Tag Archives: sentience

Join us at the first Animal Lecture in English!

In 2014 the Institute for Animals in Philosophy and Science is organising for the first time Animal Lectures in English for an international audience. In these lectures psychologist and philosopher dr. Esteban Rivas will present up-to-date reviews of the current scientific state of affairs regarding the consciousness, emotions, and intelligence of nonhuman animals, as well as animal ethics, or how we should relate to other animals.

VignetConsciousness&EmotionsinAnimals

On Saturday 11 January 2014 the first Animal Lecture in English will be held at the Main building of the Free University in Amsterdam. The subject of this lecture is “Consciousness and emotions in animals.” During this lecture dr. Rivas will address the question whether other animals have the ability to experience things like pain and pleasure. Are animals robots without subjective experiences or do animals experience sensations and other things in a phenomenally conscious way? The French philosopher René Descartes claimed that nonhuman animals could not be conscious. Behaviorism in psychology also led to a taboo on the subject of consciousness in general. Even today there are still scholars who do not ascribe consciousness or sentience to animals, often based on the absence of ‘higher’ cognitive abilities and language. In contrast are positions that argue for the presence of consciousness in animals by argueing from analogy, using systematic analyses of the nervous systems and behaviours of animals. Rivas will present the work of Jaak Panksepp on affective neuroscience, which shows that at least all mammals, and birds too, share a number of brain centers for the same emotional systems. We will also discuss the various emotions of animals. Which particular emotions do they have? Pleasure, pain, jealousy, guilt, gratitude? Which animals seem to mourn deceased conspecifics? And what similarities exist between humans and other animals with regard to altered states of consciousness, such as dreaming and being under the influence of psychoactive medication and drugs?

At the end of March and in April three other Animal Lectures in the English language will be organised. These are the following:

  • Saturday 29 March: Communiation and language research with animals.
  • Saturday 5 April: Recent research on the intelligence of dogs.
  • Saturday 12 April: Introduction to animal ethics.

Click here for more information about the contents of these three Animal Lectures.

Practical information. The Animal Lectures are organized for people who work with animals professionally, for students, and for anyone interested in animals and eager to broaden their knowledge about them. A specific former education is not required. The lectures start at 12.30 and end at 16.30 hours. Registration for the Animal Lectures costs 35 euro for each lecture. Students with a student ID card pay 25 euro for each lecture. You can register for all or several of the lectures by sending a message to estebanyes@gmail.com. You will then receive an email message with all practical details, such as payment etc.

See you in Amsterdam!

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Filed under Animal Consciousness, Animal Emotions, Lectures and courses

Animal Lectures in Amsterdam

After getting multiple requests for lectures in English, dr. Rivas has decided to organize four English lectures about animals. They will be given on a Saturday afternoon, from 12.30 to 16.30 hours and will be held at the Free University in Amsterdam.

Saturday 11 January:

Animal Lecture 1: Consciousness and emotions in animals.

VignetConsciousness&EmotionsinAnimals

Do animals dream?

Do animals dream?

During this lectureday dr. Rivas will address the question whether other animals have the ability to experience things like pain and pleasure. Are animals robots without subjective experiences or do animals experience sensations and other things in a phenomenally conscious way? The French philosopher René Descartes claimed that nonhuman animals could not be conscious. Behaviorism in psychology also led to a taboo on the subject of consciousness in general. Even today there are still scholars who do not ascribe consciousness to animals, often based on the absence of ‘higher’ cognitive abilities and language. In contrast are positions that argue for the presence of consciousness in animals by argueing from analogy, using systematic analyses of the nervous systems and behaviours of animals. Rivas will present the work of Jaak Panksepp on affective neuroscience, which shows that at least all mammals, and birds too, share a number of brain centers for the same emotional systems. I will also discuss the various emotions of animals. Which particular emotions do they have? Pleasure, pain, jealousy, guilt, gratitude? Which animals seem to mourn deceased conspecifics? And what similarities exist between humans and other animals with regard to altered states of consciousness, such as dreaming and being under the influence of psychoactive medication and drugs?

Saturday 29 March:

Animal Lecture 2: Communication and language research with animals.

AL2CommunicationLanguageResearchAnimals

The chimpanzee Tatu makes the sign for BLACK.

The chimpanzee Tatu makes the sign for BLACK.

Animal communication takes places in many different ways. At a certain moment in evolution animal communication developed into human language. The question that scientists and philosophers have had for a long time, is whether humans are the only animals with language. In this lecture dr. Rivas will present recent developments in the scientific study of animal communication and he will discuss the results of language research with nonhuman animals. The following subjects will be presented: The characteristics of human language and animal communication. The relationship between language and brain and language development in human children. What referential information about predators is transmitted in the alarm calls of vervet monkeys and prairie dogs? What are the similarities between birdsong and human language? The natural communication of great apes: facial expressions, vocalisations and gestures. Language research with great apes has been taking place for more than a century. First there were attempts to teach them words, after which several projects were successful in teaching signs to great apes. The famous chimpanzee Washoe and the gorilla Koko learned to use more than hundred signs to communicate with humans. The bonobo Kanzi and other apes learned to communicate by means of geometric symbols or lexigrams. But there is also an ape language controversy, because in what way does this use of symbols compare to human language? Dr. Rivas will also present his own study of the language apes. Finally, the results of language research with dolphins, sealions, parrots (the famous parrot Alex), and dogs will be presented.

Saturday 5 April:

Animal Lecture 3: Recent research on the intelligence of dogs.

AL3DogIntelligence

How smart are dogs?

How smart are dogs?

In the past 19 years many new and exciting studies have been carried out on the intelligence or cognition of dogs. Special institutes for intelligence research with dogs have been set up at universities all over the world: the Family Dog Project at the University of Budapest (Adam Miklosi), the department of Comparative and Developmental Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthroplogy at the University of Leipzig (Juliane Kaminski and Michael Tomasello), the Clever Dog Lab at the University of Vienna (Ludwig Huber), and the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University in the USA (Brian Hare). During this lecture dr. Rivas will present and discuss the results of all these recent studies with dogs. Central themes are the social and physical intelligence of dogs. Subjects that will be presented are, amongst others: Do dogs understand what humans see, hear or know? What do dogs learn by social observation, is there evidence for imitation in dogs? Do dogs understand human communicative signals, such as pointing and gaze direction? How much evidence exists regarding empathy in dogs? What are the results of language research with dogs? Are dogs able to understand human words? What does dogs’ physical intelligence consists of, what do they know about their physical environment? Are dogs aware that objects keep existing (object permanence), can dogs count? How do they behave in exciting studies such as the magic cup? This lecture will give you a good review of the current state of affairs of our scientific knowledge about the intelligence of dogs. This will probably change your own view of what dogs are capable of in terms of intelligence.

Saturday  12 April:

Animal Lecture 4: Introduction to animal ethics.

AL4AnimalEthics

How should we relate to other animals?

How should we relate to other animals?

On this lectureday I will give a review of the most important schools of thought in animal ethics. After a short introduction to philosophy and ethics and the history of moral thought about nonhuman animals, the most important current philosophers will be presented: Peter Singer and his utilitarian ethics of animal liberation. Tom Regan, who argues for animal rights from a deontological perspective. Philosophers who argue that the presence of sentience or consciousness is sufficient condition for moral consideration, such as Gary Francione. Philosophers who make a moral distinction between humans and other animals based on the capacity for language (Frey, Carruthers). Feminist animal ethics which looks at animals with the concepts of care and dialogue. And finally, deep ecology, in which humans and other animals are part of the biosphere. Questions that will be discussed are, a.o.: Is having self-consciousness of importance for the way in which an animal should be treated? Are some animals replaceable? When is a position speciesism, discrimination based on species? What are the arguments for equality among all animals? Do all living beings have an inherent value? What should one do if one were in a lifeboat with 3 other humans and 1 dog, and one individual should be thrown overboard in order for the lifeboat not to sink?

Practical information. The Animal Lectures are organized for people who work with animals professionally, for students, and for anyone interested in animals and eager to broaden their knowledge about them. A specific former education is not required. The lectures start at 12.30 and end at 16.30 hours. Registration for the Animal Lectures costs 35 euro for each lecture. Students with a student ID card pay 25 euro for each lecture.

Location: Main Building of the Free University, De Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam. This location is well accessible both by car and public transport. Free parking is possible at the Gustav Mahlerlaan and the A.J. Ernstlaan.

Registration: You can register by simply sending an email message to estebanyes@gmail.com. You can register for all or several of the lectures. You will then receive an email message with all practical details, such as payment etc.

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Animal Lecturedays in Amsterdam

Besides the two lecturedays in Drenthe (15 September: consciousness and emotions in animals, and 6 October: introduction to animal ethics), this autumn the Institute for Animals in Philosophy and Science – IAPS will also organize three Animal Lecturedays in Amsterdam. During these days I will present the following three subjects: the recent research on the intelligence of dogs, consciousness and emotions in animals, and an introduction to animal ethics. The lecturedays are held for all those interested in expanding their knowledge about the intelligence of dogs or the consciousness and emotions of animals, and those who want to increase their knowledge and think about animal ethics. We start at eleven o’clock in the morning and continue until half past five in the afternoon, including a vegan lunch. As usual, the lecturedays will be enlivened by lots of pictures and interesting short videos. At the end of the day you will receive a certificate from the Institute for Animals in Philosophy and Science. Below you will find the information about the three lecturedays. Note that all lecturedays will be held in the Dutch language.

Saturday 21 September: Animal Lectureday 1: Recent research on the intelligence of dogs.

Description:

How clever are dogs?

How clever are dogs?

In the past 19 years many new and exciting studies have been carried out on the intelligence or cognition of dogs. Special institutes for intelligence research with dogs have been set up at universities all over the world: the Family Dog Project at the University of Budapest (Adam Miklosi), the department of Comparative and Developmental Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthroplogy at the University of Leipzig (Juliane Kaminski and Michael Tomasello), the Clever Dog Lab at the University of Vienna (Ludwig Huber), and the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University in the USA (Brian Hare). During this lectureday I will present and discuss the results of all these recent studies with dogs. Central themes are the social and physical intelligence of dogs. Subjects that will be presented are, amongst others: Do dogs understand what humans see, hear or know? Do dogs understand human communicative signals, such as pointing and gaze direction? What do dogs learn by social observation, is there evidence for imitation in dogs? How much evidence exists regarding empathy in dogs? What are the results of language research with dogs? Are dogs able to understand human words? What does dogs’ physical intelligence consists of, what do they know about their physical environment? Are dogs aware that objects keep existing (object permanence), can dogs count? How do they behave in exciting studies such as the magic cup? This lectureday will give you a good review of the current state of affairs of our scientific knowledge about the intelligence of dogs. This will probably change your own view of what dogs are capable of in terms of intelligence.

