"We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience." -John Dewey
The Huffington Post recently reported new research that suggests that alligators and crocodiles use tools. Specifically, these animals perch sticks on their heads and use them to lure nesting birds.
This evidence challenges common ideas that these creatures are not smart. Language like “lizard brain”–meaning the amygdala, among the smallest and earliest developed part of advanced brains–perpetuate the notion that reptiles cannot think or reason. The amygdala is thought to control memory and emotional instinct in humans.
Smart animals may have a special advantage in environmental conservation efforts. A “smart” animal might inspire more people to want to protect it. This is especially true because individuals are more likely to feel an empathic connection toward members of another species with similar behavior.
Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older than Words, a personal memoir with themes of interspecies communication, suggests that humans dull our empathic instincts toward animals in order to better exploit them. In other words, at the root of cruelty is alienation. Perhaps scientific advances in animal behavior will reignite empathy in some.