What does it mean to have cognition? Based on many studies of animal (including human) behavior, this question has been answered, refuted, answered again, and refuted again. In the past, it was thought that humans were the only animals capable of having cognition, and other animals were seen as acting on instinct alone with little future planning, understanding of the past, or ability to plan. That we cannot compete with some animals on many tasks is irrelevant because cognition has many different dimensions beyond what can be easily understood through surface observations of behavior. In fact, countless studies have shown that many animals do indeed plan, persist, and process, and that the “ecology of the species is the key” (p. 12) to understanding their cognition.
For anyone who has ever wondered about animal behavior, whether animals think and how we go about determining the outcomes of animal studies, this book serves as a wonderful catchment of information. One redeeming quality of the book is that the author attempts, in many cases, to show the protagonists' side of many studies. This allows one to see where differing views are coming from and, perhaps more importantly, to reaffirm that not everyone agrees in scientific outcomes. In fact, the more answers we get, the more questions we have. The author challenges us to consider many questions when we read about animal behavior studies. Chief among these is whether animal behavior is influenced by the scientists conducting any given study. Animal studies (even those that put the best controls in place) are still run by humans in human settings. Would the outcomes be different if we could train the animals to conduct the studies, instead of the scientists?
This book is a wonderful primer on animal studies. Written in easily understood and engaging language, the author makes us dig deep in thinking about our own cognition as well as that of other animals. Although this book would be difficult to place in a high school curriculum, many students may find it a fascinating read (especially those who have an interest in veterinary science). The information presented led this reader to conclude that the more we know, the more we need to know. We are not alone in our cognitive thoughts, and we perhaps the answer to the author's title question is that we will never be smart enough to know how smart the animals are because they, like us, are constantly evolving in cognition, and the closer we get, the further away we are.