Insights into animal cognition

The Yogin who attains Self-realization discovers that latent powers of perception have awakened within his or her illumined consciousness.  He or she begins to receive subtle images and sounds that convey the subjective internal states of the beings around him – humans, animals, and possibly even aliens. In this article, we demonstrate that observations on animal intelligence made by Sri Aurobindo decades ago have been fulfilled by recent results in comparative psychology and cognitive ethology (the field of science dedicated to studying animal cognition).

Spiritual perspective

Dnyaneshwar was a precocious 13th century Yogi of the Nath Path (i.e Brotherhood of the Supreme), who attained Self-realization in his early teenage years and subsequently dictated the Dnyaneshwari, a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita based on his spiritual experiences.  His commentary contains one of the most original descriptions of the awakening of the Kundalini.  In particular, he expounds that the “self-realized sage becomes a Skywalker (Keshara).  The body of the Yogi becomes as one formed of the wind; as a cloud from which limbs have sprouted out” after which — ” (the Yogi) beholds the things beyond the seas and stars; he hears the language of the Devas(Gods) and comprehends it, and perceives what is passing in the mind of the ant [1].”

That last phrase “Yogi… perceives what is passing in the mind of the ant” is of importance to the topic at hand.  During his early years in Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo used to keep a journal of his spiritual progress which has now been published as the Record of Yoga.  In this journal, we find some observations on animal cognition that were made based on his newborn powers of perception.

On Sept 7, 1913, Sri Aurobindo noted the decision making process that he observed in animals:

All the perceptions do not yet come at the right time, some revealing themselves after the thing perceived has passed out of the mind of the object. Nevertheless the movements of men & animals are now perfectly understood, their hesitations & rejected or modified ideas & impulses as well as those which eventuate in action. It is evident, now, out of what a complex mental tangle the single clear & decisive act proceeds. In the animals it is sometimes an obscure & sudden suggestion which contradicts all the previous thinking & tendency & often half consciously forces the action. But often also in them an impulse abandoned and forgotten by the mind remains in & dominates the subconscious pranic energy and dominates a subsequent action. The same is true but in a less degree of man. In the insects the mind counts for much less than this pranic energy [2].

Similarly, on March 24, 1914, he discusses the range of emotions passing through two squabbling cats:

Proofs of the idea-perception are being multiplied; eg, a quarrel between two cats on the opposite terrace, a black tom & a white pet cat; almost all the movements could be followed & predicted; 1st. the intention of the black to leap on the parapet of the stairs where the white had taken refuge, then, partly from discretion, partly in obedience to aishwarya, its slow departure, but this was not actually foreseen, the emotions of its retreat, sullen anger, pride, fear of attack (this was proved by the frequent look back, yet not too frequent, from pride), the half idea of returning & pursuing the quarrel, always abandoned, the intention to come on to our kitchen roof, the turning aside for the direct descent, (here there was a doubt whether the reading of the intention was correct, probably caused by a hesitation in the cat himself whether he should not deviate to another side)], the final descent before the doubt could be solved [3].

Sri Aurobindo seems to be indicating, based on his yogic powers, that animals have emotions and mental states.  While this may seem obvious to laypersons in general and animal lovers in particular, it is certainly not the case with psychologists and philosophers who have engaged in vigorous, and some might say hair-splitting, debate on what qualifies as awareness in animals and how to design controlled experiments to measure it.  We shall touch upon this topic in a later section.

What about language capability?  How is this perception possible in yogis?  The renowned expositor of Yoga, Patanjali, states in the Yoga Sutras:

shabda artha pratyaya itaretara adhyasat samkara tat pravibhaga samyama sarva bhuta ruta jnana” (Yoga Sutras, 3.17).

The English translation of this verse is: “The name associated with an object, the object itself implied by that name, and the conceptual existence of the object, all three usually interpenetrate or commingle with one another. By samyama on the distinction between these three, the meaning of the sounds made by all beings becomes available.”

Samyama in elementary terms can mean tuning one’s illumined consciousness to a certain entity.  The above verse indicates that by tuning one’s consciousness on the distinction between the object, its name, and its conceptual existence, one can comprehend the sounds made by all beings – in effect, decipher the language of animals and birds.

There are indications in the Record of Yoga that Sri Aurobindo used the method of samyama for telepathy, as the following passage shows:

The difficulty formerly experienced in thought-telepathy was that there was a full or almost full perception, whenever there was even slight sanyama, of the chitta-mould of the living object and of his sensation mind in its status & acquired form accompanied with a clear perception of the contents of the temperament & character, also of the waves of feeling & sensation that arose in the manas (sense mind) & chitta (proper mind) & to a less degree of the thought sensations that arose in the manas, but not of the buddhi(higher mind), except in its vague mould & acquired status, its outer shell only, not of either its general contents or of the particular ideas arising in it. These powers were gained long ago, early in the Pondicherry stay, &to some extent always existed in an inchoate form as they exist probably in all men [4].

Based on his spiritual experiences, Sri Aurobindo once rebutted the views of Canadian psychiatrist Richard Maurice Bucke (1837-1902) on animal sentience:

“…his statement that man has self-consciousness while the animal has none is not quite true. And his argument is: because animals, have no articulate speech and because they don’t know that they exist, therefore they are not self-conscious.  He admits that animals have reasoning power. But it is not true that they have no language. They have some sort of intoned sounds which are like the language of the pigmies and also they have a power of wonderful telepathic communication of impulse … So, having no articulate language does not imply absence of self-consciousness. Of course, the animals have no intellectual ideas to convey. But they have self-consciousness [5].”

