Happy Valentine's Day. My gift to you are two books which both make me leap up and return to my doggies for grooming, stroking, brushing and nuzzling full of love and affection, rather than losing me in an intellectual scientific fog of human hubris.
The first today (another tomorrow, or soon :P) is Second Nature, by Jonathan Balcombe (2010, Macmillan). He offers a plethora of studies exploring the wide-range cognition and emotions of animals, combining this portrait of our enhanced scientific understanding with a passionate plea for a more enlightened animal friendly, sustainable and vegetarian lifestyle.
Re-reading this time around I particularly like the section on animal time perception (pp 21-24; 93):
"Popular folklore assigns seven dog years to every one of ours, but this seems likely to be more a product of dogs' shorter life span than their actual experience of time. Yet, the speed of some animal responses reveals a finer perception of time than we can achieve. Knifefish communicate with electrical discharges of p to a thousand pulses per second. A nightingale sings each note of his elaborate song in just one-tenth of a second...analysis of slow-motion filmed sequences shows that these creatures sensory systems are operating on a much finer time scale...Because we don't think or see like them, and because we are not intimately versed in another species' postures, vocalizations, smells, and personalities, we miss a lot of what's going on...Marc Bekoff only discovered the role of eye contact and stances in the play of dogs when he examined video frame by frame...
Curiously, for all the value we ascribe to our ability to speak, language could have a dulling effect on the rest of our perceptions. Humans have developed and refined a communication system that can convey extremely specific information. It's possible that as a result we have become less reliant on our other senses for gleaning information from our surroundings. If I can verbalize my anxiety, what need have you to cue in to my body language, smells, or other physical and psychological signs that might accompany these feelings?"
Claire meanwhile is a fount of wisdom for the initiated, much in the way of wizards, Gandalf the White, anyone?