Experiencing Animal Minds

Experiencing Animal Minds: An Anthology of Animal-Human Encounters

Julie A. Smit
Robert W. Mitchell
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  • Book Info
    Experiencing Animal Minds
    Book Description:

    In these multidisciplinary essays, academic scholars and animal experts explore the nature of animal minds and the methods humans conventionally and unconventionally use to understand them. The collection features chapters by scholars working in psychology, sociology, history, philosophy, literary studies, and art, as well as chapters by and about people who live and work with animals, including the founder of a sanctuary for chickens, a fur trapper, a popular canine psychologist, a horse trainer, and an art photographer who captures everyday contact between humans and their animal companions.

    Divided into five sections, the collection first considers the ways that humans live with animals and the influence of cohabitation on their perceptions of animals' minds. It follows with an examination of anthropomorphism as both a guide and hindrance to mapping animal consciousness. Chapters next examine the effects of embodiment on animals' minds and the role of animal-human interembodiment on humans' understandings of animals' minds. Final sections identify historical representations of difference between human and animal consciousness and their relevance to pre-established cultural attitudes, as well as the ways that representations of animals' minds target particular audiences and sometimes produce problematic outcomes. The editors conclude with a discussion of the relationship between the book's chapters and two pressing themes: the connection between human beliefs about animals' minds and human ethical behavior, and the challenges and conditions for knowing the minds of animals. By inviting readers to compare and contrast multiple, uncommon points of view, this collection offers a unique encounter with the diverse perspectives and theories now shaping animal studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53076-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Engaging Animal Minds: Matters of Perspective
    (pp. 1-10)

    One of the most well-known stories about perspective taking concerns an animal: the story about the six blind men and the elephant.¹ The story has various incarnations, but the gist is that each blind man makes contact with a different part of an elephant and decrees that the entire elephant is understandable on the basis of the part he touches. One point of the story is that we should not make judgments based on limited information; another is that human knowledge is perspectival—we approach things from our own limited perspectives. Importantly, the blind men in the parable do not...

  4. Part I. Living with Animals
    • 1 The Mental Life of Chickens as Observed Through Their Social Relationships
      (pp. 13-29)

      In this essay I discuss the social life of chickens and the mental states I believe they have and need in order to participate in the social relationships I have observed in them. What follows is a personalized, candid discussion of what I know, what I think I know, and what I am unsure of but have observed relevant to the minds of chickens in their relationships with each other, with other species, and with me.

      Chickens evolved in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains and the tropical forests of Southeast Asia where they have lived and raised their families...

    • 2 Tangible Affiliations: Photographic Representations of Touch Between Human and Animal Companions
      (pp. 30-50)

      Photographic images of pet or companion animals, especially in a modernist fine art context, are often seen as nostalgic or sentimental. The animal’s presence is usually highly scripted: formally arranged in the image, the animal frequently stands as a metaphor for human behavior, as an indicator of class or economic status, or as a symbol of its role as commodity item (see Baker 2001; Schlosser 2007). For many postmodern artists, pets are somehow “less than” wild animals, having given up their independence to rely on humans for their care (Baker 2000:168–169). This disparaging view within the fine arts emerges...

    • 3 Beaver Voices: Grey Owl and Interspecies Communication
      (pp. 51-62)

      Excluding perhaps his still controversial attempt to pass as a Scottish-Apache halfbreed, Grey Owl today is best known as the trapper who experienced a life-changing conversion in the 1930s and became an internationally famous conservationist and nature writer. More specifically, he emerged as the great champion of the animal on which he had relied the most to make a living, Canada’s own national emblem, the beaver. However, what is not generally known about Grey Owl is that he often attributes his identification with the beaver to their language, which he describes as humanlike. Grey Owl’s attitude toward the beaver, as...

