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Second of seven talk summaries from I was on this panel with Jacquie Lewis of (Supporting and Promoting Ethics for the Animal Kingdom), who presented a fabulous slide show tracing the changes in what we know (or think we know) about animal cheap pill viagra cognition. (SPEAK offers presentations at schools, civic groups, and public forums, providing information about animal rights. Check out their website for more information. ) I was a last minute replacement, asked to appear on this morning panel sometime after midnight the night before. Since I had only that morning given a talk on "nurturing activism" (I'll summarize that one soon. . . or you could just ) in which I had stressed the importance of saying "yes" to requests for aid from other activists whenever possible, I was hardly in a position to say "no. " And I didn't want to say "no"! I was thrilled to have the chance to share some of my reflections on that subject as well as some of the things I've learned from the birds here at . Since this session wasn't taped, this will be our only record of it. So, I'll try to reproduce rather than just recap what I said. seagull and hen The duck called "Seagull" checking on an injured young "broiler" hen Who are animals? What is cognition? Whenever I think about "animal cognition, " I right away start wondering what we mean by "animal" and what we mean by "cognition. " Obviously, we animal liberationists ought not be talking about "animal cognition" as if that's something other than what we do. Animals are us and we ought not talk about "them" as if that weren't true. Instead we can talk about how different animals, including human animals, perform the functions that we collectively call "cognition. " I put it that way so that we won't think about "cognition" as some sort of natural category. The distinction, for example, between thoughts and feelings, between what we call "cognition" and what we call "emotion, " is not at all clear. It's important to remember that those are just words that some people made up to categorize various nervous system processes. That way, we'll be less likely to slip into the unjustified assumptions that often come along with those categories, such as the idea that emotion is lower, feminine, and animalistic while cognition is higher, masculine, and human. A perennial question about cognition is how we know it happens. We experience our own cognition, or at least some of it, directly. But we can only infer cognition in others from our observations of their behavior. That's made it easy for people to deny that cognition occurs in those they want to exploit, be they animals, women, people of other races, or people with disabilities. In other instances, we've attempted to study the cognition of subjugated human or nonhuman animals by means of unethical experiments. Apart from the immorality of such experiments, we ought to recognize their invalidity as measures of cognitive abilities. There's a big difference between the cognitive capacities of members of a species and the capabilities of members of that species kept captive under conditions of intellectual and sensory deprivation. We see this at the sanctuary in the difference between the birds who come to us from factory farms and those who grow up here. While the factory farming survivors do very quickly recover or develop many of the capacities that had been stunted by the socially and intellectually impoverished settings in which their young brains developed, they are rarely as clever, curious, or courageous as the feral chicks who grow up with their siblings, attended by their mother, in relatively natural surroundings in which they have plenty of motivation and opportunity to exercise their minds and bodies. Rather than thinking about "cognition" as an entity, it might be more useful to think about the functions served by what we call cognition. These include communication, mapping, navigating, counting, learning from mistakes, etc. Animals evolve mechanisms to accomplish such tasks as needed. All social animals communicate extensively. Like us, most use a combination of sounds and gestures to symbolize meanings. While none seem to use language exactly as we do, none use dance exactly as bees do. I think it's safe to assume that different kinds of animals evolve the communication strategies that work best for animals with their physical make-up within their particular ecological setting. Dolphins use sonar to communicate underwater while elephants stomp to send messages over many miles of land. The same holds true for other cognitive functions. Some animals need to navigate over long distances; others don't. Those that do use different methods depending on their own physical make-up and the specific navigational tasks that they need to perform. A good metaphor here is mathematics. All human cultures count and calculate but not all use the same methods of achieving the aims of mathematics. Most of us have a hard time imagining what it might be like to think in a different base system much less imagine different ways of solving the spatial problems that we have been taught there is only one right way to solve. And, indeed, in the history of Western imperialism, cultures that did maths differently were assumed to be primitive peoples who had no concept of maths and had to be taught the correct Western way of thinking about quantities and geometry. Similarly Eurocentric biases dismissed indigenous methods of mapping that were, in fact, much better suited to telling the people what they needed to know about their environments than were the kinds of maps drawn by Europeans. So, just