Animals

For many years a wide variety of scientists did not believe that animals had intelligence. Some thought they were all robotic. People who raised animals knew differently. Today, scientists who study animals marvel at their behavior, although many still attempt mechanical explanations, rather than a version of mind. The tradition of the behaviorists of the past century was to deny the internal experience of human beings and only believe in mechanical behavior. It is strange that the cognitive science revolution, while attempting to build artificial minds, increased the awareness of our internal experience and helped prove that behaviorism is just one piece of a much more complex puzzle.

Animals’ perceptions are based upon their unique sensory apparatus, perceptions and talents. Their perceptions of our common reality are as different from each other as they are from us. Wherever scientists study animals, surprising intelligence, communication, and problem solving is observed. The real measures of animal intelligence are unknown, since we can’t use human IQ tests. There is now a wide range of books on animal intelligence of all levels.

The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs)

This is an informative book about mathematical abilities in animals written by a prolific mathematician. Animals’ capacities are quite surprising and he discusses possible mechanisms.

Dolphin Mysteries: Unlocking the Secrets of Communication

by Kathleen M. Dudzinski, Toni Frohoff and Marc Bekoff
Mar 16, 2010

An article in Science magazine recently asked whether Dolphins are too intelligent to be kept in captivity. There are a number of good books on dolphins’ intelligence. This is a first hand account of Dolphin communication, intelligence and much more.

Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence–and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process

The book describes the famous relationship between Dr. Pepperberg and her parrot Alex. Alex was able to speak, and create his own words such as “bannery” for a combination of a banana and a cherry, when referring to an apple. He could count, and understood the concept of zero. Alex told Dr. Pepperberg that he loved her.

Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer, and Build

Recent research has shown that a bird individually creates the designs for much of nest building. Scientists have observed individual birds creating multiple nests each different from the previous. This is a beautiful book showing the variety and creativity of birds’ nests.

Through a Dog’s Eyes

by Jennifer Arnold
May 31, 2011

Those who know me will think I am biased about dog intelligence, especially concerning my own dog, Patron. But, objectively this book demonstrates the amazing abilities of service dogs. There are incredible stories of obvious intelligence in many dogs.

Intelligence of Apes and Other Rational Beings

by Duane M. Rumbaugh and David A. Washburn
Sep 1, 2003

Apes can learn arithmetic, tool use, language, and other complex skills. This book is written by pioneering scientists who respond to the prominent behaviorist tendencies of labeling all animal behavior as “responding” or “operant” by coining a new term for “emergent” behaviors that defy simplistic understanding. These authors are true experts in primate intelligence and behavior, and the book, while somewhat technical, shows the depth of primate intelligence.

Honeybee Democracy

by Thomas D. Seeley
Sep 20, 2010

Dr. Seeley is a pioneering expert in bee behavior after many years of study. The book demonstrates in great detail how bees are able to make decisions through their unique dancing language. He describes his own research as well as the background science in a very enjoyable book.

The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done

This is a very well written book on swarm behavior and group decision making among bees, ants, termites, birds, fish and others. The detailed descriptions of the animal behavior are vivid and fascinating. The author describes how human engineers, and economists have utilized principles of animal decision-making. His thesis is that individual creatures do not have intelligence but are cogs in a mechanism of group intelligence. In his view the incredible engineering skills of a group of insects is through a computer like mechanism of many small interactions between individuals, with no leader and no planning. There is no discussion of the possibility of mind in these creatures.

The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies

by Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson
Nov 17, 2008

Dr. Wilson, Pulitzer Prize winning author, and creator of the controversial term “sociobiology,” is a strong believer in group selection in evolution. This book is full of exhaustive scientific research on social insects with the notion that all the insect societies share characteristics and function in some ways like a single organism. This same tendency has been observed in microbes as well. The book is filled with amazing amount of information about insect behavior and communication, but not about intelligence in individual insects.

Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World

This book has little to do with sex. It shows instead how insects have many similarities to humans including social relationships, communication, and recognition of faces. She gives many examples of complex social behavior in insects such as an ant that saves his close associates from a trap but will not help other ants who are strangers. Another example is the bee who does not recognize a hive mate with bee face painting, but later figures out who it is. She demonstrates many types of intelligence in insects in a very readable book.

Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals

by Jonathan Balcombe and J. M. Coetzee
Mar 16, 2010

Jonathan Balcombe is an animal behavioral scientist who believes that current research demonstrates intelligence, emotions, communication, a rich inner life, and even perhaps morals in a variety of animals. It is a provocative book for those scientists looking for mechanistic understanding of animal behavior. This book is filled with case histories and current research.

The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure

A less than scientific book, but it is wonderful if anyone needs convincing that some animals have emotions. For a scientific tour of animal intelligence read Jonathan Balcome’s other book Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals.

The Smartest Animals on the Planet: Extraordinary Tales of the Natural World’s Cleverest Creatures

This is a popular picture book written by an expert in chimpanzee intelligence. It gives a brief overview of the extensive research into animal communication, tool use, language, math abilities, cooperation and altruism. The book describes evidence for intelligences in primates, whales, birds, bees, salamanders, lions and other animals.

Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans’ Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter

This book is about odd creatures from the sea and their unusual life styles. The author is able to make sponges very exciting as well as many other sea animals. It is another example of the extremely wide range of behaviors in nature.

The Moral Lives of Animals

by Dale Peterson
Mar 15, 2011

This book attempts to show that animals have their own sense of morality including altruism. It takes the view that animals can have an inner world and attempts to define morality in animal behavior as part of the animals’ experience of the world, not our own. It also describes aspects of human morality including how badly many humans can treat animals.

Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity

by Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein
Jun 2, 2008

This is a uniquely beautiful book. It has fascinating facts and figures about biodiversity on earth. The overwhelming message is how important great diversity in nature is for many complex interrelated reasons. It is a critical message because the benefits of this diversity are not commonly known and we are now undergoing a mass extinction as a result of human activity.

The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures

Scott Turner’s specialty is bees and termites, but he gives many other amazing examples of how a wide variety of animals use the environment as an extension of themselves in very complex ways. His view is that these structures can qualify as being part of the animals’ physiology.