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Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016)

by Frans de Waal

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1194518,264 (3.94)44
Nature. Science. Nonfiction. From world-renowned biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal comes this groundbreaking work on animal intelligence destined to become a classic.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 been eroded—or even disproved 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, often incomparable, forms? 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.… (more)
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English (40)  Dutch (4)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
There is a lot of resistance for animal intelligence due to human ego and limited experimental ability. Humans wanting to be the standard for intelligence prevents seeing different intelligence needs in animals. Many cognitive tests are done without considering the animals perception of the world, its umwelt. Animals given tools and tests that fit the way they interact with the world, show remarkable intelligence. From culture to political struggles. It is offensive to animals to call human misbehavior as acting like animals, because animals have a lot of self-restraint. This book is not just about animals or psychology, it is also about the continuous struggle in science to get appropriate conclusions.

The two dominant schools of thought on animal research hold mechanical views about animals as either they are stimulus-response machines, or were genetically endowed with instincts. Behaviorism sought human-control over the animal by placing the animal in barren environments that left little else to do than to participate in what the experimenter wanted. If they did not behave as wanted, they were considered misbehaving. Ethology was about natural behavior with the interest on what occurred spontaneously. Behaviorist tented to be psychologist, while ethologist tented to be zoologists.

Cognition is a process by which sensory input about the environment gets put into flexible application. Intelligence is the success of cognition. Words are not needed in thinking. Each animal is specialized to live within its own ecology. Having evolutionary developed many ways of thinking how to adept to the ecology. Animals want to learn what they need to know by creating learning opportunities. Not needing every possible adaptation, so they are not developed. A cognitive ripple occurs within cognitive capacity as any discovered capacity is older and more widespread than initial thought.

Animal intelligence is on a continuum of variations rather than just between human and other animals. Using humans as the standard for intelligence is misrepresenting the use of intelligence. Although each species has ecological niches which consist of the habitat an organism needs to survive, each species also has an umwelt. An umwelt is the subject world created by the organisms’ self-centered representation. It is the way each species perceives the world.

Observations depend on what questions are asked and how the experiments are set up. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Not seeing a capacity in a species does not mean that the species does not have the capacity. It is highly possible that the test missed something or the test did not fit the species. Single observations, anecdotal evidence is not enough for conclusions, but they do inspire observations and experiments facilitate understandings that get closer to conclusions.

Before any tests, scientists need to understand the animal’s typical behavior. Conditioning can help, but there are many unconditioned behaviors that can be brought about from the experiment even though the experiment cannot claim to have created the behaviors. Testing an animal needs to consider the animal’s temperament, interests, anatomy, and sensory capacities. A test cannot be expected to perform well when it that does not take account of the animal’s motivation and attention.

Testing animals using human standards rather than the species umwelten is wrong because different animals have either different uses for the same concepts, or not even need the concepts as there was no need to develop an understanding of that concept. Animals are extraordinary in doing things that are needed from their perspective.

Giving tests on animals who are not ready to take the test, due to anxiety or distractions, usually results in poor performance. Measuring human children against apes in testing situations provides many false comparisons. The human children not only get to interact with an experimenter of the same species, but they are usually accompanied by a parent, and other verbal supports.

Animals do talk to one another to find out about wants and information. Depending on the animals, they can have very political and social lives. From getting support for their future actions, to knowing how to reduce stress and bring about harmony. Rather than being stuck in the present, animals can have very well developed learning practices that become needed only in the future. They are able to test their abilities and improve upon them. They even have culture as they can learn from one another.

While anthropomorphism risks seeking human traits on animals, anthropodenial risks a priori rejecting human traits on animals. Anthropomorphism can anthropodenial can help guide questions and direct attention if applied properly. Anthropomorphism can help with animals that are very similar to humans. Anthropodenial can help with animals that are very different to humans.

