Animal Experience

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ISBN: 978-1-60785-xxx-x

Edited by Leon Niemoczynski and Stephanie Theodorou

Department of Philosophy

Immaculata University

Malvern, Pennsylvania

United States



This “living” book about life explores the nature and meaning of the emotional lives of nonhuman animals, especially how those lives are communicated to other living creatures (such as human beings) via affective states. By examining the emotional lives of animals and how they are communicated, we hope to re-examine how human beings interact with, and relate to, other living creatures capable of experiencing emotional lives.

The property of emotion, in both human and nonhuman species implies a level of internal conscious experience which supports and includes related cognitive activity. Insight into animal emotion can be useful in understanding the development of our common ancestral brain-mind, that cognitive activity in which affective changes in the nervous systems of animals registers communication/expression, recognition of individuals, and decision-making. These traits, in turn, suggest that most philosophically (and perhaps scientifically) traditional moral boundaries between humans and nonhuman animals may require serious rethinking. We hope to address what impact a better understanding of the emotional lives of animals might have upon animal welfare and our deeply embedded beliefs concerning the nature of animal minds in general.. (more)

A dominating component of this book is the presentation of scientific data which suggests that emotional communicative practices are fundamental and crucial modes of animal living. We chose to specifically focus on those communicative practices that serve as representational “broadcasts” of self-awareness; that is, of internal emotional experience in its cognitive dimensions. As such, our stance is framed by a phenomenological theory of nonhuman awareness in which affective states point to the existence of animal “identity” or subjectivity. We refer to this internal realm of self-awareness and its communication as “animal experience.” This at once distances this volume from others in that no other volume addresses the emotional lives of animals specifically (or emotional life as it is found in biological life generally), or the broadcasting of that life to other creatures. However, discussing animal experience and the emotions does place this volume neatly within the scope of the series given that understanding the broadcasting of emotional life may be a key for understanding what “life” (in part) means. If we are to explore the nature of life then asking whether there is some core emotional aspect of living is paramount. If such a core exists, we may be compelled to further reflect on our ethical responses to animals in natural, scientific, and domestic habitats.

Our approach to the emotional lives of animals is scientifically and philosophically pluralistic. We have presented research from various scientific disciplines concerned with exploring the nature of nonhuman animal life (the biomedical sciences, pharmacological studies, neuroscience, zoology, etc.) but also human and animal sciences with regard to human and animal interaction (animal science and farming production, animal psychology, animal welfare studies, and ecological niche modeling). Philosophical analysis which speaks directly to questions about the nature of animal minds and experience (including historical texts, e.g. Darwin, Schopenhauer, Descartes, Aquinas) were reserved for the end of the book. There we have included references to primary and secondary source materials ranging from ancient through modern and contemporary periods in the history of western thought. This placement of historical, modern, and contemporary philosophical texts vis-à-vis scientific research serves to frame possible ontological frameworks for interpreting the research found in earlier sections of the book. For example, Darwin long ago theorized animal emotion and expression in his The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals (1852), and that selection may offer a theoretical direction for interpreting statistical data involving animal communication as a form of emotional expression (for example, “A Note on Acoustic Analysis of Dairy Calves Vocalizations at Day 1 After Separation” Italian Journal of Animal Science vol. 8, no. 33, 113-19, 2009). Even as early as the Presocratic Pythagoras, we see a strong defense of the ontological value of animal experience and its ontological implications, and so various permutations of this thesis are subsequently taken up in critical examination --denied, debated, or reformulated in subsequent thinkers ranging from Hegel to Locke, Whitehead and currently, Nussbaum and Cobb.

