Minds Of Animals Essay, Research Paper
A New Approach to Animal Minds
Purpose for Report
Certainly, there are many non-human animals that inhabit the almighty mother
earth. The human race has always been interested in the behavior of other animals found
in this diverse world. This report will definitely be a very insightful and interesting guide
to those in search of understanding the capabilities of the animal mind. This informative
document will discuss the question of animal self-awareness, the ability of animals to
think and reason in various situations and most importantly give an in depth analysis about
the conscious thinking of animals. Furthermore, references will be made to articles and
books written by experts in the field of animal behavior so to provide valid information
from a reliable source.
What is Conscious Thinking?
Before discussing animals themselves, first there are certain definitions that the
reader must become familiar with. ?Most people have no doubt of their own conscious
thinking but cannot convey to another person all that they experience? ( Griffin 5). To be
conscious is defined as ? aware of what one is intending to do or having a purpose or
intention in one?s actions? (Webster?s 55). The word think is defined as ? to have in mind
a notion or idea? (Webster?s 268) . Therefore, it can be inferred that to be a conscious
thinker would include having in mind an idea or notion and being aware of what one is
intending to do with this idea. Now that these terms have been discussed, applying them
to animals will be a great deal simpler.
A Fine Line
When speaking of conscious thinking within animals, there are two extreme sides
of the argument. One extremity is cognitive theories. Lately, more and more scientists
are opening their eyes to the opinions of cognitive scientists who believe that animals do
have emotion, feeling, reasoning and are fully conscious. ?Our challenge is to venture
across the species boundary and try to gather satisfactory information about what other
species may think or feel? (Griffin 12) . As a result of the intuition of the few cognitive
scientists in the world, there have been extensive research and experiments done that are
providing vital information concerning the conscious thinking of animals.
Another extreme opinion when dealing with animal thoughts is the behavioral
theory. Many behavioral scientists believe that animals do not think or reason, they
merely act on pure instinct and predetermined behavior. ?Most biologists and
psychologists tend, explicitly or implicitly, to treat most of the worlds animals as
mechanisms, complex mechanisms to be sure, but unthinking robots nonetheless? (Griffin
9). These types of scientists feel that animals are creatures who do not feel, think or
are aware of what they are. Long ago this was a very popular opinion but as of late more
and more experts have questioned the validity of this theory.
Studies of conscious thinking
Rio, the Logical Sea Lion
In California an experiment has been done to help support the theories of many
cognitive scientists. ?Rio, a seven-year-old sea lion at the University of California at Santa
Cruz, thinks like a human.? (Crabb 1). Miraculously, Rio understands a simple
mathematical concept. ?If A equals B, and B equals C, then it follows that A equals C,
and even that C equals A. Most humans know that, sort of. So does Rio? (1 Crabb). To
prove this, Dr. Schusterman from the University, helps Rio to match ?the silhouette of a
crab with that of a tulip, and then the tulip with a radio, Rio then makes a logical leap; she
matches the crab with the radio. It may seem like a small thing, but it is a basic kind of
logical thinking? (Crabb 1). This informative experiment is only one of the phenomenal
leaps that has been made in the progress of cognitive theories.
Hans, the Clever Horse
In another study, a horse called ?Hans? has surpassed simple logical thinking and
has become somewhat of an animal scholar. After long training this highly intelligent
animal has demonstrated the capacity for abstract thinking.
Hans could not only count, he could also solve problems in arithmetic. The four
fundamental processes were entirely familiar to him. Common fractions he
changed to decimals, and vice versa; he could solve problems in mensuration – and
all with such ease that it was difficult to follow him if one had become somewhat
rusty in these branches. ( In the case of all fractions Hans would first tap the
numerator and then the denominator) (Henderson 47)
This illustration of the ability for an animal to reason numerical problems is indisputable
evidence that the minds of animals have the capacity for logical thinking. Furthermore,
?Hans? has demonstrated that he is very intelligent and can understand more complex
ideas than some humans.
