For Time will teach thee soon the truth, There are no birds in last year’s nest!


Animal architects : building and the evolution of intelligence New York : Basic Books, c 2007      James L. Gould and Carol Grant Gould Animals  Habitations Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xi, 324 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 301-309) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Animal behavior has long been a battleground between the competing claims of nature and nurture, with the possible role of cognition in behavior as a recent addition to this debate. There is an untapped trove of behavioral data that can tell us a great deal about how the animals draw from these neural strategies: The structures animals build provide a superb window on the workings of the animal mind.

Animal Architects examines animal architecture across a range of species, from those whose blueprints are largely innate (such as spiders and their webs) to those whose challenging structures seem to require intellectual insight, planning, and even aesthetics (such as bowerbirds’ nests, or beavers’ dams).

Beginning with instinct and the simple homes of solitary insects, James and Carol Gould move on to conditioning; the “cognitive map” and how it evolved; and the role of planning and insight. Finally, they reflect on what animal building tells us about the nature of human intelligence-showing why humans, unlike many animals, need to build castles in the air.

It is of course on this last point that the authors, who have skated on thin ice in everything other than their description of habitations, plunge into the murky depths of pseudo science and mumbo jumbo. Animals – like humans – are the product of a creation that is governed by intelligent design. The nest of the JubJub bird is going to be essentially the same whether it is built with eucalyptus leaves in Eucalyptia or oak leaves in Oaklandia. The limits of animal creation – however amazing or wonderful – are circumscribed by their creation. They have not “evolved” to build libraries, museums, theaters or hospitals to give but a few examples.

There should be, and are, volumes dedicated to everything that man can learn from animal habitations in improving his own living circumstances. This is not such a book.

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