English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

Mission Blue II

Carl Safina: What are animals thinking and feeling?

Filmed
Views 2,004,839

What's going on inside the brains of animals? Can we know what, or if, they're thinking and feeling? Carl Safina thinks we can. Using discoveries and anecdotes that span ecology, biology and behavioral science, he weaves together stories of whales, wolves, elephants and albatrosses to argue that just as we think, feel, use tools and express emotions, so too do the other creatures – and minds – that share the Earth with us.

- Ecologist, writer
Carl Safina's writing explores the scientific, moral and social dimensions of our relationship with nature. Full bio

Have you ever wondered
what animals think and feel?
00:12
Let's start with a question:
00:17
Does my dog really love me,
or does she just want a treat?
00:19
Well, it's easy to see
that our dog really loves us,
00:24
easy to see, right,
00:29
what's going on in that fuzzy little head.
00:32
What is going on?
00:36
Something's going on.
00:39
But why is the question always
do they love us?
00:41
Why is it always about us?
00:46
Why are we such narcissists?
00:48
I found a different question
to ask animals.
00:52
Who are you?
00:57
There are capacities of the human mind
01:01
that we tend to think are capacities
only of the human mind.
01:04
But is that true?
01:10
What are other beings
doing with those brains?
01:12
What are they thinking and feeling?
01:16
Is there a way to know?
01:19
I think there is a way in.
01:21
I think there are several ways in.
01:22
We can look at evolution,
we can look at their brains
01:24
and we can watch what they do.
01:29
The first thing to remember is:
our brain is inherited.
01:33
The first neurons came from jellyfish.
01:38
Jellyfish gave rise
to the first chordates.
01:42
The first chordates gave rise
to the first vertebrates.
01:45
The vertebrates came out of the sea,
01:49
and here we are.
01:51
But it's still true that a neuron,
a nerve cell, looks the same
01:54
in a crayfish, a bird or you.
02:00
What does that say
about the minds of crayfish?
02:04
Can we tell anything about that?
02:08
Well, it turns out that
if you give a crayfish
02:10
a lot of little tiny electric shocks
02:14
every time it tries
to come out of its burrow,
02:17
it will develop anxiety.
02:19
If you give the crayfish the same drug
02:23
used to treat anxiety disorder in humans,
02:26
it relaxes and comes out and explores.
02:29
How do we show how much
we care about crayfish anxiety?
02:34
Mostly, we boil them.
02:37
(Laughter)
02:39
Octopuses use tools,
as well as do most apes
02:42
and they recognize human faces.
02:47
How do we celebrate the ape-like
intelligence of this invertebrate?
02:50
Mostly boiled.
02:55
If a grouper chases a fish
into a crevice in the coral,
02:58
it will sometimes go to where it knows
a moray eel is sleeping
03:02
and it will signal
to the moray, "Follow me,"
03:07
and the moray will understand that signal.
03:11
The moray may go into the crevice
and get the fish,
03:14
but the fish may bolt
and the grouper may get it.
03:17
This is an ancient partnership that we
have just recently found out about.
03:20
How do we celebrate
that ancient partnership?
03:26
Mostly fried.
03:30
A pattern is emerging and it says
a lot more about us
03:32
than it does about them.
03:36
Sea otters use tools
03:39
and they take time away
from what they're doing
03:42
to show their babies what to do,
which is called teaching.
03:45
Chimpanzees don't teach.
03:49
Killer whales teach
and killer whales share food.
03:52
When evolution makes something new,
03:58
it uses the parts it has
in stock, off the shelf,
04:00
before it fabricates a new twist.
04:05
And our brain has come to us
04:07
through the enormity
of the deep sweep of time.
04:10
If you look at the human brain
compared to a chimpanzee brain,
04:14
what you see is we have basically
a very big chimpanzee brain.
04:18
It's a good thing ours is bigger,
because we're also really insecure.
04:21
(Laughter)
04:25
But, uh oh, there's a dolphin,
04:27
a bigger brain with more convolutions.
04:30
OK, maybe you're saying,
all right, well, we see brains,
04:34
but what does that
have to say about minds?
04:37
Well, we can see the working of the mind
04:40
in the logic of behaviors.
04:44
So these elephants, you can see,
04:46
obviously, they are resting.
04:50
They have found a patch of shade
under the palm trees
04:53
under which to let their babies sleep,
04:57
while they doze but remain vigilant.
