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Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals [Hardcover]

Jonathan Balcombe , J. M. Coetzee
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 16 2010 0230613624 978-0230613621

For centuries we believed that humans were the only ones that mattered. The idea that animals had feelings was either dismissed or considered heresy. Today, that’s all changing. New scientific studies of animal behavior reveal perceptions, intelligences, awareness and social skills that would have been deemed fantasy a generation ago. The implications make our troubled relationship to animals one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.

            Jonathan Balcombe, animal behaviorist and author of the critically acclaimed Pleasurable Kingdom, draws on the latest research, observational studies and personal anecdotes to reveal the full gamut of animal experience—from emotions, to problem solving, to moral judgment. Balcombe challenges the widely held idea that nature is red in tooth and claw, highlighting animal traits we have disregarded until now: their nuanced understanding of social dynamics, their consideration for others, and their strong tendency to avoid violent conflict. Did you know that dogs recognize unfairness and that rats practice random acts of kindness? Did you know that chimpanzees can trounce humans in short-term memory games? Or that fishes distinguish good guys from cheaters, and that birds are susceptible to mood swings such as depression and optimism?

            With vivid stories and entertaining anecdotes, Balcombe gives the human pedestal a strong shake while opening the door into the inner lives of the animals themselves.


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"The book offers readers much to think about in terms of moving away from the usually human-centered view of life... Recommended." —CHOICE

“Graceful prose makes this an excellent introduction to the examination of animal minds.”—Booklist

“In this engaging book, Balcombe marshals wide-ranging and up-to-date evidence to demonstrate that animals do indeed experience the world as richly as us and may well feel and suffer more intensely than we do.”—New Scientist

"Balcombe builds a compelling case for blurring the line between animal and human perception...a passionate and persuasive argument for vegetarianism on both humanitarian and environmental grounds."--Publishers Weekly
 

“Every year about 10 people are killed by sharks, and each death is lavishly reported on bulletins and front pages. And, every year, up to 73 million sharks are slaughtered by humans, but hardly anyone notices – apart from the sharks, of course.

This isn't the only uncomfortable statistic in Jonathan Balcombe's Second Nature. Fifty billion land animals are killed each year to provide us with food, and probably the same number of fish; 100 million mice, rats, rabbits, monkeys, cats, dogs and birds are used and destroyed annually in American laboratories; 50 million animals are killed for fur. Against these unimaginably vast numbers, pleads Balcombe, we have to remember one simple fact: each of these animals was a sentient being. Balcombe's previous book, Pleasurable Kingdoms, described how animals enjoy themselves, from masturbating monkeys to pigs lounging in the sun. Drawing on a similarly wide range of examples, Second Nature describes how animals experience the world as sensitively and intensely as humans, if not more so.

We like to think of ourselves as perceptive but, compared to many animals, we are actually rather insensitive brutes, pretty much blind, nearly deaf, divorced from our environments. In all sorts of different species, Balcombe finds strong evidence for compassion, cooperation, altruism, empathy, intelligence and communication. Australian researchers, for instance, discovered that chickens have at least 30 different calls, alerting one another to the appearance of unexpected food or prowling hawks, while prairie dogs have at least 100 "words" describing predators, including different terms for humans with and without guns.

Among his wide range of anecdotes and examples, I particularly liked the sound of Kelly, a dolphin living in the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi. There, the dolphins have been trained to clean up their own pools, by being offered treats in exchange for bringing litter to the surface and handing it over. Kelly has found her own way to trick the system: when a piece of paper falls into her pool, she sneaks it to the bottom and tucks it under a rock. When she sees a human trainer, she tears off a scrap, takes it to the surface and gets a snack in exchange, leaving the rest of the paper for next time.

Balcombe devotes a couple of chapters to dismissing the myth that nature is a cruel and bloody place where violence lurks at every corner. Most of the time, he says, animals lead peaceful, calm and enjoyable lives. The most violent creature on the planet is, of course, us. We are "moral toddlers", he says, and, like any ordinary two-year-old, we blithely wander around our environment, chomping and stomping and shoving and breaking things without much thought for anyone else.

