Our first big publicity stunt (well…) took place at the Science Night in Edinburgh Zoo – the zoo stayed open longer for an amazing science extravaganza showcasing research from every area imaginable: Botany, immunology, cognitive science, biology, entomology – and many, many more. Many, many volunteers put on stalls, activities, and demonstrations throughout the entire zoo.
We were part of this charming St Andrews team, presenting research on the evolution of cognitive abilities and culture.
While the other teams were demonstrating apes’, monkeys’, and human abilities – we put our philosophy hats on to ask people ” Do animals think?”. And of course: what do they think about? Is their mind like ours? Are some animals more like us than others? Do they have concepts like causality or friendship?
We invited people to pick their favourite animal, take a sticker and place this on our “mind-scale” – Nearly 2000 visitors helped us to answer this question!
We also challenged visitors to explain their answers – what is it that makes this particular animal “smart”? Answers ranged very far: skills like empathy or understanding, skills like tool use or communication, looking like “people” or being genetically related, hunting or camouflage skills, having a good memory or being able to learn a lot of things.
During the evening we also had the opportunity to get up on the soap box and tell everyone why thinking about animal minds and issues like belief understanding is super-interesting – and that everyone can contribute to this debate!
Visitors were also invited to explore some of the tools of our trades: we brought along some false belief tests, asked whether animals would be able to understand aspectuality (the old issue with Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane), and whether they had something like episodic memory.
We had an absolutely amazing time, and want to thank everyone who came to the zoo and chatted with us! And of course, the RZSS team who invited us to come along!