Science is forging new ground every day it seems in the quest for understanding animal intelligence. What many have learned about animals through simple observation is now being verified through scientific study. And the implications of this new information compel us to reexamine our prejudices, stereotypes and mythology about certain animal species, from those that we view as pests, to those that we view as pets, and those that we view as food. The new animal behaviorism is turning the old guard scientific community on its head in a field that is still in its infancy.
The truth is we have made sweeping assumptions about animals on really very little hard data. Many of these assumptions have led to serve our interests over animals. In fact, animals exploited for food, research, fashion, education and entertainment have been specifically defined by what we want to do with them rather than who they really are. For example, how many times have you heard this justification about chickens raised for food: “Well, that’s just what they’re raised for,” as if to suggest that a chicken could have no other interest or value beyond what we see or understand. Some call this “the human speciesist trap” that blocks our capacity for truly understanding the nature of animals and intelligence itself.
One of the great pioneers breaking through this old guard view of animals is Jonathan Balcombe. Balcombe is the author of four books, has three biology degrees, and has published over 40 scientific papers on animal behaviour and animal protection. In his new article, Scientists are beginning to explore joy in the animal world, Balcombe explains the big picture view of what we’re learning and what it means for our relationship with other animals. He focuses in on a pleasure principle for animals, demonstrating how animals seek pleasure in their life. “Pleasure adds intrinsic value to life – that is, value to the individual who feels it regardless of any perceived worth to anyone else. Pleasure seekers have wants, needs, desires, and lives worth living. They can have a good quality of life. If we let them.”