How Counting Horses and Reading Dogs Convinced Us Animals Could Think
Although metro-riding beavers, militarized dolphins, and their canny ilk seem to pop up almost weekly now, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that psychologists and the general public began seriously considering whether animals had consciousness, emotions, and intelligence. This was due in part to the fin de siècle fad for “wonder animals,” domesticated critters that solved math problems, answered riddles, and discoursed on philosophy, often using a code to communicate with their handlers.
The catalyst for this wonder animal fad was Clever Hans, a mathematically-inclined German horse who gained notoriety in the early 1900s. He could apparently solve math problems–he even did square roots–and carry on simple conversations by tapping his hooves. When Hans started performing for an amazed German public, he amplified a growing interest in animal intelligence that had the potential to transform science and society. Perhaps animals, long regarded as mindless automata, actually had the capacity for reason and language–which meant they might even possess consciousness and something like a soul.
Full article at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/how-counting-horses-and-reading-dogs-convinced-us-animals-could-think