If you’ve ever gazed at your dog, cat, parrot or pet fish and wondered, What are you thinking? What are you feeling? then Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures is just the book for you. A few centuries ago, scientists scoffed at the idea of animals harboring the ability to think much less feel emotions. Some conceived of them, along Descartesian philosophical lines, as not much more than preprogrammed flesh-covered robots which enacted different behavioral routines in response to specific stimuli.
In Animal Wise, Morell expertly tells a tale of how mainstream science learned to ask the right questions in order to study animal emotions and the ability of different species to think, plan, and problem solve, as well as their ability to feel emotions. Although early in the book she discards the idea that there are lower and higher orders of animals, she chose to arrange the book chapters in order from animals that have comparatively simplistic brain anatomy to animals with increasing complexity. As a result, the reader moves through the labs and field sites of scientists studying ants, to those of fish, birds, rats, elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, gorillas, dogs, and wolves. Among a few other behavioral oddities, we learn that ants intentionally teach their fellow nestmates; rats laugh when tickled — and will even seek someone out for a festive bout of sensory joy; not every “mooooo” is the same — cows have linguistic differences akin to our regional dialects; confined dolphins can develop crushes on their trainers and attempt to elicit sex; and elephants sometimes visit and linger over the bones of their departed herd members. Continue reading