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Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think Paperback – March 1, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0805056709 ISBN-10: 080505670X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1st edition (March 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080505670X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805056709
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Laon on August 8, 2001
Vervet monkeys make one cry when a cheetah approaches; a different cry when an eagle flies overhead, and yet another cry when a human is near. It's a pity Marc Hauser makes no attempt, Edgar-Rice-Burroughs-style, to transliterate that last cry: I'd like to know the vervet word for "human".
But though Hauser acknowledges the many species that exchange sounds that are very close to being "words", he argues convincingly that they do not have language. That's disappointing, of course, for those of us with that Dr Doolittle urge for closer communication with animals, but clearly how things are. And despite the subtitle "What animals really hink" Hauser concludes that we are too different ever to truly know that: not only will we never settle down with a lion or dog and exchange views about politics and sex and art; but much of their behaviour will remain enigmatic to us. We simply can't imagine or empathise our way into knowing what they are thinking. Many people, anthropomorphising wildly, like to imagine that they can. But there are always alternative explanations for animal behaviour, and no way of checking which is the correct one. Nor do animals have a "moral sense", as is argued in the final section of the book. Though animals do cooperate, and will sacrifice themselves or their interests for the benefit of others. On that question I'm not so sure that the animal form of "ethics" is really qualitively different from the human, despite the cultural ideas we heap up around concepts of "morality". But that's an argument about human thought, and therefore outside the scope of the book.
In some ways the earliest parts of the book are the most interest.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By William Oterson VINE VOICE on December 27, 2004
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This is a report of ongoing studies, by many in different fields, of whether animals experience "moral emotions, feelings such as guilt, shame and embarrassment", if they're capable of inhibiting their own desires, if they "understand the impact of their" decisions, etc. I'm not sure how objective Mr. Hauser is however as, to me, he seems determined to have his opinion prevail as I can't recall one study he's accepted as valid. I'm sorry too that the studies are not definitive.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gynn Stella on September 18, 2001
People often think that science should be conclusive, like a good mystery novel. This book illustrates, in an entertaining, layman-accessible style, what most topics of scientific study really give us.
Through a satisfyingly large selection of anecdotal and experimental citations, Hauser explores the process of determining animals' motivations using only behavioral evidence. From this limited angle it's difficult to get very far, but he puts forth a number of viable hypotheses. His conclusions are presented gracefully, acknowledging that other people might interpret the evidence differently. I haven't known of many scientists (or even professors) who could do that!
I really like the "tools" analogy and the explorations and comparisons with the human infant, as well as his captivating writing style. Maybe we will never find out exactly what goes through our pets' minds as they interact with us, but this book is the best, most realistic discussion I've come across. It is honest and doesn't take any questionable authority. And it makes a great read for people who are somewhat intellectual but are bored stiff by the likes of "Nature".
I was also happy to learn that Marc D. Hauser is a homeboy of mine... I wasn't exactly a Pit Punk, but in my college days I spent a lot of time in that area - in the Film Archives in particular. I wonder how close we came to crossing paths.
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