Consciousness and the animal kingdom

Those of us who think our pets are the smartest ones around will find two new articles to be of interest, as will anyone with more than a passing interest in animal behavior and biology. In a recent article on, “What your pet is thinking,” Wall Street Journal writer Sharon Begley reports that researchers are now looking beyond animal intelligence and focusing on whether animals are self-aware. Researchers, she writes, “are providing tantalizing evidence that animals not only learn and remember but that they may also have consciousness—in other words, they may be capable of thinking about their thoughts and knowing that they know.”

The evidence is far from proof, and dissenters have their say in the article as well. In any case, the story is fascinating: even as philosophers and neuroscientists debate the nature of human consciousness, other scientists are examining consciousness in nature.

While you’re thinking of our flying or four-legged friends, be sure to check out the new Cerebrum article too. Some animals paint, others sing; the authors suggest that these abilities may change how we think of both animal behavior and the origins of human art.

— Dan Gordon

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