05:00
We make perfect sense of that image
05:03
just as they make perfect sense
of what they're doing
05:06
because under the arc of the same sun
on the same plains,
05:10
listening to the howls
of the same dangers,
05:13
they became who they are
and we became who we are.
05:17
We've been neighbors for a very long time.
05:22
No one would mistake
these elephants as being relaxed.
05:24
They're obviously very
concerned about something.
05:28
What are they concerned about?
05:31
It turns out that if you record
the voices of tourists
05:33
and you play that recording
from a speaker hidden in bushes,
05:37
elephants will ignore it,
because tourists never bother elephants.
05:42
But if you record the voices of herders
05:46
who carry spears and often hurt elephants
in confrontations at water holes,
05:50
the elephants will bunch up
and run away from the hidden speaker.
05:55
Not only do elephants know
that there are humans,
06:00
they know that there are
different kinds of humans,
06:04
and that some are OK
and some are dangerous.
06:06
They have been watching us for much longer
than we have been watching them.
06:10
They know us better than we know them.
06:15
We have the same imperatives:
06:18
take care of our babies,
find food, try to stay alive.
06:21
Whether we're outfitted for hiking
in the hills of Africa
06:26
or outfitted for diving under the sea,
we are basically the same.
06:30
We are kin under the skin.
06:34
The elephant has the same skeleton,
06:36
the killer whale has the same skeleton,
06:39
as do we.
06:41
We see helping where help is needed.
06:45
We see curiosity in the young.
06:48
We see the bonds of family connections.
06:52
We recognize affection.
06:57
Courtship is courtship.
07:00
And then we ask, "Are they conscious?"
07:03
When you get general anesthesia,
it makes you unconscious,
07:07
which means you have
no sensation of anything.
07:10
Consciousness is simply
the thing that feels like something.
07:13
If you see, if you hear, if you feel,
if you're aware of anything,
07:17
you are conscious, and they are conscious.
07:21
Some people say
07:27
well, there are certain things
that make humans humans,
07:28
and one of those things is empathy.
07:30
Empathy is the mind's ability
to match moods with your companions.
07:32
It's a very useful thing.
07:39
If your companions start to move quickly,
07:41
you have to feel like
you need to hurry up.
07:43
We're all in a hurry now.
07:45
The oldest form of empathy
is contagious fear.
07:47
If your companions suddenly
startle and fly away,
07:50
it does not work very well for you to say,
07:53
"Jeez, I wonder why everybody just left."
07:55
(Laughter)
07:58
Empathy is old, but empathy,
like everything else in life,
08:03
comes on a sliding scale
and has its elaboration.
08:06
So there's basic empathy:
you feel sad, it makes me sad.
08:10
I see you happy, it makes me happy.
08:14
Then there's something
that I call sympathy,
08:17
a little more removed:
08:19
"I'm sorry to hear that your grandmother
has just passed away.
08:22
I don't feel that same grief,
but I get it; I know what you feel
08:25
and it concerns me."
08:29
And then if we're motivated
to act on sympathy,
08:30
I call that compassion.
08:33
Far from being the thing
that makes us human,
08:36
human empathy is far from perfect.
08:39
We round up empathic creatures,
we kill them and we eat them.
08:42
Now, maybe you say OK,
well, those are different species.
08:48
That's just predation,
and humans are predators.
08:50
But we don't treat our own kind
too well either.
08:54
People who seem to know
only one thing about animal behavior
09:01
know that you must never attribute
human thoughts and emotions
09:04
to other species.
09:08
Well, I think that's silly,
09:10
because attributing human thoughts
and emotions to other species
09:12
is the best first guess about what
they're doing and how they're feeling,
09:16
because their brains
are basically the same as ours.
09:20
They have the same structures.
09:24
The same hormones that create
mood and motivation in us
09:26
are in those brains as well.
09:31
It is not scientific to say that they
are hungry when they're hunting
09:35
and they're tired when
their tongues are hanging out,
09:40
and then say when they're playing
with their children
09:43
and acting joyful and happy,
09:45
we have no idea if they can possibly
be experiencing anything.
09:47
That is not scientific.
09:52
So OK, so a reporter said to me,
09:55
"Maybe, but how do you really know
