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What separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future—all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition. Take the way octopuses use coconut shells as tools; elephants that classify humans by age, gender, and language; or Ayumu, the young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University whose flash memory puts that of humans to shame. Based on research involving crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, and of course chimpanzees and bonobos, Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a firsthand account of how science has stood traditional behaviorism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we’ve underestimated their abilities for too long.
People often assume a cognitive ladder, from lower to higher forms, with our own intelligence at the top. But what if it is more like a bush, with cognition taking different forms that are often incomparable to ours? Would you presume yourself dumber than a squirrel because you’re less adept at recalling the locations of hundreds of buried acorns? Or would you judge your perception of your surroundings as more sophisticated than that of a echolocating bat? De Waal reviews the rise and fall of the mechanistic view of animals and opens our minds to the idea that animal minds are far more intricate and complex than we have assumed. De Waal’s landmark work will convince you to rethink everything you thought you knew about animal—and human—intelligence.
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August 09, 2016
Yes, apparently, but if you are ready to look, and know how.
De Waal, a primatologist and ethologist who has studied animal behavior and cognition for decades, takes us on a guided tour of what animals can do. Recognizing emotions, having memories across time, having an identity, using tools, coop...
June 06, 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 education—the multiple intelligence model. Not every student will be good at every part of the curriculum, but it’s...
November 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 profe...
September 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 t...
June 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...
March 06, 2017
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...
October 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...
August 13, 2017
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 o...
February 07, 2017
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 o...
November 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: W...