We have plenty of scientific evidence to think that our 19th-century ancestors were on the right track about the nightly experiences of other species. The book’s lays out this evidence in order to show that many other animals also experience what I call 'reality simulations' during sleep.
MARC BEKOFF: David M. Peña-Guzmán new book, When Animals Dream: The Hidden World of Animal Consciousness, is a very important work that closes the door on some questions about animal minds, but more importantly opens many others for further trans-disciplinary 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 animal dreaming matters for theories of animal consciousness.
Marc Bekoff: Why did you write When Animals Dream?
David Peña-Guzmán: Because it dawned on me that there wasn’t a single book out there about the dreams of nonhuman animals… Dreaming is a fascinating phenomenon that raises all sorts of psychological, epistemic, phenomenological, and even moral questions, and I wanted to see how far I could take these questions when it comes to other animals…
MB: What are some of the topics you weave into your book and what are some of your major messages?
DPG: The three main themes are dreaming, consciousness, and imagination. The book opens with a story about the rise and fall of scientific interest in the dreams of animals. In the 19th century, naturalists were quite open about their belief that other animals dream. For them, this was a perfectly reasonable hypothesis rooted in evolutionary thinking. With the rise of behaviorism in the early 20th century, however, things changed and interest in the minds (and therefore dreams) of animals fell squarely out of fashion.
Yet, nowadays, we have plenty of scientific evidence to think that our 19th-century ancestors were on the right track about the nightly experiences of other species. Thus, the book’s first step is to lay out this evidence in order to show that many other animals also experience what I call “reality simulations” during sleep.
Once this scientific evidence is presented, the book switches gears from science to philosophy by pondering what these reality simulations teach us about the psyches of other creatures. What do they tell us about the kind of consciousness that other animals have? What do they tell us about their affective and emotional lives? What do they tell us, finally, about their cognitive and even meta-cognitive capabilities? These questions form the core of the project, which is an intervention into theories of nonhuman consciousness.
The third theme is imagination. Because of my training in phenomenology, I follow a philosophical school of thought that sees dreams as imaginative mental acts. For me, there is something inherently imaginal or phantasmagoric about even the simplest of dreams. Thus, in a chapter titled “A Zoology of the Imagination,” I invite readers to conceive of other animals as imaginative agents, which is to say, as creatures who can transcend the here-and-now through the power of imagination.
Overall, the book tries to show that we need to move beyond anthropocentric theories of dreaming (of which there are many). Even mammalocentric theories won’t do any longer. We need a truly cross-species theory of dreaming that pays close attention to the mental parallels we share with nonhumans while at the same time recognizing the many differences that set us apart. As I put it in the introduction, “It is in this tension between sameness and difference, between conjunction and disjunction, that the heart of this book lies”. SOURCE…