2/28/2010

Do animals pretend?

This is my first foray into Sunday cat blogging. Here goes.

Many philosophers have spent a fair amount of time thinking about pretense -- what exactly it is, and how to apply a theory of pretense to various areas of philosophical interest (e.g. perhaps we are playing a game of pretend when we talk about the natural numbers).

I was just watching my cat play with a fuzzy cat toy. The cat, in some sense, realizes that the fuzzy ball is not a mouse (or whatever). However, when it is playing with the toy, it will temporarily exhibit many of the behaviors that it would exhibit toward a real mouse -- e.g., it hides behind furniture so that the toy won't 'see' it.

All the philosophical discussions of pretense with which I am familiar are restricted to human pretense. But given the kinds of things I see with my cat, and given that pretense occurs fairly early in childhood development (sophisticated multi-person pretend games start around 3 1/2), it seems at least possible that animals engage in pretense too.

And if my cat isn't engaged in a pretense, then what exactly is it doing?

3 Comments:

At 1/3/10, Blogger Zvi Biener said...

Crows practice deception, a close relative. They pretend to be burying food in order to cause other crows to dig in the wrong spots, not in the spots in which the food is actually buried. !!!

 
At 1/3/10, Anonymous Jonathan Livengood said...

What about birds that "pretend" to have a broken wing in order to lure predators away from their nest/young?

What I suppose is more difficult is connecting pretense of the deceptive variety to full-on pretend play, imagination, and creativity.

Also, while we're on the topic of things that might distinguish humans from other animals, do you know if any non-human animals wear clothes or adorn themselves in any way?

 
At 2/3/10, Blogger Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Thanks for those examples. There's at least one difference that appears significant to me between those cases of deception and pretense -- even though both apparently fall under the genus of 'acting as-if.'

In pretense, we often take one (real-life) thing to be something else: the chair is a castle, the ruler is a sword, etc. And it seems my cat is taking the wadded up piece of newspaper to be a prey animal.

(And no, I don't know about adornments.)

 

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