In a fascinating op-ed piece in todays’ Wall Street Journal, primatologist Frans de Waal poses a provocative question: Why, he asked, do we humans assume that other animals lack cognitive abilities until we test for them? When we do start giving animals fair tests, we are surprised to find that some chimps can outperform college students in memory tests, and elephants can use tool, solve problems, and recognize themselves in mirrors.
We’re surprised because absent these tests, we have tended assume non-human animal aren’t very smart and lack human-like abilities such as self-awareness.
In light of this discussion, Higgs the cat would to pose a thought experiment. He and I are forced out of our house due to some disaster, and I lose all my money and credit cards. Which one would have the ability to find food, shelter and water and which one would have a very big problem and have to depend on help from friends? I conceded that Higgs would do quite well. When I found him he was a healthy 11 pounds and had clearly been living as a wild predator of city rodents and birds.
Frans de Waal’s would have no trouble giving cats the benefit of the doubt when it comes to intelligence. I read one of his earlier books, “Your Inner Ape” and found him an engaging writer and provocative thinker. I look forward to getting my hands on his latest, called “The Atheist and the Bonobo”, which promises to trace the roots of human morality to primate sociality.
And he’s coming to the Philadelphia Free Library, where he will speak and sign books. The event is on April 11, and costs $15, $7 for students. Read more about Frans de Waal and the event here.