In another conversation, he elucidated on animal sentience:

They say that animals can’t think or reason. It is not altogether true. They have an intelligence which acts within narrow limits of the needs of their life. These faculties are latent in the animals and have not been developed, that’s all.  Cats have a language of their own. They utter different kinds of mews for different purposes. For instance, when the mother cat mews in a particular tone and rhythm after leaving her kittens behind a box, the little ones understand that they are not to move from that place until she comes back and repeats that mew.  It is through the tone and the rhythm through the tone and the rhythm that cats express themselves… We had, when we were staying in Rue suffrin, a bitch left by someone in the house had a room upstairs with glass window and a bath-room at one extremity. One day this bitch found herself locked out. She tried all sorts of devices to enter the room but could not as the main door and the windows were all closed. As all attempts failed, she sat down in front of the window and began to think; how to get in? The way she sat and the attitude of her sitting showed clearly that she was thinking. Then suddenly she got up as if saying:  Ah, there is the bath-room door! Let me try it. She went in that direction. The door there was open and she got in.  It is the Europeans who make a big difference between man and animals. The only difference is the animals can’t form a concept, can’t read or write or philosophize [6].

Diverging from Indic sources, we find confirmation of language capacity in animals in the works of Carlos Castaneda.   During a phase of heightened consciousness, Castaneda discovered that animals have a language of their own.  The following passage is narrated in the words of Don Juan, Castaneda’s teacher:

“Yesterday the world became as sorcerers tell you it is,” he went on. “In that world coyotes talk and so do deer, as I once told you, and so do rattlesnakes and trees and all other living beings. But what I want you to learn is seeing. Perhaps you know now that seeing happens only when one sneaks between the worlds, the world of ordinary people and the world of sorcerers. You are now smack in the middle point between the two. Yesterday you believed the coyote talked to you. Any sorcerer who doesn’t see would believe the same, but one who sees knows that to believe that is to be pinned down in the realm of sorcerers. By the same token, not to believe that coyotes talk is to be pinned down in the realm of ordinary men [7].

Sri Aurobindo’s observations on animal cognition can be boiled down into five main points.  Animals have a wide range of emotions; a language capability of intoned sounds like pygmies; limited reasoning power or an “intelligence which acts within narrow limits of the needs of their life”; a “power of wonderful telepathic communication of impulse”; and most important of all, self-consciousness.

Scientific perspective

In this section, we shall undertake a survey of the evolving scientific views on animal cognition.  This will enable us to put the occult observations seen above in proper perspective.

In ancient Greece, the Pythagoreans believed that animals experience the same range of emotions as humans[8].  In late nineteenth century, Charles Darwin in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals argued that, as a natural by-product of evolution, there must be mental continuity between the emotional lives of humans and other animals.  Darwin’s protege, George Romanes, collected anecdotes of animal intelligence which were published in a volume entitled Mental Evolution in Animals.  Romanes work was discredited because it suffered from the “anthromorphic bias” – the tendency of assigning human qualities to inanimate objects or animals.  His interpretations of animal behavior were overly generous; he intuited fellow feeling among ants and fetishism in dogs [9].  Science requires objective and replicable experiments free from observer bias, but the reality is that internal states of animals are necessarily private phenomena.  How can one ever know with certainty what is going in the mind of an animal?  As a result, scientific experiments were confined to studying stimulus-response patterns in animals.  In the early twentieth century, the Behavioral psychology of Skinner and Watson was in vogue.  Animals came to be regarded as little more than instinctual automatons. Notwithstanding the pessimistic trend induced by behaviorism, some significant works on animal sentience were published during this time.  In 1907, Margaret Floy Washburn of Vassar college (the first woman to get a PhD in psychology) wrote The animal mind: a text-book of comparative psychology which discussed the experiments she had conducted on the existence of the animal mind. In 1938, Ludwig Koch and evolutionary biologist Sir Julian Huxley published Animal Language, a book which sought to advance the notion that language capability exists in animals.  The book contained two gramophone discs which documented the rich variety of vocalizations found within the animal kingdom.

The dim scientific views on animal cognition began to fade in the latter half of the twentieth century with the birth of cognitive psychology.  The advances in neuroscience made it possible to conduct brain imaging studies on animals.  Now it was possible to identify the physiological correlates of various mental states within animals and make more intelligent inferences and, in the process, even revisit earlier anecdotal evidence.

Donald Griffin, widely regarded as the father of cognitive ethology,  identified three categories of evidence that stand out as the most promising sources of significant, though incomplete, evidence of conscious thinking by nonhuman animals[10].

  1. Versatile adaptation of behavior to novel challenges.  The ability to reflect on one’s emotions, to intuit the states of others and predict their future behaviour can be taken as signs of a developed mind.
  2. Physiological evidence of brain functions that are correlated with conscious thinking.  Brain imaging studies can shed light on internal states.
  3. Communicative behavior by which animals sometimes appear to convey their thoughts to others.  Such behaviour can be regarded as proof of social awareness.

It seems possible through a convergence of inter-disciplinary information gathered from ethology, neurobiology, endocrinology, psychology and philosophy, to avoid the pitfalls of fanciful anecdotes and anthromorphic bias and evolve a more critical approach which provides a better understanding of animal cognition [8].

Now we shall review some of the scientific studies on animal cognition that have been conducted over the last few decades.

Animals have been shown to experience a wide range of emotions, besides those related to fight or flight [11]. Emotional fever describes the measurable rise in body temperature attributable to a psychological rather than physical cause. Impending exams and exciting sports events induce emotional fever in humans.  Turtles and lizards have also been found to exhibit emotional fever in response to human handling.  Rats develop emotional fever when handled by an unknown person, but this response declines as the rat develops trust in the handler. Similarly, chimpanzees showed significant decreases in skin temperature after viewing videos of emotionally negative scenes: other chimps receiving injections, images of darts and needles alone, and another chimp in conflict with veterinarians [12].

Some emotions are fleeting and others can be termed long-term states.  We might refer to the latter as moods and dispositions.  Do animals have such ambient emotional states? Rats, monkeys and other mammals confined for long periods in cages develop neurotic behaviors.  Termed “stereotypies”, these behaviors involve repetitive, functionless actions sometimes performed hours on end.  Rodents will dig for hours at the corners of their cages, and birds might pluck all their feathers and render themselves bare; they may also perform repetitive nodding or twirling head motions.  Another method used to demonstrate ambient emotional states has been to monitor the animal’s use of anxiety-relieving drugs.  Rats housed in enriched environments self-administer less amphetamine (mood-altering drug) than rats housed in impoverished cages.  These ambient emotional states indicate that animals aren’t just automatons but they have a rich variety of emotions [13].

