Brett Williams's Reviews > Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal
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Primatologist Frans de Wall answer’s his title’s question early, “Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? The short answer is, Yes,” he writes, “but you’d never have guessed.” Similar to any bigotry we’ve ever seen—from that against Africans to Native Americans—this one dismisses not just surface variations within a species but every other species on earth but our own. High priests of the old order, like behaviorist, B. F. Skinner, come off sounding a lot like witch doctors, hiding under the authority of titles without doing the science to support it (a convenience to save us from the guilt of eating the subjects). Fortunately, science is an open process, and such actors were destined to fall. What Skinner and others did from the beginning was test animals for things animals could not possible do. Like birds testing humans for flight. Were birds to throw as many humans off a cliff as they might, those humans never seemed able to fly. Ergo, humans are just another stupid, flightless animal. Instead of animals as mere “stimulus-response machines” with no human characteristics, we find ours come from the same place as theirs. Instead of humans having superior capacities in tool making, future planning, problem solving, political organization, memory, empathy, and self-awareness, we find ourselves frequently outdone. De Waal’s book provides astounding test data and stunning observations of animals spanning the spectrum that often left me dazed at our inferiority by comparison. After decades of pioneering research by de Waals and others, the human race is about to lose another cherished center, expanding the moral circle as it should. And will, so long as reason (the foundation of morality) survives.

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Reading Progress

April 6, 2020 – Started Reading
April 6, 2020 – Shelved
April 29, 2020 – Finished Reading

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