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Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by…

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

by Carl Safina

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Safina notes at the outset that unlike other published work on animal behavior (including prior works of his), this book would ask who other animals are, and not rule out of bounds any assumptions or questions concerning their inner lives. Rejected is the behaviorist mantra "Observe what an animal does ... but speculation about mental experiences is meaningless, a waste of time." [12] That attitude has merit in constrained circumstances, but as an elementary outlook it is ridiculous. Humans are animals, and we are comfortable assuming a typical inner life for other people though we cannot know that life directly. We readily concede unique personalities for all individuals. Further, science has much to contribute regarding what is likely of another animal's inner life, from basic sensory systems and neural pathways, to demonstrations of decision-making and displays of emotion. (And of course: speech and language, and myriad other forms of animal communication.) It is frankly unscientific to ignore all this information as though it means nothing, speciously arguing humans cannot "know" other species except as objects.

With the decision to ask who and not what about elephants, wolves, whales, Safina makes another distinction. "I'd somehow assumed that my quest was to let the animals show how much they are like us. My task now -- a much harder task, a much deeper task -- would be to endeavor to see who animals simply are -- like us or not." [13] (Alongside this outlook, then, a subtheme on identifying that which makes us human, effectively turning the gun on its owner. Safina comes to no conclusion on this point, however, merely returning to it occasionally as observations warrant.)

When we look for "intelligence" in other species, we often commit Protagoras's error of believing that "man is the measure of all things." Because we're human, we tend to study non-humans' human-like intelligence. Are they intelligent like we are? No, and therefore, we win! Are we intelligent like they are? We don't care. We insist that they play our game, we won't play theirs. [283]

That is the broad outlook of the book. I suspect self-selection bias results in Safina's typical reader not needing to be persuaded on these points, and that's fine, Safina offers a more rigourous look at assumptions of animals as equals, and it's good to get them. The weight of the book, though, is not in that outlook or moral position. It's in the scores of facts, observations, and scientific speculation on evolution, examples of animal behavior, stories of individual animals. It would be for those, as well, that the book is worth re-reading.

• Dogs may be the result of wolves self-domesticating, and not from husbandry
• Human evolution may also feature self-domestication: insight of bonobos exhibiting perpetually juvenile behaviors of chimpanzees (friendly, cooperative, matriarchal), and civilized human behaviour includes parallel features
• No free-living killer whales documented to have killed kayaker or swimmer, despite numerous opportunities and arguably motivation. (Captive whales have killed on several occasions.) ( )
1 vote elenchus | Oct 16, 2017 |
I am listening to the audiobook. The book is broken into sections. The first part is mainly concerned with elephants. The author writes so well I feel like am in Africa (Kenya) observing the elephants in the wild with Dr. Cynthia Moss.

I will write more for a review but I could not wait until the end... Read it. ( )
  honkcronk | Jun 16, 2016 |
Enjoyable and insightful although it felt a bit long at times. I have always felt respectful of animals abilities and feelings, this makes me appreciate them more. ( )
  becka11y2 | Jan 19, 2016 |
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel is an essential update on the latest research and trends in animal intelligence with a focus on the usual suspects: elephants, primates, crows and parrots, dogs and wolves, whales and porpoise. Carl Safina is more than a reporter he adds a level of sublime to his books that carries the reader to new enlightenment. I came away changed, seeing animals as having rich lives full of emotion, families, fears and happiness. They have the same chemical hormones as us, the same organs and neural configurations, respond to life in much the same ways. They are not exactly the same, but not that different either. Most of our perceptions of animals are outdated and wrong - tool use, communication, memory, emotion, art, culture, personality, imagination - all exist in the animal kingdom. This is a wonderful book and will be among my year end favorites. ( )
2 vote Stbalbach | Aug 14, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The author's aim is to understand animals on their terms, not how they reflect human psychology or thinking. He does this by observing them, and, more importantly, by talking to researchers who have been observing them for years. The author addresses the problem of attributing feelings and understanding upon his subjects. They have the same neurological structures and chemicals of serotonin and oxytocin - is it really such a stretch to interpret what appears to be fear and joy to actually be, in a very real sense for the animal, fear and joy?