What about linguistic skills? Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney showed that vervet monkeys emit different alarm calls in the presence of different predators (leopards, eagles, and snakes), and the monkeys that hear the calls respond appropriately – but that this ability develops over time, and also takes into account the experience of the individual emitting the call.  These sounds are considered a proto-language by many ethologists [14].  Australian researchers have discovered that chickens have at least 30 different calls, alerting one another to the appearance of unexpected food or prowling hawks, while prairie dogs have at least 100 “words” describing predators, including different terms for humans with and without guns [15].

Continuing on the language front, apes have been able to master sign language but they are unable to learn grammar and construct sentences.  Washoe the chimp was able to learn 132 signs in five years, Koko the gorilla learned 250 signs over four years and Nim Chimpsky learned about 125 signs in three and a half years. In the light of such studies, one can conclude that apes have limited linguistic comprehension or production abilities [16].

Animals have been found to comprehend absolute and relative number concepts.  Pigeons have been able to discriminate between food containers marked with more dots (six or seven) and fewer dots (one or two).  They were rewarded if they choose the container marked with more dots.  Raccoons can learn to pick out cubes containing exactly three objects from a set of cubes containing between one to five items.  Rats can be taught to respond only after three bursts of random white noise, not two or four [17].

One piece of evidence for mental capacity comes via testing for learning by imitation.  Japanese quail were found to imitate their comrade only after they observed that he is being rewarded.   This is said to be a case of “true imitation” where the observing animal in his mind comprehends the participating animal’s motivations [18].

The ability to group similar items can be taken as evidence of mental capacity.  Pigeons have been found capable of discriminating between photographs of cats, fish, flowers, oak leaves, other pigeons, car and chairs. In a 1995 study conducted by Shigeru Watanabe and his colleagues, pigeons were found capable of discriminating between paintings by Monet and Picasso.  The birds were first trained on a limited set of paintings: when the shown painting was a Picasso, the pigeon was able to obtain food by repeated pecking; when it was a Monet, pecking had no effect.  Going further, pigeons were able to categorize paintings by Cezanne and Renoir as belonging to the Monet school, and paintings by Braque and Matisse as belonging to the Picasso school [19].

Cognitive ethologists have sought to determine whether animals have a “theory of mind”.  Theory of mind refers to the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own.  Can you see the world from another person’s perspective? Can you predict how the other might act in the future?  Can you deceive another by inferring what he may be thinking?  These concepts can be tested by devising controlled scientific experiments.  Needless to say, one must be able to tease apart tests where animals succeeded by merely exhibiting associative learning from the tests where they exhibited true comprehension [20].  Several distinct tests have been devised and conducted.

Chimpanzee society tends to be stratified into layers of dominating and supplicant chimps.  In one experiment, a dominant and a subordinate chimpanzee competed for two pieces of food, one that both could see and one that only the subordinate could see (a barrier blocked it from the dominant’s view).  The prediction was that the subordinate would pursue the food that the dominant could not see.  The results supported the prediction, showing that the subordinate chimp did prefer to pursue the hidden food, which suggested an awareness of what others can and cannot see [20].

Another such test to discern the theory of mind is the false belief test which was conducted on chimpanzees[21].  The actual test conducted is not easy to describe so I am going to describe a simpler variant [22].  In this test, the test subject observes Sally take a marble and hide it in her basket. Sally then ‘leaves’ the room and goes for a walk. Whilst she is away, and therefore unbeknownst to her, Anne takes the marble out of Sally’s basket and puts it in her own box. Sally is then reintroduced and the test subject is asked the key question, the Belief Question: ‘Where will Sally look for her marble?’  To pass the test, the test subject must know the belief that Sally holds in her mind.  Chimpanzees and children under the age for four fail such a test but older children and adults succeed.  Those interested in the meticulous details of this test can read [23].

There are plenty of other scientific studies and recent books which illustrate the cognitive abilities of animals. I won’t go into that here.  See the Wikipedia entries for Animal_communication, Animal_language and Animal_cognition


The previous section sets the ground for contextualizing and comparing Sri Aurobindo’s yogic insights with recent scientific evidence.   As we saw earlier, Sri Aurobindo observations can be boiled down into five assertions:

  1. Animals have a wide range of emotions:  This is aligned with recent scientific evidence.  As seen above, animals exhibit emotional fever, ambient emotional states and other non-trivial emotions.
  2. Animals have a rudimentary language capability:  This is aligned with the current scientific data, and has been documented across several species.
  3. Animals have an “intelligence which acts within narrow limits of the needs of their life”:  This is also aligned with the current scientific evidence.  Animals can’t function completely like humans but they do exhibit limited rational skills.
  4. Animals have a “power of wonderful telepathic communication of impulse”:  This is not yet scientifically proven, or if it is, I do not know the exact experiment which proves it.
  5. Animals have self-consciousness: This issue may not be easily resolved because the definition of consciousness itself is a trenchant topic. In Western psychology, (by and large) consciousness is regarded as a by-product of brain activity, whereas in Indian psychology, consciousness is regarded as the primordial substance whose differentiations create the observable universe with its numerous occult worlds, along with the indwelling living souls who, by virtue of being a microcosm of the macrocosm, inherit a spark of consciousness and five sheaths.

The significance of Sri Aurobindo’s observations lies in the fact that they were made during the early twentieth century when animals were by and large dismissed as instinct-driven automatons.  Yogic insights are normally rejected because they are the result of largely subjective experiences which are not easily replicable in a scientific study, but in this case they merit scrutiny because they anticipate the evidence which is now building up in favour of animal intelligence.

