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Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin

Animals in Translation (2005)

by Temple Grandin, Catherine Johnson

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Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Despite the title, this isn't a book about how to understand animals (or people for that matter.. ). It is a very deep and engaging discussion about the process (and philosophy, art, science and spirit) of understanding across boundaries of cognition, reflection, instinct and sentiment. It is as much about what we don't know as about what we do know (or think we know), and there's never a point where the authors step beyond profoundly good (cautious) observation and research. And yet what might be a dry subject to some, is constantly brought alive and immediate by Temple Grandin's extraordinary ability to bring her experience of autism to bear on the subject. I can't say that that my sympathy with her experience doesn't colour my judgement, but to my mind this book is a stand-out in the literature on ethology, worth reading alongside E.O. Wilson's 'Biophilia' and the work of Singer, Sacks, de Waal and others in that field.

I'm not sure how Grandin and Johnson divided up the duties on this book - Grandin's 'left-field' thinking is apparent on every page (and every page is worth reading), but if Johnson did nothing more than craft the story then she deserves surpassing credit for making this the sort of book that you read at one sitting and then wish there was more of it. Oliver Sacks, who wrote one of the most deservedly famous articles about autism ('An Anthropologist on Mars') described this book as "deeply moving and fascinating". In the plethora of favourable reviews of this book - and this one included - nobody has said it better. Hugely recommended if you are interested in ethology, or in just what it is to be human. ( )
  nandadevi | Jul 22, 2015 |
Temple Grandin talks about her observations of all kinds of animals, from sheep and cattle to dogs and cats, and why they might behave the way they do. She is so unique in her thought processes, and in this book she compares how an autistic person views the world to how an animal might view the world. It turns out that through her experience and study of research, that she has found that animals see the world in pictures, much as she does. The book reads more as a discussion of current research and her own experience in her career working with animals than as a straight-up lecture. Animals are constantly surprising humans with their abilities and maybe we shouldn't be so surprised.

I always find it kind of funny that normal people are always saying autistic children live in their own little world. When you work with animals for a while you start to realize you can say the same thing about normal people. There's a great big beautiful world out there that a lot of normal folks are just barely taking in. It's like dogs hearing a whole register of sound we can't. Autistic people and animals are seeing a whole register of the visual world normal people can't, or don't. ( )
  nittnut | May 1, 2015 |
I enjoyed the insight into animal behavior and thinking that the author provided. The parallels between normal animal behavior and human autism were striking and obviously have helped the author in her work with domesticated animals. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
I do love Grandin's work, both in the ideas in and writing style of her books, and in the fact that she makes me feel less guilty for being a carnivore because she's done so much work for feedlots and slaughterhouses.

This book really is a must read. I love the structure of each argument, in particular. Now, bear in mind that I was too engrossed in reading to take notes, so my example may not be exactly accurate, but it could go something like this:

First, she'd say something axiomatic, like, we all know that baby animals like cuddles. Then she'd point out research to support that, like, the famous experiment where baby monkeys were given two wire mothers, one with milk, one wrapped with toweling, and they'd get desperately hungry before leaving the softer mother (even though it was neither alive nor furred nor scented...). Then she'd talk about newer, lesser-known research, often based on neuro-science instead of just observational psychology, and/or about her experiences as an autistic person or about other autistic people she's known. Or she'd talk about experiences in her career, or with friends' pets, about different kinds of reactions animals have to nurturing touch or lack thereof. And finally she'd theorize about what is actually going on in everyone's different kinds of brains, and what all those ideas, if integrated together, could be saying about the insufficiently acknowledged intelligence of animals, and about the best ways to treat animals, and autistic people, respectfully and humanely.

I love particularly her examples of what kinds of jobs the people with autism can excel at, and her insistence that dogs are being over- and mis-bred, for example breeders are killing collies' intelligence and giving Border Collies a bad reputation for makers of mischief by not ensuring they have *jobs* to suit their nature.

Sorry - I don't think that was particularly coherent. Read the book yourself, really. She's much easier to understand than I am.

Still not convinced? Ok.

