Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals Hardcover – Mar 16 2010
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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
“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 ...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
“Brisk, erudite and enormously entertaining ― an excellent, approachable introduction to the basic issues in animal behaviour. ” ―Publishers Weekly on Pleasurable Kingdom
“Entertaining examples of animal bliss ― from drunken parrots to the caresses of fiddler crabs ― bring a pleasure all their own” ―Psychology Today on Pleasurable Kingdom
“This well-reasoned, engaging book argues that critters share our capacities for humor, empathy and aesthetic pleasure.” ―People Magazine on Pleasurable Kingdom
“This entertaining and thought-provoking book is recommended for popular science collections. ” ―Library Journal on Pleasurable Kingdom
“Fascinating and often moving, this book emphasizes that animals ― like us ― truly have personalities, minds and emotions. ” ―ane Goodall, Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace on Pleasurable Kingdom
“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 on Pleasurable Kingdom
“A well-argued thesis. ” ―Scientific American on Pleasurable Kingdom
“… lively, shrewd, well-argued … an admirable contribution. ” ―Mary Midgley, in Times Higher Education Supplement on Pleasurable Kingdom
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.
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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
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.
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.
I admire and respect Balcombe's work in the field and for attempting to reveal the truths and realities about how incredible and necessary nonhuman animals are, and that they can and do think and feel, just in different ways from how we humans think and feel. I hope we humans get our collective act together for the sake of the amazing creatures with which we cohabitate, as well as for the sake of our own species and the planet we all call home.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who understands the sentience of nonhuman animals but simply needs more "proof", especially from someone with a PhD in ethology (the study of animal behavior).
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