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Do Animals Think? [Hardcover]

Clive D. L. Wynne
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Book Description

March 1 2004 0691113114 978-0691113111 1

Does your dog know when you've had a bad day? Can your cat tell that the coffee pot you left on might start a fire? Could a chimpanzee be trained to program your computer? In this provocative book, noted animal expert Clive Wynne debunks some commonly held notions about our furry friends. It may be romantic to ascribe human qualities to critters, he argues, but it's not very realistic. While animals are by no means dumb, they don't think the same way we do. Contrary to what many popular television shows would have us believe, animals have neither the "theory-of-mind" capabilities that humans have (that is, they are not conscious of what others are thinking) nor the capacity for higher-level reasoning. So, in Wynne's view, when Fido greets your arrival by nudging your leg, he's more apt to be asking for dinner than commiserating with your job stress.

That's not to say that animals don't possess remarkable abilities--and Do Animals Think? explores countless examples: there's the honeybee, which not only remembers where it found food but communicates this information to its hivemates through an elaborate dance. And how about the sonar-guided bat, which locates flying insects in the dark of night and devours lunch on the wing?

Engagingly written, Do Animals Think? takes aim at the work of such renowned animal rights advocates as Peter Singer and Jane Goodall for falsely humanizing animals. Far from impoverishing our view of the animal kingdom, however, it underscores how the world is richer for having such a diversity of minds--be they of the animal or human variety.

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From Publishers Weekly

Animal expert Wynne (Animal Cognition: The Mental Life of Animals), an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida, delivers a detailed yet enjoyably written exploration of recent discoveries of modern animal behavior. In answering the question whether animals "think" or have the consciousness of self that humans do, his main point is simple: "We don't have to pretend that some species have consciousness equivalent to ours. They don't and they don't need it to matter to us and deserve our attention." Wynne is clearly arguing against the view of animal rights advocates such as Peter Singer and Jane Goodall who ascribe human attributes to animals. But Wynne is no reactionary—he strongly sympathizes with those who wish to improve the treatment of animals. But he forcefully argues that what animals may "know"—for example, the honeybee recognizes time of day—is "coded in the connections of the neurons; they are not conscious ideas." However, in contending that "the psychological abilities that make human culture possible... are almost entirely lacking in any other species," he delightfully presents the many remarkable abilities of such animals as the bat, which "sees" using echolocation, "one of the most astonishing discoveries made about any animal's world in the last fifty years"; and dolphins, who use a form of sonar. It helps his arguments that Wynne is often as entertaining as he is erudite ("Like journalists listening in for excitement on police radio frequencies, dolphins channel-surf through the sound frequencies fish use").
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"[An] enjoyably written exploration of recent discoveries of modern animal behavior. . . . Wynne is clearly arguing against the view of animal rights advocates such as Peter Singer and Jane Goodall who ascribe human attributes to animals. But Wynne is no reactionary--he strongly sympathizes with those who wish to improve the treatment of animals. . . . It helps his arguments that Wynne is often as entertaining as he is erudite."--Publishers Weekly

"In this critical account of selected research, Clive Wynne takes aim at over-sentimental anthropomorphism, particularly on the part of animal-rights advocates. He argues that the degree to which animals are like us cannot be the measure of how much they are worthy of our respect and protection. . . . All this material is presented in a clear informal and entertaining way, enlivened by historical asides."--Sara J. Shettleworth, Nature

"Wynne has a pleasant writing style and a knack for engaging the reader. . . . [H]is book offers many insightful descriptions of animal behavior. . . . He seems to take delight in animals, and possesses great knowledge about them, yet he prefers them at arm's length. The constant message is that animals are not people."--Frans B.M. de Waal, Natural History

"Wynne's new book provides a timely corrective to many myths about animal minds, without detracting from the wonders of the natural world."--Nicola S. Clayton, Science

"[Wynne] is a lively writer with a congenial sense of humor, an obvious passion for truly understanding the minds of animals, and a sincere desire to come to terms with what all this means for the larger philosophical and ethical questions about the place of man and animals in the world."--Stephen Budiansky, Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science

"A fun read . . . packed with clever experiments, intriguing anecdotes, and a delight in the diversity of animal behavior."--Sy Montgomery, Discover

"Readers will delight in this insightful, well-referenced book."--Choice

"Lucid and witty. . . . Mr. Wynne makes a compelling case against true rationality in animals, but he resists the temptation to reduce animals to mere machines,' as Descartes famously did; he is too seized with wonder at the marvels of animal behavior to adopt so barren a model. In the end, Mr. Wynne prefers to accept our fellow animals for what they are, as they are."--Eric Ormsby, New York Sun

"An intelligent and balanced discussion of our attitudes towards other species and what (if anything) animals think. . . . A refreshingly skeptical and pugnacious investigation."--P.D. Smith, The Guardian (UK)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Lively and thought-provoking May 3 2004
With our tendency to anthropomorphize everything, from playful puppies to temperamental automobiles, it stands to reason that the animal mind is a topic of hot debate.
Literally. Animal rights activists have torched and bombed facilities associated with medical research or product testing on animals. Wynne finds these zealots baffling. Why, he wonders, focus on researchers rather than farmers, who, for sheer numbers, do away with a lot more animals? The Animal Liberation Front, he notes, in 2001 documented "the rescue of 5,000 animals, not one of them a pig. Why not?"
People simply do not bring an objective eye to bear on the subject of animal minds and that includes scientists. In lively and provocative style, Wynne, psychologist and professor, attempts to remedy this. He devotes chapters to four well-studied species: the honeybee, the pigeon, the bat and the dolphin. Others, particularly apes, also make frequent appearances.
He examines what makes these animals different from us, and what we have in common. What is special about these creatures? What is it like to be them? Are animals self-aware? How can we know? Chapters are devoted to the faculties that - supposedly - set us apart and above the animal kingdom: reasoning, language, and "the ability to put oneself imaginatively into the position of another - what we would call 'theory of mind.' "
No one argues for the intelligence of bees. Yet the dance of the honeybee conveys detailed information about the whereabouts of high-quality food. The bee knows her food is better than what her sisters are bringing in because unloader bees serve her quickly. Mediocre loads have to wait. But some bees, even when informed their offering is hardly worth unloading, do their dance anyway.
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