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Sharing a Sense of Self with Animals
May 12, 2011

Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals by Jonathan Balcombe

As I type this blog and see the cursor moving, I know I’m controlling its movement with my keystrokes. But when I see the minutes ticking away on my computer’s clock, I know I’m doing nothing to control its progression.

According to a new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, this ability to distinguish the cause and effect of my actions versus events that occur outside of my control is a fundamental aspect of human cognition. And new findings published in the journal indicate that chimpanzees share this ability.

But this study only underscores what PCRM scientists have understood for years: Nonhuman animals are as self-aware as humans. This is true, not only of primates, but of countless other animal species, too, including those commonly used in scientific experiments.

In his book Second Nature, Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., an animal behavior expert affiliated with PCRM, makes the case that animals, once viewed only as mindless automatons, have rich sensory experiences and emotional complexity.

Cats and dogs get their feelings hurt. Chickens find certain human faces attractive in the same way people do. Chimpanzees have a keen sense of right and wrong. Rats and mice—small as they may be—have complex psychological and social lives. And all of them are acutely sensitive to pain.

Dr. Balcombe explains that when animals in a laboratory or on a factory farm are deprived of their basic needs and denied the ability to act on their natural instincts, we have deprived them of what is most critical to their well-being.

That deprivation is devastating: Chimpanzees previously used in experimental research commonly display behaviors overlapping with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other trauma-related disorders.

In his books, Dr. Balcombe challenges traditional views of animals and spells out why our understanding of animals needs a complete overhaul. Federal legislation that PCRM is focusing on, such as the recently introduced Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, is one way to help overhaul this relationship.

You can learn more about animals’ sense of self in Second Nature and from Dr. Balcombe on Monday, May 23, at 7 p.m., at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, Texas.


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