Cognitive Ethology: The Minds of Other Animals: Essays in Honor of Donald R. Griffin

By Donald R. Griffin; Carolyn A. Ristau | Go to book overview

4
COGNITIVE ETHOLOGY AND CRITICAL ANTHROPOMORPHISM: A SNAKE WITH TWO HEADS AND HOGNOSE SNAKES THAT PLAY DEAD

Gordon M. Burghardt University of Tennessee


ABSTRACT

Cognitive ethologists must keep issues of cognition analytically separate from other mental phenomena such as affect and consciousness. Such is important in considering cognition in reptiles, two examples of which are presented here. Close study of predation in a two-headed rat snake shows how evolutionary constraints might affect all levels of mental activity. Over 5 years the incidence of fighting over which head swallowed prey was not reduced, but the two heads did equally partition energy expenditures. The complex antipredator display of the hognose snake is highly variable even among neonates from the same clutch. They also have the ability to monitor their environment in an apparently adaptive manner when they are in the quiescent death-feign phase. The applicability of intention theory and Griffin's ( 1984) characterization of conscious awareness to this behavior is considered. Critical anthropomorphism is elaborated as a more general heuristic method related to recent philosophical work on critical realism and evolutionary epistemology. Jacob von Uexküll ( 1909) is highlighted as a neglected pioneer in the study of animal mentality.

Our anthropocentric way of looking at things must retreat further and further, and the standpoint of the animal must be the only decisive one (von Uexküll, 1909/ 1985, p. 223).

The early post-Darwinian comparative psychologists were very sympathetic to the kinds of cognitive questions Griffin ( 1976) posed in his initial attempt to establish a cognitive ethology and break the shackles of a mindless behaviorism ( Burghardt, 1985). But these early attempts at comparative

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