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Author Topic: Talking to Animals
Rundler
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posted 17 November 2005 11:40 AM      Profile for Rundler     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
In reviews today, Moira Farr on Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation. http://www.rabble.ca/reviews
Grandin is a fascinating person, with a pragmatic-compassionate take on what we humans owe the four-legged creatures we share the world with. Where do you stand?

[ 17 November 2005: Message edited by: Rundler ]


From: the murky world of books books books | Registered: May 2002  |  IP: Logged
sarabble
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posted 17 November 2005 12:48 PM      Profile for sarabble     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It is amazing, ironic and worrisome that, as reviewer Moira Farr points out, there are more than five million dogs and more than seven million cats in Canada, but that we have such a long way to go in improving the quality of life for animals.

The pet industry is booming, but it seems to be driven by consumerism, not love of animals: the products the pet industry are spinning out are becoming more and more bizarre - doggie gyms, pet tents, pet umbrellas, mood collars. It seems from this trend that pets are being treated more like an accessory to compliment a certain 'look', rather than as sentient creatures with individual personalities.

Hopefully this new book will help combat this trend.


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Babbling_Jenn
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posted 17 November 2005 01:07 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
What I'm most interested in regarding this book is the connection between autism in humans and animal behaviour.

I'm not sure what I think about comparing a human with autism to an animal...it has some scary implications.

However, animal behaviour is certainly something worth investigating.

Needless to say, I'd be interested in picking this book up.


From: Rural Ontario | Registered: Nov 2005  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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posted 17 November 2005 01:18 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It is significant to me that Grandin uses the special perception that autism has given her to gain insight into animal behaviour.

I have a bit of experience with people who have brain damage, usually progressive. Especially in trying to calm agitation, I have found my experience with animals a more useful model than the conventional medical one, which casts people with dementia as regressing through childhood. The mechanism of understanding is quite different: to calm an animal, you must try to think from inside its system, to follow and learn from its language and logic rather than impose your own; any other approach is counter-productive. And in my experience, the same is true of adults with dementia, who, in some very important ways, are definitely never children, even when they become dependent.

I've had medical people condescend to me when I resisted the childhood metaphor; of course, they think I am being sentimental. But I think the truth is just the reverse: it is more useful to work as a true empiricist, as Grandin does, to understand behaviour from the inside of a specific system, which is what we do with animals when we relate to them well. That is not the way we treat children, or it has not been.

The funny thing is, the very people who think my resistance to the childhood metaphor is sentimental are the most likely to be shocked by my analogy to communicating with animals. Who's sentimental?


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brebis noire
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posted 17 November 2005 01:33 PM      Profile for brebis noire     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That is really interesting skdadl - I admit to being one of those who have gone with the return to childhood metaphor, imperfect as I found it to be. But I think you are right, even though the 'animal model' has its limits, too. One thing that I find amazing about all animals is their intense reliance on their senses - odours, noises, sights, quick movement, touch - it's all so incredibly vital and stuff they pick up on can go right over our heads unless we're attentive to their behaviour. And even then, it's difficult to know exactly 'what' they are sensing.
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skdadl
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posted 17 November 2005 01:37 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I suppose what I'm trying to get to is a description of the difference in the dynamic, rather than either surface metaphor.

One inescapable dynamic in our relations with children is that we are expecting to bring them along -- it is so much a part of every exchange we have with children, the hope that they are learning, learning, building.

Depending on the kind of brain damage, of course, we may still hope for that sometimes, or in early cases. But with dementia, beyond a certain point, what matters more is to read and respond rather than direct, or at least I think that. And I learned to do that by coping with animals.

Well, ok: cats. But still.


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Babbling_Jenn
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posted 17 November 2005 01:52 PM      Profile for Babbling_Jenn     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That's all very interesting.

I suppose my only reluctance would be relating human neurological problems to animals, simply because humans tend to treat animals with a great deal of disrespect.

