophers to conclude that at least some animals possess self-awareness? There have been a number of suggestions offered, such as mind-reading (i.e., the ability to comprehend what another animal has in mind to do in order to alter behavior), divided attention (an ability to concentrate on more than one thing at a time), delayed response (acting later, as if on the “memory” of something), self-recognition (the ability of an animal to recognize itself, as opposed to other animals of its kind), etc.

But for the most part, it has been self-recognition that has captured the attention of researchers. In the late 1960s, Gordon Gallup, a psychologist at the State University of New York (Albany), devised a test intended to determine an animal’s “sense of self ”—the mirror test. His idea was that if an animal were able to recognize its own reflection in a mirror as “itself,” then it could be duly said to possess an awareness of itself—i.e., consciousness. Dr. Gallup’s report of the experiment, published in a 1970 article in Science, has been called “a milestone in our understanding of animal minds” (Leakey, 1994, p. 150). Here is how the test was carried out.

Looking in a mirror is a cognitive process. That is different than consciousness. It's like giving a chinese jigsaw puzzle to a kid. Besides that, if it does not deal with his existence, why now is the animal going to have a whole thought process on it.

An animal (such as a chimpanzee, a gorilla, or an orangutan) is left in a room to become familiarized with a mirror. After a period of time, the animal is anesthetized, and a dot of paint is placed on its forehead. The creature then is allowed to wake, and the mirror is brought back to see if the animal notices that it now has a dot of paint on its forehead. Most animals will take no notice of the dot, and will continue to treat the image in the mirror as if it were another animal. But certain ape subjects instantly recognize themselves in the mirror, and touch their foreheads as if they know that: (a) the forehead in question is their own; and (b) they do not normally have a dot on their forehead. Most animals in the experiment did not recognize or care about the spot on their forehead, but a few did.

So what do we make of data that suggest certain animals are indeed “self-aware”? Robert Wesson observed:

Self-awareness is different from information processing; even when confused and unable to think clearly, one may be vividly aware of one’s self and one’s confusion. The essence of mind is less data processing than will, intention, imagination, discovery, and feeling (1997, p. 277, emp. added).

Dr. Wesson is correct. Self-awareness is different from mere information processing. A chimpanzee or orangutan with a spot of paint on its forehead may be able to process the information that tells the animal it has a spot of paint on its forehead. But does that mean the animal possesses intention, imagination, discovery, feeling, and all the other things that we normally associate with consciousness and/or self-awareness? Hardly.

One of the things that sets the human mind/consciousness apart from that of animals iswhat the human mind can do! As Anthony O’Hear put it: “A conscious animal might be a knower...but only a self-conscious being knows that he is a knower (1997, p. 24, emp. and italics added). When Griffin asked, “Can scientific investigation of animal mentality tell us whether animals are conscious?,” and answered, “not yet” (2001, p. x), he fairly well summed up most researchers’ opinion of the matter. There are no scientific or philosophical data to date which indicate that any animal “knows it is a knower.” Only humans possess such capability.

So does that mean that any animal, for it to have consciousness, has to get a doctorate first?

Oh Please! And we pay these guys for brains.