Saturday 12 October: Animal Lectureday 2: Consciousness and emotions in animals.

Description:

Many animals dream and have affection for each other.

Many animals dream and have affection for each other.

During this lectureday we will address the question whether other animals besides humans have the ability to experience things like pain and pleasure. Are animals robots without subjective experiences or do animals experience sensations and other things just like us in a phenomenally conscious way? The French philosopher René Descartes claimed that nonhuman animals could not be conscious. Behaviorism in psychology also led to a taboo on the subject of consciousness in general. Even today there are still scholars who do not ascribe consciousness to animals, often based on the absence of ‘higher’ cognitive abilities and language. In contrast are positions that argue for the presence of consciousness in animals by argueing from analogy, using systematic analyses of the nervous systems and behaviours of animals. I will present the work of Jaak Panksepp on affective neuroscience, which shows that at least all mammals, and birds too, share a number of brain centers for the same emotional systems. I will also discuss the various emotions of dogs and other animals. Which particular emotions do they have? Pleasure, pain, jealousy, guilt, gratitude? How important are affection and love in the lives of animals? Which animals seem to mourn deceased conspecifics? Can rats, dogs and apes laugh? Can animals have emotional traumas? And what similarities exist between humans and other animals with regard to altered states of consciousness, such as dreaming and being under the influence of psychoactive medication and drugs?

Saturday 19 October: Animal Lectureday 3: Introduction to animal ethics.

Description:

How should we relate to other animals?

How should we relate to other animals?

On this lectureday I will give a review of the most important schools of thought in animal ethics. After a short introduction to philosophy and ethics, and the history of moral thought about nonhuman animals, the most important current philosophers will be presented: Peter Singer and his utilitarian ethics of animal liberation. Tom Regan, who argues for animal rights from a deontological perspective. Philosophers who argue that the presence of sentience or consciousness is sufficient condition for equal moral consideration, such as Gary Francione. Philosophers who make a moral distinction between humans and other animals based on the capacity for language (Frey, Carruthers). Feminist animal ethics which looks at animals with the concepts of care and dialogue. And finally, deep ecology, in which humans and other animals are part of the biosphere. The following questions will be discussed, among others: Is the capacity for self-awareness relevant for the ways in which an animal should be treated? Are some animals replaceable? How can we discern speciesism, discrimination based on species? What are the arguments for equality among all animals? Do all living beings have an inherent value? What should one do if one is in a lifeboat with 3 other humans and 1 dog and one individual has to be thrown overboard in order not to sink the lifeboat? After this presentation of the various schools of thought and positions in animal ethics, a practical part will follow. The participants at the lectureday will be assigned to the most important animal ethics positions. We will then discuss several moral questions or dilemmas and the participants will then have to apply the reasoning of the particular animal ethics position they have been assigned to, to the specific moral dilemma. Examples of these moral dilemmas are the keeping of animals in captivity, like in zoos, but also the recent issues regarding the large herbivores that have been placed in human constructed nature areas such as the Oostvaardersplassen: Is it morally justified not to feed these animals, but cull them during severe winters?

For whom? The Animal Lecturedays are organized for people who work with animals professionally, for students, and for anyone interested in animals and eager to broaden their knowledge about them. A specific former education is not required. The lecturedays will be given in the Dutch language, but a passive knowledge of English is convenient, given that some of the films that I will show are not subtitled.

Practical information. All lecturedays will start at 11.00 o’clock in the morning and will end at 17.30 in the afternoon. The costs for attending are 60 euros per person for each lectureday. The registration fee for students (with a student ID card) is 40 euros for each lectureday. This price includes a (vegan) lunch and coffee and tea. People who register for all three lecturedays will get a discount and will pay 160 euros in total. Students who register for all three lecturedays will pay 100 euros in total.

Location: Madame de Pompadour, Langsom 28 in Amsterdam. This location is very well accessible both by car (there is even free parking!) and by public transport.

You can attend all three Animal Lecturedays or one or two of your own choice. You can register by sending a message to estebanyes@gmail.com or by filling out the form below: 

In December I will organize these three Animal Lecturedays at a location in the east or south of The Netherlands. Further information will follow.

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Filed under Animal Cognition, Animal Consciousness, Animal Emotions, Animal Ethics, Language research with animals, Lectures and courses, Veganism/Vegetarianism

Animal Winterlectures

At the entrance of the lecture room at the Free University.

At the entrance of the lecture room at the Free University.

After the success of the Animal Summerlectures, that I organized this Summer at the Free University in Amsterdam, I am giving the Animal Winterlectures this winter. In these lectures I will again speak about recent developments in science and philosophy with regard to animals. The subjects of the lectures belong to my specialized knowledge, so these lectures are a good way to get acquainted with me. At the same time, I also hope to get to meet all kinds of enthusiastic people at these lectures, who are interested in broadening their knowledge about the behaviour of animals. The Animal Winterlectures will be held in the main building (Hoofdgebouw) of the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam. So if you’re thinking this Winter: I want some warmth and out of the winter depression, then come to one of my lectures on Saturday afternoon!

Though this announcement is in English, the four lectures will be held in the Dutch language.

Saturday 2 February: Recent research on the intelligence of dogs.

Dr. Rivas with the dog Faith.

Dr. Rivas with the dog Faith.

In the past 18 years a lot of new research has been done on the intelligence or cognition of dogs. At the universities of Leipzig and Budapest and all over the world many new studies are taking place that study what dogs can understand of the social and physical world around them. In this lecture I will present the results of these new studies. Subjects that will be presented, among others, are: What do dogs understand of what humans can see, hear and know? How do dogs solve problems and do they learn by social observation? What do dogs comprehend of human communicative signals, such as pointing and gaze direction? What are the results of language research with dogs, can they understand human words? With regard to their physical intelligence, what do dogs understand of their physical environment, like for example gravity? Do they understand that objects keep existing (object permanence) and how do dogs behave in exciting studies such as the magic cup? This lecture will be a shortened version of the extensive lecture day on the intelligence of dogs that I will be giving in the province of Drenthe on January 27.

Saturday 16 February: Valentine’s lecture: Affection across the species barrier.

Affection between a cat and a great ape.

Affection between a cat and a great ape.

The relationship between humans and dogs is a good example of the deep bond that can exist between members of two different animal species. Let alone the multitude of other animals, such as cats, horses and rodents with which humans can build op a good bond. Besides this, there also exist many intriguing cases of affection and special friendships between two different nonhuman animals. Nonhuman great apes can be thrilled by cats and dogs, an elephant and a sheep in a sanctuary who are inseparable and there is a pitbull dog who protects chicks and relates to them lovingly. Even between natural enemies a bond can sometimes exist. An example is a lioness who treated a young antelope as if he were her own child. The remarkable aspect of these relationships is that to feel affection for someone it doesn’t seem to matter to what species you belong. A lesson in love we could all use as an example. The cases of interspecific affection often involve animals in human captivity, such as zoos and sanctuaries, or when humans have animals of various species inside their homes. But also in the wild we sometimes see fascinating examples of affection between different species, like in the play between chimpanzees and baboons. In my lecture I will discuss the possible causes for the existence of these affections and friendships. Are the animals still young and do they maybe see another animal as a substitute parent? What is the neurochemistry of affection (brain opioids and hormones like oxytocin) and does that exist in nonhuman animals as well? Does empathy, the ability to take the perspective of another, also play a role?

Saturday  23 February: Consciousness and emotions in animals.

Do dogs feel guilt?

Do dogs feel guilt?

In this lecture I will address the question whether other animals have the ability to experience things like pain and pleasure. Are animals robots without subjective experiences or do animals experience sensations and other things in a phenomenally conscious way? The French philosopher René Descartes claimed that nonhuman animals could not be conscious. Behaviorism in psychology also led to a taboo on the subject of consciousness in general. Even today there are still scholars who do not ascribe consciousness to animals, often based on the absence of ‘higher’ cognitive abilities and language (Bermond, Carruthers). In contrast are positions that argue for the presence of consciousness in animals by argueing from analogy, using systematic analyses of the nervous systems and behaviours of animals. I will present the work of Jaak Panksepp on affective neuroscience, which shows that at least all mammals, and birds too, share a number of brain centers for the same emotional systems. I will also discuss the various emotions of animals. Which particular emotions do they have? Pleasure, pain, jealousy, guilt, gratitude? Which animals seem to mourn deceased conspecifics? And what similarities exist between humans and other animals with regard to altered states of consciousness, such as dreaming and being under the influence of drugs?

Saturday 2 March: Language in animals and its moral relevance.

The chimpanzee Tatu making the sign for BLACK.

The chimpanzee Tatu making the sign for BLACK.

In this lecture I will give a review of the results of all language studies with nonhuman animals, which already take place for more than a century now. I will present the spoken language experiments with great apes, the sign language studies with great apes (including my own research), the projects in which bonobos and chimpanzees communicate with lexigrams (arbritrary symbols), the studies with dolphins and sealions on their understanding of commands given by human gestures, the work with the grey parrot Alex and his ability to speak human words and to use these to describe objects and finally the recent language research with dogs: border collie dogs who can understand hundreds of human words for objects and the Brazilian dog Sofia who uses lexigrams to indicate what she wants. Subsequently, I will tackle the question whether the capacity for language is of relevance to our ethics toward nonhuman animals. The theories of the philosophers R.G. Frey and Peter Carruthers about language and ethics will be discussed, as well as the way in which the Great Ape Project has used the results of language research with great apes in its moral argumentation. I will argue that the presence or absence of language and other cognitive abilities should not have moral consequences and by a discussion of Gary Francione’s work I will show that the capacity for sentience or (phenomenal) consciousness is a sufficient condition for moral equality among animals.

For whom? The Animal Winterlectures are organized for anyone who is interested in animals and would like to know more about recent developments in scientific research about language, intelligence, and emotions in animals, and in animal ethics. A special education is not required. The lectures will have room for questions and discussion, and will be enlivened by lots of pictures and short films. As was mentioned above, the lectures will be given in the Dutch language, but a passive knowledge of English is convenient, given that some of the films that I will show are not subtitled.

