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Lyndsey C's picture


Over the past few weeks, we have spoken a lot about the I-function and many debates have risen around the fact that animals may or may not have an I-function. I think this all depends on our definition of the I-function which, unfortuantely, we haven't yet teased apart completely. But as I understand it, the I-function is one's sense of self awareness, and for humans it includes theory of mind, or the mental reasoning of the feelings and thoughts of others. Cognitively, children develop a theory of mind near 2 years of age. Dogs function at about the same level of intelligence as a 2 year old, or so I've heard (maybe that's an overstatement) but i often wonder if animals, or dogs in particular, possess a theory of mind. we have discussed this in the forum before about how domesticated animals express guilt or shame when doing things wrong, but for the longest time i was not convinced that animals have an I-function. i just assumed the simple explanation that the I-function is a higher cognitive mechanism that we posess and animals lack and this is what sets us apart as superior beings.

maybe i was wrong.

i am interested in animals' psychological processes. animal behaviorists basse their entire careers studying such concepts, so maybe i should give this idea a second thought. i came across an article which briefly mentions several examples of animals' psychological functioning. for example, it states that a birds often groom themselves, expressing self love, but when they are angry or frustrated they may pluck out their own feathers to express punishment. this idea is not entirely new to me, but i guess i hadn't given it much thought before. anyway, these observations lead me to reconsider animals' potential abililty to have a working I-function. now the question remains, what are the limitations of their I-function? and what are the I-functions' responsibilies for animals as compared with those conducted by humans'?

In class on thursday, we debated whether or not animals have the ability to make choices. if so, we also wondered whether or not the I-function was involved in the decision making process. the article i mentioned above seems to support the idea that animals have "thoughts, intelligence, instincts, and feelings" all of which are important for the decision making process. but i am still not entirely convinced that animals make choices. mostly, i would assume that animals' choices, if any, are related to survival. as humans we have free will and less constraining consequences of our choices, so not all choices are survival-related. are they? if i choose to paper clip my report or staple my report, there is no influence on my survival. (unless you're taking it really literally and you follow the theory that each move we make influences subsquent actions, leading us to an ultimate predestiny. ok, i dont really agree with that at all so i wont even go there!)

basically i just left class yesterday with a bunch of slightly irrelevant questions and felt the need to post about them. i dont know if anyone else is as interested in animal psychology or if anyone else has thought about animals and their presence/lack of an I-function, but if you do, please respond because i'd be really interested to read your thoughts!


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