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Author Topic: Temple Grandin: Animals in Translation  (Read 4205 times)
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shibadiva
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« on: December 31, 2007, 09:56:05 AM »

I've just finished reading two books by Dr. Temple Grandin, the autist who overcame her challenges to become a prominent animal behaviorist.

Her book, "Thinking in Pictures", draws parallels between high-functioning autistic and animal thought, and she discusses similarities in brain physiology as well as visual language and perception.

Just finished her recent book "Animals in Translation" last night. It is an amazingly comprehensive and strongly argued work, and highly readable. It is crammed with facts and anecdotes about her favourite subject: the senses, brains, emotions and amazing talents of animals. It's one of those books where one is sorry to come to the last page.

The book is a segue from "Thinking in Pictures" into Grandin’s larger point. Animals — not just chimps and dolphins, but dogs, crows, pigs and chickens — are, she contends, much smarter and more sensitive than we assume.

"There seem to be no features of human thought that animals don’t share to some degree, except perhaps the ability to craft complex conceptual metaphors. Most of the hallmarks of so-called human uniqueness turn out not to be unique: mathematical skills, introspection, forming and executing plans, language and tool-making."

She writes of prairie dog communities that have developed highly complex communications with the characteristics of human language, including sophisticated use of nouns, verbs and adjectives. Prairie dogs are at the very bottom of the predator/prey pyramid; Grandin speculates that development of a complex language was essential to their survival.

She also cites the intelligence of birds, which remember complex migratory paths after the first one-way flight, and documents tool-creation by a crow who bent wire into various shapes to extract food.

When she describes the emerging relationship between early humans and wolves, she notices how much we learned from canid social relationships, to our benefit.

Grandin’s most startling assertion is that many animals are smarter than us in the ways that count for them. We’re simply not equipped to perceive their intelligence, any more than they are equipped to understand what we’re doing when we speak to one another. We're disadvantaged by our own neural development in seeing the value and appropriateness of the diversity of others.

http://redstarcafe.wordpress.com/2007/12/31/animals-in-translation/
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catwoods
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2007, 12:43:32 PM »

Looks like my New Year's resolutions will include reading the books you've recommended here as well as the Domanski poetry, shibadiva.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2007, 12:45:23 PM by catwoods » Logged
3catkidneyfailure
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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2007, 01:04:23 PM »

Thanks for an incredible read, shibadiva
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catwoods
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« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2007, 04:30:44 PM »

I read Masson's "The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats", Klondike, I did find it very insightful. I did have a few disagreements with him here and there.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2007, 06:09:02 PM by catwoods » Logged
shibadiva
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« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2008, 11:41:57 AM »

Klondike, Catwoods Thanks for the reminder! I have been meaning to read Masson. I was not aware that he was such a colourful individual!

A little off-topic: I received a copy of John Dunning's "The Bookwoman's Last Fling" over the holidays, and I started into it in the wee hours of this morning. An Itchmovean thought struck me as I started reading it: "Hey, this is not animal-related!" So I guess I will treat it as the sherbet that clears one's palate before the next course...If you are a bibliophile at all, Dunning's mysteries: "Booked to Die", "The Bookman's Wake" and others are fun and quick reads.
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A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
~~ Gandhi
catwoods
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« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2008, 11:05:42 PM »

Thanks for the link, Klondike. That's an interesting idea about contacting him. I'm assuming you mean write him on the points where I differ? I have observed a great deal about cats over the thirty-eight years I've had them; but I don't think I my conclusions would differ that much from Masson's on the nature of the kitties. It's letting his cats roam freely and a few other things that I have a different opinion on - I think cats should be kept indoors. Some of the reviewers on Amazon also bring up these things. Not sure he'd really want to hear about these! But, it's awfully hard to second guess another person's life and circumstances - as for letting them outdoors, he does live in New Zealand, and that may be a completely different safety situation - one I don't know anything about. I don't ever like to sound critical, especially without knowing all the facts.
Regardless of a few such issues, the book is a really fascinating read for cat lovers (or those interested in animals in general), full of facts, personal anecdotes to support scientific conclusions, and rich descriptions.
BTW you may already know this but he wrote one about dogs also: Dogs Never Lie About Love, Reflections on the Emotional World of Dogs.
I'll keep that idea of communicating with him in mind - I'm actually on the shy side.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2008, 11:45:08 PM by catwoods » Logged
kittylyda
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« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2008, 02:00:02 PM »

