Do Animals Think?

i'm not sure if we think at all anymore, it is all dispersed/lost in media simulations, but to me thinking involves some kind of recursion. on a basic level, in terms of oranization, all life forms are intelligent. they are all cybernetic/autocatalytic systems. i think the difference is that we humans record the past in abstract form (language, art, etc), and animals only have recourse to genetic memory (instinct, biological responses).
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols.
A system of signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in communicating."
What is meant by a system here though? Does it just mean that people recognise the meaning of a given gesture or signal or whatever - or does it mean that there has to be a systematic way of combining several such (not necessarily verbal) utterances to create more complex "sentences"?
 
i thought it was gek-opel... w/ the matthew barney pic right? weird that animals can't think or use abstract signifiers, but humans are permanently lost in some kind of representation. the idea of the signifying chain is that it has a kind of mechanical force and our consciousness is organized by basic rules of syntax, displacement, metonymy, metaphor, etc. maybe it is a pkd scenario and thought is a virus or "plasmate" as he put it.

anyone read daniel dennett?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
i thought it was gek-opel... w/ the matthew barney pic right?

Dunno, it was a photo of a guy covered in white body paint wearing some kind of headdress and with feathers or something sticking out of his mouth, if that helps.
Edit: looks more like a silk handkerchief than feathers. That film cycle sounds like a right headfull! :)

weird that animals can't think or use abstract signifiers, but humans are permanently lost in some kind of representation.

This concept is interesting because it represents a convergence between Western philosophy and psychology and certain ideas that have had currency in Indian and Chinese metaphysical traditions for a very long time. One of the central notions of Zen Buddhism in particular, from what I remember having read of it, is the distinction between words, concepts and other representations and the thing-in-itself which is actually experienced, and the importance of experiencing things at this level, unmediated by the conscious mind.
 
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IdleRich

IdleRich
"Dunno, it was a photo of a guy covered in white body paint wearing some kind of headdress and with feathers or something sticking out of his mouth, if that helps."
It was from the Cremaster Cycle which is a film by Matthew Barney. In fact I think that Matthew Barney actually played that character which is probably what you're saying right Agent Nucleus?
 
It was from the Cremaster Cycle which is a film by Matthew Barney. In fact I think that Matthew Barney actually played that character which is probably what you're saying right Agent Nucleus?

yeah - that's an odd film. reminds me a little of 2001 or jodorowski.

This concept is interesting because it represents a convergence between Western philosophy and psychology and certain ideas that have had currency in Indian and Chinese metaphysical traditions for a very long time. One of the central notions of Zen Buddhism in particular, from what I remember having read of it, is the distinction between words, concepts and other representations and the thing-in-itself which is actually experienced, and the importance of experiencing things at this level, unmediated by the conscious mind.

husserl and heidegger had different ideas about the thing-in-itself irrc. there was a split in phenomenology as to whether or not abstract representations mediate the direct experience. Heidegger and Sartre went against Husserl and argued that language produces reality, it doesn't mediate it (something along those lines).
 

jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
What is meant by a system here though? Does it just mean that people recognise the meaning of a given gesture or signal or whatever - or does it mean that there has to be a systematic way of combining several such (not necessarily verbal) utterances to create more complex "sentences"?
You'd have to ask the dictionary compilers what they mean there but I think the explanation is kind of in the sentence as well 'signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in communicating', so it can be something as simple as one sign with a single connotation, or it can be something more complex.

Does it matter though, not sure why you ask.
IdleRich said:
the person being communicated to is interpreting that system in a way which is not necessarily related to the way the system exists.
Agent Nucleus said:
i think the difference is that we humans record the past in abstract form (language, art, etc), and animals only have recourse to genetic memory (instinct, biological responses).
Yes, there are different levels of symbolic organisation and abstraction. I'm not sure that no animals engage in this at all though. I suspect some might to an extent - the beginnings of it are there in the apes. It's impossible for to say if other human beings think, or even if we think ourselves so any assessment of what goes on in an animal's head is going to be at least as unreliable.

By the way, interesting that recent research suggests that memories may be stored on DNA.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20026845.000-memories-may-be-stored-on-your-dna.html
 

tryptych

waiting for a time
It's impossible for to say if other human beings think, or even if we think ourselves so any assessment of what goes on in an animal's head is going to be at least as unreliable.

You're a solipsist? Or at least agnostic to the idea that other humans "think"? The analytic tradition certainly struggles with the problem of "other minds" but I think Fichte and Hegel did away with the problem fairly well...

Nucleus - in reference to Dan Dennett, are you talking about the "multiple draughts" model?