Time: Each lecture lasts 3 hours, starting at 12.30 and ending at 15.30 hours. This includes a short coffee and tea break.

Location: The lectures are held in the main building (Hoofdgebouw) of the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) at the De Boelelaan 1105 in Amsterdam. This location can be reached well by both public transport or car.

Price: Each individual lecture costs 25 euro. The four lectures together cost 90 euro (so a discount of 10 euro). Admission to the lectures is only given when payment has been received in advance.

Registration: You can register for the lectures by sending an email to estebanyes@gmail.com. In your message, specify which lectures you would like to attend.

I hope to see you this Winter in Amsterdam!

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Filed under Animal Cognition, Animal Communication, Animal Consciousness, Animal Ethics, Language research with animals, Lectures and courses

Lectures and courses this Fall 2012

This Fall I will be giving multiple lectures and courses for various institutes and organizations. Below you will find an overview of them, with a description of the subject and the practical information on how to register for them. This list is not complete yet, as I am still in contact with other organizations. For the most up to date listing of my lectures and courses you can always check the Calendar page of this blog.

Lecture on theme-day Emotions in cats

On Saturday 29 September the CatBehaviourAdvisorybureau (KattenGedragsAdviesbureau) is organizing a Catday in Amstelveen. The theme of this day is Emotions in cats. Cat behaviour therapist Marcellina Stolting will speak a.o. about traumas and frustration in cats, the relation between cat and ‘owner’ and the influence of play on that relationship, and the role of pheromones in the emotions of cats. Connecting to the subject of this day, I will give a lecture about affection and friendship between animals who belong to two different animal species.

Me being affectionate with dog Umai

Description: The title of my lecture will be Affection across the species barrier (Affectie over de soortgrens heen). The relationship between humans and cats is a good example of the deep bond that can exist between members of two different animal species. Let alone the multitude of other animals, such as dogs, horses and rodents with which humans can build op a good bond. Besides this, there also exist many intriguing cases of affection and special friendships between two different nonhuman animals. Nonhuman great apes can be thrilled by cats and dogs, an elephant and a sheep in a sanctuary who are inseparable and there is a pitbull dog who protects chicks and relates to them lovingly. Even between natural enemies a bond can sometimes exist. An example is a lioness who treated a young antelope as if he were her child. The remarkable aspect of these relationships is that to feel affection for someone it doesn’t seem to matter to what species you belong. A lesson in love we could all use as an example. The cases of interspecific affection often involve animals in human captivity, such as zoos and sanctuaries, or when humans have animals of various species inside their homes. But also in the wild do we sometimes see fascinating examples of affection between different species, like in the play between chimpanzees and baboons. In my lecture I will discuss the possible causes for the existence of these affections and friendships. Are the animals still young and do they maybe see another animal as a substitute parent? What is the neurochemistry of affection (brain opioids and hormones like oxytocin) and does that exist in nonhuman animals as well? Does empathy, the ability to take the perspective of another, also play a role? I will show some interesting and fun short films during the lecture.

Practical information: Cat day KattenGedragsAdviesbureau. Saturday 29 september, from 09.00 to 18.00. All lectures will be in Dutch. Location: Alleman, Den Bloeyenden Wijngaert 1, 1183 JM Amstelveen. Registration fee: 75 euro. To register: click here.

2 Lectures on international seminar at Foundation AAP

On Monday 1 and Tuesday 2 October AnimalConcepts and Foundation AAP will present the seminar Animal Welfare: Emotion, Cognition and Behaviour. Besides myself there will be 3 other speakers: The British/American ethologist Jonathan Balcombe, Department Chair for Animal Studies of the Humane Society University in Washington D.C. and author of multiple books among which the great book Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good. He will give 3 lectures, one about the subject of the book I just mentioned, “The Inner Lives of Animals,” and “Think or Swim: The Inner Lives of Fishes.” Psychologist Charlotte Post will present the lecture “Useful functions of anthropomorphism.” Finally, psychologist Sabrina Brando, owner of AnimalConcepts, will give the lecture “Perception & Words.” A guided tour of the Foundation AAP animal sanctuary is also part of the programme and each day will end with a panel discussion.

Description: The two lectures that I will give are the following. In “Language research with nonhuman animals” I will give a review of the results of all language studies with nonhuman animals, which already take place for more than a century now. I will present the spoken language experiments with great apes, the sign language studies with great apes (including my own research), the projects in which bonobos and chimpanzees communicate with lexigrams (arbritrary symbols), the studies with dolphins and sealions on their understanding of commands given by human gestures, the work with the grey parrot Alex and his ability to speak human words and to use these to describe objects and finally the recent language research with dogs: border collie dogs who can understand hundreds of human words for objects and the Brazilian dog Sofia who uses lexigrams to indicate what she wants. The second lecture that I will give is “Linguistic humans vs. nonlinguistic animals: A moral divide?” and will tackle the question whether the capacity for language is of relevance to our ethics toward nonhuman animals. The theories of the philosophers R.G. Frey and Peter Carruthers about language and ethics will be discussed, as well as the way in which the Great Ape Project has used the results of language research with great apes in its moral argumentation. I will argue that the presence or absence of language and other cognitive abilities should not have moral consequences and by a discussion of Gary Francione’s work I will show that the capacity for sentience or (phenomenal) consciousness is a sufficient condition for moral equality among animals.

Practical information: Seminar Animal Welfare: Emotion, Cognition and Behaviour. Monday 1 and Tuesday 2 October, from 09.00 to 17.00. Location: Stichting AAP, Almere. Registration fee: 125 euro, for students 95 euro. The whole seminar will be given in English. Registration: AnimalConcepts website.

Lecture for The tower of Babel course, Hovo Groningen

From October 11 to November 22 the Higher Education for Older People (Hoger Onderwijs Voor Ouderen – Hovo) Groningen is organizing the course The tower of Babel – Language, communication and culture. It will consist of lectures by multiple speakers who will discuss all kinds of subjects regarding language and its origins.

Description: On Thursday 18 October I will give the lecture “Language in animals? Communication and language research with animals.” Contents: The question whether other animals than humans have language is being studied by closer examination of the natural communication of nonhuman animals and language research with these animals. Studies of the various alarm calls of vervet monkeys and prairie dogs show that the capacity for reference exists in animal communication. Birdsong, like human language, is learned and contains a phonological form of syntax. Language research with great apes has shown that the apes are able to understand symbols, but that they don’t combine these meaningfully and predominantly use them to acquire things from humans. Recent research with border collie dogs confirms that they can understand hundreds of human words. Especially the presence of grammar and syntax distinguishes human language from animal communication.

Practical information: HOVO Groningen. Thursday 18 October, from 15.30 to 16.30. To attend this lecture, you need to register for the whole course. Registration is open for people of 50 years and older. All lectures are given in Dutch. Registration fee: 145 euro. Registration: website of the Seniorenacademie Hovo Groningen.

Communication and language in animals course Hovo Brabant

From October 26 to November 30 I will give a course of 6 lectures called Communication and Language in Animals for the Higher Education for Older People (Hovo) Brabant, location Eindhoven. For this course too, only people of 50 years or older can register.

Description: In the first lesson we will discuss the definitions and characteristics of communication and human language. We will look at animal communication and ask the question whether animals only communicate their passions and emotions, or whether they can also refer to things and situations in the outside world. The second class will be about the calls and songs of birds. In what way do the songs of songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds share similarities with human language? The songs of humpback whales will also be presented. The third lesson will be about the natural communication of great apes (facial expressions, vocalisations and gestures). The fourth lesson will present the language research carried out with great apes. Attempts to teach chimpanzees and other apes spoken words and signs will be discussed. In the fifth lesson my own research with signing chimpanzees will be presented and we will discuss the work with the bonobo Kanzi and his use of geometric symbols or lexigrams. In the last lesson the language research with dolphins, sealions, parrots and dogs will be discussed. The parrot Alex and his use of human words will be presented, as well as the recent studies with border collie dogs, who appear to understand hundreds of human words for toys.

Practical information: Hovo Brabant, location Eindhoven. Friday afternoons, from 13.00 to 14.45. The dates of the course: 26 October, and 2, 9, 16, 23, and 30 November 2012. Registration fee: 151 euro. To register for this course, go to the website of HOVO Brabant.

3 lecture evenings at Healthcare-Academy Den Hoek

In November I will give three lectures on a Thursday evening at the educational institute of Eric Laarakker, the Healthcare-Academy Den Hoek in De Bilt.

Description: First lecture: On Thursday November 1 I will give the lecture Recent research on the intelligence of dogs, cats, and horses. I will discuss the recent scientific studies on the intelligence or cognition of these animals. In the past 18 years many new and exciting studies on this subject have been carried out at the universities of Leipzig, Budapest and all over the world. Subjects that I will present are a.o.: communication and language research, knowledge about the physical world (object permanence, counting, understanding of gravity) and social intelligence: understanding of what humans see, hear and know, learning through observation, understanding of human communicative signals, and empathy. The emphasis of the lecture will be on dogs, given that most recent studies are carried out with dogs.

Second lecture: Thursday November 15: Consciousness and emotions in animals. In this lecture I will address the question whether other animals have the ability to experience things like pain and pleasure. Are animals robots without subjective experiences or do animals experience sensations and other things in a phenomenally conscious way? The French philosopher René Descartes claimed that nonhuman animals could not be conscious. Behaviorism in psychology also led to a taboo on the subject of consciousness in general. Even today there are still scholars who do not ascribe consciousness to animals, often based on the absence of ‘higher’ cognitive abilities and language (Bermond, Carruthers). In contrast are positions that argue for the presence of consciousness in animals by argueing from analogy, using systematic analyses of the nervous systems and behaviours of animals. I will also discuss the various emotions of animals. What emotions do they have? Which animals seem to mourn deceased conspecifics? And what has come out of research on empathy in animals?

Third lecture: Thursday November 29: Introduction to animal ethics. In this lecture I will give a review of the most important schools of thought in animal ethics. After a short introduction to philosophy and ethics and the history of moral thought about nonhuman animals, the most important current philosophers will be presented: Peter Singer and his utilitarian ethics of animal liberation. Tom Regan, who argues for animal rights from a deontological perspective. Philosophers who argue that the presence of sentience or consciousness is sufficient condition for moral consideration, such as Gary Francione. Philosophers who make a moral distinction between humans and other animals based on the capacity for language (Frey, Carruthers). Feminist animal ethics which looks at animals with the concepts of care and dialogue. And finally, deep ecology, in which humans and other animals are part of the biosphere.

