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Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think Hardcover – March 9, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0805056693 ISBN-10: 0805056696 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (March 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805056696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805056693
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,152,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

What's that squirrel thinking as it runs across the street? Behavioral neuroscientist Marc D. Hauser asks big questions about little brains in Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think. While his subjects aren't accessible for interviews, he believes that we can gain insight into their interior lives by examining their behavior in the context of their social and physical environments. Thus, while comparing the actions of chimps, rats, honeybees, and human infants, he is careful to keep in mind that each of them has different needs that require different kinds of intelligence and emotion and ought not be judged by the same criteria. Looking at counting, mapmaking, self-understanding, deception, and other intelligent activities, Hauser shows that the birds and the bees have more on their minds than we've come to believe. Acknowledging the vast gulf of language that separates our species from all others, he still maintains that this tool is but one of many and is no better an indication of "superior" intelligence than is the bat's fantastically well-developed echolocation system. In the last chapter, Hauser looks at moral behavior and decides that animals can be "moral patients but not moral agents"--that is, their inability to attribute mental states to others keeps them blameless for their actions but their sensitivity to suffering earns them fair treatment from the rest of us. Whether or not you agree with that, you're sure to find Wild Minds a refreshing look at the thoughts of our mute cousins. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Deeply skeptical of popular tales of altruistic dolphins, psychic dogs and cats, empathetic elephants and moralistic apes, Harvard animal scientist Hauser believes that such stories are fraught with assumptions and misleading comparisons between animal and human minds. Aiming to strike a balance between those scientists who view animals as mindless, instinct-driven automata and laypersons who assume animals are just like us, Hauser, a professor of psychology, draws heavily on animal cognition studies, neuroscience and evolutionary theory to delve into animals' "wild minds," shaped by environmental pressures and specific social contexts. This "admittedly reductionistic approach" sheds new light on social learning in octopuses, baboons, birds, guppies and rats; on the imitative behavior of songbirds, dolphins and chimpanzees; on rhesus monkeys' reconciliation habits; and on communication in echolocating bats and dancing honeybees. Although Hauser believes that emotions play a central role in animals' decision making, his views are sometimes hard to distinguish from those of behaviorists: he insists that animals lack moral senses, a deep understanding of death or the capacity for empathy, sympathy, shame, guilt and loyalty, because they lack self-awareness--a conclusion with which many pet owners will sharply disagree. Though Hauser disdains anthropomorphizing and takes pains to avoid it, we learn that "the animal kingdom is filled with honest Joes and poker-faced cheaters," the latter including "extremely cagey" chickens and great apes with "unscrupulous, Machiavellian intelligence." An intriguing compendium of little-known animal research, this unconvincing inquiry raises more questions than it answers. Hauser's belief that animals are "Kafka-creatures, organisms with rich thoughts and emotions, but no system for translating what they think into something that they can express to others" ultimately serves to narrow his field of vision. B&w drawings. Agent, John Brockman. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Marc Hauser is a scientist, educator, innovator, and humanist. With broad training in the biological and social sciences, as well as philosophy and linguistics, he has published over 200 scientific papers and six books, including most recently Moral Minds (2006, NY: Harper Collins). During his 18 years as a professor at Harvard University, he worked on topics in animal cognition, moral psychology, cognitive development, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy. In the last three years, he has worked with high at-risk youths, bringing the tools of the mind and brain sciences to help change their lives, including their capacity to learn and make meaningful decisions. This work continues today. He is married to Lilan Hauser and has two daughters, Alexandra and Sofia.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As George Page pointed out in his New York Times review,most scientists fail when they try to write a popular account of the science they practice. Marc Hauser's book "Wild Minds" does not fail. It is not, unlike most books, filled with jargon. Nor is it condescending. It is a non-technical, but intelligent treatment of an important problem: what animals think and how they think. In the first part of the book, Hauser shows that all animals have brains with three distinctive capacities or what he calls "tools". these are the capacity to recognize objects, count how many there are, and navigate through space. In part two he describes several specialized tools that only some animals have. Specifically, the ability to learn from others,recognize themselves(i.e., a sense of self), and deceive others. In part three, he takes these tools explores how they play a role in systems of communication and possibly, developing a moral society. The examples are well chosen, and vivid. This is a book of passion, and a more than welcome addition to the field.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As an earlier reviewer stated, the book "Wild Minds" is uninspired. But, it is interesting and well worth reading. One essentially learns how the animal brain has evolved for survival in a species specific manner. Because the animal must survive in a geometric world, the brain functions in accordance with this world; animals come into the world with a certain mental toolkit. This toolkit places certain limitations or restrictions on the specie's ability to adapt however.
One of the most interesting lessons of Hauser's writing is the result of recent research that shows how the brain learns on its own, so to speak, prior to and without consciousness. Hauser's examples drawn from animal experiments are fascinating to contemplate, but he ultimately tells us that we can never really know what an animal thinks or feels. He ends by presenting solid arguments for animals, despite the appearance of altruistic behavior, not having any kind of moral sense.
In the end Hauser acknowledges that we can only seek to understand how an animal's mind functions as far as how it will behave. We will never know how it thinks or feels! Given this, we may wonder about the subtitle which seems to mislead in order to sell books. If you are interested in "what animals really think," you will not find it here. If you are interested in how animal brains function (including the human)in regard to their behavioral adaptations and limitations, as a result of their evolutionary heritage as geared to survival in their environment, you probably will find the book of some interest.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peter A. Kindle on January 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Hauser has written a remarkably accessible introduction to comparative psychology. While containing the main points one might expect in a textbook outline, he does an excellent job of presenting this information in an interesting narrative form.
Hauser begins with an introductory chapter that presents his basic approach and cautions against anthropomorphisms.
Chapters two through four comprise a unit that focuses on those mental capacities shared by animals and human beings. Both can identify objects and predict their movement. Both can distinguish quantity. Both can navigate through space. Perhaps it takes a course in cognitive psychology to appreciate these commonalities, but I believe that Hauser does an excellent job of presenting research results for lay consumption. His presentation of animal and human infant studies of the expectancy-violation principle is alone worth the cost of the book.
The second section, chapters five through seven, focus on mental capacities which seem to be qualitatively common in animals and humans, but quantitatively distinct. Hauser presents a well-balanced account of the evidence for self-awareness, teaching, and deception among animals.
The final section contains two chapters on mental capacities that appear to be almost unique to human beings - language and morality. Hauser's careful review of animal communication is amazing, as is his locus of morality in the ability to inhibit selfish tendencies to maintain social conventions.
I recommend this book without reservation. No reader will regret spending time with this book. It is quite stimulating.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
There are typically two types of books on the market in the area of animal cognition. On the one hand are those who merely offer their own impressions of what is going on in the animal mind. These impressions are fine, but they don't offer any reason why one impression is better than the next. Books that fall under this category are Elizabeth Marshall Thomas' "Hidden Life of Dogs", Jeffrey Masson's "When Elephants Weep" and most recently George Page's "Inside the Animal Mind". Page's book attempts to bring in modern science, but since he doesn't understand the issues, he fails miserably. On the other hand are books that tend to be dry and academic, and often argue that animals lack any kind of intelligence. What Hauser's book brings to this field is a keen understanding of the science, experience as a researcher who has worked in the wild and in captivity, and a love of animals. I highly recommend this book.
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