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« On The Power of the Visible (Goldberg) | Main | Brain Tumors and Responsibility Case Study »


And once seen, the elephant never forgets....

Yes, and they paint apparent depictions of elephants (self-portraits) too... But is this what they are really doing?

As this is an area in which I am currently conducting research (as a Film & Media graduate student), I have to wonder what these results are intended to demonstrate. For one, the experimenters' claim that "As a result of this study, the elephant now joins a cognitive elite" betrays the hierarchical, anthropocentric context of the inquiry. I mean, if a given species cannot recognize itself in a mirror – and the 90s are indeed full of studies that conducted such experiments assuming every species perceives in a way in which a mirror or a screen would be intelligible – would it really follow that that species is "unaware of itself" or, in the parlance of these studies, lacks "higher consciousness"? While these studies certainly tell us 'something' about other species, the conditions of their execution and the broader points drawn in their conclusions are often problematic. Indeed, in many ways, visual studies like these suggest a broader shift, away from the language and communication-oriented intelligence tests of the 1980s to an equally anthropocentric, if still unfolding, criteria of vision, imagery, and recognition. At the end of the day we have to wonder if these studies say more of the experimenters than of the experimental subjects.

It is extremely difficult not to believe that social animals, like the elephants, have not develop a self-other distinction even grounded at the level of the self-concept and self-awareness. It s not anthropocentric to think on comparatable cogntive machinery among animals according to the Darwin-Wallace principle of natural selection by which all animals shared a common ancestor and are under the same selective pressures to survive. It is "primatecentric". It would not be a surpirse to assign a self-"other" distinction even to single celled organisms such as amoeba.

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