Dolphin Cognition and Behavior: A Comparative Approach

By Ronald J. Schusterman; Jeanette A. Thomas et al. | Go to book overview
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distinct from goal state C. If the problem solver is placed in state A, will it respond with R1 or R1′, depending upon its goals at the time? If so, the problem solver has displayed a rudimentary bit of goal directed thinking.

Animal observations can be used to illustrate the principle. Schusterman and Krieger ( 1984) report that a sea lion correctly responded to the command "touch with tail" when the object to be touched was out of the tank. The animal had previously been trained to "touch with tail" objects that were in the water. Since the action of tail-touching involves different muscle groups on land and in the water, the sea lion's response can be offered as an example of goal-directed thinking rather than an example of "mechanical" responding to stimuli.

Finally, but most importantly, thinking substitutes reactions to a computed internal environment for the possibly dangerous task of poking about in the real world. This means that the thinker must be able to uncouple itself from sensory stimulation while it examines its internal world. How much uncoupling is possible, and how much advisable? This question leads into the study of attention. To what extent can the being attend to its internal computations, regardless of the state of the external world? There are many examples of selective attention in studies of human intelligence. For example, people are slower to react to a probe signal when they are busy memorizing information ( Lansman & Hunt, 1982). Obviously the ability to shut out the world can be overdone. Daydreaming undoubtedly contributes to automobile accidents. The basic point remains. Humans, by definition the most intelligent species, split their attention between the internal and external world. Otherwise internal thought processes would be driven by the flux of events in the external world. In fact, people who lack this ability. . .notably hyperactive children. . .are poor problem solvers. To what extent do animals show an ability to uncouple themselves from their perceptual world? Can the decoupling be related in any systematic way to their problem solving performance? A variety of experimental paradigms have been developed to study the control of attention in humans. Most involve studies of how attention to one stimulus diverts attention from others. Many of the paradigms could be adopted for the study of animals.


Philosophically, most scientists would argue that there is continuity between human and animal thought. What has been proposed here is that continuity be treated as a practical reality rather than a philosophic position. Many of the same paradigms and theoretical models used to explain human thought can be applied to the study of animal cognition. Why not do so? If there are laws of cognition itself these laws apply to all species.

There are two objections to a cognitive science approach to intelligence. The behaviorist position is that there are only a few laws governing behavior, that


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Dolphin Cognition and Behavior: A Comparative Approach
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