Balcombe tells us that he's been a vegan for more than 30 years – and, unsurprisingly, he recommends that his readers become vegetarians – but there's a more radical message at the heart of his book. In order to heal ourselves, he suggests, we have to reform our relationships with animals; we will ‘live in better, more caring societies when we treat all feeling individuals with compassion and respect’…It is fascinating, well-written and consistently thought-provoking, and deserves a wide readership.”—The Guardian
 

“Jonathan Balcombe is a rare being, a scientist who has escaped the narrow orthodoxies of institutional science, an intelligent human being who is more than ready to recognize intelligences of other kinds, an intuitive and empathetic observer who nevertheless does not abandon the highest standards of intellectual inquiry.”— from the foreword by J. M. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and author of Disgrace

“If you care at all about animals, this book is a must-read. Balcombe’s previous book has already become a classic, and this one will astonish and fascinate you, and will leave you a wiser and more compassionate person. I wish I could have read this book twenty years ago. It would have changed my life. Maybe it will change yours.”--Jeffrey Masson, co-author of When Elephants Weep

 

“Alive with gems, both blunt and persuasive, Second Nature will topple any illusion that we humans are the king of the species hill. … Dr. Balcombe’s well-researched book  makes the case that we are all important players in the great orchestra of  life and that when humans stop looking down on all the other musicians just  because their instrument isn’t the same one we play, the result will  be sweet music indeed.” – Ingrid Newkirk, President and Founder, PETA

Second Nature's rich treatment of animal awareness, cognition, emotion, and perception, and virtue provides the foundation for Balcombe's powerful core argument -- that we humans can do better, that we must do better, by the other inhabitants of Planet Earth.”--Wayne Pacelle, CEO, The Humane Society of the United States

“Although my entire career is devoted to advancing animal welfare, I learned much from this book I had not known and even more importantly, was sufficiently touched to thoroughly invigorate and reinforce my commitment to working for animals.”--Bernard Rollin, Professor of Animal Science, Colorado State University

“The book was so interesting and accessible that I almost felt guilty reading it at work. Dr. Balcombe provides entertaining anecdotes and objective research results that reveal the magnificent sentience of so many species that we often think of as operating on survival autopilot…I highly recommend this book.”—Population Connection

“This is a book with a five star theme and important message.”—Brian Clegg, author of The God Effect and Infinity

Second Nature goes well beyond Pleasurable Kingdom in giving us an understanding of the complex ways in which animals perceive and react with other animals and the environment…If you are interested in natural history and animal consciousness issues, this book is a must-read.”—Peter Spendelow, Northwest Veg President

 
Praise for Pleasurable Kingdom:
 

Brisk, erudite and enormously entertaining — an excellent, approachable introduction to the basic issues in animal behaviour.
—Publishers Weekly

Entertaining examples of animal bliss — from drunken parrots to the caresses of fiddler crabs — bring a pleasure all their own.
—Psychology Today

This well-reasoned, engaging book argues that critters share our capacities for humor, empathy and aesthetic pleasure.
—People Magazine

This entertaining and thought-provoking book is recommended for popular science collections.
—Library Journal

Fascinating and often moving, this book emphasizes that animals — like us — truly have personalities, minds and emotions.
—Jane Goodall, Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

Superb — has set an agenda for future research. This book will change how we interact with other animal beings.
—Marc Bekoff in Trends in Ecology & Evolution

A well-argued thesis. —Scientific American

… lively, shrewd, well-argued … an admirable contribution.
—Mary Midgley, in Times Higher Education Supplement

About the Author

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., is a former animal behavior research scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and currently a consultant based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Pleasurable Kingdom. For more information visit www.jonathanbalcombe.com.


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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book that demonstrates that animals have emotions and feelings . . . and have as much right to live as people do. It shows that animals have a sense of what's "fair" and their own code of morality towards one another. Most people are unaware of this. This is the kind of book that is an argument against the idea of hunting for "sport" . . . why don't hunters go and hunt one another.... at least the opponent would have a gun, whereas animals are defenceless. It is a great book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balcombe does it again with great new book! April 17 2010
Format:Hardcover
Second Nature, The Inner Lives of Animals, is a valuable addition to the growing body of literature about animal emotions. Following on the heels of previous books by Marc Bekoff, Jeffrey Masson and his own Pleasurable Kingdom, Balcombe makes a compelling case for a new, more humane human/animal paradigm. Throwing aside rigidity and close-mindedness, he approaches the subject with an open mind and an open heart. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who is interested in animals to read this book. It will change the way you think.

