Veronica Shoda

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ENGWR 302

T-Th 3:40

ANIMAL CONSCIOUSNESS?

What is animal consciousness? Some believe that an animal is

conscious when it can recognize its self in a mirror and others believe

it’s when they show or express emotion. The lines of consciousness run so

far apart, one would think that there is no real classification of

consciousness, well at least in regard to animals. Three common emotions

that scientists work with in relation with animal consciousness are grief,

fear, and pleasure. So if an animal displays one or any of these emotions

does that mean that the animal is conscious of its self? I believe that if

an animal can feel these three emotions it is very clear that the animal is

conscious. But this is a question that many scientists have experimented

with and still may not have a clear answer.

For conscious humans, grief is an emotion that can take over in our

minds, the resent loss of a loved one or even getting fired from a job are

two great examples of grief causing events. But for animals, many people

would think that they wouldn’t really now the difference if a relative was

alive or dead. Although if you ask a pet owner the same question you will

find that their answer will be entirely different. “The nation’s 61

million pet owners need no convincing at all that Fido and Fluffy can feel

angry, morose, elated even jealous or embarrassed.” But just because an

animal shows external signs of grief does that really mean that it can feel

the “pain” inside?

A story from the US News and World Report, tells of what they call “a

grief-stricken chimpanzee.” The chimps name was Flint and he and his

mother lived in Tanzania where they were being studied by primatologists.

Flint’s mother, Flo, had just passed away and the primatologists recorded

that Flint’s behavior had reflected feelings of grief. “Flo’s son, Fint,

sits beside his mother’s lifeless body, occasionally taking her hand and

whimpering. Over the next few weeks, Flint grows increasingly listless,

withdrawing from the troop despite his siblings’ efforts to bring him back

and refusing food. Three weeks after Flo’s death, the formerly healthy

young chimps dead, too.” Grief is a common emotion within animals,

especially after the loss of a mate, parent or even offspring.

Fear, as most people would say, is an emotion that is typically

instinctive. It is also considered a primary emotion which contrasts with

secondary emotion like grief and love. Studies have been done with rats in

relation to fear. The amygdale is an almond-shaped structure in the center

of the brain and if stimulated can increase intense fear. The studied also

showed that rats with damaged amygdales don’t show normal responses to

fear. Fear is so instinctive that even a shape or shadow of a predator can

scare geese that don’t even know the animal is a predator. On the other

hand, shadows of other non-predator animals will not create the same fear

even though the geese have no experience with either one.

The idea of an animal knowing the difference of a predator and a non-

predictor make me think of pets and their fear of their “master.” For

example, my family has had many dogs throughout my life and for some reason

they are always obedient to my father. It may be because they fear him and

know that they will be punished if they don’t obey him. But how do they

know the difference between my father and my mother or my siblings? The

only logical answer is that they are conscious; they know that there are

people around them and the difference between them.

The most apparent emotion that animals have is pleasure. “Anyone who

has ever held a purring cat or been greeted by a bounding, barking, tail-

wagging dog knows that animals often appear to be happy.” Jane Goodall,

who has been studying chimpanzees for forty years, says that chimpanzees

“chase, somersault, and pirouette around one another with the abandon of

children.”It’s a hormone called oxytocin that is released into the brain

is linked to happiness and maternal bonding. Oxytocin, for example, is

released from a mothers breast milk. Research has been done to test this

hormone to see if it works the same for animals as it does for humans. It

was found that it does work the same in a mouse-like rodent called a

prairie vole. “She a University of Maryland neuroscientist found that

females, which normally spend about a day selecting a mate for a pool of

eager males, will choose one within an hour, often the first male they see

if the have first received an injection of oxytocin. Voles given a drug

that blocks oxytocin, however, will not select a mate, no matter how much

time they have.”

Although there is no hard evidence that animals are conscious and can

feel emotions doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t or can’t.Our

inability to know this information doesn’t mean that animals aren’t

conscious. Although much more research must be done before there is a

clear factual answer, I still believe that animals are conscious. If an

animal has the ability to grieve, fear, and feel pleasure, which these

example proves so clearly, it is obvious to me that the animal is

conscious.

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