I remember well the thrill of my first close encounter with an adult chimpanzee. I was visiting the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology, then located in Orange Park, Florida. That was more than forty years ago, a time when it was possible for visitors to roam alone around the spacious grounds surrounding caged chimpanzees. One animal in particular caught my attention, and it was obvious that she meant to do so. She was at the front of the cage holding between her lips a pine straw that she had pushed through the wire. It seemed obvious from the way she looked at me and from her behavior with the straw that she wanted me to take it. When I did, she quickly moved to another location nearby and extended her lips against the wire, clearly looking to me to return the straw, and when I gave it to her she chose a different location and once more offered the straw. We continued with this little game into which I had been recruited, playing by the rules she imposed, until I finally tired of it and quit. Late in the day when I described the incident to Henry Nissen of the Yerkes Laboratories, he immediately identified the animal and told me the game was one of her favorite pastimes.
In light of the many accounts of exceptional intellectual achievements of the great apes, my experience does not seem extraordinary. But for me it was a powerful reminder of how little I knew about the psychology of animals and how much there was to learn.
That theme is central to this book. The richness of behavior and the challenges it presents are major features of the authors' experience. The book illustrates, with unusual force by a host of well-chosen examples, the idea that the phenomena we observe that intrigue and amuse us lay beyond the obvious, and touch on the perennial mysteries of the animal mind. The essential nature of the motives, perceptions, understandings, and desires of the individuals we observe does not sit on the surface, like colorful pebbles at the seashore waiting to be picked up by any passerby, but can be discovered only by careful probes and explorations that go beyond the surface, that point toward events William A. Mason (p.xii) that we still can only speculate about. The investigation of the animal mind is a hugely demanding enterprise, requiring philosophical vision, intellectual discipline, compassion for the animals, a flair for innovation, and courage, too. Rumbaugh and Washburn (and their colleagues) have surely demonstrated to the satisfaction of even the most relentless critic that they are completely prepared for the task.
William A. Mason