THINKING ANIMALS by Paul Shepard

THINKING ANIMALS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Are names destiny? Will Shepard lead the human flock to compassionate understanding and preservation of the animal kingdom? Clearly this is his goal. And who could argue that diverse species are part of the grand scheme of things. But Shepard bases his argument not on benevolence, or even self-interest, but on the premise that humans are utterly dependent on animals as the inspiration and guide to thought and language, as the indispensable ""other"" that establishes our identity. In defense of these ideas he discourses on human evolution, our simian heritage, the relation between predator and prey, the hunter-gatherer days, agrarianism and animal domestication. He mixes accepted fact with fanciful notions, particularly in relation to the nervous system, human development, and language. (For example, he gives primacy to the sense of hearing over vision in evolution, arguing that the former involves central processing while the latter is external, in the eye. In fact the eye is an extension of the brain; the retina itself contains several orders of neurons which process visual information.) Following these misguided beginnings, Shepard discusses animals in imagery, myth, custom, fairy tales, metaphor, advertising, etc., seeing the role of the various species as necessary concomitants to human reasoning and abstraction. Much of this material is interesting, but whether it proves Shepard's point is something else. No, even granting that his embroidered, often overblown style conceals rather than reveals, and agreeing that it would be folly for humankind to dismiss or diminish the role of other species in human ecology, Shepard's dependency arguments are unconvincing and inconclusive.

Pub Date: April 14th, 1978
Publisher: Viking