cover image If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness

If a Lion Could Talk: Animal Intelligence and the Evolution of Consciousness

Stephen Budiansky / Author Free Press $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-68

Although Budiansky concedes that animals most likely experience emotions, he denies them consciousness, which, in his view, is inseparably linked to language, an exclusively human invention. Furthermore, Budiansky contends, animals don't really suffer, at least not the way we do, because their sensation of pain lacks a social context. Budiansky, a science writer (The Nature of Horses) and U.S. News & World Report deputy editor, uses this debatable thesis to bash the animal rights and deep-ecology movements. Whatever one thinks of the correctness of his argument, it has value as a levelheaded critique of our tendency to anthropomorphize animal behavior. Using a neo-Darwinian perspective bolstered by animal cognition, neurophysiological and computer-simulation studies, Budiansky explains such processes as chimpanzees' and rats' mental map-making, wasps' ""tool""-using skills and birds' songs as evolutionary adaptations for survival. What humans see as intentional, conscious behavior in other species (e.g., opossums playing dead) may be explicable in terms of simple associative learning, he contends. Still, the author concludes that recognizing other animals as unique beings should increase our respect for them as being ""worthy in their own right,"" an outlook that provides common ground between this cautionary synthesis and a more expansive view of animals as exemplified in the work of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and others. (Oct.)