Dr. GRANDIN: Well, there's been a lot of interest in it. I was really happy to say that we're making some of the bestseller lists.
You know, it's crouching down a little bit, it's moving around little bit differently. They're just very good at reading animal behavior. And I think in most cases that can explain some of their successes.
Temple Grandin doesn't see the world like most of us do. She does, she would say, see the world more like most animals: a place of fear without emotion where your thoughts come to you in pictures rather than in words.
FLATOW: Yeah, you write in your book about how you've noticed that animals do not like to stand with their legs crossed or feet together. And that some of the pens were forcing them to do that and you designed that out of it.
A Conversation with Temple Grandin
You may remember her Thinking in Pictures. Well, her latest book is Animals In Translation. She now joins us.
Dr. GRANDIN: I think in most cases, a lot of these animal communicators are very good animal behavior people. And a lot of them are visual thinkers and their picking up very subtle body cues from the animal.
Dr. TEMPLE GRANDIN (Colorado State University):
You know, the things that scare a prey/species animal like cattle are a whole lot of little visual details that people just don't tend to notice. And one Men Canada Goose Hybridge Jacket Black Australia Shop of the big problems they used to have is the people just wanted to get out there and yell and scream and push and shove and you know more and more prods. Rather than remove the things that the cattle were afraid of.
FLATOW: How has your book been received?
Dr. GRANDIN: Because that's how I think.
But let's get into talking about how autism is similar animal behavior. The thing is I don't think in a language and animals don't think in a language. It's sensory based thinking, thinking in pictures, thinking in smells, thinking in touches. It's putting these sensory based memories into categories. That's the basis of how an animal would think. One thing I want to say is, animals do have emotion. But fear tends to be one of the most primal emotions.
Language is not actually used in the actual designing process that is all done in pictures.
Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Dr. Grandin.
FLATOW: And so you've been able to design a device that animals will readily use as where other people have failed? Because you can think
So I got down in the shoots to take pictures of what the cattle were seeing. And people thought that was just kind of crazy. And I found that they were afraid of shadows. They were afraid of a reflection off the bumper of a truck. They were afraid of seeing people up ahead. And if you remove these visual based details, then the cattle would walk right up the shoot. In the beginning when I first started doing that, I mean people just couldn't even see why I was doing it.
FLATOW: So you don't read animals minds, don't want our listeners to confuse that?
Dr. GRANDIN: Well to understand animal thinking you've got to get away from a language. See my mind works like Google for images. You put in a key word; it brings up pictures. See language for me narrates the pictures in my mind. When I work on designing livestock equipment I can test run that equipment in my head like 3 D virtual reality. In fact, when I was in college I used to think that everybody was able to do that. And language just sort of, you know, gives an opinion. Like, oh, that's a good idea or oh, I just figured out how to design that.
And you've got to get the lighting right. They're afraid of the dark. If the lights were going, blasting in their eyes like the sun or there's a reflection on a shinny piece of metal moving, they're going to be afraid of that. And you get rid of those things their afraid of then their going to walk right in.
Because of her autism Dr. Grandin says she can understand how animals see the world in a way that most humans cannot. She has written about her experiences with autism and her observations of animals in many books.
And then when I did Thinking in Pictures I started interviewing people in detail about how they thought. And that really gave me insight into how my thinking was different. And that some people think much more in words. And then I'm thinking, well, that has to be how an animal would think. There's no other way an animal could possibly think.
FLATOW: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. For the rest of the hour, a look inside the often mysterious world of autism through the eyes of someone who has made a career out of overcoming the roadblocks the illness put in her way.
Dr. GRANDIN: No. And I always get asked all the time about animal communicators and I really don't want to get into a discussing whether ESP exists or not. Let's just stick with, you know, the other more concrete things.
FLATOW: And why do you think your autism allows you to understand how animals think?
Dr. GRANDIN: Well, that's getting into the restrainer systems that I designed in the 1990s. I designed a system holding a cattle in the meat plant, where they straddle a conveyor. And if you get things set up right they just walk in really quietly.
Dr. GRANDIN: Well, the thing is, I thought everybody thought in pictures. When I was in high school and college, I thought everybody could think in pictures. And my first inkling to my thinking was even different was when I was in college and I read an article about you know, some scientist said that the caveman could not have designed tools until they had language.
Let me formally introduce her. Temple Grandin is an Associate Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She joins us from studies of KPBS in San Diego.
Dr. GRANDIN: The first thing I thought about is how they see. I mean, I'd read in my physiology books that, when I was in college, that cattle had 360 degree vision. And I was out in the feed yards in Arizona back in the 1970s. And, you know, some of the cows would just walk up the shoots to get their vaccinations. Other cattle would refuse to go through the shoots.
Temple Grandin is autistic. Her writings about her struggles with autism, her fear, her anxiety, the overwhelming sensation of smell and sound, provide an intriguing glimpse into the world of autistic people.
FLATOW: Mm hmm. When did you first discover that you could do this? That you could understand how animals think?