that other animals can think and feel?"
09:58
And I started to rifle
through all the hundreds
10:02
of scientific references
that I put in my book
10:05
and I realized that the answer
was right in the room with me.
10:08
When my dog gets off the rug
and comes over to me --
10:11
not to the couch, to me --
10:15
and she rolls over on her back
and exposes her belly,
10:17
she has had the thought,
"I would like my belly rubbed.
10:21
I know that I can go over to Carl,
10:26
he will understand what I'm asking.
10:29
I know I can trust him
because we're family.
10:32
He'll get the job done,
and it will feel good."
10:35
(Laughter)
10:38
She has thought and she has felt,
10:40
and it's really not
more complicated than that.
10:43
But we see other animals
and we say, "Oh look, killer whales,
10:46
wolves, elephants:
10:50
that's not how they see it."
10:53
That tall-finned male is L41.
10:55
He's 38 years old.
11:00
The female right on his left side is L22.
11:02
She's 44.
11:05
They've known each other for decades.
11:07
They know exactly who they are.
11:10
They know who their friends are.
11:12
They know who their rivals are.
11:14
Their life follows the arc of a career.
11:15
They know where they are all the time.
11:18
This is an elephant named Philo.
11:22
He was a young male.
11:25
This is him four days later.
11:27
Humans not only can feel grief,
we create an awful lot of it.
11:30
We want to carve their teeth.
11:38
Why can't we wait for them to die?
11:42
Elephants once ranged from the shores
of the Mediterranean Sea
11:47
all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope.
11:51
In 1980, there were vast
strongholds of elephant range
11:53
in Central and Eastern Africa.
11:56
And now their range is shattered
into little shards.
11:59
This is the geography of an animal
that we are driving to extinction,
12:03
a fellow being, the most
magnificent creature on land.
12:08
Of course, we take much better care
of our wildlife in the United States.
12:13
In Yellowstone National Park,
we killed every single wolf.
12:17
We killed every single wolf
south of the Canadian border, actually.
12:21
But in the park, park rangers
did that in the 1920s,
12:25
and then 60 years later
they had to bring them back,
12:29
because the elk numbers
had gotten out of control.
12:32
And then people came.
12:36
People came by the thousands
to see the wolves,
12:37
the most accessibly
visible wolves in the world.
12:41
And I went there and I watched
this incredible family of wolves.
12:45
A pack is a family.
12:48
It has some breeding adults
and the young of several generations.
12:50
And I watched the most famous, most stable
pack in Yellowstone National Park.
12:55
And then, when they wandered
just outside the border,
13:00
two of their adults were killed,
13:03
including the mother,
13:06
which we sometimes call the alpha female.
13:08
The rest of the family immediately
descended into sibling rivalry.
13:11
Sisters kicked out other sisters.
13:16
That one on the left tried for days
to rejoin her family.
13:19
They wouldn't let her
because they were jealous of her.
13:23
She was getting too much attention
from two new males,
13:25
and she was the precocious one.
13:28
That was too much for them.
13:30
She wound up wandering
outside the park and getting shot.
13:32
The alpha male wound up
being ejected from his own family.
13:36
As winter was coming in,
13:40
he lost his territory,
his hunting support,
13:42
the members of his family and his mate.
13:46
We cause so much pain to them.
13:50
The mystery is, why don't
they hurt us more than they do?
13:55
This whale had just finished eating
part of a grey whale
14:01
with his companions
who had killed that whale.
14:05
Those people in the boat
had nothing at all to fear.
14:07
This whale is T20.
14:11
He had just finished tearing a seal
into three pieces with two companions.
14:14
The seal weighed about as much
as the people in the boat.
14:19
They had nothing to fear.
14:21
They eat seals.
14:24
Why don't they eat us?
14:26
Why can we trust them around our toddlers?
14:30
Why is it that killer whales have returned
to researchers lost in thick fog
14:36
and led them miles until the fog parted
14:42
and the researchers' home
was right there on the shoreline?
14:45
And that's happened more than one time.
14:48
In the Bahamas, there's a woman
named Denise Herzing,
14:53
and she studies spotted dolphins
and they know her.
14:55
She knows them very well.
She knows who they all are.
14:59
They know her.
They recognize the research boat.
15:01