Practical information: Healthcare-Academy Den Hoek. Thursday 1, 15 en 29 November, from 19.30 tot 22.30. All lectures will be in Dutch. Location: Bisschopsweg 2, 3732 HW De Bilt. Registration fee: 45 euro for each lecture. Registration for all three lectures will get you a discount of 15 euro. Registration through the website of Healthcare-Academy Den Hoek.

Lecture on symposium on consciousness and emotions in animals

On Saturday November 24 the Studygroup of Complementary working Veterinarians (Studiegroep Complementair werkende Dierenartsen) in cooperation with the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Science (Koninklijke Nederlandse Maatschappij voor Diergeneeskunde) will organize the symposium Animals in 3D: consciousness, emotions and language in animals (Dieren in 3D: bewustzijn, emoties en taal bij dieren). Besides myself several of the other speakers are: Maarten Frankenhuis “Love dissected” and Frauke Ohl “Emotions and consciousness in rats and mice.”

Description: My contribution has as its title Humans are not the only animals with consciousness (Mensen zijn niet de enige dieren met bewustzijn). In this lecture I will address the question whether other animals have the ability to experience things like pain and pleasure. Are animals robots without subjective experiences or do animals experience sensations and other things in a phenomenally conscious way? The French philosopher René Descartes claimed that nonhuman animals could not be conscious. Behaviorism in psychology also led to a taboo on the subject of consciousness in general. Even today there are still scholars who do not ascribe consciousness to animals, often based on the absence of ‘higher’ cognitive abilities and language (Bermond, Carruthers). In contrast are positions that argue for the presence of consciousness in animals by argueing from analogy, using systematic analyses of the nervous systems and behaviours of animals.

Practical information: Symposium Dieren in 3D: bewustzijn, emoties en taal bij dieren, organized by the SCwD and the KNMvD. Saturday 24 November, from 08.50 to 17.00. Location: Androclus building, Diergeneeskunde, Utrecht University. Registration fee: 45 euro. All lectures are in Dutch. Register through the website of the Royal Dutch Society for Veterinary Science.

Lecture on Langauge research with animals in Wageningen

On December 11 I will give a lecture about language research with nonhuman animals for the People’s University in Wageningen and students of Schoolcommunity Pantarijn. The lecture is open to anyone interested.

Description: Scientists have studied all kinds of animals to see what they can learn of the human language. Great apes can use signs or geometric symbols to communicate with humans. Dolphins and sealions can carry out commands that humans give them in the form of gestures. The parrot Alex can name all kinds of objects by using human words. And border collie dogs can understand hundreds of words for toys and other objects. In this lecture a review is given of the results of these language studies and an answer will be given to the question whether humans are the only creatures with language.

Practical information: Tuesday December 11, from 16.00 to 18.00. Location: Scholengemeenschap Pantarijn, Hollandseweg 7-9 te Wageningen. Registration fee: 12 euro. Registration: click here.

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Filed under Animal Cognition, Animal Communication, Animal Consciousness, Animal Ethics, Language research with animals, Lectures and courses

The Minding Animals Conference

From 4 to 6 July the second Minding Animals Conference was organized at Utrecht University. Every three years this conference is held in another university city, set up by Minding Animals International. The purpose of these conferences is to build bridges and bring people together from science, philosophy and animal organizations. During the conference many lectures are given about all kinds of subjects that have to do with animals: the intelligence or cognition of animals, emotions and consciousness of animals, animal ethics, politics and policies regarding animals, animals in literature and art, and yet more subjects. Hundreds of people from all over the world had travelled to Utrecht for this 3-day conference. The programme was packed and started each day at 9 in the morning, to end only at 10:30 in the evening. It was a tiring but very interesting conference.

Christian democrat minister of agriculture Henk Bleker opened the conference with a long self-apology about his farming background, assuring all present that farmers also have a good relationship with their animals.

My two lectures were scheduled for the first day, Wednesday July 4. In the morning during the session “Animal capacities: concepts, beliefs and language” I gave my lecture Have nonhuman great apes acquired human language? In this lecture I gave a review of all language research with nonhuman great apes that has been carried out for over a century now. I discussed the results of these studies in which great apes were taught some form of human language, by spoken language experiments, sign language projects and communication by geometric symbols or lexigrams. Below you will find the text of both lectures. The conclusion of my lecture was that chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans are able to learn individual symbols for all kinds of objects and actions, but that nonhuman great apes do not combine these symbols in a meaningful, structured way and that they have a limited motivation for using these symbols: in order to obtain things and actions from humans. For this reason I ended the lecture with the position that nonhuman great apes have not acquired a human language and that the capacity for language is a qualitative difference between humans and other apes. In general the lecture was received well. However, some people were not pleased by my conclusion. The fact that I don’t ascribe language to other animals amounts to some people to confirming or creating anew a dichotomy between humans and other animals. Unfortunately, people then don’t listen good enough anymore to the scientific arguments that I presented.

In the afternoon I gave my second lecture during the session “Animal ethics: capacities and relations.” This lecture was called Is absence of language in nonhuman great apes morally relevant? and was the moral sequel to the scientific conclusions that I had presented in the morning. In the lecture I criticized the positions of philosophers such as R.G. Frey and Peter Carruthers, who take the capacity for language as an important moral distinction between humans and other animals. I gave my criticisms of their arguments and came to the conclusion that the capacity for sentience (the ability to experience pain and pleasure) or phenomenal consciousness (the experiential aspects of our mental states) is a sufficient condition for a moral equality among all animals. In my view the presence or absence of language does not lead to a morally different treatment of humans and other animals, and I argue for equality of all animals, with or without language. Again the lecture was visited well, among the audience the famous philosopher Peter Singer. The reactions were very positive, people thought it was a good discussion of the language issue. Some people came to me afterwards and said they thought it remarkable that I argue for cognitive or motivational differences between humans and other animals (no language), and yet that I argue at the same time for a completely egalitarian relationship between all animals. They thought I was a pleasant exception in that, which, sadly enough, is indeed the case.

Below you will find the text of both lectures. Let me know your opinion about them.

Have nonhuman great apes acquired a human language? 

Before I could start the chairman of the session and me had to solve some computer problems.

When psychology and linguistics started to develop as scientific disciplines in the 19th and 20th century, a scientific oddyssey was embarked upon to discover whether nonhuman great apes could acquire something of our human language. Though several scientific questions laid at the base of this oddyssey, such as the question how much of behaviour is innate or acquired by learning, a major motivation for these studies has also been plain scientific curiosity: how far can our closest furry cousins go in acquiring parts of the human language when we teach them this?

Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans have been used in all kinds of language studies for almost a century now, starting in 1909 with the American psychologist Lightner Witmer and the chimpanzee Peter. Later this type of research with nonhuman great apes has been called Ape Language Research or ALR. In this lecture I will present the results of this century of ape language research and I will answer the question whether nonhuman great apes have acquired a human language.

Before I continue, let me give you the definition of language that I use. Language, in my opinion, consists of three main characteristics. First, the use of words or signs as symbols, referring to things in the outside world or to abstract concepts. Second, the ability to meaningfully combine these symbols by means of grammar and syntax. Third, a rich variety of functions. The functions of human language can be summarized as follows: the transmission of information, expressing one’s thoughts and emotions, the regulation of social relationships, clarification of ideas, humour and play with language, lying, referring to things displaced in space and time and the telling of stories, fantasies and all kinds of abstract concepts. Language gives us the ability to express all these functions in a very detailed and specific way. Indeed, this conference itself is a good example of the possibilities of human language.

When scientists first tried to teach language to nonhuman great apes, only spoken language was considered to be a real human language. The first ape language experiments were thus focused on teaching apes to speak words, starting in 1909 with Lightner Witmer from the University of Pennsylvania, who tried to teach the 5-year old chimpanzee Peter to speak the word mama and the letter p. Later other scientists followed with their own chimpanzees and also orangutans. Usually they tried to make the ape speak a word by manipulating the mouth and lips of the ape subjects. Often the apes were living in the human homes of the scientists, where they were sometimes cross-fostered, or raised by humans as if the ape was a human child. The spoken language experiments were quite unsuccesful, however, the biggest achievement coming from the chimpanzee Viki, who lived with Keith & Catherine Hayes from 1947 to 1953. After these 6 years of training, Viki was able to produce mama, papa, cup and up. However, Viki had a lot of trouble producing these words, which were often inaudible, and more importantly, used in the wrong contexts. The failure of the spoken language experiments was explained by the differences in vocal apparatus between human and nonhuman apes: the nonhuman apes were physically unable to produce actual human words.

In the 1960s new research on human sign language showed that signed languages are just as complex and rich as spoken languages, elevating sign language from its originally prejudiced position as not a real language. This change in perception of human language caused a new chapter in ape language research: now it was the question whether nonhuman great apes could learn and acquire signs. In 1966, the psychologists Allen and Beatrix Gardner from the University of Nevada at Reno started with Project Washoe, in which they taught signs to the wild-caught chimpanzee, Washoe, who was about 10 months old when the project started. Cross-fostered by the Gardners, she was immersed in a linguistic environment in which the humans communicated by using signs. Moulding the hands of the chimpanzee into the right configuration for a sign turned out to be the most succesful method by which to teach signs. After almost 4 years the Gardners had made a historic achievement: Washoe had acquired about 132 signs for various objects and actions. This success with Washoe inspired further projects with other apes. The Gardners and later Roger and Deborah Fouts taught signs to 4 more, newborn, chimpanzees and according to the Fouts the adopted son of Washoe, Loulis, learned signs from the other chimpanzees, sometimes even by active teaching from Washoe. In 1972, the psychologist Francine Patterson of Stanford Univeristy started Project Koko, in which she taught signs to the gorilla Koko, and later to her male companion the gorilla Michael. In 1978, lastly, the anthropologist Lyn Miles from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga started Project Chantek, with the orangutan Chantek.

Besides projects in which apes were taught sign language, since the 1970s other projects were set up in which apes were taught symbols in the form of lexigrams, geometric, often arbitrary symbols, on a plastic board or computer screen. Duane Rumbaugh started in 1971 with Project Lana, in which he taught the chimpanzee Lana lexigrams for objects. Later, with his wife Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the chimpanzees Sherman and Austin were taught lexigrams for all kinds of objects and actions. In the 1980s work by the Rumbaughs started with bonobos, their star subject being the bonobo Kanzi, who eventually learned to use hundreds of lexigrams.

