Animals seem to be clever

Over the weekend newspapers (e.g. BBC and the Guardian) published that scientists discovered that elephants seem to be able to understand humans pointing at something and they think elephants themselves can also point to something, using their trunk. It is quite fun to know that my favourite animals as a kid are for ones positively in the news and not only because they are killed.

Elephants, since centuries used by humans as transport system and to carry heavy weights.

I think it is quite unbelievable scientists spend years studying these animals before understanding they are able to understand human gestures (although the scientists expected something and therefore did this experiment) and thus they find them very intelligent animals, saying even our closest relatives (i.e. the apes) don't understand us pointing to something while domestic animals also understand us although it took thousands of years for those animals to learn (does this mean animals return and learn each time they return?). And as the scientists didn't manage to completely figure out whether elephants can also point at something, I find this shows humans are not as clever as elephants (although I think religions had such an influence on us that even scientists can't believe their own eyes when they notice other animals also have a brain they can use, including making similar basis gestures as us. Many still can't believe animals speak with each other and think animals only make noises. But many animals are at least bilingual because they not only understand their own kind but also many of our commands (e.g. the elephants were trained to know what their keeper tells them, even when walking behind the elephants and it seems elephants even manage to know the differences in language between those who hunt them and tourists) while many humans never ever manage to understand what their pet tries to tell them (and after a while (as many cartoons show us), those animals look at their boss and seem to think "whatever", without responding much as they seem to understand their boss doesn't (want to) understand them).

Look at e.g. dogs. Often they try to tell us something by looking to us, then to another direction, back to us, walking in the direction they were looking, ... .Indeed, dogs mainly point with their head and ears. Many will say the dog seems to try to tell us something while others will claim they can't because dogs have no intelligence. Dogs who have owners who respond will interact much more with their boss than when owners ignore their animal. This also suggest intelligence from the side of dogs to understand their boss doesn't understand them and the opposite for the owners.

The article also claims that most animals in the wild will not response to our gestures (in contrast to elephants). I don't believe this but think many animals will simply ignore humans gesturing, being like humans: why would they notice humans who are another species unless of course when there is danger. Having watched many documentaries, often one can see monkeys pointing to something and the others looking in the direction but without always acting. Thus, I think often animals will look to the subject but continue what they were doing unless there is more food or danger. Animals also understand other animals because when certain animal species (e.g. meerkats) who are always at the outlook signal danger, other animals will respond to those warning signals, looking in the direction of the danger, thus knowing how other animals point at something. Humans also often look in the same direction as animals and this is automatically because all (social) animals understand these same gestures. But many people will ignore the animals because why bother listening to animals while we humans are so much better (as religions always told us but probably it is also a normal animal reaction to ignore other species as each species finds itself the best).

Meerkat looking for enemies such as certain birds.
And it is normal we understand those gestures: arm or head is raised, moving away from the body towards the place where (mostly) danger is coming from (why bother to interact with other species unless for danger or food?). Animals living in groups understand the gestures to look and move in a certain direction. This happens even for instance with wolfs who all move in a certain direction because they understand the gestures of the leader who shows the direction in which to move while they mostly don't bother about human gestures and may even do the opposite as they will move towards something that moves because it shows it is alive and thus can be killed and eaten.

What scientists are now discovering is what many people (it seems even one of the most important biologists ever, Charles Darwin (read article in the Guardian)) claimed over the past centuries but were ridiculed for because we had the arrogance to think we were better than other animals. It seems philosophers such as René Descartes even claimed that animals only have the reflect to make noise and attack or run away when we hit them but without knowing they have pain as that involves thinking. But I claim that animals, when they are hit, will make the decision whether to accept being hurt as otherwise they will get even more beatings or attack to stop the beating, even when that means they may be killed while some animals will indeed automatically attack (such as certain humans never think before they fight). In addition, when a violent person arrives, animals will fear the person because they understand the person may hurt them and thus will try to avoid the person and thus pain. Indeed, even animals have brains they use to interpret situations. We too behave both instinctively and rational: we shout when we are hurt and feel pain (reflex) and then think what to do (interpret). Today, most humans accept animals feel pain while we punish humans and call them barbaric when they torture animals, even when they claim as Descartes did that animals can't understand pain.

Importance of this kind of research

This research is important because scientists are now confirming what some people say about animals such as they understand us and try to tell us something (not ignoring them can sometimes save lives when for instance a house is burning). The research will show we are not that much different from animals (maybe even plants as they too communicate) and thus we should treat other animals with respect because they too have feelings. That doesn't mean they are equal to us because owners of animals are the boss although owners can respect some wishes of their animals (e.g. they like some food more than others) while dangerous animals living in the wild should continue fearing us so it stops them attacking us but we should respect they want to be free.
Elephants, even in art, always wandering around in search of ..., just as humans always looking for new things
But these findings confirm animals are closer to us (and the reverse) than we always wanted to believe and thus it is right to condemn those mistreating animals, even to punish them. Another example are apes comforting others who are distressed, just as humans can do. Of course, animal research to find cures against certain illnesses may still be needed for some time (I used some animals in my experiments to discover how cells work in the hope it may one day result in a cure) but with respect for the animals who are treated in such a way they suffer as little as possible (and whenever possible alternatives are already used) while all other cruelty against animals should be punished. It will also provide another argument against eating meat because we will accept animals suffer (although this will remain a difficult issue for many but lab-grown meat will become a solution for those people). And thus these findings will become important during arguments to treat animals well so fewer animals will suffer while it will allow us to get a better relationship with the natural world. And then animals may move back closer towards us instead of running away because they fear for their lives. Indeed, communities that love animals are able to see animals from close-up such as in London where I saw on a daily basis squirrels and even foxes.

In conclusion, research shows animals are cleverer than we believed in the past and any well observing person would have known this from own experience but was often forced to ignore this in order not to look like a fool. Animals can communicate with each other via language but also gestures (we even understand some of their languages, e.g. soft sound means feeling good or begging for food). And animals respond to gestures according to their character: nice animals will respond positively while animals we couldn't domesticate are probably still wild because they refused to accept our commands and some may even do the opposite. I think in the near future most humans will accept we are not that differently from animals except maybe that we can make certain conscious decisions such as refusing something for ourselves so we can share it with others (although even animals are able to do this). But that I discussed before.


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