The question as to whether animals experience emotional lives in such a way that a unified subject of a life – a “personality” or mind – is constituted is important not only for the sciences but for the humanities as well, particularly within the domains of animal ethics and political ecology. Assessing the emotional lives of animals, and the cognitive expression of such lives, may be useful for improving human and nonhuman animal relations if it can be established that the personality and agency of animals (established through the exterior expression of interior “animal experience”) warrants more ethical, and even political, obligation on the part of human beings. This volume pushes these questions to their limits in that we are not only just interested to know if animals can “think” (covered in the Cognition and Decision volume of this series) but whether the communication of animal experience can in turn help humans to measure whether human and nonhuman interactions are to the benefit of more than one species only.
By exploring these questions within the domain of scientific research, or by drawing on scientific research in order to assess the validity of such questions, one may better understand how humans relate to other forms of life with substantive empirical data to corroborate practical ethical, political, and value claims of philosophical interest. What evidence do we have that suggests animals actually experience similar emotions to humans? Does this affect how we perceive animal welfare? How are we to best interpret this data in light of the current treatment of animals? The results of exploring such questions are of tremendous importance not only for human beings, but for those creatures who are fellow stakeholders in the global environment.

In what follows the editors would like to briefly look at the research presented in this volume and trace some of its implications.

1. Animals and their Affective States (The Emotional Lives of Animals)

“Do elephants feel joy, chimpanzees grief and depression, and dogs happiness and dejection?” -asks Mark Bekoff. The article “Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures” sets the stage for this introductory section of the book. Bekof masterfully explores the question of the expression of emotions in animals, explores the meaning of emotion, and relates emotion to cognitive minds. By taking into account interdisciplinary research he discusses scientific findings that postulate animals experience joy and happiness through play, and grief over loss or absence of loved ones. It is also possible, states Bekof, that animals feel shame or embarrassment. While not exclusively speculative, Bekof concludes that the best scientific way to study animal emotion is to spend considerable time with animals warning that nonhuman animals ought to be allowed to “speak” for themselves through the expressions of their emotions and that human beings should be wary of importing anthropomorphic projections of human emotions to those beings whom they study.

Jaak Panksepp in “Affective consciousness: Core emotional feelings in animals and humans” shows that, when it comes to animal emotions, for all mammalian brains there is a bedrock of emotional feelings. These feelings are contained within the “evolved emotion action” apparatus of the brain. Emotional feelings and instinctual emotional behaviors thus form primary processes of a “core affective consciousness.” Panksepp states that for several reasons this is an unconditional “gift of nature.” Affective consciousness is “an intrinsic function of the brain, shared homologously by all mammalian species.” Core emotional feelings such as SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, LUST, CARE, PANIC and PLAY are not only intrinsic but may be experientially refined through the interaction with other animals. Further, Panksepp believes it is not the case that secondary processes (e.g. awareness of feelings in the generation of behavioral choices) cannot be studied neuroscientifically.

In “Attention in Emotion” Ram Vimal reports that this refinement of emotional experience is certainly “other directed” and his research on emotional recognition in the face of the other augments the idea that emotional life is thoroughly ecological – that is, situated within the environmental processes of creaturely relations. For as important as visual attention and its corresponding neural signals are for enhancing creaturely experience, emotion equally comes to factor into the “feedback” of experience, including where attention is initially directed (even beyond systems of reward). So called “targets” of attention (the face, for example) are in fact selectively ranked according to the recognition of a.) facial emotion in others and b.) the attentional signals feedback created by modulated neuronal associated with affective states related to the” subjective experience of” others’ emotions. In fact, the experience of and reaction to the facial emotion of others means that, at a very primal core level, creatures with the appropriate neural physiology link attention directly to the subjective experience of others’ emotions. Indeed, philosophically it would appear that phenomenological intentionality is guided by a more basic affective structure which is other-directed, most acutely through recognition of the affective state present in another’s facial expressions.

