Saturday, March 08, 2008

Researchers ask: What does it mean to be an animal?

This from an interesting call for papers:

CFP: Animal Bodies of Knowledge: Understandings of Species Difference
Across Disciplines

... For the hundreds of thoughtful essays, books, collections on race, gender, nationality, age and other bases for domination, the academy has been reluctant to raise similar questions about what we presuppose to be the differences, real or imagined, between human and non-human animals. Although the scientific and philosophical discussion of species difference has its roots in ancient Western thought, over the course of the last 150 years or so, this discussion has produced separate bodies of conflicting but also recapitulating knowledge across the sciences, the humanities and in creative/imaginative work. At the same time, different modes of interrogating what it means to be human as opposed to what it means to be an animal have become increasingly estranged from each other, such that thinkers from a given discipline (biology, philosophy, political science) run the risk of ignoring prevalent ideas or important advances in other disciplines. ...

Let me help: Only a human would wonder "what it means to be an animal."

Apparently, this edited collection calls for "papers across multiple disciplines (biological and social science, political and philosophical theory and practice, as well as imaginative work)" and if you think you could write one, provide 200 word abstracts and a 100 word biography to Vincent J. Guihan and/or Sinead Collins ( by April 15, 2008 for consideration.

Note: Mario and I talk about about this "animal minds" question in The Spiritual Brain. Two things to watch out for is that most researchers are looking for similarities between animal and human minds. Differences are failures as far as they are concerned. Second, a lot of cherry picking goes on. Instead of looking at what the average animal does, the "star performers" are profiled. That's like assuming that you can learn a lot about how much science most people know by studying the life and theories of Albert Einstein.

Anyway, here are some recent stories related to the animal minds question:

Can animals do math? How much should we believe of what we read?

The cat who senses when elderly nursing home residents will die