What Do Animals Think?

SCIENCE USUALLY STEERS firmly away from questions about the inner lives of animals. Surely they have inner lives of some sort. But like a child who is admonished that what he really wants to ask is impolite, a young scientist is taught that the animal mind — if there is such a thing — is unknowable.

Permissible questions are “it” questions: about where it lives, what it eats, what it does when danger threatens, how it breeds. But always forbidden is the one question that might open the door: Who?

“Who” animals know who they are; they know who their family and friends are. They know their enemies. They make strategic alliances and cope with chronic rivalries. They aspire to higher rank and wait for their chance to challenge the existing order. Their status affects their offspring’s prospects. Their life follows the arc of a career. Personal relationships define them. Sound familiar? Of course. “They” includes us. But a vivid, familiar life is not the domain of humans alone.

Read more: What do animals think?

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