Back to the Future

Alright, so maybe animals have episodic memory (see earlier post)—thoughts about the past. Just maybe, we don’t know. But do they have the same sort of thoughts about the future?

This is where you actually see a lot of agreement. Daniel Gilbert starts his book Stumbling on Happiness by saying the human being is the only animal that thinks about the future.

Even Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, assumes animals don’t think about the future. To him, this is ethically significant. It’s bad to kill an animal and shut off its future, but worse to kill a human being who can anticipate and look forward to the future.

All that struck me as making sense for a long time. I can’t imagine my cats are making any plans for next week, and cows certainly don’t look as if they just can’t wait for tomorrow. But then in the wild many animals do prepare for the future. Birds migrate, beavers build dams, birds cache seeds, salmon swim upstream. They have ongoing projects that are left incomplete if they meet an untimely death.

more today at Talking Philosophy

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