Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures
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Noted science writer Virginia Morell explores the frontiers of research on animal cognition and emotion, offering a surprising and moving exploration into the hearts and minds of wild and domesticated animals.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a fish? Or a parrot, dolphin, or elephant? Do they experience thoughts that are similar to ours, or have feelings of grief and love? These are tough questions, but scientists are answering them. They know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, and that rats love to be tickled. They’ve discovered that dogs have thousand-word vocabularies, that parrots and dolphins have names, and that birds practice their songs in their sleep. But how do scientists know these things?
Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals from ants to wolves, and among the pioneering researchers who are leading the way into once-forbidden territory: the animal mind. With thirty years of experience covering the sciences, Morell uses her formidable gifts as a story-teller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to animal-cognition scientists and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects. She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do. She probes the moral and ethical dilemmas of recognizing that even “lesser animals” have cognitive abilities such as memory, feelings, personality, and self-awareness–traits that many in the twentieth century felt were unique to human beings.
By standing behaviorism on its head, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond, and she shares her admiration for the men and women who have simultaneously chipped away at what we think makes us distinctive while offering a glimpse of where our own abilities come from.
rise above the town, its five-story, cement-slab building backed up against the coniferous forest of Dog Mountain. Off to one side, secluded behind fences and trees, is the outdoor chimpanzee enclosure. Here, several metal towers, one fifty feet high, provide the chimpanzees the best views in Inuyama—and a spot for broadcasting their hoots of bravado. Only minutes after Matsuzawa greeted me in his office on an early January morning in 2009, our meeting was interrupted by a shouting chimpanzee.
something!” Range shouted to them. “Call to Tatonga!” “Tatonga! Tatonga!” they shouted back. Tatonga pricked her ears forward, wagged her tail, and ran forward to greet them. “She knows these girls very well,” Range said, as we continued on our walk. “You’d think she could just use her nose to smell them. We always hear so much about how dogs and wolves have such great noses. And then you see them do something like this. Sometimes even Guinness seems not to recognize me from a distance; then
easier to see what Franks called teaching. He chose a few clips of specific tandem runs and pointed out what the two ants were doing during their start-stop journeys. “See, the leader is walking very slowly. She won’t go forward until her pupil taps her on the leg and gaster with her antennae.” The leader, in this video, had a white dot on her gaster, while her student’s was marked with lipstick red. In my notes, I called them “TW” and “PR,” for Teacher White and Pupil Red. Franks explained that
key elements of true language: the ability to use abstract symbols, such as words, in an infinite variety of ways to communicate about the past, present, and future. In contrast, animal vocalizations seem to be solely about the present—this moment, now. They are also largely exclamatory: I want a mate! I see food! I see an enemy! This part of the neighborhood is mine! Keep out! And they are repetitive. As lovely as the robin’s springtime lilting song may be to our ears, he’s likely saying only:
recent years cognitive scientists have revealed that it is extremely difficult, requiring the imitator to form a mental image of the other person’s body and pose, then adjust his own body parts into the same position—actions that are thought to require mirror neuron cells. And, like recognizing one’s image in a mirror, the ability to imitate implies an awareness of one’s self, psychologists say. “Here’s Elele,” Herman said, showing a film of her following a trainer’s directions: “Surfboard,