because somebody -- be they human or nonhuman -- doesn't draw maps like you do doesn't mean they aren't using some other cognitive method to achieve the aims of mapping. Just because animals don't do calculus doesn't mean they don't use other mental maneuvers to calculate the things they need to know to build dams or spin webs. Almost all of the cognitive functions involve remembering. That raises another important point. Because we are so very verbal, we tend to only count as "memories" mental images that we are able to express in words. But those of us who deal with trauma know that many memories are stored as sensations or feelings that are not linked to words. These "body memories" seem to be stored in a different part of our brain than our verbal memories. But they are memories just the same. Similarly, it's quite clear from their behavior that nonhuman animals are doing what we call remembering, however differently their bodies may store and recall the memories they need. Bird Brains Many of the most interesting recent observations of nonhuman animal cognition have involved birds. Despite the epithet "birdbrain, " birds actually have rather remarkable mental capacities. You may be familiar with the intelligence of ravens, jays and other (which, by the way, are the subject of an excellent book called ) but I'm here to tell you that chickens are smart too. Let me tell you the story of "The Rooster Who Cried Raccoon. " Roosters are the sentinels of flocks. All day long, they scan the skies and the horizon, looking for trouble. (This tends to make them relatively high-strung, by the way. As it happens, in contrast to the myth of masculine stoicism, it's roosters rather than hens who are the most expressively emotional. ) Roosters have two different alarm cries that they use to alert the other birds. The alarm cry for an aerial predator sounds a lot like the word "hawk. " When a rooster raises that alarm, all of [cheap pill viagra] the birds instantly run for cover, into the underbrush, under trees, or in buildings. Any other rooster who spots the potential predator also raises the alarm. Nobody comes back out into the open until the rooster who raised the original alarm crows to signal "all clear. " In contrast, when a rooster makes the sound that alerts the flock to a potential ground predator such as a raccoon, everybody freezes and looks around, ready to run in any direction if they should spot the predator. Again, nobody relaxes until crowing signals that the danger has passed. At the sanctuary, there's a former fighting rooster called "Hoppy" who had an intractable infection (from an old fighting injury) that eventually led to the amputation of one leg. Probably because of the chronic pain he felt before the amputation, he was especially high strung. One day, he gave the alarm cry for a ground predator and then just kept it up, even though no predator was in sight. After a while, with all of the other roosters crowing, the flock figured out that they were safe and went back to their daily routine. He did it again the next day. And the next. And every day thereafter. After the first few times, the flock ignored his false alarms, only glancing around to make sure they were safe before going on with their daily routines. Think about what that means: Not only can chickens routinely distinguish between the aerial predator alarm, the ground predator alarm, and the "all clear" signal and not only can they routinely distinguish the different voices of different roosters, but in this instance the flock learned "this is the guy who gives the false alarms" and adjusted their behavior accordingly. (I'm happy to report that Hoppy is much happier since his amputation and there are no more false alarms from him anymore. Cheap pill viagra ) we've also seen plenty of evidence of empathy both within and across species here at the sanctuary. You may have heard of the recent observations of scrub jays, which demonstrated not only that they remember where they and others have hidden food but also that they base their food hiding behavior on inferences about what other birds will do. In other words, they are able to put themselves in the place of another bird, imagine what they would do if they were that bird, and then adjust their own behavior accordingly. This often involves a kind of trickery, which also requires the kind of complex recognition of self in relation to others that many people mistakenly assume is unique to humans. At the sanctuary, there's a muscovy duck called Seagull and her brother Buddy, both of whom have inserted themselves between disputing roosters in order to break up fights. We have a number of former foie gras factory inmates, including long-time boyfriends Jean-Paul and Jean-Claude. The ducks are very sociable among themselves, of course, but also involve themselves in the lives of the chickens, often showing quite tender compassion for the young "broiler" chickens who sometimes arrive very banged-up after falling from transport trucks. Many times I have seen them adjust their behavior so as not to frighten a fragile new resident. For example, even if it is well past their usual bedtime, they will hang back, rather than rushing past cheap pill viagra, if a new bird is standing in confusion at the door, quite sensitively waiting for the young bird to orient herself and go inside before carefully following behind. This demonstrates not only what we call compassion but also empathy in the technical sense of being able to accurately discern what somebody else might be feeling. If only people were better able to use that cognitive capacity!


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