It is not so much the ways of dealing with animals and people with dementia that I am uneasy with (understanding that certain mental disorders will disable the learning process), but rather what it means to society when we draw connections between our pets and members of society.

Perhaps (in an ideal world) animals would not be regarded as lesser than humans and this connection would be alright. But right now I can only imagine some people using the animal comparison to treat those of us with different mental disAbilities as less that 'human.'


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v michel
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posted 17 November 2005 02:14 PM      Profile for v michel     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Babbling_Jenn:
I suppose my only reluctance would be relating human neurological problems to animals, simply because humans tend to treat animals with a great deal of disrespect.

I just finished another book by Temple Grandin (Thinking in Pictures) and had the same initial "yikes" reaction when she compared autistic behavior to animal behavior. But the comparisons she makes are very sophisticated, and in no way disrespectful. She was coming from the point of view that human behavior is animal behavior, since we are animals. She's not saying that people with autism are animal-like, she's commenting on exhibited behaviors. She also draws a clear line between her speculation and scientific research. Generally speaking, it was one of the most sensitive and responsible books on disability that I have ever read.


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skdadl
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posted 17 November 2005 02:26 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Babbling_Jenn:
That's all very interesting.

I suppose my only reluctance would be relating human neurological problems to animals, simply because humans tend to treat animals with a great deal of disrespect.

It is not so much the ways of dealing with animals and people with dementia that I am uneasy with (understanding that certain mental disorders will disable the learning process), but rather what it means to society when we draw connections between our pets and members of society.

Perhaps (in an ideal world) animals would not be regarded as lesser than humans and this connection would be alright. But right now I can only imagine some people using the animal comparison to treat those of us with different mental disAbilities as less that 'human.'


Babbling_Jenn, I get that totally -- like, I mean, totally!

But the really sad truth, in my experience, is that when people say of other people that they are childlike, or become accustomed to thinking of them that way, the treatment they deliver is worse than the treatment that a clever vet is giving to your animals.

When we conceive of adults as childlike, we start imposing on them, imposing our schedules and our desires and needs, on the assumption that they cannot have an inner logic of their own that needs respecting, or that we can't be expected to learn it. Our treatment of them becomes very externalized, more and more cold, more and more medicalized, condescending, sometimes smothering.

I've watched that happen and I am convinced it is a bad model.


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brebis noire
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posted 17 November 2005 02:30 PM      Profile for brebis noire     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by skdadl:
I suppose what I'm trying to get to is a description of the difference in the dynamic, rather than either surface metaphor.

Oh, definitely. That is the big problem with the childhood metaphor - that children will progress and learn. But a problem with the animal metaphor with regards to dementia is that healthy, adult animals are functioning at their highest level, whereas humans with dementia have lost memories, abilities and sometimes even reflexes that can't be recuperated. They're operating at a different level, and while it's certainly useful to appreciate the intensity of the senses, there's a lot of unknowns as to how sights, sounds, odours, are interpreted, especially since humans have such a well-developed centre of emotions, of the imaginary, along with a sense of time...all things that (we don't think) animals have, and how much of which remains in each individual ravaged brain, I don't think we can ever find out.

Not to mention how our brains are affected by human society or the lack of it...


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brebis noire
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posted 17 November 2005 02:43 PM      Profile for brebis noire     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by vmichel:

I just finished another book by Temple Grandin (Thinking in Pictures) and had the same initial "yikes" reaction when she compared autistic behavior to animal behavior. But the comparisons she makes are very sophisticated, and in no way disrespectful.


I haven't read any of her books, but I've used her methods, especially the curving cattle-chute design she proposed several years ago. After using it, and knowing what I do about cattle behaviour I couldn't believe that herding cattle for treatment had been done any other way - the design and the rationale behind it were so obvious, but still, somebody had to think of it, and until she did, apparently nobody had.

