To paraphrase the famous Watergate question, what do animals know and when do they know it? In his first book, George Page, the creator and host of the award- winning PBS series “Nature,” presents a lively, accessible survey of the field of animal intelligence. Drawing on everything from Descartes to his childhood pet, Lassie (whose name, says Page, was “a burst of great originality about which I was not the least bit embarrassed”), he helps the reader ponder the big questions regarding animal cognition.
Page makes it clear why these questions matter. “If we believe, or better yet, determine that animals think consciously and possess the full range of ‘human’ emotions,” he writes, “if their pain is therefore also ‘suffering’—on what ethical grounds do we support, for just one example, the marine theme parks, whose performing cetaceans are, in the final analysis, enslaved in what are to them puddles?” Likewise, says Page, we have a harder time justifying animal experimentation or eating meat. (Or, as writer Rupert Sheldrake puts it, dividing the animal world into pets and pet food.)
Page’s book, a companion to the January PBS “Nature” series by the same name, has the color and breadth that has made his PBS program so popular. Anyone who has ever looked into his or her pet’s eyes and wondered what was behind them will find this a thought-provoking read.
by George Page (Doubleday)