Suggestions for Research on Ethological and Comparative Cognition
Theodore Holmes Bullock
University of California, San Diego
Three widely divergent views on the comparison of cognitive capacities, especially intelligence, are current. One is that these capacities develop, in evolution as in ontogeny, from very modest levels in primitive taxa to very high levels in some of the advanced taxa, though not in a linearly progressive or ladder-like way. A second applies to the vertebrates and asserts that evidence at hand does not justify recognizing any general difference in intelligence among the classes from fish to mammals or among the orders of mammals, except for the human species, which stands out from all others. The third view is that cognition and especially intelligence in different species is so different in quality that it cannot be compared in degree.
The comparative study of cognitive capacities in various species of animals is not only intellectually important but socially urgent. The term cognition is used here in its broad sense, not confined to thinking or excluding emotion; in particular this essay is concerned with conscious feelings and affective states, thinking and intelligence--in all degrees. In many societies the public concern over suffering believed to be experienced by nonhuman species, especially that inflicted by human activities, has reached a high pitch. Yet the knowledge base of reasonably established information permitting assessments of the suffering, worry or other consciously experienced feelings, the self awareness, the insight and capacity for rational processes of even the best known laboratory and domestic species is so meager that major disagreements exist in the broad conclusions to be drawn.