When she shows up,
it's a big happy reunion.
15:04
Except, one time showed up and they
didn't want to come near the boat,
15:06
and that was really strange.
15:09
And they couldn't figure out
what was going on
15:11
until somebody came out on deck
15:13
and announced that one
of the people onboard had died
15:15
during a nap in his bunk.
15:18
How could dolphins know
that one of the human hearts
15:20
had just stopped?
15:24
Why would they care?
15:26
And why would it spook them?
15:29
These mysterious things just hint at
all of the things that are going on
15:33
in the minds that are with us on Earth
15:38
that we almost never think about at all.
15:41
At an aquarium in South Africa
15:46
was a little baby bottle-nosed
dolphin named Dolly.
15:48
She was nursing, and one day
a keeper took a cigarette break
15:52
and he was looking into the window
into their pool, smoking.
15:58
Dolly came over and looked at him,
16:02
went back to her mother,
nursed for a minute or two,
16:04
came back to the window
16:08
and released a cloud of milk
that enveloped her head like smoke.
16:10
Somehow, this baby bottle-nosed dolphin
16:16
got the idea of using milk
to represent smoke.
16:19
When human beings use one thing
to represent another,
16:24
we call that art.
16:27
(Laughter)
16:29
The things that make us human
16:31
are not the things
that we think make us human.
16:33
What makes us human is that,
16:36
of all these things that our minds
and their minds have,
16:39
we are the most extreme.
16:42
We are the most compassionate,
16:46
most violent, most creative
16:48
and most destructive animal
that has ever been on this planet,
16:51
and we are all of those things
all jumbled up together.
16:56
But love is not the thing
that makes us human.
17:01
It's not special to us.
17:06
We are not the only ones
who care about our mates.
17:09
We are not the only ones
who care about our children.
17:13
Albatrosses frequently fly six,
sometimes ten thousand miles
17:18
over several weeks to deliver
one meal, one big meal,
17:23
to their chick who is waiting for them.
17:28
They nest on the most remote islands
in the oceans of the world,
17:30
and this is what it looks like.
17:35
Passing life from one generation
to the next is the chain of being.
17:39
If that stops, it all goes away.
17:43
If anything is sacred, that is,
and into that sacred relationship
17:46
comes our plastic trash.
17:51
All of these birds
have plastic in them now.
17:54
This is an albatross six months old,
ready to fledge --
17:57
died, packed with red cigarette lighters.
18:02
This is not the relationship
we are supposed to have
18:06
with the rest of the world.
18:09
But we, who have named
ourselves after our brains,
18:11
never think about the consequences.
18:16
When we welcome new
human life into the world,
18:21
we welcome our babies
into the company of other creatures.
18:24
We paint animals on the walls.
18:28
We don't paint cell phones.
18:30
We don't paint work cubicles.
18:32
We paint animals to show them
that we are not alone.
18:34
We have company.
18:39
And every one of those animals
in every painting of Noah's ark,
18:42
deemed worthy of salvation
is in mortal danger now,
18:47
and their flood is us.
18:51
So we started with a question:
18:55
Do they love us?
18:58
We're going to ask another question.
19:01
Are we capable of using what we have
19:04
to care enough to simply
let them continue?
19:09
Thank you very much.
19:16
(Applause)
19:18

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Carl Safina - Ecologist, writer
Carl Safina's writing explores the scientific, moral and social dimensions of our relationship with nature.

Why you should listen

Carl Safina explores how the ocean is changing and what those changes mean for wildlife and for people.

Safina is author of seven books, including Song for the Blue Ocean, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Eye of the Albatross, Voyage of the Turtle and The View From Lazy Point. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he also co-chairs the University's Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. A winner of the 2012 Orion Award and a MacArthur Prize, among others, his work has been featured in outlets such as The New York Times, National Geographic, CNN.com and The Huffington Post, and he hosts “Saving the Ocean” on PBS.

 

His latest book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think And Feel, explores the inner lives of animals.

More profile about the speaker
Carl Safina | Speaker | TED.com