In the section on prairie dogs, she introduces Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, who "speculates that instead of looking for animal language in our closest genetic relatives, the primates, we should look at animals with the greatest need for language in order to stay alive." Quite an eye-opening idea, eh? Read the rest of that section and you'll probably find yourself not only unsurprised, but nodding in agreement.

Or, how about this statement. I'll give you no context - you'll have to read it yourself to believe it. "We're just leaving it up to animals like the seizure alert [service] dogs to invent their own jobs."

One of the most important things *I* got out of the book was clarity about my opinion of anthropomorphism. I always have known I'm not a fan. Otoh, I've also felt that critters are smarter, at least in some ways, than we give them credit for being. Now I can integrate my attitude thus: by perceiving animals through our own experience, and by giving them humanoid motivations and beliefs, we're blinding ourselves to being able to understand their true natures.

In other words, don't say, "That chimp is as smart as a 3 year old human." Say instead, "That chimp has the vocabulary of an average 2 year old child and can solve addition & subtraction problems typically solvable by 4 year old children." (Not Grandin's example, but my own synthesis.)

I only have two minor quibbles. Grandin doesn't define 'animals' in the same sense I usually see it. She usually means mammals and birds only - but, confusingly, sometimes means social insects or even reptiles. Second, she sometimes over-generalizes to include other people with autism as being very like her, whereas she and I both know that ASD manifests differently in different people.

I've read a lot of psychology and popular neuro-science books lately, and a lot of books by and about people who are autistic, and in none of them did I learn as much as I did from this. Of course, they may have laid the foundation to help me get more out of this work, but I do believe that if you only want to read one book on any of the subjects covered here, this would be a great choice. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
Interesting book. A lot of insight into how animals perceive their world; however, I disagree with some of the premises put forth in this book - namely that animals can never forget a traumatic experience, thus never fully recover from it. There are people working with animals, particularly dogs, proving that's not entirely accurate every day. ( )
  dreamingbear | Feb 6, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Temple Grandinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Johnson, Catherinemain authorall editionsconfirmed
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For the animals
-- Temple Grandin
For Jimmy, Andrew, and Christopher
-- Catherine Johnson
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People who aren't autistic always ask me about the moment I realized I could understand the way animals think.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156031442, Paperback)

I don't know if people will ever be able to talk to animals the way Doctor Doolittle could, or whether animals will be able to talk back. Maybe science will have something to say about that. But I do know people can learn to "talk" to animals, and to hear what animals have to say, better than they do now. --From Animals in Translation

Why would a cow lick a tractor? Why are collies getting dumber? Why do dolphins sometimes kill for fun? How can a parrot learn to spell? How did wolves teach man to evolve? Temple Grandin draws upon a long, distinguished career as an animal scientist and her own experiences with autism to deliver an extraordinary message about how animals act, think, and feel. She has a perspective like that of no other expert in the field, which allows her to offer unparalleled observations and groundbreaking ideas.

People with autism can often think the way animals think, putting them in the perfect position to translate "animal talk." Grandin is a faithful guide into their world, exploring animal pain, fear, aggression, love, friendship, communication, learning, and, yes, even animal genius. The sweep of Animals in Translation is immense and will forever change the way we think about animals.

*includes a Behavior and Training Troubleshooting Guide
Among its provocative ideas, the book:
argues that language is not a requirement for consciousness--and that animals do have consciousness applies the autism theory of "hyper-specificity" to animals, showing that animals and autistic people are so sensitive to detail that they "can't see the forest for the trees"--a talent as well as a "deficit" explores the "interpreter" in the normal human brain that filters out detail, leaving people blind to much of the reality that surrounds them--a reality animals and autistic people see, sometimes all too clearlyexplains how animals have "superhuman" skills: animals have animal geniuscompares animals to autistic savants, declaring that animals may in fact be autistic savants, with special forms of genius that normal people do not possess and sometimes cannot even see examines how humans and animals use their emotions to think, to decide, and even to predict the future reveals the remarkable abilities of handicapped people and animals maintains that the single worst thing you can do to an animal is to make it feel afraid

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:15 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An animal scientist draws on her experience as an autistic to identify commonalities between animals and autistics, offering insight into how animals process sensory information and how they often possess unrecognized talents.

» see all 5 descriptions

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