Bthe image of animal dreams was rife at the height of the Victorian era. The anti-vivisection movement was gaining momentum in Europe and North America, and public opinion about the status of animals was rapidly changing. In this climate, the conditions were ripe for a greater interest in the mental and emotional lives of animals. Among the scientists of the time, this interest manifested itself as a general openness to a wide variety of claims — some more empirically based than others — about animal experience, including claims about what happens to animals when they sleep. This belief was so widespread that Darwin’s protégé, the evolutionary biologist George Romanes, enthusiastically cited Lindsay’s theory of animal dreams in his 1883 masterpiece. Mental evolution in animals.
In this book, which was read with gusto by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, Romanes went further than Lindsay by claiming that dreams prove that animals are endowed with the power that the German moralist Immanuel Kant categorically called them just a hundred years earlier. had denied: the power of the imagination. Dreaming proves that animals have what Romanes calls “third degree imagination,” which allows animals to form mental images “independently of any obvious outside suggestions.” According to Romanes, the same mental operations are required to dream of something as to imagine it visually, since in both cases the mind focuses on something that is absent and related to it. as if it was present. Dreaming, he concludes, “is a sure proof that the imagination belongs to… [. . .] the third degree.” With this vision, the biologist from Kingston, Ontario, did not challenge the zeitgeist – he channeled it.
In 1888, just five years after the publication of mental evolution in animals, the popular magazine The century posted an article about the science of dreams, nightmares and somnambulism with a section on animal dreams. Among the experts named as defenders of an interspecies theory of dreams were lesser known figures such as William Lindsay and Georges Romanes, as well as celebrities like Charles Darwin. A year later, Canadian biologist Wesley wrote: Mills published his groundbreaking Textbook Animal Physiology, including a long discussion about the dreams of animals, especially dogs. That same year, the French psychologist said Alfred Binet, inventor of IQ testing, has reviewed several books about dreams in the diary The psychological year [L’Année Psychologique]including the Italian psychologist Sante De The Book of Sanctis Dreams: Psychological and Clinical Studies [I sogni: Studi Psicologici e Clinici]that a whole chapter on interviews that De Sanctis has conducted with breeders, farmers, hunters and circus trainers about the dreams of “superior animals” such as dogs, horses, and birds.
Animal dreams may have been deeply rooted in the cultural and scientific imaginations of the nineteenth century, but eventually the tide turned. As a result of various developments, most notably the rise of behavioristic psychology, what began in the 1870s as a wave of support for the complexity of the minds of animals, over the course of just a few decades, turned into a pervasive skepticism about the knowledge of animals of any kind. At the turn of the century, the life sciences took a new stance — a colder, more distant stance — that led new generations of scientists to distance themselves from their predecessors and accuse them of projecting human abilities onto animals. By the 1930s, many of the subjects that had excited 19th-century naturalists—animal reasoning, animal language, animal emotions, animal play, and, of course, dreaming about animals—had fallen into scientific ill repute, and most remained there for a while. long time. I call the period from 1900 to 1980 ‘the silent century’ because at that time the discussions about animal consciousness came to a standstill from which our scientific culture is still trying to break free.
Text from When Animals Dream: The Hidden World of Animal Consciousness by David M. Peña-Guzman. Copyright © 2022 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted with permission from Princeton University Press.