Interest into the inner workings of animal minds has accelerated over the last 15 years. Using smartly crafted experiments, academics from around the world work to tease apart complex mechanisms at the heart of these neural black boxes. Year-after-year, their findings force us to confront our age-old assumption of cognitive superiority, as the vast gulf thought to lie between humans and other animals slowly shrinks. Combining my unique background in animal cognition research and photography, I will document the work of different research groups as they study animal intelligence across a wide range of species.
With this project I aim to highlight new animal intelligence research from even the most unlikely of species. Photographs and stories will be used to educate the public about cognition and intelligence in general, and about how researchers grapple with the challenges of studying it in non-human animals. I also hope my photos will lead to a wider appreciation of animals and science, and promote ethical discussion into how society should change how it treats animals to reflect new evidence.
If you are a researcher studying cognition and are interested in your work being part of the Cognitive Ripples project, please contact me using the link at the bottom of this page. I am currently self-funded and operate independently, meaning the timeline of this project is flexible and inexact. You can get a flavour of how I combine photography and science by reading my past blog on kea cognition here.
This project is inspired by Frans de Waal’s 2016 book, "Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?". Read by myself as an optimistic undergraduate, the following passage stuck with me as a perfect discussion of how the progression of cognition research can alter the wider public’s perception of animals.
“Many animals have cognition achievements in common. The more scientists discover, the more ripple effects we notice. Capacities that were once thought to be uniquely human, or at least uniquely Hominoid (the tiny primate family of humans plus apes), often turn out to be widespread. Traditionally, apes have been the first to inspire discoveries thanks to their manifest intellect. After the apes break down the dam between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, the floodgates often open to include species after species. Cognitive ripples spread from apes to monkeys to dolphins, elephants, and dogs, followed by birds, reptiles, fish, and sometimes invertebrates. This historical progression is not to be confused with a scale with Hominoids on top. I rather view it as an ever-expanding pool of possibilities in which the cognition of, say, the octopus may be no less astonishing than that of any given mammal or bird.”