The Question of Self Awareness
Many experiments have been repeatedly done to prove that an animal can
think and reason, but the question of whether animals are aware of themselves and their
surroundings still hinders the minds of many. One scientist, Gordon Gallup of the State
University of New York, has helped to answer this intriguing question. His experiment
was carried out with the use of several chimpanzees who had become familiar with the
use of mirrors. After putting the chimpanzees to sleep, Gordon applied ?marks of bright
red dye to a chimpanzee?s eyebrow ridge and opposite ear. The dye is odorless and
nonirratating, so the chimp can?t smell or feel it; nor can the chimp see the marks without
the aid of a mirror? (Wright 3). When the chimpanzees were revived they looked in the
mirror and did a double take. Instantly they began to wipe the red dye from their own
body and then inspect their fingers. This obviously proves that the chimpanzees have
come to the realization that the image seen in the mirror is their own. Therefore it can be
said that these animals are aware of not only their appearance but their existence as well.
This test Gordon produced is now a standard measure of self-recognition known as the
Binti-Jua: The Gorilla heroine
In Chicago, at the Brookfeild Zoo, there lives a hero of a different kind. It is not a
a knight in shining armor or a soldier carrying a gun, instead it is a one-hundred and sixty
pound gorilla named Binti-Jua. Recently a young boy had fallen down into the gorilla pit
where numerous gorillas were roaming. The young three-year-old boy was injured and
the zoo attendants feared that the gorilla?s would attack the young child. ?But Binti-Jua
strolled over and scooped the injured boy up in her arm. She carried him about forty feet
around the pit to a door used by zoo attendants. There she laid the boy down for the zoo
attendant to retrieve? (Ruether 1). This display of heroism not only illustrates that the
gorilla used conscious thinking to realize the danger the boy was in but also it is evident
that the gorilla felt sympathy for the child. Amazingly this gesture of caring towards the
child has made many people realize that animals do have the capacity for emotion and
The Hard Evidence
The previously stated examples are indisputable situations where animals have
shown a high level of conscious thinking. These are only a very small portion of the
thousands of experiments that are done to help support the theories of cognitive scientists.
Hopefully this report has grasped the attention of numerous readers who think that
animals are just mindless zombies. ?What needs to be questioned is our capacity to
surpress compassionate mutual recognition of personhood toward animals, which has
justified our ill treatment of them? (Ruether 2). With this in mind, a point must be made
to try to understand the feeling and emotions that are compromised when animals are
treated like inanimate objects instead of conscious, thinking beings.
The Undesirable Truth
It is an unmistakable fact that there are numerous examples that support the idea
that animal?s are conscious, thinking and feeling organisms. This is evident through the
progress made by cognitive scientists when working with animals like the sea lion ?Rio,
the clever horse ?Hans?, Binti-Jua the heroine and the chimpanzees who were aware of
their existence. Even with these concrete facts many people still do not want to believe
that animals may have the same mind capacity that humans have. This may be the result of
many people believing that animals are all inferior or maybe because it is scary for people
to think animals have that much mind capacity. In any case, this new evidence that is
being revealed has opened a whole new world of wonder to many curious scientists. With
this in mind, there is obviously more and more reason to believe that animals are much
more then mindless zombies.
Crabb Charlene. ?Rio, the logical sea lion?. Discover. Feb 93, Vol.14, Issue 2, p.20.
Griffin R. Donald. Animal Thinking . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Havard University
Henderson W. Robert. Learning in Animals . ed. Stephen W. Porges. Stroudsburg,
Pennsylvania: Hutchinson Ross Publishing Company, 1982.
Ruether, Radfor Rosemary. ?Animals could teach us a lot about ourselves?. National
Catholic Reporter. Sept. 96, Vol 32, Issue 41, p22.
Wright, Karen. ?The Tarzan Syndrome? . Discover. Nov. 96, Vol 17, Issue 11, p.88.