BEYOND WORDS by Carl Safina
Kirkus Star


What Animals Think and Feel
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Award-winning ecologist Safina (Nature and Humanity/Stony Brook Univ.; The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World, 2011 etc.) disputes the dogma among scientists that forbids speculations about the “the inner lives of animals.”

As the author notes, “a young scientist is taught that the animal mind—if there is such—is unknowable.” They are taught to always refer to animals as “it” rather than “who.” Attributing emotions to animals is to commit the sin of anthropomorphism. Safina refutes this idea by examining the social behavior of primates, elephants, wolves, whales, and many others. “Not assuming that other animals have thoughts and feelings was a good start for a new science,” he writes. “Insisting that they did not was bad science.” To dissociate man from other animals is to deny the evidence. We recognize when animals are hungry, so why not admit “when animals seem joyous in joyful contexts, joy is the simplest interpretation of the evidence.” The author cites experiments that demonstrate how electrical stimulation of the brains of animals and humans trigger similar emotional responses, and he based his examples on his personal observations of animals in the wild and discussions with experts with firsthand knowledge of them. For example, the matriarch in an elephant or wolf family depends on other adults for support, and they, in turn, depend upon her. Safina illustrates this with poignant descriptions of how the social lives of both adult and young animals are shaped by the interplay of individual adult personalities within the family. The author's chronicles of his observations of wild animals are captivating, but they also serve to make a larger point: why are people unwilling to admit that nonhuman animals also think and feel as we do? Safina suggests that perhaps it is “because acknowledging the mind of another makes it harder to abuse them.”

A profound, scientifically based appeal for recognition of the kinship of all living things.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9888-4
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: John Macrae/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2015


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