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Cognitive Ethology When a dog approaches a strange dog or man in a savage or hostile frame of mind he walks upright and very stiffly; his head is slightly.

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Presentation on theme: "Cognitive Ethology When a dog approaches a strange dog or man in a savage or hostile frame of mind he walks upright and very stiffly; his head is slightly."— Presentation transcript:

1 Cognitive Ethology When a dog approaches a strange dog or man in a savage or hostile frame of mind he walks upright and very stiffly; his head is slightly raised, or not much lowered; […] These actions […] follow from the dogs intention to attack his enemy, and are thus to a large extent intelligible. Darwin

2 Let us now suppose that the dog suddenly discovers that the man whom he is approaching […] is his master; […] Instead of walking upright, the body sinks downwards or even crouches […] It should be added that the animal is at such times in an excited condition from joy. Darwin We (1) ascribe mental states to animals and (2) explain their behaviour by appeal to mental states

3 Folk Psychological Explanations of Animal Behaviour Allen and Bekoff: mentalistic explanations of animal behaviour are a consequence of our folk psychology Folk psychology: Set of generalisations about the mind and behaviour of our fellow humans If X wants B and doing A will achieve getting B, then X will do B Ascribes intentional states (states directed at or about something): e.g., belief that p, desire to q States are real, internal components that cause behaviour

4 Folk Psychological Explanations of Animal Behaviour Is it appropriate for a science of animal behaviour to… … ascribe intentional states to animals? … explain their behaviour in intentional terms? Worries of present-day animal ethology Anthropomorphic Unscientific (anecdotal)

5 Folk Psychological Explanations of Animal Behaviour I formerly possessed a large dog, who, like every other dog, was much pleased to go out walking. He showed his pleasure by trotting gravely before me with high steps, head much raised, moderately erected ears, and tail carried aloft but not stiffly. Not far from my house a path branches off to the right, leading to the hothouse, which I used often to visit for a few moments, to look at my experimental plants. This was always a great disappointment to the dog, as he did not know whether I should continue my walk; and the instantaneous and complete change of expression which came over him, as soon as my body swerved in the least towards the path (and I sometimes tried this as an experiment) was laughable. His look of dejection was known to every member of the family, and was called his hot-house face.Darwin Anecdotal observation

6 Folk Psychological Explanations of Animal Behaviour Is it appropriate for a science of animal behaviour to… … ascribe intentional states to animals? … explain their behaviour in intentional terms? Cognitive ethology: YES

7 Cognitive Ethology Fully scientific explanations of mind and behaviour are refined versions of, and therefore continuous with, FP explanations Applicable to both human and non-human animals Two central tenets: 1.Mental state predicates are part of theoretical vocabulary of a productive, systematic, empirical theory (methodological naturalism) they need not be reduced to, or eliminated by, non- mental predicates 2.Intentional states are physical states (ontological naturalism)

8 Case Study: Play Two chasing dog cubs: why doesnt Y bite seriously? 1.Start with FP explanations X wants to play; Y realises that X wants to play 2.Systematic study of play behaviour - Same action patterns occur in other, non-play contexts biting in predation running in fleeing predators mounting in mating - An identifiable element (play bow) often closely associated with a potentially misleading action pattern

9 Case Study: Play 3.CEs scientific, mentalistic theory of play in dogs/wolfs X wants to play and communicates its intention by a specific signal (play bow) Play bow establishes a play context Play context generates in Y the belief that X wants to play; this is a specific second-order state of Y This belief explains why Ys biting is harmless

10 Levels of intentionality (Dennett) 0 order: X lacks intentional states (ITs) 1 st order:X has ITs X wants to q X believes that p 2 nd order: X has ITs about ITs X believes that Y wants to q X wants Y to believe that p 3 rd order:X has ITs about higher-order ITs X believes that Y wants Z to want q X wants Y to believe that Z believes that p

11 Attributing Intentionality Is it justified to attribute intentional states to animals? = do (some) animals have (at least) 1 st order intentionality (rather than 0 order intentionality)? Cognitive Ethology: this can be settled empirically test competing hypothesis of intentionality