The problem of measuring, or knowing, qualitatively different phenomenal experience from another species (for example as outlined in Nagel’s “What is it Like to Be a Bat?”) is comprehensively dealt with from a scientific viewpoint in the article “An Integrative and Functional Framework for the Study of Animal Emotion and Mood” by Mendl, Burman, and Paul. There it is argued that while conscious experience of emotion cannot be accessed directly, “neural, behavioral, and physiological indicators of emotion can be measured.” Dimensional approaches to emotion regarding “core affective characteristics” can provide a framework for meaningful research.
2: Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation: The mental/psychological lives of animals

In a famous paper on the problem of consciousness, philosopher Thomas Nagel asks “What is it like to be a bat?” This deceptively simple question is key in theories which assert that the defining feature of consciousness is its “phenomenality:” that is in the various dimensions subjective experience. Ned Block, a well-known philosopher of mind agrees that conscious states of mind are characterized by the experience that it is “something like” to be in those states. He distinguishes between phenomenal consciousness and access-consciousness. The former, called “qualia,” exhibit “what it is to be a conscious creature” in that they are experienced as direct, unmediated qualities such as color, form, sensation, emotion, and movement. Access consciousness, not necessarily qualitative, describes functional states which make sensory information available for verbal expression, the control of behavior, discrimination, etc. Both qualia and access states raise important questions: for philosophy of mind are manifold: in what ways do these these “qualia” (qualities subjectively experienced), in conjunction with access states, causally effect the brain, or vice-versa? Do these states of consciousness “really exist” in either the mental or physical worlds, and do they offer any insight as to how the physical brain produces subjective experience? The articles in this chapter explore and offer empirical support for a model of animal consciousness which preserves the phenomenal, lived quality of mental states. In Chapter 3 we see evidence for access states that may accompany phenomenal states. In what follows, Jaak Panskepp, argues that affective neuroscience has shown that animal emotional states are primary processes which have intrinsic values such as rage, fear, play, care, and grief. Such felt qualities provide necessary information about ranges of comfort levels in the “quest for survival.” Rosati and Hare study the role of affective responses in chimps and bonobos, finding a range of “complex emotional expressions” which allow us form inherent links between complex cognitive functions such as decision-making to the experience of emotion and value. Thierry Steimer’s paper follows with the call for exploring models of anxiety that yield deeper knowledge of the underlying pathology. In addition to non-human primates, rats and mice show distinct behavioral responses (in coping strategies) linked to brain activity associated with experiencing states of danger and threat to survival. These studies support the thesis that there is most definitely “something it is like” to be in a range of animal species exhibiting various levels of an “inner life.”

Chapter 3 Introduction: Broadcasting Consciousness in Animals: Cognition and Communication

Recent research into the nature of animal consciousness has tended towards either investigating animal species (notably non-human primates) as models for human consciousness, or investigating whether particular species have conscious experiences that can be characterized as subjective and intentional. These articles draw upon a more general principle in the study of consciousness- the “global workspace” approach first developed by Bernard Baars to explain consciousness in humans. Recent animal studies suggest that animal brains exhibit the abilities to relate specific sets of conscious and unconscious processes in encoding and distributing information matching psychological and neural phenomena. This body of research may shed light on specific ways in which access-consciousness not only conveys sensory information, but contains within itself or supports the qualitative properties of consciousness in general. These particular studies shed light on how the neural architectures of various non-human species allow for degrees of social experience in facial recognition, expression, vocal identity, pleasure, and pain. In doing so, they underscore Darwin’s intuition that due to a common early ancestor we might understand emotions in man as analogous to that in animals. Marian Dawkins will argue that our understanding need not be restricted, as it usually has, to the search for higher cognitive abilities in animals. It could well be the case that research into how animals experience basic affective states, including the “negative and persistent” emotions associated with suffering, will support the thesis that animals indeed have conscious experience. Furthermore, the articles by Scheumann and Roser, et al, and Tate and Fischer, et. al respectively, explore the experience of a sense of identity in animal minds. In both studies, the vocal correlates of sender-identity in kittens and the processing of facial identity and facial expression in primates and ungulate species show strong correlations between specialized brain functions and various levels of subjective experience across the board.