The scientists of these sign language and lexigram studies with nonhuman great apes eventually claimed that their ape subjects had acquired (some form of) human language. Not only had the apes learned that a symbol can refer to something in the outside world, the capacity for reference, but the apes also made meaningful combinations of symbols, even expressing grammar in these combinations, mostly by use of a specific syntactical order of combining symbols. Furthermore, it was claimed that the apes used the symbols for a rich variety of functions, not only requesting objects or food from their human caretakers, but also commenting on the things they saw, and even expressing their emotions and thoughts through their use of symbols. For example, the Fouts claimed that Washoe could use the sign HURT to express that she had a stomach ache. Especially Patterson has claimed that the gorilla Koko expressed her feelings a lot, such as signing HAPPY GOOD YOU COME when visitors arrived, and signing CRY and SAD when her famous kitten All Ball died. The Fouts and Patterson also claimed that the apes used signs such as DIRTY and DEVIL to make insults, for example, when Washoe was denied something by Roger Fouts, she signed DIRTY ROGER.

Meanwhile, another project with a signing chimpanzee was carried out in the 1970s. This was the project by the psychologist Herbert Terrace, who at Columbia University taught signs to the chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky, named after the famous linguist Noam Chomsky. Terrace obtained quite different results than the other researchers and he concluded that the apes had nót learned a human language. The publication of his work caused a lot of upheaval, in what has become known as the ape language controversy.

This controversy drew attention to problems of methodology and interpretation in ape language research. Terrace was the first to carry out systematic video analyses of the sign interactions between the chimpanzee Nim and the humans. To his surprise he found that Nim imitated the signs the humans made to a large extent. Combinations of signs appeared not to show any semantic or syntactic structure, consisting largely of stringing signs together in order to get the human into action. Motivationally, Terrace concluded that signing apes only used their signs acquisitively: in order to acquire objects and actions or attention from the humans, thus using the symbols in a very limited way compared to what human children do when they first start acquiring language, who also ask questions, describe thoughts and express emotions.

What are we to think of this whole controversy, which persists up to this day, with more or less two camps still criticizing each other: those who believe that nonhuman apes have acquired a human language, and those who do not. Who is right?

When I studied psychology I became very intrigued by the field of ape language research. I was less interested in the question whether the apes had acquired an actual language. My interest was more in the possibility that this form of symbolic communication could be a new and third way to obtain new knowledge about the consciousness or inner nature of the apes: their thoughts and emotions. Scientists already analyzed the nervous systems and nonverbal behaviour of animals in their study of animal consciousness, but the ape language studies promised a verbal and direct expression of their inner conscious states. During my psychology studies I visited the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute of Central Washington University, where the Fouts continued to study the sign use of Washoe and four other chimpanzees. I also visited the other ape language researchers and returned to Holland, determined to set up a Ph.D. project about the possibly linguistic apes. Working from the philosophy of science section at the Philosophy Department of the University of Nijmegen, I paid multiple visits to the States in the 1990s to collect data about the apes in the language projects.

My first focus was on the use of what in child language research are called internal state terms: words or signs that refer to Positive affect, such as happy, love and funny, Negative effect, such as angry, cry, sad, Physiological states, such as hungry, thirsty and tired, Perception: see, hear, smell, pain, cold and Cognition: know, think, remember. Human children start acquiring internal state terms when they are 2 years old and start using these for other people when they are 2.5 years old. According to the Fouts, the signing chimpanzees had acquired signs that referred to the chimpanzees’ internal states, such as HAPPY, SAD and CRY. However, when I investigated the archives of the signing chimpanzees from 1970 to 1995, I found that almost all of these signs had not been used at all in these 25 years. The signs that they did use could all be explained as not referring to their inner states, but as useful signs to manipulate the humans. The use of CRY, for example, was mostly used by the chimpanzees after they had first made a request for food or an object, which was then denied by the humans, to which they then signed CRY. When I visited Koko and Penny Patterson at the Gorilla Foundation in California, I was given access to all the Koko diaries on microfilm from the beginning of the project to 1995. The discovery I made there, was that Patterson had been unacceptably selective in her presentation and publication of Koko’s sign use. The unedited Koko diaries showed that Koko was drilled in using signs such as SMILE and CRY by showing her pictures of smiling and crying humans many times a day. More importantly, this unedited material also showed the many, many times that Koko used these signs incorrectly. Thus she would sign CRY to a picture of a smiling man and SAD CRY DEVIL to a picture of a horse. Patterson then gave an unrepresentative presentation of Koko’s signing by only publishing her sign utterances that appeared to be linguistic or referring to internal states, while omitting all other clearly nonlinguistic use of signs by Koko. These discoveries made me abandon this focus on possibly internal state signs, because these were either not used by the apes or did not show an actual reference to inner states.

I then changed my study into a large, systematic analysis of all use of signs by Washoe and the other chimpanzees at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, when they were in interaction with longtime human companions. I hoped to find solid data that could show what the chimpanzees were actually doing with the signs and whether their sign use showed any linguistic properties. I analyzed in great detail 22 hours of videotaped interactions from 1992 to 1999. The subjects of my study were Washoe, who was then between 26 and 34 years old, Moja, who was 19 to 26 years, Tatu, between 16 and 23 years, Dar, 15 and 23 years, and lastly, Loulis, Washoe’s adopted son, who was then between 14 and 21 years old.  3,500 chimpanzee sign utterances were obtained for analysis. I determined the particular individual signs that the chimpanzees used, the kinds of combinations of signs that they made, and each sign utterance was coded for its communicative intention or the reason for which the chimpanzee used the utterance.

These were my results: The individual signs that Washoe and the other chimpanzees used mostly consisted of object or action signs, with the signs DRINK, FLOWER, EAT and GUM among the most used signs. Their combinations of signs showed no semantic or syntactic structure and the longer combinations were quite similar to Nim’s: stringing signs structurelessly together, in order to provoke the humans into giving them something. For example, Washoe made the following 13-sign utterance: DRINK HOT GIMME DRINK TOOTHBRUSH GUM HOT GIMME TOOTHBRUSH GIMME TOOTHBRUSH GUM BOOK. In terms of their communicative intentions, the chimpanzees predominantly used signs when they wanted to request objects or actions from the humans. Thus, Terrace’s characterization of ape sign use as acquisitive, used to acquire things from humans, was very appropriate for Washoe’s and the other chimpanzees’ use of signs. For this reason I gave my dissertation the title GIMME GIMME GIMME. The results that I obtained were remarkable findings. They demonstrated a nonlinguistic use of signs of the same apes of which it had been claimed for decades that they signed linguistically.

A further result that I’d like to mention specifically is the use of signs by Loulis, Washoe’s adopted son.  The Fouts had claimed that Loulis had learned over 50 signs from the other chimpanzees (because the humans did not sign in his presence for more than 5 years), which was  then interpreted as a cultural transmission of a human language by chimpanzees. In the videotaped interactions that I analyzed Loulis only used the four signs POINT, GIMME, CHASE AND HURRY. These last three signs are normal chimpanzee gestures that have been observed in many chimpanzees in captivity and in the wild. GIMME is the begging gesture with a stretched hand palm up, CHASE the wrist-hit gesture to initiate play and HURRY the impatience gesture of shaking the hands. Thus Loulis had only learned to point to things that he wanted. He never used a sign to refer to objects and did not show a linguistic use of signs.

The different results that I obtained with Washoe and the other chimpanzees, compared to the earlier studies, can be explained by differences in methodology and interpretation. In my study I only used videotaped interactions and I used large corpora or collections of unedited sign use by the chimpanzees. These methods had not been used enough in the previous studies. Many claims from the ape language researchers had been based on unfilmed and unrepresentative instances of signing by the apes, causing unwarranted linguistic conclusions.

Let me explain this in more detail. The problems of using unfilmed data are that these are insufficiently reliable. First, perception errors can occur, mistaking a scratch for a sign or mistaking one sign for another. For example, the signs HURT and BANANA are close to each other. HURT is made by contacting the tips of extended indexes of opposite hands. BANANA is made by the index grasping or rubbing the tip of the other hand’s extended index and pulling it toward oneself. (of ene sign voor andere). A human, focused on finding evidence of linguistic sign use, as all researchers were in these projects, could then mistake Tatu signing TATU BANANA for TATU HURT. Second, memory errors can take place in the time it takes after a signing interaction with an ape to then go back inside and write down the observation. A human might then forget all the exact individual signs that Washoe had made or the correct sequence of the signs. For example, Washoe could have signed BOOK HURRY APPLE ORANGE GIMME RED GIMME YOU WASHOE. An hour or so later the human could remember only something like HURRY YOU GIMME RED APPLE. Third, with unfilmed observations there is no way of assessing the role of imitation of the human by the apes, as there is no reliable information whatsoever on what the humans signed in these interactions.

The fact that large unedited corpora of sign use were used insufficiently means that the human researchers in these projects focused on incidental sign use that appeared to be linguistic, when only by a thorough and systematic analysis of all sign use can one make definitive conclusions. For example, Washoe’s description of a swimming swan as a WATER BIRD has often been presented as an example of a meaningful and creative combination of signs. However, without the analysis of large corpora there is no way of knowing whether Washoe may also have made many unmeaningful combinations of signs such as WATER BANANA and COOKIE BIRD. In which case the WATER BIRD combination would have been just another meaningless combining of signs. When I analyzed the unedited Koko diaries on possible internal state terms this was exactly what I found: Patterson had published only those sign instances of SAD and CRY in which she seemingly referred to her emotions and thoughts, but systematic analysis of all Koko’s sign use showed that she more often used such signs without any reference to her emotions.

         Problems of interpretation have also been part and parcel of the ape sign language projects. For example, much has been made by the Gardners and Fouts of the fact that the chimpanzees asked questions, asking for information, using the same accompanying nonverbal behaviours in which humans ask a question in sign language: holding the sign, looking at the other person while waiting for an answer. However, these accompanying behaviours are evidence of intentional communication rather than demonstrating a linguistic use of signs. More importantly, all of the instances in which the apes asked a question can better be interpreted as the apes asking or making a request for food, objects or actions and then waiting for the human to give the ape something. Another example is the interpretation of the sign DIRTY as an insult. DIRTY is made by loudly hitting the chin with a hand, thus making a loud noise by which to attract the attention of a human. DIRTY is then better interpreted as an attention-getter. Chimpanzees in captivity all over the world use many such attention-getting behaviours to draw the attention of their human caretakers.

