“For almost as long as modern science has been around, the idea that animals can remember past experiences seemed so preposterous that few researchers bothered to study it. Surely only humans, with our big, sophisticated brains, could be capable of “episodic” memories—recalling a trip to the grocery store last Saturday, for example. Animals, in their constant striving for survival, as the popular thinking went, must live in the now, and only in the now. Using our own cognitive superpowers, we now know that we were spectacularly mistaken—and a memory champ from the animal world might even help us improve how we treat Alzheimer’s disease.

The view of animals as primitive beings void of memories and living only in the present had its roots in a 400-year-old idea still often taught and debated in introductory Philosophy classes. “They eat without pleasure, cry without pain, grow without knowing it; they desire nothing, fear nothing, know nothing,” wrote Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715), a French priest and philosopher. Malebranche was poetically summarizing the ideas of René Descartes (1596-1650), the father of modern Western philosophy and perhaps the most famous person to devalue animals, seeing them as lacking souls and therefore being nothing more than mechanical ‘automata.'”

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