Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

Inside knowledge: What’s Really Going On in the Minds of Animals

April 11, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Michael Brooks in the Features section of in the 1 Apr 2017 New Scientist.   The article begins, “Bright animals from chimps to crows know what they know and what others are thinking.  But when it comes to abstract knowledge, the picture is more mixed.”  Some qualifications need to be placed on “what others are thinking.”  There are definite limits as we humans often have difficulty trying to know what our fellow humans are thinking.

The article also fails to note “The Cambridge Declaration of Scientists.”  It begins as follows:
“On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observation can be stated unequivocally:”

and concludes:
“The absence of neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

The full statement can be found at

Fortunately, the scientists here are neuroscientists, which gives the statement more gravitas than had it been made by psychologists.  But psychologists are involved in designing experiments to assess how much and what kinds of abstract knowledge can be achieved by different species.  And there is a long row of research ahead of them.  HM was much encouraged by this declaration as he has long thought that dogs were man’s best friend, rather than men being man’s best friend, because dogs had the neurological substrates for love and loyalty, but were lacking in neocortex that allowed for rationalization and deviousness.

There is a tendency to evaluate what animals know with respect to what humans know.  Sometimes this research seems to reflect an inferiority complex in showing what these are things we can do that nonhuman species cannot. They also need to be evaluated with respect to the capabilities of the species and the environments in which they operate.

We need to consider species with respect to their sensory caoacities. Consider are best friend, dogs, for example.  The vision of most dogs is not that good, but their hearing is outstanding, and their sense of smell is extraordinary.  When we think of someone, we tend to see them in our mind’s eye.  However, when a dog thinks of a person it is likely in terms of how that person smells.

Recent research has indicated that non-human species are more human than has traditionally been thought.  This research is to be applauded.  We look forward to what we’ll learn from future research, but it should go beyond what they can do compared to what we can do.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Animal

May 10, 2016

The first cryptomind discussed in “The Mind Club” is the animal.  Some brief discussion is done regarding whether plants have minds.  In addition to responding to environmental events recent research has found that there is also communication among plants.  As more is learned about plants perhaps they will be attributed to have cryptominds, but the authors conclude that this communication is so slow that plants should be excluded.  Anthropocentrism is an important factor in considering whether an entity has mind.  That is, the more an entity is like ourselves, the more likely it is to have a mind.  So animals who move much slower than we do or much faster than we do are  likely to be thought of as having minds.  We expect members of the mind club to be approximately human size, have a humanlike number of limbs and a similar amount of hair.

Eyes are  another feature that is important.  Eyes can convey the focus of attention, which suggests intention and the next likely cause of action.  The authors note, “It’s no accident that we see minds in our pets when we stare into their eyes—and ignore the potential mind of creatures without obvious humanlike eyes, such as plants and insects.”   Complex movement  is another train that implies mind.  Something that follows and chases, hides and sees, darts and weaves implies mind more than something that just sits there.

Another key factor is how much interaction we humans have with particular species.  We see more mind in cats and dogs than in sheep and crows, because we have more experience with them.  Cats and dogs tend to be pets, whereas sheep are a farm animal, and crows are wild.  However, research experience has shown that crows are intelligent and most certainly have mind.

Crows have shown that they can match the knowledge of some young children.  In one experiment researchers presented crows with a narrow vase half filled with water with a treat floating in it.  The water level was too low for the crow to reach the treat floating in it, but there was a pile of little rocks nearby.  Crows had no problem figuring out that by moving the rocks into the vase raised the water level so that the treat could be reached.  Some children could not figure this out.

Research with birds has demonstrated that some birds actually dance to a beat.  Only  animals that engage in vocal mimicry, such as songbirds, parrots, hummingbirds, elephants, and bats can do so.

Chimps are also able to read the minds of other chimps.  Two caches of food were set up  in a courtyard:  one in plain sight of a high-ranking chimp, the other hidden from his view by a wooden screen.  Then a hungry junior chimp was released into the courtyard.  The question was whether the junior chimp would realize that the high-ranking chimp could not see the hidden cache of food.  The junior chimp took the food from the hidden cache that the high-ranking chimp could not see, rather than being severely beaten if he took the cache the high-ranking chimp could see.

However, the real champions of understanding mental states, at least our mental states, are dogs.  Dogs are not only social animals, but they coevolved with us.  The authors wrote,”Over millennia we fed, petted, and sheltered the dos that knew what we were thinking, and we killed, beat, and exiled the dogs that were oblivious to our desires.  This gives modern-day dogs an amazing ability to read human thoughts, although not in the mysterious telepathic sense.  Instead they read our nonverbal cues such as gaze and pointing.”  Healthy memory believes that dogs also read the sound and intonation of our voices and do have a limited vocabulary of words that they understand.

Researchers have put in front of a dog two smell-proof boxes, only one of which contained food.   When the dog’s owner pointed to the correct box, dogs almost always go to it.  If this same exercise is done with chimpanzees, they never pick up the cues.  As the authors wrote, “you can point and dance and pelvic thrust at the correct box on hundreds of trials and chimps will never get it right.  Cats, on the other hand, when observing a human pointing to the correct box, will look at the human derisively and then vigorously lick their own crotch.”

Many species of animals show compassion and seem to have an instinctive sense of fairness.  These characteristics go a long way to convincing us that these species definitely do have minds.

A reasonable question is how can we eat meat when we know these creatures have minds.  Fortunately, we have eliminated plants from the Mind Club, or we could not take recourse to vegetarianism.  Healthymemory will share how he does it.  He reasons that farm animals never would have been born otherwise.  So by eating meat, they do have a shot at life.  However, when how these animals are mistreated  is considered, the question deserves consideration.  As well be seen in subsequent posts, personal comfort has a large bearing on which and what kinds of minds are developed.

Sometimes, for very good reasons, animals need to be released into the wild.  Some orphaned animals whose parents were killed by poachers need to be nurtured back to health and rehabilitated before they can be released into the wild.

What concerns healthy memory are animals that are presumably released back into the wild because they think that these animals will prefer living in the wild.  These people are well intentioned, but perhaps it is a tad arrogant of them to think that they know the animal’s minds.  Healthy memory is writing specifically here about cetaceans— dolphins, porpoises, and whales who live in Sea World and similar aquaria  and perform in shows for audiences.  Having existed like this for years, ostensibly good thinking people have them forcefully put out to sea.  How do they know that these creatures do not prefer their current home, like interacting with humans, and perhaps like being in show business?  It seems like these creatures need to be given the option of leaving or staying, and that after leaving, they would still have the option of returning.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.