Beyond Words Book Summary By Carl Safina

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Beyond Words (2015) is a book exploring the wonders of animal behavior and intelligence.

This book explains how animals think, feel and learn in complex societies.

It reveals the extraordinary capacities of the natural world–from dolphins demonstratiing self-awareness to chimpanzees that employ calculated strategies when communicating with each other.

Through captivating stories of various creatures’ behaviors and activities, it paints a vivid portrait of the depths of their consciousness and understanding, showing us that they do far more than follow basic instinct.

This book is sure to pique your interest by providing insight into the uniquely conscious experience of these animals.

Beyond Words offers up a captivating glimpse into the fascinating inner worlds within our animal kin.

Beyond Words

Book Name: Beyond Words (What Animals Think and Feel)

Author(s): Carl Safina

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 24 Minutes

Categories: Science

Author Bio

The author of Beyond Words is Carl Safina, who possesses admirable credentials.

Currently, he holds the endowed chair for nature and humanity at Stony Brook University, taking on a role that speaks to his dedication to sharing the joys of the natural world with others.

In addition to this esteemed academic position, Carl is also a staff member of the Alan Alda Center for Communication Science.

His thoughts and deliberations have been featured in National Geographic and The New York Times; proving that he is an influential figure that commands respect from all sides.

To top it off, he even hosts his own PBS series - "Saving the Ocean" -which showcases how vibrant marine ecosystems can still exist despite our relentless human activity.

The Surprising Ways Animals Communicate, Feel And Think

Animals Communicate

In Beyond Words, you’ll discover fascinating insights about animals and how they think, feel and communicate.

This book offers fresh perspectives on our animal counterparts by viewing them on their own terms.

It encourages readers to really appreciate the complex ways that different species relay information, understand one another and interact with each other in the wild.

You’ll come away from this book with a much more profound understanding of animals and their behaviors.

You’ll learn about how wolves became domesticated dogs, gain insight into the mating signals used by chimpanzees, and discover the amazing ways killer whales communicate with one another.

By reading Beyond Words, venture into an entirely new way of seeing animals – you’ll never look at them the same way again!

Can Animals Feel And Think? Understanding The Role Of Anthropomorphism And Anthropocentrism

We humans have a unique relationship with animals that extends beyond just caring for them and vice versa.

While we may share some things in common with them, it’s important to remember that the way they think and feel is totally different from us.

This insight is highlighted in the book Beyond Words, which explores the science of animal behavior and cognition – showing how anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism can get in the way of truly understanding these creatures.

For instance, it’s easy for humans to assume elephants protect their young out of love, when in reality, there could be another reason why they are doing so – something like physical instinct or a deep understanding of their environment.

Similarly, claiming that animals lack complex thought processes because they don’t communicate the same way we do negates the individual stories each species possesses.

The Challenge Of Proving Thought In Animals: Examining The Theory Of Mind And Self-Awareness Tests

Most experiments and theories can’t uncover what animals are thinking, even if we can study how they behave.

Take the theory of mind, a popular concept that looks at whether an animal can understand what another might be thinking.

Experiments have shown that chimpanzees have difficulty matching symbols with stimuli when presented with choices that match the problem.

However, observation of chimps in the wild suggests otherwise; chimps understand alpha male behavior enough to trick him into creating a distraction for them to mate without being seen.

Other experiments like self-awareness studies show that animals recognize themselves in mirrors but only understand reflection, not self-awareness.

Even looking inside their brain doesn’t tell us much because an albatross’s brain looks similar to a human’s yet its intelligence is completely different.

It just requires different sets of skills like knowing how to navigate rough weather or find food sources.

At the end of the day, most tests and theories can only tell us so much about what is going on inside the heads of these fascinating creatures.

How Dogs Domesticated Themselves: A Look At The Process Of Self-Domestication


Understanding a certain animal and its behavior can be key to establishing our relationship with it.

Domestication is a prime example of this; it’s an incredible process that helps explain why animals behave the way they do.

For instance, domesticated dogs are descended from wolves, although the difference between them is much more vast than what one would expect.

Actually, it wasn’t humans selectively breeding these creatures that ended up changing them into domesticated animals – it was a result of their own adaptation to human settlements for safety and food supply.

