Animal Imagination

In the 1960s, Jane Goodall was criticised for saying chimpanzees have emotions. Today the evidence suggests she’s right although scientists remain wary of anthropomorphism – associating human traits with animals – often with good reason (eg. the gross inaccuracy of The Bee Movie in which boy bees did the work). Of course animals don’t see the world exactly we do, but we shouldn’t ignore what we have in common with them:

Anthropo-denial: A blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other animals, or the animal-like characteristics of ourselves. – F. de Waal

The weight of scientific evidence is that animal have thoughts, feelings and intelligence – animals are not mere ‘survival machines’. It’s now accepted that humans and animals share many traits (Marc Bekoff  (The Emotional Lives of Animals); this fits nicely with evolution which teaches us animals are our relatives and all life is connected. Forgetting  this relationship has led to the honey bee crisis, for example, as people have treated bees as tools rather than partners in pollination.

Acknowledged as individuals, those sparrows, salamanders and squirrels are not interchangeable parts of a species machine. They are beings with their own inner lives and experiences. – Brandon Keim (Animal Consciousness)

Using language that reflects our ‘common ground’ can help give children empathy with the natural world. When writing Flight of the Honey Bee I wanted accurate science yet also a sense of a bee’s experience. Should I use human concepts such as ‘know’, ‘remember’, captivate’, and ‘story’? Should I even call the bees ‘sisters’? The answer was yes. Honey bees have language, intelligence, and memory (and maybe something like emotions); and they’re more genetically sisters than humans.


They are not us, but to look into their eyes is to know that someone is in there. Imposing our own specific thoughts and feelings on that someone is in one sense too imaginative, in presuming he could receive the world in the way we do, and in another not imaginative enough, in not opening our minds to the full possibilities of his difference.- Caitrin Nicol (Do Elephants Have Souls?)

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2 Responses to “Animal Imagination”

  1. Gary Fawcett - kiwimana Beekeeping Supplies Says:

    I think bees work as a collective or as a super organism.

    There is recent research that suggests that sick bees leave the hive for the good of the colony, not wanting to be a burden to the collective society I am guessing.

    The best way to look at the colony of bees is a single animal with many different cells, it’s a popular misconception that the Queen is in charge and controls the bee’s actions.

    Instead the swarm or colony acts as a single organism working together for the good of the whole society.

    Imagine if humans worked like that, what sort of world would we have then?

    See ya…Gary

  2. Raymond Says:

    Yes, I think ‘super-organism’ is not only an inspiring metaphor, but also more accurate (than the machine metaphor) in describing the complexity of living things.

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