Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Info

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Reviews for Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?:

3

Jun 05, 2018

The answer is no - we are no where near smart enough to figure out how smart animals are. Having escaped the Dark Ages in which animals were mere stimulus-response machines, we are free to contemplate their mental lives. The prevailing theory used to be that animals are all instinct-driven, mute and empty-headed - but that couldn't be further from the truth.

While it is true that animals are influenced by their instincts. For example: One can train dolphins to jump synchronously because they The answer is no - we are no where near smart enough to figure out how smart animals are. Having escaped the Dark Ages in which animals were mere stimulus-response machines, we are free to contemplate their mental lives. The prevailing theory used to be that animals are all instinct-driven, mute and empty-headed - but that couldn't be further from the truth.

While it is true that animals are influenced by their instincts. For example: One can train dolphins to jump synchronously because they do so in the wild, and one can teach horses to run together at the same pace because wild horses do the same. But mere instincts cannot explain the overwhelming evidence for cognition.

Frans de Waal uses both scientific articles and anecdotes to show what researchers (and the general public) used to think about animals' thoughts and how that's changed over the years.

From what I gathered while reading this novel - we only think animals are dumb because we are absolutely horrible at testing them.

So many times, animals have "failed" a test (thus placing them in a lower intelligence bracket) because humans aren't testing either the right way, the right thing or used an inherently unfair method.

Testing the Right Way

For the longest time, scientists thought that elephants were among the few species that couldn't recognize their own faces.

Their experiments consisted putting a mark (with a washable dye) on the animal's body then showing that animal a mirror. If the animal became interested in the dot, that indicated that they recognized their own faces.

Monkeys and apes and so many other species could do this - but not elephants.

In reality, the scientists just didn't account for the size factor - they were using mirrors only large enough to show the elephants their feet or part of their face.

Once that was rectified, the elephants were fascinated by the mirrors - going so far as to stand on their rear legs and lean against the mirrors (much to their keeper's dismay!)

Testing for the right thing

Researchers tested primates on facial recognition skills and found that they were inherently poor at distinguishing subjects.

However, the scientists were testing the primates on their ability to distinguish humans. When they later tested the primates on recognition of other primates, they excelled. Much like humans, the primates were far better at telling apart their own species than another.

Using inherently unfair comparisons

Waals points out that so many studies focus on what makes humans so different from other animals and yet many of the comparisons are inherently unfair. Would anyone test the memory of human children by throwing them into a swimming pool to see if they remember where to get out? And yet that is a routine test for rat memory.

Overall, this book did not disappoint. It was a bit dry at times and did feel a smidge repetitive but I did enjoy my time reading it - and I came away feeling like I learned a ton!

Audiobook Comments
Read by Sean Runnette. I'm a bit torn about the narration - while it was rather well-done considering that the material may be considered dry by some. However, I noticed that the reader had a faint...not quite a lisp but the way he pronounced certain words kept taking me out of the story.

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Snapchat @miranda.reads

Happy Reading! ...more
3

Nov 09, 2016

I cannot give this book less than three stars because it contains lots of totally fascinating information about animals - the greater and lesser apes, whales, octopus, fish, birds and elephants for example. The author is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior at the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia, and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Primate social behavior I cannot give this book less than three stars because it contains lots of totally fascinating information about animals - the greater and lesser apes, whales, octopus, fish, birds and elephants for example. The author is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. He is the Charles Howard Candler professor of Primate Behavior at the Emory University psychology department in Atlanta, Georgia, and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Primate social behavior is his central focus but this book goes beyond primates. The latest research about the abilities of animals and animal cognition is exciting. Our knowledge concerning the science of animal cognition, self-awareness, understanding, cooperation, inequity aversion, conformism and empathy has progressed far from the early days of behaviorism. The book starts with a review of the history of the science.

Nevertheless, I did have problems with this book. I found it poorly organized. I would have appreciated clearer chapter titles so you knew what the coming chapter would contain. The chapters had diffuse titles such as Cognitive Ripples, Know What You Know, Talk To Me. The same experiments are mentioned several times with additional information added the second time around. Neither was there organization in terms of the species covered; one gets a smattering of species in each chapter. Quite simply the book was put together in a messy fashion. The author has a central message, namely that experiments must be designed to fit the animals being tested and that we must stop overestimating human cognition and underestimating other species' cognition. These became the author's mantras. I don't disagree with what he is saying but the preachiness with which the messages were delivered became annoying. The book is said to be written for the layman. One minute he addresses his readers as if we were children. Soon after the lines read as academic bickering. The author comes across as “thinking he knows all” and negatively viewing others. The tone is negative, which gets tiring. The result? You have to wade through a lot to get to the fascinating ground information.

One more complaint – in comparison to the books listed below, the presentation of the experiments in de Waal’s book does not let readers get close to the animals. You do in the books listed below. Too often in de Waal’s book we are told what particular experiments prove, rather than letting readers judge for themselves.

So yes, I do have a bunch of complaints with the way the book is organized, its tone and manner of presenting the data. The information presented is nevertheless thorough and fascinating.

I spoke of the author’s negative tone. This is further enhanced by the audiook narration performed by Sean Runnette. The words are clear but the tone is one of sad despondency.

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Related books which could be of interest:
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (4 stars)
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds (4 stars)
Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl (5 stars)
Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process (3 stars) (I mention the book on Alex only because it is covered in de Waal's book. I didn’t love it.)
The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter than You Think (4 stars)
Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story ( 3 stars) ...more
4

May 28, 2016

Instead of making humanity the measure of all things, we need to evaluate other species by what they are.

The field of animal cognition needs to take a lesson from the field of human educationthe multiple intelligence model. Not every student will be good at every part of the curriculum, but its a rare person who isnt talented at anything! Physical talent in sports or a love and understanding of nature count as kinds of intelligence, acknowledging that the academic subjects are not necessarily Instead of making humanity the measure of all things, we need to evaluate other species by what they are.

The field of animal cognition needs to take a lesson from the field of human education—the multiple intelligence model. Not every student will be good at every part of the curriculum, but it’s a rare person who isn’t talented at anything! Physical talent in sports or a love and understanding of nature count as kinds of intelligence, acknowledging that the academic subjects are not necessarily the be all and end all.

De Waal writes clearly and engagingly about the history of the study of animal intelligence, pointing out the many prejudices that humans bring to this endeavour. Human subjects are tested by a member of their own species and in surroundings that they are comfortable in. Animal subjects are being tested by a member of another species (whom they are not necessarily interested in) and in a captive setting that adds to the stress of the situation. Ask any university student about the stress of exams and they will tell you that it is not an ideal way to take tests.

He points out that these studies are hampered by the human tendency to try to set ourselves outside the animal world, to set a barrier between us and the rest of nature. He also discusses our relationship with the apes, especially our close link to the two chimpanzee species. Being very hierarchically focused, like chimps are, we spend a lot of time trying to set ourselves at the top of our perceived hierarchy of nature. We truly need to let go of this need to be superior and to evaluate other species according to their own talents.

When I was a volunteer nature educator, I was often asked about animals, “How smart are they?” I guess people were hoping to feel superior to other species. My answer was always, “Just as smart as they need to be to survive.” Each species is adapted to its own environmental niche and is expert at living there.

