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Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

5.0 3
by Frans de Waal

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A New York Times Bestseller: “Astonishing . . . has the makings of a classic—and one fantastic read.”—PeopleWhat separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future—all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s


A New York Times Bestseller: “Astonishing . . . has the makings of a classic—and one fantastic read.”—PeopleWhat separates your mind from an animal’s? Maybe you think it’s your ability to design tools, your sense of self, or your grasp of past and future—all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet’s preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition. Take the way octopuses use coconut shells as tools; elephants that classify humans by age, gender, and language; or Ayumu, the young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University whose flash memory puts that of humans to shame. Based on research involving crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, and of course chimpanzees and bonobos, Frans de Waal explores both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence. He offers a firsthand account of how science has stood traditional behaviorism on its head by revealing how smart animals really are, and how we’ve underestimated their abilities for too long.People often assume a cognitive ladder, from lower to higher forms, with our own intelligence at the top. But what if it is more like a bush, with cognition taking different forms that are often incomparable to ours? Would you presume yourself dumber than a squirrel because you’re less adept at recalling the locations of hundreds of buried acorns? Or would you judge your perception of your surroundings as more sophisticated than that of a echolocating bat? De Waal reviews the rise and fall of the mechanistic view of animals and opens our minds to the idea that animal minds are far more intricate and complex than we have assumed. De Waal’s landmark work will convince you to rethink everything you thought you knew about animal—and human—intelligence.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jon Mooallem
For centuries, our understanding of animal intelligence has been obscured in [a] kind of cloud of false assumptions and human egotism. De Waal, a primatologist and ethologist who has been examining the fuzzy boundary between our species and others for 30 years, painstakingly untangles the confusion, then walks us through research revealing what a wide range of animal species are actually capable of…De Waal argues that we should attempt to understand a species' intelligence only within its own context, or umwelt: the animal's "self-centered subjective world, which represents only a small tranche of all available worlds." There are many different forms of intelligence; each should be valuated only relative to its environment.
Publishers Weekly
★ 02/01/2016
In this thoroughly engaging, remarkably informative, and deeply insightful book, de Waal (The Bonobo and the Atheist), a primatologist at Emory University in Atlanta, investigates the intelligences of various animals and the ways that scientists have attempted to understand them. The book succeeds on many levels. De Waal provides ample documentation that animals—including the primates he studies, other mammals, octopuses, birds, and even insects—can be remarkably adept at solving problems. He also explains scientists’ experimental protocols, discussing how bias can creep into experiments and lead to erroneous conclusions. Reiterating Charles Darwin’s “well-known observation that the mental difference between humans and other animals is one of degree rather than kind,” de Waal augments the scientific perspective with a historical one, carefully considering the debates that have roiled the field of animal behavior science for over a century. He describes how chimps collaborate to evade electrified wire and how bonobos occasionally carry tools in anticipation of needing them in the future, telling fabulous stories that shed light on the differences and similarities between humans and other animals. Emphasizing the forms of animal “empathy and cooperation” he has long studied, de Waal teaches readers as much about humankind as he does about our nonhuman relatives. Illus. (May)
“A fascinating history of the study of animal behavior and cognition.”
Maria Rodale - Daily Beast
“A good book. Read it instead of watching TV or playing video games. The whole world will be better as a result.”
Matthew Cobb - The Guardian
“When I was growing up, aspiring naturalists or behavioral scientists would be given a copy of Konrad Lorenz’s zoological investigation King Solomon’s Ring to inspire them. With its wide-ranging and thought-provoking content, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? is an appropriate 21st-century replacement. If you are at all interested in what it is to be an animal, human or otherwise, you should read this book.”
Marc Bekoff - Psychology Today
“A thoughtful and easy read, packed with information stemming from detailed empirical research, and one of de Waal's most comparative works that goes well beyond the world of nonhuman primates with whom he's most familiar.”
The New York Times
“Engaging and informative.”
Nancy Szokan - The Washington Post
“An entertaining, convincing case for assessing each species’s intelligence on its own terms….not only full of information and thought-provoking, it’s also a lot of fun to read.”
