As the World Turns

Notes: What Your Cat (or Dog) Wants You To Know

Updated 43 weeks ago David Stone
Notes: What Your Cat (or Dog) Wants You To Know
© Deborah Julian

Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are? That provocative question is the title of a new book by primatologist and bestselling author Frans de Waal. It's a must read for fans of writers who open new vistas into how we see ourselves and our place in nature.

Catchy titles, as every good publisher knows, help sell books. With competition intense, you need an immediate attention grabber to get ahead of the crowd. The problem is that the science of title creation surpasses that of book writing. The contents often have a hard time keeping up with the few words that decorate the spine.

Notes: What Your Cat (or Dog) Wants You To Know

With Frans de Waal, that's never an issue. If anything, he has a habit of making his case so fully that he delivers more than you need. In his earlier The Age of Empathy, he had me convinced before I was halfway through, although he's such an engaging writer I still enjoyed the information.

In Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? he takes a giant step away from traditional science's dismissal of other species as not being up to human standards.

Some scientists stubbornly hold to that idea, although the most direct understanding of evolution shows us that every species, including our own, is now at the peak of its path through the universe.

Evolution hones us to be the best we can be on our own terms, given the challenges of the world in which we and our ancestors have lived.

The next time someone tells you your dog's not smart, explain to him that your dog is smart enough to be fed without going off to work or getting a driver's license, privileges few humans can claim. Does your cat pet you for pleasure or do you pet your cat for his or her pleasure?

De Waal chides scientists for making human abilities the yardstick for measuring animal intelligence. For example, scientists tested chimps' skills at face recognition by showing them human faces. The chimps did poorly.

Then, someone decided to test them with chimp faces, and they did fine.

Why, you wonder, would a clear thinking scientist imagine that chimps would evolve a skill for recognizing human faces?

Our insistence on judging animals by comparing them to humans ignores the very dynamics that make cats and dogs different than humans.

Are rabbits lesser creatures because they don't read Shakespeare? Or are they geniuses of their own kind, brilliantly aware that sitting in a chair leafing through pages of sonnets is of no use whatever to their well-being?

If you love animals and want to gain a deeper understanding of what nature has done with them, get a copy of Frans de Waal's new bestseller, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? You will never look at your cat or dog the same way again.

You might begin to wonder who's running the show. 


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