Besides Terrace’s analyses and my own study, only one further study in ape language research exists that is methodologically and scientifically sound. This is the study published in 1993 by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh of Kanzi. Not of his use of lexigrams, but of his understanding of short English commands, such as “put the carrot in the water” or “put the keys in the refrigerator”. All interactions were filmed and the contents published entirely. The results showed that Kanzi was indeed able to understand hundreds of human words for objects and actions.

So, after almost a century of ape language research what conclusions can we draw today about the capacity for language in nonhuman great apes? Again, in the definition of human language that I use, language consists of 3 important aspects: 1. The use of symbols, 2. The capacity to meaningfully combine these symbols grammatically and syntactically, and 3. A rich variety of functions for which the symbols are used. Using this definition of language I reach the following conclusions: Nonhuman great apes are able to understand hundreds of symbols for all kinds of objects and actions. Something which has also recently been found to be true for border collie dogs, such as the German border collie Rico, who understands over 200 words for toy objects and the American border collie Chaser who was demonstrated to understand even over a thousand words for objects. So the apes can understand symbols. But when the apes combine symbols, however, these combinations don’t show any semantic or grammatical structure. Lastly, the apes almost only use their symbols to acquire things from humans, whereas humans themselves, including human children who start acquiring language, use language for a rich variety of different functions. Thus, I conclude that nonhuman great apes have not been able to acquire language and I claim that this is a qualitative difference in capacities between human and nonhuman great apes. In my next lecture I will discuss what this conclusion means for our ethics towards nonhuman great apes.

 

Is absence of language in nonhuman great apes morally relevant?

The capacity for language has long been a major dividing point between humans and all other animals. For the 17th century philosopher René Descartes human language was the only certain proof that a being possessed not just a body, but also a mind. Descartes defined language not only as an ability to use words, which he knew parrots could also learn and use. He saw language particularly as the meaningful combination of words or symbols, through which humans can express thoughts and all their inner life. In contrast, in Descartes’ view, birds using words and all other animal communication simply consisted of a mindless expression of the animals’ passions or motivation. Indeed, his assumption that parrots who had learned words only used these to express their passions, was for Descartes a good argument that all nonhuman animals don’t even háve thoughts, a mental life or a mind. Nonhuman animals thus were reduced to mindless automata or machines. The dichotomy between mindful humans and mindless animals thus constructed by Descartes, had a major impact on the way science and philosophy viewed nonhuman animals for centuries. The absence of language in nonhuman animals has since often been used as an excuse for quite speciesist moral philosophies and has led to the justification of practices such as animal experimentation.

Since animal ethics came up in the 1970s as a subdiscipline of ethics, language has continued as a morally relevant ability in several animal ethics theories. I will mention two cases. The philosopher R.G. Frey from Bowling Green State University in Ohio argued that language is a required capacity in order to have beliefs and desires and therefore interests. He expressed this view in his 1980 book Interests and Rights: The case against animals and in his 1983 book Rights, killing and suffering. According to Frey, because nonhuman animals are incapable of having desires and therefore interests, they don’t have rights like humans do and he argued for an inegalitarian view between humans and other animals, where nonhuman animals are of lesser moral value than linguistic humans. The British philosopher Peter Carruthers, now at the University of Maryland, claimed that language is a necessary ability to experience mental states, argueing that nonlinguistic animals do not have sentience or phenomenal consciousness. Sentience was defined by Peter Singer in Animal Liberation as “the capacity to suffer and/or experience enjoyment.” Phenomenal consciousness is a term coined by the British philosopher Ned Block with which he refers to the experiential properties of sensations, feelings and perceptions, thoughts, desires and emotions. Carruthers published his view on animals in his 1992 book The Animals Issue and he has since continued to write further publications about it. In Carruthers’ view nonhuman animals, lacking language and therefore having no sentience, are not part of the moral community. Humans only have indirect obligations to other animals, such as not being cruel to them, because cruelty towards animals shows the presence of a cruel character, which could then also lead to cruelty towards other humans.

In the Great Ape Project (GAP), set up by Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri, the results from the studies with signing apes were used in the argument for equality among all great apes (human and nonhuman). The project was launched in 1993 with the presentation of the book The Great Ape Project. Equality Beyond Humanity. Several ape sign language researchers contributed to this book with chapters in which they demonstrated the linguistic abilities of signing apes. These were Roger and Deborah Fouts, who worked with Washoe and four other signing chimpanzees,  Francine Patterson, who studied the signing gorillas Koko and Michael, and Lyn Miles, who worked with the signing orangutan Chantek. Later, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, the researcher who studied the use of lexigram symbols by the bonobo Kanzi, joined this call for equality. In claiming that these nonhuman apes had acquired a human language, these researchers argued for an egalitarian treatment of nonhuman apes, similar to how we treat other human apes.

The participation of the ape language researchers in this moral project for equality has had severe negative consequences for one of the signing apes, something which I have been a personal witness to. When the GAP book was published, the signing orangutan Chantek was living at the field station of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center of Emory University, near Atlanta. The people in charge at the field station were not amused by Lyn Miles’ contribution to the project and frustrated her attempts to visit Chantek. Fearful of the implications of Chantek as a linguistic ape, Chantek was isolated alone in a cage and neglected. Caretakers were not allowed to sign to him, even though he signed to them about his wants and needs. All of this led to serious boredom in Chantek and in response he ballooned into a very fat orangutan. Linguistic apes were thus seen as a threat by the biomedical establishment, which feared that further experimentation on nonhuman great apes would become prohibited, as it has indeed become in various countries around the world, including the Netherlands, though sadly not (yet) the United States.

During one of the many coffee breaks.

As I talked about in my first presentation this morning, I have analyzed the archives of all the signing ape projects and carried out a systematic study of the use of signs by the famous signing chimpanzees. The results of these investigations were that there was no evidence for a linguistic capacity in these apes. If one considers all the results from the various ape language studies (including those that examine the use of lexigrams by bonobos such as Kanzi), one can conclude that nonhuman great apes are able to understand hundreds of words or signs. But when it comes to combining symbols in a meaningful or grammatical way there is no solid evidence that the ape subjects are able to do so. Also, when it comes to the motivation for (symbolic) communication it seems that there is a qualitative difference between human and nonhuman great apes. The apes in the language studies use symbols more as a tool to request things from humans rather than use it for a rich variety of motivations as humans do. Thus we can see a difference in motivaton for using symbols between human and nonhuman apes. The psychologist Michael Tomasello has suggested that this originates in the fact that nonhuman great apes are more focused on competition in their communication, while human apes are more focused on cooperation. So, until new evidence comes forth, we have to conclude that only human apes have the capacity for language and that this amounts to a qualitative difference between humans and other apes.

Where does this conclusion lead to, when it comes to our morality towards nonhuman great apes? Are nonlinguistic apes due less, morally, than apes who have language?

Let me take a closer look at the positions held by Frey and Carruthers. According to Frey, for a being to have interests, it needs to have desires. But a being can only have desires, if it has beliefs. And for the particular capacity to have beliefs, Frey argued that language is necessary. What are we to make of Frey’s position? Is it true that language is necessary in order for a being to have desires? Let’s specify the subject and focus on a being’s desire not to be in pain. Take a rat in a laboratory who is inflicted pain in an experiment. If I understand Frey correctly, the rat may feel pain, but cannot have a desire to be freed of this pain. However, when we look at the rat’s nonverbal behaviour we can see that she shows signs of being in distress and that she tries to get away from the pain. In another more personal example, a few months ago, we brought our cat to the vet to examine his blood. First he got an injection to make him doze off. However, immediately upon this injection our cat jumped of the vet’s table, ran away and tried to hide in the corner, hizzing aggressively at anyone getting close to him. Attempts to pick him up again were quite fruitless. Does this behaviour not show a desire to avoid pain? Indeed, in animal welfare research a lot of studies have taken place in which scientists look at particular preferences of animals. Famous are Marian Stamp Dawkins’ preference tests of various types of housing for chickens, which showed that chickens prefer soft floors over wire floors, as well as preferring floors with wood-shavings and such in order to be able to dustbathe and perform other natural behaviours. How would Frey explain these preferences? As something else than desires? But does not my cat have a desire to be out of pain and the chickens a desire to live in more accomodating spaces under more natural conditions? Clearly it is possible for a being to have a desire without having the capacity for language. This implies, then, that it is possible for non-linguistic beliefs to exist. Frey disagrees with that assumption by claiming that language is necessary in order to have a belief. This is because in his view you cannot have beliefs, if you can’t distinguish between true and false beliefs, and to be able to do that, you need language. I do not see why, when we look at the past decades of animal cognition research where many nonlinguistic cognitive abilities have been demonstrated in all kinds of animals. This includes the capacity to form beliefs about the physical and social world that surround an animal. In the example of my cat, my cat must have had some form of belief that the vet was only out to hurt him rather than help him, judging us as nasty beings he had to get away from. Frey’s position seems close to the flawed hypothesis of several philosophers of language that language is necessary for thought. This view has long been considered to be incorrect, partly because of all the evidence for cognitive capacities in nonhuman animals, but also because we now ascribe desires and beliefs to nonlinguistic humans such as pre-linguistic infants. In conclusion, then, Frey’s arguments do not hold.

What about Peter Carruther’s view? Frey still ascribed a capacity for sentience to nonhuman animals, while Carruthers claims that all nonlinguistic animals are not even sentient. He argues that a being can only experience something if the being can think and reflect about the various states the being is in. And in order to think and reflect, language is necessary. Again, like Frey, Carruthers links thought or cognition to language. So, again, we can rebut his proposal by showing that nonlinguistic cognition is possible and existing in many nonhuman animals. Indeed, language research with great apes and border collie dogs has shown that though nonhuman apes and dogs do not have language, they are capable of understanding hundreds of symbols and therefore have concepts of all kinds of objects and actions in the world around them.

