Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think

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9780805056693: Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think
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Do animals think? Can they count? Do they have emotions? Do they feel anger, frustration, hurt, or sorrow? Are they bound by any moral code? At last, here is a book that provides authoritative answers to these long-standing questions. Most pop-science books tend to anthropomorphize and romanticize animals, presenting them as furry little humans or as creatures that cannot think or feel at all. Marc Hauser, an acclaimed scientist in the field of animal cognition, uses insights from evolutionary theory and cognitive science to examine animal thought without such biases or preconceptions. For example, do species that share food or travel in large groups have greater innate mathematical abilities? Hauser treats animals neither as machines devoid of feeling nor as extensions of humans, but as independent beings driven by their own complex impulses. In prose that is both elegant and edifying, Hauser describes his groundbreaking research in the field, leading his readers on what David Premack, author of The Mind of an Ape, calls "a masterful tour of the animal mind."

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Review:

What's that squirrel thinking as it runs across the street? Behavioral neuroscientist Marc D. Hauser asks big questions about little brains in Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think. While his subjects aren't accessible for interviews, he believes that we can gain insight into their interior lives by examining their behavior in the context of their social and physical environments. Thus, while comparing the actions of chimps, rats, honeybees, and human infants, he is careful to keep in mind that each of them has different needs that require different kinds of intelligence and emotion and ought not be judged by the same criteria. Looking at counting, mapmaking, self-understanding, deception, and other intelligent activities, Hauser shows that the birds and the bees have more on their minds than we've come to believe. Acknowledging the vast gulf of language that separates our species from all others, he still maintains that this tool is but one of many and is no better an indication of "superior" intelligence than is the bat's fantastically well-developed echolocation system. In the last chapter, Hauser looks at moral behavior and decides that animals can be "moral patients but not moral agents"--that is, their inability to attribute mental states to others keeps them blameless for their actions but their sensitivity to suffering earns them fair treatment from the rest of us. Whether or not you agree with that, you're sure to find Wild Minds a refreshing look at the thoughts of our mute cousins. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Marc Hauser, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Harvard University, researches in Puerto Rico, and Uganda. He has been profiled by such programs as American Profiles and has been published in American Scientist and Discover, among others.

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