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Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Matthew Scully
New York Times

Stephen Budiansky

If a Lion could Talk

Animal minds can be something of a puzzle. Sometimes they seem to exhibit almost human behaviour, but we need to beware of excessive anthropomorphism.In If a Lion Could Talk: How Animals Think Stephen Budiansky discusses how to make sense of animal thought.

The book starts by looking at animal intelligence, showing how examples such as 'Clever Hans' turned out not to be as impressive as they seem. Budiansky also discusses tool use, and the ways that animals can map out their environment. For instance, experiments are described which test the ability of bees to communicate directions, looking at how they can get it wrong. The book also looks at language, and the arguments about whether it is unique to humans. Certainly there have been claims that chimps have learned the use of language, but Budiansky questions whether this is any different from some of the button pressing tests which pigeons have mastered. There is also discussion on the nature of animal minds and animal consciousness.

Scientific experiments generally need a 'null hypothesis', and in the case of the experiments described in this book, this is that animal behaviour can be explained by simple responses, rather than by detailed understanding. The result is often that, yes, it can be explained with this null hypothesis. The danger is that it is then all to easy to believe that this is the explanation of animal behaviour. I don't think Budiansky has this point of view, but sometimes thats what seems to come over in the book - I felt he could have done more to steer away from this. He does make clear his respect for animals though, his point being that we should judge them on their own terms, not on how similar they are to humans.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 219 pages  
ISBN: 0756765552
Salesrank: 14880760
Weight:0.85 lbs
Published: 1998 Diane Pub Co
Buy from Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 219 pages  
ISBN: 0756765552
Salesrank:
Weight:0.85 lbs
Published: 1998 Diane Pub Co
Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 219 pages  
ISBN: 0756765552
Salesrank:
Weight:0.85 lbs
Published: 1998 Diane Pub Co
Buy from Amazon.ca





Product Description
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.