by: Carol Bryant
Do you think animals are intelligent creatures who should be treated like loving beings?
The majority of people reading this will shout a resounding, "yes!" BlogPaws could not agree more.
Did you ever consider, then, what animas are really thinking and what people actually don't know about them? These are the types of thoughts that cross my mind. Who amongst us hasn't tried to figure out what our dogs are really thinking or what our cats or ferrets or bunnies really have on their minds?!
When I heard about neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Jon Lieff, and his work with animals, I was intrigued. Dr. Lieff has previously been featured on top broadcast outlets like ABC's 20/20, HuffPost Live and Canada's national news program CTV News, and has been quoted in top magazines like Newsweek and People. He accepted an interview with BlogPaws, and here's what he has to say about animals, what they are thinking, and why we humans need to pay closer attention:
BlogPaws: Thanks for joining us, Dr. Lieff. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Dr. Lieff: I am a neuro psychiatrist treating complex hospitalized patients with medical, neurological and psychiatric disorders. My interest in the nature of mind lead me to intensely study neuroscience which lead to study of mind in animals, plants, and even microbes. I actively keep up with studies into animal intelligence and behavior. Marc Bekoff, a leading animal expert, asked me to co write an article which appeared in his blog Animal Emotions in Psychology Today, The Birds and the Bees and Their Brains: Size Doesn't Matter. This article provides research into animal brains that show that advanced intelligence of different types can occur in much smaller brains than humans.
I have written posts on the advanced intelligence of birds, lizards, bees, as well as many other animals on my website jonlieffmd.com
Dr. Lieff:Animals have a unique type of intelligence, which humans can learn from.They understand living in the present, empathy, joy and compassion better than we do. Animals have to be treated with respect to fully benefit from their unique gifts. Pets, particularly dogs and cats, have been shown to be of great benefit to patients of all types. Service dogs provide a unique service to many handicapped people. I have personally benefitted greatly through my relationships with a series of dogs, several of whom have been my closest friends.
BlogPaws: I’d love to hear more about what people do not know about how animals think. Do they think as we do? Smarter than humans on some level?
Dr. Lieff: I don't think we know how animals think. Their brains are different and for quite a while it was assumed that they were inferior. In my articles I have pointed out how bird, lizard, and bee brains are different from ours but in some ways superior. They have different sensory input, different brain structures, and different talents. I think attempting to put ourselves in their minds broadens our perspective, but I don't think we really understand how they think.
Dr. Lieff: I don't think it's possible to say because each have different talents and gifts, and even the smallest animals like bees have exceptional intelligence. Bees use abstract thinking and symbolic language as well as a kalaidascopic visual memory for the scenery and landmarks of up to five miles. (birds can remember landmarks for thousands of miles). Bees are able to solve the advanced mathematical problem of how to spend the most efficient amount of time in different quality flowers. They are able to self medicate, knowing where the medicines are, how to mix them and when to use them.
Recently, crows are noted to have self-awareness, counting, extreme memory for years and very advanced tool use. Cockatoos were recently able to do very advanced five step tool use as well as remember absent objects. Fish have recently been found to use tools. Octopuses are highly intelligent.
Clearly, elephants, dolphins, whales, primates, dogs, and birds are proven to be very intelligent. But, also bears, cows, lizards and many other animals are very intelligent.
Dr. Lieff: We can realize that we don't have all the answers, and that the earth needs many more species than just humans. We must protect the other species for our destructive ways. From animals we can learn patience, contentment, joy, motivation, compassion, empathy, and the ability to live in the present with less stress.
BlogPaws: If we treat our pets as the intelligent beings they are, how would that benefit humans in general?
Dr. Lieff: By appreciating the intelligence of animals that are dependent upon us, humans would become more compassionate. If we understood that animals have significant inner lives perhaps animals in many other settings would be treated with less cruelty. Perhaps zoos would take a different view of their dependent, caged animals. Perhaps, people would use less cruelty when they try to make money using animals in marine entertainment parks, in dog fighting, in dog and horse racing.
Recent research shows that results from scientific studies done in laboratories are all questionable. It is equivalent to studying normal human behavior in a prison and extrapolating it to other situatios and other species. This is true of all levels of animals including flies that showed different research results in natural settings and in captivity. Appreciating animals would lead to study in natural settings, and we would learn much more about real nature. It is not possible to understand animals without studying them in natural settings. For some animals like dogs and cats, their natural settings are with humans.
If people were in tune with the intelligence of their dogs and cats, then perhaps they would appreciate the intelligence of the animals that are slaughtered for food, including the pain felt by lobsters, crabs and other animals. Perhaps, there would be a decrease in the amount of meat eating with care taken about how animals are slaughtered for food. Less meat production would benefit the planet.BlogPaws: Where can folks go to learn more about your work, more information, and for further reading?
Dr. Lieff: On my website jonlieffmd.com or "Searching for the Mind" there is a section called Animals with many articles about animal intelligence. Looking at the table of contents might be an easy way to see all the articles, or press the animal button and scroll down to all the animal blogs. There are articles on animal empathy, mourning, pain, culture and their unique brains. There are articles on insects' amazing feats of engineering and the intelligence of individual ants, termites, and bees. There are other articles on wise animals. My Facebook page "Searching for the Mind" and my twitter account @jonlieffmd provide multiple articles per day of recent research that are relevant to the topics on my website (which also include humans, plants, and microbes).