What Animals Think and Feel: A Summary of Beyond Words

science and unexplained real-life accounts wrapped in eloquent honesty...a read you don't want to miss.

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.
— Carl Safina, PhD
Why do human egos seem so threatened by the thought that other animals think and feel?
— Carl Safina, PhD

Overview: This Ted Talk is an just a short snippet of how wonderful the book is.  Although this is a large 400+ page book that took me 4 weeks to finish, I absolutely LOVED it.  I devoured each page and used all the ink in my highlighter to mark my favorite parts.   It's exactly what I would expect: captivating to read, covers what we know in science (yet recognizes that there is still a lot we don't know), and includes fascinating anecdotal accounts. If you love all kinds of animals, (yes, cats do get a few mentions in this book!) and desire to learn about their brains, intelligence and so much more...read this book (you can buy at link at bottom of post).

It will leave you motivated and asking yourself - how can I help?

Details:   Carl Safina writes not only from his professional experience, but also from his personal experience and those of others.  He goes into great detail about the plight of the African elephants, Yellowstone wolves and Orcas (aka Killer Whales).  All whilst weaving an intricate image of our current scientific understanding of animal intelligence and emotions, and discovering what is beyond our current quantitative knowledge.

This book contains several captivating, and seemingly unexplained, accounts of Orca and dolphin kindness, teamwork and senses beyond current human understanding.  The question behind each is, what is their motivation? If humans are the "smartest species" then why haven't we figured this out yet?

Carl touches on the definitions of consciousness (the thing that feels like something), sentience (the ability to feel sensations), cognition (the capacity to perceive and acquire knowledge and understanding) and thought (the process of considering something that's been perceived).  I think it's about time (and I believe the author agrees with me) that we recognize all of the varying levels of the above in all animals, and how that humans may not be at the "top of the chain" on each of the scales we create.


Here are my most interesting takeaways...

Takeaway #1: Octopi, gulls, herons, jays, sea otters, dolphins, elephants, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, wrasse (fish), wasps, and various ants use tools (and this list grows by the day as researchers discover more).


Takeaway #2: Anthropocentrism = the sense that everything revolves around  us.


Takeaway #3: "Rage gets produced in the same parts of the brains of a cat and a human."

Takeaway #3: Teaching requires an individual to take time away from its own agenda to demonstrate and instruct a new skill to the student, and the student then must learn the skill.  Teachers include cheetahs and house cats, river otters, meerkats, several birds, etc.

Watch cats learning to hunt starting at 2:00 from BBC Worldwide.

Image: Lucy Berrington

Image: Lucy Berrington

Takeaway #4: Theory of Mind definitions seem to be a hot topic among academics, and oddly controversial. (My opinion of why is because "proving theory of mind" means the human race must face how we treat our animals with more...*gasp*...empathy)

Takeaway#5: Elephants

  • Elephants almost always react to a dead elephant's (and sometimes human's) remains.
  • Elephants may use the aid of a mediator to reconcile social problems with other elephants.
  • Elephant vocal communication is partially sent through the ground and received through the feet of other elephants.
Photo: Carl Safina

Photo: Carl Safina

Photo: Carl Safina

Photo: Carl Safina

Takeaway #6: Wolves

  • "Wolves orient and defer to their elders the way dogs do to their human keepers.  Maturing wolves, though, become captains of their own lives.  Dogs remain perpetually dependent on and submissive to humans.'
  • "Outside of Yellowstone, people account for about 80 percent of wolf deaths."

Takeaway #7: Birds

  • Crows figure out how to use tools to solve an 8-step puzzle to gain access to food.
  • The size of the forebrain in ravens and parrots, is relatively larger than found in other birds, which is where thinking is processed.
  • Many have regional dialects.
  • Ravens, crows, and parrots have brain-size-to-body-mass ratio that is similar to a chimpanzee.
Photo: Artie Raslich, Gotham Whale.

Photo: Artie Raslich, Gotham Whale.

Takeaway#8: Sea Creatures

  • "Bottlenose dolphins engage in more same-sexual behavior than any other known creature."
  • The Orca social structure is more complex and peaceful than chimpanzee social structure. 
  • Between 1 month to 2 years of age, several species of dolphins develop their own distinctive "signature whistle" as a name for themselves.

 

 

Buy the book by clicking the photo link below.  Check out Carl Safina's organization and TV show.

Carl Safina PhD (click pic for his biography)

Carl Safina PhD (click pic for his biography)

Elephants and birds don’t feel their love for one another the way I feel my love, but the same is true of my own friends, my mother, my wife, my stepdaughter, and my next-door neighbors. Love isn’t one thing, and human love isn’t all identical in quality or intensity.
— Carl Safina, PhD
Interested in conservation?  Check out Carl Safina's organization by clicking the photo.

