Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Read Before Riding: Horses Have Consciousness

Horses were domesticated more than 5,000 years ago and have been deeply connected to humans ever since. In The Horse: The Epic History Of Our Noble Companion, Wendy Williams harnesses a lifetime in the saddle to explore our ancient relationship with the horse, from the cave paintings of Chauvet to the steppes of Eurasia, and the dude ranches of the American West to a laboratory in Texas where behavioural scientists are plumbing the depths of equine consciousness. Talking from her home on Cape Cod, she explains why we are having to rethink our preconceptions about animal consciousness; how a mathematical horse fooled humans; and why missing that second cup of coffee to go and muck out the barn can bring rich rewards. Tell us about how the horse, Clever Hans, was actually cleverer than humans thought - and what he teaches us about horse intelligence? Clever Hans was a horse that worked closely with his owner, and the owner believed that Hans could actually do math, and do it very well! [Laughs] This was about 100 years ago. His owner would ask Clever Hans to do addition or subtraction tables and Hans would always come up with the right answer. He became very famous but many people were skeptical, so there were a lot of tests.  At first Hans succeeded in all the tests and showed that he could indeed do mathematical computations. What happened is that Hans would stand there with the person doing the questioning. When it was the trainer, Hans was always right. Then they put other people up against Hans and said, “Ask Hans to do a calculation.” Hans would do an addition or subtraction problem and still get it right. Then someone had the idea of putting the person asking the question behind a barrier, so that Hans couldn’t see the person. As soon as that happened, Hans could no longer do the math...more

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