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Animals and abstraction: Reflections on Vincent Torley’s thoughts

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Yes, this is getting a bit bistro, isn’t it? From Animals, abstraction, arithmetic and language:

During the past two weeks, over at Evolution News and Views, Professor Michael Egnor has been arguing that it is the capacity for abstract thought which distinguishes humans from other animals, and that human language arises from this capacity. While I share Dr. Egnor’s belief in human uniqueness, I have to take issue with his claim that abstraction is what separates man from the beasts. More.

We ask questions about how we think, and about how animals think. No animal asks such questions.

Terms like “abstraction” are human ideas; whether an animal can abstract hardly matters. He is none the worse for not caring.

All the efforts I’ve seen to “prove” that chimps have some sense of futurity or mourn their dead, for example, strike me as artificial (possibly politically motivated as well, but I haven’t followed the details).

Chimps miss chimps that are gone, of course, but “mourn” “their” and “dead” are all human concepts (and for the most part, abstractions). So no.

The animals I know well are cats. The best way to understand how a cat thinks is to realize that he thinks with his whole body all the time. There is no serious distinction between brain and body.

I don’t know if a cat can process abstractions, but he certainly wouldn’t be interested in them. In the summer, he is interested in the smells rising from the ground after a warm night. He is interested in finding a cool place to sleep. And in the unknown cat spotted crossing the vacant lot and the neighbouring dog of uncertain disposition. His is a concrete world in which he just does not need ideas to get by.

See also:

What can we hope to learn about animal minds?

Are apes entering the Stone Age?

Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds

Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain?

Animal minds: In search of the minimal self

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4 Replies to “Animals and abstraction: Reflections on Vincent Torley’s thoughts

  1. 1
    Charles says:

    Do cats explore for the sake of exploring (curioisity)? Or are they just reconnoitering for food, danger, shelter, sex, and if so, is that a form of learning?

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Of note:

    “The intellectual capability and brain structure of ravens, crows, and jays is much more similar to humans than they are for chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas.”3 – Hugh Ross
    3. Johan J. Bolhuis and Clive D. L. Wynne, “Can Evolution Explain How Minds Work?” Nature 458 (April 2009): 832–33, doi:10.1038/458832a.
    http://users.ecs.soton.ac.uk/h.....Nature.pdf

  3. 3
    News says:

    Charle at 1: I answered your question here: Animals and abstraction: A curiosity of cats

  4. 4
    J-Mac says:

    What makes humans unique is not only abstract thinking, which no doubt separates us from monkeys and the like. I believe that the most powerful evidence that we have not descended from animals is the fact that we search for meaning/purpose of life.

    Both atheists and creationists have done i; whether they would like to admit it or not, it is another story…

    BTW: I know a few atheists/agnostics who do not believe in God/ID because they came to the conclusion that the universe has no purpose and their life has no meaning.

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