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Beyond Words summary

What Animals Think and Feel

4.6 (29 ratings)
24 mins

Brief summary

Beyond Words by Carl Safina takes a closer look at the emotions and intellect of animals and how they affect their lives. He argues that just like humans, animals are capable of communicating, thinking, and feeling, and we need to start respecting and recognizing these traits.

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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.

    Beyond Words Review

    Beyond Words by Carl Safina (2015) is a thought-provoking exploration of the inner lives of animals and the deep connections they share with humans. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • It presents a compelling argument for granting animals greater respect and consideration, challenging our preconceived notions of intelligence and consciousness.
    • Filled with captivating stories of animal behavior, the book offers an intimate look into the lives of creatures that are often misunderstood and underestimated.
    • Through meticulous research and observations, Safina fosters understanding and empathy, leaving readers with a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the animal kingdom.

    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
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    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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    Beyond Words FAQs 

    What is the main message of Beyond Words?

    The main message of Beyond Words is the awe-inspiring intelligence and emotional lives of animals.

    How long does it take to read Beyond Words?

    The estimated reading time for Beyond Words is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Beyond Words a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Beyond Words is worth reading for its fascinating exploration of animal consciousness and emotional capacity.

    Who is the author of Beyond Words?

    The author of Beyond Words is Carl Safina.

    What to read after Beyond Words?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Beyond Words, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
    • An Immense World by Ed Yong
    • The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben
    • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong
    • The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
    • Maps of Meaning by Jordan B. Peterson
    • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
    • Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
    • Slow Productivity by Cal Newport
    • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot