Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Cognitive Ethology and Cat Companionship

Posted 17 Mar 2014 / 0

The Chronicle of Higher EducationAnimal Magnetism

I still think that we would be appalled and offended if we could literally read the inner emotional dialogue of a cat, but I have to agree with the main contention of Barash and Lipton: that animals have feelings and connections with each other — and sometimes with humans — that are analogous to our own.

The problem — as they nicely point out — is that we can’t prove this to be the case even as our everyday experience routinely confirms it. What is interesting about their take on the “unknowability” of this animal emotionality is that the limit is no longer based on our inability to read the signs of an emotional life in a scientific manner: it is that we don’t find it ethical to place the animals we love into the situations that would test their love. The limitations that domestication places on our ability to “experiment” on the home-seeking behaviors of our pets, for example, leaves us with anecdotes rather than science.

The problem with relying on intuition is that everyone has their own. As trained scientists, Barash and Lipton have a pretty good scope of limitation on what they attribute to their animal companions, and are happy to settle at “our pets have a bond and connection to us”. But the person down the street swears that his dog can read his mind. No real science separates these two theories.

A Minor Post, Articles, Behavior, Behavioral Ecology, Belief, Consciousness, Data Limitation, Divergence, Emotion, Fluidity of Knowledge, Hypothesis Testing, Neuroscience

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