My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I got this book through a Goodreads giveaway a while ago. I shelved it and promptly forgot about it. I was looking through my unread books recently and saw this, and pulled it out to read.
Frans de Waal is a Dutch primatologist and animal ethologist who studies animal cognition. In this book, he outlines the progression of thinking about animal intelligence, from theories that held animals as inferior to humans, to those that said some animals may be on our level of intelligence or even higher, to a more modern view that intelligence and cognition are not linear values that can be evaluated by comparison with humans.
The book is interesting, and the different theories that have, and are, held about how “smart” animals might be are discussed and explained with examples of the types of tests and evaluation methods used by the proponents of each. It’s a science-y science book. By that I mean while it is not a straight on textbook, it also isn’t a chatty, easy-to-grasp read, either. It can be a bit dry, and the examples of the different species tests are recorded in a straightforward manner. Some of the terms and ideas offered are perhaps not difficult to understand, but do take a bit of digestion to fully comprehend.
de Waal does feel that in that past, particularly, scientists have tried primarily to prove that we humans are the most intelligent species that lives on the planet, and many of the tests designed to evaluate other species were too human-centric. The tool use tests on monkeys, for example, didn’t take into account that some monkeys hands are not designed to use a particular tool and when they didn’t solve a puzzle involving that tool, it was assumed they were not smart enough. de Waal and his colleagues, on the other hand, believe that evaluating species other than humans must be done from that species point of view, no matter how different it may be from what we would consider correct.
The book relates numerous examples of the abilities of other species, not only the apes and monkeys normally associated with animal intelligence. We see birds, other mammal, sea creatures, and more show their ability to solve problems, use and even in some cases, make tools, and relate to their own and other species on emotional and physical levels.
If you are looking for a book of stories of animals doing cute and clever things, this may not be for you. If you are interested in learning more about current thinking on animal cognition and don’t mind putting in a little effort in your study, this is a good place to start.
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