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Academic & Professional Books  Organismal to Molecular Biology  Ethology

When Animals Dream The Hidden World of Animal Consciousness

By: David M Peña-Guzmán(Author)
259 pages, 13 b/w illustrations, 1 table
When Animals Dream uncovers evidence of animal dreaming from the scientific literature, showing that humans are from being the only creature to experience it.
When Animals Dream
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  • When Animals Dream ISBN: 9780691227061 Paperback Sep 2023 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
  • When Animals Dream ISBN: 9780691220093 Hardback Jul 2022 In stock
Selected version: £14.99
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About this book

Are humans the only dreamers on Earth? What goes on in the minds of animals when they sleep? When Animals Dream brings together behavioural and neuroscientific research on animal sleep with philosophical theories of dreaming. It shows that dreams provide an invaluable window into the cognitive and emotional lives of nonhuman animals, giving us access to a seemingly inaccessible realm of animal experience.

David Peña-Guzmán uncovers evidence of animal dreaming throughout the scientific literature, suggesting that many animals run "reality simulations" while asleep, with a dream-ego moving through a dynamic and coherent dreamscape. He builds a convincing case for animals as conscious beings and examines the thorny scientific, philosophical, and ethical questions it raises. Once we accept that animals dream, we incur a host of moral obligations and have no choice but to rethink our views about who animals are and the interior lives they lead.

A mesmerizing journey into the otherworldly domain of nonhuman consciousness, When Animals Dream carries profound implications for contemporary debates about animal cognition, animal ethics, and animal rights, challenging us to regard animals as beings who matter, and for whom things matter.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Fascinating, challenging, and thought-provoking
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 7 Oct 2022 Written for Hardback

    If trying to figure out what goes on in the minds of animals when they are awake seems hard, how much harder is it not to figure this out when they are asleep? Do animals even dream? David M. Peña-Guzmán, a professor of humanities and liberal studies, thinks they do. When Animals Dream delves into both empirical research and philosophy to explore whether animals dream, what they might be dreaming of, and what the philosophical and moral implications of this are.

    Let the title and cover not tempt you into thinking this is cute popular science. This is a serious book and I found it quite a challenging read as it contains as much philosophy as it does biology. In four longish chapters, Peña-Guzmán discusses work by neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers of many stripes. Now, I am an (evolutionary) biologist by training, so I have little background in these fields. Props, therefore, to Peña-Guzmán for making sure this reader did not get lost.

    Fortunately, there is plenty of empirical work discussed here to satisfy biologists. Much of the first chapter discusses many interesting studies that have provided neurophysiological, behavioural, and anatomical evidence of animal dreaming. But do they settle the answer of whether animals dream? The case is currently strongest for mammals with evidence extending to birds, reptiles, and cephalopods. That last one would have "colossal implications" (p. 55) for dream research, Peña-Guzmán writes, though he does not consider if this would be a case of convergent evolution. Regardless, these experiments throw up many questions that cannot be answered with more data. Many researchers have been reluctant to conclude that animals dream for fear of being accused of anthropomorphising them. Thus, "we must calibrate our best science with our best philosophy" (p. 60) which he looks at next.

    What I felt this book missed was a good introductory chapter. Before discussing animal dreaming, what do we know about human dreams? And how has the history of our thinking on this developed? This book does tend to throw you in at the deep end. The second chapter answers some of the above questions in the course of discussing animal consciousness and what dreams can tell us about it. In short, Peña-Guzmán argues it is impossible for an organism to dream and to lack consciousness. In the course of developing this argument, he discusses the history of research on consciousness, the problems of defining consciousness, the consensus to tackle consciousness in manageable chunks and admit it is not a monolithic entity, and the resulting profusion of taxonomic schemes to which he adds his own SAM model. That model argues three things. All dreaming animals are Subjectively conscious; pretty much by definition, as there can be no dream without a subject or ego. Many are Affectively conscious; their dreams have emotional content which can include nightmares. And a few are Metacognitively conscious. Metacognition is, for example, thinking about thinking, and in dream form can express itself as lucid dreaming where you become aware that you are dreaming.

    Peña-Guzmán extends his exploration in the next chapter where he considers dreams to be part of a spectrum of imagination that includes daydreams, hallucinations, and flashbacks. This chapter seeks to build a zoological rather than an anthropological theory of imagination and details two case studies on monkeys showing visual hallucinations in their sleep and rats either thinking or daydreaming during maze exploration tasks. This chapter was particularly interesting for me as it addressed the idea of dreams functioning to consolidate short-term into long-term memory. I was under the impression that this was their primary function but Peña-Guzmán argues this is an incomplete picture. In the maze experiments with rats, their cognitive spatial mapping also involved mental replay of routes they had not yet experienced or ones that did not even exist, thus fusing memory and imagination.