12 Attributing Intentionality – Vervet Alarm Calls Vervet monkeys can emit three distinct types of alarm calls in response to three different types of predators e.g. leopard alarm call when a leopard is detected

13 Attributing Intentionality – Vervet Alarm Calls 0 order hypothesis: stimulus behavioural response (vocalisations) leopard leopard alarm calls snake snake alarm call bird of prey eagle alarm call Prediction Behavioural responses are automatic, i.e. invariant across different contexts leopard alarm is emitted whenever a leopard is detected irrespective of, for example, the presence of conspecifics

14 Attributing Intentionality – Vervet Alarm Calls Observation Vervets do not call in the presence of leopard when there are no vervet conspecifics around Rather, the vervet silently hides in the bushes Contradicts the prediction of the 0 order hypothesis that vocalisations are automatic Favours 1 st order hypothesis: Vervet believes that they are no conspecifics around (and adjusts his behaviour accordingly)

15 Cognitive Ethology Defended 1)Difficult and unnatural to describe some behaviours (like play) in non-mentalistic terms In certain disciplines, mentalistic interpretations are standard (e.g. primatology) 2)Mentalistic are superior to non-mentalistic interpretations Non-mentalistic concepts do not capture the difference between the same behaviour in different contexts (e.g. aggressive vs. playful)

16 Cognitive Ethology Defended 3)Allowing generalisations across species Mental states have evolutionary functions Intentional descriptions pick out cognitive states according to their functions, rather than their neurobiological properties In different animals, the same function may involve cognitive states with distinct neurobiological properties Functional-level generalisations would be missed if the only legitimate way of describing cognitive states was in terms of their neurobiological properties

17 Against Cognitive Ethology: Relying on FP Stich, Dennett: 1.An aim of CE is the prediction and explanation of animal behaviour 2.FP are unsuitable for that aim, because FP notions can be applied with scientific precision only if the intentional content can be specified determinately Intentional content cannot be specified determinately in non-human animals 3.Therefore, CE should abandon FP notions for its aims

18 Against Cognitive Ethology: Relying on FP Intentional content cannot be specified determinately in non- human animals Determinate content: The dog believes that there is a squirrel Problem: the dog would behave similarly if the squirrel were a look-alike toy If dog has a belief, then its content is not there is a squirrel (in our biological sense) but (perhaps) there is a squirrel OR a look-alike toy OR…

19 Against Cognitive Ethology: Relying on FP Intentional content cannot be specified determinately in non- human animals Response (Allen & Bekoff) 1.Failure to distinguish squirrels from toy-squirrels on this occasion is no good evidence for the claim that the dog generally lacks a definite concept of squirrel 2.Dog may lack our concept of squirrel, but he may have a similar one – excluding some components of our concept (e.g., being a rodent) and including others (e.g. being tasty)

20 Against Cognitive Ethology: The Privacy of Mental States 1.Mental states are private – observably only to the individual having the experience Even more so for non-human animals 2.Private states cannot be studied scientifically Therefore, mental states cannot be studied scientifically

21 Against Cognitive Ethology: The Privacy of Mental States Response (Allen & Bekoff) The argument proves too much: Creates general other minds problem (we cannot know which states our fellow humans are in, or even whether they have minds at all) Generally shelved by psychologists: they study the mind e.g. via inference to the best explanation

22 The Intentional Stance Cognitive Ethology FP ascribes intentional states, which are real, internal components that cause behaviour Intentional Stance (Dennett) FP does not describe the internal causes of behaviour because the internal mechanisms of behavioural control are radically different from FP claims not because the present categories are in need of refinement

23 The Intentional Stance FP categories are instrumental (devices of interpretation) They help to describe, predict and explain behaviour Instrumental metaphorical Metaphorical: describe systems as if they genuinely possessed intentional states X has belief = Xs behaviour can be explained by attributing belief and assuming rationality FP is a provisional framework to be replaced by a neurobiological theory of behavioural mechanisms


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