I would recommend Mr. de Waal’s books to anyone interested in animal cognition or in ape studies in general.
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4

Apr 30, 2019

The book is about clever experiments conducted to show that primates, crows, elephants, etc. possess a sense of the future and the past, that they can a plan for the future, and that they unequivocally make tools. Moreover the experiments discussed here demonstrate that animals have a sense of compassion, altruism and reciprocity just like us (at our best). All of the experiments with primates are interesting, but the ones with caching birds, like Jayswho inhibit immediate gratification for the The book is about clever experiments conducted to show that primates, crows, elephants, etc. possess a sense of the future and the past, that they can a plan for the future, and that they unequivocally make tools. Moreover the experiments discussed here demonstrate that animals have a sense of compassion, altruism and reciprocity just like us (at our best). All of the experiments with primates are interesting, but the ones with caching birds, like Jays—who inhibit immediate gratification for the sake of future need—and the ones that proved Ravens know each others’ voices and have a hierarchical status system, I found especially intriguing. Then there’s Irene M. Pepperberg’s Alex, the Gray Parrot, who can verbally respond to addition and subtraction tasks done in his head. The studies about animal metacognition—thinking about thinking—are gobsmacking. Mainly the author’s targets here are the many psychologists, philosophers and other experts who argue that only humans are endowed with such imaginative and creative capacities. I liked that the author, who’s worked with primates for 30 years, has an acerbic view of humans that seems entirely missing in his discussion of primates. See note, page 219. All my highlights and notes give a peek at the content of this brilliant book. ...more
5

Sep 06, 2017

Well, some people are smart enough to know how smart animals are--but some people are not. It depends on whether experimenters can put themselves into the frame of the animal they are studying. Testing an animal in the same way as one might test a human just doesn't cut it. And this is the main theme of the book; that researchers must test animals in accordance with their biology and move away from human-centric approaches.

Frans de Waal has written a fabulous book about researching the Well, some people are smart enough to know how smart animals are--but some people are not. It depends on whether experimenters can put themselves into the frame of the animal they are studying. Testing an animal in the same way as one might test a human just doesn't cut it. And this is the main theme of the book; that researchers must test animals in accordance with their biology and move away from human-centric approaches.

Frans de Waal has written a fabulous book about researching the intelligence of animals. De Waal is a zoologist whose specialty is primates, and he has been studying them for many years. He is very well qualified to write this book, not just about primates, but about many types of animals.

So many researchers are quick to point out the differences between humans and animals. De Waal came up with a metaphor for this approach--that of an iceberg. The vast underwater part of an iceberg represents the enormous similarities between humans and primates, while the above-water tip represents the differences. Many researchers look exclusively at the differences, while not even trying to notice the similarities. They are continually trying to answer the question, "Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the smartest of them all?", but this in de Waal's opinion, this is just a waste of time.

People can even be intimidated by animals. There is a story about the ape house in a British zoo, where the chimpanzees were trained to have a genteel tea party. The chimps had excellent manners and correctly imitated a polite-society tea party. But, human spectators were intimidated and complained, and even ignored the spectacle. So, the zookeepers retrained the apes to have a naughty tea party, spitting and throwing tea around and causing havoc--and the human spectators loved it!

There is an Aesops fable about a crow and a pitcher. The water level in the pitcher is too low for the crow's beak to reach it, so the crow drops small pebbles into the pitcher, in order to elevate the water level to the point where it is drinkable. And ... yes, you guessed it. This behavior has been replicated in a laboratory! Even though crows do not have a language--at least, not at any level of sophistication even approaching that of humans--crows can think. An animal does not require language in order to think. And actually, neither do humans need a language in order to think.

This book is chock full of examples of animals that have thinking capabilities that are truly astonishing. For example, there is a bird named Alex that could respond to questions about objects, defining how they are different, their material composition--and not by rote, as they were new, unfamiliar objects, and in the absence of the experimenter. And, Alex could count and do addition. An experimenter would hide objects under three shells. He would lift up the first shell revealing the objects, then cover them up and lift up the second shell, and so on. Then, Alex would speak the number of objects he saw in total! A crow named Betty could bend straight wires into a hook in order to retrieve food from a tube; the first evidence of a non-primate making a tool.

Apes can have sudden insights for solving problems, they are capable of inferential reasoning, like understanding the meaning of the absence of something. They are capable of deception. And when it comes to tools; some apes have been observed to carry around a toolkit consisting of five pieces of sticks of various shapes, each of which is necessary to be used in sequence to retrieve honey. Apes can spontaneously learn to brush their teeth, ride bicycles, light fires, drive golf carts, eat with a knife and fork, peel potatoes, and mop the floor. Apes that are reared with humans learn best how to imitate humans. They can imitate better than young children, because they can selectively imitate actions that have favorable consequences, ignoring actions that are unfavorable.

Apes are capable of deception, as has been shown in a multitude of experiments. For example, orangutans are excellent escape artists. They slowly dismantle their cages over a period of many days. They keep the loosened screws in place or hidden, in order to fool the humans until they are ready to make their break for freedom.

Many experiments with chimpanzees fail to result in meaningful conclusions. Often experimenters try to understand the "Theory of Mind" of chimpanzees, that is, to understand how they see humans. But this often fails because chimpanzees think of humans as omniscient.

There are so many other examples of animal cognition. There are elephants who can tell human languages apart, as well as the gender and age of human speakers. A female orangutan used a lettuce leaf like a hat, using a mirror to aid in decorating herself. Octopuses seem to play with new, unfamiliar objects. Dolphins are capable of metacognition, that is, to think about thinking. And, dolphins have unique vocal signatures, which they use like names to call one another.

Then there is the experiment that involved teaching a chimpanzee to recognize numbers written on a computer screen. He would be shown nine single-digit numbers for just a fifth of a second, after which he would press the keys in the proper order that he saw for just that split-second. The crazy thing is that humans are only capable of remembering five such numbers in similar experiments, even after training!

The point of the book is to show that you simply cannot call one animal species smarter or dumber than another, or smarter or dumber than humans on the basis of individual capabilities. Each animal species has different abilities, many of which exceed that of humans. De Waal also blasts away at the behaviorists, who maintain that what an animal thinks, that is to say, the internal state of animal, is totally irrelevant. The only thing that matters, so they say, is external stimuli and conditioned behavior. De Waal shows over and over again, the backwardness of this attitude, and the incorrect conclusions that they reach concerning animal behavior.

This book provides a wonderful perspective on animal behavior. The distinctions between animals and humans are not so strong as we would like to believe.
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2

Nov 28, 2017

I'm going to skip this one. Tried for a few weeks to get through it. Interesting. Two stars means it was OK. But did not rock my boat. If it's meant for plebs like me, then write it in a language I would understand.

I guess it's meant for a different audience. A great scientific exercise.
3

Jun 13, 2017

Sometimes it can be hard to review a book for what it is instead of for what you wanted it to be. This is probably most true of fiction, but science books also vary in the level of depth to which they explore their topic. It can be tough as a reader to judge what audience the author is after, and that can lead to some discrepancy in the technicality of the reading material than expected.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? was a book that delved far more in-depth into the field of Sometimes it can be hard to review a book for what it is instead of for what you wanted it to be. This is probably most true of fiction, but science books also vary in the level of depth to which they explore their topic. It can be tough as a reader to judge what audience the author is after, and that can lead to some discrepancy in the technicality of the reading material than expected.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? was a book that delved far more in-depth into the field of animal cognition than I had expected. I wasn't really in the mood for the scientific rigour presented here--school being demanding enough--but was able to appreciate the book nonetheless. de Waal presents this book as a series of experiments that serve as counterpoints to those who suggest that animals are incapable of emotion, cognition, planning, etc. He also spends a great deal of time with the historical precedents for the field's current way of thinking.

