Social Order and Animal Consciousness

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Social Order and Animal Consciousness

There is nothing new about the uncanny abilities of animals. People have noticed them for centuries. Millions of pet owners and pet trainers today have experienced them personally. But at the same time, many people feel they have to deny these abilities or trivialize them. They are ignored by institutional science. Pets are the animals we know best, but their most surprising and intriguing behavior is treated as of no real interest. Why should this be so, and what about the implications of animal consciousness and intelligence through the behavior observed by those with close relations to animals.

One reason for institutional science’s lack of interest is a taboo against taking ‘pets’ seriously. This taboo is not confined to scientist but is a result of the split attitudes to animals expressed in our society as a whole. During working hours we commit ourselves to economic progress fueled by science and technology and based on the mechanistic view of life. This view, dating back to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, derives form René Descarte’s theory of the universe as a machine. Though the metaphors have changed (from the brain as a hydraulic machine in Descarte’s time), life is still thought of in terms of machinery. Animals and plants are seen as genetically programmed automata.

Meanwhile, back at home, we have our pets. Pets are in a different category from other animals. Pet-keeping is confined to the private, or subjective, realm. Experiences with pets are kept out of the real, or objective, world. There is a huge gulf between companion animals, treated as members of the family, and animals in factory farms and research laboratories. Our relationships with our pets are based on different sets of attitudes, on I-thou relationships rather than I-it approach encouraged by science.

Whether in the laboratory or in the field, scientific investigators typically try to avoid emotional connections with the animals they are investigating. They aspire to a detached objectivity. They would therefore be unlikely to encounter the kinds of behavior and apparent consciousness that depend on the close attachment between animals and people. In this realm, animal trainers and pet owners are generally far more knowledgeable and experienced than professional researchers on animal behavior- unless they happen to be pet owners themselves.

Consciousness has been found to be one of the hardest things to define and study. The textbook definition of "Consciousness" is the full knowledge of what is in one’s own mind; awareness.
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