Can "higher" animals "think"?

I remember a similar question from a while back. My daughter, who knows my interest in this subject, sent me this link.
My question is; Do actions as described in this article prove that animals do indeed think? I think so.,3266,30198,00.html


Work like you don’t need the money…
Love like you’ve never been hurt…
Dance like nobody’s watching! …(Paraphrased)

Yes, absolutely.


I didn’t read all of the article, but enough. You’ve been around here about as long as I have - do you remember a thread where Nickrz got kinda cranked up on this subject? Well, no matter to the answer to your question.

My observations are anecdotal and focus on one animal. I’ve never had pets, but I’ve taken care of many and spent a decade with a woman who is a bona fide “animal person”.

There was a Weimarener (SP?) I kept often in college (Misty). This dog and I became close associates and the dog was exceptional. I’ve known many a pooch, but this one had a huge vocabulary. We could tell her to go get in beatle’s car and she knew which of the six out front it was. She could be moody as hell and conniving, too. She’d take days to get over a slight, but would mend it in a minute if she detected that tone of conversation over the phone that’s associated w/planning a trip w/a travel agent. One weekend I had her sitting in “her” chair and I was sitting on the couch. Just for grins, I faked passing out - I groaned a little and rolled off the couch and face down on the floor. I could hear her whimper because she knew she was not allowed to get out of her chair, and after a minute she jumped down and came over. She then commenced a multi-stage operation that I took to be evidence of some forethought. She buried her nose under my right shoulder and plowed in, causing me to roll over on my back; she then plowed under the center of my back causing my limp body to acquire a halfway sitting up (but bent over) position; she then shoved my shoulder and (other side) legs so as to spin me around on my butt to where I was in an appropriate position w/the couch for her to push my torso/head back to a resting position against the couch. Misty then licked my face about a dozen times, saw I wasn’t coming around and ran down the stairs to bark and claw at my downstairs neighbor’s door. He came and I “revived” and all was well; but I was impressed.

Two more quick things about Misty:

  1. I was already impressed w/her vocabulary, so one weekend I tried to teach her the command “Forget” (college is great for the idle mind). She managed to learn that it meant stop looking at whatever she was looking at.
  2. She was a huntress and I soon learned that I could get her wound up like a small block Chevy by imitating the sounds of squirrels - then one day it dawned on me that the squirrels made their little “chut-chut” sound until the barking hound showed up. Then they were silent. I think Misty realized that I was making the sounds and we were playing a game where she learned that continuing to bark like a hound around the base of a tree somehow pleased her companion, beatle.

I am familiar w/the psychological phenomenon of “projection” and I do not think that applies here. I’ve known many animals and most are simple to deal with. My own experience argues for the possibility of “complex” thought in other animals.

Does that mean we proffer to them all of the same rights we try to guarantee ourselves? Without the concomitant responsibilities, I think not.


Well, I’m a “higher animal”, and I can think. There’s evidence to suggest that I’m not alone in that respect, so it seems reasonable to conclude that higher animals can think.

I suspect there’s some continuum of intelligence, and where one lies depends both on one’s species and one’s particular intelligence within one’s species. I think it’s a greyscale, not black and white. Watching a squirrel invent a way to get to the birdseed, going to great, creative lengths to circumvent various devices designed to keep it away from the birdseed, leaves one without much doubt that animals can think. You can’t really explain that away to a conditioned response, especially when the squirrel has never seen the particular situation before. The squirrel won’t be learning calculus or quantum theory any time soon, so it probably lies somewhere between Pauly Shore and Einstein on the intelligence continuum.

I bet there’s a lot of overlap between species too. Smart apes are probably smarter than the dumbest humans. (I’m not being sarcastic here - since human intelligence goes from essentially zippo to a very high level, it doesn’t take much for a smart ape to be smarter than some small fraction of humans).

peas on earth

I’m going to add my own questioninto the mix (it does relate)

From what I can gather, part of what helps evolve advanced thought is language. Not only can we communicate with each other more clearly, but when we think, it seems that we think “in English” (or whatever language) and I would guess that without language, we’d have a much harder time organizing thoughts greater than “I’m hungry” or “That big thing looks mean”. Certainly, I’d hate to try to puzzle out cold fusion without the benefit of being able to think in big words.