Charles Darwin argued in favour of animal cognition because animals had to have mental continuity with human beings as a consequence of biological evolution.  The yogi, by contrast,  intuits animal cognition as a natural by-product of spiritual evolution. The purpose of spiritual evolution is self-expression of the latent Divinity through growth of consciousness.  It is the same Divine spark which matures over thousands of incarnations by taking birth first in plants, then animals and then human beings.  When the individual soul reaches the stage where its consciousness has outgrown the animal form, it is reborn as a human being (…where it continues to engage in animalistic activities until some epiphany awakens it towards its latent spiritual potential).


  1. H.P. Blavatsky. The Voice of the Silence, London : The Theosophical Publishing Company, 1889, p 77
  2. Sri Aurobindo.  Record of Yoga, p 290 Sept 7, 1913.
  3. Sri Aurobindo.  Record of Yoga, p 403 March 24, 1914.
  4. Sri Aurobindo.  Record of Yoga, p 402.
  5. A.B. Purani. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, First Series, p 82.
  6. A.B. Purani. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Third Series, 28 Jan 1939, p 195.
  7. Carlos Castaneda. Journey to Ixtlan: the lessons of Don Juan, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972, p 300.
  8. Marc Bekoff Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures.  BioScience 50: 861-870.
  9. Clive D.L. Wynne.  Animal cognition : the mental lives of animals, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave, 2001, p 7.
  10. Donald Griffin. Animal Minds : beyond cognition to consciousness, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2001. pp 18-19.
  11. G.M. Burghardt Darwin’s legacy to comparative psychology and ethology, American Psychologist, 2009, 64, 102-110.
  12. Jonathan Balcombe.  Second nature : the inner lives of animals, New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p 48
  13. ibid, pp 51-53
  14. Animal_communication
  15. Balcombe, op. cit., pp 88-90.
  16. Wynne op. cit., pp 165-171.
  17. ibid. pp. 101-105
  18. ibid. p 29.
  19. Pigeons As Art Critics? Pigeons, Like Humans, Use Color And Pattern Cues To Evaluate Paintings. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from­ /releases/2009/06/090630075622.htm ; Pigeon_intelligence
  20. Clive D.L. Wynne. Do animals think? Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2004, pp 163-194.
  21. Juliane Kaminski, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello.  Chimpanzees know what others know, but not what they believe. Cognition, 109 (2), 224-234 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.08.010
  22. Sally-Anne_test
  23. Dave Munger. Do chimps understand what Jon Stewart (or another chimp) believes? Cognitive Daily blog.  Posted on: November 10, 2009

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42 thoughts on “Insights into animal cognition

  1. mike

    l’ve actually had some interesting and realistic dreams with animals and birds. There was a cat living next door that we used to feed sometimes. She eventually died, but shortly after l had a dream about her [quite realistic] and l was telepathising with this cat in perfect english lol. She told me she would help me if she could. This telepathic exchange with animals [mainly cats] and birds has happened several times.

  2. Sandeep Post author

    Here is a child under four years who, like chimpanzees, fails the False Belief test mentioned above

    Autistic children also fail the False Belief Test as this video shows

    1. Neil Samuels

      First of all I would like to say as an aside that even though I strongly disagree with some basic core beliefs regarding some topics in other parts of your massive and wonderful blog, thank you for all of your wonderful, diverse and expansive articles, research and critical reflective thinking.
      Now, many even in the field (I am a developmental therapist working with ASD population) would not be aware that this is very poor example of “Theory of mind.”
      In fact, ‘Theory of Mind’ as children (or older) on the autism spectrum purportedly lack is often not just somewhat but egregiously off the mark. What many children (or older) on the spectrum have are difficulties to varying degrees in affect sensory motor processing challenges (e.g., under-reactivity or over-reactivity or mixed reactivities to sense of tactile, touch, movement; visual-spatial processing, etc.)

      The above often impacts on what then “obviously appears” to be systemic “cognitive challenges” but in fact are often nothing of the kind. There can also appear to be (and undoubtedly are in many instances, receptive and expressive language deficiencies) but this is often largely a result of how the individual child (or older) is processing information and how that information is unevenly integrated through the his/her senses, or more clinically, “affect sensory-motor domains.” Now, what is attempted to be illustrated as basic “lack of theory of mind” in this video would potentially be a very good candidate for that category. However, without knowing this particular child and without getting to much into it here, there is suffice to say often a “gap” between what is “seen, felt and known” by a child (or older) on the spectrum and what is outwardly expressed and would consequently appear to be otherwise (i.e., a lack of basic empathic understanding or “Theory of Mind.”)

      In fact, in practice I find quite the opposite,as others in the field have also found.
      Many, many of these children are so “highly attuned”, so perspicacious in varying domains of perception that it is arresting. However, if one just looks upon the surface, for example, how the child is immediately saying, doing or responding to the mundane (and often non-empathic) queries, many practitioners and caregivers tend to miss it. Often the child’s awareness and attunement in certain areas of perception are stunning, however, the “gap”, that is, the “affect sensory motor regulation and integration of those perceptions” cannot be evenly coordinated (that is, core issues of executive functioning or praxis) and so it “appears” that the aforesaid challenges or delays (cognitive, receptive language, etc.) are often much greater than in fact they are.

      There is a child of 3.8 years diagnosed on the mild end of the spectrum with sensory and pragmatic language processing challenges who recently during one of my sessions demonstrated an awareness with respect to empathic awareness or “Theory of Mind” nothing short of astounding! In the midst of intense symbolic play with character figures with child, myself and caregivers the child suddenly shouted to me, “No, don’t go! Don’t leave, you stay here!”

      Mind you, I had NOT in the least turned nether body nor my head, not one iota!
      What I had realized at the moment the child had said this shocked me is that I had precisely at that moment a passing thought, “I wonder what time it is, is the session almost over.” Again, I neither moved my body nor turned my head one iota! What this child had seen (caught) was a change of dilation in my pupils, at precisely the moment I had that subtle change of thought! This was not only mind-reading or “Theory of Mind” but at a profound empathic (some would term telepathic) level of awareness by this child. To pick up (and in this instance the child has excellent language ability to articulate) subtle cues in body language (i.e. change of dilation of pupils per a different thought) is profound!

