Smart animals (Animals)

by dhw, Monday, September 19, 2016, 13:29 (304 days ago)

In yesterday's Sunday Times, there was a review of Frans de Waal's book ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE? - which David had already drawn attention to - and BEYOND WORDS What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina. Here are a few quotes from the review:

“…a feeling of triumphant relief, among many animal scientists, that the battle to dissolve the artificial dividing line that has long been drawn between humans and other animals over questions of thinking and feeling might now, definitively, have been won. We are different in degree, goes the new consensus, not in kind.”

“Only this month, a study in Russia announced that dolphins' clicks operate as a language….hundreds of different click sounds were already recognised…”

“A wolf jumps a fence, and then digs back in to release his comrades. A killer-whale mother pushes her calf onto a gently sloping beach, thus safely teaching it how to wriggle back into the sea. A herd of elephants frantically vocalises when played a record of a deceased mother's call. (The daughter continued to respond for days; the dismayed researchers never tried the experiment again.)”

“…it forces you to think about animals in a new way, demonstrating vividly how they have feelings, complex social relationships, personalities - how they are not “just like us”, but not alien either. As Safina puts it (cheesily), “beneath the skin, kin”.

“Behaviourists, in particular, insisted that animals were creatures of instinct or conditioned responses without significant mental or emotional lives. They invented categories of human uniqueness such as toolmaking, self-awareness or “theory of mind”…De Waal demolishes the pedestal on which we have placed humanity.”

“Self-awareness? Elephants will take advantage of a mirror to inspect inside their own mouths…Empathy? A chimpanzee offered a range of tools will choose the one that works best for another chimp who cannot reach offered food. Planning? The evening whooping calls of Sumatran orang-utans as they go to bed in their high nests predict their direction of travel the next day. They are agreeing a route.”

“But some readers, particularly those that live with animals, may feel that science is catching up with what was long obvious. Emotions, intentions, empathy and consciousness are not exclusive to humanity. What took you so long?”

My comment: It remains a source of amazement to me that anyone can believe that emotions, intentions, empathy and consciousness began with humans. How could communities of animals, birds, insects have survived without cooperating, without nurturing their young, without relationships, without taking decisions to cope with their environment, without actually knowing what they were doing? You would have to believe they were all automatons that had somehow been preprogrammed, and only humans suddenly came on the scene with minds of their own. Human hubris - and with all the tragic consequences associated with the term.


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