Interested in conservation?  Check out Carl Safina's organization by clicking the photo.

Click the photo to go see episodes from the author's PBS series, Saving the Ocean.

Click the photo to go see episodes from the author's PBS series, Saving the Ocean.

Quotes Too Good Not To Share...

Quotes on Love:

In one sense, love is a name for a feeling that evolution uses to truck us into performing risky, costly behaviors such as child rearing and the defense of our mates and children...Romantic love, parental love, infantile love, love of community, of country, love of food, of chocolate, love of books and education, of sports, the arts...The word “love” is a catchall for many different positive emotions...one conclusion is almost inescapable: other animals love.
The more interesting question is: Which animals, what do they love, and in what way? How do they experience it - what positive, gap-closing emotions do they feel?
— Carl Safina, PhD

Quotes on Science & Academia:

When breakthroughs happen, they don’t come as confirmation of what we already know. They come as something unexpected, hard to fathom, something producing puzzlement, demanding new explanations. They come as things that many people dismiss or scorn. Until they turn out to be true. So while I am wary of believing, I’m also wary of dismissing. The many stories (mentioned in this book) have pushed me into the ‘I just don’t know’ category. And it’s pretty hard to get me there.
...
Before I encountered these stories, I was dismisive. Now I feel shaken out of certainty. I’ve suspended disbelief. It’s an unexpected feeling for me. The stories have forced open doors I had shut, doors to that greatest of all mental feats: the simple sense of wonder, and of feeling ope to the possibility of being changed.
— Carl Safina, PhD
I wonder. Many other animals are curious, and human curiosity is a precursor to wonder, which is a precursor to spirituality, which is a precursor to science. Science seeks to find out what’s really going on. And science’s searching is everlasting wonder.
— Carl Safina, PhD
If the word (anthropomorphism) was hoisted, an attack was imminent. You wouldn’t get your work published. And in the academic realm of publish or perish, jobs were at stake...Suggesting that other animals can feel anything wasn’t just a conversation stopper; it was a career killer.
— Carl Safina, PhD
To this day, ‘anthropo’-phobia remains widespread among behavioral scientists and science writers who ape the outdated hypercaution of the orhtodox behaviorists who trained them.
— Carl Safina, PhD
I’d never deny that formal scientific research in controlled conditions has been exceptionally helpful. I’ll also never lose sight of the fact that real lives of animals are too expansive for laboratories to adequately reflect. Yet many behaviorists work only in labs...or psychology departments. Now we’ll see how...researchers who confuse sometimes amuse.
— Carl Safina, PhD

Quotes on Emotions and Thoughts:

...do other animals have human emotions? Yes, the do. Do humans have animal emotions? Yes; they’re largely the same. Fear, aggression, well-being, anxiety, and pleasure are the emotions of shared brain structures and shared chemistries, originated in shared ancestry. They are the shared feelings of a shared world.
— Carl Safina, PhD
Speech is a slippery grip for measuring thoughts...Words interpret thoughts. Thoughts come first.
— Carl Safina, PhD
Words are sketches of the real thing, and some sketches capture a better likeness than others.
— Carl Safina, PhD
Words are only one part of communication. The word sparkles with silent sentiments, all in t heir quiet ways signifying sentient somethings.
— Carl Safina, PhD
These qualities of sound, tempo, and tone are technically called ‘paralinguistic features,’ and they all come under the umbrella term ‘prosody.’ Prosody refers to the sound qualities of human speech. Prosody is why, ofr instance, linsteners can distinguish lullabies from yelling in any language. It’s why (various instruments) can sound mysteriously like a person telling a story, though it is devoid of words.
...
Singing in another language presents some of the purest prosody; we don’t understand the words, so we respond entirely to vocal sounds and rhythmic patterns.
...
Sound can convey emotional qualities such as anger, fear, joy, affection, sadness, and excitement, plus varying intensities of those emotions. Music can capture and convey these emotions.
— Carl Safina, PhD
I personally do not believe that it is meaningful to attempt to fit different species along a linear scale of intelligence. There are hundreds of tests for human intelligence alone, but we still have trouble even defining human intelligence.
— Peter Tyack, whale expert
Human awareness is present without words; words are on attempt to capture our consciousness.
— Carl Safina, PhD

Quotes on Dolphins and Whales:

It seems extraordinary that free-living (dolphins) view humans as worthwhile playmates. That they do carries implications about minds understanding minds.
— Carl Safina, PhD
There is someone in there (the dolphin). It’s not human, but it is a someone.”
— Diana Reiss, PhD
The fact is, killer whales seem capable of random acts of kindness. Acts that defy explanation. acts that make scientists consider some pretty far-out possibilities.
— Carl Safina, PhD
(Bottlenose dolphins) brain’s neocortex - the thinking part - is also larger than ours (human neocortex). Human brains are just a shade larger than a cow’s. It gets humbling.
— Carl Safina, PhD
A whale’s neocortex - where much of consciousness and thinking happens - has a higher amount of surface area relative to total brain sizer than a human’s does. This is the hardware of awareness, the wiring of thought...but, the human neocortex is twice as thick and has much higher cell density.
— Carl Safina, PhD

