Although the roots of careful observation and experimentation ofthe natural world go back to ancient times, study of animal behaviorremained largely anecdotal until long after the scientificrevolution. Animals were, of course, widely used in pursuit of answersto anatomical, physiological, and embryological questions. Vivisectionwas carried out by such ancient luminaries as Galen and there was aresurgence of the practice in early modern times (Bertoloni Meli2012). Descartes himself practiced and advocated vivisection(Descartes, Letter to Plempius, Feb 15 1638), and wrote incorrespondence that the mechanical understanding of animals absolvedpeople of any guilt for killing and eating animals. Mechanists whofollowed him (e.g. Malebranche) used Descartes' denial of reason and asoul to animals as a rationale for their belief that animals wereincapable of suffering or emotion, and did not deserve moralconsideration — justifying vivisection and other brutaltreatment (see Olson 1990, p. 39–40, for support of this claim). Theidea that animal behavior is purely reflexive may also have served todiminish interest in treating behavior as a target of careful study inits own right.
The two questions might be seen as special cases — or,alternatively, as generalized versions — of the skeptical“problem of other minds” — how can one know thatothers have mental states that are anything like one's own? Althoughthere is no generally accepted solution to this problem, it isnevertheless generally ignored to good effect by psychologists, andindeed by most people, who in practice are willing to take for grantedthat others have mental states similar to theirs. However it is oftenthought that knowledge of animal minds presents special methodologicaldifficulties. First of all, nonhuman animals cannot describe theirmental states using language. Although there have been attempts toteach human-like languages to members of other species, none hasreached a level of conversational ability that would solve thisproblem directly (see Anderson 2004 for a review). Furthermore, exceptfor some language-related work with parrots and dolphins, suchapproaches are generally limited to those animals most like ourselves,particularly the great apes. But there is great interest in possibleforms of consciousness in a much wider variety of species than aresuitable for such research. More generally, the problem of otherminds is more acute when applied to nonhuman animals because thesimilarities between our behavior and bodies, and those of othersanimals (which form the basis for ‘analogical’ solutionsto the problem of other minds) are less exact. As well, the perceptualaccess to other minds that some have argued defuses the problem ofother minds is arguably weaker regarding the minds of other animals.(Sober (2000) discusses of the problem of other minds within anevolutionary framework, and Farah 2008 provides a neuroscientist'sperspective.)
Many philosophers and scientists have either argued or assumed thatconsciousness is inherently private, and hence that one's ownexperience is unknowable to others. While language may allow humans tocross this supposed gap by communicating their experience to others,this is allegedly not possible for other animals. Despite thecontroversy in philosophical and scientific circles, it remains amatter of common sense to most people that some animals do haveconscious experiences. Most people, if asked why they think familiaranimals such as their pets are conscious, would point to similaritiesbetween the behavior of those animals and human behavior — forexample, animals seem to visibly express pleasure and displeasure anda variety of emotions, their behavior seems to be motivated by seekingfood, comfort, social contact, etc., they seem aware of theirsurroundings and able to learn from experience. Similarity argumentsfor animal consciousness thus have roots in common senseobservations. But they may also be bolstered by scientificinvestigations of behavior and the comparative study of brain anatomyand physiology, as well as considerations of evolutionary continuitybetween species. Neurological similarities between humans and otheranimals have been taken to suggest commonality of consciousexperience; all mammals share the same basic brain anatomy, and muchis shared with vertebrates more generally. Even structurally differentbrains may be neurodynamically similar in ways that enable inferencesabout animal consciousness to be drawn (Seth etal. 2005).
This provides a powerful argument for family-friendly public policies of a kind that the "family values" crowd do not espouse, such as plenty of paid parental leave to give parents time to nurture their babies and toddlers, universal, high-quality daycare for all working parents, and so on. But it did not assuage Peter Gabel's concern that scientific knowledge was still being privileged over spiritual knowledge. In fact, the entire argument, from Lakoff's point of view, was an argument against the validity of intuitive knowledge uncorrected by science. Lakoff said:
in the intuitive powers of the mind ..
First of all, the scientist begins his or her inquiry by taking the
position of a detached observer who treats the plant as an object.
From this position of detachment, the scientist cannot "sense"
anything about the meaning of the plant's movements because to "sense"
something this way requires the opposite of detachment—it requires
engagement with the plant's life through a kind of empathy or
... The "nature" of the plant, its capacity to sprout from a buried
seed and the produce the green life of "chlorophyll" and to lean
toward the sun and, for that matter, its capacity to wilt and die—all
of these things are inaccessible to science, and science can never
hope to explain them.
P1 In understanding our social world we act as 'intuitive scientists'
For one thing, self-awareness was not particularly useful: as the scientists note, “people who were aware of their own biases were not better able to overcome them.” This finding wouldn’t surprise Kahneman, who admits in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” that his decades of groundbreaking research have failed to significantly improve his own mental performance.
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Also, at this point, normally nonscientific emotional factors can lead to divergent pathways. Scientists could be angry at polluters and choose to investigate the effects of pollutants; other scientists could investigate the results of smoking cigarettes on humans because they can earn a living doing this by working for tobacco companies; intuition can be used to suggest different approaches to problems; even dreams can suggest creative solutions to problems. I wish to emphasize, however, that the existence of these frankly widespread nonscientific emotional and cultural influences does compromize the ultimate reliability and objectivity of scientific results, because subsequent steps in the scientific method serve to eliminate these outside factors and allow science to reach reliable and objective conclusions (admittedly it may take some time for subjective and unreliable scientific results to be eliminated). There exists a school of thought today in the humanities (philosophy, history, and sociology) called post-modernism or scientific constructivism, that claims that science is a social and cultural construct, that scientific knowledge inevitably changes as societies and cultures change, and that science has no inherently valid foundation on which to base its knowledge claims of objectivity and reliability. In brief, post-modernists believe that the modern, scientific world of Enlightenment rationality and objectivity must now give way to a post-modern world of relativism, social constructivism, and equality of belief. Almost all scientists who are aware of this school of thought reject it, as do I; post-modernism is considered irrelevant by scientists and has had no impact on the practice of science at all. We will have to leave this interesting topic for a later time, unfortunately, but you may be exposed to these ideas in a humanities class. If you are, remember to think critically!