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.
Did you know that ants teach, earthworms make decisions, rats love to be tickled, and chimps grieve? Did you know that some dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice songs in their sleep? That crows improvise tools, blue jays plan ahead, and moths remember living as caterpillars?
Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals, from ants to elephants to wolves, and from sharp-shooting archerfish to pods of dolphins that rumble like rival street gangs. With 30 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 pioneering animal-cognition researchers 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.
Our organ of thought may be superior, and we may play it better, but it is surely vain to believe that other possessors of similar instruments leave them quite untouched.
Animals have minds. They have brains, and use them, as we do: for experiencing the world, for thinking and feeling, and for solving the problems of life every creature faces. Like us, they have personalities, moods, and emotions; they laugh and they play. Some show grief and empathy and are self-aware and very likely conscious of their actions and intents.
Not so long ago, I would have hedged these statements, because the prevailing notion held that animals are more like zombies or robotic machines, capable of responding with only simple, reflexive behaviors. And indeed there are still researchers who insist that animals are moving through life like the half dead, but they're so . . . 1950s. They've been left behind as a flood of new research from biologists, animal ...
Animal Wise is a very interesting starting point for further investigations in the field of animal cognition and ecology, and the information it offers is essential for a new respectful and conscientious approach to our knowledge and relationship with our non-human brothers.
(Reviewed by Christian Tubau).
Full Review (597 words).
In Virginia Morell's Animal Wise, the reader learns many surprising things about a chimpanzee's skills. The book features one chimpanzee in Japan, Ayumu, who was has been extremely successful at sequence-memory tests. Ayumu lives with his mother Ai at the University of Kyoto's Primate Research Institute, headed by Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa. In a test, the chimpanzee was shown a randomly distributed sequence of numerals over milliseconds, a blink of an eye, on a touchscreen. Then the numbers were hidden behind white blocks and Ayumu was expected to remember the location of the numerals and touch the white blocks in the correct ascending order. As the video of the experiment below, shows, the quickness and precision of Ayumu's responses ...
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