Maybe It’s Time to Take Animal Feelings Seriously

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/

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Dogs can read human emotions. So, it appears, can horses. Whales have regional accents. Ravens have demonstrated that they might be able to guess at the thoughts of other ravens — something scientists call “theory of mind,” which has long been considered a uniquely human ability. All of these findings have been published within the past several weeks, and taken together they suggest that many of the traits and abilities we believe are “uniquely human” are, in fact, not so unique to us.

That statement probably sounds as if it is veering perilously close to anthropomorphism, and if you know anything about research concerning animal behavior, you likely know this: Anthropomorphism is bad. Animals are animals, and people are people; to assume that an elephant, for example, experiences joy in the same way a human does is laughably unscientific. This has been the prevailing mode of thought in this line of scientific inquiry for most of the last century — to staunchly avoid, and even ridicule, any research project that dared to suggest that animals might be thinking or feeling in the same way that humans do.

But new studies like these, along with a slew of recent books by respected biologists and science writers, are seriously considering the inner lives of animals. Now some prominent scientists are arguing that, though the impulse was well-intentioned, decades of knee-jerk avoidance of all things anthropomorphic may have mostly served to hold this field back. “It ruined the field,” biologist and author Carl Safina told Science of Us. “Not just held it back — it’s ruined the field. It prevented people from even asking those questions for about 40 years.”

The theme of Safina’s book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel pairs nicely with a forthcoming title from famed primatologist Frans de Waal called Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? Both scientists make the case for something the biologist Gordon Burghardt called “critical anthropomorphism” — using your own human intuition and understanding as a starting point for understanding animal cognition. “Thus, saying that animals ‘plan’ for the future or ‘reconcile’ after fights is more than anthropomorphic language: These terms propose testable ideas,” de Waal writes.

More:   http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/

I’m not a humanist, I’m a nonhumanist

With all the patrician talk about who were the original occupiers of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, I was planning to write a post about the nonhuman animals being the only inhabitants for millions of years until about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago.

But Marc Bender beat me to it, with the following comment:

“…humans are not indigenous to the Americas. The original inhabitants of the wildlife refuge are, of course, the wildlife.”

Likewise, I was going to inaugurate the word, “nonhumanist” to classify those of us whose ethical values incorporate nonhuman needs and interests. But when I looked it up, I found that “nonhumanistic” is already in use (in reference to those who are Not humanistic).

Meanwhile, that same search produced this related article:

Why I Am Not a Humanist

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 11, 2009 in Ethics,General Atheism

humanismSome people think atheism is synonymous with humanism. If you’re an atheist, you must be a humanist.

Not so. I am an atheist but not a humanist.

Why?

Let’s look at at what humanism is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, humanism is “a rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.”

I can already distance myself from this position, but before I say why, let’s get more specific.

The “standard” positions of humanists are summarized in the latest (2003) Humanist Manifesto, which states:

  1. Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.
  2. Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.
  3. Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.
  4. Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.
  5. Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.
  6. Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

It’s #3 that bothers me. I do not believe that moral values are derived from human desires. I believe moral values are derived from desires, period. To focus on human desires and ignore all other desires in the universe is blatant speciesism.

But can’t I just sign on with humanism, understanding there’s one qualification to be made on point #3?

No, for speciesism is central to humanism. Heck, it’s in the name of the thing. Humanity is the whole point of humanism. Now that is good progress beyond religious ethics, but it’s not progress far enough.

I count humanists as my brothers as sisters. We’re fighting for the same things. Mostly.

But if this post persuades you to cancel membership in a humanist association, please don’t quit activism altogether. Please join another organization that will help you live out your moral values.

That way, we can all work together to make this world a better place, for all of us.

chimpanzee_with_baby

– See more at: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=4630#sthash.zfGe8n2A.dpuf

Holly Bites Cesar: When You Hit a Dog There’s a Price to Pay

A video of Holly displaying aggressive behavior is a lesson in canid ethology

Animal Rights, Steven Wise, and Steven Colbert

This five and half minute interview filled with humor is really a very good one

“Fish Are Sentient and Must Be Included in Our Moral Circle”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201406/fish-are-sentient-and-emotional-beings-and-clearly-feel-pain

Fish are Sentient and Emotional Beings and Clearly Feel Pain

By Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. on June, 19, 2014 in Animal Emotions

Fish deserve better treatment based on a review of scientific data on their cognitive and emotional lives. According to the author, “the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.” Fish must be included in our moral circle. Read More

Crafty Cod Use Tool to Get Food: Nothing Fishy About It

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201405/crafty-cod-use-tool-get-food-nothing-fishy-about-it

The more we learn about other animals the more fascinating they are

Dolphin Speak: Did a Dolphin Really Say “Seaweed”?

dolphin_228398

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201404/dolphin-speak-did-dolphin-really-say-seaweed

”I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Dr. Terrence Deacon
Dolphin tool use influences a population’s genetic structure and they may talk.
 
Dolphins are unquestionably highly charismatic animals. They have unique and sophisticated communication skills and also are known to use tools, including sponges to protect their sensitive beaks, when foraging for food.

During the past two weeks I came across two extremely interesting articles about these crafty cetaceans. The first, titled “Dolphin whistle instantly translated by computer” by Hal Hodson, considers the possibility that dolphins are able to whistle the same words we use to denote an object. The print version of the latter essay is called “Decoding dolphin.” The second, called “Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specializations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins” by Anna Kopps of the University of New South Wales and her colleagues, focuses on their use of protective sponges during foraging and its effect on the genetic structure of dolphin populations.

Say what? Did you really whistle seaweed?

