Jul 22, 2015

The Octopus and the Orangutan

by Eugene Linden

What, exactly, is the nature of intelligence? This book looks at a wide variety of animal behaviors that baffle or surprise people, because they display a level of intelligence and ingenuity that we like to reserve for ourselves. Most of the incidents described here are encounters wild animals have with people in captive settings, not in the kind of measured experiment scientists use for proof. So it's anecdotal evidence, things we can only surmise and guess at what they might really mean in terms of how much the animal actually understands. I was actually expecting a lot more stories, but appreciated what I got- the author takes pains to examine the background of each incident presented, and goes into depth considering all the implications and possible explanations. There are stories of animals using deception, offering comfort, using tools in new ways (at least not seen by humans before), communicating across species, hiding their intentions and negotiating for rewards. The discussion ranges all over- sometimes I got impatient when it seemed to veer off topic (away from the animals), but the author always had a point. Lots of ideas that I'm still thinking about. Orangutans and octopuses are held up as key examples of intelligence but the book also features squirrels, orcas, elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, starlings, dogs, horses and more.

I found this book at a thrift shop.

Rating: 4/5      242 pages, 2002

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds fascinating!