Reasoning in Animals; Exploring Intelligence; Scientific American Presents; by Gould, Gould; 8 Page(s)
The ability to think and plan is taken by many of us to be the hallmark of the human mind. Reason, which makes thinking possible, is often said to be uniquely human and thus sets us apart from the beasts. In the past two decades, however, this comfortable assumption of intellectual superiority has come under increasingly skeptical scrutiny. Most researchers now at least entertain the once heretical possibility that some animals can indeed think. At the same time, several of the apparent mental triumphs of our species-language, for instance-have turned out to owe as much to innate programming as to raw cognitive power.
This reversal of fortune for the status of human intellectual uniqueness follows nearly a century of academic neglect. The most devastating and long-lasting blow to the idea of animal intelligence stemmed from the 1904 incident of Clever Hans the horse. Oskar Pfungst, the researcher who unraveled the mystery of an animal that seemed as intelligent as many humans, described the situation vividly: "At last the thing so long sought for was apparently found: a horse that could solve arithmetical problems-an animal, which thanks to long training, mastered not merely rudiments, but seemingly arrived at a power of abstract thought which surpassed, by far, the highest expectation of the greatest enthusiast." Hans could also read and understand spoken German.