The literature is lush with accounts of apparent intentionality in ape behavior: A gorilla conceals a desired but forbidden object from her trainer (Patterson & Cohn, 1994), a chimpanzee makes use of empty kerosene cans to augment his dominance display (Goodall, 1984), a bonobo parades in front of his mother wearing a Halloween mask (Savage-Rumbaugh, Shanker & Taylor, 1998). Example after example has been put forward to support the view that our primate cousins are not merely mechanistic machines but thinking, feeling creatures with rich mental lives perhaps not so different from our own. Many researchers are convinced that apes have conscious mental experience and that they are aware others have minds of their own. Many other researchers are not so convinced. Skeptics argue that behavior is an unreliable indicator of inner states, or that human language, which apes lack, is a necessary condition for consciousness. But why is there even debate on the subject? Why do many people devote a large part of their lives searching for an answer to the question ‘Are apes conscious?’ One reason seems to be that humans are curious beings who seek knowledge for its own sake. Many of us find it intrinsically interesting to ponder what is going on in the heads of others, whether human or non-human. A second reason is more politically motivated. Discovering that apes can suffer would have important ethical implications for scientific research involving non-human primates. In fact, those who are skeptical of ape consciousness sometimes accuse supporters of over-interpreting ape behavior in a hidden agenda to advance animal rights. Supporters, on the other hand, often accuse detractors of being closedminded in a desire to preserve humankind’s special status on earth.

Additional Metadata
Keywords apes, consciousness, behaviour, awareness
Publisher Department of Cognitive Science
Series Cognitive Science Technical Report Series
Krachun, Carla. (2002). Are Apes Conscious? An Overview of Inconclusive Evidence. Technical Report 2002-10. Cognitive Science Technical Report Series. Department of Cognitive Science.