      1. Sandeep Post author

        First of all I would like to say as an aside that even though I strongly disagree with some basic core beliefs regarding some topics in other parts of your massive and wonderful blog,

        That is fine. We can disagree and continue to engage 🙂

        Now, many even in the field (I am a developmental therapist working with ASD population) would not be aware that this is very poor example of “Theory of mind.”

        If I understand correctly, you are pointing out that autistic children are deficient in sensory-motor processing, which might be mistaken as lack of mental or emotional development. I am not an expert on autism so I am not going to dispute that. In that case, the definition of “theory of mind” may be a misnomer when applied to autistic children.

        You should take up this issue with the academics. The “theory of mind hypothesis of autism” started with the 1989 paper of Frith, Baron-Cohen, and Leslie “Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind’?”. See

  3. Sandeep Post author

    Elephants have been found to be strongly interested in bones of dead elephants, but not in bones of other species. They smell the bones, turn them over, pick them up, and carry them some distance as if trying to recognize who it was who died.
    From the book “When elephants weep: the emotional lives of animals” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Susan McCarthy (page 96)

    This is a video of grieving elephants from BBC wildlife

  4. Mona

    The experiments with Yoga of Sri Aurobindo are very good examples given here of the stage of consciousness of “Oneness”. I don’t think the differences in the vision about animals consciousness lies between Europeans and Indian people, but resides between spiritual and non- (or not yet?) spiritual people.
    You will find below some titles of excellent books written on the subject of animals consciousness which are giving more proof than any scientific experiments:

    The Friend of All Ramana Maharishi

    John Allen Boone Kinship with all life
    Harper, 1976 – Science – 157 pages
    Is there a universal language of love, a “kinship with all life” that can open new horizons of experience? Example after example in this unique classic — from “Strongheart” the actor-dog to “Freddie” the fly — resounds with entertaining and inspiring proof that communication with animals is a wonderful, indisputable fact. All that is required is an attitude of openness, friendliness, humility, and a sense of humor to part the curtain and form bonds of real friendship. For anyone who loves animals, for all those who have ever experienced the special devotion only a pet can bring, Kinship With All Life is an unqualified delight. Sample these pages and you will never encounter “just a dog” again, but rather a fellow member of nature’s own family.

    ” As a person who already believes that animals are far more sentient than modern science judges them to be, I just loved this book. The author’s detailed accounts of his experiences with Strongheart, a famous canine film star who was revered for his film work back in the 1920s, were very interesting and thought-provoking as well. If J. Allen Boone is accurate in his conclusions, then eventually mankind is going to have to face the fact that the entire manner in which many animals are treated in our culture (e.g., today’s “factory farms”) is at a minimum inappropriate, and perhaps even criminal.”

    Le Peuple Animal … l’âme des animaux de Daniel Meurois et Anne Givaudan (Broché – 23 septembre 2009)

    The King Who Understood Animals: A Story about Using Knowledge Wisely by Dharma Publishing (Paperback – 16 Dec 2011)

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Thanks Mona for these book references! I have updated your comment by adding links to the Amazon pages for the books.

      Mona: I don’t think the differences in the vision about animals consciousness lies between Europeans and Indian people, but resides between spiritual and non- (or not yet?) spiritual people.

      I believe you are responding to Sri Aurobindo’s remark “It is the Europeans who make a big difference between man and animals” seen above. His remark was made in the context of prevailing views of European scientists. He and his disciples were discussing the Royal Society of Science, Maurice Materlinck, and Sir William Crookes in that conversation recorded in the Evening Talks.

  5. ipi

    from Do animals commit suicide? by Brian Palmer

    There is plenty of evidence that animals engage in self-destructive behavior. It’s not clear that any of these behaviors are comparable to human suicide, though, because suicide involves a set of higher-order cognitive abilities. It requires an awareness of one’s own existence, an ability to speculate about the future, and the knowledge that an act will result in death. There are indications that certain animals have some of these capacities. Dolphins, many primates, magpies, and elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, suggesting self-awareness. Some animals know how to pretend during play activities (PDF), which indicates an ability to imagine counterfactual worlds. Still, no one really knows which animals, if any, can combine these capacities to perform an act similar to human suicide.

  6. Sandeep Post author

    Ravens use their beaks and wings much like humans rely on our hands to make gestures, such as for pointing to an object, scientists now find. This is the first time researchers have seen gestures used in this way in the wild by animals other than primates….

    The researchers saw the ravens use their beaks much like hands to show and offer items such as moss, stones and twigs. These gestures were mostly aimed at members of the opposite sex and often led those gestured at to look at the objects. The ravens then interacted with each other—for example, by touching or clasping their bills together, or by manipulating the item together. As such, these gestures might be used to gauge the interest of a potential partner or strengthen an already existing bond.


  7. Sandeep Post author

    What about language capability? How is this perception possible in yogis? The renowned expositor of Yoga, Patanjali, states in the Yoga Sutras…Samyama in elementary terms can mean tuning one’s illumined consciousness to a certain entity.

    Sri Aurobindo has discussed the action of Samyama in the Synthesis of Yoga

    There is, then, first a fundamental unity of consciousness that is greater or less in its power, more or less completely and immediately revelatory of its contents of knowledge according to our progress and elevation and intensity of living, feeling and seeing in the supramental ranges. There is set up between the knower and the object of knowiedge, as a result of this fundamental unity, a stream or bridge of conscious connection — one is obliged to use images, however inadequate — and as a consequence a contact or active union enabling one to see, feel, sense supramentally what is to be known in the object or about it. Sometimes this stream or bridge of connection is not sensibly felt at the moment, only the results of the contact are noted, but it is always really there and an after memory can always make us aware that it was really all the time present: as we grow in supramentality, it becomes an abiding factor. The necessity of this stream or this bridge of connection ceases when the fundamental oneness becomes a complete active oneness. This process is the basis of what Patanjali calls samyama, a concentration, directing or dwelling of the consciousness, by which, he says, one can become aware of all that is in the object. But the necessity of concentration becomes slight or nil when the active oneness grows; the luminous consciousness of the object and its contents becomes more spontaneous, normal, facile.

