So how is it that these animals, with brains scarcely bigger than lemons, are able to manipulate us, con us into giving them food and shelter, and even (often) letting them sleep in our beds? This is among the questions that animal researcher Bruce Blumberg attempts to answer in his Harvard Extension School course, The Cognitive Dog: Savant or Slacker.
In the first lecture, Blumberg points out that all animals are problem solvers. They’re able to cope with complicated survival problems every day. They may not solve the problems in the same way we do, but that does not take away from the elegance and effectiveness of their solutions. For example, beavers construct effective and elegant dams and lodges without ever studying engineering. It could be, Blumberg suggests, that they build these dams by following a simple rule: put the stick into the place where the water is flowing the fastest.
As with other Harvard Extension School courses (see Go to Harvard for free), only the first two weeks’ worth of lectures are available to non-paying students. But you’ll learn a lot in these first few lectures, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to read some of the books in the syllabus.