- On September 11, 2017
Jonathan Balcombe, an editor of the online journal, Animal Sentience, and author of the New York Times best-selling book What a Fish Knows (purchase on Amazon.com), reviewed Gregory Berns’ What It’s Like to be a Dog, and Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience in the HSUS publication, All Animals. Wayne recently conducted a virtual Q&A with Berns where he discusses his work, his book and the topic of animal sentience — something Jonathan has more than a passing interest in.
Do dogs get more pleasure from anticipating food than from anticipating their owners’ praise? Does an environmental toxin cause sea lions’ brains to shrink? Is the ability to speak a prerequisite for feeling regret?
These are some of the intriguing questions tackled by Gregory Berns in What It’s Like to be a Dog, and Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience. Berns, who teaches neuroeconomics at Emory University in Atlanta and wrote the 2013 bestseller How Dogs Love Us, is also on the editorial board of the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy’s online journal Animal Sentience.
In his new book, Berns shows how effective popular science writing benefits from good storytelling. His adventures in trying to map the brain of the thylacine—the Tasmanian “tiger” species that appallingly went extinct in the 20th century—are novelistic, plunging us into the remote wilds of the nocturnal animal’s former haunts. Woven into the text is a primer on brain structure and function from a gifted explainer.
Some might view a book title that claims to know a dog’s experiences as over-confident. I like it because the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scanning technologies Berns and colleagues use offer an unprecedentedly concrete view of another being’s feelings. I also appreciate that the author is compassionate about his subjects, who are not forced to participate and are not subjected to painful or invasive research methods.
So, what does the research show? Rats feel regret, and I’ll wager my inferior colliculus that they are not alone. For answers to the other questions, you’ll just have to read the book.