Home > Uncategorized > A Morning with Temple Grandin

A Morning with Temple Grandin

Sitting here on pins and needles waiting to see how the health care vote plays out today, I found this while poking around over on youtube. It’s a five part series so you may not want to invest the time to watch all of it, but of course I did because I find this woman, and her obsession with both animals and the brain, utterly fascinating. Each of those topics qualifies as one of my ongoing “background” obsessions, so of course I’m going to be drawn to someone for whom they are all-encompassing foreground obsessions.

I was thinking about Temple Grandin because HBO is running that movie about her in heavy rotation and I’ve seen bits and pieces of it multiple times as well as having watched it all the way through (of course). It’s pretty good – they did a nice job, I think, in trying to illustrate for the rest of us how the flood of sensory information can overwhelm a person with autism, and in trying to offer a glimpse into how autistic people experience the world.  Of course it’s just a crude simulation; none of us can ever really see the world through another’s eyes or filter our experience through another’s brain.

I haven’t read Dr. Grandin’s book about autism but I’ve read both of her books about animal cognition and behavoir, Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human. She may not know exactly how animals “think” – any more than any of us can ever know what it would really be like to see the world through the eyes or experience it through the brain of another – but her case has a very strong basic logic buttressed by years of observation.

Beth likes to make fun of me for being “the cat whisperer” but I’ve always been fascinated with trying to figure out how and what animals think – because they do think, just in ways that we won’t ever be able to definitively experience.  Anyone who has had a long and close relationship with an animal can testify that over time, you can often tell what the animal is “thinking” – what it is getting ready to do or wants to do – just by observation of its behavoir filtered through past experience.  My cat has different signals for “pick me up and pet me”, “feed me”, “play with me”, and “let me outside” – some of them only subtlely different – but all of them understood by both of us and thought out, on her part, in advance to achieve her objective of the moment.  That’s thinking ahead and must qualify as “cognition” on anyone’s scale.

If you have a fascination with animal minds and you’re not familiar with Temple Grandin, you’ll find her as interesting as I do.  She may not be 100% right about everything, but what she says rings true.



Probably not the best way to get inside the reality of an animal.

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  1. Larkspur
    March 21, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Ooh, I fled here from Sadly, No, which I love, but which – let’s face it – is not always like having an armful of kitties. And I am rewarded! Thanks for this post.

    Temple Grandin is amazing. And you know who is just as amazing? Her mom. And I say that not just because of the fine portrayal on the HBO movie.

    I first encountered Temple Grandin in Oliver Sacks’s book, “An Anthropologist on Mars” (Grandin was the “anthropologist”).

    I’ve read “Animals In Translation” and “Animals Make Us Human”, and her perceptions are just amazing. One tiny part of “Animals Make Us Human” struck me, probably out of proportion to its import in the book. She was talking about animal welfare in captivity, specifically the larger snakes, and the ethical question of feeding snakes what they need to eat: small rodents. And she said there was no excuse for inflicting that kind of terror on a mouse: we are ethically required to do the deed ourselves, to kill the mouse quickly and humanely and immediately give it to the snake.

    So I know I won’t be keeping snakes as pets. But meanwhile, I am so grateful to Temple Grandin for trying to make the lives of the mice that get fed to *us* less terrifying and much more humane. I think she said once that “people think that death is the worst thing that can happen to livestock animals”, and she’s right.

    But our companion animals, oh, what would we do without them? I love cats and I love dogs, and most of all, I love cats and dogs who love each other (especially if they both like me, too).

  2. Pete
    March 24, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Thanks … I’ll be baaaack — PS

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