Inside the Animal Mind [Secure]
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by George Page
Description: In the past, scientists have refused to acknowledge that animals have anything like human intelligence, but a growing body of research reaveals otherwise. We've discovered ants that use leaves as tools to cross bodies of water, woodpecker finches that hold twigs in their beaks to dig for grubs, and bonobo apes that can use sticks to knock down fruit or pole-vault over water. Not only do animals use tools, some also display an ability to learn and problem-solve. Based on the latest scientific and anectodal evedence culled from animal experts in the labs and the field, Inside the Animal Mind is an engrossing look at animal intelligence, cognitive ability, problem solving, and emotion. George Page, originator and host of the long-running PBS series "Nature," offers us an informed, entertaining, and humanistic investigation of the minds of predators and scavengers, birds and primates, rodents and other species. Illustrated with twenty-four black-and white photographs, the book is the companion to the three-part, hour-long show of the same name, hosted by Page.
eBook Publisher: Random House, Inc./Broadway, 2001
Filament eBookStore Release Date: June 2002
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [974 KB]
Reading time: 428-600 min.
All formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
GEOGRAPHIC RESTRICTIONS: Available to customers in: US What's this
As the executive editor, host, and narrator of the Nature series on public television, I have spent many wonderful hours and days observing animals in the wild. A quick count puts me in about twenty countries on exactly five continents over almost two decades. Like many travelers, I found East Africa the most compelling landscape on earth. There is no place like the Masai Mara for getting a real sense of the extremely clever behavior and complex lives of the elephants, lions, leopards, hyenas, wildebeest, monkeys, wild dogs, and many more -- the whole rich panoply. Back home in our suburban home north of New York City, I have spent hundreds of equally enjoyable hours in the company of my three dogs and one cat. And like everyone who's ever loved a pet, observed a stalking lioness, watched a bird fly hither and yon in search of just the right nesting material, or held the gaze of a chimpanzee, I've often wondered, "Are these creatures 'thinking' all the while? Without language as we know it, how are they thinking"?
For almost 100 years, the behaviorist tradition of psychology in the United States and Europe has argued that these animals have no "minds" at all, in fact. This tradition argues that any belief to the contrary is "folk psychology" -- blatant anthropomorphism, whereby we ascribe human characteristics to animals (or even to inanimate objects). Since we cannot get inside the animal's mind as we can get inside our own minds, and since the animal cannot report what's going on -- not in a "language" we can readily understand -- all we have left are guesses and speculation fatally tainted by anthropomorphism, with no provable facts. But does this reductive hypothesis make any sense outside the laboratory? After all, there is no way to prove conclusively what is going on in another human's mind -- no way to prove conclusively that another human is conscious. Can it possibly be true that I am the only conscious creature on this planet? Not likely!
What are animals feeling? Homer said that Ulysses' dog Argos recognized his master after an absence of twenty years. The Odyssey is a fable, of course, but we can readily imagine that a dog could have such a keen memory of his master. Indeed, our modern-day pets behave in ways that we feel compelled to interpret in terms of our own emotions. And in the wild, elephants certainly seem to demonstrate sadness, even depression, at appropriate turning points in their lives, as well as behavior that appears to be pure joy. Are the dog and the elephant feeling what we would feel in similar situations? If we could exchange emotional experiences with either animal, would we feel right at home? Again, the behaviorist tradition scoffs at the very notion.
One final question: What difference does it make? Well, what difference does it make how far it is to the end of the universe? Or if there is an "end" to the universe? What difference does it make if quarks are the building blocks of the universe, or if there exist entities even tinier and more fundamental? We humans are curious as cats; we want to know. Just as important, our ideas about animal minds and emotions influence far-reaching questions of ethics and politics. If we believe or, better yet, determine that animals think consciously and possess the full range of "human" emotions -- if their pain is therefore also "suffering" --on what ethical grounds do we support, for just one example, the marine theme parks, whose performing cetaceans are, in the final analysis, enslaved in what are to them puddles? We become hard-pressed to condone animal experimentation, and a growing number of people may decide that they cannot justify eating meat. On the other hand, some ethicists fear that not maintaining a distinction between ourselves and all other animals, including the porpoises and great apes, might set us on a slippery slope that could lead to all manner of abuses of human beings -- the same abuses we now put upon these other creatures on the grounds that they are fundamentally different from us. I do not share this fear.
Personally, I very much like the idea that my kinship with the other living creatures of the earth might be much greater than our cultural and scientific heritage has led us to believe. I am comfortable with the fact that, like them, I am an animal and that many of the characteristics that I have so often tossed off as being "just a part of human nature" may, in fact, be aspects of our shared animal natures.
Or as Cynthia Moss, who has studied elephants in East Africa for more than thirty years, put it better: "We are just part of a continuum of species. It isn't just animals and man, I think that is becoming clear. We are just another much more intelligent and masterful animal, but we are all part of this earth."
So questions about animal minds are not merely fascinating. The answers matter.
And I think they matter in terms of the ancient quest for our own identity. How else can we define the human animal without knowing how we are alike and how we are different from other animals? If this is true, does it not follow that we have a profound, even primordial, need for our fellow creatures, a need that is as old as our first appearance on the earth?
I first began pondering these issues fifteen years ago when we produced a lengthy series on the human brain for public television. This organ is, as far as we know, the single most complex entity in the universe -- a remarkable and perhaps underappreciated fact, but no more remarkable than the fact that the other mammals, all the way "down" to the smallest shrew that lives its entire life underground, have brains of similar structure to our own. Primate brains are practically identical to ours. Only a very few genes may determine the cognitive differences between chimpanzees and ourselves. Common sense and rudimentary logic would seem to suggest that, yes, these animals are thinking and feeling and perceiving the world in some manner that's related to our own. But can we prove it?
As the years rolled by and the crew of the Nature series traveled the world, collecting film of an astonishing array of animal behavior, my pile of questions mounted higher and higher. Then, three years ago, we began working on the three-part Nature series to which this book is the companion, addressing directly the issues of animal thinking, animal emotions, and animal consciousness. I became somewhat more systematic in my own "studies" and quickly learned that the subject is even more complex than I had imagined, both as it's researched in the laboratory and the field, and theorized about in the ivory tower. In the past decade there has been an explosion of scientific, philosophical, and even quasitheological papers and books exploring various aspects of the problem. In fact, Donald Griffin, the founder of the new specialty of cognitive ethnology, told me in his office at Harvard as he handed over his personal, ever-growing bibliography, "It's hard for me to keep an up-to-date list of the material, much less to read it all."
The television series is divided into three one-hour parts: "Thinking," "Emotion," and "Consciousness." That division is arbitrary, of course, but it makes good sense as a way to put some order on this wide-ranging, complex field. I begin this companion volume with three short chapters that set the stage for the story, historically and thematically, and then I roughly follow the tripartite division of the series. At all times I try to walk the narrow line between making the complex themes and scientific research clear and accessible, but without oversimplifying. I will succeed if this book can generate just a fraction of the excitement I feel for what we are learning about the minds of our fellow creatures on planet earth.
Copyright © 1999 by George Page and the Educational Broadcasting Corporation