The book is well written with many stark examples that showcase animal intelligence. More than animal intelligence, as many concepts can be applied to humans. The problem with the book is that there are times that having some psychology background would make for easier reading. ( )
  Eugene_Kernes | Jun 4, 2024 |
3 stars: Enjoyed parts of it

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From amazon: Hailed as a classic, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? explores the oddities and complexities of animal cognition―in crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, chimpanzees, and bonobos―to reveal how smart animals really are, and how we’ve underestimated their abilities for too long. Did you know that octopuses use coconut shells as tools, that elephants classify humans by gender and language, and that there is a young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University whose flash memory puts that of humans to shame? Fascinating, entertaining, and deeply informed, de Waal’s landmark work will convince you to rethink everything you thought you knew about animal―and human―intelligence.

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I wanted to like this book more than I did. Written by one of the world's leading primatologists, it focuses on primates mostly, though the description is contrary. The central thesis is that our testing methodology is so biased towards Homo Sapien intelligence that we don't recognize the biases and when the biases are removed, many mammals/birds have more intelligence than we tend to be willing to recognize. That's not a surprise to me but I didn't find the work very engaging. He does note a test about magpies (corvid family) that have been proven to recognize themselves in the mirror, as the only non-primate so tested to do so. ( )
  PokPok | May 27, 2024 |
The field of animal intelligence has always interested me, I've read quite a bit on the subject and expected to enjoy this book. Sadly, this wasn't the case. I felt a real sense of being talked down to. One of the most glaring examples of this was the inclusion of the child like drawings used to convey the information de Wall was trying to get across. Did the author really think we need pictures to understand what he was saying? Maybe someone should write a book and call it Is Frans de Wall Smart Enough to Know How Smart His Readers Are?
( )
  kevinkevbo | Jul 14, 2023 |
I enjoyed this, with the caveat that I listened with maybe 70% attention rather than reading carefully. I feel like I'm dipping into an interesting conversation with this and several other books I've read recently, which is a lovely way to explore a topic. ( )
  Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
I love his attitude and wish everyone would listen to him. But I’d like to see more storytelling skills in his writing. ( )
  stickersthatmatter | May 29, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
... De Waal argues that we should attempt to understand a species’ intelligence only within its own context, or umwelt: the animal’s “self-centered subjective world, which represents only a small tranche of all available worlds.” There are many different forms of intelligence; each should be valuated only relative to its environment. “It seems highly unfair to ask if a squirrel can count to 10 if counting is not really what a squirrel’s life is about,” de Waal writes. (A squirrel’s life is about remembering where it stored its nuts; its intelligence is geospatial intelligence.) And yet, there’s apparently a long history of scientists ignoring this truth. For example, they’ve investigated chimpanzees’ ability to recognize faces by testing whether the chimps can recognize human faces, instead of faces of other chimps. (They do the former poorly and the latter quite well.) They’ve performed the ­famous mirror test — to gauge whether an animal recognizes the figure in a mirror as itself — on elephants using a too-small, human-size mirror. Such blind spots are, ultimately, a failure of empathy — a failure to imagine the experiment, or the form of intelligence it’s testing for, through the animal’s eyes. De Waal compares it to “throwing both fish and cats into a swimming pool” and seeing who can swim...
added by rybie2 | editNew York Times, Jon Mooallem (Apr 26, 2016)
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frans de Waalprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chemla, LiseTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chemla, PaulTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
GarcĂ­a Leal, AmbrosioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghoos, ReintjeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haggar, DarrenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marin, CatherineAuthor photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mattarelliano, LouiseProduction managersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moolman, LislCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pietiläinen, JuhaKääNtäJä.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Runnette, SeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sloan, DanaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sodio, LiberoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sterre, Jan Pieter van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One early November morning, while the days were getting colder, I noticed that Franje, a female chimpanzee, was gathering all the straw from her bedroom. (Prologue)
Opening his eyes, Gregor Samsa woke up inside the body of an unspecified animal. (Chapter 1)
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Nature. Science. Nonfiction. From world-renowned biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal comes this groundbreaking work on animal intelligence destined to become a classic.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 been eroded—or even disproved 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, often incomparable, forms? 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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