Stef (firecat) wrote,

Wiscon Panel report: Just How Smart Are Animals, Anyway?

Just How Smart Are Animals, Anyway?
Science and Technology track
Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m.

Did you know that dogs laugh, and wolves can count? Elephants and dolphins recognize themselves in mirrors; ravens display senses of humor; bears have figured out how break into practically every food container designed to keep them out; and cuttlefish apparently communicate by changing color. What do we really know about animal cognition and communication ... and what, if anything, sets humans apart?

M: Cat Hanna, Carol Emshwiller, Paula L. Fleming, Tom La Farge, Heather Kinast Porter

firecat's review:
I felt very fussy about panels this year. This one was not as bad as I feared it might be and not as good as I hoped it would be. It ended up being mostly a forum for people to discuss what smart things they noticed their pets or local wildlife doing. Some longer-term / scientific studies about animal behavior were mentioned, but I had already heard about many of them. One of the panelists talked a lot more than the others, and a couple of the ones I would have liked to talk more were fairly quiet.

Following are some general notes I want to remember.

Tom La Farge said a lot of interesting things. I want to look up his Mole Place series. He used the phrase "images of the intimate space" in a comment about how humans and animals both inhabit space in emotionally similar ways. That is, humans respond emotionally to concepts like "home" and "family," which are about our animal natures more than about our intellect.

One of Carol Emshwiller's inspirations for The Mount came from thinking about humans - predators - riding on horses - prey animals. (I think the words "omnivore" and "herbivore" might be more accurate, but I'm repeating what she said.) She wondered what it would be like if prey animals rode on predator animals.

The idea that tool use distinguishes humans from animals ignores the way animals use parts of their bodies as tools. For example, cats use their claws to open doors that have had childproofing applied. (My cats use their body weight to open doors.)

La Farge mentioned a book about the behavior of wild dogs written by the husband of Jane Goodall. Amazon shows me the following behavior study, not by Jane Goodall's husband: The African Wild Dog: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation (Monographs in Behavior and Ecology) by Scott Creel (Author), Nancy Marusha Creel. It also shows me Solo:the Story of an African Wild Dog, by Hugo Van Lawick, her first husband, but that's a children's book along the same lines as Born Free.

I liked the term "multimindedness" used to describe the bonding that creates a dog pack.
Tags: wiscon
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