May 9, 2008

The lab in my backyard



Some time ago I bought the March issue of National Geographic magazine because there were an article that caught my attention: Animal Minds. I haven’t had the chance to read it until recently. Very interesting. Some scientists say animals are intelligent and there are some that still insist they don’t and that they don’t even have a language. I beg to differ. I think they may have languages, it's just that we--arrogant humans--don't know what they are talking about and we are unable to admit it. They may have languages but you can't see it in a human context because you're just beeing subjective--that's not fair and definitively not scientific at all.


I used to have a cat named Katya, and my dog Luke and her used to be best friends despite being from different species. They even hunted rats and iguanas together—not that Katya needed any help, but it was funny looking at them working together. I like to observe animals and they do many amazing things that suggest they are thinking, coordinating, planning, plotting, deceiving... and why not, talking. They know what they need to know, what is relevant to them not to us. Some people may say "but animals don't make buildings, cars or write poems..."--what do they think they need that for? It's us who need those things and we can build them, so we do.


I have observed Luke and Katya many times. When Katya was with us, Luke was 11 years old (now 13) and he spent most of the time sleeping. I noticed that everytime the neighbor’s dogs spotted Katya they started to bark crazily, but Luke kept sleeping without paying any attention. But when the dogs barked at a strange cat, Luke instantly woke up and started to bark like crazy too. How did he know it was a strange cat when he was not even looking at it and not Katya? What kind of information these dogs were transmitting to Luke? Were they describing what they were seeing?

To me the barking was the same, but Luke reacted differently. He kept sleeping when it was Katya the other dogs were barking at—his attitude was like “it’s just Katya, let me sleep!”, but when it was another cat or dog he adopted the “you, stranger—go away!” stance. This is a possible translation based on my own observations, anyway. You may think it has something to do with the sense of smell--but Luke is an old dog, his sense of smell is not good, really.

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