4. The Impact of Animal Psychology on Our Understanding of Animal Welfare
Understanding the emotional lives of animals requires one take into account the rich and complex nature of experience had by a diverse range of species. Part of this complex range of experience is “negative” emotional response and corresponding psychological stress. As Galhardo and Oliveira tell us, “The ability to respond to stress is vital to the survival to any living organism, though sustained reactions can become detrimental to the health and welfare of animals.” Stress responses of vertebrates are known and generally accepted as contributing to detrimental psychological impact over sustained periods of time. In fish, physiological and psychological components of stress are just as apparent as they are in mammals, however the psychological component is not well studied. While it is true that some researchers deny complex mental experiences to fish on the basis that they lack a neocortex, recent studies have shown “neuroendocrine, cognitive and emotional processes in fish that are not only equivalent to other vertebrates, but allow the inferring of some forms of mental representation.”

It may seem fantastic that it is possible to determine the psychological states of animals, particularly with a focus on how disease, stress, and pain affect animal emotional states. However, as Brydges and Braithwaite tell us, through studies in the biological function and physiology of animals, as well through new methods in discerning what animals want or prefer, it is possible to “discover the mental or affective state of an animal (i.e. positive or negative affective states)” and how negative impact upon those states affects animal well being. They argue that, indeed, there is such a thing as “animal mental welfare,” and that studies in animal psychology can help to determine how an understanding of animal emotions can improve human and nonhuman animal interactions in a welfare context. An excellent example of such research is found in Jeon, Song, and Kim “A note on acoustic analysis of dairy calves at 1 day of separation.”

In David Fraser’s article, “Understanding Animal Welfare,” we learn about the impact of animal psychology on our understanding of animal welfare. Beyond freedom from disease and injury, Fraser emphasizes that part of the basic health of an animal is freedom from prolonged stress and negative affective states, states like pain or distress. Emotional health should contribute to what human beings perceive as living a reasonably “natural life.” The positive emotional health of animals may require mandate, much like the sciences mandate food safety or environmental sustainability. In this way science can further proceed within a framework of values which recognizes not only the reality of animal emotions, but that prolonged negative affect upon animal emotions may cause undue harm.

5. The Ethics of Human Interrelations with Animals: What Do We Know Now and How Does it Affect Our Interactions with Animals?
Considering animal emotions almost indelibly involves animal ethics, as well as how human emotion figures into the treatment of animals, ethically. Whether laboratories or zoos, or free-living wildlife, different emotional responses, or a lack of emotional response, affects the emotional well being of animals in various ways. This section begins with Bekoff’s “’Good Welfare’ Isn’t ‘Good Enough.’ Bekoff – a leading expert in animal emotion and intelligence - explores what we might mean by the phrase “animal welfare” in a broad and constructive sense. This involves “asking difficult questions about who we think we are, who we think ‘they’ are, what we think we know, and what we actually know.” For Bekoff, “good welfare” is not enough because existing laws still permit the pain, suffering, and death of billions of animals for research, education, and amusement, let alone for food or for clothing. He states that “the emotional lives are not at all that private, hidden, or secret and animal emotions and sentience force us to care for them and to protect them from pain, suffering, and death.” Further, not enough human beings are affected enough to be disturbed by that pain, suffering, and death.

Larua D’Olimpo identifies emotional ethics as the prevalent ethical framework when compared utilitarianism, deontology, or relativism. Specifically, Olimpo analyzed which frameworks were most prevalent in discourse targeted at animal ethics, finding emotional language to be the most common. Thomas Kelch analyzes the way that we look at animal rights issues, revealing that rights should be supported by a consideration of the emotions, where emotions are “essential aspects of our nature and of our moral lives.” Emotions are “of relevance in determining who should be rightsholders” as “our sense of compassion should count as a reason for granting rights to animals.”

