Incredibly exciting and important research has shown that humans do things that other animals can't do and they do things that we can't do. And, we now know:
- Mice, rats and chickens display empathy;
- Fish use their head to tell other fish where there's food (called gestural or referential communication);
- Many animals experience emotions ranging from contagious and unbounded joy to deep sadness and grief;
- Animals play "just for the hell of it" because it feels good;
- New Caledonian crows outdo chimpanzees in making and using sophisticated tools (and dingoes also use and make tools);
- Gorillas learn to release other gorillas from snares;
- Animals care for disabled members of their group;
- Animals want to be treated fairly and will rebel when they're treated unfairly;
- Fish display different personalities;
- Cuttlefish display episodic memory -- the ability to remember when and where something happened -- and can keep track of "what they've eaten, where, and how long ago"; this is the first demonstration of this type of memory in an invertebrate;
- And the list goes on and on
In my latest book, "Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation," I review these and many other studies. It's simply amazing what we're learning about the fascinating lives of other animals.
Some people call these discoveries "surprising" and exclaim, "Oh, I didn't think they could do that!" However, if people keep open minds and hearts about whom other animals are, such findings are not really surprising at all.
Years ago, people thought only humans made and used tools, were conscious or self-aware, and had sophisticated ways to communicate with one another - and we now know those perspectives are wrong. People don't have to embellish other animals; we just have to let them show us who they are.
There are also far fewer skeptics about the mental lives of other animals than there were even ten years ago. In July 2011, a group of renowned scientists reinvented the wheel, so to speak, and offered what's called the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. In that declaration, the signers concluded: "Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates." These researchers also should have included fish, for whom the evidence supporting sentience and consciousness is also compelling.