Beyond Words Book Summary - Beyond Words Book explained in key points
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Beyond Words summary

Carl Safina

What Animals Think and Feel

4.5 (23 ratings)
24 mins
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    Beyond Words
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    We share some characteristics with animals, but their minds are entirely different.

    We all know the term “puppy dog eyes” and most of us have felt a surge of emotion at the sight of a pooch wearing this seemingly sad expression. But can dogs really feel emotion?

    Actually, anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism are huge roadblocks to seeing animals as they truly are. That’s because scientists are trained to observe and aren’t meant to attribute human characteristics to other beings, or in other words to anthropomorphize them.

    A scientist could say that an elephant stood between her child and a hyena, but would shy away from saying she did so to protect the infant. After all, there could be another reason.

    And anthropocentrism?

    That’s the idea that humans are uniquely capable of feeling and thinking. This is major, because if other animals can’t feel or think like us, then why should they have any rights?

    So, a better way to view animals is by acknowledging that they have minds, albeit minds of their own. For example, thanks to their superb hearing, an elephant will notice an approaching truck or a herd of animals long before a human does. As a result, they might move way before their handler even spots something coming. Failing to acknowledge this fact makes it easy to misinterpret elephant behavior.

    Therefore it’s key to acknowledge the differences between humans and animals but also those between all creatures on an individual basis. That’s because every human is the same but different – and that’s also true for all other species.

    For instance, humans have a long common history with other animals and therefore share common roots, but we have also diverged from them in a variety of ways. Nonetheless, we still share goals like those of survival, reproduction and finding food as well as shelter. Given all of these commonalities, the idea that animals can’t think or feel is totally absurd.

    But how can we prove that they can?

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    What is Beyond Words about?

    Beyond Words (2015) is an explanation of the animal world’s propensity for thought and feeling. These blinks walk you through the complex societies of the natural world and explain how animals think, experience real emotion and learn.

    Best quote from Beyond Words

    Only humans have human minds. But believing that only humans have minds is like believing that because only humans have human skeletons, only human have skeletons.

    —Carl Safina
    example alt text

    Who should read Beyond Words?

    • Anyone interested in animals
    • Pet owners
    • People who think humans are unique in nature

    About the Author

    Carl Safina holds the endowed chair for nature and humanity at Stony Brook University and is also a staff member of the Alan Alda Center for Communication Science. He has published in National Geographic as well as the New York Times and hosts a PBS series.

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