The Turing test appears to be a behavioral test. The Turing test states that, if a computer can convince a judge (over a text only chat link) that it is a human, then that computer is intelligent. This may seem to give me problems, as I agree that a computer passing the Turing test, would be intelligent. However, I have no such problem, as I do not hold that a computer's failure to pass the test, shows it to be unintelligent. Note that there are many other reasons a computer may fail. It might be too poor an actor, not care about the test, or not understand the language used to perform the test, for examples. Simply put, behavior can prove the presence of a mind but is not sufficient to prove its absence (and similarly for many functions of the mind as I discuss below).
So let us look at some problems with an over reliance on behavioral studies:
The motivations of animals may be anthropomorphized. Historically, in testing chickens for their ability to solve mazes, food was used as a reward, and animals were partially starved, to ensure sufficient incentive for solving the maze. However, later research showed, that far greater motivation could be achieved, by offering expectant hens a suitable nesting site as a reward. It has also historically been hard, to ensure that the intended route to satisfying the motivation, is the only one available. Animals have a tendency to think outside of our cultural boxes in their choice of behaviors. Consider another experiment in which the experimenters attempted to teach a primate how to make stone tools (with which they could cut a string that would allow them access to a food reward). The primate was shown how to knock rocks together to make a sophisticated stone tool. The primate was shown how the tool could be used to cut the rope to access the treat. Then the primate was given two stones, and the treat, string were reset. The primate dropped the stone on the floor, retrieved a sharp shard and used it to get the treat. The experimenters carpeted the floor to prevent this unintended solution to the problem. The primate then located the edge of the carpet, lifted it up and dropped the stone onto the floor again. The experimenters subsequently glued the carpet to the floor. The primate just dropped one stone onto the other and the experimenters had to admit defeat. The point here is that the primate was behaving intelligently but did not see the task in the same way as the experimenters.
It is common to say an animal is silly if it does something we imagine we wouldn't do n the situation. But consider for a moment how silly some human behaviors would appear. For example people cover themselves in mud at a holiday resorts; Climb up mountains; Drink so much alcohol that they are sick. Of course I am not saying that all these behaviors are stupid, just that they can appear so to outsiders. Some motivations are massively counter intuitive or irrational. For instance consider the middle aged man who puts off having that lump checked due his fear of cancer. A purely behavioral approach would lead us to believe this man did not fear cancer! Many people engage in short term thinking at the expense of their future selves. But this alone does not imply they do not understand the consequences of their actions. An experiment was performed on young children. Under the gaze of a hidden camera, the children were offered a single marshmallow on a plate, and they were told that they could eat it but that they would be given the rest of the packet, if they did not eat the marshmallow until the experimenter came back. Most children ate the marshmallow. You might conclude, that these children did not have a concept, of future benefit. However, the videos of the children undermine this claim. The children exhibited stressed behavior, and many did not eat the marshmallow immediately, but held out for some time. So the behavior here must be interpreted very carefully. The children had no lack of understanding of the situation. They just had little will power.
Education makes the human mind seem more capable. Education, formal or informal, produces massive changes in behavior. Almost all the skills of an adult human, are taught to them by other humans. But we don't consider less educated people to be worth less morally, because they lack behavioral traits or skills. We understand that a less educated person has the same inherent worth as a more educated person. It is important to realize, that conceptual leaps have given the modern human, skills that our remote ancestors could not have dreamed of. In mathematics, algebra and cartesian coordinates are crucial to presenting problems in a clear and unambiguous manner. In our social lives, the stories that we read (and the soap operas that we watch) provide much virtual experience, of social situations. The invention of the clock and the calendar, and their widespread adoption changed the concept of time with which we live our lives. We must take into account the advantages that culture gives us, when judging the capacities of animals. It is often claimed, that certain animal do not have a concept of the future. This claim is generally based on studies where an animal fails to make decisions conducive to its future welfare. Similar claims were until recently even made of small children on similar evidence! I claim that animals and small children understand the concept of the future but do not necessarily act on this knowledge. As an example consider the marshmallow experiment considered above. This fact that children do not plan for the future does not mean that children should not be considered in our ethical discourse! There is a danger, that we are failing to make the distinction, between an animals experience of the world, and that animals observed behavior.
Animal senses sometimes differ substantially from ours. When evaluating an animal's behavior, it is easy to ignore the differences in the ways, that these animals sense the world. Many animals have very poor vision, and many do not use their vision as a primary sense in the same way that humans do. This may result in, an apparent stupidity, in the behavior of animals. For instance cats have very poor color vision. This means objects that are obvious to human eyes may not be to cat eyes.
Animals may not have the same motor functions under voluntary control. At least some primates have little voluntary control over their vocal utterances. This does not preclude communication using these utterances (think of body language). However, it does act as a strong barrier to the development of spoken language. Successful attempts to teach primates a language normally involve a form of sign language (and these attempts have been remarkably successful).
Animals may not have the same mental setup as humans. The variation of human mental setups include:
*People who hate being told what to do.Animals may appear stupid if they are hard to train. Some people regard cats as less intelligent than dogs, because cats are hard to train. But when cats are placed in problem boxes, they solve them better than dogs. We should also consider the possibility, that animals have mental attitudes/abilities, that would be considered mental illnesses in humans. So non-social animals may well be autistic, from a human perspective. This is actually highly plausible as autism is mainly problematic from a social perspective.
*People who couldn't care less about what they do.Animals that do not recognize themselves in the mirror might just not care enough about their own appearance to react in the way we expect them to. Animals that engage in posturing behavior in front of a mirror may be doing this because they enjoy practicing behaviors (people do similar things).
The point is, that we really don't know, why animals engage in the behaviors they do. The lack of a common language, and the gaping gap between our sensory experiences of the world, should make us treat behavioral studies with great caution (I'll address alternatives in my next post). Much thought on this matter (at least from the lay public and amongst ethicists) suffers from an anthropomorphic bias. We also should not forget that most scientists and many ethicists are meat eaters and benefit in multiple ways from the exploitation of animals. Sadly in the absence of good quality evidence people have a habit of favoring interpretations beneficial to their own interests. Good science should take such biases into account.
That is the end of the first post. In my next post I will address alternative ways to study animal minds and give my reasons for considering animals to be much closer in terms of the richness of their internal experience to humans than is often assumed.