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With our tendency to anthropomorphize everything, from playful puppies to temperamental automobiles, it stands to reason that the animal mind is a topic of hot debate.
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.
27 internautes sur 40 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Do animals think? Well, surely some do, you may think. And an increasing
number of researchers across disciplines would agree with you: They are
trying to determine hownot whetheranimals consciously process information
about their social and nonsocial environments.
What is going on in the minds of animals? Do they have desires and
beliefs? Zealots abound at both ends of a spectrum that ranges from those
who believe that animals are merely thoughtless robotic automatons to
those who argue that all are thinking creatures with rich cognitive lives.
I imagine that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: A number of animals
have the capacity for thinking about certain situations and showing
flexible, adaptable behavior, whereas others may behave reflexively, with
little or no thought at all.
Psychologist Clive D. L. Wynne takes a firm behaviorist stance on the
issue in his new book, Do Animals Think? He argues that animals, even
those commonly believed to have active minds and a good deal of conscious
thoughtcompanion animals, dolphins and great apesreally don't think much
about anything. Here, and also in a brief communication and an essay
published in the March 11 and April 8 issues of Nature, Wynne says that we
should be very cautious about ascribing consciousness to animals and that
anthropomorphic explanations have no place in the study of animal
I should confess right away that I'm a member of the opposing campa rich
cognitivist. Thus I was skeptical of Wynne's position from the outset. But
I was also open to his arguments. And I did find some of the information
he presents about bees, bats and other animals to be both fascinating and
Unfortunately, Wynne's adversarial tone and narrow choice of data made
this book a difficult read for me. Throughout he takes potshots at
wellknown scientists, philosophers and advocates of animal protection:
Roger Fouts especially, and also the late Donald Griffin, Sue
SavageRumbaugh, Frans de Waal, Jane Goodall, Peter Singer, Steven Wise and
even Linda McCartney. Wynne criticizes them for using questionable
information about animal sentience to support the view that we should be
deeply concerned with animal wellbeing. The book opens with an account of
violence against humans by a member of the Animal Liberation Front, and it
ends on a similar note, with Wynne criticizing animal protectionists for
flawed thinking. He claims that he longs for the certainty of those who
attribute consciousness and the ability to experience pain to many
animals. But in fact, he advocates the opposite point of view with that
same level of certainty.
Although Wynne admits that we do not know very much about animal thinking,
this does not stop him from arguing that his reductionist views are
correct. He believes that the differences between animals and humans are
greater, and more significant, than the similarities. But are they? Does
Wynne include all animals or only some species in his arguments for mental
dissimilarity? He claims that
The psychological abilities that make human culture possibleenthusiasm to
imitate others, language, and the ability to place oneself imaginatively
into another's perspective on eventsare almost entirely lacking in any
What does "almost" mean? Nobody claims that other animals are identical to
us, but arguments invoking evolutionary continuity leave room for the
conclusion that the differences are, in fact, smalldifferences in degree
rather than differences in kind. Many observations show that members of
some species imitate other animals, empathize with them, are able to take
another's perspective in certain situations (there is neurobiological
evidence to support the conclusion that some animals have a theory of
mind), and have culture and rather sophisticated patterns of
The behaviorist view is little concerned with evolution. It also fails to
recognize that the behavior of many animals is far too flexible and
situationspecific to be explained in terms of simplified stimulusresponse
contingencies. Marked withinspecies variability is quite common, and this
adaptive variability often (although not always) lends itself readily to
"cognitive" explanations invoking consciousness, intentions and beliefs.
It remains to be shown how large the differences are between humans and
other animals. Although Wynne claims to recognize that not enough data are
available to make definitive statements, he offers them nonetheless,
arriving at some sweeping generalizations. He argues for the objective
study of behavior, butironicallymuch of his book serves to illustrate that
science isn't valuefree and that every scientist has an agenda.
Scientists who are skeptical about research on animal thinking typically
criticize it for being anecdotal and anthropomorphic. They claim that
anecdotes don't provide sufficient data (a view with which I and other
rich cognitivists generally agree) and that anthropomorphic explanations
are extremely imprecise. Wynne favors reductionistic stimulusresponse
explanations over ones that appeal to such notions as consciousness,
intentions and beliefs. However, he doesn't offer any scientific support
for his position. And in fact there is no empirical evidence that the
explanations he favors are better for understanding and predicting
behavior than those he eschews.
Many who, like Wynne, favor mechanistic explanations have not spent much
time watching freeranging animals. Were they to do so, the complexity and
flexibility of animal behavior would force them to realize that no simple
explanatory scheme will be correct all of the time. What is more, they
would appreciate better how much more there still is to learn about animal
Almost daily, surprising new findings crop up: New Caledonian crows are
better at making and using tools than many primates; fish show culture and
likely feel pain; a dog named Rico knows about 200 words and can figure
out, through exclusion learning, that an unfamiliar sound refers to an
unfamiliar toy. So it's best to keep an open mind. The fact that an animal
doesn't do something in one context doesn't necessarily mean that it won't
be able to do it in another.
Returning at the end of the book to the theme of his opening pages, Wynne
expresses heavy skepticism about whether animals feel pain and whether
that should influence how we treat them. On the one hand, he praises
philosopher Jeremy Bentham's claim that the key question for determining
the moral and legal standing of animals is "Can they suffer?"not "Can they
reason?" or "Can they talk?" But on the other hand, Wynne notes that even
if we could measure pain in animals, "it is still not clear that this
would tell us what to do and to whom." Feeling pain is not, in his view,
the only criterion for deciding whether animals are worthy of our concern.
He says, revealingly, that animals "are valuable to us because of who we
are, not what they are."
Unfortunately, a great divide remains between opposing camps. The
polemical tone and lack of balance in the book make it difficult for me to
recommend it as a text for a course unless it's read alongside a book that
presents a variety of views on animal thinking. And inconsistencies in the
argumentation make it hard for me to recommend it for a general audience.
I do think that the book will serve to stimulate discussion of such issues
as what it means to "know" something, how much information must be
available before we can draw reliable, sweeping conclusions, and how we
determine how certain we can be that those conclusions are correct.
Studies of animal thinking lend themselves nicely to that philosophical