Freed from the constraints of naturalism (nature is all there is), the animal mind is a fascinating topic. Great writers have reflected on the way their cats think. The cat is a convenient subject for two reasons. One is this, no one advertises a common inheritance of humans and cats. We meet on equal terms.
That said, the most farflung outcome of the current effort to naturalize the mind, despite Darwin’s horrid doubt, is the quest to map our own minds onto those of primate apes and other mammals. We constantly hear the false news that we share 98 percent or 99 percent of our genes with chimpanzees, and therefore we must greatly resemble them.
False news? Yes. If that claim were taken seriously, it would spell the end of genetics as a source of useful information. (Is there anyone who cannot tell the difference between a human and a chimpanzee?) No, such claims belong rather on a philosophical continuum with evolutionary psychology. If evo psych’s claims were sound, they would merely demonstrate that no evolution has been observed in the human species for two million years. But the value of all such claims is precisely that they are not taken seriously. They serve rather to undermine the idea that humans are unique, with little regard for the logical consequences of any specific assertion.
It is the same with claims about animal minds. Scientists and science reporters routinely claim that apes and humans behave similarly. Apes are said to, among other things, mourn their dead, suffer self-doubt, make dolls, have police, go to war, and use “innovative, foresighted methods.” The point of such claims isn’t that apes really think like people, but that we really don’t.
Strangely, it’s been crazier. In the Seventies, Nim Chimpsky (Pan troglodytes) was raised from infancy as a human baby and even breastfed by a woman. (The daughter of the surrogate mother explained in retrospect, “It was the Seventies.”) More.
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