Rob Laidlaw
CBiol MSB
Zoocheck Canada Inc.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How do we know what animals are thinking? March 26 2010
By Jill Schatz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For most of the twentieth century, scientists avoided questions about how animals might feel and what they might think. They wanted to be viewed as objective in their study of animals and not use terms laden with human meaning. This led many to a view of non-human animals as being without emotions or thinking, and guided solely by reflex, instinct, and trial-and-error learning. But beginning with the work of pioneers such as Jane Goodall and Donald Griffin, scientists have discovered great surprises about how animals socialize, communicate, and think. As Jonathan Balcombe describes in his new book Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals, no longer is it viewed as heresy for researchers to examine such aspects as reason, culture, and even moral awareness in animals. His book documents that researchers around the world have found more thought and feeling in animals than humans have ever imagined.

Second Nature gives us an understanding of the complex ways in which animals perceive and react with other animals and the environment. It starts out looking at animal senses, and shows how in many cases animals not only have sharper senses than we do, they often have full senses that we don't have. Birds can sense magnetism. Some fish can both make and sense electricity, and use it to perceive what is near them. Bats can make sounds far out of our hearing range, and use this to "see" flying insects similar to how we use light to see. What do these senses feel like to these animals?

From here, Balcombe goes on to look at animal intelligence, and this is where the book begins to get really fun. There is a section looking at fish--animals that many people have prejudged to be lower animals, cold-blooded and machine-like. Some scientists have argued that fish cannot even feel pain, since they don't have the same brain structures we use to feel pain. But in the 400 million years or so since we last shared a common ancestor with most fish, fish brains did not stop evolving and adapting to a more complex and continually changing environment. In one of the more amusing studies that Balcombe describes, three carp were played recordings of Bach's classical music and also the blues of John Lee Hooker. All three fish learned to distinguish between the two musical genres and even could generalize from the specific artists to multiple artists within each genre.

Following this are chapters on emotions, awareness, communications, sociability, and even morals and virtue--all examined from a scientific basis. Many of the examples are sure to amaze you. But for those more interested in the philosophy--what it all means--the last couple of chapters will be the most interesting. Quoting George Bernard Shaw that "custom will reconcile people to any atrocity," Balcombe looks at how we can be so caring and kind to animals in one part of our lives and then so cold, indifferent, and cruel under other circumstances. People might be very loving to their dogs or cats, but when they think of animals as groups or things, such as species or populations or renewable resources, they lose track of the individual importance of each of the individuals. Talking about "fish stocks" or "harvest limits" treats these sentient individuals as mere commodities--no more important that talking about tons of sand. But then Balcombe goes on to show how things are changing and how more people are coming to realize that animals are sentient, feeling individuals who deserve our respect.

Jill Schatz and Peter Spendelow
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Invite to a New Humanity May 27 2010
By Dr. Timothy Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I remember as a child eating meat products with names like `jellied veal', `liver-sausage', `corned beef', `hazlet', `ox-tail soup' and `tongue'. They were just labels at the time, for things I put in my mouth. Only much later would I associate them with animals.

Now, reading Jonathan Balcombe's new book `Second Nature - The Inner Lives of Animals' I'm asking myself why it took so long to make that rather obvious connection. In fact, it's got me thinking about a whole host of issues related to how we as a species perceive and treat other animals - nonhuman beings as Balcombe prefers to call them. For the issues Second Nature addresses have as much to do with human morality and ethics as they do with animal behaviour.

Balcombe wants to open our eyes to the possibility of accepting animals as fellow sentient beings, with feelings and emotions as real to them as ours are to us; beings with lives that are pleasurable and worth living for their own sake; lives worthy of sensitivity and respect. As Balcombe puts it: "My chief aim in this book is to close the gap between human beings and animals - by helping us understand the animal experience, and by elevating animals from their lowly status."

He begins by setting out the evidence for animal sentience, emotion and feeling, then discusses the implications this has for human attitudes and actions.

Part I summarises the findings of numerous field and laboratory studies that demonstrate a range of animal capabilities, experiences and sensitivities we usually associate more with people. Part II is a description of how animals use these qualities to interact and communicate between themselves and with other species, including man. Part III focuses on the relationship between humans and animals, and includes a discussion on popular perceptions and how they are changing with what Balcombe sees as an emerging new paradigm in attitudes and awareness.

