How many of us have caught ourselves gazing into the eyes of a pet, wondering what thoughts lie behind those eyes? Or fallen into an argument over which is smarter, the dog or the cat? Scientists have conducted elaborate experiments trying to ascertain whether animals from chimps to pigeons can communicate, count, reason, or even lie. So does science tell us what we assume -- that animals are pretty much like us, only not as smart? Simply, no. Now, in this superb book, Stephen Budiansky poses the fundamental question: "What is intelligence?" His answer takes us on the ultimate wildlife adventure to animal consciousness.
Budiansky begins by exposing our tendency to see ourselves in animals. Our anthropomorphism allows us to perceive intelligence only in behavior that mimics our own. This prejudice, he argues, betrays a lack of imagination. Each species is so specialized that most of their abilities are simply not comparable. At the mercy of our anthropomorphic tendencies, we continue to puzzle over pointless issues like whether a wing or an arm is better, or whether night vision is better than day vision, rather than discovering the real world of a winged nighthawk, a thoroughbred horse, or an African lion. Budiansky investigates the sometimes bizarre research behind animal intelligence experiments: from horses who can count or ace history quizzes, and primates who seem fluent in sign language, to rats who seem to have become self-aware, he reveals that often these animals are responding to our tiny unconscious cues. And, while critically discussing scientists' interpretations of animal intelligence, he is able to lay out their discoveries in terms of what we know about ourselves. For instance, by putting you in the minds of dogs or bees who travel by dead reckoning, he demonstrates that this is also how you find your way down a familiar street with almost no conscious awareness of your navigation system.
Modern cognitive science and the new science of evolutionary ecology are beginning to show that thinking in animals is tremendously complex and wonderful in its variety. A pigeon's ability to find its way home from almost anywhere has little to do with comparative intelligence; rather it is due to the pigeon's very different perception of the world. That's why, as Wittgenstein said, "If a lion could talk, we would not understand him." In this fascinating book, Budiansky frees us from the shackles of our ideas about the natural world, and opens a window to the astounding worlds of the animals that surround us.