Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

  • by Frans de Waal
  • Narrated by Sean Runnette
  • 10 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From world-renowned biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal comes this groundbreaking work on animal intelligence destined to become a classic.
What 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 been eroded - or even disproved 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, often incomparable forms? 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 an 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.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Enlightening but not earth-shattering

This book tells us that animals have cognition. When you interact with your pet dog, it isn’t just an automaton responding reflexively to Pavlovian stimuli, it actually has awareness. It thinks. It has cognition.

Were you ever in any doubt about this? I wasn’t. It’s the most obvious fact in the world that pets have consciousness and awareness. They have ‘minds’ just like we do (if there is such a thing!). This book argues this fact as if an army of behaviourist scientists are disputing it, which I suppose they must be, but to me it’s pretty obvious and so the basic message of this book isn’t an astounding life-changer.

But the book does add a lot of breadth and depth to this basic premise. For one thing, it challenges the notion that human cognition is essentially different (and superior) to all other animal cognition. He provides lots of examples of primate cognition which are very hard to separate from the way we think, such as planning for the future and understanding the motivations of other members of a social group. He makes the case that animal cognition has been underestimated by behaviourists because they tend to study animals in laboratories. Laboratories are unnatural environments which do not bring the best out of animals. They are much better studied in their natural environments. Many imaginative experiments have been performed in natural environments proving that animals function at a high cognitive level.

And this extends beyond primates to other animals: Elephants, dolphins (who know each other by name), birds and invertebrates, such as the octopus. They’re all shown in this book to be much cleverer than they’ve previously been given credit for, and it is hard to deny that they have consciousness.

It’s an entertaining book that probably won’t change your World View too much (unless you’re a behaviourist), and the take-home message is ‘animals are smarter than you think’.
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- Mark "I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!"

dull, really dull

I listened to 8 of 12 chapters hoping it would turn around, but then I couldn't take it any longer. I was looking forward to a fascinating narrative of the observed intelligence of a variety of animals, but this was mostly a dry rambling dissertation/critique of other ethologists and psychologists with occasional descriptions of experiments demonstrating intelligence or our failure to design such experiments properly. If you want to hear 10 hours of 'cognition' pronounced three times a minute, then this text is for you. I am usually not bothered by narrators quirks, but this one's ill fitting denture only added to the annoying narrative.
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- Max

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-25-2016
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.