What’s Your Dewey? 591, Or Thereabouts.

After thinking about this year’s Gawler Poetry Competition (closing Friday July 8th) I thought it good to explore the theme of Identity further. Reading the various definitions of the word was not helping narrow it down, in fact, there are many University dissertations on the topic. What is clear, our notions of Identity focus on how people view themselves, individually and collectively.

Books that challenge our notions of Identity are both thought provoking and attractive reads. The latest title by Frans De Waal, author of Bonobo and Our Inner Ape, is no exception.

are-we-smart-enough-to-know-how-smart-animals-areIn his book De Waal uses both empirical and anecdotal evidence to test assumptions that humans have a higher form of intelligence than other forms of life. There are many examples in this book to suggest that not only do our fellow creatures exhibit problem solving tendencies, they display emotional connection and behaviour that is arguably a result of self-awareness or identity. The many examples include: a chimp that moves bedding straw outdoors in advance of a cold day to stay warm with its new born; and an elephant that recognises itself in a mirror and tries to remove a white cross (placed there by humans) from its reflection. In answer to the question posed in his title, De Waal says; ‘Yes, but you’d never have guessed.’

Ethology, the biological study of animal behaviour, has fascinated humans for centuries and been popularized in many documentaries, in particular by David Attenborough.  There are many books devoted to the topic. Below are some of the more eye catching titles in our collection.

Why dogs hump and bees get depressed : the fascinating science of animal intelligence, emotions, friendship, and conservation
by Marc Bekoff
This book contains a collection of essays on our challenging, frustrating , confusing, and deep interrelationships with other animals. Topics include a fascinating look at the cognitive abilities of other animals as well as their empathy, compassion, grief, humor, joy, and love. Humpback whales protect gray whales from orca attacks, combat dogs and other animals suffer from PTSD, and chickens, rats, and mice display empathy.

dogs bees

Bird minds : cognition and behaviour of Australian native birds
by Gisela Kaplan
Gisela Kaplan demonstrates how intelligent and emotional Australian birds can be. She describes complex behaviours such as grieving, deception, problem solving and the use of tools. Many Australian birds cooperate and defend each other, and exceptional ones go fishing by throwing breadcrumbs in the water, extract poisonous parts from prey and use tools to crack open eggshells and mussels.

Aimed at Children:

Animal brainiacs  by Vicky Franchino
Many people acknowledge that dolphins and apes display what we might call ‘clever behaviour’, but what about ants and chickens? This installment in the True Book: Amazing Animals series demonstrates the many ways animals of all shapes and sizes can show their cleverness.

Smart and spineless : exploring invertebrate intelligence
by Ann Downer
Going beyond the intelligence of individual animals, Downer describes intriguing details of social behaviour that demonstrate the collective intelligence of Argentine ants, honeybees, and paper wasps living in colonies. Lucid and well organized, the writing grips readers with a combination of facts and related narrative accounts of scientists at work.

smart spinless

Of course Dewey is not a perfect system and books on this topic can be found elsewhere, so a browse along the 590s generally is well worth the time. If you prefer to keep the human element in your reading there is also the pet section, (for example, 636.7 Better dog behaviour : understand the dynamics of human/dog relationships by Debbie Connolly); or the psychology section (for example 155.7 Evolutionary psychology : a beginner’s guide, human behaviour, evolution and the mind by Robin Dunbar, Louise Barrett and John Lycett). The good thing about browsing non-fiction is that a little time can reap great reads.

Phelan, Carolyn Copyright 2015 Booklist (excerpt)

Nola Cavallaro


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