Quotes on Brain Structure and Intelligence:

There is one generalization we can make: most important for flexible problem solving and mental dexterity seems to be the sheer number and density of neurons in mammals’ brain cortex and in non-mammals’ equivalent of the cortex.
— Carl Safina, PhD
Humans have more cortical neurons than other mammals, although only marginally more than whales and dolphins.
...
The outstanding intelligence of humans appears to result from a combination and enhancement of properties found in non-human primates...rather than from ‘unique’ properties.
— Gerhard Roth and Ursula Dicke, German brain scientists
When individuals matter - when you’re a ‘who’ - you need a social brain capable of reasoning, planning, rewarding, punishing, seducing, protecting, bonding, understanding, (and) sympathizing.
...
Species who have the most complex societies develop the most complex brains.
...
Take home: the most intelligent brain is the social brain.
— Carl Safina, PhD

How These Individuals are Changing the World for the Human-Animal Bond

Have you ever had an experience so memorable that it changed your entire life?

Have you been so impacted by the human-animal bond that you thought about starting a new chapter in your life?

Introducing two wonderful people that I met at BlogPaws 2015 in Nashville, TN:  Buzz Miller (PACT founder) and Christina Lisk (author and avid cat-lover).  I met Christina during one of the lectures, where I easily spotted her in her cat ears headband and animal-print clothing.  I noted to myself - "I must talk to her!".  A few hours later, I so happened to sit next to Buzz during lunch, where we had a uplifting and enlightening conversation.  Both of these lovely people agreed to be interviewed to highlight how their life has been drastically improved by the human-animal bond.  Full interview of each person is in audio format in links below.

PACT stands for People plus Animals Equals Companions Together (how awesome is that?!).   PACT has a network of long-term animal foster families whose humans are serving a military tour, a long-term patient in a hospital or even those who are homeless.  They do AMAZING work in this organization!

On the left, Buzz Miller and Judy are posing with a dog (formerly in the care of Michael Vick) who was rehabbed.  On the right, Christina Lisk is posing with one of the cats from PACT.

Christina Lisk on How Cats Changed Her Life (and Her Hearing):

(I’ve had) a life of chronic ear infections (I started out as being half-deaf). I’ve had so much trouble with them (ears) since I was 6 months old. They put me into 10 surgeries over the course of my life time, (and) there were times when the infections were so bad I couldn’t hear a cat purr... That changed when I was 12, when I had ear drum repair surgery...the one (sound) that struck me the most was hearing Greta’s purr for the first time...They (cats) have always been my touchstone. Anytime my world is spinning out of control, if there is a cat around, I am instantly grounded.
— Christina Lisk, Author at PACT
I came to work with a migraine...Baby (cat) jumped up on the back of my chair and instantly held his head to my chest...the pain went away. ...Changes in blood pressure can contribute to migraine headaches, and cat purrs actually lower blood pressure.
— Christina Lisk, Author at PACT
They (cats) provide therapy for me. The cats...comfort me the whole time...I thought...’I don’t know what I would do without you (Lucas, the cat).’
— Christina Lisk, Author at PACT
Buzz and a PACT family

Buzz and a PACT family

Buzz on How it All Started:

‘We are going to Afghanistan or we are going to the middle east... We have no one we know among relatives, family and friends who will take care of this animal for a year.’

I said to myself...I can’t believe young people are going to horrible places...they are risking their lives...and they have to give up an animal that these people truly truly love as a member of the family. I can’t believe...there are not provisions to help these young people...
— Buzz Miller, Founder of PACT

Buzz on the Human-Animal Bond with his Cat:

We had lost one of my favorite dogs of all time at 19 1/2... About 6 months later, I was sitting in the den with a couple cats...(I said to my wife) ‘It really bothers me, that he (my dog) slept on my bed for years, and now...I don’t have that dog touching me (anymore)’... It shocked me unbelievably (because) from that night on, until this cat went to heaven...he got in the bed and crawled up into my arms every night (from then on until his death)... He obviously picked up on something (I) said.”
— Buzz Miller, Founder of PACT

Buzz on Where PACT is Going:

In five years, I’d like to have a satellite in every major city... The first need is to enable the rest of the country (to know) that we will put (your animals) into long-term foster for a couple months up to a year.
— Buzz Miller, Founder of PACT

If you'd like a warm and fuzzy feeling, just watch this video below where a soldier is welcomed home by her cats.




