Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The minds of our nearest kin

Bennett L. Schwartz, Michael J. Beran

The minds of our nearest kin

Recently, I was in Wauchula, Florida, at the Center for Great Apes, which is a sanctuary for chimpanzees and orangutans.  There, I met Sandra, an orangutan, and the only non-human person living in the Western Hemisphere.   Sandra is a 36-year old orangutan, born in a zoo in Germany, but who has lived most of her life in Argentina.  In 2015, Argentinian Judge Elena Liberatori ruled that Sandra was not an animal, but a β€˜non-human person.’ This break-through recognition of the rights of beings other than ourselves meant that those who kept Sandra in captivity would have to do better.  The decision led eventually to Sandra being allowed to live with other orangutans, on the peaceful grounds of the Sanctuary.   On the day we visited, Sandra was not interested in us. She completely ignored my students and myself.  But that was her right!  We respected her privacy, and luckily, some of the chimpanzees at the sanctuary had some trouble in store for us.

 Argentina is not the only country to have recognized apes with this status.   Switzerland has done so, and indeed, India has declared all dolphins to be non-human persons.  Fundamental to the concept of a non-human person is the understanding that apes, other primates, and cetaceans are endowed with experience, consciousness, and self-awareness.  In our interactions with these species, these human-like aspects must be respected.   It is these topics to which our book is devoted – what is the conscious experience of our fellow primates?  What can they learn? What can they remember?  How do they make decisions?  How do they communicate with each other? 

Mike Beran and I have been fascinated with the intellect and behavior of apes and other primates since we were both young children. Mike has devoted his career to studying the cognition of chimpanzees, rhesus macaques, and capuchin monkeys.  His work has changed the way we think about primate numerical skills, primate perception, primate metacognition, and cognitive control of behavior.   He has been a driving force of successful research on these topics.   My career has mainly taken me elsewhere research-wise, but I always come back to my interest in animals, primates in particular, where I have been lucky enough to be included by those who do the hard work of exploring primate minds.   

Therefore, the book, Primate Cognitive Studies, is a book that we intend as a resource for all those who care about our non-human primate cousins, both professionals and those motivated to learn.   Each chapter takes a particular topic of scientific inquiry – from tool use to theory of mind to social cooperation -and provides a thorough but readable review of the current state of knowledge in that area.  Though the book obviously focuses on cognition, it also expands to topics of sociality in primates, to the evolution of the primate family, and to how such research can be done in ethical ways.  Each of the contributors to this volume knows that any hope we have for becoming better stewards of our environment, our fellow animals, and ourselves includes knowing our place within our larger Primate family. And, they know that gaining such knowledge requires spending time studying other primates and advocating for them. Nonhuman primate research, whether in the field, the lab, the sanctuary or the zoo, is essential to the continued goal of better connecting humans to the rest of the natural world while allowing us to know more about how we became who we are as a species.

Primate Cognitive Studies by Bennett L. Schwartz and Michael
J. Beran

Title: Primate Cognitive Studies

ISBN: 9781108845434

Authors: Bennett L. Schwartz, Michael J. Beran

About The Authors

Bennett L. Schwartz

Bennett L. Schwartz, Florida International University...

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Michael J. Beran

Michael J. Beran, Georgia State University ...

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