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Animal Communication Essay

2713 words - 11 pages

Throughout this course of study, the concept of language as the demarcation between animals and humans has prevailed. Further, as we have seen in our class readings, many claim that it is through language that our "consciousness" and "cognitive" skills are developed. Accordingly, these skills are necessary for us to interpret and conceptualize our world. What this infers is that because we have these skills and the "brute" animals do not, animals do not possess the ability to analyze or think about their world. When presented in this manner, I was almost convinced that this was a plausible representation of mental development. However, I found that I still had a nagging feeling that it could not be true.

Upon further investigation I found that language is by no means the only way to interpret or communicate in the world. The significance of this statement is that if my thesis proves valid the results are twofold: it refutes the behaviorists and Cartesian assertion that language is the boundary that separates animals and humans; and it supports the theory that animals not only have language, but they also posses the ability for cognitive thought.No one will argue that animals possess sight and auditory abilities. However, the concept that animals have language and are capable of thought for some is a bitter pill to swollow. I believe that they are also capable of thought and even intention. Granted, the development of language is often used as a gauge of mental aptitude in humans: "Language competence is intimately tied to, or maybe even definitive of, our concept of human mentality" (Atherton and Schwartz, 137). However, while language is an asset which enables people to conceptualize their world, it is by no means a necessity.

This is demonstrated by the ability of physically handicapped persons (e.g., the deaf) and mentally handicapped persons (e.g., victims of cerebral palsy) to communicate using symbols. It is also demonstrated by the reliance on kinesics, body language, in young children. Numerous studies attest to the ability of apes and baboons to communicate using symbols and body language. These studies are the first steps in proving the existence of animal mentation.Griffin argues that many scientists do not accept the notion of animal mentation because of the difficulty of defining abstract concepts such as "consciousness" and "mind" (Griffin 163). In reviewing the works of other scholars, Griffin puts forth some working definitions.

The concept of mind "Encompasses sense perception, feeling and emotion, traits of character and personality, and the volitional aspects of human life, as well as the more narrowly intellectual phenomena" (Griffin 163). Consciousness in an entity suggests "an organism which can have intentions... the ability to form a plan, and make a decision to adopt the plan" (Griffin 164). Although these terms are defined by their...

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