From Publishers Weekly
Philosophers and scientists have long wondered what goes on in the minds of animals, and this fascinating study gives a wealth of illuminating insights into that mystery. Grandin, an animal behavior expert specializing in the design of humane slaughter systems, is autistic, and she contends that animals resemble autistic people in that they think visually rather than linguistically and perceive the world as a jumble of mesmerizing details rather than a coherent whole. Animals—cows, say, on their way through a chute—are thus easily spooked by novelties that humans see as trivialities, such as high-pitched noises, drafts and dangling clothes. Other animals accomplish feats of obsessive concentration; squirrels really do remember where each acorn is buried. The portrait she paints of the mammalian mind is both alien and familiar; she shows that beasts are capable of sadistic cruelty, remorse, superstition and surprising discernment (in one experiment, pigeons were taught to distinguish between early period Picasso and Monet). Grandin (Thinking in Pictures
) and Johnson (coauthor of Shadow Syndromes
) deploy a simple, lucid style to synthesize a vast amount of research in neurology, cognitive psychology and evolutionary biology, supplementing it with Grandin's firsthand observations of animal behavior and her own experiences with autism, engaging anecdotes about how animals interact with each other and their masters, and tips on how to pick and train house pets. The result is a lively and absorbing look at the world from animals' point of view.
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From Scientific American
Temple Grandin has been known to crawl through slaughterhouses to get a sense of what the animals there are experiencing. An autistic woman who as a child was recommended for institutionalization, Grandin has managed not only to enter societys mainstream but ultimately to become prominent in animal research. An associate professor at Colorado State University, she designs facilities used worldwide for humane handling of livestock. She also invented a "hug machine" (based on a cattle-holding chute) that calms autistic children. In Animals in Translation, co-authored with science writer Catherine Johnson, Grandin makes an intriguing argument that, psychologically, animals and autistic people have a great deal in commonand that both have mental abilities typically underestimated by normal people. The book is a valuable, if speculative, contribution to the discussion of both autism and animal intelligence, two subjects on which there is little scientific consensus. Autistics, in Grandins view, represent a "way station" between average people, with all their verbal and conceptual abilities, and animals. In touring animal facilities, Grandin often spots detailsa rattling chain, say, or a fluttering piece of cloththat disturb the animals but have been overlooked by the people in charge. She also draws on psychological studies to show how oblivious humans can be to their surroundings. Ordinary humans seem to be less detail-oriented than animals and autistics. Grandin argues that animals have formidable cognitive capabilities, albeit specialized ones, whereas humans are cognitive generalists. Dogs are smell experts, birds are migration specialists, and so on. In her view, some animals have a form of geniusmuch as autistic savants can perform feats of memory and calculation far beyond the abilities of average people. Some dogs, for example, can predict when their owner is about to have a seizure. Delving into animal emotion, aggression and suffering, Grandin gives tips that may be useful for caretakers of pets and farm animals. She also notes that humans seem to need, and thrive on, the proximity of animals. Indeed, she states provocatively, in the process of becoming human we gave up something primal, and being around animals helps us get a measure of that back.