  5. Part II. Anthropomorphisms
    • 4 The Historical Animal Mind: “Sagacity” in Nineteenth-Century Britain
      (pp. 65-78)

      Sagacity was the prevalent term in nineteenth-century Britain for the intelligence of animals. On this subject there is an orthodoxy of opinion, which this chapter sets out to nuance. Briefly stated, the orthodox opinion is that sagacity helped to order creation hierarchically, with human beings on top. Harriet Ritvo (1987) suggests that sagacity distinguished animal intelligence from human intelligence, noting that should it be “attributed to human beings it often had an ironic or less than flattering connotation” (pp. 37–38). For Ritvo, the “concept of sagacity actually reinforced human dominion. It could be defined so that the animals that...

    • 5 Science of the Monkey Mind: Primate Penchants and Human Pursuits
      (pp. 79-94)

      In this chapter I will give textual evidence for several claims. First, I will argue that there is a pop culture paradigm that demands surprising similarity between humans and nonhuman primates in terms of their mental lives, especially in terms of cognition and emotionality. As I discuss headlines from popular media,¹ I will review the originating scientific studies of nonhuman primate cognition and note that they too aim at similarity finding and are actually structured to reveal similarity rather than to uncover disparity or profound difference.² I will finally suggest that similarity seeking ultimately narrows the way science is being...

    • 6 Can Animals Make “Art”? Popular and Scientific Discourses About Expressivity and Cognition in Primates
      (pp. 95-108)

      In May of 2005 three paintings by a very special artist were sold by Bonham’s Auction House in London for approximately $30,000.00 U.S. dollars (de Vries 2005). Not so unusual perhaps, except that this artist was an ape, and the sum was the highest ever paid for a work of art created by a nonhuman animal. This chapter analyzes how the growing global trade in art by elephants, apes, dolphins and other nonhuman animals functions as a contestation of humanism and asks how the culturally specific category of “art” changes when the species producing it changes. What is at stake...

  6. Part III. Embodiments and Interembodiments
    • 7 Toward a Privileging of the Nonverbal: Communication, Corporeal Synchrony, and Transcendence in Humans and Horses
      (pp. 111-128)

      The relationship between the human and the horse—particularly the ridden horse—has fascinated both riders and writers at least since Xenophon in the first millennium bce penned the first treatise exploring the psychology of the horse. Since then, many societies have applied mystical, occult, or religious connotations to the human ability to work well with horses (Dierendonck and Goodwin 2006:35). In the United Kingdom, for instance, a secret society of horsemen was entered through an initiation ceremony that included communication of the “horseman’s word,” which was said to bestow powers over horses when whispered in the horse’s ear (p....

    • 8 Thinking Like a Whale: Interdisciplinary Methods for the Study of Human-Animal Interactions
      (pp. 129-141)

      In this essay I explore the possibilities for humans to imagine what some experiences are like for other animals—whales in particular. My work involves developing methods for being attentive to the worlds of whales in a way that informs and inspires an appreciation of how different species encounter and engage with each other’s worlds. I use practices of careful attentiveness and embodied imagination to approximate what is experientially significant to an individual of a different species. I believe, like Midgley (1995), that we grasp the meaning of each other’s behavior through a corporeal understanding of what it means to...

    • 9 The Meaning of “Energy” in Cesar Millan’s Discourse on Dogs
      (pp. 142-153)

      Contemporary scholar Zhang Longxi (2005) tells the following story about two ancient Chinese philosophers:¹

      Zhuangzi and his rival, Huizi, are strolling on the bridge over the Hao River. Zhuangzi says, “Out there a shoal of white minnows are swimming freely and leisurely. That’s what the fish’s happiness is.” Huizi replies, “Well, you are not a fish, how do you know about fish’s happiness?” Zhuangzi says, “You are not me, how do you know that I do not know about fish’s happiness?” Huizi replies, “I am not you, so I certainly do not know about you. But you are certainly not...

