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nonhuman minds—raised a fifth aim: What are the private experiences of animals? 21
Griffin had claimed that consciousness and awareness are indicated by surprising yet
effective solutions to changing, unforeseen, and uncommon problems, and Gordon real-
ized that snakes are especially tantalizing in that light. Although IM's two heads seemed
ludicrously irrational, competing despite a shared need to provision their same body,
hog-nosed snakes nicely met Don's criteria, behaving as if aware of deceptive and dan-
gerous relations to predators, acting as if they assessed the dynamic appropriateness of
alternative defensive tactics.
Griffin might well have regarded our black-tailed rattler that manipulated its ambush
site as having a mind, but I'll wager that in 1976, when he published The Question of
Animal Awareness, even most biologists wouldn't have entertained that possibility. 22
Indeed, Don took heat from psychologists who regarded that topic as too fuzzy for ser-
ious science, so Gordon was at pains to carefully label his fifth aim for ethology. Cog-
nition, he noted, can itself be viewed as behavior, and thus fails to encompass mental
phenomena like emotion, intention, consciousness, and awareness, each of which also
might be explainable in terms of control, development, ecological role, and evolutionary
history. Moreover, he wanted consistency with Tinbergen's aims and minimal concep-
tual baggage, as would not have been the case, for example, with the term subjective.
In ethology and psychology, experience means the conditions and stimuli presented to
organisms, and private implies that the mental phenomena to be studied are accessible
to the organism from within. The big question, of course, was how we might learn about
private experiences.
Granting that brain scanning and other innovations may well open new windows on
the minds of animals, Gordon suggested we begin by combining natural history ob-
servations with critical anthropomorphism —that is, use human perceptions, intuition,
and feelings, our inner worlds, to forge novel, testable hypotheses about those of other
species. By so doing, he steered clear of uncritical caricatures of other creatures as
little more than poorly formed humans—what I call stealing their cat-ness, snake-ness,
and so forth—but in the spirit of nothing ventured, nothing gained, he also rejected
stifling, narrowly defined objectivism. Later, during fieldwork on green anacondas, he
and his student Jesús Rivas nicknamed critical anthropomorphism “wearing the snake's
shoes.” 23 Why, the two asked, are males of that species so small? Imagine lying for
hours in the shallows of a tropical slough, among a dozen seven-foot suitors for an
eighteen-foot female, entangling your muscular, scaly tail with others competing for her
vent. Perform that thought experiment, they said, and a testable hypothesis comes to
mind: male anacondas need to be large enough to beat other males, but not so large as
to be mistakenly courted as a female.
Another example of critical anthropomorphism comes from Frans de Waal, who has
brilliantly demonstrated that human morality is linked to homologous phenomena in
other species. A core tenet of psychology has long been never to accept complex explan-
ations if simpler ones suffice—conscious mental events versus hard-wired responses to
stimuli, for example—yet, as de Waal noted, this flies in the face of evolutionary parsi-
mony. The simplest explanation for similar behavior among close relatives is in fact
that similar underlying neurobiological control mechanisms and internal manifestations
(Burghardt's private experiences) were present in their common ancestor. Exemplary
among Frans's studies of postulated components of morality in nonhuman primates is
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