ANIMAL CONSCIOUSNESS?


ENGWR 302


T-Th 3:40


What is animal consciousness? Some believe that an animal is conscious when it can recognize its self in a mirror and others believe it’s when they show or express emotion. The lines of consciousness run so far apart, one would think that there is no real classification of consciousness, well at least in regard to animals. Three common emotions that scientists work with in relation with animal consciousness are grief, fear, and pleasure. So if an animal displays one or any of these emotions does that mean that the animal is conscious of its self? I believe that if an animal can feel these three emotions it is very clear that the animal is conscious. But this is a question that many scientists have experimented with and still may not have a clear answer.


For conscious humans, grief is an emotion that can take over in our minds, the resent loss of a loved one or even getting fired from a job are two great examples of grief causing events. But for animals, many people would think that they wouldn’t really now the difference if a relative was alive or dead. Although if you ask a pet owner the same question you will find that their answer will be entirely different. “The nation’s 61 million pet owners need no convincing at all that Fido and Fluffy can feel angry, morose, elated even jealous or embarrassed.” But just because an animal shows external signs of grief does that really mean that it can feel the “pain” inside?


A story from the US News and World Report, tells of what they call “a grief-stricken chimpanzee.” The chimps name was Flint and he and his mother lived in Tanzania where they were being studied by primatologists. Flint’s mother, Flo, had just passed away and the primatologists recorded that Flint’s behavior had reflected feelings of grief. “Flo’s son, Fint, sits beside his mother’s lifeless body, occasionally taking her hand and whimpering. Over the next few weeks, Flint grows increasingly listless, withdrawing from the troop despite his siblings’ efforts to bring him back and refusing food. Three weeks after Flo’s death, the formerly healthy young chimps dead, too.” Grief is a common emotion within animals, especially after the loss of a mate, parent or even offspring.


Fear, as most people would say, is an emotion that is typically instinctive. It is also considered a primary emotion which contrasts with secondary emotion like grief and love. Studies have been done with rats in relation to fear. The amygdale is an almond-shaped structure in the center of the brain and if stimulated can increase intense fear. The studied also showed that rats with damaged amygdales don’t show normal responses to fear. Fear is so instinctive that even a shape or shadow of a predator can scare geese that don’t even know the animal is a predator. On the other hand, shadows of other non-predator animals will not create the same fear even though the geese have no experience with either one.


The idea of an animal knowing the difference of a predator and a non-predictor make me think of pets and their fear of their “master.” For example, my family has had many dogs throughout my life and for some reason they are always obedient to my father. It may be because they fear him and know that they will be punished if they don’t obey him. But how do they know the difference between my father and my mother or my siblings? The only logical answer is that they are conscious; they know that there are people around them and the difference between them.


The most apparent emotion that animals have is pleasure. “Anyone who has ever held a purring cat or been greeted by a bounding, barking, tail-wagging dog knows that animals often appear to be happy.” Jane Goodall, who has been studying chimpanzees for forty years, says that chimpanzees “chase, somersault, and pirouette around one another with the abandon of children.” It’s a hormone called oxytocin that is released into the brain is linked to happiness and maternal bonding. Oxytocin, for example, is released from a mothers breast milk. Research has been done to test this hormone to see if it works the