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Many Minds

Sep 16, 2020

We’ve got a little something different for you today­—a new format we’ll be experimenting with over the next few months. You can think of it as a kind of “behind the paper” series. The idea is to take notable articles from the last year or so and talk to their authors. We’ll delve into each paper’s backstory, sketch its broader context, and dig up some of that fun stuff that just doesn’t get mentioned in a formal scientific write-up. We’ll still be doing our longform interviews as well, but we’ll be mixing in shorter ones in this style.

For this first installment we’re discussing a paper published in March of this year titled ‘Baboon thanatology’. It describes a truly startling behavior: when an infant baboon dies, it’s mother may carry its corpse around for days, sometimes a week or longer. She might continue to groom it or care for it in other ways. The paper is one of a raft of recent articles on how animals respond to death and dying. This new research area of “comparative thanatology” asks whether animals truly understand this basic bodily process, whether they grieve, whether they get that death is final and irreversible.

To talk about this deep stuff, I’m joined in this episode by not one but two of the study’s authors—Dr. Alecia Carter, who is a Lecturer in Evolutionary Anthropology at University College London and Dr. Elise Huchard, a CNRS Research Scientist at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences, at the University of Montpellier.

Hope you enjoy this format. As always, let us know what you think. On to my conversation with Alecia and Elise. Enjoy!


The paper we discuss—by Alecia Carter, Alice Baniel, Guy Cowlishaw, and Elise Huchard—is here. A transcript of this interview is available here.


Notes and links 

2:25 – More info about the Tsaobis Baboon Project in Namibia. Dr. Carter and Dr. Huchard co-direct the project with Dr. Guy Cowlishaw.

7:35 – A 2018 special issue on ‘Evolutionary thanatology’ that helped crystallize the field and another one from 2020.

8:40 ­– See the famous 2009 photo of chimpanzees appearing to grieve. It may have helped kick-start the field of comparative thanatology.

26:35 – Dr. Carter is now directing a project—‘Thanatobase’—to collect further records of primate responses to death and dying.


End-of-show recommendations:

How Animals Grieve by Barbara King

Comparative Thanatology by James R. Anderson

Mama's Last Hug by Frans de Waal


Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster, and Associate Director Hilda Loury. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd ( Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (

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