Central to Balcombe's plea is the assertion that humans and animals differ in degree rather than kind. Each type of animal, Balcombe says, including man, has evolved to operate in its own world, or `umwelt', equipped with an appropriate package of sensory experience and feelings suited to that world. We shouldn't assume life experience in one umwelt is inherently superior to that in another. Humans can never directly experience another animal's umwelt (who can say what personal echo-location or magnetic navigation feels like? - to use Balcombe's examples) but we accept that animals have complex sensory capabilities. Which begs the question why, when emotions and feelings are at least as real and necessary to us as senses in explaining our lives and behaviours, would we deny them in animals? Second Nature is certainly thought provoking on these questions.

Many readers will I expect, from watching natural history on TV or casual reading, recognise something of the better known case studies about Washoe the chimp, grieving elephants, and intelligent ravens. That said, the number and diversity of cited studies is impressive, and most of the content is new to me.

Take Kelly the dolphin for example, who was taught to trade paper litter found in her pool for fish, but discovered the fish flow could be maximised by trading smaller pieces of paper torn from a larger sheet she had stashed away at the bottom of the pool. And tests for empathy, where increased stress reactions were measured in animals who witnessed the suffering of another animal - not necessarily of the same species.

Consciousness is a key theme in Second Nature, with Balcombe describing how chimpanzees have demonstrated a `theory of mind' by showing they are consciously aware of consciousness in other chimps.

Other studies support the proposition that animals, elephants for example, follow individual lives that are the product of their unique experience. And that animals, like us, deal with feelings over the short and long term; they remember experiences, their memories shaping what they become. There are even indications that elephants have a sense of the future and their own mortality. Further examples illustrate conditions ranging from depression in starlings, to post traumatic stress disorder in elephants, to anxiety in mice - including their remarkable ability to self-medicate.

Exploring the relevance of instinct, intelligence and language, Balcombe rejects simplistic models that associate instinct with animals and intelligence with humans. Instinct does not preclude conscious experience, and intelligence is not a good measure for moral standing. As Balcombe puts it: "Animals are as intelligent as they need to be". The evidence shows that many animals, far from following some kind of invariant program, are capable of learned behaviour and can adapt flexibly to new challenges. And as regards language, as it's not linked to sensory activity, animals are able to suffer with or without it.

Balcombe closes the animal-human gap from both directions, elevating our opinion of animal capabilities while questioning the superiority of our own. We are reminded that animal senses and capabilities - physical, and on occasion mental - can be superior to ours. Balcombe points to our penchant for industrial scale cruelty and destruction, questioning our right to label other species as uncivilized. Our culture, Balcombe says, particularly through the media, overplays the negative aspects of animals' lives, pushing the `red in tooth in and claw' image of a natural world where animals permanently struggle at the edge of survival, flailing at the smallest injury.

Part III sees Balcolme getting into his narrative stride, explaining where he thinks our relationship with animals might be heading. Under the heading `A New Humanity' he describes a shift from a traditional attitude of `might makes right' towards a more informed and caring paradigm - a transition he likens to the changes of mind-set that accompanied the end of slavery and the winning of womens' rights. The process has already started, with impacts most tangibly captured in animal related legislation for the protection of species, improvements in the treatment of animals we eat, and tighter controls on laboratory animal experimentation.

Interestingly, with Second Nature appealing mostly to our moral sense, Part III includes some purely practical, well stated, arguments for reduced meat consumption based on health, resource conservation and sustainability. This leads to a brief politico-economic discussion on the compatibility of the capitalist/growth model with sustainable environments; inflammatory territory which Balcombe handles with a welcome non-emotive sense of balance.

The somewhat uneasy relationship science seems to have with the idea of animal feelings is one I find interesting in it's own right. Balcolme, a scientist himself, criticises science's tendency to favour the simplest of plausible theories. It's one reason, he says, why we have the dogmatic starting assumption that animals don't have thoughts and feelings, rather than the other way around. Conversely, Second Nature and other works on a connected theme (Masson's and McCarthy's `When Elephants Weep' comes to mind) are particularly open to criticism when authors use language outside the scientific lexicon. There may be concensus on what sentience means, consciousness less so; but what to make of words like goodness, compassion, and selflessness? Personally, I don't have a problem with Balcombe's style because I don't see the issues being wholly resolvable with today's science; we'd need a workable scientific model of moral behaviour for that. A scientific proof isn't going to pop up and tell us to treat animals better, no matter how many books we read. However, and I suspect this is where Balcombe is coming from, I do think science is the best tool for revealing true animal states that might then be judged logically incompatible with, or at least challenge, established moral and ethical standards. Of course, how established those standards ever are is a discussion for another day.