Not to piss on everyone's chips, but I'm a bit baffled by these sort of threads. It's not like there isn't hundreds of years of philosophical tradition, coupled with tonnes of active cutting edge research in neuroscience and consciousness studies about this topic. What can we hope to achieve in this discussion?
 

jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
You're a solipsist? Or at least agnostic to the idea that other humans "think"? The analytic tradition certainly struggles with the problem of "other minds" but I think Fichte and Hegel did away with the problem fairly well...
I am not 'a solipsist', thanks very much, at least I certainly don't operate on that assumption. There's a question(s) there and it applies to animals as well is the point. It is hard to answer for obvious reasons, but also because there are still questions about what thinking is and even then issues of free will.

What do we hope to achieve? I dunno, shooting the breeze, but yeah let's just stop talking or thinking about things for ourselves.

Have you a nice conclusion based on your reading of Hegel / analytic tradition / neuroscience? Are you happy with that?
 
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jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
I don't think that language and thinking are synonymous - thinking does exist without language, or at least verbal language. But thinking in the usually understood human sense in a way is language. All this stuff, culture, civilisation, it is language, built from language. So that's clearly what we have, or what has us, that other animals seem not to, although maybe the dolphins were sensible and built their culture telepathically. More sustainable innit.

It is like an intrusion of sorts, a parasite, or a symbiote. People talk and it's like this involuntary eruption.
 
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jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
Most people don't seem to think much at all though. It's generally a bit frowned upon isn't it. All about banter and attitude.
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
"You'd have to ask the dictionary compilers what they mean there but I think the explanation is kind of in the sentence as well 'signs, symbols, gestures, or rules used in communicating', so it can be something as simple as one sign with a single connotation, or it can be something more complex.
Does it matter though, not sure why you ask."
Well, it's just because I asked my girlfriend about this ('cause she has studied a fair bit of philosophy of language) and she said that, for her, the difference between language and communication is that language consists of a system of utterances and rules for combining them whereas communication requires only a mutually recognised system of utterances. Seems like a reasonable way to make a distinction between the two.
I still can't get away from the idea that you need intent though. I think that for there to be a successful linguistic communication there must be a choice by the communicator to use the mutually recognised system, otherwise it's just pattern recognition from the person who is receiving.

"Not to piss on everyone's chips, but I'm a bit baffled by these sort of threads. It's not like there isn't hundreds of years of philosophical tradition, coupled with tonnes of active cutting edge research in neuroscience and consciousness studies about this topic. What can we hope to achieve in this discussion?"
I dunno, I hoped that I might learn something.
 

jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
Well, it's just because I asked my girlfriend about this ('cause she has studied a fair bit of philosophy of language) and she said that, for her, the difference between language and communication is that language consists of a system of utterances and rules for combining them whereas communication requires only a mutually recognised system of utterances. Seems like a reasonable way to make a distinction between the two.
I still can't get away from the idea that you need intent though. I think that for there to be a successful linguistic communication there must be a choice by the communicator to use the mutually recognised system, otherwise it's just pattern recognition from the person who is receiving.
Yeah, those distinctions do seem reasonable, most of us would make them on a common sense basis but maybe tryptych has a point because questions of intent are not so readily resolved.

Here's a question - when you are in a conversation do you feel like you are thinking about what you are saying all the time? Do you feel yourself to be in control, or is something else going on? Conversations become quite strange, stilted and awkward if you make a conscious effort to really think about what is being said, although I think it's worth doing. People can get quite funny about it, they expect interactions to go smoothly, as if according to some script. It's really weird.
 
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tryptych

waiting for a time
I am not 'a solipsist', thanks very much, at least I certainly don't operate on that assumption. There's a question(s) there and it applies to animals as well is the point. It is hard to answer for obvious reasons, but also because there are still questions about what thinking is and even then issues of free will.

What do we hope to achieve? I dunno, shooting the breeze, but yeah let's just stop talking or thinking about things for ourselves.

Have you a nice conclusion based on your reading of Hegel / analytic tradition / neuroscience? Are you happy with that?

Gosh, get out of bed on the wrong side did we? No need to be aggressive.

I dunno, saying "it's impossible to know that other human beings think" is a fairly textbook definition of solipsism isn't it (towards other humans if not the world in general)? Whether you operate on that assumption is another matter entirely.

