As many of you may know, I love thinking.  Pondering.  I love reading.  I like looking at situations from every side.  And I have spent a lot of time thinking about intelligence.  This blog was born from a Facebook link a friend of mine posted.  And it tells those of us who love animals and spend good, quality time with them what we already know.  That animals are smart.  Really smart.  And their smarts are different from ours.


There are many various types of intelligence.  I’m a really good student.  I can read, comprehend, learn a language, write a story, take a test.

I cannot fix my car.  I don’t understand when something is wrong with it.  I glaze over when someone talks to me about the mechanics of my car.

But I can sew.  I can cut out a pattern and follow the directions and make clothing.  And something I learned from living with a carpenter for several years, is that sewing and building are very similar.  Different raw materials and different tools, but alike in many ways all the same.  Prepare your pieces carefully, assemble them precisely – let them know who is the boss – and Voila!  A new dress.  A deck outside the slider.


And those math problems about Joe on a train going east and Sally on a train going west and riding to school on a bus or packing your lunch in a paper bag and the answer is blue and green?  What?  Huh?  Je ne comprend pas.  I don’t understand.  I learned that in my French class.  Where I excelled.

je ne

And I can cook.  I know this because I made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon.  Reading, and again – the right raw materials, following directions.  I can do that.  Take a look at the recipe. I can definitely cook.


I spent many years as an advertising print production manager working with art directors, designers, printing press operators.  All with very different kinds of intelligence.  Me, the creative problem solver, the executor if you will.  The art director/designer – the one with the idea and the vision.  The press operator – the mechanic with ink-stained hands and an artist’s finesse.

light boothCMYKpress1pressman

I write all this to try to sell you on reading this fabulous essay I just read about intelligence.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Go ahead.  It will only take you a couple of minutes.



20 thoughts on “Thinking

  1. I enjoyed that article very much. When I studied psychology in the ’70’s, B.F. Skinner was all the rage, and I agree these theories were echoes of Descartes. I hated it for both the animals and the people. My family had one of those self-sustainable 5-acre farms when I was growing up–my father’s version of a safety net due to his hunger as a depression-era teen. I fed calves formula with a huge bottle, and saw them grow up into intelligent adults who responded to their names. I wince when I think of them going to slaughter after a mere two years on this earth. They are much more than ‘dumb beasts’ when you get to know them.

  2. Interesting, but not very scientific, article on intelligence. As a proud holder of a doctorate in Behavioral Psychology and longtime student of B.F. Skinner (his elder daughter was my doctoral advisor), I can tell you definitively that his point of view is grossly misrepresented in the article. A couple of things in response to you, Verging on Vegan. Some have claimed that Skinner has a dualism that is similar to Descartes’ but Skinner’s approach wasn’t dualism at all. Descartes focused on the division between mind and body; Skinner’s focus was behavior, whether or not that happened inside or outside of the skin.

    Skinner never claimed that animals (of the human or non-human variety) do not HAVE thoughts or feelings. What he said is that they are not critical to the explanation of observable behavior. In other words, the occurrence of behavior can be entirely accounted for by events in the environment, without resorting to underlying and assumed intervening variables. Interestingly, Skinner certainly acknowledged thoughts and feelings and referred to them as “single-observer events” in that they are, by definition, impossible for a second person (or other organism) to directly observe. It is possible for us to observe public indicators of thoughts or feelings, but those indicators put study squarely back in the domain of behavior.

    I don’t mind it if you don’t agree with Skinner’s methods, certainly, but I think his science should be accurately represented. His practices focused almost entirely on the use of positive reinforcement and those practices have contributed to vast improvements in how we treat and train animals today.

    • I understand that your lecture on Mr. Skinner’s studies was not directed at me. However, as far as I’m concerned, l’m not talking about animal “training” or behavior, but intelligence. And I couldn’t believe more strongly that there is a vast array of “intellectual” types, both human and animal.

    • Descartes and Skinner are linked in my mind on an impressionistic level. I see them as mechanistic by comparison to other theorists. I have no desire to debate whether Skinner was all warm and fuzzy. It’s bad enough that I had to food-deprive a mouse on the altar of Skinnerianism, teach it to press a bar, and hear about its death at the hands of a poor lab tech who smashed its head against the side of a counter.

  3. Thank you, Susan. I read it in the light you intended it. I also find it refreshing that you don’t use a primitive logical fallacy like ‘appeal to authority’ to make yourself understood.

  4. Susan, It took more than a couple of minutes to read and I found it only slightly interesting. But a least it didn’t discuss the intelligence of pigs. It’s bad enough that they taste like human but if we ever find out how intelligent they really are I’ll have to give up pork. I liked that one of your readers had, as an advisor, one of BF Skinner’s daughters. Poor Skinner, why is he so maligned anymore? And the urban legends, one of his daughter’s was a doctoral advisor? I thought his kids were raised in cages and conmmited suicide.

  5. Your combination of an article on the intelligence of animals along with a recipe for a good was to eat them reminds me of “The Twilight Zone” episode “To Serve Man.”
    (P.S., I really like your blog).

    • When I read Susan’s blog, I saw potential for heated discussion. I thought, for sure, discussion would center on animal intelligence, and as a related topic, animal welfare. If animals are intelligent, what consideration should we pay to this intelligence?

      • I think about the animal-eating thing all the time. But I do eat them. I didn’t eat beef for years and years. The thought of it made me sick. Now I do. And when I was in my early twenties, I bought a whole chicken to cook. I put it in the sink to wash and couldn’t believe how much it reminded my of my family’s cat. I didn’t eat chicken for a year. But now I eat chicken too. As I said in the beginning of my blog, I love to think. So I think. And I eat meat. I don’t know if I will always eat meat – as I said, I’ve had different thoughts about it over the years. Actually writing about it right now is making me feel barfy. Who knows how I will feel tomorrow when I make my food choices?

      • I haven’t eaten meat since 1973, but very recently I have started to cook ‘humanely sourced’ beef for my cats. I find the experience pretty foreign and I’m not sure if I will continue to do it, even though I know the cows on this farm have many great days romping around in a Litchfield pasture, and then have one really, really bad day. I totally understand going back and forth on cooking/eating meat, since it’s a cultural norm, though I’m delighted that it seems to be getting easier to be veg with less stigma attached to it than it was years ago.

    • Oh my. Really Karen? I don’t feel nasty. Apparently one person didn’t like your comment but I don’t see anything here that would make me say “group”. But I don’t like conflict. And I don’t always see it.

      • I don’t mean to bring up my background, other than to clarify my feelings. I was a psych major and PhD candidate in clinical psychology for a while, but I have some regrets about pursuing that course of study–especially having to participate in aversive conditioning. I don’t tolerate cognitive dissonance well. Participating in lab psychology conflicts with my core believes on how animals should be treated. Back then, I tried to toughen myself up and act like I didn’t care. Mistake. It still haunts me if I think about it beyond a fleeting second. I see the mention of Skinner as a minor point in the article and I’m sorry I even brought it up.

  6. I made my comment before I saw the cerebral commentary. But having scanned the article a second time, I’ll stick with chocolate.

  7. My friend April told me about Einstein’s quote yesterday. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Had I known this, I would have used it in my blog.

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