Descartes famously pontificated that animals were machines. Actually, Descartes was just parroting famous stoic philosophers from way back (Chrysippus, Diogenes, etc.). Not to worry. According to his own logic, Descartes, being a parrot, was a machine. (Descartes may have had an anti-theocracy agenda, but that’s another story.)

Darwin, a non-peer reviewed, non academic hyper intellectual, dared to show more subtlety in the Origin of Species when he wrote: It is a significant fact, that the more the habits of any particular animal are studied by a naturalist, the more he attributes to reason, and the less to unlearnt instinct” (1871, Book I, page 46)

I pushed that point of view further in Instinct Is Fast Learning”.

We Think, Therefore We Floss

We Think, Therefore We Floss

Lions premeditate when hunting in the wild. They spent hours plotting under the weary eye of their potential prey. They reveal each other presence by discreetly pointing up their dark circled ears. Lions are good scientists with a knowledge of the minds of others, and excellent geography. Don’t ask me for a link, I saw it done as a child in West Africa. A few days ago, I ran below a rock where a puma was contemplating a gigantic panorama. It was not just to admire the forests tumbling in the Pacific Ocean.

Some will feebly object to my use of the word “science”. I stand ready to devour them, having long premeditated this. Science means to know, and lion knowledge has to be effective enough to feed them, it’s an excellent thing. Take much of today’s physics: differently from aerospace engineering, it could be completely wrong. Planes fly, but not necessarily the Big Bang. Lion science is much more true than much of physics. Why? The proof is in the pudding, or more exactly the buffalo lying in his own blood.

(See note.)

Lions have to be very innovative. Protecting cubs require quite a bit of knowledge about physics and the ethology of various species. Including saurian: watch this lioness protect her cubs by deliberately attacking a crocodile. I have seen a lioness use what she knew to be the knowledge of antelopes have about crocodiles to foresee what said antelopes would do (and thus follow a trajectory that would make her prey fall under her claws).

That told me lions’ hunts depend upon a theory of other minds to feed themselves.

Alexi Helligar, objecting to my vision of lions premeditating when planning dinner: … “Birds do this as well, especially corvidae. Just because an animal is able to calculate a priori means to an end does not meet my definition of premeditation.”

Tyranosopher: Call it precalculation then! Some birds plan and make tools, others speak and outperform chimps mentally. Wild animals are smart. Underestimating the mental capabilities of animals is the first order of the rawest, crudest anthropomorphism.

Brazilian scientists are discovering that wild parrots speak and name each other (work in progress).

Alexi Helligar: “Overestimating the mental capabilities of animals is the first order of anthropomorphism.”

This reflects Ivan Pavlov who in 1927, wrote that animals should be considered “without any need to resort to fantastic speculations as to the existence of any possible subjective states“. The Oxford companion to animal behaviour (1987) parroted this: “one is well advised to study the behaviour rather than attempting to get at any underlying emotion”.

Well that’s Conventional, not to say Communal, Wisdom (let me not think of other things communal). Claiming that animals are not like humans, that various tales for children with animals as if they were human, were completely wrong, is what a whole line of thinkers following a gross interpretation of mysteriously subtle statements of the Stoics, took for granted. It fit perfectly well their religions. That became the philosophical party line: animals have nothing to do with humans. Some, all too many, scientists have goose stepped behind that.

The simplest observations show that claiming that animals don’t think is completely unthinkable. To survive in the wilds, one has to outsmart animals, and it’s not easy to do. I have extensively observed animals in the wild. I still do this. Call it Ethological Watching (in analogy to Bird Watching).

Observing animals in the wild is like observing a human outside of a small cage: it’s very different. According to my theory of mind, the mind is constructed by the environment.


Experiments on rats support this: a rat in a richer cage has a richer brain. The richest cage of all is the grand wild outdoors. Hence a wild animal will have more of a mind.

I have had dozens of bear encounters, typically when I run. Once I charged two mountain lions within 15 minutes (cautiously establishing a prudent life-saving hierarchy of ferocity: charging the enemy is often most wise).

Last week, during a run, I was loudly growled at, by a mountain lion (whom I did not see it). We had a short, but complicated interaction. S/he clearly wanted to scare me off, as s/he crossed the trail I just ran on (and ran back minutes later, because my way got blocked by poisonous vegetation).

Reason for the unusual growl? There was a dog with some hikers barking in the far distance, and the lion got worried that we were together doing lion hunting, and was legitimately worried. Hence the attempt to terrify me away.

I used to follow lions on foot in Africa. Using plenty of psychology.  General psychology applies to animals. It is not anthropomorphism, it’s life-saving. It’s ethology. Paleolithic natives knew well this science. Their lives depended upon it.

The animal kingdom on Earth is a bit like the network of mind on the planet Pandora (represented in the movie Avatar). Animals communicate, and they use their common psychology to do it.