This made it beneficial for some friendly wild dogs to stick around people in order to get more food, resulting in their descendants becoming the familiar pups we know today.

This change even caused physical differences over time; experiments involving foxes in Siberia found that friendly ones were most selected by humans and thus had more offspring, causing floppy ears and curled tails to become prevalent among those species.

Moreover, without any external manipulation, selective breeding has also occurred naturally among bonobos – the female-dominated species prefers mating with friendly males instead of aggressive ones which results in the whole species becoming friendlier as time went by.

Domestication is key to understanding our relationships with certain animals because it helps us comprehend how they think and feel; many mistakenly assume that loyal pets are stupid when they’re actually just adapted to living with us in return for survival benefits.

Therefore, knowing about domestication provides us with better insight into how certain animals interact with humans.

The Surprising Way In Which Animal Brains Are Similar To Our Own, Revealing The Depth Of Animal Thought And Feelings

It’s an amazing fact that the brains of other mammals are surprisingly similar to those of humans.

Not only do they have brains and hormones that are comparable to us, but they also demonstrate cognition, which means they can engage in activity as well as acquire knowledge through observation.

For instance, elephants have been known to observe older members of their herd foraging for plants and learn what is safe for them to eat.

This suggests a shared experience between animals and humans, indicating that when it comes to consciousness, we are on the same level.

Additionally, research has found that brain size is not necessarily an indicator of animal intelligence.

Tuna actually have smaller brains than dolphins, but still possess the same hunting abilities.

Moreover, certain larger-brained species like primates, whales and dolphins thrive in complex social groups, exhibiting tactics beyond instinctive behavior in order to assert dominance or survive.

Elephants Show Advanced Thinking Capabilities And Compassionate Nature Due To Their Unique Reproductive Strategy

Elephants have shown to be sophisticated creatures, having a complex social system with organization among its members.

A matriarch is always at the helm of the group and is responsible for leadership and preserving the collective memory of where food sources and water spots are found.

In addition, these animals demonstrate an empathy-like behavior when one of their own is hurt or in need of assistance, showing a collaborative behavior in which another elephant will come to help with food or comfort when needed.

This releases oxytocin in the brain making them feel rewarded by helping others.

This also explains why males are subordinate in their developmental process until reaching adulthood since their testosterone levels cause them to become aggressive on mating season.

Humans Hunting Animals Has Caused Them To Adapt Defensive Behaviours

Humans Hunting Animals

Human actions have had a profound impact on animal consciousness, particularly with regards to those species which are routinely hunted.

One example is orcas, or ‘killer whales’, whose numbers dramatically decreased in the 20th century due to systematic hunting, even with machine guns at times.

Sadly, even though North America largely banned their killing or capture in the 1970s, they still face being hunted in Greenland and Indonesia today.

Elephants too have been victims of human predators – ivory poachers have drastically reduced the African elephant population over the years.

Despite the ivory trade being banned in 1990, animal habitats and food supplies have still declined significantly – this is especially true in Kenya where the human population has quadrupled over the last 40 years while the elephant population has dropped by four-fifths.

The change in their environment has caused elephants to develop unique responses to humans – for instance, they are frightened by people carrying spears as it’s proven that certain indigenous ethnic groups use them to ward off elephants from their cattle and land.

What’s interesting to note here is that when presented with different T-shirts belonging to a Maasai local and researcher, only to the Maasai shirt did they react with fear; similarily when exposed to Englsih and Maasai voices respectively they remained calm around Engligh speakers while they reacted with fearful behaviour towards Maasai ones.

This demonstrates that animals know that not all humans pose a danger and highlights their capacity for adaptation and learning completely independently from any form of traditional teaching methods applied by humans.

Wolves Show Generosity And Cooperation With Their Pack Members, Demonstrating High Levels Of Intelligence

The Beyond Words book highlights wolves as among the few animals that live in complex societies and are capable of tremendous generosity.

Wolves typically travel in a pack and need everyone to play their part to bring down prey larger than themselves, from the alpha female needed for breeding pups to their offspring who help hunt.

But beyond this cooperation, wolves have also demonstrated surprising kindness.

Take, for example, the wolf reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park named “Twenty-One” who during his time hunting at the park never once killed a rival wolf despite being stronger than most.