    (Sri Aurobindo. Synthesis of Yoga, Chapter XXIII, The supramental Instruments — Thought-process)

  8. Sandeep Post author

    Rats (yes, rats) Feel Each Other’s Pain

    The act of helping others out of empathy has long been associated strictly with humans and other primates, but new research shows that rats exhibit this prosocial behavior as well.

    In the new study, laboratory rats repeatedly freed their cage-mates from containers, even though there was no clear reward for doing so. The rodents didn’t bother opening empty containers or those holding stuffed rats.

    To the researchers’ surprise, when presented with both a rat-holding container and a one containing chocolate — the rats’ favorite snack — the rodents not only chose to open both containers, but also to share the treats they liberated.


  9. Sandeep Post author

    Chimpanzees might experience some form of synaesthesia!

    Nearly all humans tend to link high-pitched sounds with lighter, brighter hues and bass-filled sounds with dark shades. People judge high vowels, such as ‘mil’, as white, for example, and consider lower-toned syllables, such as ‘mol’, as black. Ludwig thinks such connections represent a mild form of synaesthesia, with both emerging from neural cross-wiring between nearby brain regions involved in processing senses.

    To determine whether humans learn to associate sounds and colours from others, or whether they are innate and do not require language, Ludwig searched for the associations in captive chimpanzees.

    She and colleagues at Kyoto University in Japan showed six chimps aged 8 to 32 a small black or white box, and then trained them to to select a square of the same colour on a screen to receive a fruit reward. The apes also heard a high or low tone when making their choice.

    When high tones accompanied white squares and low tones were matched with black, the animals picked the correct colour 93% of the time, on average. When the colours and sounds were reversed, their success rate fell to about 90%.

  10. Sandeep Post author

    Pigeons can learn higher math as well as monkeys

    By now, the intelligence of birds is well known. Alex the African gray parrot had great verbal skills. Scrub jays, which hide caches of seeds and other food, have remarkable memories. And New Caledonian crows make and use tools in ways that would put the average home plumber to shame.

    Pigeons, it turns out, are no slouches either. It was known that they could count. But all sorts of animals, including bees, can count. Pigeons have now shown that they can learn abstract rules about numbers, an ability which until now had been demonstrated only in primates. In the 1990s scientists trained rhesus monkeys to look at groups of items on a screen and to rank them from the lowest number of items to the highest.

    They learned to rank groups of one, two and three items in various sizes and shapes. When tested, they were able to do the task even when unfamiliar numbers of things were introduced. In other words, having learned that two was more than one and three more than two, they could also figure out that five was more than two, or eight more than six.

    Damian Scarf , a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, tried the same experiment with pigeons, and he and two colleagues report in the current issue of the journal Science that the pigeons did just as well as the monkeys.


  11. Pingback: Does Nature revolt against machinery? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  12. mysticservant

    Very interesting post. The Mother also said some things about cats and dogs, about how they sometimes put a yogic effort of consciousness into understanding us. I see looks of confusion and ‘absorption’ (i.e. the look of trying to absorb) in dogs and cats all the time, including my own cat. He’s an incredibly sophisticated animal, something like this dog (though less musical 😛 )

    1. Sandeep Post author

      mysticservant: The Mother also said some things about cats and dogs, about how they sometimes put a yogic effort of consciousness into understanding us

      Yes, its in the Agenda:

      Mother: Sometime ago, I had the experience of identification with animal life, and it is a fact that animals do not understand us; their consciousness is so constituted that we elude them almost entirely. And yet I have known domestic animals – cats and dogs, but especially cats – who made an almost yogic effort of consciousness to understand us. But generally, when they watch us living and acting, they don’t understand, they don’t SEE US as we are and they suffer because of us. We are a constant enigma to them Only a very tiny part of their consciousness is linked to us. ( Agenda, February 3, 1958)

      That’s a cute video. Here is a collection of videos describing “16 Monkeys & Apes Doing Human Things”

  13. Sandeep Post author

    Alex the parrot’s last experiment shows his mathematical genius

    Even in death, the world’s most accomplished parrot continues to amaze. The final experiments involving Alex – a grey parrot (Psittacus eithacus) trained to count objects – have just been published.

    They show that Alex could accurately add together Arabic numerals to a sum of eight and three sets of objects, putting his mathematical abilities on par with (and maybe beyond) those of chimpanzees and other non-human primates. The work was just published in the journal Animal Cognition.

    Alex gained world renown for his ability to learn and voice labels for dozens of different objects and concepts, such as colour, size and quantity. His primary trainer, Harvard University psychologist Irene Pepperberg, even reported that Alex understood a “zero-like” concept.


    In the newly published work, Pepperberg tested whether Alex could correctly add the Arabic numerals and also whether he could sum three sets of objects totalling 6 or less. Both experiments were cut short when Alex died, but Pepperberg says that the parrot did better than chance in both experiments.

    In 12 trials of the Arabic numeral addition task, when asked “How many total?” he indicated the correct sum 9 times, demonstrating that 3 + 4 is 7, 4 + 2 is 6, 4 + 4 is 8 and so on. When presented sequentially with three sets of objects hidden under three cups, and asked how many, Alex offered the correct answer eight out of 10 times. He determined, for instance, that one, two and one jelly beans adds up to four.

    For more, see

  14. Sandeep Post author

    Bottlenose dolphins seem to call out to each other with unique signature-like whistles

    When we meet a group of strangers, one of the first things we’ll do is to introduce ourselves by name. Nicola Quick and Vincent Janik from the University of St Andrews have found that groups of bottlenose dolphins do something similar. When they meet one another in the wild, they exchange “signature whistles”. These whistles are unique to each individual, and they’re strikingly similar to human names. And it seems that they’re a standard part of a dolphin’s meet-and-greet etiquette.

