— version 2009-08-26
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:

Instructor / Office Goodbody 113 / 855-8916
Colin Allen, Professor, Dept. of History & Philosophy of Science and Program in Cognitive Science
<> (office hours, Mondays after class and by appointment)
Asst. Instructors / Office Goodbody 009 / 855-3976
Robert Rose; Emil Sargsyan

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).

Course Objectives

This course has two main goals:

  1. Content: For you to learn about some of the most recent scientific studies of animal cognition, and the about the intellectual and historical context which makes the interpretation of those studies controversial.
  2. Skills: To help you develop scientific literacy, reasoning, and study skills that are foundational for success in a wide range of college courses. To help you to become critical consumers of media reports of science.

Course Description

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.

Attendance policy

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.

You may request to make up for missed exams or other assignments only for University-recognized officially excused absences:
For predictable absences due to competitive events, required activities in other classes, etc., documentation must be provided at least two weeks prior to the absence.
For genuine emergencies, illnesses, or deaths in the family, written documentation must be provided when you return to class.
Accommodation for religious observances will be handled as described at (Note that the form must be submitted by the student by the end of the second week of the semester for current semester.)

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.

Grading Basis

A total of 400 points will be awarded during the semester, distributed as follows:

Portfolio/writing project (several deadlines: 10/07, 11/18 (extended to 11/20), 12/11) 150
Midterm exam, Part A online (10/16), Part B in class (10/19) 100
Final exam (12/14) 150

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.


DateTopicReadings, Assignments, TestsNotes and Events
Week 1
Aug 31Intro to the course: The Science of Animal Minds
Sep 02Rational animals? Instinct vs. Reason
Sep 04General Intro to HPSRichards 1987 selections from Darwin and the emergence of evolutionary theories of mind and behavior [optional reading: Crowley & Allen 2008 Animal Behavior from The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology]
Week 2
Sep 07Rational animals? Descartes to Darwin
Sep 09From Anecdotes to Science
Sep 11Scientific ExplanationManning & Dawkins 1992 Introduction from Introduction to Animal Behavior
REQUIRED LECTURE @ 4 p.m.: Robert Richards “Darwin's influence on the Psychological Sciences” Themester Lecture* Ballantine 013, 4 p.m.
[optional reading: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Animal Cognition]
If your schedule does not allow you to attend Prof. Richards' lecture you must contact your A.I. in advance and agree to a make up plan.
Week 3
Sep 14Animal Reasoning[optional reading: Allen 2006 Transitive Inference in Animals]
Sep 16Irrational humans?
Sep 18Scientific methods: Observation and ExperimentHunt & Gray 2004 The crafting of hook tools by wild New Caledonian crows[optional reading: Allen 2004 "Is anyone a cognitive ethologist?"]
Week 4
Sep 21Man the toolmaker
Sep 23Causal reasoning
Sep 25Language: Grammar & MeaningAnderson 2004 Dr. Dolittle's Delusion Chapter 2: Language and Communication[optional reading: Fitch & Reby 2001 "The descended larynx is not uniquely human"]
Week 5
Sep 28Animal communication
Sep 30Animal language
Oct 02Demarcation: Science vs. pseudoscienceFisher 1995 "The Myth of Anthropomorphism"[optional readings: Wynne 2004 What are Animals? Why Anthropomorphism is Still Not a Scientific Approach to Behavior; see also commentaries ]
Themester Lecture: Michael Ruse, Woodburn 100, 4 p.m.
Week 6
Oct 05Mirror self-recognition
Oct 07Themester make-up day, no class!*Portfolio v.1 due*
Oct 09Scientific RevolutionsClayton et al. The rationality of animal memory
Week 7
Oct 12Episodic memoryThemester Lecture: Richard Dawkins, IU Auditorium, 7 p.m.
Oct 14PlanningThemester Lecture: Paul Rozin
Oct 16Midterm review*Midterm Exam* part 1 The exam will be held online @ OnCourse and may be started any time between 7 p.m. and The max. time allowed is 45 minutes.
Week 8
Oct 19Exam*Midterm Exam part 2*Part 2 of the exam is in the classroom
Oct 21Animal Culture?
Oct 23Evolutionary Explanationvan Schaik 2006 Why are some animals so smart?
Week 9
Oct 26Bonobomidterm grades due to registrar
Oct 28Themester make-up day, no class!
Oct 30Social IntelligenceSeyfarth & Cheney 2007 Chapter 7 from Baboon Metaphysics Fresh Air: Terri Gross interviews Seyfarth & Cheney Audio
Week 10
Nov 02Evolution of Social IntelligenceSupplemental readings at OnCourse resources folder. Profs. Seyfarth and Cheney will be on campus all week: lecture at 4 pm on Tuesday and on Thursday.
Nov 04BaboonsClassroom visit by Cheney and Seyfarth. See more about their recent work on Prof. Seyfarth's baboon research website.
Nov 06Mechanisms, Reduction, and EliminationAllen 2009 "Mirror, mirror, in the brain: What's the monkey stand to gain?"
Week 11
Nov 09Mirror neurons
Nov 11Learning and Cognition without a brain?[optional reading: Allen et al. 2009 "The lower bounds of cognition: what do spinal cords reveal?"]
Nov 13Science and MediaSlime mold intelligence (short pieces): Discover Magazine, ABC Australia, BBC News, 2009 Phys. Rev. Lett. paper 2000 Nature paper
Week 12
Nov 16Cognitive Biology
Nov 18Evolutionary Psychology
Nov 20History & Philosophy of Consciousness*Portfolio v.2 due*.no reading this week!
Week 13
Nov 23Swarm Intelligence
Nov 27no classAllen 1995 Star WitnessTHANKSGIVING BREAK
Week 14
Nov 30Animal Consciousness[optional reading: Griffin and Speck 2004 "New evidence of animal consciousness"]
Dec 02Human Consciousness
Dec 04HPS10: Science, Evolution, and the Meaning of LifeFlack & de Waal 2000 Any Animal Whatever: Darwinian Building Blocks of Morality in Monkeys and Apesoptional: Allen and Bekoff 2005 "Animal Play and the Evolution of Morality: An Ethological Approach"
Week 15
Dec 07Moral Animals?
Dec 09Final thoughts
Dec 11Final review*Portfolio v.3 due*
Finals Week
Dec 14Final Exam 8:00-10:00 a.m.*Final Exam 8:00 a.m.*

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
University rules concerning academic misconduct will be rigorously enforced in this class. See IU Code of Ethics, Part II for details. You will also be required to review materials and take the test at IU School of Education plagiarism tutorial. The College of Arts and Sciences also provides a guide to "Plagiarism: What it is and How to avoid it"