He chose to be generous by letting cubs beat him in fights and by not taking advantage of his stronger position within the pack.

His actions kept his own status secure while showing an awareness of how they would be seen by others.

All of this just goes to show that wolves live in complex societies and have a capacity for great generosity when it matters most!

The Uniqueness Of Animals And Their Individuality: From Oh-Six To Siberian Tigers

It’s undeniable that all wolves are different.

But, unfortunately, throughout history and across cultures, wolves have been viewed as menacing and evil.

In Middle Ages Europe, for example, members of the church used to hunt down wolves in an effort to rid society of what they deemed the devil’s dog.

Even now, many are quick to label wolves as dangerous wild animals due to inaccurate portrayals in literature and other forms of media.

Take Oh-Six from Beyond Words’ account—one of the most skilled hunters ever seen in the wolf pack at Yellowstone National Park.

Her skill and ability to lead her pack ultimately led her pack to achieving great feats – like being able to bring down two elk all by herself.

But unfortunately, when she disappeared during a hard winter and the pack was without their leader’s guiding hand, they disbanded soon after due to battling for leadership roles with poor decisions being made along the way.

These are individual personalities expressed by Oh-Six that don’t fit into societies preconceived notions of how wolves should behave or align with what is popularly believed about them.

However, even those who view themselves as outside this anti-wolf sentiment have still made decisions based loosely on these ideas – researchers typically wear masks when capturing ravens so as not to be preyed upon.

The Fascinating Social Lives Of Killer Whales – From Matriarchal Leadership To Unique Communication Calls And Even Sexual Activities

Matriarchal Leadership

Killer whales have a highly developed society, but one that’s divided.

Their social structure consists of families that live with their matriarch, and although they may socialize with other families, the family unit will continue to travel together.

Because each family has unique calls that distinguish them from others, multiple families form clans who are able to commune by using these shared set of calls.

Clans often get together to form communities and are careful not to mix with killer whale communities from other areas.

While most animals tend to lose their place in society when they stop reproducing, elderly matriarchs retain their roles within their pod as they continue to lead the younger whales.

In addition, research shows male whales under 30 are three times more likely to die if their mother passes away and female whales over 30 are 2.5 times more likely to perish without her guidance due their reliance on her for food.

The division amongst killer whale societies is also evidenced by their different feeding habits; those who feed on fish don’t interact with those eating mammals.

To keep further division between pods, killer whales–both young and older–engage in different sexual activities than most mammals such as masturbating against boats or stimulating each other through physical contact.

Therefore, whilst killer whales have a complex interdependent system by which they operate, this division between them plays an important role in keeping each group distinct from one another.

Animals Communicate In Ways Humans May Never Fully Understand

Killer whales are incredibly vocal creatures, able to communicate in complex ways across distances of up to 150 miles!

However, the fact that humans can’t understand them is a result of our own poor hearing- sound travels better in water than air.

Orcas use sound to send messages and locate fish, while other animals communicate in different forms.

Humans may not be able to view beyond the visible light spectrum- but other animals do.

In addition to visual perception, scent also creates a form of communication, like how flowers speak with insects through their various smells.

And then there’s Daniel Kish- he’s been blind since he was one, yet he gets around using clicks like a sonar!

He simply clicks in a manner that resonates in the environment around him; producing an image of his surroundings and allowing him to ride bikes even amidst traffic!

Elephants also demonstrate brilliant communication skills– they make vibrations detected by other elephants at frequencies not heard by humans.

Dalphins too have proven their intelligence after learning some human language and being shown to comprehend syntactical differences between commands.

It’s clear the natural world has evolved much more than we give it credit for – killer whales and other animals beckon us to marvel at the depth of communication available beyond just words!

Wrap Up

At the end of Beyond Words, it is clear that animals have complex mental capacities and many unique skills, just as humans do.

Animals are more than meets the eye and they should be given credit for their abilities.

Therefore, we should no longer assume that what is unique to human experience is exclusive to us.

Instead, we should take a closer look because it’s likely that animals can do many things that are thought of as distinctly human.

In conclusion, this book reminds us to keep an open mind when assessing the capabilities of other species so we can learn more about them and appreciate just how amazing they really are.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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