How to Make Your Bond with Your Cat Stronger

Cats may seem absurd, aloof or simply independent to us.  There is more to them, and maybe you have yet to experience it or you simply want more affection.  We crave their attention.  We love those snuggles and we love feeling their soft fur.  You've probably often asked yourself, "I wonder how I could convince Garfield to interact with me more?".

Here are 5 ways to increase the depth of your bond with your cat - ready?

1. Spend Time Alone with Cat Everyday

It's important to find time everyday, even if it's only 5 minutes, to sit alone with your cat.   When I say alone, I mean in a room, without distractions like kids, spouses, loud trucks passing by, other animals, etc.  During this time, just sit with him or her.  Only interact if the cat chooses to interact with you.  You can solicit engagement by slowly blinking your eyes then looking away as a sign of trust, as well as laying on the floor.  Your cat determines the activity - not you.

Observe when your cat is most interested in you during the day, and pick this time as your alone time with him or her.  Is it when you come home from work?  Is it right after meal time?  Is it in the morning, right after you get out of bed?

Lady Asti and I having a quiet moment alone.

Lady Asti and I having a quiet moment alone.

2. Go on an Adventure Outside Together

In recent times, cat culture has pushed cat guardians to keep cats indoors mainly out of concern of safety and health - which are both totally valid.  It is true your kitty will likely live longer by being kept indoors.  On the flip side, we have removed the cat's natural environment.  Most cats would love some time outside, so wouldn't it be wonderful to let them have that time with you?  Just imagine, strolling down the boulevard at sunset with your special feline friend.  Maybe you'll even meet some new human, canine, avian or reptile friends!  You will both enjoy this bonding activity!

Before embarking on your outdoor adventure, be sure to go in proper fashion.  There are three options: limited free roam, leash walking and a pet stroller.  

  • Limited free roaming includes setting up a cat-safe fence (see links at the bottom of the post) and enjoying time together with your cat on your patio, backyard, etc.  A great activity if you are interested in reading outside in nature while your cat basks in the sun or sits in your lap.
  • Leash walking is a great option for boisterous, outgoing cats who respond well to clicker training and/or are not distracted or scared easily by noises, smells, etc.
  • Pushing your cat in a pet stroller is a great option for cats who aren't very adventurous, but still enjoy the sights and smells.  It's also a great option if you live in an area with lots of dogs on a leash, because your cat is elevated and enclosed from well-meaning all-too-friendly pooches who are clueless about feline etiquette.  As I like to say, it's a stress-free way to "stroll together & soul together".
Lady Asti and I on our walk outside.

Lady Asti and I on our walk outside.

3. Talk Out Loud to your Cat

Yes, you may think this is silly, but there is some awesome rewards in it for you, too.  There's a few things that talking out loud to your cat can do to increase the closeness of your bond.

First of all, your cat has probably already learned to meow at you when he or she wants something from  you.  Take that opportunity to talk back, and reward the cat with the play, food or pets that it desires.  You have now positively associated meow, talk and play/food/pets together.  You've learned of one way to communicate with each other.  

Second of all, on a spiritual level, when you talk, you are also setting an intention.  This intention is what your cat (or any other animal, for that matter) can pick up on and understand.  So, yes, when you call your cat those funny nicknames like Poopybutt, Fatty, and Dumby - they understand those words, because they understand the intent you had behind them.  It's all energy.

Jack and I having a little chat about our day.

Jack and I having a little chat about our day.

4. Playtime Before Mealtime

Playtime is a mimicking hunting prey, and it's the most fun activity a cat can engage in.  If you make time to share that exciting moment with your cat, everyday, you will reap the rewards of companionship.  Imagine if your favorite activity was skydiving, and everyday your favorite person said "Ok, let's go skydiving because you love it, then we'll go eat a spectacular meal once we've worked up that appetite".  You'd think that was pretty pawsome, right?

Now, just to clarify, cats do not hunt in groups.  Unless it's a lion, which I sure hope you don't have a lion.  You are sharing in an experience by being present during the play and providing the stimulation, but you are not "hands on" in the play time.  That means, your body should not be "in the play", only the "prey" (toy) should be.

Playtime with Bailey and Lady Asti.

Playtime with Bailey and Lady Asti.

5. Clicker Training

I would vote that clicker training your cat is the fastest way to increase your bond together.   There are lots of books written on how to clicker train, so I will not dwell on that here.  If you have multiple cats, like me, train them one at a time otherwise it turns into a food fight.  Just know that the activity is very exciting, rewarding and fun for your cat.  It's like a fun game with food to them.  I don't know about you, but I love games that involve food for myself, too!  

Captain Jack Sparrow and I clicker training for high five.

Captain Jack Sparrow and I clicker training for high five.

Now, go enjoy your kitty time and click on a few links below to learn more :)

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