Denise Herzing is well known for her and her team’s long-term field research on Atlantic spotted dolphins. Among many aspects of the amazing lives of dolphins, she has long been interested in dolphin communication and whether or not they and other animals use language to communicate with one another or can use language to communicate with us.

While it’s too early to know for sure, there is compelling evidence that some animals are language users (see, for example, a brief review of the research by Dr. Con Slobochikoff on prairie dogs). I found Hal Hodson’s essay called “Decoding dolphin” to be an extremely interesting, stimulating, and easy read. To wit, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it, Mr. Hodson begins: “IT was late August 2013 and Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean. The dolphin pod she had been tracking for the past 25 years was playing around her boat. Suddenly, she heard one of them say, ‘Sargassum'”. And, what did Dr. Herzing exclaim? “‘I was like whoa! We have a match. I was stunned.'” Dr. Herzing “was wearing a prototype dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) and it had just translated a live dolphin whistle for the first time.” So, “When the computer picked up the sargassum whistle, Herzing heard her own recorded voice saying the word into her ear.” I, too, would have been stunned and I can’t wait for more research in this fascinating area of study.

Perhaps we are not the only animals who use language. Dr. Terrence Deacon, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who also is an expert in animal communication, notes, “I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Only time and research will tell if we’re alone in the language arena. For now it’s a good idea to keep the door wide open.

Cultural hitchhiking: Was there a “sponging Eve”?

An informative summary of the research on the genetics of tool use in dolphins living in Shark Bay in Western Australia can be found in an article called “Cultural hitchhiking: How social behavior can affect genetic makeup in dolphins.” It turns out that the culturally transmitted use of sponges—called vertical social transmission—can actually “shape the genetic makeup” of wild dolphins. Dolphins, who live deep in the bay, show mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types called Haplotype E or Haplotype F that are inherited solely from the mother, whereas non-sponging dolphins who live in shallower water mainly show Haplotype H. All of the 22 sponging dolphins who were observed turned out to be members of one matriline and were Haplotype E.

This novel and significant discovery demonstrates a strong correlation between haplotype and habitat. According to Dr. Kopps, “Our research shows that social learning should be considered as a possible factor that shapes the genetic structure of a wild animal population.” She also notes, “For humans we have known for a long time that culture is an important factor in shaping our genetics. Now we have shown for the first time that a socially transmitted behaviour like tool use can also lead to different genetic characteristics within a single animal population, depending on which habitat they live in.” This is one of the first demonstrations of what is called “cultural hitchhiking” in nonhuman animals.

What an exciting time it is to study the behavior of nonhuman animals. Stay tuned for more on their fascinating lives.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014.

Elephants recognize the voices of their enemies

[This is true of many other animal species as well…]

African elephants can distinguish human languages, genders and ages associated with danger.

  1. An African elephant listening intently. Elephants can recognize which humans are more likely to pose a danger depending on what they sound like.

    Karen McComb

  2. A matriarch reacts with alarm after the play-back of a Maasai voice.

    Karen McComb

  3. An elephant family group on the move.

    Graeme Shannon

    Humans are among the very few animals that constitute a threat to elephants. Yet not all people are a danger — and elephants seem to know it. The giants have shown a remarkable ability to use sight and scent to distinguish between African ethnic groups that have a history of attacking them and groups that do not. Now a study reveals that they can even discern these differences from words spoken in the local tongues.

Biologists Karen McComb and Graeme Shannon at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, guessed that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) might be able to listen to human speech and make use of what they heard. To tease out whether this was true, they recorded the voices of men from two Kenyan ethnic groups calmly saying, “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming,” in their native languages. One of these groups was the semi-nomadic Maasai, some of whom periodically kill elephants during fierce competition for water or cattle-grazing space. The other was the Kamba, a crop-farming group that rarely has violent encounters with elephants.

The researchers played the recordings to 47 elephant family groups at Amboseli National Park in Kenya and monitored the animals’ behaviour. The differences were remarkable. When the elephants heard the Maasai, they were much more likely to cautiously smell the air or huddle together than when they heard the Kamba. Indeed, the animals bunched together nearly twice as tightly when they heard the Maasai.

More: http://www.nature.com/news/elephants-recognize-the-voices-of-their-enemies-1.14846?WT.ec_id=NEWS-20140311

Maybe If We Had Worshipped the Creation

Created by Jim Robertson

Sunday school children are taught that it is blasphemy to worship the creation instead of the Creator. Rather than encouraging people to praise the miraculous (in the non-secular sense of the word) living planet and all its incredible diversity of sentient life forms, western religions threaten eternal damnation if you don’t swear blind allegiance to some patriarchal creation of the human imagination, created in the image of man.

Hence, Homo sapiens has run roughshod over the Earth, destroying the very same natural systems that allowed us to come into being and trampling the rights of all other beings in our obsessed quest for domination over a world we’ve proven unworthy of even having dominion over.

Now, with so much of the land divided and conquered, the seas losing oxygen and turning acidic and the air encrusted in carbon, only fire remains untamed. Maybe if we had worshipped the creation and treated the Mother Earth with the respect she deserves, we would be feeling her love—instead of her punishing wrath.

Why is it so hard for otherwise hyper-intelligent humans to feel a sense of awe for a living world that came into form through the process of evolution, rather than one created by a mythical man-like creature? We see it happen every year, when life springs forth from a formerly frozen “wasteland.” Do people really believe some grey-bearded Santa Claus look-alike (minus the jolly disposition) waves a magic wand at every plant that shoots up to the heavens and every animal who, in their own way, rejoices?

Religion is supposed to teach humility, but after constantly being reminded that they are the Creator’s crowning achievement, humankind is anything but humble.

Holy bear