“Astonishing...has the makings of a classic—and one fantastic read.”
Carl Safina
“So, are we ‘smart enough to know how smart animals are?’ The question will occur to you many times as you read Frans de Waal’s remarkable distillations of science in this astonishingly broad-spectrum book. I guarantee one thing: readers come away a lot smarter. As this book shows, we are here on Planet Earth with plenty of intelligent company.”
Irene Pepperberg
“A thoughtful, balanced argument…written simply enough for nonspecialists but with enough detail to engage academics who want a concise review of the field outside their own areas of expertise. The take-home message may be not only whether humans are smart enough to evaluate nonhuman intelligence, but also whether we are humble and open-minded enough to accept that humans may sometimes not be superior to the nonhumans with whom we share the world.”
Robert Sapolsky
“Frans de Waal’s groundbreaking research has long challenged scientists, philosophers, and theologians to rethink the place of humans in the natural world, showing that we aren’t the only species with strategic ‘political’ behavior, elements of empathy, a sense of justice, and high intelligence. Here he covers not only primates, but a much wider range of species, showing his unique ability to translate the latest findings into sparkling, accessible, provocative books for the thinking public.”
Matthieu Ricard
“Frans de Waal brilliantly demonstrates through scientific evidence, inspiring stories, and common sense that we must fully appreciate the continuous evolutionary process that led to intelligence—understanding situations, reasoning, learning, emotional and empathic knowledge, communication, planning, creativity, and problem solving—and to other amazing cognitive skills that allow various species to best survive, each in their own way. A must for those who aspire to transcend the biases of both anthropocentrism and anthropodenial.”
Gregory Berns
“You can’t help but get a sense that de Waal has placed another nail in the coffin of behaviorism. In animal after animal, de Waal shows the depths of their intelligence and triumphantly affirms that, yes, we are smart enough to see it, and the clues have been there all along.”
Virginia Morell
“Engaging and provocative…de Waal illuminates the latest ideas and thinking about animal minds and emotions…. He challenges us to accept the ultimate findings of this research: Our mental skills are the product of evolution, and all animals from spiders to octopuses to ravens and apes are thinkers in their own ways. And he asks us perhaps the most daunting question of all: Are we really smart enough to understand the minds of other animals?”
Library Journal
★ 04/01/2016
Author of many influential books on primate social behavior and intelligence, de Waal (psychology, Emory Univ.; director, Living Links Ctr., Yerkes National Primate Research Ctr., Atlanta; The Age of Empathy) here takes a critical look at the history of his own field, now called "evolutionary cognition." Combining the best research practices from two opposing scientific disciplines—ethology and comparative psychology—he seeks to understand animals on their terms rather than ours. Easier said than done, however. As de Waal points out, devising species-appropriate intelligence tests requires a great deal of smarts on our part. But it seems that the better we get at testing animals, the more knowledgeable they appear to be. Drawing upon personal experiences, anecdotes, and research findings from a broad range of animal cognition studies, de Waal brilliantly addresses the enormous amount of skepticism and criticism that has plagued this discipline. VERDICT This insightful and fascinating work by a scientist who has been at the forefront of new thinking about primates and what it means to be human is highly recommended. De Waal fans and general readers interested in the field of animal cognition will be delighted.—Cynthia Lee Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Historical Soc., Flemington, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-02-03
Intrigued by the search for intelligent life? No need for space travel—it's happening right here on Earth, and the results are amazing. De Waal (Psychology/Emory Univ.; The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, 2013, etc.), the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, tells us that it takes human ingenuity and respect to comprehend the level of intelligence of an animal. In example after example, he entertainingly demonstrates how researchers with those qualities have revealed surprising things about animal cognition and the porousness of the wall between human and animal cognition. First, for the nonscientist, the author provides some background on scientific thinking about animal behavior, putting paid to the bygone notion that animals are simply stimulus-response mechanisms or are solely driven by genetically endowed instincts. In recent years, scientists have begun to recognize the many surprising abilities of animals. The author's field is primate behavior, and most of the examples come from that field, but elephants, octopuses, squirrels, and magpies are among the many other animals to appear in these pages. He shows us many animals both in the wild and in captivity solving challenging problems, planning future actions, having better-than-human memories, making and handling tools, communicating, and demonstrating empathy and cooperation. De Waal is persuasive in arguing that the difference between the cognition of the human and those of other animals is one of degree, not of kind, and the clarity of his writing makes for a highly readable book. A welcome bonus is the inclusion of rather charming, simple drawings by the author that give the essence of an activity better than a photograph might. For general readers, he includes a helpful glossary, and for those who want more details about the research cited, there is an extensive bibliography. After this edifying book, a trip to the zoo may never be the same.
