Do Animals Think? (Anglais) Relié – 1 mars 2004
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Literally. Animal rights activists have torched and bombed facilities associated with medical research or product testing on animals. Wynne finds these zealots baffling. Why, he wonders, focus on researchers rather than farmers, who, for sheer numbers, do away with a lot more animals? The Animal Liberation Front, he notes, in 2001 documented "the rescue of 5,000 animals, not one of them a pig. Why not?"
People simply do not bring an objective eye to bear on the subject of animal minds and that includes scientists. In lively and provocative style, Wynne, psychologist and professor, attempts to remedy this. He devotes chapters to four well-studied species: the honeybee, the pigeon, the bat and the dolphin. Others, particularly apes, also make frequent appearances.
He examines what makes these animals different from us, and what we have in common. What is special about these creatures? What is it like to be them? Are animals self-aware? How can we know? Chapters are devoted to the faculties that - supposedly - set us apart and above the animal kingdom: reasoning, language, and "the ability to put oneself imaginatively into the position of another - what we would call `theory of mind.' "
No one argues for the intelligence of bees. Yet the dance of the honeybee conveys detailed information about the whereabouts of high-quality food. The bee knows her food is better than what her sisters are bringing in because unloader bees serve her quickly. Mediocre loads have to wait. But some bees, even when informed their offering is hardly worth unloading, do their dance anyway. They are able to reason that near and plentiful is worthwhile even if the quality is below average.
Most, perhaps all, animals learn from experience. Even the sea slug learns to anticipate a poke. But reasoning was thought to be the province of humans until monkeys were shown to do it in the 1980s. A few years later even pigeons demonstrated the ability to make fairly complex deductions.
But then, a setback. Monkeys who could negotiate complicated patterns to predict the next in a series, were unable to judge where a peanut would fall through a curved tube. Although the simple mechanism was right in front of them, they still assumed the peanut would fall in a straight line. Wynne deconstructs these experiments to show how the simple logic involved for the animal in each step contributes to a complex task, while what seems to us the simplest diversion of a curve could stymie another primate, unable to make the leap.
The language discussion naturally devotes a lot of its energy to ape studies, which seem to show that apes can learn to use sign or symbol language. Wynne debunks this by giving us chunks of original data alongside the researcher's conclusions, showing a clear bias for enthusiasm. Readers of the popular books he refers to may counter with numerous endearing or amazing chimp anecdotes, but Wynne would probably agree that these show a complex and fascinating animal, while not a user of language.
Chimps don't have the brain mechanisms for language, but we don't have the bat's echolocation or the dolphin's sonar. He likens the relationship of species to a similarity sandwich with commonalities in a squishy middle, dissimilarities on the bottom and qualities unique to each species on top.
Wynne is clear about his own biases - he is basically a skeptic, with an open mind. He has a great appreciation for animals, which does not depend on them being like us. And, like most scientists, he relishes demolishing his colleagues, particularly the ones who, like himself, have written books for the general reader.
His writing is clear, well-organized and witty. The jury is still out on whether (and what) animals think, but Wynne's book is a highly entertaining and informative contribution to the debate.
Discredited during the Age of Darwin, this conceit that animals other than humans are unconscious automatons is periodically disinterred -- like an ober-vampire that can't be killed no matter how many stakes are driven into its heart -- and peddled by a new generation of sophists: first Watson, followed by Skinner, and now Wynne. In an era when cognitive ethology has supplanted behaviorism as the dominant paradigm, Prof. Wynne swims against the current; a very small fish but one who occupies an even smaller pool. Like the doubters who don't believe that AIDS is caused by the HIV virus, or that smoking causes cancer, or that anthropogenic climate change is upon us, Prof. Wynne grasps for the seat at the table reserved for the contrarian position, thereby insuring frequent interview requests from credulous
journalists trying to cover all possible points of view, even the most outlandish.
It would be easy to dismiss Prof. Wynne's stated views as obsolescent and so much self-serving poppycock except that he has no hesitation about employing them to disparage and undermine justified public concerns about animal suffering. This plays directly into the hands of those sinister entities that profit from animal abuse and would understandably prefer to not be encumbered by animal welfare regulations as they go about their nefarious activities. Voltaire wrote, "if we believe absurdities, we will commit atrocities." And one of the leading purveyors today of just such dangerous absurdities is Clive Wynne.
Prof. Wynne is now reportedly focusing his research attentions on the comparative behavior of wolves and domestic dogs, a field already amply picked over by everyone from Lorenz to Miklosi. Elsewhere, Prof. Wynne has confidently assured cat owners that the reason cats crawl into their owners' laps is all due to a simple thermotropism; a claim anyone who has actually lived with indoor domestic cats knows to be ludicrous. So, canid enthusiasts can, no doubt, look forward to another round of similar dubious speculations in Prof. Wynne's next book.
Chapter 9, the final chapter, may be the most disturbing part of the entire book. Here you see a scientist deliberating about whether animals experience pain, and you are left with the impression that he really does not think they do, or at least has his doubts. I would like to provide you with some very unfortunate quotes as a way of illustrating the author's attitude:
"Let me ask again, How do we know animals feel pain? Singer's answer, the standard answer, is because they act the way we do when we feel pain. Our dog Benji ... walked into the side of a parked car once ... Didn't seem to bother him at all." P.240
In other words an animal's physical reactions don't necessarily represent the experience of the animal. Here is another good one on the same point:
"When organs are removed from the brain dead ... doctors commonly give anesthetics. Why bother with anesthetics if there is no chance that the individual is conscious? Because without them the body reacts violently ... So this adds a further complication to the calculus of pain that Singer wants us to engage in: outward signs may correlate little with inner agonies." P.240
Please see my review of Dr. Wynne's Animal Cognition.
I would like to recommend some better books (all very readable) on this subject:
Animal Learning & Cognition 3rd Ed by John Pearce
Animal Intelligence by Zhanna Reznikova
The Cognitive Animal (multiple authors)
The Smartest Animals On The Planet (written for non-science students) by Sally Boysen
Cognition, Evolution & Behavior by Sara Shettleworth
Also worth reading:
The Ethology of Domestic Animals 2nd Ed by P. Jensen
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