    • 10 Inner Experience as Perception(like) with Attitude
      (pp. 154-169)

      That animals move themselves provides most people with the idea that they are psychological, and most people have little difficulty coming up with psychological descriptions of animal activities from the animal’s perspective. People recognize that Rover wants to go out or is beginning to feel tired or presume that Rover feels guilty about destroying the couch. Often in discussions of an animal’s mind, however, people want to or try to describe what is termed the animal’s “inner private” (or conscious) experience in a manner similar to the way we describe our own such experience (e.g., Griffin 2001). Some such experiences...

    • 11 The Voice of the Living: Becoming-Artistic and the Creaturely Refrain in D. H. Lawrence’s “Tortoise Shout”
      (pp. 170-185)

      Because poetry participates in the rhythmic, the musical, and the incantatory, the poetic representation of animal being is particularly salient to a discussion of cosmic and aesthetic forces. Moreover, as Jorie Graham explained during the 2006 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, poetry must be recognized as bodily experience. During her festival presentations Graham reiterated that reading and hearing poetry are not primarily cognitive but rather somatic processes. Such a claim forces us to rethink some of our more conventional notions about literature, the body, and even the creaturely. I want to suggest that one of D. H. Lawrence’s often-anthologized animal...

    • 12 Unique Attributes of the Elephant Mind: Perspectives on the Human Mind
      (pp. 186-200)

      Among the terrestrial mammals, elephants share the unique status, along with humans and great apes, of having large brains, being long lived, and having offspring that require long periods of dependency. Elephants have the largest brains of all terrestrial mammals, including the greatest volume of cerebral cortex. Even when body-size-related functions of the cerebral cortex are subtracted, neurobiological modeling reveals that elephants still have approximately double the volume of associative cerebral cortex available for “mental” activities as humans, and about ten times that of chimpanzees (Hart and Hart 2007; Hart, Hart, and Pinter-Wollman 2008).

      Obviously, with such a brain one...

    • 13 Brains, Bodies, and Minds: Against a Hierarchy of Animal Faculties
      (pp. 201-216)

      What good is a brain? By itself a brain doesn’t do anything at all. In a jar with formaldehyde, a brain makes a good paper weight or teaching tool, but it can’t think. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology, used to map processing regions and draw the tenuous line between life and death, can only detect mental activity in living brains, which means that the diagnostic tool also measures the contributions of a functioning body. Brains, human or nonhuman, mammal or reptilian, begin to die within a few minutes of oxygen deprivation. The brain only accomplishes its work when intricately linked...

  7. Part IV. Animal Versus Human Consciousness
    • 14 Rethinking the Cognitive Abilities of Animals
      (pp. 219-230)

      For a long time in the history of Western philosophy it was assumed that nonhuman animals are incapable of rationality. Aristotle observes in his zoological writings that many animals appear to exhibit rational capacities, yet in his psychological and ethical writings he excludes nonhuman animals from community with humans on the grounds that animals are incapable of phronesis, the notion of practical wisdom that Aristotle considers crucial for active citizenship. The Stoic philosophers formalize Aristotle’s position in the psychological and political writings into a cosmic principle according to which animals were created expressly to satisfy human needs and lack the...

    • 15 Assessing Evidence for Animal Consciousness: The Question of Episodic Memory
      (pp. 231-245)

      A squirrel bustles down the tree into the pachysandra to retrieve an acorn and then scurries back up to sit atop a knot in the bark while it shaves the shell and eats the nut meat. What is it like to be a squirrel? Is there any way to tell unless one is that very squirrel? Many people believe that the essentially private nature of consciousness closes off the possibility that science as an objective, third-person form of investigation could tell us anything about the subjective, first-person experience of an animal. This view is compelling. We are all familiar with...