So, if you take an “intelligent” animal that can be taught to imitate speech (such as a raven for spoken word or Koko the gorilla using sign language), will it become more intelligent as it learns that “Food” means food, “Sleep” means sleep and “Give me the damn kitten, woman, or I’ll tear your arm off and beat you with the bloody limb” means… well, you get the idea. Will teaching an animal that words have definite concepts increase its ability to create advanced thoughts and thus make it smarter? At the very least, you’d have a very annoying raven yelling “I’m hungry!” twenty-four hours a day.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Experiment #1:

Place a chicken in a box which is open on one end and grated on the other. Place a bowl of feed outside the grated end. The chicken will migrate toward the grated end and stand there all day staring at the feed.

Experiment #2:

Place a dog/cat/chimpanzee/loverock in said box with a bowl of food outside the grated end. The dog/cat/chimp/loverock will soon “realize” that to get the food, he must exit the box and go around. Okay, maybe not loverock.

Is that “thinking”? In the classic sense, no, I don’t believe so. As Jophiel mentioned, thinking, as we know it, involves language: “What I really need to do is go outside of this box to enjoy my food”. Perhaps a lower order of thinking.

Well, back in the '70’s we made our cat higher by blowing toke smoke in her face.
She didn’t seem any smarter to us!

It doesn’t demonstrate a hidden world into which we might break if we just learned enough to communicate, but certainly, in some sense, they’re thinking. They’re demonstrating some grasp of tool use, which implies a rough sense of cause and effect.

However, the failure to demonstrate symobolic thinking by teaching apes like Koko or chimps like Nym Chympsky sign language says that we think in a fundamentally different (more advanced?) way than higher animals.

“Existence defies essence.” - John Barth?

Personally, I think in “pig latin”. :slight_smile:

But seriously, I think that one can think without doing so in a language. In fact, I do it all the time - I bet not 50% of my thoughts are expressed in my head in english. It’s only when I “think about what i’m thinking” so that I can tell somebody else what I’m thinking that they have to go through the “raw thought to english translator”.

I always have viewed thinking as somewhat akin to being able to solve problems you haven’t encountered before, and the better you can think, the more advanced problems you can solve. Language, math, and the like, are (IMHO) sort of tools to let you think more effectively, and to tell other people what you’re thinking, but I don’t see them as being required.

At least, I think so - I’ll have to go think about it to be sure. :slight_smile:

peas on earth

Here’s my two cents, I remember reading about a study once, which I have never forgotten and often reflect on.
I believe they were testing for sense of self, but I could be mistaken.
This is how the test was conducted; a mirror was put in with the animal that it might grow familiar with it. Learn it wasn’t really another animal it was seeing and such. Once this had happened, (I can’t remember how they knew exactly), they would wait until the animal fell asleep and then sneak into it’s enclosure and paint a bright red dot on it’s face between the eyes. Then they waited to see if any of the animals put their hand to the mark, recognizing that it was their image and that they had a dot on them. You may be surprised to know that only the great apes passed this test. Makes you think - well, more precisely it made me think and still does.

I guess that’s an interesting thing to try, but I’m not sure the results mean very much, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s an unfairly visual-centric test. It assumes animals recognize things primarily visually, as we do, but for many animals that isn’t true. Cats, for example, recognize things based on smell more than appearance - in fact, you can fake them out this way!

Second, it assumes that an animals reaction would be the same as ours - to try to touch the new thing with an extremety. But that seems like an unduely anthropomorphic assumption, since it’s not their reaction to other new things.

I guess I’m not convinced it was a good experiment, if it was really as described.

peas on earth

Koko looked at a picture of a gorilla and signed “gorilla”. But when shown a picture of himself (herself?) or a mirror, signed Koko.
When asked what Koko is, he replies “gorilla”.
Chimps also recognize themselves in a mirror.

I certainly agree with bantmof and oppose Jophiel.

