Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness - Donald R. Griffin
Revised edition. An argument in favor of the idea that consciousness in some form may be present throughout the animal kingdom.

As I read this book, I found myself very frustrated by it. The one huge problem that permeates it is the refusal to come to grips, even provisionally, with what is consciousness in the first place. To be sure, this is an issue no one has settled yet. But Griffin writes in accordance with this quote from Francis Crick: "Everyone has a rough idea of what is meant by consciousness. It is better to avoid a precise definition of consciousness because of the dangers of premature definitions." I do not agree that "everyone" has even a "rough idea" of what they mean when they talk of consciousness -- this assumption allows people to perhaps talk right past each other, and change their definitions in unpredictable ways during the course of discussion. Certainly I had that impression many times as I read Animal Minds.

Griffin's arguments are just not as careful as I would wish. He starts out by stating "It seems likely that conscious thinking and emotional feeling about current, past, and anticipated events is the best way to cope with some of the more critical challenges faced by animals in their natural lives." (p. 3) But he does not justify that statement in the following paragraph. And throughout the book he continues to hold that assumption, largely unstated. He introduces many and varied examples of behavior by all sorts of animals, will give a little discussion of interpretations, then state that consciousness is either a possible explanation, or the most likely explanation -- then simply move on to the next example. A few of the instances he cites seemed to me quite poorly chosen. The idea of consciousness seems more plausible to me in some of his examples than others, but he never really rigorously justifies himself in any case. The whole book adds up to a suggestive, but weak, argument; and he spends a lot of time criticizing other people who've written on the subject in terms that suggest to me that he's not being entirely fair to them.

On the upside, the book provides plenty of references for further reading, plus accounts of some fascinating research. My favorite was Cowey and Stoerig's experiments on blindsight in monkeys. Monkeys which have had their visual cortex surgically damaged can press a lever indicating the presence of a lighted square with some accuracy; but, if they have been trained to press a lever when a lighted square is not present, they will , when surgically blinded, invariably indicate that there is no square. So, there is a way in which these monkeys see and don't see at the same time. In human blindsight patients, the sense in which they don't see is known as conscious awareness. Should the same name be applied to what produces the same output in monkeys? Intriguing...