    • 16 What Are Animals Conscious Of?
      (pp. 246-260)

      There is little doubt that animals are conscious. Animals hunt prey, escape predators, explore new environments, eat, mate, learn, feel, and so forth. If one defines consciousness as being aware of external events and experiencing mental states such as sensations and emotions (Natsoulas 1978), then gorillas, dogs, bears, horses, pigs, pheasants, cats, rabbits, snakes, magpies, wolves, elephants, and lions, to name a few creatures, clearly qualify. The contentious issue is, do these animals know that they are perceiving an external environment and experiencing internal events? Are animals self-conscious?

      Recent attempts at understanding animal consciousness (e.g., Edelman and Seth 2009) agree...

  8. Part V. Tailoring Representations to Audiences
    • 17 Chimpanzees Attribute Beliefs? A New Approach to Answering an Old Nettled Question
      (pp. 263-285)

      The capacity to attribute mental states to others (“mindreading” or “theory-of-mind”) was once thought by most empirical researchers and philosophers to be a distinctively human talent. The tide has changed, and in the past eight or nine years there has been a growing consensus in comparative psychology and philosophy that humans are not alone in being mindreaders. It is now generally believed that a number of highly intelligent social animals, from apes to scrub jays, are capable of attributing simple perceptual states, such as seeing and hearing, as well as goals and intentional actions (e.g., Buttelmann et al. 2007; Emery...

    • 18 Minding the Animal in Contemporary Art
      (pp. 286-300)

      At the Venice Biennale in 2003 the Swiss artist duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss projected onto a black wall hundreds of questions, from the in-depth to the banal, including “Will happiness find me?” “Is everything drifting apart?” and “What is my dog thinking?” (see Fischli and Weiss 2003 for all the questions presented). The questions are such that they cannot be answered and remind us of the limits of human understanding and influence. It is probably not possible to really know what my dog thinks—possibly the same applies to human beings—but this is no reason for showing...

    • 19 Popular Beliefs and Understanding of the Dolphin Mind
      (pp. 301-316)
      Jessica Sickler, John Fraser and Diana Reiss

      Dolphins have long captured the interest and imagination of the public and scientists alike, whether they are observed in the wild, onscreen, or in aquariums. This fascination has led aquariums, zoos, and similar institutions to create live dolphin exhibits and demonstrations aimed at educating the public about these very intelligent animals and their conservation. At the same time, scientists have intensified their efforts to better understand dolphin cognitive abilities. As the results of this scientific research became publicized, highlighting the mental abilities of dolphins, the Wildlife Conservation Society developed a study to explore whether an exhibition focused on dolphin cognition,...

    • 20 Perceiving the Minds of Animals: Sociological Warfare, the Social Imaginary, and Mediated Representations of Animals Shaping Human Understandings of Animals
      (pp. 317-330)

      Across cultures, human understandings of the minds of most nonhuman animals are derived primarily from mediated representations rather than direct interactions with nonhuman animals (hereafter termed animals). It is through such mediated representations that postindustrial postmodern humans typically encounter many species of animals (Kalof and Fitzgerald 2007). Because these representations are created, they necessarily reflect certain interests of their creators. They also function as sites of interaction where the public is entertained and informed about animals, even as their perceptions of the animals’ minds are shaped.

      The contemporary animal rights movement is increasingly using mediated encounters between postindustrial humans and...

  9. Part VI. Synthesis
    • 21 Animal Ethics and Animals’ Minds: Reflections
      (pp. 333-356)
      Julie A. Smith and Robert W. Mitchell

      We wrote in the introduction that we hoped readers would make connections across chapters, would compare and contrast ideas they found provocative. We assumed that authors’ points of view derived from their experiences, academic disciplines, personal interests, heartfelt beliefs, and the debates of our culture. We have included authors who have an everyday, caring relationship with particular animals and those whose interests are more dispassionate, as well as combinations in between. Such a medley is reminiscent of the Victorian era, when science writing, poetry, art, narrative, travel literature, personal essays, and other genres were part of public discourse about human...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 357-362)
  11. Index
    (pp. 363-380)