November 09, 2012
Justin E. H. Smith responds to the article below: A Tasty Treat for the Slime-Mold: More Inane Reporting on Animal Cognition
Justin E. H. Smith in his blog:
It's been a busy few weeks for announcements about how smart non-human life-forms are. First there was the talking beluga in California, then there was the elephant in Korea who could articulate a few words, then, finally, the report on a lowly slime mold's ability to make sophisticated decisions. All three of these reports repeated many of the conventional tropes for talking about animal intelligence; both trumpeted as wholly new and unheard-of the sort of data that have long been a staple of science reporting; and both are sure to leave everything exactly the same: with anti-anthropocentrists shouting see! See!, and with those who believe that human beings are something special in the cosmic scheme insisting that anything they are shown can be explained in terms of mimicry, stimulus, and other automatisms.
The irrelevance of empirical data for deciding the matter, in fact, long precedes the very existence of science journalism: it defines a clear rift already in 17th-century philosophy, while the 'new' discoveries themselves are for the most part only variations of what was already well documented in Aristotle's Historia animalium. And yet, the journalists always report as if until yesterday we were all fully committed to a hardcore version of the bête-machine doctrine. At the same time, however, they ensure that the topic will remain perpetually new by reinforcing, willy-nilly, the very doctrine their news item is supposed to be calling into question.
What do I mean by this? Consider the report from the New York Daily News, in which Koshik the Korean elephant is described as 'parroting' human speech.
Posted by S. Abbas Raza at 09:10 AM | Permalink