er on Animal ConsciousnessAbsence of Evidence, or Evidence of Absence?A paper on Animal ConsciousnessDecember 15, 2004ANSCI 305Consciousness is a difficult term to grasp; so much so, that many scientists will not even attempt to define the term, much less search for its evidence. Most however, do agree that consciousness must include certain aspects; specifically cognition, self-awareness, memory, and abstract thought.
Lesley J. Rogers describes consciousness as, related to awareness, intelligence, and complex cognition, as well as language. Consciousness may be manifested in self-awareness, awareness of others, intentional behavior, including intentional communication, deception of others, and in the ability to make mental and symbolic representations (13).There is no question that humans carry these attributes, but what about animals? Some philosophers, including Descartes, claimed that while humans are conscious, animals are like machines, with no thought process or sentience. Others claim that animals are very capable of consciousness, and that we just have not had the capabilities to test the aspects of it through the scientific method. As Donald R. Griffin expressed:Conscious thinking may well be a core function of central nervous systems.
For conscious animals enjoy the advantage of being able to think about alternative actions and select behavior they believe will get them what they want or help them avoid what they dislike or fear. Of course human consciousness is astronomically more complex and versatile than any conceivable animal thinking, but the basic question addressedis whether the difference is qualitative and absolute, or whether animals are conscious even though the content of their consciousness is undoubtedly limited and very likely quite different of ours. (3)This paper will look at what evidence there is that may imply that some, if not all, vertebrate animals may have the capacity for conscious thinking. Cognition, for example is something that animals may require in order to adapt to their changing environments so quickly.
Cognition is an animals ability to make a decision by evaluating or processing current information based on some representation of prior experience (Kamil in Pepperberg 127). Some animal studies, such as Francine Pattersons study on Koko the gorilla, and Irene Pepperbergs study with Alex, an African gray parrot, have shown that some animals can be made to memorize symbols and their meanings, and then apply them to objects. In Dr. Pepperbergs book, The Alex Studies, she taught the parrot to be able to recognize different objects by color, shape, and material. He was even able to eventually distinguish between concepts such as bigger, smaller, same, different, over, and under. When asked to identify objects, Alex correctly identified, on first try, 80% of all objects presented in over 200 tests (45).
He was also able to correctly pair different labels together to fit a certain object; for example color and material. After only two years of training, Alex was able to communicate with contextual and conceptual use of human speech. He could identify, request, and refuse a set of objects for play or food (50). Dr.
Pepperberg also took precautions to ensure that she had not allowed for any cues to tip off Alex to a correct answer, as in the case of Clever Hans.These animals also demonstrated memory, another of the aspects of consciousness. Many behaviorists believe that animals act only on instinct, or on conditioned responses to stimuli.
Others, like Lesley J. Rogers, believe that memories actually play an important part in an animals behavior. The uniqueness of an individual is not simply encoded in the enormous diversity of our genetic code (our inheritance) but is established by our unique experiences encoded in our memories. It is the collection of memories that becomes part of the self (20). She is not saying that all animals are aware of the memories they form, and gives the example that even cockroaches can learn and form memories, but that doesnt necessarily mean that they are self-aware.Pigeons have a surprisingly developed memory system, and have been able to remember and distinguish hundreds of different patterns on a conditioning box out of a series of six hundred other patterns that offered no reward when pecked.
The same test was very difficult for humans to accomplish, but pigeons were able to maintain 88% accuracy after seven months (Rogers 71). Francine Pattersons study with Koko showed some of the capacity of a gorillas memory for signs. At 51 months of training, Koko had acquired 161 signs that she used on a regular basis (Patterson and Linden 87).
It would take a great deal of memory to recognize those signs and their meanings, much less be able to form them oneself, but that is what the gorilla and her trainers did every day.Along with memories comes self-awareness. This would include being aware of your own perceptions and memories, and may include (according to some) being able to recognize your own image. At a basic level, self-awareness means to be aware of ones own feelings or emotions and to be conscious of pain, but self-awareness also includes awareness of ones body ones state of mind, ones self in social context, and numerous other, ill-defined attributes that we would assign to ourselves (Rogers 15).
Rogers definition is an example of how these terms are created to fit a human standard. One reason that many scientists or psychologists will not give a standard definition for terms like these, is that there may be a form of self-awareness that fits an animals mind, but is different from our own.One test that many have used to search for self-awareness in animals is the Gallup mirror test.
The test entails having an animal look into a mirror in order to see itself. The animal is later anesthetized, and a mark is placed somewhere on the animal, usually the forehead, or some other spot that wouldnt be seen without a mirror. The animal is once again placed before a mirror, and when it wakes up, is observed to determine if it will touch the spot, showing that it recognizes the mirror image as a representation of itself. It was first developed to test when children first become self aware, and was later used on several animal species.
