A review of Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, by Virginia Morell
One fateful day in March 1838, a twenty-nine-year-old Charles Darwin met a female named Jenny. Observing her in her exhibit in the London Zoological Garden, Darwin noted that Jenny, a young orangutan recently acquired by the zoo, “kicked & cried, precisely like a naughty child” when a keeper teased her with an apple. Having never met an ape face to face before, Darwin wrote furiously and excitedly in his notebooks, speculating on the thoughts and feelings of Jenny the orangutan over multiple visits. “Let man visit Ouranoutang in domestication,” Darwin wrote, “hear its expressive whine, see its intelligence when spoken (to); as if it understands every word said—see its affection—to those it knew—see its passion & rage, sulkiness, & very actions of despair.” Darwin found such instances enough to convince him that animals (the “higher” ones, at least) are intelligent, that they can feel pain, jealousy, happiness, and boredom.
But Darwin had been criticized for using stories like Jenny’s as scientific evidence. They are anthropomorphic, other scientists said; they bestow non-human animals with human emotions that we cannot prove they feel. This anti-animal-mind mindset ruled psychological science for decades, and its grasp is still felt today. Full Review »