Saturday, September 3, 2016

How to do animal cognition research our way

One need not know anything about robotics to do the kind of research that I am describing here on this blog. The basic questions are these:

1. What decisions does the animal make in doing what it does?

2. What does the animal have to know or believe in order to make these decisions?

3. What concepts does this knowledge include, especially concepts that humans may not have?

Note that many human concepts are associated with language, but in animals most are likely perceptual in nature. For example, the animal sees that X, or looks for X, thus has the concept of X.

Just as I can search for something, animals do not have to perceive something at the time in order to use the concept of it. Horses going to a different field or a bird retrieving nest building material, for example. These animals are thinking about things that they cannot see at the time. Thinking ahead, as it were.

So our kind of animal cognition research is just a matter of thinking about the specific decisions and knowledge that the animal's behavior requires. A cognitive time and motion study, if you like, breaking the behavior down into its components and analyzing them. What are the steps? What decisions does each step require?

Of course one first has to know what the animal is doing and this can be a challenge. We often see the crows doing things that we do not understand, such as flying in a group from one place to another. But this is true of any science; one must correctly characterize a phenomenon in order to explain it.

In any case the point is that just because the behavior involves an instinct, this does not mean that no thought is required, quite the opposite. Instinctive behavior often involves expert knowledge, including complex concepts. It has to.

There is nothing anthropomorphic about this. A given behavior requires specific decisions and knowledge on the animal's part. It is as simple as that.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I might comment later. I think our intelligence may not all be located in our brain, probably most of what we call intelligence is but how emotions jell with our ideas and affect them leaves some room for thinking intelligence isn't all in one location.