I read Animals in Translation last year and loved it.  She really gave me a whole new perspective on animals and like you I was sorry to come to the last page.  Thinking in Pictures is on my list of books to read as well.
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shibadiva
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« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2008, 04:58:15 AM »

Interesting. I was just reading Nathan Winograd's chapter on feral cats last night, and he did put forward some research that indicates that ferals and outdoor "friendly" cats live longer than people generally think, with some living to 10 - 15 years. He also commented on the surprisingly good health of those that have access to either people who feed and shelter them, or a good supply of food in the wild. Of course, he was contrasting this with the 100% kill rate for ferals if they end up in a "shelter" vs. trap-neuter-return.
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A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
~~ Gandhi
catwoods
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« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2008, 02:51:48 PM »

That is interesting, and exciting, that Dr. Masson responded. It has caused me to re-think the indoor/outdoor question, mainly to feel that no one answer fits every situation. Certainly he convinced me that his cats are safe going outdoors in his locale. In Britain, the cat behaviorists and scholars I've read are comfortable with the indoor/outdoor lifestyle of most British cats. The cite fewer predators and less traffic compared to the US.
And here, I have friends that used to keep their cats inside in town, but having moved to a rural area in another state, now let them out. They do have hawks around, though, and they will dive at cats.
In my own rather remote location, despite light automobile traffic, we have raccoons (cute but fierce), owls, hawks, coyotes, poisonous snakes, a lizard that is toxic to cats if they eat it, other neighborhood cats and free-roaming neighborhood dogs (sweet pooches, but they'll chase cats). So I don't let them out. We used to supervise them on outings, but cannot do that now. It would be ideal to build them an outdoor enclosure that was covered with some sort of screen to keep anything winged, large or small, from getting in.
In town, there's traffic, and neighbors who are careless with anti-freeze, and, though nothing has happened locally of late, there's the threat of twisted souls who will harm animals. And of course persons who live in large cities and in apartments don't have the option of building kitty enclosures on lawns.
It's true that in the wild cats establish large territories, but even in a rural area or small city there are enough other cats so that they will never live a wild ranch-style life, keeping their perimeters free of intruder cats. The life we create for our house cats can never totally match wilderness patterns.
It's a complicated issue but IMHO I do feel they are better off living well loved in an apartment or house than poorly fed on the streets. (Well tended, TNR'd feral colonies are a different issue, I'm just addressing whether cats should be kept inside here) In my experience even ferals seek out humans as caregivers, and want a relationship; ferals can and do live on their own, yet still seem to have some need of humans, for whatever odd reason. And like Klondike, I do think sometimes cats just like to look. Mine watch everything. At the end of the day I feel like I've been thoroughly studied by the resident felines.
I've also had strays and ferals look into my house through the glass in the door with a look of longing and an attitude of "I see you keep happy cats. Open this door, slow thing. Can't you see I'm a cat too?" (All were either taken in by us or placed in good homes).
One impression I have, and it's purely subjective, is that cats are practical, seekers of safety, comfort and pleasure, and they will extract every iota of joy and contentment that's to be had just from lying around the house.
Keeping cats inside works better for the wildlife and birds too, of course.
Not trying to be disagreeable with anyone, this is just IMHO.
Whew, now I'm tired! Must go find sunny spot, stretch out  . . .
 