New York Times
“Engaging and informative.”
Nancy Szokan - Washington Post
“An entertaining, convincing case for assessing each species’s intelligence on its own terms….not only full of information and thought-provoking, it’s also a lot of fun to read.”
Edward O. Wilson
“This is a remarkable book by a remarkable scientist. Drawing on a growing body of research including his own, de Waal shows that animals, from elephants and chimpanzees to the lowly invertebrates, are not only smarter than we thought, but also engaged in forms of thought we have only begun to understand.”
Temple Grandin
“Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? will completely change your perceptions of the abilities of animals. This book takes the reader on a fascinating journey of discovery into the world of animal problem-solving.”
Alison Gopnik - The Atlantic
“A passionate and convincing case for the sophistication of nonhuman minds.”
Jon Mooallem - New York Times Book Review
“Walks us through research revealing what a ride range of animal species are actually capable of....it all deals a pretty fierce wallop to our sense of specialness.”
Nicola Clayton - Science
“A beautifully written and delightfully conceived popular science book, written by an eminent researcher who has dedicated his career to making the general public aware of just how smart animals are.”

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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Our Inner Ape, among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University’s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A crustacean and a fish had learned to play a rules-based game when I first observed them, alone, in a 3-4m3 (barren - boring) marine aquarium. I have not recorded this observation (about ten repeats over three weeks), so I'm hoping someone will recreate the conditions, see what happens, and report it. The place: the Blackpool (public) Aquarium. The fish: a large-mouthed, bottom-living Percid about 36cm total length; the Crustacean: a large (for the Irish Sea) Hermit Crab, probably Pagurus sp. with two suitable whelk shells (Buccinum sp). The game started (possibly triggered by the crab investigating the free shell) with the fish approaching the crab+extra shell. By not changing shells, the fish backed off a little, then a little more until it was at a critical distance from the crab. "Critical" meaning just "safe" for the crab to move to the free shell with the fish threatening to catch it, but always just missing. The "rule" of the game was "nobody gets hurt" - just excited. Anyone interested in replicating this? Details c/o drcedric@gmail.com. And I have an observation about a depressed Goldfish getting relief by teaming up with a non-fish companion. Great to see animal behaviour getting its day in the sun with stunning new titles from Frans and others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's not a hierarchy when everyone's unique
Connie57103 More than 1 year ago
Mr. De Waal uses a lot of quotes and also tries to get us to understand Ethology before he goes in deep with his wonderful and insightful stories about how cognitive animals truly are. One quote is from a German physicist, Werner Heisenberg: "What we observe is not nature itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning." Mr. De Waal said that animals often know only what they need to know (which sounds a lot like our jobs). And I love this one from Konrad Lorenz: "I believe that one could not investigate animals effectively without an intuitive understanding grounded in love and respect." De Waal states that the challenge is to find tests that fit an animal's temperament, interests, anatomy, and sensory capabilities. Faced with negative outcomes, we need to pay close attention to differences in motivation and attention. I, myself, can understand his point with my ADHD, I, as a human, face the same dilemmas. I get what he means. The points that really interest me is what Mr. De Waal talks about Ethology, New to science. He says that the great novelty of technology was to bring the perspective of morphology and anatomy to bear on behavior. He also says that before scientists test any animal, they need to know it's typical behavior. These are just a few of the points he makes about this new, brilliant field of study. I wish to thank W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for giving me a free copy of this book to read and give my honest review.