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Animal Madness

How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves

By Laurel Braitman
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Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman
Synopsis

Animal Madness (2014) is all about the emotional disorders from which animals suffer and the way these problems resemble psychiatric illnesses in humans. These blinks demonstrate how similar we are to our furry friends and how we can improve the mental well-being of all animals.

Key idea 1 of 6

Despite what some people think, animals have minds and feelings.

While a little boy might feel bad when he forgets his cat’s birthday, the cat probably won’t care. But is it safe to assume that in general, animals don’t feel the way humans do?

Some people claim this is definitely the case, because they hold an anthropocentrist view of the world. That means they believe humans are the only beings with a mind, while animals are driven solely by instincts.

The philosopher René Descartes believed that humans were unique in their ability to reason. As a result, he saw animals as mere biological machines that were incapable of feeling or self-awareness.

But this isn’t the only school of thought; many people describe the behaviors and experiences of animals as being like those of humans. This view is called anthropomorphism.

For instance, say you just walked in on your spaniel chewing your favorite hat. The dog becomes uncharacteristically meek and won’t make eye contact with you. Is it because it feels guilty? It’s not outside the realm of possibility, and there’s nothing wrong with believing this is the case.

After all, there’s good reason to think that animals are similar to ourselves, that they have feelings and minds, just like humans. We’re closely related to animals, as we know from Charles Darwin, who, over a century ago, pointed out that humans are just another animal species.

What’s more, many of our brain structures are the same as those of animals, especially other mammals. As a result, it’s likely that our brains produce comparable experiences and abilities. For example, an MRI study found that dogs who were reunited with their human guardians showed elevated brain activity in the same regions that process joy in the human brain.

And animals can be remarkably intelligent too. In fact, experiments have shown that several animal species use tools. Apes use sticks to dig for food and even appear to recognize themselves in mirrors, indicating they have some concept of self.

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