« Last Edit: January 08, 2008, 04:08:37 PM by catwoods » Logged
catbird
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« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2008, 04:31:55 PM »

In my experience even ferals seek out humans as caregivers, and want a relationship; ferals can and do live on their own, yet still seem to have some need of humans, for whatever odd reason. And like Klondike, I do think sometimes cats just like to look. Mine watch everything.
I've also had strays and ferals look into my house through the glass in the door with a look of longing and an attitude of "I see you keep happy cats. Open this door, slow thing. Can't you see I'm a cat too?"

I completely agree.  I have had any number of strays seek me out, and other people on this forum have mentioned the same.  As I have mentioned before, Phantom was a pregnant stray who actually walked in my door on her own.  She chose to be here.  After being taken in, she did dart out a few times and led us on a merry chase, but rapidly settled in and has shown no desire to go out in many years.

My other cats love to watch the wildlife, but show no desire to be outdoors.
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catwoods
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« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2008, 11:43:32 PM »

I hear ya, catbird. Phantom's story is so like some I've seen and many I've read of. And on the day they choose to annnounce that "you're the one", they already seem to have an uncanny amount of knowledge about you . . .
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kaffe
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« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2008, 03:16:45 AM »

I must admit that I have never had an "indoor-only" cat... not from any passionately-held view; but rather it just happened that way.  Growing up in a 4000sq meter lot with ample yard space, my childhood cats and other pets were always free to roam the entire property - except at night, when I needed them to be in my room with me... couldn't sleep otherwose  Grin So, I kinda grew up thinking this was the way of things... I also never had a pet run over by a car.  As I grew older, I realized that allowing cats (and dogs) free roaming rights was not such a good idea... the world had changed much since my childhood.  Cars zoom in residential streets... there are more nasty teens and kids now who do nasty things to animals... etc. etc.  But I also believe that it is important for my cats' psychological wellbeing to be able to breath fresh air, feel sunshine on their backs, roll on the dirt, feel grass on their padded paws, climb a few trees or so, alarm and worry a few squirrels and birds (without catching them), dig some holes, eat a few blades of grass, and spray the bushes  Grin Grin Grin... all in safety!  So, I compromised.  My cats are leashed-trained... I take them out on walks (when the weather is good) late late at night when no one is about.  In the daytime, they have a strictly supervised romp in the backyard - without leashes.  When the weather is good, they get to hangout in their outdoor enclosures. Both always always sleep with me in my bedroom and nap on chairs and ottomans beside me when I'm working. 
BUT, this is just me.  I do know quite a few excellent pet guardians who keep their kitties indoors 24-7.  And the cats seem happy, healthy, alert and contented.  They play, have excellent dispositions and with many of them, I see no desire to "venture forth."  So, maybe it also depends on the personalities of the individual cats and what they have been accustomed to.  I know I will have the very devil of a time if I ever attempted to never let out the two cats I have now. They so look forward to their jaunts in the yard.... and beleive me, in the winter, its no "picnic" to be out there with them!  Hayyy!!!
« Last Edit: January 11, 2008, 03:34:24 AM by kaffe » Logged
kittylyda
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« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2008, 08:04:20 AM »

I live in a big city and in this situation I have say that I am advocate of keeping cats indoors 24/7.  There are so many dangers: cars, illness and the unpleasant fact that many small animals such as dogs and cats are abducted to become bait for dog fighting.  For all these reasons I keep my cats indoors (that and the fact that we live on the 5th floor!)  However, when I was a child growing up in a suburb/country area we always let our cats outside back then. We did have a situation where one of our male cats disappeared for a couple weeks and when he came home he had a bullet in his leg--someone had shot him!  He underwent surgery and I am happy to report that he lived a long and happy life after that.  If I lived in an area where we had a lot of land I would probably consider supervised outing outdoors or perhaps an inclosure of some kind.  I have seen people in the city who have trained their cats to walk on a leash and I am really interested in trying this at some point.  My cats are too old now to take on something like that, but someday perhaps when I adopt a younger cat I will give it a try.
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