Thursday, August 8, 2013

Virginia Morell

Virginia Morell's latest book is Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.

From her Q & A with Ed Battistella at Welcome to Literary Ashland:
EB: You’ve written about Africa’s natural treasures, about the Nile, and about the Leakey family. What brought you to the idea of animal minds?

VM: For my biography about the fossil-hunting Leakey family, I traveled to Tanzania to interview Jane Goodall in 1987 at Gombe Stream National Park, where she studies wild chimpanzees. (Louis Leakey had helped Jane launch this project.) While there, I joined Jane and her research assistants on their chimp-watching forays. So many of the chimpanzees’ behaviors, facial expressions, and gestures were similar to ours that I found myself slipping and calling them “people” when describing to other human-people what I’d witnessed. One chimpanzee also involved me in his political schemes; and with Jane’s assistance, a young chimp deceived her elder. (I tell both stories in ANIMAL WISE.) The chimpanzees were clearly thinking, as well as experiencing and expressing emotions—yet Jane could not say this about them. She had to use indirect expressions: “The young chimpanzee behaved ‘as if’ she were deceiving him.” There was a bias at the time against animals having minds, and being capable of thinking or feeling emotions, especially positive ones, such as love. That trip, my discussions with Jane about animal minds, and my own experiences with my dogs and cats led me to investigate the science of animal cognition.

In Ancestral Passions, my book about the Leakey family, I reviewed what was known about the physical evolution of humans. But what about our mental and emotional evolution? There isn’t an equivalent fossil record, but clues to the origins of these abilities can be found by studying other animals. Happily....[read on]
Learn more about Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Virginia Morell and Buckaroo.

--Marshal Zeringue