Read More About Animal Consciousness, Intelligence, and Emotion
Provided to us by 'Food with Mark Bittman' guest, anthropologist Barbara King
In case you missed it, the episode a month or so ago with anthropologist Barbara King (@bjkingape on Twitter) and reducetarian Brian Kateman on Food with Mark Bittman addressed whether veganism is an impossible standard. In that episode, she said, “There's a real discrepancy between people just loving to hear about what elephants are doing, and not being so open to hear about the animals on their plate having a good day or a bad day or being really smart or really thinking. And that's what I'm working to change, to bring forward what science is telling us about these animals.”
Since then, Barbara has sent us some suggested reading related to animal consciousness, intelligence, and emotion — and we're passing it along to you.
Just out, with fresh perspectives on animal consciousness and sensory systems:
When Animals Dream: The Hidden Worlds of Animal Consciousness, by David Peña-Guzmán. 2022: Princeton University Press
Anyone who lives with a dog or cat knows that animals can dream. But how many of us knew that dream researchers can now tell when rats (as one example) dream and by “reading” brain outputs, something about what they dream? Peña-Guzmán explains cutting-edge dream science clearly, using it to lobby for better treatment of animals.
The Mind of a Bee, by Lars Chittka. 2022: Princeton University Press
Do bees think? Yes, they do. Honeycomb-building, for instance, isn’t wholly instinctual but marked by bees’ planning and foresight in fascinating ways. Chittka and colleagues’ behavioral experiments offer convincing evidence to back up bold assertions about bee consciousness.
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong. 2022: Random House
Pulitzer-Prize-winning Yong’s new book is “a magnificent achievement” of science communication about animal sensory worlds (so I said in my review for NPR). Orchestral insects, echolocating dolphins, highly visual spiders, magnetic-field-sensing turtles, electric fish, and more compel us to see beyond our own sensory bubble—and to understand consciousness, intelligence, and emotion more broadly.
On animals’ interior lives
Through a Window, by Jane Goodall. 1990: Houghton Mifflin
Goodall reveals chimpanzees’ cleverness and indeed their personalities by comparing the vastly different maternal styles of gentle Flo and not-so-gentle Passion, describing adult male Jomeo’s defying the stereotype of the aggressive, status-striving male, and more. It’s my favorite of Goodall’s books, and that’s saying a great deal.
The Secret Life of Cows, by Rosamund Young. 2018: Penguin Press
“If a cow’s intelligence is sufficient to make her a success as a cow, what more could be desired?” Rosamund Young makes this query. I was smitten with stories like cow Dolly II’s seeking her mother out, several fields away on Young’s farm after she experienced a distressing life event. Unsurprisingly given the book’s setting, animals think, feel, and also become meat in this book.
All by Frans de Wall — Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? 2016: W.W. Norton & Co.; Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves. 2019: W.W. Norton & Co.
Forty years ago, Frans de Waal chronicled the political machinations of chimpanzees. He’s been turning out superb books about animal cognition and emotion ever since. Among his best is this pair: the first focused more on intelligence, the next more on emotion (but really, can they be separated?)
The Good Good Pig, by Sy Montgomery. 2006: Ballantine Books
These tell an enchanting tale of her years with domestic pig Sir Christopher Hogwood. Christopher’s abilities to plan ahead and remember back, and to take great joy in life, shine. A truly lucky pig, Christopher lived 14 years rather than the six months most farmed pigs are allotted.
Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, by James Woods. 2010: Timber Press and Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey-Smith. 2016: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
What about octopus? With ethical questions everywhere in the news about the future of octopus farming (spoiler alert: I’m not a fan), explorations of octopus intelligence earn their own place on this list.
My own volume, Personalities on the Plate: The Lives & Minds of Animals We Eat. 2017: University of Chicago Press, describes optimism expressed by insects, feats of memory by goats, compassion by chickens, collaborative hunting in fish, and yes, octopus smarts too. Paired with my How Animals Grieve. 2013: University of Chicago Press, the book builds a case for moving beyond “the usual suspects” of big-brained chimpanzees, orcas, and elephants in recognizing the depth of animal feeling and thinking.
On improving animals’ quality of life
One more by me: I wrote Animals’ Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity and in the Wild. 2022: University of Chicago Press to challenge myself and my readers to take up the “now what?” question. Now that we know so much about animal consciousness, intelligence, and emotion, how can we use this information to help animals? Along the way confessing my past as a spider-murderer, I discuss how to act compassionately for animals in the wild, our homes (including our kitchens), zoos, and laboratories.
Brian Kateman’s Meat Me Halfway: How Changing the Way We Eat Can Improve Our Lives and Save Our Planet. 2022: Prometheus Books, is the print companion to Kateman’s excellent film documentary of the same name. It’s also a great pairing with Mark’s own VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good. 2013: Clarkson Potter. Kateman’s primary goal is to help shutter factory farms. Reducetarian eating — consuming less meat and dairy — is a powerful way to work towards that outcome.
Next is a deep dive into practicing a specific type of empathy with the aim of transforming our ways of relating with animals. “Entangled empathy” refers to a “type of caring perception focused on attending to another’s experience of wellbeing.” Lori Gruen expands on this definition in Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for our Relationships with Animals. 2015: Lantern Books, where she centers not on animal rights but instead on how to recognize and respond to other animals’ particular needs and vulnerabilities on a case-by-case basis. It’s both a sophisticated analysis and an accessible one.
And lastly, something wildly and beautifully different: In Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals. 2020: AK Press, Alexis Pauline Gumbs reflects on subjects as diverse as breathing and vulnerability, to capitalism and racism, through the lives of sea mammals like whales, dolphins, and seals. Described as “a book-length meditation for the human species, based on the subversive and transformative lessons of marine mammals,” this book opens up whole new horizons about animal/human consciousness.