Thursday, June 9, 2016

Are Animals Intelligent?

I mentioned to a friend who is a pioneer in the field of simulating various kinds of animal behavior that I was very pleased to find a new book by an ethologist that voiced the opinion that animals had emotions and intelligence. This is of course in contrast to the last 70 plus years of the behaviorists who put animals in little boxes and maintain that animals are merely stimulus-response machines.

My friend let me know in no uncertain terms that I did not have even the slightest right to my opinions, that any behavior by scientists was acceptable, and that the lay person (if that is what I am) did not have the slightest right to criticize any scientist in the field of animal behavior in any way. If a scientist believes that a dog or a horse is merely a machine without feelings then that is what I should accept as any belief I had must necessarily be anecdotal and without the slightest validity.

I want to go on record here and disagree with my friend. Torturing and demeaning animals is not acceptable to me. I understand the need for animal models in certain kinds of medicine (e.g. cancer research) in the absence of an alternative but failing to acknowledge intelligence in animals is not. It is nothing more than an extension of the racism (species-ism?) that was once popular in mainstream science which worked so hard to measure skull shape and size to prove that the non-white “races” were inferior to the Aryan ideal and deserved to be enslaved.

Whether or not animals are human, humans are certainly animals. Our species is part of a continuous spectrum of the evolved animal life on this planet and the failure to acknowledge the intelligence and, yes, even the probable awareness and consciousness of many animals, is sheer arrogance. Yes, I realize this is science, yes I realize that consciousness and intelligence is not at all well defined and has all the pitfalls that this implies. But that is not what we are talking about here. Failing to recognize intelligence, intent, memory and yes even culture in some of our fellow creatures is just bizarre.

The book I am referring to is “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” by the well-known ethologist Franz de Waal.

Find it here:

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