Crocodiles concur. Their flossing and tooth cleaning methods are arguably more advanced than ours (as we can’t invent tiny cleaning robots yet). They can use them only because both birds and crocs have sophisticated theories of each other’s minds. Even feeding sharks under water involves shared theories of mind. The sharks know enough to have figured out they should not eat the feeder, lest the feeding stopped, and that, if they behave cool and nice, they will be fed tuna heads.

Why to think that animals don’t think? Descartes and his fellow theocrats would have to admit that animals had souls. That would have opened a vast can of worms: do worms have souls, can I eat them? Does that make me into the Devil? (One should get carried away in attributing too much equality to animals as Peter Singer tends to do; the main danger there is that deference to the individual animal could lead to the disappearance of the species; say by forbidding the incarceration of the last remaining specimen while attempting to save species.)

However the logical thing to do is that, considering we are animals, other animals do like us, and think. It’s the most natural approach: when a reasoning, or observation, works, so should what’s not too far topologically.

This is the line of inquiry that was started in Paris in the 1950s, where Eric Kandel was told to study the neurology of Aplysia Californica. The idea was that STUDYING THINKING IS ONE. That is the exact affirmation of anthropomorphism.

And it was highly fruitful. Ever since, and ever more, the minds of animals, all the way down to the fly Drosophila, have been studied, and the result of these studies has illuminated the way humans think.

We Think, Therefore We Floss.

Patrice Aymé

Note: A French scientist just found 120 gibberish published articles written haphazardly by computer, another scandal in peer review. Much of peer reviewed published biology is irreproducible, biotech companies such as Amgen have complained. This for those who have whined that I do not publish among my non-existent peers. Let them steal instead.

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28 Responses to “Animal Minds, As NATURE IS NURTURE”

  1. gmax Says:

    Nice and deep. However, there is a serious typo in the conclusion. You meant: AFFIRMATION OF ANTHROPOMORPHISM, not negation thereof! 🙂


  2. Alexi Helligar Says:

    I would never say that animals don’t think. Of course animals think, but they do not think deeply. From what I can discern, animals do not doubt. Animals do not philosophize and do not seek after Truth — nor do they have the luxury to do so. It is ironic that you accuse me of anthropomorphism when by your projection of deep thinking and deep emotions like hatred unto lions and other animals, it is you who is in the throes of first-order anthropomorphism:


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hi Alexi! Yes, it’s an intrinsically ironical field. I got a bit confused, when writing (and publishing!) the first effort, between anthropomorphism (other animals’ minds have the shape of human minds) and anthropocentrism (human minds are of a different nature).

      We do NOT know that animals do NOT philosophize. And I certainly believe that all advanced animals (say wolves) are searching for the truth. If philosophy is, as I believe, the search for truth by all and any means, advanced animals can certainly philosophize. OK, animal culture is much reduced, because of communication problems (although parrots may surprise us big time; I had some highly conniving parrots in Africa… and they form huge societies acting as one, capable of enormous travel to exotic locales, for example to lick minerals).

      As I try to explain (but there was a typo), anthropomorphism is the opposite of anthropocentrism. So I am anthropocentric, and I am anthropomorphic. And Wikipedia is all over the place.

      I did not insist (although I may add a bit), the last 70 years represent the superb and increasing victory of anthropomorphism. Nobels have been given for it.


  3. Alexi Helligar Says:

    PS. Just to be clear, when I say “animals” I am excluding the human animal.


  4. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Interesting clip demonstrating the intelligence of Orcas:…Blackfish Clip 2 Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, dire…


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks Alexi!
      Nearly nothing is known about Orcas. What I notice is that they could easily gobble people, and they don’t! It’s not just a funny American style bimbo joke. I think Orcas don’t attack people because they are smart.

      And maybe it’s empathy.

      Dolphins have been known to rescue people in the high seas since ever. Which is real nice, considering people eat them. I saw cut up dolphins in Africa… And, within a kilometer some zoomed by me, within a third of a meter, at astounding speeds. Slightly deviating, they have would killed me with their rostrum, I won’t have even know what happened. But they were… playing! They knew very well, they had figured out, that I was not like those killing them.


  5. Olin Morchiba Says:

    All animals are equal. but some are more equal than others. True in the wild and also in Plutocracy


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Olin: More or less equality is fine with me. Anthropocentrism is about claiming that humans are fundamentally different from animals, to the point they can’t be compared. More is different, but not completely different.

      It’s the same with plutocrats: they feel they are a completely different species, above the laws. That’s plutocentrism.


  6. red Says:

    ofcourse, animals do “process” (i would rather not use the human biased word “thinking”).

