Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Animals in Translation

If you are not animal crackers, you might want to skip this post. I loved the attached video, but then I'm a total sentimentalist where animals are concerned. So, a serious-ish bit first, and we'll get to the gooey bit after.

I've been reading, and recommend, 'Animals in Translation' by Temple Grandin for anyone charmed by this video or by animals in general, or for anyone mystified as to why one might be charmed. Grandin is a high-functioning autistic woman with a marvellous gift for presenting to the 'neuro-typical' world what it is like to be autistic. Autism manifests itself in many different ways, so Grandin is not in any way typical, nor are her views wholly uncontroversial among autistic people.

Grandin says she has no verbal thought processes, and thinks entirely in images. For example, if, as she is driving, a moose steps out of the forest and onto the road, her options pass through her mind as a series of high-resolution pictures:

1. Accelerate and smash into the moose,
2. Slam on the brakes and get hit by the car behind her,
3. Decelerate slowly to prevent either of the above from happening.

She speculates that this may well be how animals, who obviously are non-verbal, might 'think', and that a deer paralysed in the headlights of an oncoming car may be experiencing the same kind of mental slideshow. Some autistic people are unable to generalise. An autistic kid who has learned how to buy a bar of chocolate in Smith's may be quite unable to buy one in Tesco, as the experience is related in his mind only with the one location. A similar rigid compartmentalising in animal minds might explain why a dog that has been taught not to crap in the kitchen or living room sees no reason not to crap in the bedroom. Anyway, I'm a great admirer of Temple Grandin, her fascinating insights into the connections between animal, autistic and 'normal' minds, and her funny, direct, utterly unpretentious writing style.

In my family, our cats and dogs were always treated like cosseted kid brothers and sisters. They are all dead now, Janey and Lucy and Jem and the whole crew of them, a list of names of dogs, cats and rabbits I remember from the age of six up to just last Monday when William, the cat I had for 14 years in Greece, transported to England at vast expense in 2005 to live at my mum's, had to be put down after he had injured his leg. He was seventeen, but barring accidents healthy enough to have made twenty or more. I'm still gloomy about it, after so long as his χαζομπαμπάς (doting daddy) This video of a cat and dog play-fighting reminds me of what I'm missing; all the delightful characteristic body-language of dogs and cats, and how when they live together from babyhood, dogs take on some feline movements and cats get ever so slightly more dog-like. And of course how any cat can whip any dog's arse good and proper, before settling to lick its own.


Mariana said...

If you like animals and art, you should like this book: "Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics". It theorizes, half joking half serious, about cat's ability as painters. It's really cool, with lots of interesting photos.

vilges suola said...

OK, thanks, I'll keep an eye out for it.


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