Shared intentionality, sometimes called ‘we’ intentionality, refers to collaborative interactions in which participants share psychological states with one another (Gilbert, 1989; Searle, 1995; Tuomela, 1995). The term also implies that the collaborators’ psychological processes are jointly directed at something and take place within a joint attentional frame (Hurford 2007: 320, Tomasello et al. 2005).
Pet lovers will be, and for obvious reasons, in opposition to this theory, as it also suggests that though animals are smart enough to perform many tasks, they are unable to collaborate within a joint attentional frame.
In the study of the mental capacities of animals, research has examined animal cognition in mammals (especially primates, cetaceans, elephants, dogs, cats, horses, raccoons and rodents), birds (including parrots, corvids and pigeons), reptiles (lizards and snakes), fish and invertebrates (including cephalopods, spiders and insects).
The behavior of non-human animals has captivated human imagination from antiquity, and over the centuries many writers have speculated about the animal mind, or its absence, as Descartes would have it. Speculation about animal intelligence gradually yielded to scientific study after Darwin placed humans and animals on a continuum, although Darwin’s largely anecdotal approach to the topic would not pass scientific muster later on”.
Many would readily challenge the concept of shared intentionality, whether or not they’re animal lovers or pay that close attention to what animals do or how they communicate, but it is important to understand how Tomasello and others came to their conclusion that to be a part of the shared intentional club you must be human.
We understood, from our last class, that Tomasello did many tests/research to come to his conclusion and did welcome feedback from credible researchers, but many in our class applied practicality and our knowledge of the world around us, to ensue a somewhat credible discussion. There’re some obvious questions to ask about Tomasello’s proposal, namely: are we the only ones capable of knowingly work together to achieve a set goal? Are we able/capable of understanding the intentions of other animals or their shared intentions without triggering or manipulating their environment?
According to one of Tomasello’s experiment “At 14 months of age for example, human children are able to successfully pass an object-choice task. In this task, children are presented with two upside-down buckets, one of which contains a toy, and the experimenter points toward the bucket where the toy is hidden. The child then turns to the right bucket and retrieves the toy. Although this task may appear simple, it is remarkable that chimpanzees fail it. In contrast to children, they fail to see the pointing gesture as a relevant cooperative signal within a shared attentional frame. Instead chimpanzees seem to think something along the lines of: “‘A bucket. So what? Now where’s the food?’ They do not understand that the pointing is intended to be ‘relevant’ to the searching as a shared activity (see Sperber & Wilson, 1986)” (Tomasello & Carpenter 2007: 122)”.
I like many of you, questioned whether or not the methods used to retrieve data in the above experiment produced accurate results. It’s well-established that living in unchanging, inescapable environments induces boredom in humans, including prisoners who report that they are highly motivated to seek stimulation. “But we cannot rely on verbal self-reports from non-humans, so motivation to obtain general stimulation must form the basis of any objective measure of boredom in animals,” said Prof. Georgia Mason, who holds the Canada Research Chair in animal welfare in Guelph’s Department of Animal and Poultry Science.
Can we then assume that the environment in which these animals are kept/ researched is not their natural environment and hence would influence the results of Tomasello’s experiment? I believe many would agree with me if I recommend that either both subjects be placed in their natural environment or both in their unnatural environment, this, I believe, would provide a definitive explanation for their results.
I’m not advocating for or against the results of Tomasello’s theory, as I’m in no position to determine whether or not the results would change if the subjects were placed in their natural environment, but would like to know the “what if”. Is it really safe to say that animals cannot intentionally help one another, or work with each other to accomplish a set goal.