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Animal Smarts and Emotions: A Scholars' Circle Discussion

A trialogue about the similarities and differences between humans and nonhumans

On this Scholars’ Circle panel three scientists talk about the remarkable similarities between humans and other animals and consider the question, "What might these similarities teach us about the human condition and our relationship to other species?" Please listen to this wide-ranging discussion (a trialogue) about animal intelligence, animal emotions, and animal protection in which the similarities and differences between human and nonhuman animals are considered.

Panel members included me, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz (a cardiologist and Director of Imaging at the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center and a cardiac consultant for the Los Angeles Zoo, and co-author of Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health), and Stan Kuczaj (director of The Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory at University of Southern Mississippi and coauthor of Emotions of Animals and Humans: Comparative Perspectives).

How are animals smart?

In my humble opinion many good points were made in this half-hour discussion about evolutionary continuity, psychological disorders in nonhuman animals, viewing animal intelligence as an adaptation, the range and depth of animal emotions, and how we must use what we know to make the lives of other animals the best we can.

One comment that caught my ear is something Stan Kuczaj said about animal intelligence, namely, that the question isn't "How smart are animals?" but rather "How are animals smart?" Along these lines, in an essay I published last year called "Do 'Smarter' Dogs Really Suffer More than 'Dumber' Mice?," I wrote, "It's also become clear that the word 'intelligence' needs to be considered in light of what an individual needs to do to be a card-carrying member of his or her species and that comparisons between species don't really tell us much. So, asking if a dog is smarter than a cat or a cat is smarter than a mouse doesn't result in answers that are very meaningful. Likewise, asking if dogs suffer more than mice ignores who these animals are and what they have to do to survive and thrive in their own worlds, not in ours or those of other animals." So, the real question, as Dr. Kuczaj puts it is, "How are animals smart?"

To listen to this discussion please scroll down and move the cursor to the right about 1/2 inch.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also), and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also).

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