It works as a sort-of bird's eye view of the field of animal cognition. Your mileage will vary depending on how much this sort of thing interests you. Have you ever wondered about what your cat is thinking as you type away at your reviews or cozy up for an extended read? Well, you're less likely to be satisfied by the type of experiments herein. It's more like, I wonder how the mating patterns of meadow voles speaks to how animals view monogamy? Having a bit of a background in behavioural neuroscience, some of this was stimulating and familiar, while other bits didn't do much for me.

I also decided to give this one a shot in audio, and the narrator does a perfectly passable job. There's no flair or enthusiasm, but it does make for a straightforward relation of facts. I also decided to read this as a counterpoint to an audiobook I read and reviewed earlier this year, The Hidden Life of Trees . On a personal level, I was more engaged with the animal than the plant. de Waal does a good job of convincing the reader to lay down their species-perceived superiority in favour of a more empathetic view of animal cognition.

So, I'm definitely not sorry I listened to this book. However, I wish I'd gone for something a bit lighter that relied less on a series of experimental descriptions. As it stands, this is a book that psychology majors and the lay public should enjoy. It provides as concrete science as possible in the field of psychology and doesn't make sensational extrapolation from the available data. If you're looking to broaden your understanding of the field of animal cognition, I can think of no better primer! ...more
4

Oct 07, 2017

For awhile Woodland Park Zoo (in my hometown) was in the midst of creating outdoor environments for most of its animals where they could run and hide through tall grasses and shrubbery, climb trees, jump on rocks, or swim in ponds, or swing on tires. With every visit I saw fewer and fewer animals lived in small cement cages. I had bought an annual pass which entitled me to go to the zoo whenever as often as I liked. I worked near the zoo.

I used to go to the gorilla display at the Zoo during my For awhile Woodland Park Zoo (in my hometown) was in the midst of creating outdoor environments for most of its animals where they could run and hide through tall grasses and shrubbery, climb trees, jump on rocks, or swim in ponds, or swing on tires. With every visit I saw fewer and fewer animals lived in small cement cages. I had bought an annual pass which entitled me to go to the zoo whenever as often as I liked. I worked near the zoo.

I used to go to the gorilla display at the Zoo during my lunch hour on occasion. There was one gorilla who seemed to enjoy sitting near the window which separated us humans from its outdoor compound. I saw it come closer to the window whenever children were among the crowd of observers, looking to interact with some excited child. Since there was a solid glass pane between us and the gorilla, it had to be something beyond food that interested the gorilla to want to play with the children. Whenever I stopped there, that gorilla looked at me. Really, truly looked at me. I knew it was conscious, curious, interested - intelligent.

I often saw my cat watching me, especially when I did something unusual (like trip over my feet), eyes bright with curiosity, or sometimes boredom, or disgust, and sometimes he seemingly was wondering ‘what the heck.’ Yes, he really did seem to have a variety of expressions from the age of two which mirrored human emotions appropriately when I did stuff. No, it wasn’t about a food reward or a coat brushing or an upcoming dreaded bath (he had a set of very unmistakable reactions that were different on those occasions). Outside the house, I noticed his face set into a mask of inscrutability; however, inside my house, he was physically and facially expressive, friendly and talkative (and abusive). While it was obvious his skillset of expressions was based on a small set of black and white emotions, one of them was clearly amusement, especially when it was at my expense. Sometimes I know he was feeling schadenfreude! Bastard. Really. He was a bastard (unknown parentage). 😃

Cats.

It is beyond me why so many scientists for hundreds of years have denied animals have cognition, memory, or planning skills. At least some scientists today are finally agreeing with us ordinary folk that many animals have brains which are active with emotions and thought, motivated by learning and feeling, much the same as us even if not for the same causes or interests. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine (MRI) has allowed scientists to see that when dogs see their owners, for instance, they have brain structures that activate similar to the locations in human brains which light up with pleasure. (Cats won't sit still in MRI machines. Frankly, I can't wait until someone comes up with a machine to see cat brains in action...)

Fortunately, many scientists have lately taken on the task to observe, document and correlate actions of many animals to thinking, memory, planning and pleasure with experiments acceptable to most of the current scientific establishment. Frans de Waal’s book ‘Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?' describes many of these experiments, observations and, to me, proofs many animals are intelligent, albeit an intelligence dependent on the physiognomy of their bodies and on the things needed for their survival in their accustomed environment.

De Waal believes experiments are often designed from the human environmental paradigm, or Umwelt, which gives results when interpreted that show a lack of ability or a lack of certain high-level aptitudes, skills and brain function. However, designing the test appropriate to an animal's life and body shows remarkably different and actual high-level cognition, even if it is a cognition only appropriate to the animal's needs when in an environment it understands.

From page 13:

""The credo of experimental science remains that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If we fail to find a capacity in a given species, our first thought ought to be "Did we overlook something?" And the second should be "Did our test fit the species?""

The book is written in plain English describing how animals responded when tested appropriately using tests designed for their interests and abilities. Many animals hear sounds and see light and smell scents outside of our organic spectrum. Some of them have a completely different brain construction. Octopuses have a distributed brain, for example. Corvids, apes, elephants, dolphins, parrots, octopuses and many other animals can pass three-stage puzzles (using a variety of tools, such as a bunch of rocks and sticks in different lengths and shapes, combining the tools provided in a self-designed order to get a food tidbit, despite no training). Apes will make up a bag of their own tools, hidden and saved for when needed. Even sheep, who have a reputation of incredible stupidity, can recognize pictures of other individual sheep who look to us all alike! Holy cow... um, holy sheep!

Cognition should be interpreted from an animal's viewpoint of the issue. What we see as a problem might be nothing essential to their world, so maybe they don't care enough to solve it. Animal brains might work out a different resolution to a problem than we would set up, too. Plus, human bias can affect how scientists design tests. For example, in testing toddlers to compare with an ape's response: children might be held in their mother's lap in a comfortable playroom, while the ape is behind bars in a metal cage in a laboratory all alone, separated from other apes and separated from its natural environment.

The author does not only describe laboratory tests and recorded animal responses in this book. He tells about B. F. Skinner's (1904-1990) theory which until recently was the predominate one - that animals are simple mechanical robots with one computer program running on a loop - a stripped-down version of the human one. Mixed into lab examples refuting Skinner's theories are stories about actual observed behavior in zoos, aquariums, owner's homes (parrots and corvids) and in the wild.

The stories are very amusing, amazing, and interesting. I have always known animals are smart, especially when in their own backyards so to speak, but their brainy capacities are demonstratively far more than what I knew. The chapters are organized to describe associated proofs of certain animal capabilities and which highlight the part of brain cognition which is being explored.

The author is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University's Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. The book has extensive Notes and Bibliography sections and an Index.



YouTube link to smart crow:

https://youtu.be/AVaITA7eBZE


YouTube Link to Alex, the grey parrot

https://youtu.be/p0E1Wny5kCk


Octopus escapes lidded jar:

https://youtu.be/AG6JebW63f4


YouTube link to smart apes:

https://youtu.be/KpSXNs460NI ...more
4

Sep 12, 2016

If you read only one book on animal cognition or cognitive ethology, make it this one. If you've read a bunch, as I have, read this anyway. There are some that are more interesting, or more focused, but this is the best current summary of the field, at least for a popular audience that I can find. It concisely provides history, anecdotes, references to other works and studies, a look at the future, and plenty of hard science.