However, different from Frey, Carruthers claims that language is not only necessary for thought, but also for sentience. He argues that it is the linguistic terms for various conscious states that make them phenomenally aware. Only by having the linguistic labels of pain and pleasure can we experience these states and can we even be aware that these states are different from each other. In Carruthers’ view nonverbal pain behaviour in an animal does not demonstrate sentience. He believes that any behaviour can exist without a mind or a sentient being who experiences these behaviours. He makes reference to being able to drive a car automatically while being absent-minded, and to the medical phenomenon of blindsight, a brain disorder where humans do not experience seeing things, but where further tests show that they nevertheless did perceive things. He even comes up with the purely hypothetical and speculative case of Penelope, a woman who shows abundant pain behaviour, screaming loudly and trying to get away, but without ever feeling or experiencing any pain. I believe that Carruthers has lost himself here in a hypothetical, unreal world. It is true that certain behaviours may occur mindlessly, as in certain reflexes or when we automatically carry out certain actions that we long ago learned. However, Carruthers is taking this fact too far in claiming that even pain behaviour can exist without feeling or experiencing pain. His hypothetical Penelope has never been found by scientists. Instead, all current knowledge shows that human and nonhuman animals react with similar nonverbal behaviours to pain and indeed we share the same pain centers in the brain such as the amygdala. These similarities in brain and behaviour demonstrate that nonhuman animals are just as able to experience pain as humans. Explaining the nonhuman animal behaviour differently risks the peril of not even being able to ascribe pain and other feelings to humans. In conclusion, then, Carruthers is wrong in claiming that language is necessary for sentience. The various phenomenally conscious or sentient states such as pain and pleasure existed before language and only we humans with language then add a linguistic label to these states.

The absence of language in nonhuman animals thus does not imply that they do not think, nor that they do not feel. Consequently, absence of language in nonhuman animals does not call for an ethics in which humans are treated differently from all other animals.

Arguing for equality among all great apes based on the capacity for language, like the Great Ape Project and the ape language researchers have done, however, is also incorrect, now that these new studies have shown that there is no evidence for the linguistic claims of these researchers. A qualitative difference between humans and other apes thus exists, in that only human apes have language.

It is, however, a matter of argument whether cognitive abilities such as language or rich motivations for communication are morally relevant at all or not. When we look at egalitarian morality towards humans, qualitative differences in cognition or motivation are usually considered to be irrelevant for a morally equal status of all humans. In what is known as the argument from marginal cases, humans with mental or physical disabilities are considered worthy of moral consideration just as much as supposedly ‘normal’ humans. This is because in egalitarian views on human morality, the presence of sentience or phenomenal consciousness in all humans is considered to be a sufficient condition for a morally equal status.

In order to avoid the risk of being speciesist by limiting equality to humans only, equality should be extended beyond humans to include all beings capable of sentience or phenomenal consciousness. Thus, equality for all great apes, nonhuman and human, is still arguable, despite the absence of language in our nonhuman cousins. Indeed, current scientific knowledge and opinion shows more and more evidence and arguments for the presence of sentience or phenomenal consciousness in all vertebrate animals and possibly also invertebrates. With sentience or phenomenal consciousness as a sufficient condition, equality should thus be extended to all nonhuman animals.

Before I finish, I would like to say something that is well apt for this conference, where building bridges between science and animal organisations is an important goal. I have found that animal lovers and activists often get very angry and accusative, when scientists claim that there are qualitative differences in cognition or motivation between humans and other animals. Like a red flag to a bull, any qualitative difference between humans and other animals is jumped at with attacks, condemning the messenger scientists as creating a new or confirming an existing moral dichotomy between humans and other animals. I think that this is a very unscientific and above all, very unhelpful way of dealing with the results of animal studies. Humans and other animals have similarities ánd differences and it is senseless to deny this. Just like cheetas are better in running than humans, so can humans be more adept in using symbols than other apes. I hope that the animal liberation and animal rights movements can adopt a truly scientific attitude and reconcile itself with the existing similarities ánd differences among all animals on this planet.

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Animal Summerlectures

This Summer I am organizing four Animal Summerlectures on a Saturday afternoon.

dr. Rivas with the cat Slungel

In these lectures I will speak about recent developments in science and philosophy with regard to animals. The subjects of the lectures belong to my specialized knowledge, so these lectures are a good way to get acquainted with me. At the same time, I also hope to get to meet all kinds of enthusiastic people at these lectures, who are interested in broadening their knowledge about the behaviour of animals. The Animal Summerlectures will be held in the main building of the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam. So if you’re thinking this Summer: I would like to get out of the sun for a while (or out of the rain ;-) then come to one of my lectures on the Saturday afternoon!

Though this announcement is in English, the four lectures will be held in the Dutch language.

Saturday 14 July: Language research with great apes.

The chimpanzee Tatu signing BLACK

In this lecture I will give a review of all language research carried out with chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. From the beginning of the last century scientists have tried to teach our closest relatives, the great apes, something of the human language. First this was tried by teaching the apes spoken words, but this was not very successful. Subsequently, scientists attempted to teach sign language to chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. Bonobos were also taught to use geometric symbols or lexigrams on a board or computerscreen. What are the results that have come out of this worldfamous research? Can great apes really acquire a human language or are they doing something different with the symbols they have learned? My own research with signing chimpanzees will also be presented.

Saturday 28 July: Language research with dogs, dolphins and parrots.

This lecture will present the language studies that have been done with other animals than great apes. Dolphins and sealions were taught to understand human signs by which they could carry out certain commands. The parrot Alex was able to speak human words and could not only correctly give the name of an object, but also its form, size and colour. Finally, recently several studies have been done with border collie dogs, who appear to understand hundreds of words for toys and other objects.

Saturday 11 August: Recent research on the intelligence of dogs.

dr. Rivas and the dog Faith

In the past 15 years a lot of new research has been done on the intelligence or cognition of dogs. At the universities of Leipzig and Budapest and all over the world many new studies are taking place that study what dogs can understand of the social and physical world around them. In this lecture, among other things, the following subjects will be presented: What do dogs understand of what people can see or not? How do dogs solve problems and do they learn by social observation? What do dogs comprehend of human communicative cues, such as pointing? What do dogs understand of their physical environment, like for example gravity? This lecture will be a shortened version of the extensive lecture day on the intelligence of dogs that I am organizing together with Dogschool Feedback on 15 September.

Saturday 25 August: Introduction to animal ethics.

How should we treat other animals?

In this last lecture I will give a short introduction to animal ethics. What are the ways in which philosophers and ethicists think about how we should treat animals? What values and arguments do they use? The most important schools within animal ethics will be presented: the utilitarianism of Peter Singer, the rights view of Tom Regan, philosophers that make a moral distinction between humans and other animals, and ethicists who take the existence of consciousness or sentience as a sufficient condition for an equal treatment of animals. The feminist care ethics will also be discussed, as well as the deep ecology philosophy.

For whom? The Animal Summerlectures are organized for anyone who is interested in animals and would like to know more about recent developments in scientific research about language and intelligence in animals, and in animal ethics. A special education is not required. The lectures will have room for questions and discussion, and will be enlivened by lots of pictures and short films. As was mentioned above, the lectures will be given in the Dutch language, but a passive knowledge of English is convenient, given that some of the films that I will show are not subtitled.

Time: Each lecture lasts 3 hours, starting at 12.30 and ending at 15.30 hours. This includes a short coffee and tea break.

Location: The lectures are held in the main building (Hoofdgebouw) of the Vrije Universiteit (Free University) at the De Boelelaan 1105 in Amsterdam. This location can be reached well by both public transport or car.

Price: Each individual lecture costs 25 euro. The four lectures together cost 100 euro. Admission to the lectures is only given when payment has been received in advance.

Registration: You can register for the lectures by sending an email to estebanyes@gmail.com. In your message, specify which lectures you would like to attend.

I hope to see you this Summer in Amsterdam!

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My lectures at the Minding Animals Conference

From Wednesday July 4 to Friday July 6 the second Minding Animals Conference will be held in Utrecht, The Netherlands, hosted by the Ethics Institute and Faculty of Veterinary Science at Utrecht University. Recently the two abstracts that I submitted for two lectures at the conference were accepted. They will be presented during two of the parallel sessions. Below are these two abstracts.

The first lecture is part of the theme Animal Capacities, session 2b: Higher order cognitive capacities in animals.

Have nonhuman great apes acquired a human language?

Since the beginning of the 20th century scientists have been interested to find out whether nonhuman great apes can be taught some form of human language. The first studies tried to teach spoken words to great apes, but failed to do so. From 1966 onwards, the Gardners started projects using sign language, with the chimpanzee Washoe as their first subject. These chimpanzees acquired signs and other projects soon followed: Patterson studying the signing gorilla Koko and Miles analyzing the use of signs by the orangutan Chantek. Other researchers such as the Rumbaughs used geometric symbols called lexigrams, teaching them to bonobos such as Kanzi. Most of the ape language researchers concluded that a form of human language had been acquired by their ape subjects. However, another project with a signing chimpanzee, the one by Terrace with chimpanzee Nim, obtained results that did not point to a linguistic explanation of the signing behaviour. This caused what has become known as the ape language controversy. What can we conclude about language in nonhuman great apes after these decades of research?

The field of ape language research has suffered from problems of method and interpretation. Many studies did not film the interactions between the apes and the humans, leaving room for errors of perception and memory and making it unable to examine the role of imitation in the apes’ utterances. Selective presentation of data has also been a major problem. The author analyzed the archives of all the projects with signing apes and found that particularly Patterson presented the data about Koko selectively, publishing data that seemed linguistic, but omitting the rest of the data that showed otherwise. The author also carried out a large, systematic study of the use of signs by Washoe and the other signing chimpanzees, analyzing hours of videotaped interactions between the chimpanzees and their longtime human companions. The results were that the chimpanzees mostly made 1-sign utterances, using object and action signs and request markers. Combinations of signs showed no semantic or syntactic structure, but consisted largely of stringing various signs in order to provoke their human companion into action. The communicative intentions of the chimpanzees’ sign utterances predominantly consisted of requests for objects and actions. Another systematic study that filmed all the behaviour, was carried out with Kanzi, demonstrating that he could understand hundreds of English spoken words. Unfortunately, no further reliable studies have been carried out. If we take the scientifically sound studies into account, we can draw the following conclusion about language in nonhuman great apes. The apes have demonstrated understanding of human words or symbols (an ability that has recently also been demonstrated in border collie dogs). When it comes to combining symbols into meaningful utterances like humans do, however, the apes do something different. They do not add a meaningful structure to combinations, but string symbols together in order to manipulate the humans into fulfilling their requests. With regard to the motivation for using symbolic communication, humans have a rich variety of different motivations for communication. The nonhuman apes, however, almost exclusively use symbols in order to request objects and actions from the human. Terrace called this an “acquisitive” motivation. These conclusions mean that it has not been possible to teach a human language to a nonhuman great ape and that a qualitative difference remains between human and nonhuman apes. A difference that may not have moral consequences, however.