    Every organ, in every animal, plays its (the organ’s) evolutionary role. Dogs/wolves nurtured their smell, eagles their eyes, etc.etc. Its all their need-based-evolutionary path.

    It just so happens, human animal nurtured its “mind” organ more, mainly by feeding on mind nutrition, which is “language”. In other words, lets go back few 10K years ago (before language was invented) and compare humans -vs- other animals. I have no doubt, the similarities would have been staggering. Speaking/language did wonders to early homo-sap brains.

    This is one of the reasons we need every sheeple on this goddamned planet to get literate fast. The human stupidity, otherwise, will doom its own survival. Lot of great civilizations went bust, mainly because their average joe wasn’t given access to latest knowledge/wisdom. I would rate this higher than fusion research :).

    nature is indeed nurture.

    human mind organ evolution hit a jack pot with internet/information-revolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if in ~1000yrs from now (considering the sheeple dont doom themseleves), internet/digital-revolution will be thought of as language 2.0 type game-changer in human/mind evolution.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hello Red, and welcome. I see that we seem to agree on everything! Or nearly so. 😉

      Fundamental research, in all and any directions, is like cross training. There is no contradiction between poetry and fusion research. It’s not one, or the other. They are actually interdependent.

      The same holds for spending money on food. Whatever the honorable Chris Snuggs feel, in his enthusiasm, we can spend all we want on food, that won’t feed North Koreans. Those are starving because Mac Arthur stopped just north of Seoul. Not that I revere the general, but it’s a fact.


      • red Says:

        yes, cross training is a good analogy. A balanced approach is indeed the best. But, i happen to think, 100% world literacy would have higher impact on human evolution/well-being (thats the bottom line, isn’t it ?), than say 100% fusion break through.

        I will tie this with your favorite topic plutocracy. Which one (literacy -vs- fusion), has higher chance of being manipulated by plutocrats/oligarchs/dictators. I know they can bamboozle the sheeple by diverting minds, but its still higher value than fusion (which i think has more chance of being abused similar to oil; infact, i wouldn’t be surprised the reason/conspiracy they aren’t funding fusion is because of oil money/industry). If sheeple are knowledgeable i hope they vote more fusion research 🙂 Its a better way to defeat plutocrats 🙂

        Put it other way, i would take “potential for wisdom” any day over fusion. And i happen to agree fusion is matter of our species survival. Its a quality of life -vs quantity.


  7. Chris Snuggs Says:

    Actually, I can generally outsmart rats. I set them a trap and kill them because I am smarter – hard though this is to believe.


  8. de Foucaud Paul Says:

    “Hunting the hard way with the arrow and the bow” as Fred Bear said, is looking as able to provide to a human beeing the chance to get an accurate knowledge of nature.
    So, as a predator in the wild, you are then at home.
    For sure then, one day, after a long time spent outdoors, the things are obvious about what you get : nature and nurture.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Paul: Indeed. I spent lots of time outdoors, still do, with dangerous beasts, and potentially vicious predators around, and I have had to talk to them a language they understand, basically. And those this paleolithic point of view, that animals have minds of their own, becomes totally obvious. All First Peoples share(d) it.


      • Paul de Foucaud Says:

        You are fully right.
        I also noticed that we are able to talk with wild animals easily.
        Then they are understanding you.
        Is it a Zen posture given by the arrow and the bow ?


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Zen posture? ;-)! I’m not familiar with the concept. Explain?

          I had a fantastic example of animal intelligence with a wild duck yesterday: I cam very next to it, as I was walking, by accident. It quacked and was going to take-off. Then instead of looking at it, I looked somewhere else, not at it. It esteemed that I could not grab it, because I was looking somewhere else (I also think SHE had seen me before, not so many people pass in that place, and SHE has a highly recognizable golden plumage…). Anyway, I passed within 2 meters, and she did not take off… Had I looked, she certainly would have…


  9. Paul Handover Says:

    Interesting essay. But you rather lost me when you implied that some, scientists?, do not believe that animals think. Can you support that?


  10. Nathan Daniel Curry Says:

    “Reason is one kind of thinking. But thinking things out isn’t necessarily reason in this sense. Figuring out how you can break through a wall is not reason. The mouse who figures out, after it bumps its nose here, that perhaps he can get around there, is figuring something out the way we figure things out. But that’s not reason. Reason has to do with finding the ground of being and the fundamental structuring of order of the universe.” Joseph Campbell”


  11. frs Says:

    Do you have any proof of this relation between crocodile and bird to clean their teeths? It is often considered as a legend and the only picture you can have on internet is a fake.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hi FRs and welcome. Your next comment will go through directly. Did you do an Internet search before asking me to do one?
      The cleaning of croc teeth is already attested in Herodotus… Often a legend doesn’t mean always a legend…
      Crocs are much more clever than believed a few years ago in the West:
      [video src="" /]


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