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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior - Temple Grandin, Catherine Johnson, Shelly Frasier The word "animals" is in the title, but the reader learns a lot about human behavior from this book. The author writes from her own personal perspective of being autistic.

I learned from the book that the frontal lobe's ability to screen through all the incoming sensory data to the human brain to quickly form broad generalizations is what we understand to be normal human consciousness. The more limited functioning of animal frontal lobes allows them more direct access to the raw data from lower parts of the brain. This allows animals to super specialize in certain skills that help them to survive. (i.e. dog's ability to smell, or migratory bird's ability to remember 1,000 mile routes).

Impared functioning of the frontal lobe may explain how some autistic persons appear to have super human skills in specialized areas. They have privileged access to the raw data from the lower parts of the brain unfettered by screening by the frontal lobes. Unfortunately, it also explains how other autistic persons can be overwhelmed by the flood of incoming sensory data and are unable respond appropriately to their surroundings.

The book is full of interesting anecdotal stories about human and animal behavior. One part I found particularly fascinating is the theory that the evolution of the human brain may have been influenced by the presence of domesticated wolves (i.e. dogs). I know it sounds hard to believe, but there is a rational basis for such speculation. The comparison of dog and wolf genetics indicates that dogs started being domesticated about 135,000 years ago which is the approximate time that modern humans began spreading throughout the world. The partnership between dogs and humans may have given an edge to modern humans in their competition with Neanderthals in Europe during the last ice age. So the expression, "Man's best friend," may have more truth to it than we realize!