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The Human Nature of Birds

"For six years I carefully observed birds as I read and continually thought about several hundred books and thousands of articles on avian capabilities that have been published since the 1960's in the relevant journals of comparative psychology, ethology, ornithology and avian biology. As I analyzed this vast literature, I came to the shocking revelation that, in many well-conducted investigations, birds had demonstrated awareness and intelligence, and had also shown they have individual, unique personalities which at times remarkably resemble people. I also realized with horror, that researchers have been intimidated from clearly stating what their data show because the data directly contradict the 'scientific' commandment against anthropomorphism � 'Thou Shalt Not See Animals As Resembling Humans!'

Although it may require one or more generations for humankind to understand the deep implications of animal awareness, the emerging understanding should impact more quickly on research with animals. The dominant behavioristic-reductionistic-positivistic paradigm in animal research distorts our understanding of animals. The implicit assumptions that underlie the paradigm make it extremely difficult for investigators to report without equivocation that their animal subjects behaved in ways modern humans believe are characteristic only to humans. While urging and stimulating researchers to look with an open mind at the possibility of conscious thought in animals, Griffin also emphasized under the dominant paradigm in animal research, students learn it is unscientific to ask what an animal feels or thinks. Researchers fear ridicule and excommunication from the scientific community if they interpret data as indicating conscious thought in animals, naturalists hesitate to write publicly about the mentality of the animals they study, and editors of scientific journals are quick to reject papers that do not adhere to the accepted paradigm.

The power of the dominant paradigm, for instance, its potency in blocking mention of the human-avian similarities, is overwhelming. As Thomas Kuhn and others (Kuhn, 1962) have taught us, the dominant paradigm defines what is normal and acceptable, what is out of bounds and is to be ignored, how the data are to be analyzed and interpreted, and even what questions can be asked and what kinds of answers are acceptable. Paradigms are based on explicit and implicit assumptions. For instance, the dominant paradigm implicitly assumes that animals are not like humans. The new paradigm will discard this null hypothesis and look freely at all possibilities, including the possibility that animals are much like humans."
Review of "The Human Nature of Birds" in Animal People

"Barber provides enough experimental and anecdotal evidence to convince the most hardened skeptic. He also cites studies of intelligence in other species: primates, marine mammals and social insects. Barber builds upon recent revisions in the way we perceive behavior and intelligence, including Howard Gardner's 1983 theory of multiple intelligences and Donald Griffin's theories of nonhuman cognition. As humans are born with specific instincts (for communicating through language and walking upright), so are birds born with instincts to communicate in song and to fly. Yet what we say and where we go is based on intelligent thought, each decision reached after weighing known consequences. This cognitive process, contends Barber, is no different for birds than for humans.

Ultimately, The Human Nature of Birds leaves us with a plea and a challenge: a plea to befriend wild birds and protect their environment, a challenge to understand them at least as well as they seem to understand us."

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