I sincerely doubt I'll ever read another book published before this. As If you read only one book on animal cognition or cognitive ethology, make it this one. If you've read a bunch, as I have, read this anyway. There are some that are more interesting, or more focused, but this is the best current summary of the field, at least for a popular audience that I can find. It concisely provides history, anecdotes, references to other works and studies, a look at the future, and plenty of hard science.

I sincerely doubt I'll ever read another book published before this. As you probably know, I have enjoyed quite a few already, but the field is evolving, methodologies are being refined, younger (and more diverse) scientists have bravely thrown off the shackles of the behavorists and of the dogma of human vs. animal, and it's become time we think more about Darwin's understanding of comparative intelligence as one of degree, not kind.

Exemplar tidbits abound.

Think of Clever Hans – though it's true that the horse couldn't count, he certainly was smart enough to understand human body language. (It wasn't just his showman owner who could evoke the right number of hooftaps via cues too subtle for most audiences to see.)

“[M]ale but not female experimenters induce so much stress in mice that it affects their responses.... This means, of course, that mouse studies conducted by men may have different outcomes.... [M]ethodological details matter.”

Re' comparing children's abilities to those of apes: “Since experimenters are supposed to be bland and neutral, they do not engage in … niceties. This doesn't help make the ape feel at ease and identify with the experimenter. Children, however, are encouraged to do so. Moreover, only the children are interacting with a member of their own species....”

Examples like that make me admire apes even more, because I'm beginning to think of them as being able to get along in both ape and human social groups. Consider them to be bi-lingual, or bi-cultural....

Re' experiments in cooperation, recalling human psychological investigation into game theory and concepts of fairness—remember from school or other readings how most humans will react to a peer getting a bigger reward so resentfully that they'll sacrifice their own, smaller reward to take that bigger reward away from the other? Well, de Waal and Sarah Brosnan have done further similar studies on primates, and have seen that what is likely really going on is not resentment. Rather, it's a strategy towards cooperative equalization of outcomes. Apes have even been known to reject an unfair *larger* reward!

And re' how to measure physical evidence of a smarter brain (eg, larger doesn't make humans special, because whales and elephants, etc.); “Each octopus has nearly two thousand suckers, every single one equipped with its own ganglion of half a million neurons.... on top of a 65-million neuron brain. In addition, it has a chain of ganglia along its arms.... Instead of a single central command... more like the Internet.”

That makes me admire Montgomery's recent “The Soul of an Octopus” book even more.

Juvenile rhesus and stumptail monkeys were placed together for five months. “These macaques have strikingly different temperaments: rhesus are a quarrelsome, noncilatory bunch, whereas stumptails are laid-back and pacific.... After a long period of exposure, the rhesus monkeys developed peacemaking skills on a par with those of their more tolerant counterparts. Evn after separation from the stumptails, the rhesus showed nearly four times more friendly reunions following fights than is typical of their species. These new and improved rhesus monkeys confirmed the power of conformism.”

On that happy note, I'll stop giving you free samples of the book, and again encourage you to read it for yourself.

....
I just encountered a children's poem that reminded me of this book, by Aileen Fisher:

_*Little Talk*_

Don't you think it's probable
that beetles, bugs, and bees
talk about a lot of things-
you know, such things as these:

The kind of weather where they live
in jungles tall with grass
and earthquakes in their villages
whenever people pass!

Of course, we'll never know if bugs
talk very much at all,
because our ears are far too big
for talk that is so small. ...more
4

Feb 10, 2018

This is another one of my non-reviews -- more of a literary/emotional ramble than an actual critique.

Humans are arrogant. This much I know about us as a species, so to answer the question that the title of this book suggests, I would have to say, generally, we haven't a clue how smart animals are. We are just "dumb animals" too, after all, and there is some arrogance in even asking the question. Who is to say we are the better species for running this ole' planet of ours? Empirical evidence This is another one of my non-reviews -- more of a literary/emotional ramble than an actual critique.

Humans are arrogant. This much I know about us as a species, so to answer the question that the title of this book suggests, I would have to say, generally, we haven't a clue how smart animals are. We are just "dumb animals" too, after all, and there is some arrogance in even asking the question. Who is to say we are the better species for running this ole' planet of ours? Empirical evidence demonstrates quite the opposite in fact. Left to the "lions and tigers and bears" I wonder if we would be in quite the mess we are in, ecologically.

But this isn't meant to be a rant on ecology either.

Ethology ... the study of animal behaviour with emphasis on their behavioural patterns in the wild

This is a more common sense method of studying animal behaviour, albeit it is not a new science or approach, but one that is being adopted more frequently by thoughtful, observant, compassionate scientists. Approaching and studying animals on their own terms, in a manner of speaking; that is, looking at them them from what would most make sense to the animals in question, rather than imposing a set of constructs which we feel they should fit into. This sounds all rather silly, on the surface, to non-believers of the science -- much like it sounds silly to some of us that there are those who still believe the earth is only 6,000 years old and evolution is a dirty, stinking lie, or that we sprang from the head of Zeus, fully formed. In this case, we are not working with myths or fairy tales, but with science.

How do we approach it, then, from the animal's point of view. We begin with the following premise:

Each organism has its own ecology and lifestyle ... which dictates what it needs to know in order to make a living. There is not a single species that can stand model for all the others ... In the utilitarian view of biology, animals have the brains they need -- nothing more nothing less. Even within a species, the brain may change depending on how it is being used, such as the way song-related areas seasonally expand and contract in the songbird brain. Brains adapt to ecological requirements, as does cognition.

In an honest approach to understanding animal cognition, we must demonstrate respect for every living organism and acknowledgement of its capacity to deal with the world on its own terms. It is our own anthropocentric attitude which makes this science even necessary, however, since it baffles me that the question need be asked at all. Is it not simply easier to accept that a toad has its toad-like shape, form, and attitude for surviving in a toad's world; or that a squirrel is equipped with all the knowledge and wisdom it needs to survive as a squirrel?

I think many of us would be hard-pressed to survive as well as any deer in the forest, left to our own devices. Would we know how to forage and survive and thrive and raise a family if we didn't: have a job; have money to buy food we don't grow; have tools to dig the earth for the little we do grow; have tools, tools, tools for everything. Think about it. Think: someone drops you naked, in the middle of the forest, and says, may you flourish. How long would any of us survive? I'd give any of us a week. My money is on the deer.

Part of the irony of all this is that we measure animal cognition and evolutionary advancement by the fact that they can/cannot use tools. It seems to be anthropocentrism on steroids, in my view. They survive admirably without tools; and yet, our measure of their evolved intelligence and cognition is that they must use tools. Seems like backward thinking to me: one must use an implement to do what another does instinctually. We are the dumb ones, not they.

Having had my little tangent, I do admire Frans de Waal's approach to interpreting animal cognition. He, and scientists like him, are bringing us closer to inter-species understanding. When we finally acknowledge that all living things have a right to exist, it won't really matter how smart or how dumb we are.

This book has great value in opening the conversation for those who have no concept or belief in higher animal cognition. For those of us who are beyond that point in the conversation, it is a comfort to know that animal studies are being conducted with more compassion, generosity of spirit, and empathy, than ever before.

