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Do Animals Think?

Clive D.L. Wynne. Do Animals Think? Princeton, NJ: 2004.

In comparing humans with animals, psychology professor Clive D.L. Wynne, proposes a sandwich analogy. It looks like this:
 The bottom layer of the sandwich is a layer of dissimilarity, based on
 the notion that each species on this planet lives in a unique sensory
 world--e.g., the sonar of the hunting bat, the rich sense of smell
 dogs enjoy, the ability of birds to detect changes in air pressure. At
 this level there is no denying the diversity of the animal kingdom.
 The middle layer is a layer of similarity. Here we find basic
 psychological processes like learning, some kinds of memory, and
 simple concept formation such as identifying objects as being the same
 or different. This level shows that there are some commonalties that
 human and animal minds share because we are living on the same planet
 and descended from the same slimy ancestors.

Wynne notes that at the top layer of the sandwich, after forty years of trying, we can say definitively that no nonhuman primate (or other species) has ever developed anything equivalent to human language. Animals do not think abstractly and they show very little interest in placing themselves imaginatively into another's perspective on events. It turns out that there really is pretty big difference between humans and other living creatures.

We share 98.4% of our DNA with chimpanzees (probably even more with bonobos, pygmy chimpanzees) yet we are significantly different from all other nonhuman organisms. Why is this so? Korzybski, many years ago, attributed it to a quarter inch of cortex. Because of this advantage, humans, through language and other symbols, can pass along knowledge across the generations and improve their quality of life. Animals cannot do this. They are not, as general semantics puts it, a "time-binding class of life."

For more information on distinctions between human and animal minds, and why the world is richer because such minds are diverse, I recommend reading Wynne's book.


Editor's Note: In the July 2006 ETC, in "An Interview with Allen Flagg," by Martin Levinson, Allen Flagg refers to a book in which he has an article. The correct title of this book, which is the proceedings of the IGS 1995 11th International Conference, is Developing Sanity in Human Affairs, (Greenwood Press, 1998).
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Article Details
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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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