The second lecture will be part of the theme Animal Ethics, session 4a: The moral relevance of socio-cognitive abilities.

Is absence of language in nonhuman great apes morally relevant?

The capacity for language has figured as a morally relevant ability in multiple animal ethics theories. Frey argued that language is a required capacity in order to have beliefs and desires and therefore interests. Carruthers claimed that language is a necessary ability to phenomenally experience mental states, argueing that nonlinguistic animals do not have sentience. In the Great Ape Project (GAP), set up by Singer and Cavalieri, the results from the studies with signing apes were used as an argument for equality among all great apes (human and nonhuman).

The author analyzed the archives of all the signing ape projects and carried out a systematic study of the use of signs by the famous signing chimpanzees. The results of his study were that there was no evidence for a linguistic capacity in these apes. If one considers all the results from the various ape language studies (including those that examine the use of lexigrams by bonobos such as Kanzi), one can conclude that nonhuman great apes are able to understand hundreds of words or signs, but when it comes to combining symbols in a meaningful way (grammar) there is no solid evidence that the ape subjects are able to do so. Also, when it comes to the motivation for (symbolic) communication it seems that there is a qualitative difference between human and nonhuman great apes. The subjects of ape language studies use symbols more as a tool to acquire things from humans rather than use it for a rich variety of motivations as humans do. Tomasello has suggested that humans are more focused on cooperation, with nonhuman great apes focusing more on competition in their communication. Until new evidence comes forth, we have to conclude, then, that only human apes have the capacity for language.

Where does this conclusion lead to, when it comes to our morality towards nonhuman great apes? The position held by Frey and Carruthers is considered incorrect. It is not our linguistic terms for different conscious states that make them phenomenally aware, but the emotional feel of various conscious states has primacy, to which we humans then add a linguistic label. Arguing for equality among all great apes based on the capacity for language, like the GAP has done, however, is also incorrect, now that these new studies have shown that there is no evidence for the linguistic claims of the ape language researchers. Nonhuman great apes thus appear to be qualitatively different from human apes. It is, however, a matter of argument whether higher cognitive abilities such as language or rich motivations for communication are morally relevant or not. The author argues that in our morality towards humans we consider qualitative differences in cognition or motivation to be irrelevant for moral equality (cf. the argument from marginal cases). Among humans, the presence of sentience or phenomenal consciousness is considered a sufficient condition for a morally equal status. In order to avoid the risk of being speciesist by limiting equality to humans only, equality should be extended beyond humans to include all beings capable of sentience or phenomenal consciousness. Thus, equality for all great apes, nonhuman and human, is still arguable, despite the absence of language in our nonhuman cousins. Indeed, with our current scientific knowledge, equality should be extended to all nonhuman animals.

I hope these abstracts have stirred up your interest. I would like to hear from you what you think of them. You can register for the conference by clicking here. A cheaper ‘early bird’ registration is still possible until April 27. Looking forward to meeting you at Minding Animals this July!

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New blog on veganism

A few weeks ago I have made a new blog, especially dedicated to veganism. I have been a vegan since I was 17. At that time I was already a vegetarian and feared I could never be vegan, because I enjoyed milk a lot. I then tried vegan substitutes for cows’ milk and found out that food could be just as good without any animal produce. Though being vegan can be good for your health, I am vegan because of moral reasons. I consider it most plausible that all nonhuman animals have some form of consciousness or sentience (“phenomenal consciousness” in the terminology of the British philosopher Ned Block), in the sense that they are able to experience states such as pleasure and pain. I then depart from a deontological egalitarian ethics, arguing that we should treat all animals with consciousness or sentience equally. Given the fact that humans can live perfectly healthy without animal produce, I believe that there are no sound arguments for consuming animals for their meat or dairy. For more information about my opinions on animal consciousness and animal ethics, I refer to my articles on my profile at Academia.edu.

The new blog is called Esteban’s Vegan Side and will contain a discussion of the moral arguments for veganism. Most of all, though, I will publish tasty and delicious vegan recipes. There is still a lot of prejudice out there, considering vegan cooking to be bland and tasteless. I want to show instead that vegan cooking can be surprisingly tasty and good to the palate. I have cooked vegan food for many people who were not vegan, and they always comment how wonderfully surprised they are when they eat my vegan meals. The posts on this blog will be both in English and in Dutch.

I have already posted three recipes on my vegan blog. One for a Moroccan risotto, one for a Spanish gazpacho soup drink, and one for an Indian eggplant curry (Baingan Bartha). I have many more recipes to post. If you’re curious, take a look at my blog!

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Marc Bekoff in The Netherlands

On Saturday April 2 and Sunday April 3 Marc Bekoff was in The Netherlands for a seminar. The ethologist Marc Bekoff is a former professor of Ecology en Evolutionairy Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder  and he has done a lot of research and written extensively about play behaviour, morality, emotions and consciousness in animals. He’s done many field studies on the behaviour of wild coyotes and wolves. A few of his most important books are Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives (edited together with John Byers, Cambridge University Press, 1998), The smile of the dolphin: Remarkable accounts of animal emotions (Random House/Discovery Books, 2000), Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart (Oxford University Press, 2002), The cognitive animal: Empirical and theoretical perspectives on animal cognition (edited together with Colin Allen and Gordon Burghardt, MIT Press, 2002), The emotional lives of animals: A leading scientist explores animal joy, sorrow, and empathy and why they matter (New World Library, 2007), Wild justice: The moral lives of animals (together with Jessica Pierce, University of Chicago Press, 2009) and The animal manifesto: Six reasons for expanding our compassion footprint (New World Library, 2010). In 2000 he set up the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies together with chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.

Marc Bekoff in discussion with the audience

The seminar was organized by Astrid Verkuyl and her colleagues at Dogschool Feedback in Aalsmeer. The seminar itself took place in the tropical garden of Tropisch Rozenland in Burgerveen, where unfortunately enough the airplanes coming and going to Schiphol flew over low, causing the conversation to stop for a while. Otherwise, the organization of the seminar was excellent.

In his seminar Bekoff spoke about the emotions and consciousness of animals, and the moral and play behaviour of animals. He also showed some great videos of playing dogs, coyotes, dolphins, and polar bears. Below I will present some of the interesting things that Bekoff had to say about play in animals.

Charles Darwin already said in The descent of man from 1871 that happiness and pleasure in animals can be seen very well when they play together. Even insects play together: “the lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery. Happiness is never better exhibited than by young animals, such as puppies, kittens, lambs, etc., when playing together, like our own children. Even insects play together, as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber (7. ‘Recherches sur les Moeurs des Fourmis,’ 1810, p. 173), who saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies,” p. 61. Where I’d like to mention that nowadays we wouldn’t talk about “lower” animals, the way Darwin does here, but about “other” animals, without there being a ladder from low to high, with humans as the pinnacle. The reference to Huber is something to find out more about, as his research on playing ants sounds very interesting.

Bekoff also said that many birds show play behaviour as well. Play requires cooperation, fairness, on-going negotiations, apology, forgiveness, trust, reading others’ intentions and beliefs (having a theory of mind), and empathy (where Bekoff referred to the possible role of mirror neurons in empathy).

Animals know that they are playing by the following behaviours. First, there are clear play signals, of which the play bow takes place in many animals (dogs and cats, as well as wolves, hyaenas, lions, etc.). These communicative signals are honest in nature. Deceptive use of play signals is extremely rare. Also, in play role reversal takes place. A dominant animal lets him- or herself be dominated in play, like in a chase game where the dominant animal is chased. Furthermore, self-handicapping is shown in play: the animals restrain themselves and don’t bite as hard as they can, but modify it so the playbiting doesn’t hurt. Animals also make continual micro-adjustments of their behaviour in order not to hurt each other. Wildebeests play very roughly, but they take care not to hurt each other with their sharp horns. Finally, the sequences of behaviour during play are very variable: there is hitting, slapping, mounting, jumping and other behaviours. Which is in contrast to for example aggressive behaviour, which is much less variable. In play behaviour we can see behaviours from aggression, mating and predation, but clearly accompanied by play signals and in a variable way.

Marc also showed a very nice video of playing dolphins, studied by Kathleen Dudzinski of the Dolphin Communication Project. Dolphins modify their communicative signals in play. They then approach each other from the side, and not the front, as they do in aggression. There’s also lots of affectionate rubbing with their pectoral fins. He also showed a beautiful video of a polar bear in Brookfield Zoo near Chicago who had grown up without his mother. Another young polar bear showed him his toys in order to get him to play. Eventually the orphan bear started playing at last. Some animals never learn to play again after a trauma like growing up by themselves. By looking at whether animals play or not we can thus learn something about their early development. The emotional well-being of an animal can also be read from its play behaviour.

Eric and the dog Jimmy play with a ball

Animals in the wild play less than domesticated animals. Young wild coyotes play about 2 to 3% and young deer 10% of the time. In the wild there has to be abundant food in order to be able to play, given that play itself costs a lot of energy. Baboon mothers restrict the play of their young when there is less food available. There is also a risk at predation when playing. Domesticated animals are usually provided with enough food and usually don’t run the risk of being the victim of a predator.

Other signals with which dogs, wolves and coyotes initiate play are the following. Besides bowing, they also bark, usually when the play bow has not led to attention from the other animal they want to play with. They also show exaggerated approaches, including a bouncing gait and rushing to one another. They also show face-powing, like a light slap in the face. They approach and withdraw back and forth. And they use subtle movements of the head, eyes, shoulders and whole body.

Bekoff has done extensive research on the play bow. It’s a stereotyped, fixed behaviour that is easy to recognize as a very clear signal that the behaviour that will follow is not aggressive. There are four rules of play in animals: 1. Ask first, 2. Be honest, 3. Mind your manners, and 4. Admit when you’re wrong (for example, dogs make a play bow when they have bitten another to show that they didn’t mean any harm). Marc has also written a fantastic children’s book about play in animals, Animals at play: The rules of the game (Temple University Press, 2008), in which he shows in a clear way the most important aspects of play in animals.

Next Summer Bekoff will be back in The Netherlands. He will then speak at the Minding Animals II conference, which will be held from July 5 to 12, 2012, at the Ethics Institute of the University of Utrecht. This conference will discuss the scientific, ethical and social aspects of humans’ interaction with and use of non-human animals. Click here for more information on the Minding Animals conference. Click here for Marc Bekoff’s website.

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