William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Monday, 20, June, 2011

And You Said I Was Sappy

Filed under: Books — williamthecoroner @ 13:24

I just came across The Exultant Ark, by Johnathan Balcome in my Uni Library.  The pictures are stunning.  The text however, leaves a lot to be desired.  I have been a biologist for over twenty years.  I have worked with animals from protists to primates.  I rescued three cats, who are at the present moment asleep on my bed.

Can animals feel pleasure?  Certainly the mammals can.  I know my cats do, and they get jealous, and communicate their moods and desires quite well, thank you.  I’m not sure who is training whom, but no matter.  The old-school view of animals as unthinking machines acting on hard-wired instinct has long since been discredited.

Balcome, however, goes overboard.  There was a picture of a marmot sniffing a flower before it ate it, with a caption suggesting the animal was savoring the aroma of it’s meal, not just testing to see if it was ripe and good to eat.  I’m thinking Balcome was giving the marmot (an animal with a brain smaller than a walnut) too much credit.  Another caption implied amazement that a sow, isolated by flood on a levee, would make a nest “out of whatever was available” (to protect her piglets).  Well, if she didn’t she wouldn’t have piglets for very long.  I don’t think that was deep maternal love as opposed to what an organism needs to do to survive.

Animals, particularly predators, do have to be smart, if they hope to be successful predators.  Frankly, I hope scavengers like Turkey Buzzards don’t savour their meals, I’m glad they consume them but I’ve been around roadkill too much to enjoy it.  I really don’t discern any deep mental processes in a lot of prey mammals (sheep and alpacas are cute, but they are no mental giants.) Not to mention the reptiles, whom are successful but there’s not a lot of deep thought going on in them.


  1. I’ve seen mother cats eat their young and I’ve watched my cats mother sit and wait until all her babies had eaten before eating what was left. Motherly instinct? Surely not the former, but some human mothers do the same to their young. I agree with you, mammals can have and show feelings but I don’t think others can. What about lobsters?

    Comment by Gerald — Tuesday, 21, June, 2011 @ 04:17 | Reply

  2. Watching my cats interact has been an endless source of entertainment for me. They are sneaky little beasts, and incredibly smart. Sometimes I can almost see the wheels turning in their little heads. Right now, two of them are on the bed with me (as I wait for my office to provide me with the information I need to finish payroll). They’re both snoozing. Koa, the all black one, is languidly collapsed on my work notebook so she can be as much in the way as possible. Pa’ani, the orange tabby, has flopped at the other end of the bed. He’s Koa’s mortal enemy, foiling her plans for a palace coup (in her mind) ever since his arrival almost seven years ago. He exists outside the normal feline hierarchy. He just doesn’t care where he is in the pecking order, and he never has. And normally, if he gets within three feet of Koa, she starts hissing and spitting. Get them both relaxed and sleepy, and they can share the bed in relatively close quarters. It’s almost comical.

    Comment by Auntie J — Tuesday, 21, June, 2011 @ 10:24 | Reply

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