The Aesop's Fable Paradigm is a collection of essays that explore the cutting-edge intersection of folklore and science. From moralizing fables to fantastic folktales, humans have been telling stories about animals – animals who can talk, feel, think, and make moral judgments just as we do – for a very long time. In contrast, scientific studies of the mental lives of animals have professed to be investigating the nature of animal minds slowly, cautiously, objectively, with no room for fanciful tales, fables, or myths. But recently, these folkloric and scientific traditions have merged in an unexpected and shocking way: scientists have attempted to prove that at least some animal fables are actually true.
These interdisciplinary chapters examine how science has targeted the well-known Aesop's fable "The Crow and the Pitcher" as their starting point. They explore the ever-growing set of experimental studies which purport to prove that crows possess an understanding of higher-order concepts like weight, mass, and even Archimedes' insight about the physics of water displacement.
The Aesop's Fable Paradigm explores how these scientific studies are doomed to accomplish little more than to mirror anthropomorphic representations of animals in human folklore and reveal that the problem of folkloric projection extends far beyond the "Aesop's Fable Paradigm" into every nook and cranny of research on animal cognition.
Introduction: The Perplexities of Water, by K. Brandon Barker and Daniel J. Povinelli
1. The Animal Question as Folklore in Science, by K. Brandon Barker
2. The Early Tradition of the Crow and the Pitcher, by William Hansen
3. Going Meta: Retelling the Scientific Retelling of Aesop's the Crow and the Pitcher, by Laura Hennefield, Hyesung G. Hwang, and Daniel J. Povinelli
4. Anthropomorphomania and the Rise of the Animal Mind: A Conversation, by K. Brandon Barker and Daniel J. Povinelli
5. Fabling Gestures in Expository Science, by Gregory Schrempp
Conclusion: Old Ideas and the Science of Animal Folklore, by K. Brandon Barker and Daniel J. Povinelli
Appendix: Doctor Fomomindo's Preliminary Notes for a Future Index of Anthropomorphized Animal Behaviors, by Daniel J. Povinelli, K. Brandon Barker, Marisa Wieneke, and Kristina Downs
K. Brandon Barker is Assistant Professor of Folklore in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is co-author (with Claiborne Rice) of Folk Illusions: Children, Folklore, and Sciences of Perception.
Daniel J. Povinelli is a Professor of Biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is the author of Folk Physics for Apes: The Chimpanzee's Theory of How the World Works and World without Weight: Perspectives on an Alien Mind.
"The Aesop's Fable Paradigm is interdisciplinarity at its best: a genuine dialogue between the sciences and the humanities that not only undermines the notion of an unbridgeable divide between "the two cultures" but also offers fascinating insights into the sociology of science. In addition to its important scholarly insights, we are given an insider's view on how scientific work actually gets done, which makes it an excellent teaching resource. As an added bonus, the book is a pleasure to read: it's both playful and witty, but also deadly serious, and it never pulls its punches."
– Louise Barrett, University of Lethbridge
"An impressively collaborative, interdisciplinary (and quite often funny!) set of essays that illustrate concretely not only how scientists anthropomorphize animals and draw on folkloric constructs in their research design and conclusions, but also how scientists need folklorists to help them sort it out. A must-read for anyone interested in the overlaps and little-understood connections between folklore and science."
– Lisa Gabbert, author of Winter Carnival in a Western Town: Identity, Change, and the Good of the Community
"Like the coyotes and badgers of native Western folklore that collaborate to ferret prey from their safe burrows, a scientist and a folklorist unite to ferret comparative psychology from its reliance on non-diagnostic experiments into a more enlightened era of self-reflection.The Aesop's Fable Paradigm provides an opportunity for engaging scholars with the challenges of designing a study of animal cognition that probes species-unique cognitive processes rather than continuing to debate how human-like nonhumans can be"
– Jennifer Vonk, Oakland University