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Seeing the world in a different way
Do cats have ESP? One man wondered why the family cat went to the door to greet his wifeexactly five minutes before she got home every day. The couple lived several floors up in an apartment building, and the wife got home at different times of day. An animal behaviorist finally worked out that the small feline could hear its mistress greet the elevator operatorall the way down on the ground flooras she stepped onto the elevator.
This and other fascinating insights appear in Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation, co-authored with Catherine Johnson. Grandin's theory is that animals have a unique intelligence that is hard for ordinary humans to appreciate. But not so hard for Grandin. She is autistic, and she believes the autistic human mindwith its simpler emotions and more diffuse observations of the worldis closer to the animal brain.
As a teenager, Grandin was already taking cues from animals on how to deal with her problems. Observing livestock go through a "squeeze chute" which calmed them during inoculations, Grandin built a squeeze chute for her own use, and it helped quiet her nerves during severe anxiety attacks. Later, Grandin used her empathy with animals to design more humane slaughter facilities for meat-packing plants. She sees these plants from the cattle's point of viewthe terrifying chain, the troubling reflection and too-dark corridorand points out the problems, with amazing results.
Grandin says the normal human mind screens out a lot of its landscape. We see what we're looking for, while animals and autistics process reality more indiscriminately, fixating on something the ordinary human doesn't even notice. Grandin writes, for instance, about being riveted by computer screen savers.
Grandin's book, written for the non-scientist, will appeal to anyone with an interest in animalsfrom pet owners to ranchers to animal rights activists. Her book has enormous implications. Not since Jane Goodall's research on the chimpanzee's use of tools has there been a book that so successfully challenges our definitions of what is human and what is animal.