Forester Wohlleben (The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World, 2016) turns his attention to how animals feel.
Writing nontechnically but with obvious depth of knowledge, the author invites readers to imagine that animals have many of the same feelings we do. His argument might not pass the most rigorous of scientific challenges, but it makes good sense. “Basically,” he writes, “emotions are linked to the unconscious part of the brain. If animals lacked consciousness, all that would mean is that they would be unable to have thoughts.” That does not presuppose, however, that animals cannot have emotions, since animals certainly have the same sorts of automatic nervous system responses humans have; in that view, maternal love may be hard-wired in deer or frogs just as much as it is in humans. All vertebrates, argues Wohlleben, share the same hardware, so to speak, for emotions, and he takes this down into other orders, noting, for instance, that fish produce oxytocin, “the hormone that not only brings joy to mothers, but also strengthens the love between partners,” and that even single-celled animals can perform complex tasks involving awareness of their surroundings and, therefore, at least a kind of intelligence. And what of the love that an animal might feel for a human? In that instance, the author observes, the driving force may not be anything quite so immutable but instead a more variable quality: the ability to have curiosity about the world. The upshot is that humans need to give animals more credit for feeling—and therefore should not be so quick to eat them, to say nothing of other kinds of maltreatment. Indeed, on reading this gently learned book, readers will pay more attention to animals generally and learn how to be better neighbors to them.
Can squirrels be said to be good or bad? For an answer to questions of that sort, this is the book to read. A treat for animal lovers of all stripes.