Anthropocentric biases manifest themselves in two different ways in research on animal cognition. Some researchers claim that only humans have the capacity for reasoning, beliefs, and interests; and others attribute mental concepts to nonhuman animals on the basis of behavioral evidence, and they conceive of animal cognition in more or less human terms. Both approaches overlook the fact that language-use deeply informs mental states, such that comparing human mental states to the mental states of nonlinguistic animals is misguided. In order (...) to avoid both pitfalls -- assuming that animals have mental lives just like we do, or assuming that they have no mental lives at all -- I argue for a functional methodological approach. Researchers should study animal cognition by identifying environmental inputs, the functional role of internal states, and behavioral outputs. Doing so will allow for cross-species comparisons in a way that the use of folk psychological terms does not. (shrink)
Thomas Suddendorf’s The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals takes as its subject the question of what separates human cognition from the cognition of animals. In addition to providing a lengthy synthesis of the current state of knowledge of the differences between human and animal minds, it also contains an introduction to the history of thinking about “the gap” between us and them, and—more implicitly—an introduction to the methods of experimental science. It does not defend—at least, (...) not at length—any new claim about the nature of what it is that makes humans cognitively unique. In this respect, readers looking for bold new hypotheses to challenge recent academic claims about human uniqueness (e.g., Tomasello 2014) may be disappointed. Nonetheless, the book is a highly impressive work of popular science—and a very interesting, accessible, balanced, elegant, and enjoyable introduction to the field.Suddendorf’s book divides, roughly, into three parts. The first—spa .. (shrink)
The organism against its environment. The organism against other organisms, competing and struggling for life. Antagonism and confrontment as the only possible relation in nature. The tendency to anthropomorphize nature and explain it using concepts and facts from the human sphere. A stroll through the worlds of Uexküll and Merleau-Ponty in the search of alternative knowledge that allow us to understand relation from another point of view. A counterpoint and identification of common tonalities between the research programs from both thinkers (...) as a way to demonstrate the possibilities of a more fruitful approach. Umwelt as a generative system of meaningful relations in which its participants are not mutually exclusive, but express a melody that include them all. (shrink)
Are nonhuman non-linguistic animals self-conscious? And how is it possible to find out whether they are or not? This question raises two interrelated problems: the conceptual problem and the methodological problem. In order to approach an answer, it is first and foremost necessary to establish criteria for self-consciousness by considering the phenomenon and the abilities connected with it. Subsequently, one can survey the experimental paradigms. Do the experiments really show that the identified ability has to be used to successfully master (...) the given task? Is the presence of self-consciousness the best explanation for the empirical data? This paper proposes that the underlying ability for self-consciousness is the capacity to have mental states, where the subject is thought of as the subject of the mental state. Furthermore, two important current experimental paradigms will be evaluated for their usefulness to identify the presence of self-consciousness. The verdict will be negative. Neither ‘mirror self-recognition’ nor ‘uncertainty monitoring’ need to employ the aforementioned ability in order to be executed. (shrink)
The chapter discusses the principle of conservatism and traces how the general principle is related to the specific one. This tracing suggests that the principle of conservatism needs to be refined. Connecting the principle in cognitive science to more general questions about scientific inference also allows us to revisit the question of realism versus instrumentalism. The framework deployed in model selection theory is very general; it is not specific to the subject matter of science. The chapter outlines some non-Bayesian ideas (...) that have been developed in model selection theory. The principle of conservatism, like C. Lloyd Morgan's canon, describes a preference concerning kinds of parameters. It says that a model that postulates only lower-level intentionality is preferable to one that postulates higher-level intentionality if both fit the data equally well. The model selection approach to parsimony helps explain why unification is a theoretical virtue. (shrink)
Primates have been studied by more people, from more angles, for longer periods of time than any other vertebrates. Primate studies have existed for over fifty years and have attracted leagues of students from diverse backgrounds to studies of primate behavior, ecology, and evolution. The nature of the primates and their students has insured that the field has enjoyed considerable public exposure. Most people with access to a television have watched programs in which the lives of baboons, chimps, or gorillas (...) have been interpreted by a primatologist, either on screen or behind the scenes. Shirley Strum and Linda Fedigan's marvelous edited volume examines the totality of this phenomenon—the motivation behind the studies, the students, the media, and the practitioners of science studies who provide contemporary commentary on the whole mess.In the Wenner‐Gren Foundation–sponsored conference that led to their book, Strum and Fedigan's goal was to investigate how and why ideas about primate society have changed in the short lifespan of the discipline. The book does this and more. It is an all‐encompassing examination of the adaptations and survival of a discipline through fifty years of changing intellectual fashions, increasing publicity, and an ever‐changing backdrop of “general knowledge” and public expectations about science. The book's four major sections deal, in turn, with the perspectives of the pioneers of primatology, the diversity of national traditions involved in primate studies, intellectual currents in the related fields of cultural anthropology, archaeology, and psychology, and models of science and society through the lens of primate studies. Thanks to this well‐conceived framework, the reader steps through an experiential history of primate studies that is vivid, lively, and filled with significant scientific and social insights. Each section is concluded with a printed exchange of e‐mails among the contributors, modern versions of the texts of discussions featured in symposium volumes from decades past. These exchanges are the soul of the book, for it is in these that the personal motivations, grudges, and agendas of the participants emerge.One of the most important themes explored in the book is that of gender and, specifically, to what extent the gender of primatologists has influenced their science and the way it is portrayed. Not only does this involve a complete exploration of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey hagiography but also examinations of the impact that women have had in elucidating the roles of female primates in their societies and, thereby, in achieving comprehensive views of primate social dynamics. This theme, in turn, is closely tied to the most interesting set of interactions played out in the book, between the primatologists and the practitioners of science studies. One doesn't quite know here who is watching whom, but the result is a balanced examination of what science in general means to people who don't identify themselves as scientists and how scientific knowledge is translated into public knowledge. In this age of growing “antiscience” sensibilities in the humanities and the public sphere, this contribution alone makes the book essential reading.The shortcomings of the book are few: the chapters providing commentary on related disciplines do not make consistent comparisons with primatology, and at least a few of the authors don't seem to know or care about the entire premise of the book. But this is a very small problem in a book that is otherwise outstanding. The editors have produced a multifaceted, retrospective volume that is neither self‐congratulatory nor self‐pitying. It is an insightful treatment of how science really works, how it is portrayed, and how it becomes the fodder for its own science. I don't know any biologist or historian of science who would not benefit immensely from reading this book. (shrink)
Animal Cognition: The Mental Lives of Animals, by Clive Wynne, provides a brief exploration of important concepts, methods, and fields of study in the area of animal cognition. Wynne includes information on the history of research into animal minds, and a wide range of data collected from a host of experiments. Animal Cognition encourages those interested to join in the much-needed study of animal behavior, and offers a plethora of graphs, illustrations, and photographs to aid readers.