Disclaimer: PLEASE CLICK THE TITLE OF THIS TO VIEW FULL POST! I finally got a chance to read something that wasn’t for school! HOOOORAY! Since I have managed to accomplish this miraculous feat, I will, of course, be forcing you to read my general opinion on what I read. I was reading an article entitled “Can Animals Escape the Present?” in (none other than) New Scientist. To drag you into this article, first let me tell you this: Thomas Suddendorf and Michael Corballis at the University of Auckland in New Zealand had put together a certain hypothesis in regards to the fact that the main distinguishing factor between humans and animals, was the human’s ability to mentally time travel back through memories, and construct/plan possible future events. They don’t mean time travel physically; they mean having the ability to sort through your own mind and arrange memories via imagery and thoughts. Not such a hard concept to grasp right? According to their theory, the ability for a human to contemplate things such a destiny, the idea of time, scientific concepts, why our hair looked like a hurricane rushed through it last week, what possible ice cream flavor am I going to eat for dessert tomorrow etc, make us highly self aware. What would it be like if we were permanently stuck in the present? What would our lives feel like if we didn’t have a window into the past or future, just one mindless time of the present that we weren’t even aware we were in? Even the ability for a human to glance in a mirror and have recognition of their reflection is showing self awareness. Dolphins have slowly proved themselves as being somewhat self aware creatures, as have apes. So, why is it so hard for us to prove (or why are we so adamant against the thought) that animals could quite possibly have more than just present nature? It’s been one of the most fueled arguments in the science/animal world.
There are many critics who say that an animal having the ability to think ahead or have a memory is nothing more than it merely recalling a learned behavior or acting out an instinct. This in an of itself is contradictory if you really take the words apart and think about it for what they’re saying. For example: say I’m out working with the horse I used to train, Fancy. We all know that a horse’s natural instincts signal it to jump when it has something in its way. That’s pretty much an instinct for any animal, except a human who will most likely try to bulldoze, push, kick or climb their way over something. If I were to start her on jumping, and I cantered her in the general direction of a jump, most likely she will jump it. One could argue that it’s natural instinct, plan and simple. That’s just how it is. However, approaching the jump (and many people who don’t ride won’t realize this) requires lots of mechanics. You need to count and control the strides approaching the jump, to prevent yourself from over jumping or being too close and having a refusal. Your horse has to respond to simple things such as bit pressure. Now, those are learned behaviors. They are NOT instinctual. A horse in nature does have a large piece of metal in their mouth. Responding to certain pressures is a LEARNED reaction. Learning requires some sort of a memory. Having the ability to recall what reaction was appropriate in accordance to a certain action/behavior is learned, yes. Is it a case of episodic memory? No. Episodic memory is having the ability to recall times, places, colors smells, and all that good stuff that probably makes a memory worthwhile. Let me take this a step further.I was out riding with Julie on a couple of acres of trails. She had told me Fancy went out there before, and there was this one particular spot that had flooded with water once. Fancy HATES water, and will do anything short of growing wings and flying away to avoid it. This involves rearing, bucking, walking backwards without actually knowing where she’s going… and other scary things like that. She pretty much makes you feel like a prisoner on her back because she’s so freaked out. So anyway, my point is this. We got to that spot out on the trail, and she REACTED. There was NO water there whatsoever. Not a drop. She was cautious, and scared. In other words, she REMEMBERED the water being there, she REMEMBERED her fear. That is certainly a case of episodic memory. She did not learn that behavior. The fact that she remembered the area, and the water, speaks for itself.
Another fine example, that I’m sure all dog owners have come across: If you’re out walking your dog somewhere, they always (always!!!!) manage to find something to grab, that they shouldn’t have, and take off like a bat out of hell, until you make them stop and pry it out of their mouth (total run on sentence! forgive me!) Say you take ‘said’ object (let’s call it a bagel for argument’s sake) and throw it off the side of the street, in hope that your sweet little devil of a dog won’t find it. You go out for a walk at some later time… I can almost guarantee you that when you get to that heavenly spot, the same spot where you threw away their beloved bagel, they will veer off the road and GRAB it. This is also a case of episodic memory, not a learned behavior. While I agree that learned behavior could be somewhat instinctual, there are clear cases of episodic memory that cannot be attributed to that. They may not have it to the degree that we do, where they can willingly think back and go “OH MY GOD! I THINK TODAY I MIGHT MAKE SOMEONE TAKE ME FOR A WALK SO I CAN DEVOUR THAT DELICIOUS BAGEL THAT MY JERK OWNER DECIDED TO THIEVE FROM ME AND CHUCK OFF THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, NEVER TO BE FOUND AGAIN! BUT I WILL FIND IT! I KNOW WHERE YOU THREW MY BAGEL, EVIL HUMAN!! BECAUSE I AM A DOG WITH EPISODIC MEMORY AND THE ABILITY TO PLAN MY FUTURE!” but they can be put in a situation where their memory will serve them. One could say that since the memory comes about in the present, it’s catering to what the researchers have already said about animals only being able to think in the present. I just don’t believe it. The fact of the matter is that we don’t have enough scientific equipment (YET) or the ability to truly test these animals. The hole that I have found in my evidence above, is that to TRULY be self aware (in the way that humans are) one must be able to imagine THEMSELVES in the situation or memory. It’s not enough to just to imagine when/where/what. This is what is so hard for researchers to truly prove. As far as subtle evidence that points towards that though, I think I have it in the bag. I am not a scientist by any means, but I highly disagree with what some have stated.
In the late 1970s they suggested that while humans are capable of using their experience to think about the future – planning a meal when not hungry, for example – animals are only able to act based on their current motivational state. One possible counter-example comes from work done in Ivory Coast in the 1980s by primatologists Christophe Boesch and Hedwige Boesch. They observed chimpanzees who carried around a large stone as they went in search of nuts, then used it to crack them open. Though some believe this to be an example of animal foresight, it runs into the same problems as Call’s orang-utans. “This is quite a remarkable form of future anticipation, but it is guided by their present appetite for nuts,” says Bischof.
Squirrels. What are squirrels notorious for? That’s right, hoarding their food/storing it for the winter. While you can’t trust everything you find on the internet, I think it’s safe to say that this little tid bit of information I found is correct. It states:
Gray and Fox squirrels hide their food in many places, so if another squirrel or animal were to find it, the entire year’s supply would not be lost. Sometimes they hide food temporarily, until they can move it to a more convenient location. This is called “scatter hoarding”.
(By the way.. I did know this, as I’m sure you did too. I just realized I probably sounded like I made some miraculous discovery about squirrels and nuts. I just wanted to find a piece of information that summed it up nicely rather than me scramble it into my notoriously long remarks) So according to Bischof, these squirrels would have the be hungry at that very moment in order to be searching for food. The only problem is that they are searching for food, and storing for winter/hiding it from thieves, not having some bonfire and serving them on platters to other bushy tailed guests. That is a form of future planning, I don’t care what this Bischof character says.
On an unrelated note, I’m taking a break from my macbook to use our desktop that I just installed the Windows 7 Beta (click to be taken to download page) on. It freezes… ALOT… which is expected from a beta, but the problem is that I almost just thought I lost this post. If you haven’t noticed, it’s kind of long. I’m pretty sure I’ll lose all motivation to rewrite this in the event that it decides to freeze again. I shall end it here. I hope this gave you a little something to think about, and renewed my webpage from just being this little whiny page of my ideals! BYE!
PS: General Tsao! I have written back to your comment from a few posts ago under this one. Because I love you and want to make your life easier. See comment <3