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Why Animals Are Smarter than Us

smart animals

My cat has the life. Her biggest decisions are whether to pee and poo indoors or out, and whether to nap in the basement in the baby carriage (where it’s high and dry and warm) or in my favorite chair on a cashmere blanket in a patch of sunlight. Sometimes, I resent her for that.

Historically, when men want to insult other people, they might refer to them as some sort of animal. To everyone, I say read Frans De Waal’s book Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? I would say the answer to that question is no. But he says (because he is more politically correct): “So, yes, we are smart enough to appreciate other species, but it has required the steady hammering of our thick skulls with hundreds of facts that were initially poo-pooed by science.” (I like that he uses the word poo, too.)

He also says, at the end of his book, that, “entrenched disbelief is oddly immune to evidence.” Is he talking about animals or climate change? Humans or politicians? It’s clear to me after reading his book that there isn’t much difference, and we are more alike than not (for better or worse).

What struck me even more from reading his book is that while “emotion” is evidenced in every study and every example, it is not yet acknowledged or studied. He says, “We urgently need a bottom-up view that focuses on building blocks of cognition. This approach will also need to include the emotions—a topic I have barely touched upon but that is close to my heart and is in equal need of attention.” (Ironically, associating the word “cognition” with animals has only recently been allowed to occur without massive insult and ridicule.) And yet, when he talks about children and animals earlier in the book he says: “In children, an understanding of needs and desires develops years before they realize what others know. They read “hearts” well before they read minds. This suggests that we are on the wrong track in phrasing all this in terms of abstract thinking and theories about others.”

Oh, humans! The more I learn and read, the more I realize how ignorant we are.

From my window as I write this, I see a bird taking a lovely morning bath in a puddle of water. The bees are busy going from lavender to catnip. And my pets are all sleeping soundly. I would love nothing more than to curl up in a patch of sun on a cashmere blanket on my favorite chair. But instead, I am off to work.

It’s a good book. Read it instead of watching TV or playing video games. The whole world will be better as a result.

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One Response to Why Animals Are Smarter than Us

  1. Donna in Delaware August 3, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

    Isn’t everything in this life “too” over-studied already? It seems that every time something goes wrong, or not understood, or misunderstood, or whatever, we are quick to study it to see if we can understand it, which we usually don’t. I think that we should just let things “be” sometimes, and silently observe what is happening. We may not glean understanding, but at least we will hold on to a bit of sanity. A basic problem is that humans always have to complicate things. Just watch the animals for a while and see how well they interact with each other, their own kind, with other animals, and frightfully sometimes, with humans. We can learn plenty by quiet observation. The natural world can take great care of itself, we need to follow suit.

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