    Signature whistles were first discovered by Melba and David Caldwell in the 1960s, but we still know relatively little about how they’re used. We know that bottlenose dolphins develop their signatures when they’re a few months old, possibly modelling them on those of their mothers. They can go unchanged for decades, although males will sometimes change their whistles to resemble that of a new ally.

    The signature whistles seem to act like badges of identity. One dolphin can learn information about another by listening to its whistle. But they’re not entirely like human names. For a start, they’re invented, rather than bestowed. They also convey more than just identity – they reveal the caller’s motivation or mood. “It’s a bit like in human language, where you can hear if a person sounds happy or sad, not in the choice of words they make, but in subtle acoustic features in their speech,” explains Janik.

  15. Sandeep Post author

    Dolphins not so intelligent on land

    GAINESVILLE, FL—Although dolphins have long been celebrated for their high intelligence and for appearing to have a complex language, a team of researchers at the University of Florida reported Monday that these traits are markedly less evident on dry land.

    According to study researchers, a group of 25 bottlenose dolphins removed from their holding tanks failed 11 exercises designed to test their basic cognitive abilities and reasoning skills.

    “The dolphins were incapable of recognizing and repeating simple gestures,” said study co-author Dr. Scott Lindell. “Their non-verbal communications were limited to a rapid constriction and expansion of the blowhole, various incomprehensible fin motions, and heavy tremors while they lay prone on the lab table.”

    Read the entire story @,1896/

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Scientists Teach Chimpanzee To Conduct 3-Year Study On Primates

      SEATTLE—In what the scientific community has hailed as a breakthrough achievement, zoologists have succeeded for the first time ever in training a chimpanzee to carry out a rigorous three-year study of primate behavior.

      Researchers at the University of Washington reported Thursday that Mokoko, a 7-year-old chimpanzee in the school’s animal cognition laboratory, has learned to make systematic observations and collect data on other chimpanzees, conducting experiments with no assistance from human scientists.

      Read more @,29195/

  16. Sandeep Post author

    Empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity — caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait. In this TED talk, Dutch primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.

  17. Sandeep Post author

    Blind dog has his own guide dog!

    Tanner is a blind golden retriever whose life almost ended when his owner died. Blair is a black mutt who got shot and used to live in fear. Then they found each other, became best buddies and solved their problems together.

  18. mike

    Yes, ravens are incredibly intelligent. They imitate a lot of other birds and animals too [the sounds they make] unlike other members of the crow family, or so l’ve read.
    l’ve noticed magpies are very intelligent too. l watched one using it’s wing to block the sunlight so it could see insects on the grass lol.
    For some reason l always seem to be talking to animals and birds in my dreams [very clear telepathy] when l meet them. There was a big raven on my shoulder in one dream, giving me advice about something.
    l can’t remember if it was The Mother or some theosophist or perhaps Dion Fortune [the magician/occultist who lived around the same time as Mother] who said that when she was in Africa [or some tropical place] she was able to contact the ‘Spirit of the Species’ [not sure if Mother ever mentioned this, but l think so] to remove a lot of ants or mosquitoes from her tent that were annoying her.

  19. mike

    Those crows are unbelievable lol.
    Even the Mother gave one special treatment – the one She used to feed on the balcony.

  20. Sandeep Post author

    Goats remember the cries of their babies even after a year’s separation

    Mama goats can recall their babies’ bleats at least a year after their separation, a new study has found, providing another reason why you should not underestimate the emotional lives of farm animals.

    The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is one of the few to test whether the mother-child bond in animals lasts after the first period of dependence ends.

    It found that goats, at least, remember their family ties long-term.


    A few researchers have followed mother-baby pairs of some seal species, finding that both moms and pups remember each other’s voices for years after weaning.

    Tamarin monkeys recognise their relatives even after four years of separation.

    Read more @

  21. Gordana

    Sandeep…” Sri Aurobindo seems to be indicating, based on his yogic powers, that animals have emotions and mental states.”
    OK guys enjoy this funny excerpt from Evening Talks (Purani):

    ‘…Disciple: Soul of the flower!
    Sri Aurobindo: I knew it would astound you. You think the flowers have no soul? It is again man’s ignorance that makes him think that he is the greatest being in creation. Many dogs have got a much finer psychic being than many men!
    Would you believe if I were to tell you that there is a psychic element in the love-making of animals? Take our cat. Big-boy. When he makes love to Bite-bite he is physical; when he makes love to Baby, he is vital; when he makes love to Mimi, he is emotional and sentimental; and when he makes love to Girly, he is psychic!”

  22. Gordana

    From the collected works of the Mother:
    Q: What kind of love do animals have for men?
    The Mother …..”It is almost the same as that of rather unintellectual men for the Divine. It is made of admiration, trust and a sense of security. Admiration: it seems to you something really very beautiful. And it is not reasoned out: an admiration from the heart, so to speak, spontaneous. For instance, dogs have this in a very high degree. And then, trust—naturally this is sometimes mixed with other things: with the feeling of some need and dependence, for it is that person who will give me to eat when I am hungry, give me shelter when it is rough weather, who will look after me. This is not the most beautiful side. And then, unfortunately, it gets mixed up (and I believe—I consider it entirely man’s fault) with a kind of fear; a feeling of dependence and a kind of fear of something which is much stronger, much more conscious, much more… which can harm you, and you have no strength to defend yourself. It is a pity, but I believe it is altogether man’s fault. But if men really deserved the love of animals, it would be made of a feeling of wonder and of the sense of security. It is something very fine, this sense of security; something that’s able to protect you, to give you all that you need, and near which you can always find shelter. Animals have an altogether rudimentary mind. They are not tormented by incessant thoughts like human beings. For example, they feel a spontaneous gratitude for an act of kindness towards them, whilst men, ninety-eight times out of a hundred, begin to reason and ask themselves what interest one could have in being good. This is one of the great miseries of mental activity. Animals are free from this and when you are kind to them they are grateful to you, spontaneously. And they have trust. So their love is made of that, and it turns into a very strong attachment, an irresistible need to be near you. There is something else. If the master is really a good one and the animal faithful, there is an exchange of psychic and vital forces, an exchange which becomes for the animal something wonderful, giving it an intense joy. When they like to be quite close to you in that way, when you hold them, it is that they 239vibrate internally. The force one gives them—the strength of affection, of tenderness, protection, all that—they feel it, and it creates a deep attachment in them. Even fairly easily, in some of the higher animals like dogs, elephants, and even horses, it creates quite a remarkable need for devotion (which indeed is not thwarted by all the reasonings and arguments of the mind), which is spontaneous and very pure in its essence, something that’s very beautiful The working of the mind in man in its rudimentary form, its first manifestation has spoilt many things which were much finer before.’

