COLL E105 — Science of Animal Minds: Smart Animals, Dumb Humans? — Fall Semester 2009
Meeting times and locations: MW 9:05-9:55 WH120; F discussion sections as enrolled
Course Twitter: http://twitter.com/animalminds
This course has been designed in conjunction with the College of Arts and Sciences Fall 2009 “Themester” on Evolution, Diversity, and Change. You are strongly encouraged (and in a couple of cases required for this course) to take advantage of the world-famous speakers and other Themester-related events. You may be interested to attend the Cardinal Stage Company's production of Inherit the Wind, based on the Scopes "Monkey" Trial in 1925 in Tennessee, and which runs Thursdays through Sundays Sept 4 - 20 (student price $12).
This course has two main goals:
Viewers of Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, and PBS frequently encounter shows with titles like "Animal Einsteins" and "Inside the Animal Mind". But how solid is the science behind these shows? And what do we really know about the evolution of cognition? In this course, we develop a historical and philosophical perspective on the science of animal minds that will allow students to critically examine media reports and scientific presentations of animal cognition. The central task is to understand arguments among experimental psychologists (who tend to be skeptical of interpretations based on observing the natural behavior of animals), behavioral biologists (who tend to be skeptical of the relevance of experiments on captive animals in artificial environments for understanding the evolution of cognition), and philosophers (who tend to be skeptical of everything except their own brilliance).
Ancient views of humans and animals assumed a big gap between humans (the "rational animal") and others. This view was challenged by Darwin, but attempts by Darwin and his followers to close the gap by describing apparently clever behavior by nonhuman animals led to the charge that the science of animal minds is "anthropomorphic" and "soft". Dissatisfaction with the approach contributed to the Behaviorist revolution in psychology at the beginning of the 20th Century, which took a hard-nosed position against discussions of "hidden" mental states. But in the past few decades, and especially since the founding of the journal Animal Cognition in 1999, there has been an acceleration in the number of studies of the cognitive capacities of animals, and a corresponding breakdown of the Behaviorists' taboos. New comparative studies on crows and other corvids, dolphins and other cetaceans, chimpanzees and other apes, and dogs and other canids have expanded scientific understanding of tool use, reasoning, planning, memory, and social cognition in these species, and led many scientists to the view that animals are smarter than we have given them credit for. At the same time, new studies of human cognition suggest that maybe we aren't quite as rational, or clever, as we think we are.
The larger movements in comparative psychology, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science are grounded in philosophical views about the nature of science and scientific methodology, and these topics will be explicitly taught so that students will gain a basic grounding in philosophy of science, in addition to learning about the history of comparative psychology and ethology, and the latest research on animal minds.
Readings will be provided electronically, through the links in the schedule below. Your first pass through each reading should be completed before the class meeting on the day indicated. You should expect to need to read most items more than once to fully understand them.
This is not grade school, so attendance will not be officially enforced. However, some materials collected from classroom activities will be used to track your attendance, and because there is no text book and no official lecture notes, you will need to come to class to learn the material. Your claim to human superiority as a rational agent is at stake, as you cannot expect to do well without coming to class. In all cases of absence, excused or unexcused, it is your responsibility to get missed notes and information from a classmate.
A load of 12 credit hours is officially defined as full time, but you are expected to maintain a 15 hr schedule for 4 year graduation, typically five 3-hr courses. A full time work week is 40 hrs, which averages to 8 hrs per week for a 3-credit course. (If you take an overload, then it is your responsibility to do the overtime.) 3 hrs are spent in the classroom, which means typically a minimum of 5 hrs should be spent outside studying and carrying out course assignments. Individuals' study effectiveness varies, and you may need to do more than the minimum to do well in the course. And, of course, the amount you get out of your education is a function of how much you put in.
For this course you should estimate about 40% of your outside of classroom time will be devoted to the assigned readings, 20% to independent reading and research, and 40% to carrying out assignments or studying for tests (this last category will have the highest variation from week to week).
IU offers excellent help with academic skill development through courses for credit and free workshops provided by the Student Academic Center.
A total of 400 points will be awarded during the semester, distributed as follows:
For deadlines and expected dates of exams see the schedule below. Further details of assignments will be provided in class, and through OnCourse, and on the portfolio/writing template page. For the portfolio grades, improvements will be taken into account.
Statement for Students with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a Federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact IU Disability Services for Students.
Statement about Academic Misconduct