The last two articles provide illustrative examples of the above thinking, drawing on compassion by advocating companionship to nonhuman animals. Specifically, Kendal Sheperd believes that human (or nonhuman) animal companionship can maximize the welfare of both humans and animals: perhaps each needs the other. From the approach of a vetinarian, Shepherd theorizes ways in which surgeons can offer companion-like relationships to their animals so as to proactively improve the behavioral, mental, and emotional needs of the animal. He concludes that emotional needs must be nurtured in the same way as physical needs. Along this line of thinking Sevi, Casamassima, Pulina, and Pazzona argue that among other factors causing the reduction in the well-being of sheep and goats is the emotional distress caused by lack of companionship. Generally, companionship for many species of animals is claimed to maintain positive mental and emotional health.

6: Alternative title here? Animal Emotion and Cognition: Philosophical Considerations

In the preceding sections of this volume, we offer research from several related disciplines which inform the scientific study of animal emotion and cognition, specifically with respect to topics which support the thesis that animals do indeed, in varying degrees and kinds, have subjective lives which they are able to express. Taken as a whole, the research suggests that there are enough similarities in the evolutionary paths of human and non-human nervous systems to support the notion that animal consciousness ought to be understood in terms of a continuum of subjective experience. This necessitates that we broaden our method of study and turn towards the humanities, serving to deepen our engagement with….Our final chapter offers a comprehensive survey of the major figures in the history of Western philosophy who have a impacted our thinking about the epistemological, ontological, and ethical implications of animal consciousness. The editors have chosen those “classics” which articulate and shape philosophical discourse on the subject. Topics and themes introduced even as early as the Pre-Socratic period continue to resonate and repeat in subsequent medieval, modern, and contemporary modes of thought. The entire discussion can be characterized by variations of two points of view. We align ourselves with those that support the existence of subjective experience, specifically expressed as cognition, emotion, and capabilities in animals. We thus provide a grounding for the call to improve animal welfare. The opposing position, represented by the minority of philosophers in this chapter, denies or at least largely calls into question the existence of truly subjective and irreducible properties of animal minds.

Violin’s piece on Pythagoras sets the stage, introducing his defense of “animal psyche” and the “call for the compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings” who function together in a unified and living cosmos. This idea is taken up and further developed in Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, which at base portrays the cosmos as a “World Animal,” enlivened and made intelligent in all aspects by the creative activity of the Demi-Urge. In De Anima, Aristotle follows with his own analysis of the basic element which animates organic life, the soul. That which distinguishes living beings from all others is the ability of a body to move itself. In Book II, Aristotle ascribes to animals “the faculties of discrimination,” thought and sense, and the origination of local movement. What follows is Aquinas and the medieval development of Aristotle’s conception of the psyche/soul and its role in determining where animals fall in the hierarchy of the Great Chain of Being. Barad, in her article, points out the inconsistencies in Aquinas, who, according to tradition, has been grouped with Descartes in rejecting the felt qualities of animal minds. A more nuanced understanding of medieval ontology reveals that animals had to be “superior to vegetative life” and exhibiting degrees of voluntary action, but Aquinas forgets the ethical dimensions of his own position and ultimately denies freedom and full moral consideration for animals. In The Discourse on Method, Descartes his famous denial of animal minds, describing them as automata whose features can be fully explained by the mechanistic theories gaining ground in the scientific outlook of the time. John Locke, however, ascribes individuality to animals in that they are “thinking substances,” albeit without an immaterial soul. The selections on Hegel examine how we are to understand animals in terms of Hegel’s general orientation to consciousness: consciousness is only truly present in reciprocal relations among self-conscious beings. While this led him to deny status to animals, interpretations of Hegel do not fully support his conclusions. Whitehead’s philosophy, where ultimate value is present in all forms of life, was striking in its time in its rereading of process in Darwinism, specifically with respect to the possible continuities between lower and higher order forms of complexity of animal life. Finally, contemporary thinkers Martha Nussbaum and Jacques Derrida address ontological and ethical considerations in the treatment of animals.


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