My one little quibble with it is that the writing runs a bit dry and only the most devoted to the science will read through to the end. A bit of colour never harmed the peacock if you want to attract some action. ...more
5

Jan 06, 2016

This book is famed primatologist Frans de Waal at his best. We get the insight into the animal kingdom, with an emphasis on apes and monkeys, that we've seen in books like The Bonobo and The Atheist, The Age of Empathy, and Our Inner Ape. In this book, De Waal takes a close look at various ways of trying to understand animal cognition and goes in-depth into such topics as problem solving, communication, self-awareness, and relationship to events past and present, i.e. memory and planning for the This book is famed primatologist Frans de Waal at his best. We get the insight into the animal kingdom, with an emphasis on apes and monkeys, that we've seen in books like The Bonobo and The Atheist, The Age of Empathy, and Our Inner Ape. In this book, De Waal takes a close look at various ways of trying to understand animal cognition and goes in-depth into such topics as problem solving, communication, self-awareness, and relationship to events past and present, i.e. memory and planning for the future. The author manages to communicate in a way that the lay scientist can easily grasp while also making clear philosophical or scientific objections to various points of view and making all of it flow like a conversation.

One of the key points in Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, of course, is our own relationship to animal cognition. We are closely related to many of the species that are most commonly studied, chimpanzees and bonobos, for example. De Waal raises many questions but my favorite is probably the potential - and frequently the actuality - for human bias. Are we secure enough in ourselves as a species to acknowledge similarities with our animal relatives? And how unbiased are the tests that we use to compare animal and human cognition? Communication testing that is administered by a human to both a human infant and a primate is probably tilted in favor of humans, since the primate will not see one of his own kind while the human infant does.

Perhaps most importantly, De Waal points out that these creatures that we're testing for cognitive ability have arrived where they are via evolutionary pathways that vary greatly from our own so that how they reflect their own cognitive abilities often differs greatly from what we expect from ourselves. In order to more fully understand the cognitive abilities of our animal friends, we must be able to shed the human bias that expects them to have the same abilities as we do. Communicating that is one of the great strengths of this book. ...more
5

Sep 03, 2019

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Of course we aren't! :)
5

Nov 10, 2019

~ My Thoughts ~
I loved this book. In my undergraduate degree, I only had space for a few electives, and one of the classes I took was Primate Behaviour. In this course, we were required to read two Franz de Waal books: Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape. Usually when Im forced to read something, I dont enjoy it--whether its because I dont have the time to enjoy it or because Im contrary that way is besides the point. My point is that I genuinely loved these books, so much that Im continuing ~ My Thoughts ~
I loved this book. In my undergraduate degree, I only had space for a few electives, and one of the classes I took was “Primate Behaviour”. In this course, we were required to read two Franz de Waal books: Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape. Usually when I’m “forced” to read something, I don’t enjoy it--whether it’s because I don’t have the time to enjoy it or because I’m contrary that way is besides the point. My point is that I genuinely loved these books, so much that I’m continuing to read de Waal’s publications even after university.

One thing I love about de Waal’s books is that they’re so accessible to the general public, but not at the sacrifice of accuracy or including information about scientific process. He talks about things in layman’s terms, making them fun and engaging, all the while teaching the reader a ton of information on the topic.  As you may already know, I’m a librarian, and I do a lot of instruction in my job. In the ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework, one of the frames is “Scholarship as Conversation”. I doubt it’s even intentional in de Waal’s books, but the way he effortlessly talks about other researchers’ work and discoveries, how they contributed to general knowledge, how he himself has built off previous studies does a great job of showing how this conversation goes on in his field, and in science in general.

As for the contents of this book, I’ve learned so many things that I can use in casual conversation (though it depends on who you’re talking to). Anytime I see a crow I tell anyone who'll listen about how they recognize human faces and hold grudges for generations.  

 



I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in animal behaviour (not just apes in this book, but a variety of species), and to those who want to crack into reading nonfiction science books but aren’t sure of where to start.



This review appeared first on https://powerlibrarian.wordpress.com/

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5

Jan 11, 2017

Wow. Frans de Waals Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is a breath of fresh air. It is a refreshing, insightful science book that both enlightens and entertains. In fact, Id call it the most interesting science book Ive read since Godel, Escher, Bach.

If youve ever had a dog or a cat, you know they have insides. They think. They relate. And they have distinct personalities. And to see any dog looking at their master, waiting for a command that seems love and respect personified. Wow. Frans de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is a breath of fresh air. It is a refreshing, insightful science book that both enlightens and entertains. In fact, I’d call it the most interesting science book I’ve read since Godel, Escher, Bach.

If you’ve ever had a dog or a cat, you know they have “insides.” They think. They relate. And they have distinct personalities. And to see any dog looking at their master, waiting for a command… that seems love and respect personified. Problem is, university professors, even today, teach that animals had no insides. They are stimulus/ response machines. So that dog’s puppy-eyes reveal neither kindness nor affection for the owner. Instead, it was a learned response, since the master rewards a dog with a pat or food for that look.

That behaviorist perspective never sat well with me.

Nor, it seems, did cognitive biologist Frans de Waal agree. In fact, he debunks the behaviorist position over the book's 300 plus pages.

This warm, humane and often funny book introduces the general reader to the science of ethology, or the study of animal behavior. Unlike the approaches students learn in psychology, where creepy, emotionless dudes in labcoats starve and shock rats, ethology honors their subjects. De Waal often repeats the advice of an early mentor: a prerequisite to understanding animals -- especially arthropods like monkeys and chimps -- is a fondness for them.

De Waal implies you need heart to do good behavioral science. Which is refreshing.

Philosophy aside, Are We Smart Enough is a wide-ranging book. It covers a broad spectrum of animal behavior. From mimicry in octopuses to the political jockeying for position typical of chimps. From the emotional intelligence of dogs, who fail intelligence measures like the mirror test, to the brilliance of dolphin hearing. From crows near a campus cawing warnings about a professor who, pursuing a line of research, captured chicks to raise -- picking one person from thousands -- to elephants solving problems and using tools.

Most interesting to me was seeing the lengths other scientists, mostly psychologist, go through to ensure that humans come out as “the best” at tasks. De Waal does a wonderful job showing how human infant vs. ape tests are unfair. Psychologist test infants on their mother’s laps, while testing apes isolated in unfamiliar cages. And the tests often rely on human-specific aptitudes, like distinguishing human faces -- natural to an infant, unnatural to apes who are naturally better at distinguishing ape than human faces. The irony is that once ethologists adjust experiments, honoring an ape’s natural tendencies, the cognitive differences often disappear. But instead of conceding that apes (or jackdaws or dogs) are smart, psychologists move the bar.

Shady, with hints of anti-Darwinism. Since instead of placing human cognition on a continuum, it seeks to set us apart.

A refreshing book. That lays out an oft-neglected realm of science. That smashed Skinner’s box, revealing it as a sham, even after acknowledging the genuine desire of Skinner to improve human lives.

Five-stars. And faved.
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3

Jun 07, 2018

While I enjoyed this, I also found it very dry. I thought de Waal had plenty of fascinating insights and recorded studies of how intelligent animals truly are.
4

Oct 12, 2018

Are we open-minded enough to assume that other species have a mental life? Are we creative enough to investigate it? Can we tease apart the roles of attention, motivation, and cognition? Those three are involved in everything animals do; hence poor performance can be explained by any one of them.

if you love animals, you'll probably love this book I love animals and I really liked this book. It was so interesting to read about all the different tests and case studies of animals and animal “Are we open-minded enough to assume that other species have a mental life? Are we creative enough to investigate it? Can we tease apart the roles of attention, motivation, and cognition? Those three are involved in everything animals do; hence poor performance can be explained by any one of them.”

if you love animals, you'll probably love this book I love animals and I really liked this book. It was so interesting to read about all the different tests and case studies of animals and animal cognition. This book is so easy to follow, it goes along chronically to explain the history of the study behind animal cognition and as it goes, gives lots of real life examples and stories of animals that were studied. I found these stories SO interesting and some of them were genuinely mind-blowing. It is amazing what animals can do and I never realised a lot of it until I read this book!

