Minds of Their Own: Thinking and Awareness in Animals

Minds of Their Own: Thinking and Awareness in Animals

Minds of Their Own: Thinking and Awareness in Animals

Minds of Their Own: Thinking and Awareness in Animals

Synopsis

Do animals have ideas? Do they experience pain like humans? Do they think about objects that they cannot see? About situations that have occurred in the past? Do they consciously make plans for the future or do they simply react unthinkingly to objects as they appear and situations as they arise? All of these questions have bearing on whether or not animals have consciousness. The advent of computers that "think" has lead us to consider "intelligence" in a way we never thought possible a decade ago. But when and how does information processing in the brain become automatic?

In Minds of Their Own, Lesley J. Rogers examines the issue of animal thought both sympathetically and critically by looking at the different behavior characteristics of a variety of animals, the evolution of the brain and when consciousness might have evolved. To most people, to be conscious means to be aware of oneself as well as to be aware of others. But does this hold true for animals? The answer may have implications which transcend mere scientific inquiry: if animals are cognizant creatures, what, if any, moral responsibility do humans have to assure their rights? This timely book examines this issue and others by emphasizing comparisons between humans and animals: how we evolved; how we remember; how we learn.

Excerpt

Do animals have ideas and do they think about objects that they cannot see or about situations that have occurred in the past? Do they consciously make plans for the future or do they simply react unthinkingly to objects as they appear and situations as they arise? Are animals aware of themselves and of others or is this an ability unique to humans? All of these questions have bearing on whether animals have consciousness or not.

We live at a time when the debate about consciousness in animals has taken a new turn and may have greater meaning than ever before. A number of seemingly separate lines of thinking have come together to lead us to consider the issue afresh. Some computers are said to have 'intelligence', and they can 'learn' in ways that we never thought possible a decade ago. There is every possibility that machines of the future will process information in an even more human-like way. It is, of course, debatable whether they will be able to 'think' like humans and, as far as I know, only very few people expect them to become conscious. At the same time as these sophisticated computers have been developed, we have realised that, although humans have consciousness, at least some of our behaviour is carried out quite unconsciously. We sometimes perform apparently rather complex learnt sequences of behaviour without being fully aware of what we are doing, rather like a sleep walker. Of course, this unconscious, or more often . . .

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