Part one explores elephants in depth. Each chapter begins with a description of "real time" activity, such as being in a jeep, following an elephant family. His guide talks to him and to the animals, describing what they are doing. Then the author takes one aspect of that and expands on it, such as communication - there are the hoots, trumpets, rumbles, but more than that, there is context and observed responses to them. It may not be a language we can transcribe to be read, but it is one we can see is understood.

The author mixes immediacy and analysis in each chapter, into an easy to read and yet profound gestalt. It is both exciting to see what we know and how researchers could build on that to yield even more fascinating results, and depressing, as elephants are killed for their tusks, and for resisting the population pressures put on them by the surrounding humans.

Someone said that the key to the virulence of the current "Cecil the Lion" controversy is that that lion had a name, and that perhaps if all lions were given names, we would see them differently. Every elephant discussed here has a name - a distinct and specific existence. It may not be enough to keep them alive, but it is one way to make it harder for them to be killed without consequence.

Part two explores wolves in depth. Part three is entitled Whines and Pet Peeves. Part four is called Killer Wails (spelling deliberate).

At the end are notes, arranged by chapter, a several-page bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who has ever lived with animals, or loved them. ( )
1 vote EowynA | Aug 9, 2015 |
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I thought of the long ages of the past during which the successive generations of these things of beauty had run their course . . . with no intelligennt eye to gaze upon their loveliness, to all appearances such a wanton waste of beauty. . . . This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man. . . . Their happiness and enjoyments, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigorous life and early death, would seem to be immedately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone.

      —Alfred Russel Wallace, The Malay Archipelago, 1869
We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life antd time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

            —Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928
For the people in these pages who watch and truly listen,
who tell us what they are hearing in other voices that share our air,
and in the silence
First words
                  Into the Mind Field

Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
                  —Job 12:7-8, King James Version

Another big group of dolphins had just surfaced alongside our moving vessel—leaping and splashing and calling mysteriously back and forth in their squeally, whistly way, with many babies swift alongside their mothers.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805098887, Hardcover)

Hailed conservationist Carl Safina examines animal personhood as told through the inspired narrative portraits of elephants, wolves, and dolphins

Long before his work as an ocean conservationist, Carl Safina's childhood by the long island shore launched a life-long passion for animals. Since then, his collected work has sought to inspire respect and improved understanding for wildlife. In his wise and passionate new book, Safina delves deeply into the lives of animals, witnessing their profound capacity for perception, thought, and emotion. Weaving observation with new understanding of brain functioning, his narrative erases many previously held distinctions between humans and other animals.

Who we are as individuals depends on who we are to others, and on who others are to us. Relationships define us. Certain non-humans, too, live lives focused around rich social relationships. If tragedy befalls key individuals, survivors confront lasting repercussions. Like us, these animals know who they are.

In Beyond Words, readers travel from Kenya to visit the Sheldrake elephant orphanage, to Yellowstone National Park to observe free-living wolves sorting out the aftermath of their personal tragedy, to the whales of Haro Strait off of Vancouver.

Safina delivers a graceful examination of how animals truly think and feel, which calls to question what really does—and should—make us human.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:35 -0400)

"Weaving decades of field observations with exciting new discoveries about the brain, Carl Safina's landmark book offers an intimate view of animal behavior to challenge the fixed boundary between humans and nonhuman animals. In Beyond Words, readers travel to Amboseli National Park in the threatened landscape of Kenya and witness struggling elephant families work out how to survive poaching and drought, then to Yellowstone National Park to observe wolves sort out the aftermath of one pack's personal tragedy, and finally plunge into the astonishingly peaceful society of killer whales living in the crystalline waters of the Pacific Northwest. Beyond Words brings forth powerful and illuminating insight into the unique personalities of animals through extraordinary stories of animal joy, grief, jealousy, anger, and love. The similarity between human and nonhuman consciousness, self-awareness, and empathy calls us to re-evaluate how we interact with animals" --… (more)

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