  23. Pingback: Predictions of Sri Aurobindo | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  24. Sandeep Post author

    An official declaration from scientists that animals do have consciousness.


    The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Low, Edelman and Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes.

    We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

    See the PDF of the declaration

  25. Sandeep Post author

    Dream engineering in rats

    Picower Institute for Learning and Memory Neuroscientist Matt Wilson has shown not only that animals dream, but that they dream about what they experience. In a lab rat’s world, that means navigating mazes. In Wilson’s latest study, slated to appear Sept. 2 in Nature Neuroscience, researchers manipulated the content of rodent dreams by replaying an audio cue that accompanied that day’s maze.

    Here is a video of a dog dreaming and waking up startled

  26. Sandeep Post author

    Dogs Associate Words With Objects Differently Than Humans Do

    Scientists presented Gable, a five year old Border Collie, with a number of similar choices. They found that after a brief training period, Gable learned to associate the name of an object with its size, identifying other objects of similar size by the same name. After a longer period of exposure to both a name and an object, the dog learned to associate a word to other objects of similar textures, but not to objects of similar shape.

    more @

  27. Sandeep Post author

    Monkey Brain Area Keeps Count of Kindnesses

    Steve Chang and his colleagues from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, used electrodes to directly record neuronal activity in three areas of the brain prefrontal cortex that are known to be involved in social decision-making, while monkeys performed reward-related tasks.

    The researchers found that … the anterior cingulate gyrus responded only when the monkey allocated the juice to the neighbor and observed it being received. The authors suggest the neurons in the ACG respond to and record the act simultaneously. The study’s results are published today in Nature Neuroscience.


  28. Sandeep Post author

    Can animals imagine – Jason G. Goldman

    Decades of intensive studies have revealed that chimpanzees and other species can pretend. But they might not be able to fully tell reality from fantasy.

    Imagining and manipulating a non-existent object
    Kanzi, the famous bonobo, liked to pretend as well. Primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh described watching Kanzi hide invisible objects under blankets or leaves, later removing them from their hiding spots, and pretending to eat them. “Kanzi also engages the participation of others” in these games, Savage-Rumbaugh notes, “by giving them the pretend object and watching to see what they do with it.”

    Imagining an object is actually another object

    Another type of pretence involves imagining an object that isn’t even there in the first place, such as when children (or adults) play air guitar. An illuminating example of this sort of imagination comes from a chimpanzee named Viki who was raised in a human home. Viki had lots of toys, including some attached to strings that could be pulled along. Primatologists Mary Lee Jensvold and Roger Fouts recount the original description of Viki’s behaviour: “Very slowly and deliberately she was marching around the toilet, trailing the fingertips of one hand on the floor. Now and then she paused, glanced back at her hand, and then resumed her progress… She trudged along just this busily on two feet and one hand, while the other arm extended backward this way to pull the toy. Viki had an imaginary pulltoy!” And not only that. Viki sometimes acted as if her pulltoy had got stuck on something. She tugged on the invisible string until she imagined that the toy had gotten free. Once, when her invisible toy was “stuck”, she waited until her human caregiver pretended to free the toy, before continuing to play with it.

    Pretending to be somebody else

    By pretending to be a bird, Koko is doing something that the youngest human infants can’t do. Young infants attempt to grasp objects in pictures as if they’re really there. But by nineteen months, on average, grasping is replaced by pointing. By that age, human infants begin to understand that a picture is a representation of another object, not the object itself, much the same as a ten-year-old Koko understood that she wasn’t truly a bird.

    To the extent that animals like Kakama, Kanzi, Viki, and Koko can pretend, their imaginations are probably limited in the same way as young human children. They can imagine, though they might not have a complete awareness of the distinctions between reality and fantasy. They might pretend, but not recognize it as such. Decades of intensive observation have revealed that under some circumstances, animals can imagine the future or the past, can pay attention to imaginary objects, and can pretend that one object is another. In some extraordinary circumstances, non-human animals have been known to feign interest or emotion, a type of pretence, in order to distract a rival from food or a mate.

    One type of make-believe that has never been observed in an animal, though, is the sustained relationship with an imaginary other. To the best of our knowledge, no animal has an invisible friend. Still, the likes of Kakama, Kanzi, Viki, and Koko show that even imagination, something that Carl Sagan wrote could “carry us to worlds that never were,” is far from uniquely human.

    Full Article @

  29. Sandeep Post author

    Discovery On Animal Memory Opens Doors to Research On Memory Impairment Diseases
    If you ask a rat whether it knows how it came to acquire a certain coveted piece of chocolate, Indiana University neuroscientists conclude, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.” A study newly published in the journal Current Biology offers the first evidence of source memory in a nonhuman animal.

    The study further opens up the possibility of creating animal models of memory disorders.

    Of the various forms of memory identified by scientists, some have long been considered distinctively human. Among these is source memory. When someone retells a joke to the person who told it to him, it is an everyday example of source memory failure. The person telling the joke forgot the source of the information — how he acquired it — though not the information he was told. People combine source information to construct memories of discrete events and to distinguish one event or episode from another.

    Read more@


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