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The Zoological Revolution

Posted by on January 31, 2011

The field of zoology has recently been turned upside down by the discovery of free will in animals.

“It turns out that our previous understanding of animal behavior as being a product of genetic and environmental histories was simplistic and reductionist,” said prominent zoologist Stefan Nichtswisser.  “A science that studied only the chemistry, anatomy, neurology, ethology, evolution, genetics, pathology, and biogeography of animals would obviously be inadequate.  Today, we realize that a science of animal behavior is only an appendage to a science of animal feelings.”

In the new paradigm, every action is caused by a feeling, which arises spontaneously from the animal’s innermost being.  For instance, the clustering seen in African water buffalo when confronted by lions turn out not to be a product of an interaction between predator and prey developed over millions of years of co-evolution—a naïve answer easily arrived at—but instead of the animals’ desire to be closer to each other at that particular moment.  Dr. Nichtswisser summarized it thusly: “Fear engenders solidarity in the buffalo, which leads to a sense of social cohesion, which may in turn cause a sense of agape for all living creatures, causing the buffalo to crowd together.”  The explanatory power of this theory is clearly much greater than the old one, focused on such crude, unsophisticated notions as natural selection or operant conditioning.

How foolish we were, scientists are now saying, to have paid so much attention to what animals did, when we should have been paying attention to what they were feeling.  If we want to change the way an animal acts, we must start by changing its feelings.  Clearly, changing an animal’s feelings is an easier and more direct task than the task it replaces, that of changing its behavior.  Every action has its cause in a feeling, the existence of which we can infer from the action.

In the past, it was debated whether conscious states of mind in the wildebeest or raccoon were epiphenomena—that is, secondary phenomena that occur alongside or parallel to a primary phenomenon but can in no way affect it.  The canonical example of an epiphenomenon is the reflection of a tree in a still pond; it would not exist without the tree, but it cannot possibly affect the tree.  Fortunately the cognitive revolution in zoology allows us to finally see that it is actually the behavior that is the epiphenomenon.  It turns out that the thoughts and feelings of the wildebeest or raccoon are the primary phenomena, and they give rise to the secondary phenomena of its behavior.

The new thinking makes the animal itself responsible for its behavior.  Previous theories absolved the animals of blame, thereby contributing to the many zoological problems plaguing our society.  As Dr. Nichtswisser noted, “Every theory changes the thing it describes.”  The new theory, by locating the cause of the animals’ behaviors inside the animals themselves, will restore a sense of personal responsibility to them.  By the way, it is definitely not a contradiction to say that animals are the sole causes of their own behavior, and, simultaneously, that promulgation of certain theories caused the animals to behave differently.

This change in zoological thinking parallels a recent change in the science of optics, when it was determined that the traditional description of a rainbow as being created by the refraction of light through tiny droplets of water suspended in the atmosphere is reductionist because it leaves out something important: the rainbow itself.  “All the time we spent studying meterology and the physics of light was entirely wasted—we should have been looking at the rainbow itself.  That’s why I wrote a song,” said noted physicist Hans Dummkopf.  He began strumming a guitar and crooned: “Do not all charms fly / at the mere touch of cold philosophy? / Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings / Conquer all mysteries by rule or line / Unweave the rainbow.  Well, something like that.  I haven’t worked out the kinks yet.”

2 Responses to The Zoological Revolution

  1. rick gore

    I have struggled to understand the argument that free will doesn’t exists. It sure seems to me that I have free will, but perhaps it is illusion. For example, didn’t I decide not to watch the Super Bowl or was that because I don’t have a TV.

    Thanks for an interesting analogy.

    RG

  2. CWJohnson

    The French philosopher Pascal argued that free will exists, but only in countries with one “r” in the name: France, the United States of America, Russia. Of course, this leads to Pascal’s famous paradox: you have free will if you live in Britain, but not in England or in the United Kingdom. On his deathbed Pascal issued his famous wager: he bet no one would remember this argument until the year 2012. Well, he was almost right.

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