    I mentioned earlier that the author does a good job of not losing the reader despite the complexity of the material at hand. The last chapter is the best example of this, as it is lightest on empirical content and heaviest on philosophy. Here, Peña-Guzmán asks whether animal dreams matter from an ethical standpoint. He argues that they do and that dreams reveal animals to be carriers and sources of moral values: i.e. "beings who matter and for whom things matter" (p. 14). As the author builds this argument you will follow him through the link between consciousness and moral value, the (again) lack of a definition of consciousness and the consensus it is a poly-modal and complex phenomenon, and the follow-up question of what types of consciousness then grant moral value. An important player in this is philosopher Ned Block who in a well-known 1995 paper made a distinction between "access" and "phenomenal" consciousness. Back up a moment, what are these?

    Peña-Guzmán admits that formal definitions involve "the highbrow slang and tortured syntax of academic philosophy" (p. 154). But, briefly, a mental state is "access conscious" when we can think rationally about its contents while phenomenal consciousness is much more slippery to define and best understood through examples. But it does involve e.g. emotional content rather than representation of something in the external world and (if I am not mistaken) the raw experience of qualia such as the taste of wine or the perception of a colour. Peña-Guzmán argues that phenomenal consciousness grants moral status and that dreams are probably the best example of phenomenally conscious states. However, since moral theorists have traditionally focused on access consciousness and argued that only this grants moral value, he also has to do some disarming of their arguments. Now, I do not expect you to follow my quick summary, but take my word that this chapter is a great example of making complex material accessible to a non-specialist.

    The last chapter does not spell out or develop the practical implications of attributing moral status to animals based on dreaming. This is more a formal exploration and less a call to action. Even so, we do not need to have all the details worked out to already condemn many of the things we do to animals. If you are at all familiar with work by Carl Safina, Frans de Waal, or Marc Bekoff, this book will be right up your alley. Peña-Guzmán concludes that animals "are not deflated versions of us" (p. 185) and that "we may occasionally see aspects of our experience reflected in theirs, but they are not themselves reflections of us" (p. 186). When Animals Dream is a fascinating, challenging, and thought-provoking book that undermines human exceptionalism.
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David M. Peña-Guzmán is an associate professor of humanities and liberal studies at San Francisco State University. He specializes in critical animal studies, the history and philosophy of science, and contemporary European philosophy. He is a coauthor of Chimpanzee Rights: The Philosophers’ Brief.

By: David M Peña-Guzmán(Author)
259 pages, 13 b/w illustrations, 1 table
When Animals Dream uncovers evidence of animal dreaming from the scientific literature, showing that humans are from being the only creature to experience it.
Media reviews

"I can recommend [this book] to anyone who cares about animals."
– Barbara J. King, Times Literary Supplement

"An intellectual tour de force [...] this book will change minds."
– Simon Ings, New Scientist

"[An] intriguing book [...] Scientists have always speculated about the inner worlds of animals; Peña-Guzmán offers a novel, and poetic, way in."
– Camille Bromley, The Atlantic

"Amiable, lucid, and concise [...] Peña-Guzmán addresses his own conjectures with a winning frankness."
– Laura Miller, Slate

– J.A. Mather, Choice

"When Animals Dream ranges from fascinating to thrilling. A very accessible, penetrating, thought-provoking book that makes us see other-than-human minds in a whole new light."
– Carl Safina, author of What Animals Think and Feel and Becoming Wild

"Octopuses dream. Rats suffer nightmares. Chimps trained in sign language 'talk' in their sleep. This revelatory book shows us that animals' minds, like ours, are gloriously nimble, vivid, and complex, even during sleep. This is thrilling, essential reading for all of us seeking to expand our understanding of the wonder of consciousness."
– Sy Montgomery, New York Times bestselling author of The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness

"When Animals Dream is a revolutionary book. Peña-Guzmán convincingly shows that animals as diverse as rats, monkeys, and octopuses dream, and that sometimes scientists can even tell us what they dream about. This beautiful book opens a window into the fascinating mental and emotional world-building abilities of animals, inviting us to see that we must treat animals much better than we do."
– Barbara J. King, author of Animals' Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity and in the Wild

"In this exciting book, Peña-Guzmán helps readers come to see that differences in animal minds do not preclude our recognizing animals as morally valuable beings. Seeing other animals as dreamers allows us to ask new questions about what it might be like to be them and to wonder about the stuff of their dreams."
– Lori Gruen, author of Ethics and Animals: An Introduction

"When Animals Dream is a very important book that closes the door on some questions about animal minds, but more importantly opens many others for further transdisciplinary discussions about the rich inner lives and moral significance of nonhumans. Peña-Guzmán clearly shows that the question at hand isn't if animals dream, but rather why dreaming evolved as it has and what it's good for."
– Marc Bekoff, coauthor of The Animals' Agenda and A Dog's World

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