Wild things

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Science  17 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6292, pp. 1402
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8235

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"I want to know what it is like to be a wild thing," writes Charles Foster. Would an animal who lived in this wood "recognize our description of the wood?" Is our world his world? Such inquiries have a long tradition in the natural sciences, having been raised by Charles Darwin in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals and emphasized by Jakob von Uexküll, whose theory of "Umwelt" described how species sense, prioritize, and interact with the environment differently. These ideas were later dismissed by Thomas Nagel in "What is it like to be a bat?" (we can't ever know) and reclaimed as an avenue of scientific inquiry in Donald R. Griffin's groundbreaking, though controversial, The Question of Animal Awareness. In the two books under review-- Foster's Being a Beast and Thomas Thwaites' Goatman-- the authors attempt to emulate animals in order to shed light on the lived experiences of other species.