I recently read Mindreading, by Sanjida O’Connell. The book discusses people’s ability (or inability) to understand the thoughts, needs, and desires of others.
It also talks about animals’ ability to understand the same thing. What I gathered from the book is that nobody really knows the extent to which animals are aware of others’ consciousness. Sadly, my enjoyment (and comprehension) of the book was hindered by sentences such as this:
Other evidence which indicates that joint attention is crucial to developing Theory of Mind comes from autistic children who, as we have said, are not able to show or understand triadic joint attention or protodeclarative pointing and even sometimes have trouble with protoimperatives. (O’Connell, Sanjida. Mindreading: Investigation into How We Learn to Love and Lie. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Page 61.)
What? Was I supposed to understand that?
Pedantic bombast aside, there has been a lot of argument about whether pets truly understand, in some degree, that the humans in their lives have thoughts and needs. Dogs and cats certainly appear to display empathy towards people. But do they really? What do you think?