There's obviously a definitional problem of what one means by "think", but to me it's pretty obvious animals don't "think" (synonymous with "are conscious" - would that be fair to say?), in the way humans do because I subscribe to a construction of consciousness based on reciprocal recognition between agents (a la Hegel). Because you can't enter such a relationship with an animal, you they can't "think" like you, or you like them. That's not to say that animals don't have some sort of mental life, but whatever it is, it's nothing like "thinking" as we understand it. For Hegel animals are stuck in the early phase of desire (iirc), for Heidegger, animals are "poor-in-world".

I don't think the question of whether other people have minds is a hard question to answer - I don't think it's a valid question at all - because being conscious is predicated on the assumption that other people do think.
 

jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
There's obviously a definitional problem of what one means by "think", but to me it's pretty obvious animals don't "think" (synonymous with "are conscious" - would that be fair to say?),
Don't think that quite works - I think there's good evidence that animals 'are conscious', and self-aware. Definition of 'conscious'? ;) I get that you're trying to draw a distinction between thought and language there, though.
in the way humans do because I subscribe to a construction of consciousness based on reciprocal recognition between agents (a la Hegel). Because you can't enter such a relationship with an animal, you they can't "think" like you, or you like them. That's not to say that animals don't have some sort of mental life, but whatever it is, it's nothing like "thinking" as we understand it. For Hegel animals are stuck in the early phase of desire (iirc), for Heidegger, animals are "poor-in-world".
As that paragraph stands I don't think it's at all convincing - but sure there's more behind that reasoning. Honestly everything there looks hugely questionable but being generous is it the idea of 'agency' that animals are said to be missing?

I think a lot dog owners or chimp handlers would dispute the suggestion that you can't have a reciprocal recognition between humans and animals. But yes, does it matter if they don't 'think like us'? Why should they? We can't even have this kind of reciprocal recognition between all humans I don't think.

Are you saying that animals don't have a life in the symbolic realm? I think that's probably the case, for the most part, not absolutely though.
 
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You're a solipsist? Or at least agnostic to the idea that other humans "think"? The analytic tradition certainly struggles with the problem of "other minds" but I think Fichte and Hegel did away with the problem fairly well...

Nucleus - in reference to Dan Dennett, are you talking about the "multiple draughts" model?

Not to piss on everyone's chips, but I'm a bit baffled by these sort of threads. It's not like there isn't hundreds of years of philosophical tradition, coupled with tonnes of active cutting edge research in neuroscience and consciousness studies about this topic. What can we hope to achieve in this discussion?

heh that's true, but this is still a problem scientists, psychologists, etc are grappling with. it simply doesn't have an easy answer. we know that other people think, and that we communicate etc., but there's the whole question of 'qualia' (one of the reasons i brought up dennett): we know other people think, but we can't say how their consciousness is experienced from their subjective position. zizek talks about this at length in the parallax view. the classic example is the experience of colors: my experience/idea of 'red' may be vastlly different than yours, for example. the problem gets more complex with animals because we can't communiate with them, we can't arrive at any common ground.
 
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IdleRich

IdleRich
"Yeah, those distinctions do seem reasonable, most of us would make them on a common sense basis but maybe tryptych has a point because questions of intent are not so readily resolved."
No, not easily resolved and, that being the case, I can see why you would want to avoid them if possible, it's just that I don't feel that you can discuss language without dealing with intent.

"Here's a question - when you are in a conversation do you feel like you are thinking about what you are saying all the time? Do you feel yourself to be in control, or is something else going on? Conversations become quite strange, stilted and awkward if you make a conscious effort to really think about what is being said, although I think it's worth doing. People can get quite funny about it, they expect interactions to go smoothly, as if according to some script. It's really weird."
I dunno, I'm going down the pub in a sec, I'll try it.
 

jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
I dunno, saying "it's impossible to know that other human beings think" is a fairly textbook definition of solipsism isn't it (towards other humans if not the world in general)? Whether you operate on that assumption is another matter entirely.
It's not at all a textbook definition of solipsism, certainly not a strong solipsism. Not that expressing an idea that might have some similarity with a solipsistic position would make a person 'a solipsist' anyway.

It was just a logical statement by way of some perspective on the difficulty of understanding the mental life of animals using just our own observations. Perhaps 'impossible' is a bit strong but I think it's always questionable. Also wasn't getting so much at the question of the know-ability of other minds as what is actually meant by thinking. I also said 'even if we think ourselves'.
Gosh, get out of bed on the wrong side did we? No need to be aggressive.
You asked if I was 'a solipsist'. Don't know what 'a solipsist' is exactly but in folk terms it generally has rather uncomplimentary connotations as describing someone who doesn't believe that other people exist. Don't think there was any undue aggression in my post, unless you mean the 'thanks very much'. Yeah, maybe that was a bit harsh. ;)
 
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