Clearly all the most significant thinking in creative science, engineering, art, sports – even writing – etc. is sublinguistic. At the other extreme, everyone’s heard what airheads produce, all perfectly within the syntax, and often within the semantics of some language.

Ray (I think; therefore you are, otherwise. . .)

I’m going to come down on the skeptical side and say that no animals other than humans can “think” in the sense of abstract thought. Some species like chimps, dogs, dolphins, octopi, etc are capable of learning some very complicated acts and solving very complicated problems, but none of them have demonstrated a mental ability to step beyond their actual environment.

Regarding the dot on the forehead experiment:  It was first tried
on human children.  Until a child reaches a certain age, give or take
a few months, they always fail that test (I think it’s somewhere between
18 to 24 months).

<hr WIDTH=“100%”>

Regarding the OP:  It depends on what you mean by think.

Certainly animals other than human have demonstrated the ability:
[ul][li]to learn to solve concrete problems/puzzles;[/li][li]to learn concrete categorization (‘things that are blue,’ ‘things that[/li]will hurt me,’ ‘sounds and tones  which mean I’m going to the park!’);
[li]to learn to respond with basic emotions in concrete situations; and,[/li][li]to learn to use concrete tools.[/ul][/li]
Note the learn part.  There are instinctual behaviors
which seem like the animal is thinking, but it isn’t.  For
example, being mammals and pack animals, a dog will naturally follow the
*alpha human *and seek to cuddle with the other members of the house
– that’s not learned, and therefore, not a sign that a dog that is thinking.  
Also, being trained to do something is not the same as thinking.

Now, note the concrete part.  Animals haven’t demonstrated
the ability to abstract ideas and concepts at a higher order of intelligence.

For example, a dog may mourn the loss of a member of the house who has
moved out – but the dog doesn’t know whether that person has moved away
or has died.  And, if that person died, the dog wouldn’t be plunged
into the existential grief of trying to figure out the meaning of life.

A dog can jump at a door and figure out how the handle on a screen door
works.  But the dog couldn’t use math to come up with an equitable
distribution of bones between itself and the other dog in the house –
it wouldn’t even know the concept of being fair (though it could be trained
not to touch the other dog’s food).

Animals can concretely reason, they don’t seem able to abstractly think.<font face=“DF Diversities LET”><font color="#FF0000"><font size=+3>c</font></font></font>


I promise not to get “cranked up” again, beatle, but I essentially agree with Mike King. (Never had an ally on this topic before).

I foresee this topic ending up in Great Debates.

If we define “flying” as being able to leave the ground under your own power, then humans fly better than elephants, but not as well as chickens. How do we define “thinking” to get a valid answer to the question?

Severin Dardin (spelling?) had an old comedy routine as a German Professor lecturing about The Universe (what else is there to lecture about?) being asked the question, “Do fish think?”

His response is to describe having some fish in a pond, and he fed them every day at three o’clock, at the same spot. Soon, the fish learned to come to that spot at three o’clock, in anticipation of the feeding. He then started showing up fifteen minutes earlier each day, and the fish starved to death. He concludes: “Yes, fish think – but not fast enough.”

“How do we define “thinking” to get a valid answer to the question?”

This is the hard part of this question, isn’t it? I mean, we’re not talking rocket science here. Just the ability to learn without direct re-enforcement, then use what’s learned to improve the animals own situation. Tool making, co-operation in a new situation, direct manipulation of another species (man).
I’m not talking about goldfish starving, but an orangutan who will fashion a tool to escape his cage so he can go see what’s outside. And then hide that tool so his keepers won’t take it away.
The ability to consider, I guess.
C’mon. Read (or at least skim) the above article. The author discusses too many instances of animal thinking for me to relate here.

I’d probably agree, but is abstract thought the only type of thought? It doesn’t seem that way to me. It’s one of many; one that even many humans are not very adept at.

I think that seeing a new type of squirrel guard for the first time, formulating a plan to circumvent it, and carrying out that plan, is certainly thinking of a different, perhaps less sophisticated, but equally valid type.

If humans were so great at thinking, the human-designed squirrel guard would have kept the squirrel out of the birdseed. :slight_smile:

peas on earth