Showing posts from August, 2011

Thoughtful Sharks : Knowing Others as Individuals

In Tahiti, I observed the reef sharks inhabiting the nearby lagoon. They soon accepted me into their community, and by noting the behaviour of each individual in a variety of situations over a period of many years, I found an unknown dimension of their lives, never before observed or documented. This included much evidence that the sharks were using cognition, or thinking, in their daily activities, rather than the automatic stimulus/response reactions that had been assumed to control their behaviour.

To illustrate the difference between automatic behaviour and cognition, consider a calculation. The act of calculating, which is so easily and swiftly accomplished by computers, is analogous to automatic behaviour. But understandingthe reason for the computation requires cognition, which the computer will never achieve.

Various domains of science use different definitions of cognition, but for me as an ethologist, the most straightforward definition is : thepurposefulmanipulationofmentalre…