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.
Wilson (New York: Norton, 2006), 760. Further Reading Berg, Karl S., Soraya Delgado, Kathryn A. Cortopassi, Steven R. Beissinger, and Jack W. Bradbury. “Vertical Transmission of Learned Signatures in a Wild Parrot.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, July 13, 2011, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0932. Bradshaw, G. A. Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Braithwaite, Victoria. Do Fish Feel Pain? Oxford: Oxford University Press,
jerking his head back and laughing as he wiped away the water. “A good shot.” Thomas Schlegel, who was completing his doctorate, didn’t approach the tank. He’d been dodging water bullets for four years and was tired of being a target. “They shoot us in the eyes and nose all the time,” he said. “It can be irritating after the thirtieth time in one day. But you should try it,” he urged. I stepped to the tank’s edge, leaned in, and concentrated on keeping my eyes open. Which fish would be the
their prey with a blast about ten times stronger” than the force the animal uses to stay stuck to a branch. The most demanding—and cognitively challenging—task for the archerfish comes after it has hit its prey. At that point, the fish must figure out where the prey will land and how fast it must swim to grab it—calculations the fish must also learn how to make. The fish doesn’t do this by tracking the arc of its prey (which is what baseball players do when figuring out where to catch a fly
play are based on trust and require cooperation, it may be that the most play-experienced rats are also the best at sex. Panksepp likes to say that his joyful rats may not have a “sense of humor, but they sure do have a sense of fun”—a trait far removed from any machine. “That was a tall tale, a twentieth-century myth,” Panksepp said about the animal-as-machine model. While there are scientists, particularly in his field, he added, who still believe that “emotional feelings are special
neither the money nor the resources to answer their questions, but both vowed to return. SMOLKER MADE IT BACK FIRST, arriving in 1984 with a small grant to begin a study of dolphin communication and social relationships. Connor returned two years after that with a grant of his own to explore the male dolphins’ relationships for his doctoral thesis. “The males’ alliances are what you can most easily observe and quantify about dolphin behavior,” Connor said. “They are the key to almost