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Earth Week: More Reasons to Hope: The Emerging Personhood of Animals…and plants?…and..Oh my!

April 26, 2015

The intellectual traditions established in Classical Antiquity and cresting in the European Enlightenment that somewhat defensively established humans at the peak of the great pyramid of existence, are in transition. It seems that a new study documenting social, linguistic, symbolic, cultural, or emotional intelligence in animals is released every few weeks.  A nice overview of this trend is Jeremy Narby’s book and this talk: Intelligence in Nature.

I have wondered about the impact on human understanding of animal person-hood as we have begin to capture and see so much amazing animal behavior on video. Animals start to look and sound a lot like they do in the traditional tales native people all over the world tell of them. Tales based on serious empirical study. This story of the girl who gets gifts from the crows, and the change that the idea of reciprocity and communication from the animal world makes in her life, is practically lifted from native lore. I think that is very interesting and I’m hopeful that as we come to perceive them as beings, and not animate things, our level of respect and care for them will increase correspondingly. Who knows? Maybe we’ll become native someday.

Here in no particular order, are some that I have found really remarkable. If you know of other good ones, please feel free to share a link in the comment box.

Humpback whale asks for help to be freed from nets binding its fins. (Make sure you see the last minute or so.)

A dog heroically saves another dog hit in heavy traffic.

A crow goes crowboarding down a roof! crow-sledding-on-roof

A raven asks for help with porcupine quills stuck in its face, and accepts it.

Foxes frolic on a trampoline.

An elk calf frolics in a mud puddle.

Two thousand pound polar bears play and snuggle with husky dogs:

And next up: Intelligence in plants:

And then who knows? We might even recover the wisdom of our ancestors who were quite sure that everybeing had a kind of intelligence or sentience. And they made it through some tough times for millions of years. They were no dummies.


  1. Kristin Wood permalink

    I agree with you in that both flora and fauna have much more intelligence than we as human beings give them credit for. It even brings up the questions of “What is intelligence? How do we define it?” I think many people subconsciously pair intelligence with being “smart”, and in my opinion, they are very different things. I define intelligence as having and utilizing the ability to adapt, and every single living species does that to some extent or another.

    On that note, I remember watching a PBS Nature documentary a while back and being both surprised and not surprised. It’s titled “What Plants Talk about” (it’s available on YouTube to watch) and it touches on many of the points you discussed. I know broadcasts like these can sometimes stretch the truth to create more dramatic scenarios to increase the public’s interest and get more views, but the science and research behind it supports the episode’s main message of plants having intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Thanks for the thoughtful comment! In Narby’s book “Intelligence in Nature” he really wrestles with what we mean by intelligence. Ultimately, after a long discussion with a Japanese researcher, he adopts the term “Chi-se” (I think that’s what it was) and does a bit of a run-around that problem. In English, I like to remember that the root of our word “intelligence” is from the Latin “inter-legere” “to choose from among” -which is adaptation, right, like you said. And shows how intelligence is always contextually/environmentally defined. Hopefully these expanded understandings can improve how we relate to the Earth – and each other.


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