As mentioned, this was really easy to read and I didn't think it was dry at all even though it's a non-fiction. I enjoyed it alot and I also listened to some of it on audiobook which is also good!

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Dec 14, 2016

Humans have always used animals as a natural resource, justifying the killing of our fellow creatures in various ways, but mainly by assuming they are not like us. What if our denialism masks that animals are more like us than we can imagine? Can they think? Are they self-aware? Can they plan, remember and anticipate? Frans de Waal describes scientific research that reveals astonishing answers. When chimpanzees beat human children at video games or birds understand our language or elephants Humans have always used animals as a natural resource, justifying the killing of our fellow creatures in various ways, but mainly by assuming they are not like us. What if our denialism masks that animals are more like us than we can imagine? Can they think? Are they self-aware? Can they plan, remember and anticipate? Frans de Waal describes scientific research that reveals astonishing answers. When chimpanzees beat human children at video games or birds understand our language or elephants remember people after years, we need to rethink the nature of consciousness. After reading about chimpanzee politics, I felt many people voted not by analytical reason, but by ancient instincts. This book is revealing in two ways – animals are a lot more like us than we believe, and we’re still a whole lot like them.

— James Wallace Harris



from The Best Books We Read In November 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/12/01/the-be... ...more
5

Feb 02, 2018

I think this is exactly the book I would recommend to anyone that use the phrase dumb animal, because Ive never read a book that explores their intelligence better. De Waal does a few things in this book. He gives the reader an overview of the way research into this field has developed from the time of Darwin to the present day, and he shows how far this research has got today, but also shows where more research is needed.

Im not a scientist, just a reader interested in this subject, and what I I think this is exactly the book I would recommend to anyone that use the phrase “dumb animal,” because I’ve never read a book that explores their intelligence better. De Waal does a few things in this book. He gives the reader an overview of the way research into this field has developed from the time of Darwin to the present day, and he shows how far this research has got today, but also shows where more research is needed.

I’m not a scientist, just a reader interested in this subject, and what I think he does best with this book is to make the theoretical aspects of this readable. I’ve read a quite a bit of non fiction over the years, and I can honestly say that even if a writer knows his subject better than anyone else, that doesn’t always mean they can write a readable book. De Waal can write, and this was an enjoyable read. ...more
3

Dec 19, 2016

Are we open-minded enough to assume that other species have a mental life? Are we creative enough to investigate it? Can we tease apart the roles of attention, motivation, and cognition? Those three are involved in everything animals do.
Like many of the other first year Liberal Arts university students I knew at the time, I took a lot of Intro courses (Intro to Psychology, Intro to Philosophy, Intro to Sociology), and these were for the most part fascinating enough to me that I broadened my Are we open-minded enough to assume that other species have a mental life? Are we creative enough to investigate it? Can we tease apart the roles of attention, motivation, and cognition? Those three are involved in everything animals do.
Like many of the other first year Liberal Arts university students I knew at the time, I took a lot of Intro courses (Intro to Psychology, Intro to Philosophy, Intro to Sociology), and these were for the most part fascinating enough to me that I broadened my sampling of the fields into my second year. I remember specifically taking both Comparative Psychology and a course called Ethology, and what I couldn't have known (twenty-some years ago) was that these two fields were about to go to war with each other: with the Psychologists insisting that all nonhuman behaviour is conditioned/preprogrammed and that the anthropromorphising of animals (and especially granting them intelligence or emotions) betrays a weak and sentimental mind, and the Ethologists rebutting that if researchers aren't finding evidence of human-like intelligence in nonhuman animals, the problem is with their methodology. Working and researching throughout these past few decades, Primatologist Frans de Waal has assembled much evidence to back up Darwin's initial claim that the difference between animals and humans is one of degree, not of kind, and with Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, he traces the confrontation between the two sides of this debate; smugly trumpeting the victory of his own beliefs. Now, I still enjoy reading pop science and sampling what's new in the fields that have long intrigued me, but I didn't find this book to be terribly engaging: my mind kept wandering, I was rarely wowed by the illustrative anecdotes, and I didn't find the writing style to be very interesting; since I didn't know there had been this decades-long war between the two sides, de Waal's conclusion that accepted theory has shifted from the Psychologists' viewpoint to that of the Ethologists isn't paradigm-shattering to me. This was just an okay read.

It would be great if everyone were open-minded and purely interested in the evidence, but science is not immune to preconceived notions and fanatically held beliefs. Anyone who forbids the study of language origins must be scared of new ideas, as must anyone whose only answer to Mendelian genetics is state persecution. Like Galileo's colleagues, who refused to peek trough his telescope, humans are a strange lot. We have the power to analyze and explore the world around us, yet panic as soon as the evidence threatens to violate our expectations.
De Waal's main point is that for the last century, Behaviourists have been testing animals as though true intelligence can only be proven if nonhumans behave exactly like humans – they decided gibbons are non-tool-using because they won't grasp sticks (yet, they don't have opposable thumbs and will use tools if they are like the tree branches they find in nature [ie, horizontal strings]); they decided elephants are non-tool-using because they won't manipulate sticks with their trunks in the way that the researchers expected (yet, they will stack boxes to reach dangling food) – and they relied far too heavily on rats and pigeons, etc., in unnatural situations to explain human behaviour. De Waal makes the valid point that testing a chimp in a cage, directed by a nonmember of their own species in a white lab coat, against a human child who is sitting on her mother's lap and encouraged to identify with the researcher, is not exactly apples to apples: no wonder the chimps routinely test poorly against the children. By contrast, De Waal's research has taken him to nature preserve-type settings around the world where the complex (and intelligent) behaviour of chimpanzees can be tested and proven within their own Umwelt. These results are so unsurprising that it seems incredible that the Ethologists have had to fight so hard to have their findings accepted.

However good our relations with apes, the idea that we can test them in exactly the same way we test children is an illusion of the same order as someone throwing both fish and cats into a swimming pool and believe he is treating them in the same way.
De Waal shares research that proves various animals have the intelligence to display behaviours we previously attributed only to humans – tool use, planning for the future, complex speech, counting, recognising themselves in a mirror, etc – and beyond our near relatives the primates, he cites the intelligent behaviour of birds (and especially parrots and corvids; jays and crows, etc), dogs, dolphins and whales, octopuses, even some insects. De Waal traces the history of the confrontation between the two sides in the debate; often mocking the inflexibility of the Behaviourists and how they continually moved the goalposts in the face of new evidence in order to preserve the “uniqueness” of human intelligence. This mocking seems to be a hallmark of De Waal's style:

The term 'nonhuman' grates on me, since it lumps millions of species together by an absence, as if they were missing something. Poor things, they are nonhuman! When students embrace this jargon in their writing, I cannot resist sarcastic corrections in the margin saying that for completeness's sake, they should add that the animals they are talking about are also nonpenguin, nonhyena, and a whole lot more.
Note the exclamation point there, too – De Waal is a not infrequent devotee of their use. So, this wasn't quite the book I was expecting, and as for what it was, I didn't really engage with it. For the most part, it read like the victory speech of an ungracious winner. It is incredible to me that there has even been this debate about the need to test animals within their own environments (and not expect them to be able to replicate our own specific demonstrations of intelligent behaviours), so I understand why there was a need for this overview; I just wanted a better narrative, I guess. ...more
4

Dec 14, 2016

Primatologist De Waal mounts a passionate, research-based case for animal intelligence. If ever you were in doubt, read this. It's a fascinating book, and important for anyone who thinks about the relationship between humans and animals.

