Book Comments – Animal Wise by Virginia Morell

The required US legal disclaimer: All images are the property of their owners I reproduce them here under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright law for commentary and critique

The required US legal disclaimer: All images are the property of their owners I reproduce them here under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright law for commentary and critique

Scientists can be dumb sometimes. We’ve all read headlines like scientists finally prove water is wet and think well DUH! That’s how I felt about animals having thoughts and feelings. Honestly unless you’ve NEVER in your life been around animals, watched animals, seen an animal documentary I don’t see how you could doubt such things exist. However that was the prevalent view of science until about the mid-1990s that animals were composed of instinctual and stimulus reactions incapable of emotion or thought but capable of imitation for reward (stimulus response). Like me Virginia Morrell was insulted by this too. She knew her dog played, planned playing, picking just the right toy for it. She’d been around animals in her assignments for National Geographic. So she set out to write a book about the people who were scientifically proving what those of us who have looked into an animal’s eyes or watched an ant hill already knew. Then she wrote a book about what these people saw and are proving.

Did you know ants are teachers? Some bird parents name their young and even have arguments over the name? That wolves can understand what human pointing means but dogs do? Hooked fish feel significant pain? That archer fish learn by watching? Well those things have been scientifically proven. Each chapter of the book Morrell introduces us a scientific researcher that has devoted their lives to understand how animals think and feel. To these people even though they are reluctant to admit it in papers, it’s not a question of if but how. Still in their papers they have to convince colleagues first that thoughts and emotions exist then show how they are determining what they are. Each study has a different animal as their focus. The wonderful thing we are learning is what I think we animal lovers knew in our gut – we have more in common emotionally with animals than many are willing to admit.

The reluctance to admit animals have thoughts and feelings comes from the desire to set humans higher than animals in all things. But let’s face it my nose is not rival for my Molly Dog’s. My agility even in my prime never matched that of a cat. We are animals ourselves just different ones. We don’t have to win at everything.

The next argument is thoughts and feelings can’t been seen so can’t be studied. Well, gravity can’t be seen but that never stopped serious scientific study of it. Atoms can’t be seen but we study them. This things are studied by their effects. Why is it not valid to study the effects of thoughts and emotions on animals? They fear anthropomorphizing. So the scientists Morrell are fastidious about their notes, their experiment designs and so forth.

If you are an animal lover this book is for you. It will uphold what you already know and broaden your knowledge about all animals. If you believe the old line on animals I invite you to read this and become educated on we have learned about the creatures we share this planet with. You’ll be surprised to find you share a lot more with an ant than the dirt you walk upon, with a bird than the air, with a fish than the water, with a dog than a home. In the end it only confirms that we are one among the animals here and that’s pretty damn fine company.

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