Do animals think? Can they count? Do they have emotions? Do they feel anger, frustration, hurt or sorrow? Are they bound by any moral code? "Wild Minds" provides authoritative answers to these long-standing questions. Marc Hauser, a scientist in the field of animal cognition, uses insights from evolutionary theory and cognitive science to examine animal thought. Treating animals as neither machines devoid of feeling nor as extensions of humans, but as independant beings driven by their own complex impulses, Hauser's work describes his background research in the field: "a master tour of the animal mind".
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Have you ever looked into a dog's eyes and wondered what is going on in his mind? Have you ever looked into a chimpanzee's eyes and wondered who is figuring out who? Are chimps capable of lying? Are they more "intelligent" than parrots? Do they have a sense of self? Do pigeons? In Wild Minds Marc Hauser explains how scientists are currently trying to resolve these and many other questions of animal cognition. In the rather disturbing manner of many popular science books these days, the reader is promised answers to a whole suite of questions at the beginning of the book, but is treated mostly to a raft of partially substantiated hypotheses (for the latter, read "science"). Never mind--Hauser's authoritative ruminations are fascinating, and the correct impression conveyed in the main body of the book is of a major intellectual work in progress. The remarkable ingenuity of researchers in designing experiments to test the intellectual abilities of their subjects comes across particularly strongly, although it can take some mental gymnastics on the part of the reader to keep all the details of these experiments in mind--screens, mirrors, dye marks and pieces of food are lowered, lifted, hidden and subjected to various sleights of hand with mind-twisting regularity. There is also more than a whiff of the lecture theatre about the book, which suggests that the author had more than the customary one eye on his academic colleagues and potential critics. Nevertheless, if you are seriously interested in animals and their mental capacities, Wild Minds is an extremely stimulating read. -- Chris Lavers
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