He argues for an end to the view that humans are unique, that previous concepts of linear evolution with humans at the top of the scale are wrong, and reflect 'anthropodenial '- a priori rejection of humanlike traits in other animals or animal like traits in us'. Primatologist De Waal mounts a passionate, research-based case for animal intelligence. If ever you were in doubt, read this. It's a fascinating book, and important for anyone who thinks about the relationship between humans and animals.

He argues for an end to the view that humans are unique, that previous concepts of linear evolution with humans at the top of the scale are wrong, and reflect 'anthropodenial '- a priori rejection of humanlike traits in other animals or animal like traits in us'.

In chapter after chapter De Waal gives example after example of experiments that demonstrate different species have memory, use tools, count, recognise individuals of their own (wasps, sheep) and other species ), laugh, and recognise themselves in mirrors (chimpanzees, crows, elephants - who need a large mirror), monitor social interactions. All of these have at some stage been presented as indicating ways in which humans stand above all other animals, who were presumed not to have these abilities, but to act on instance, or in response to reward.

Behaviorists such as B.F. Skinner and his followers come in for particularly tough criticism, quite justifiably I felt. Poor rates, poor pigeons and all the other animals who were tormented by generations of experimenters and their students as they were trained to push or peck at buttons or run through mazes.

De Waal presents us with a new field he refers to as evolutionary cognition, which recognises that nimals have the sort of intelligence they need to succeed in their environment and lifestyle, their Umwelt. Every species is special, and learning is dictated by biology.

To understand more about animal cognition, researchers need to focus on 'at what cognitive level a given species operates and how this suits their ecology and lifestyle'. We need to be teasing out the building blocks that make up cognition, rather than heading for the high ground of theory of mind, self awareness and language.

He concludes by saying that we need to 'Instead of making humanity the measure of all things, we need to evaluate other species by what they are'.

De Waal is a great science communicator, able to present a huge body of knowledge in an easy narrative style that never talks down to the reader but is not intimidating, even when discussing evolution which can get technical. Giving examples helps a lot with that, such as with the concepts of homologous and analogous evolution: Homologous evolution refers to traits derived fron a common ancestor, such as a human hand and the wing of a bat which both derive from an ancestral forelimb. Analogous evolution occurs when distantly related animals evolve in the same direction, as with the sensitivity to faces in wasps and primates, which came about independently and is based on the need to recognise individual group mates (p75).

Most of the case studies he uses are from primate research, some other mammals, some birds, some insects and fish.

Near the end of the book he notes briefly that he hasn't included animal emotions. This is a study of cognition, but if cognition and perception are closely connected as he argued, then I think you must include emotion as well. I hope there's another book to come.

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5

Sep 06, 2018

Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? is a wonderful and insightful look at animal intelligence and cognition! It is backed up by evidence from controlled experiments and field research. It includes history on the beliefs of animal cognition and research, and how much people have learned over the years.

I went into this book already open-minded about how smart animals are, I already believed they are often smarter than people give them credit for, and I was still amazed and learned “Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?” is a wonderful and insightful look at animal intelligence and cognition! It is backed up by evidence from controlled experiments and field research. It includes history on the beliefs of animal cognition and research, and how much people have learned over the years.

I went into this book already open-minded about how smart animals are, I already believed they are often smarter than people give them credit for, and I was still amazed and learned so much!

It is engaging and very accessible. Yes I did google things along the way, because I was interested. There is a glossary at the back of the book as well. He explains everything well through-out the book though.

Frans De Waal is a Dutch/American biologist with a PH.D. in zoology, ethology and is the author of other books as well. He has spent decades studying animals and getting to know them, especially primates.

This book felt very balanced. He doesn’t try to oversell anything and everything is backed up by discoveries, studies and other scientists. He obviously has a love for animals as well as science, both of which shined through the book.

I love how one of the things stressed is the importance of well-constructed experiments. Experiments that fit the animal in question, their temperament, anatomy, etc. In one experiment some scientists thought a particular species of apes (or was it monkeys? I have too many tabs to find it) failed a certain test, until they realized their hand was shaped differently, in a way that they couldn’t actually do what was asked of them and when they modified the experiment to fit them, they passed it after all. Anatomy among other things must be taken into account. It reminds me of this



In short, I loved this book and learned a lot from it! If you have an interest in animals, animal intelligence or cognition, i’d highly recommend it! Or if you think as animals as less than humans and dumb, i’d also recommend it. They may just surprise you, and it's all backed up by hard science. ...more
4

Jul 22, 2017

De Waal is interested in the topic of what he calls evolutionary cognition -- which refers to the study of how animals think, feel, degrees of consciousness, etc. He has been one of the foremost critics, in the past 20 years, of Behaviorism and proponents of ethology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethology). This book, in particular, offers in a very readable format (written for the educated layman), an overview of the development of the field, and of the various topics within in. Rich in De Waal is interested in the topic of what he calls evolutionary cognition -- which refers to the study of how animals think, feel, degrees of consciousness, etc. He has been one of the foremost critics, in the past 20 years, of Behaviorism and proponents of ethology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethology). This book, in particular, offers in a very readable format (written for the educated layman), an overview of the development of the field, and of the various topics within in. Rich in anecdote, the discussion of many different studies, of problems of scientific method (in this controversial field), and willing to probe the philosophical implications of his studies, the book is both illuminating and (to this layman, at least) persuasive.

Less authoritative, perhaps, but better written and more moving, is Carl Safina's Beyond Words:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ...more
5

Mar 31, 2017

Awesome book! I loved it. From the content, to the choice of words. I loved how he showed that sometimes "skepticism" is actually pseudo-skepticism which results from our eagerness to know ourselves as something special and different from all the other organisms, which the author -rightly so- names "Anthropocentrism".
I loved this book. It shows the shortcomings of the field of ethology and how they can be fixed. And also how much evidence our society is underrating, even though many of them are Awesome book! I loved it. From the content, to the choice of words. I loved how he showed that sometimes "skepticism" is actually pseudo-skepticism which results from our eagerness to know ourselves as something special and different from all the other organisms, which the author -rightly so- names "Anthropocentrism".
I loved this book. It shows the shortcomings of the field of ethology and how they can be fixed. And also how much evidence our society is underrating, even though many of them are right in our face and slapping us like: You idiot! Why can't you see me!

And indeed, we are so self-involved that are unable to recognize science from bias.

I enjoyed this book, It was a enjoyable read and I would recommend it. ...more
4

Aug 20, 2016

Primatologist Frans de Waal has made a career out of pounding his head against the rugged wall of human exceptionalism the belief that humans are the only species that is conscious, self-aware, rational, cooperative, goal-oriented, empathetic, and so on. This wall of calcified grandiosity has resisted change for a long time, and has inspired an abusive relationship with the rest of the family of life. With his new book, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, de Waal has launched a Primatologist Frans de Waal has made a career out of pounding his head against the rugged wall of human exceptionalism — the belief that humans are the only species that is conscious, self-aware, rational, cooperative, goal-oriented, empathetic, and so on. This wall of calcified grandiosity has resisted change for a long time, and has inspired an abusive relationship with the rest of the family of life. With his new book, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, de Waal has launched a new assault on the cult of exceptionalism.

