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

Book Review: Zoobiquity, The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health

One sentence synopsis:

A thorough and easy-to-read book on comparative medicine from a psychiatrist and cardiologist, including topics on heart attacks, cancer, orgasms, erectile dysfunction, sexual orientation, drug addiction, weight management, self-harm, anorexia, adolescence and zoonotic-turned-human diseases.

The good:

This book discusses what all of us animal-lovers and veterinary professionals have wondered in our lifetime - is the animal world and human world all that different?  This book has plenty of first-hand health stories.  I highly recommend Zoobiquity.

In a world where information seems easy to come by, the medical and veterinary fields apparently don't talk - until recently.   Due to the work of Dr. Natterson-Horowitz and a few others, since 2011 there is now an annual conference where comparative medicine is discussed openly to the benefit of animals and humans.  

The bad:

Literally, nothing.  Even if you don't like to read science books, you would still probably enjoy the book because it very easy to read with lots of stories.  Don't you want to know how long a titanosaur's male member is?

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

Photo from Zoobiquity.com

What I learned:

Where do I start? 

  • Heart attacks as a result of emotional stress are a real thing - species can indeed die of a broken heart or of fear.  
  • Animals freezing is comparable to humans fainting.  
  • Dinosaurs had cancer.
  • Larger species seem to get cancer less than smaller species, called Peto's paradox.  
  • Orangutans self-stimulate using tools they make.  
  • Frog necrophilia is real.  
  • Wallabies are often freeloading opium addicts.  
  • Emotions have a biological basis, and can be retained or rejected by natural selection.   
  • Lean humans have more Bacteroidetes than Firmicutes in their intestines.
  • Cats who obsessively lick themselves alone (aka "closet licker" or psychogenic alopecia) are compared to human cutters.  Release followed by relief.
  • Self-Injury, getting tattoos and grooming may all have something in common.
  • Pathogens, that can induce miscarriages or prevent conception, are likely to enjoy benefits of increased mating attempts.  Yes, that means STDs.
  • Adolescent animals and teens alike all make large risk-taking behaviors and altercate for a top spot in social hierarchy.

Why should you care?

If you are looking for a fascinating read that opens your eyes to the possibilities when comparing human and animal health, then this is your book.  You will understand better how diseases spread, what sex means, if disorders exist cross-species, and more.  

...human feelings could have evolutionary roots.
— Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD
Underappreciating our own animal natures may be the greater limitation.
— Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD
Studying a variety of animals could help pinpoint which combination of genes and triggers leads to cancer.
— Barbara Natterson-Horowitz MD
Dr. Barabara Natterson-Horowitz correctly identified the 1999 arrival of the West Nile Virus in the United States, when the CDC shunned her for suggesting that their public diagnosis of St. Louis encephalitis (SLE) was wrong. It started with cases in cows and birds, then humans. It’s possible she saved hundreds of American (animal and human) lives.
$10.74
Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz.  Photo from Zoobiquity.com.  Photo Credit to Joanna Brooks.

Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz.  Photo from Zoobiquity.com.  Photo Credit to Joanna Brooks.

Book Review: Beneath The Surface by John Hargrove

One-Sentence Synopsis: 

John Hargrove was an orca trainer for 14 years, where he transitioned from die-hard SeaWorld employee to an advocate questioning every aspect of orcas in captivity, and this is his true-life story.

                                                                                    Source: seaworldpledge.org

                                                                                    Source: seaworldpledge.org

The Good:

John truly spoke only from his experience.  He gave the facts based on his observations and his knowledge while an orca trainer, including coverage of the SeaWorld artificial insemination program, calfs forcibly removed from mothers, withholding food, small pools, and improper foresight into orca's social structure.  His love for the orcas shines through the entire book, where he details the relationships he built with them.  It's inspiring to hear how intelligent and social these whales are.  There's a dark side of captive orcas, though, which I thank John for sharing with the world.  Everyone needs to hear it.

The Bad: 

There were a few typographical errors, but other than that, I really have nothing to say negative about this book.

I also came to another realization as I trained the stars of SeaWorld. The whales were motivated to perform in shows for two reasons: it gave them more opportunities to be rewarded with food and it provided them with a temporary escape from their horrifically sterile lives in captivity. They were bored.
— John Hargrove
My experience in France with orcas unaccustomed to humans in the water only reinforces my belief that while the relationship between trainer and whale can be beautiful, the overall situation - that of captivity - makes the orcas dysfunctional and dangerous.
— John Hargrove
$18.11
image.jpg
SeaWorld spins its stories this way to minimize the damage to corporation and to manage the commercial image of the orca. While acknowledging that the killer whale can be dangerous, SeaWorld keeps the risk within the realm of public acceptability. It would not be advisable - from a business point of view - to admit that a combination of behavioral strictures and cramped quarters have deformed the natural character of the orcas and made them riskier for trainers to deal with.
— John Hargrove
How do you explain that to the public? ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Ky (male orca) was terrified by a female whale because in SeaWorld we keep our whales so enclosed that they cannot swim away to protect themselves from other whales who might hurt them with their teeth.’
— John Hargrove

What I learned: 

I'm not sure how to properly put into words how much John's story moved me.  Before I saw the Blackfish documentary and read Beneath the Surface, I had little knowledge of orca behavior, social structure and intelligence.  I also had little knowledge of the orca's conditions at SeaWorld.  I was aware that they put on a "circus-like" show, because I had visited SeaWorld as a child once or twice.  Now that I have been exposed to the behind-the-scenes truth, there is no going back, emotionally or physically.  

Why should you care?

Once you read this book, the glamourous veil will be lifted.  You will see the exploitation of both the orcas and the trainers. It may move you in ways you didn't know existed.

I don’t really see myself as the man with the megaphone, though I’m glad there are people who do that. I see myself as speaking on behalf of those who have no voice themselves, who cannot speak for themselves: the whales. The perfect word is ‘advocate.’ There is still a lot of work to be done to change laws and win hearts and minds.
— John Hargrove