“Animals Can’t Think, Because They Don’t Have a Brain,” My Student Said.

Animal brains

Here in North Africa, we were discussing organs in animals, and I reminded my student that he’d forgotten to mention the brain.  My 13-year-old student said, “Animals don’t have a brain.”  When I asked why he thought that, he said, “Animals can’t think because they don’t have a brain.”

Even though I told him that most animals do have a brain, the conversation continued to trouble me.  I wondered, “How could an intelligent 13-year-old, who is a good student and reasonably good in science have this idea?”  I decided to speak to a teaching colleague from the local culture.

My colleague suggested that I remind my student of the annual Sheep Sacrifice Festival, where a sheep is  butchered in nearly every home (except the very poor).  He suggested I ask my student if he had remembered eating the sheep’s head, and that inside the head are the brains.


My colleague and my husband (both from the local culture) explained that since there is emphasis here on humans being able to think and reason, and animals just acting on their instincts, so that it’s generally said, “Animals don’t have a mind.”  My student, himself, apparently interpreted that to mean, “Animals don’t have a brain.”

When I spoke about this to my student, he said, “Oh, YES!  I HAVE seen that!”  I explained that every animal needs a brain even to walk around, even to eat, even to see.  He said, “Thank you for explaining this!”

–Lynne Diligent

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9 Responses to ““Animals Can’t Think, Because They Don’t Have a Brain,” My Student Said.”

  1. RainDancer Says:

    Great work, Lynne.
    I think that starting from the students’ daily lives, and using things and examples that are relevant to them help get ideas across easily.

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Absolutely. As a foreign teacher, I didn’t make this link as to how to relate it to their lives until you made this great suggestion for me. And the student really appreciated it!

    • Leola Says:

      I like RainDancer’s suggestion. I don’t know what resources you have available in the classroom, but it would be great if you were able to conduct a scientific observation of an animal species on a longitudinal basis and have the students record the actions and behaviors of an animal. The students can make predictions, record their observations and develop their own thesis as to whether they believe animals have brains. They can even compare and contrast animal behavior to human behavior. I see this as a perfect opportunity for an inquiry question that allows students to construct their own knowledge on this topic.

  2. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From Facebook Discussion: Yvonne Simpson says: Scientists are just discovering now how high functioning some animals are, especially whales, dolphins the apes, elephants and birds. They not only have intelligence and emotions but they out do humans. The more I learn about them the more I think we are a conceited and arrogant member of the animal kingdom.

  3. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From Facebook Discussion: Bob Rose says: Actually, the reason why animals can’t SPEAK is that they are not able to mentally conceive of complex geometrical shapes, or “symbols”.

    A dog can think of a circle, a square or a triangle, but not of a ball balanced atop a triangle resting on a square. If dogs could, they’d be able to speak.

    Similarly, if young children learn to write the alphabet with automaticity and fluency, reading problems wouldn’t exist, because such writing fluency enables them to mentally envision (and thereby to remember) the image of correctly written words.

  4. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From Facebook Discussion: Jim Taggart says: Our six-year-old Labrador Retriever, Max, has the intelligence (according to behavioral experts) of a 2-3 year-old. However, based on the behaviors of many politicians (the U.S. Congress comes to mind), I’d vote for Max any day.

  5. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn Discussion: R.N. says: “All a person has to do is watch my Miniature Schnauzer work her “food angles” to realize that she thinks. On a broader sense, animals have to problem solve and it can’t all be instinct or just learned behavior.”

  6. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn Discussion: K.L. says, “That’s interesting because “brains” are a delicacy in North Africa and Middle East. However, my son reminded me that as humans we think our brains are so important because that is what our brain tells us. I wonder how it would be to have thought integrated in the manner of animal who responds automatically to subtle cues.”

  7. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn Discussion: J.K.H. says, “To posses a brain means to have spaces to remember our passed experiences. Group of experiences are stored in our memory spaces. When these information become mature, they begin to interact with one another to get a more progressive information. It depends on what students think about “thinking”, process of interactions between experiences that one possesses. Or methods to manage stored experiences in ones brain. Brain of animals perhaps consists of smaller capacity and therefore it cannot result in mature thinking processes.”

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