That said, I do have a problem with it all. If methods are developed that favour industrial food production, I'm uncomfortable with that, and no matter how wonderful and intuitive I think that Grandin's ideas are, she still has no choice but to operate within a system that decides how her ideas will be applied, and if they are ultimately useful or not. And since I have enormous problems with the way meat is produced in North America, my enthusiasm for her is a tad damp.


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skdadl
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posted 17 November 2005 02:59 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
They're operating at a different level, and while it's certainly useful to appreciate the intensity of the senses, there's a lot of unknowns as to how sights, sounds, odours, are interpreted, especially since humans have such a well-developed centre of emotions, of the imaginary, along with a sense of time...all things that (we don't think) animals have, and how much of which remains in each individual ravaged brain, I don't think we can ever find out.

Not to mention how our brains are affected by human society or the lack of it...


Well, yes and no. "Ever" is maybe too absolute for me.

Some people who've spent a long time observing people with brain damage or dementia keep coming up with interesting insights that really resonate for me when I read them.

We're accustomed, for instance, to describing a common early-middle symptom of dementia as paranoia, often (heart-breakingly) directed against family members. But if you think carefully about the lines people at that stage come out with, you can often see that what they're expressing is something more like displacement. And once you've seen a few convincing translations of such typical behaviour or expressions, you begin to get the hang of it, y'know?

There's a wonderful woman called Joanne Coste (sp may be wrong) doing this sort of work with dementia and brain-damaged patients (as there are also many cognitive neuroscientists). I'll try to come back tomorrow with an example from her work. She's useful -- nowhere near the philosophical accomplishment of Grandin, I think, but useful. And others will build on her work.


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Contrarian
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posted 17 November 2005 03:25 PM      Profile for Contrarian     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here she is; Joanne Koenig Coste.

It's an interesting website, published by Ortho-McNeil Neurologics; it mentions a new drug with a link to a different website; Ortho-McNeil Neurologics just happens to be selling that drug.

I don't think Coste is pushing the drug, but the website does.

[ 17 November 2005: Message edited by: Contrarian ]


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skdadl
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posted 17 November 2005 03:33 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Oh, dear. How unfortunate. I wish to disassociate self from any such thing.

I have to go now, but I shall return tomorrow on this topic. Oh, dear. The awful things that Big Pharma companies have done to people with dementia. There are FDA and Health Canada warnings out about them right now.


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skdadl
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posted 17 November 2005 03:39 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
PS: I would like to add that I appreciate so much listening to everyone who has felt the sparks flying off these new ways of thinking. I have relied so much on listening to people like Grandin and then trying to think by analogy to very different situations. I know that that is hardly science, but it is useful, at least, I think; and honest, humble observation is something that medical science has too often lately turned away from, I think. I really value the new empiricists; y'all help me to think more clearly.
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v michel
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posted 17 November 2005 10:20 PM      Profile for v michel     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by brebis noire:

That said, I do have a problem with it all. If methods are developed that favour industrial food production, I'm uncomfortable with that, and no matter how wonderful and intuitive I think that Grandin's ideas are, she still has no choice but to operate within a system that decides how her ideas will be applied, and if they are ultimately useful or not. And since I have enormous problems with the way meat is produced in North America, my enthusiasm for her is a tad damp.


She talks about that in her book too, which is interesting. She feels that her autism frees her from the feelings others might have about cattle being slaughtered. She comes across as almost wistful that she can't feel what you are describing in your post. Basically she thinks it is perfectly logical for humans to kill animals for food, and has no ethical problem with designing slaughter systems. She attributes that cold logic to her autism. She does, however, think that it is wrong for those systems not to be the best that they can be. She goes on at some length about how she hopes that her eventual death is as peaceful as the deaths of her cattle, and about how she thinks of death (even her own) as something functional and necessary with no negative connotations. Again, she attributes this to the autism. Anyhow, I don't want to give a book report here! But it was a really interesting part of her book, that she acknowledges the feelings you are describing and rather than weighing in on them just states matter-of-factly that she cannot feel anything similar.


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