Some of the species who have passed this test are the great apes, dolphins, and (surprisingly) the pigeon.There is much controversy surrounding the Gallup test, and its applications to the natural world. As Griffin suggests, This claim–that recognizing a mirror image as showing oneself is defining evidence of self-awareness–relies on a form of introspection as a crucial criterion. This presents difficulties for behaviorists, inasmuch as Watson and later behaviorists have insisted that introspection cannot provide valid scientific data (275). That is really only one of the problems with the Gallup test.
The gallop test was created so that human children can display self recognition; however, it may be the case that many animals have self recognition, but have no reason to display it. Take, for instance, animals that drink out of natural pools, puddles, or lakes. If every time they lean over the water the image staring back was mistaken for another animal, the animal would act accordingly; yet they do not.
It is therefore possible that some animals can recognize a self image for what it is, and pay it no attention. A reflection has no smell or sound. It isnt a threat, and an animal would be wasting its time in the wild to be concerned with it. It does not provide information about recognition of self using auditory, olfactory, or tactile information, all of which are important aspects of the self-image, and it certainly tells us little, if anything, of the mental aspects of self (Rogers 23). Another important thing to keep in mind about the Gallup test, is that is not absolute, even for adult humans.
Just as all great apes cannot recognize themselves in a mirror, so there is such a condition in humans. According to Wynne, There is a syndrome that causes an inability to recognize faces. This is called prosopagnosia. Severe prosopagnosics are unable to recognize themselves in a mirror, but nobody has suggested that they lack a healthy self-concept (25).
This is not to say that there is not information gained from the Gallup test, and it is certainly interesting when an animal does respond, but it shouldnt be used as the absolute litmus test for self-awareness. Mental attributes are a part of the self not reflected in mirrors. Self-recognition in mirrors, photographs, or on film is only one small facet of self-awareness (Rogers 31). Other mental capabilities that were before believed to be limited to human reasoning have also been shown to exist in some animals. Deception, humor, insults, and attitude have all been observed in primates.
Deception outside of a species is a normal behavioral attribute in many species. Camouflage, deceptive vocal calls, and lighting patterns in fireflies are all ways that species deceive other species in order to survive. Deception within a species, however, is more anomalous and shows a higher cognitive ability.
It shows a motive and an ability to guess what the other organism is thinking in order to gain the reaction you desire. As Wynne puts it, To be deceitful means to provide false information for ones own advantage. To know that placing a false belief in anothers mind could be advantageous to oneself implies an understanding that others act on the information they receive – this implies a theory of others minds (16). One example concerning baboons, observed by Richard Byrne and Andrew Whiten in their field studies, was noticed when a young baboon came across a dominant baboon with a corm he had dug up from the ground. The young baboon screamed loudly for his mother, and she came running to attack the offending adult, who dropped the corm to escape her. The young baboon then picked up the corm and ate it. This baboon was observed to do the same thing to different individuals three times in the weeks they were observed (Rogers 49).
Francine Pattersons studies also show signs of primates using deception. In this excerpt from The Education of Koko, she describes the attempts of Mike, another gorilla they taught to sign, to escape a scolding:One day in 1978, when asked by volunteer Ellen Strong, Who ripped my jacket? Mike signed Koko. Ellen, knowing that the culprit was the short hairy one looking at her so innocently, repeated the question. This time he placed the blame on me (Patterson). Finally he confessed. It was Mike. (Patterson and Linden 174)In several instances Koko showed herself capable of lies as well.
In one example, Koko was playing with a volunteer, and gave him a small bite. When asked What did you do? by Patterson, Koko replied with Not teeth. When Patterson retorted with, Koko, you lied! the gorilla contritely admitted Bad again Koko bad again (Patterson and Linden 181). This kind of communication with primates allows us to see the type of complex behavior they are capable of. In just the above conversation, Koko has displayed that she understands the concepts that she has been taught through signs, that she is capable of guessing what the other person has seen or is thinking, and that she is aware of her own actions.
We are at a disadvantage with other animals, because we do not share the same forms of communication. We can not ask what other animals are thinking, what they want or feel, or even determine if they have a sense of self. What is known right now is that we do not know, but that is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume animal consciousness does not or can not exist. Until further observations or tests can be developed that will start to lead man to a closer understanding of the animal mind, it is important to remember that absence of evidence does not imply evidence of absence.Works CitedGriffin, Donald R. Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Patterson, Francine, and Eugene Linden. The Education of Koko. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1981.Pepperberg, Irene.
The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.Rogers, Lesley J.
Minds of Their Own. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.Wynne, Clive D.L. Animal Cognition.
New York, NY: Palgrave, 2001.