On a critical note, and it's probably the scientist in me kicking up, there were times when I wanted more detail from the case studies, more counter-argument, and deeper discussion of skeptical views. That the early chapters are crammed with properly referenced case studies is a good thing but, in a work of this length, that means trade-offs in content. The shear volume of examples also gives the early chapters something of a `listy' feel, although that corrects in the later, more analytical material. Also, I thought the singling out of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett for criticism was unnecessary and unhelpful, particularly so when Dawkins has discussed the positive implications for animal rights that discovery (or creation) of a hypothetical man-ape hybrid would have. Examples of the darker side of nature, like the apparently cruel egg-laying behaviour of parasitic wasps, are perhaps over-quoted by the atheist camp, but only as arguments against the existence of a benevolent god, not a celebration. Moreover, Balcombe might want to keep the secularists on his team.

Despite these minor niggles, I have to confess Second Nature has caused me to think more deeply than I otherwise would about a topic I'd mentally parked. Commendably, it brings all the relevant issues up to date in one concise volume, and has plenty of references for those who want to dig deeper.

Will Second Nature change readers' attitudes towards animals? I think in some cases it will. What it won't do is resolve any consequential moral dilemma we might have around that next burger purchase. That's something each of us must think about quietly on our own.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great new book by Balcombe April 13 2010
By Rob Laidlaw, Director, Zoocheck Inc. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Second Nature, The Inner Lives of Animals, is a valuable addition to the growing body of literature about animal emotions. Following on the heels of previous books by Marc Bekoff, Jeffrey Masson and his own Pleasurable Kingdom, Balcombe makes a compelling case for a new, more humane human/animal paradigm. Throwing aside rigidity and close-mindedness, he approaches the subject with an open mind and an open heart. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who is interested in animals to read this book. It will change the way you think.

Rob Laidlaw
CBiol MSB
Director
Zoocheck Canada Inc.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Have Book for All Animal Lovers Dec 2 2010
By w. mike howell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jonathan Balcombe is a reputable scientist with a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior. He has authored over 40 scientific papers (peer-reviewed by leaders in the field of Ethology), in addition to several books. His life's work has centered on the education of laypersons (and fellow scientists) by presenting research documenting that animals have perceptions, intelligence, emotions, awareness, and social skills that were considered impossible just a few decades ago. In his most recent book, Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals, Balcombe discusses recent scientific findings as he delves into the innermost lives of animals and how they react to one another, to other animal species (including humans), and to specific circumstances they encounter. He cites well-documented studies confirming that many animal species are capable of showing consideration to one another, can distinguish between fairness and unfairness, perform acts of kindness to one another, and can reason and solve problems revealing an astounding intelligence.

Evidence that chimpanzees can outscore humans on short-term memory tests, and that they even possess a degree of photographic memory is remarkable. Just as remarkable is the interspecies communication between gecko lizards and planthopper insects. And, Balcombe does not leave out the lower vertebrates by documenting that certain fishes feel and show mental and emotional responses once considered highly improbable for that group. Numerous examples are well-documented by Balcombe as he cites studies published in such reputable scientific journals as Science, Nature, New Scientist, Animal Behaviour, Ethology, Neuron, American Zoologist, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Comparative Psychology, as well as many others. His bibliography is impressive.

This book should be owned and read by all those who love, befriend, and defend animals.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Look beyond what you think you see June 8 2010
By E M Hall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book will change how you look at animals and quite possibly, how you look at yourself. Even for the die-hard pet lover like me, it will still awaken you to look beyond what you think you see. In the first part of the book Jonathan Balcombe gently and eloquently shows us how, what and why animals feel, be this gratitude or grief, pain or pleasure. It is clear that nearly all beings, including fish, have a sense of feeling. As Balcombe writes; "We err mightily when we couple the ability to speak with the ability to feel, because language is neither a source nor a product of sensory acuity". As the book continues he shows the reader the double standards that humans have lived by in their rather fragile cohabitation with animals, both wild and domesticated. By the third part of the book he writes of the atrocities that humans do to animals citing vivisection, factory farming, fur factories and puppy mills as a small example. By the end of this book, I found it very hard to look at a piece of meat as food knowing now what the majority of the animals go through before they reach our forks. If you let it, this book will change both your grocery shopping and eating habits. It has certainly changed mine.
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