In the 1970s, when de Waal was in college, behavioral psychology was the hot trend. It asserted that animals were mindless, machine-like organisms that did nothing more than robotically respond to stimuli with responses. Animals were incapable of cognition — knowing based on perception and judgment. They could not have desires or intentions. Many scholars remain reluctant to consider the possibility that animals possess various forms of intelligence. Whoops, I meant non-human animals. In our culture, the two categories of fauna are humans and animals (not wombats and non-wombats).

In the last 20 years, new research has been inspiring doubt in many long-held beliefs, including the notion that rationality is exclusively human. Yet “animal cognition” is still an obscene four-letter word, a diabolical heresy. Smart scholars wait until they have tenure before they come out of the closet and study it.

The illusion of exceptionalism has deep roots. By the time children reach the age of 8 or 10, their worldviews are largely solidified for the rest of their lives. The culture constantly reinforces this worldview, and only a few can summon the power to question it. So, youngsters absorb the worldview, grow up, and raise their children with it, generation after generation. Entrenched belief is immune to conflicting evidence.

Humans are extremely proud of our complex language and abstract thought, but these are just two tools in a big box of mental functions used by animals. De Waal believes that some species use forms of intelligence that we are still unaware of — intelligence beyond our imagination. The absolute bottom line for any species is basic survival, and ants and termites excel at this. No animal needs alphabets, numbers, or glowing screens.

Irene Pepperberg had a parrot named Alex, who was remarkably capable of advanced cognition. When she pointed at a key, Alex said “key.” He pronounced words precisely. He could add numbers. Alex didn’t just memorize names, he could listen to questions, think, and answer correctly. He was asked, “What color is corn?” when no corn was present. “Yellow,” he replied.

Other birds are also extremely smart. “The Clark’s nutcracker, in the fall, stores more than twenty thousand pine nuts, in hundreds of different locations distributed over many square miles; then in winter and spring it manages to recover the majority of them.” Could you do that?

Crows, jays, magpies, and ravens are corvids, “a family that has begun to challenge the cognitive supremacy of primates.” One biologist caught and banded many crows, which really pissed them off. They recognized him wherever he went, and they regularly scolded and dive-bombed him.

Ayumu the chimp was trained to use a touchscreen. On the screen, a number appeared for a quarter second, then another, in a rapid sequence. Ayumu could remember the sequence of numbers, and then tap them in the correct order. Without practice, he was far better than any human at memory tests — even a memory expert who could remember the sequence of cards in a deck. Harrumph! The supremacists soiled their britches and muttered obscenities. Eventually, a frantic researcher practiced, practiced, and practiced and was finally able to score as well as a chimpanzee.

In Japan, chimps were taught a computer game, similar to rock-paper-scissors, which required them to anticipate their opponent’s choices. “The chimps outperformed the humans, reaching optimal performance more quickly and completely than members of our own species.”

Like many social animals, primates excel at imitation and conformity, which can have great survival value. Youngsters note what their mothers eat, and what they avoid. Chimps readily imitate the behavior of high status chimps, but not low status ones. When apes are raised in a human home, they are as good at imitating humans as children are. They “spontaneously learn to brush their teeth, ride bicycles, light fires, drive golf carts, eat with a knife and fork, peel potatoes, and mop the floor.”

Humans are pathological conformists, abandoning personal preferences when they conflict with the current whims of the majority, whims that are typically manufactured by a slimy mob of marketing shysters. When a celebrity dyes her hair pink, her fans do too. Respectable people must travel everywhere in gas guzzling motorized wheelchairs — bicyclists, bus riders, and walkers are low status slugs. Mindless imitation is the life force of consumer society, and the death force of Earth’s biosphere.

When de Waal gives a talk on primate intelligence, he is frequently asked, “What sets humans apart?” Consider an iceberg, he responds. Almost all of it is submerged, only a wee tip is visible above the surface. We have many cognitive, emotional, and behavioral similarities with our primate relatives, and a few dozen differences — the tip. Academia focuses most attention on the tip alone. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the smartest of them all?”

Animal intelligence books annoy me. Why do we need scientists to inform us that animals are not robots? Wild people, and others who live close to nature, never doubt the powerful intelligence of deer, ravens, foxes, and weasels. I know outdoor living. I have watched healthy wild animals survive long frigid winters without tools, fire, or clothing — a way of life that would promptly kill me.

We are like fish out of water, space aliens. The best way to discover the intelligence and coherence of the family of life is to abandon our climate-controlled cubicles and go back home to the wild. But there are way too many of us. Books and videos cannot substitute for fulltime direct experience. It’s no fun being a space alien. The Koyukon tell us “Every animal knows way more than you do.” A shaman once told Knud Rasmussen “True wisdom is only to be found far away from people, out in the great solitude.”

De Waal’s book jabbers a lot about experiments done in zoos and research centers, on enslaved animals. I’m not a fan of animal imprisonment. I’m a fan of wildness and freedom. The ancestors of chimps and bonobos have lived in the same place for millions of years without trashing it — a demonstration of profound intelligence. Send the researchers to the rainforest, so we can learn from our brilliant relatives, and rigorously question our entrenched beliefs.

There is an enormous quirk in this book. The core premise is that humans are a highly intelligent species, and that the other animals are not as dumb as we think. Are ants seriously destabilizing the climate? Are termites acidifying the oceans? Are chimps sending billions of tons of topsoil into the sea? In this discourse on animal intelligence, the fact that human animals are knowingly bludgeoning the planet is never once acknowledged.

De Waal says, “Cognition is the mental transformation of sensory input into knowledge about the environment and the successful application of this knowledge.” Cognition is about the process of acquiring and applying knowledge. “Intelligence refers more to the ability to do it successfully.” Among the propeller heads of science, “success” includes the bad juju of overpopulation, overshoot, and overconsumption. My definition of success requires long-term ecological sustainability.

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Nov 14, 2016

Even though this book had some nice content, it was so repetitive that it really bothered me. I could not even count how many time the author mentioned "it was once taboo for scientists to name their animals".

I think the main thing that becomes clear in this book is how we judge other animals: What a bizarre animal we are that the only question we can ask in relation to our place in nature is Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the smartest of them all?. We don't have the right tools or ideas Even though this book had some nice content, it was so repetitive that it really bothered me. I could not even count how many time the author mentioned "it was once taboo for scientists to name their animals".

I think the main thing that becomes clear in this book is how we judge other animals: What a bizarre animal we are that the only question we can ask in relation to our place in nature is “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the smartest of them all?”. We don't have the right tools or ideas how to judge many animals mental capacity, and they don't really need some of the skills that we have to survive. We overestimate our brain as the comparison, and our environment to make the experiments. And we have the hubris to start with the believe that we are better, smarter, superior.

The claim that only humans can mentally hop onto the time train, leaving all other species stranded on the platform, is tied to the fact that we consciously access past and future. Anything related to consciousness has been hard to accept in other species. But this reluctance is problematic: not because we know so much more about consciousness, but because we have growing evidence in other species for episodic memory, future planning, and delayed gratification. Either we abandon the idea that these capacities require consciousness, or we accept the possibility that animals may have it, too.

Here is one paragraph that makes it clear both of the lack of humanity in experiments, but also on why they may fail, not allowing animals the best conditions to thrive:
There is the quality of life issue. It is my personal feeling that if we are going to keep highly social animals in captivity, the very least we can do for them is permit them a group life. This is the best and most ethical way to enrich their lives and make them thrive.

I would rate it much higher if it was better written, but I feel that it missed big time, because of repetitive writing and lack of engaging structure. Almost 2.5 stars. ...more

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