Last month I blogged about an article in The New Scientist based on a book due to be released soon. The book, The Animal Connection by Pat Shipman, is now available and was one of the first I bought for my iPad.

This is a book anyone interested in animals, domestication or human evolution should read. Dr. Shipman points out that hunters must observe animals and learn to anticipate them in order to hunt successfully. She links tool-making to the hunting of animals, pointing out that we are unique as predators in using tools, not teeth or claws, to hunt. The addition of meat to our diet may well have been what made us able to support increasingly large brains, as brains have a very large energy cost.

The need to get “inside the skull” of another species may also be behind much of the empathy and imagination we share.

Later, the need to share information about animals may well be one of the driving forces behind our acquisition as a species of language. Language, although one of the traits that define us as a species, does not fossilize, so arguments here tend to have more than a little arm-waving about them. The fact remains that animals, rather than plants or other people, are the main subjects of Paleolithic art.

If animals were living tools, as the author argues, they are tools whose best use must be based on mutual understanding, not on force. There is nothing really new about this; Xenophon’s tretise on horsemanship said it over two thousand years ago.

The future? To quote the author, “The post-animal world, if we choose to live in it, is a fearsome place that threatens to destroy the very best qualities of humankind.”

I tend to believe most of the arguments in this book partly because they reflect my own conclusions. I wrote a short story over ten years ago suggesting that the connection between people and dogs may have shaped both into a new symbiosis, and I am glad to see that idea now accorded some degree of scientific acceptance.

Book: The Animal Connection, by Pat Shipman. Published by W.W. Norton,
ISBN 978-0-393-07054-5