New Zoology

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As we first touched upon in our anthropomorphism show, the world of science is offering up a lot of interesting new research pertaining to animals right now. For example: elephants suffer from PTSD. Squids, finches, and even fruit-flies have personality. Chimps have a sense of morality, and rats laugh:

Oh yeah, and dogs like beer. (Ok, just kidding about that one but it’s probably true.)

It begs the question: is “the rat laughed” still an anthropomorphic statement if it’s been scientifically proven that rats actually laugh? Does it force us to reconsider the most basic divisions between what is “human” and what is “animal”?

We want to hear from scientists doing original research about animals and ask them: what do we know about animals now? How are they both like and unlike humans? If animals have personality, morality, and senses of humor, is there anything left that distinguishes “us” from “them”? How does this new science force us to reconsider our place in the greater animal kingdom?

Marc Bekoff

Professor of Biology, University of Colorado

Author, The Emotional Lives of Animals

Jaak Panksepp

Chair, Animal Well-Being Science, Washington State University

Author, Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions

Lori Marino

Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience, Living Links Center, Emory University

Author, Mirror Self-Recognition in the Bottlenose Dolphin

Extra Credit Reading

Smart Crows and Ravens

John Noble Wilford, Almost Human, and Sometimes Smarter, The New York Times, April 17, 2007: “Other researchers combine field work showing chimp behavior in natural habitats with laboratory experiments that are created to disclose their underlying intelligence — what scientists call their ‘cognitive reserve.'”

kittenz, in a comment on Cryptomundo, February 24, 2007: “Reptiles are thought to be pretty low in intelligence, so the idea of a reptile using tools is, well, a novel one. But I had a Burmese python who did learn to use a tool to get what she wanted.”

Steve Wood, human morality qua animal behavior, mai bLog, April 26, 2007: “I’m convinced that what distinguishes human morality from other animal behavior (such as the concern for conspecifics shown by primates) is our ability to reason about our emotional reactions to ‘moral’ situations.”

Jennifer Viegas, Animal Intelligence Resists Definition, Discovery News, June 30, 2006: “‘Chickens practice deception, pigeons can categorize images in photographs as quickly as we can, a gorilla plays a joke on a human teacher, and a tiny fish leaps from one tide pool to another using a mental map formed during high tide.'”

Pete Mandik, Mental Representations in Non-Human Animals, Brain Hammer, March 7, 2007: “Consider the impressive feats of maze learning exhibited by rats. A Morris water maze is filled with water rendered opaque to obscure a platform that will offer a rat a chance to rest without having to tread water.”

Good blog on the subject: Animal Intelligence

roseinpants, in a comment to Open Source, April 29, 2007: “Oh good, this show look like it might address exactly the problem I had with thte anthropomorphism show, namely that if animals and humans share characteristics (and we do), then identifying such surely *isn’t* anthropomorphism? Or is it still anthropomorphism as long as we call them “human” attributes (even if it’s just our shared mammalian past showing through)?”

mynocturama, in a comment to Open Source, April 30, 2007: “What constitutes self-recognition in general? What are its components and levels of complexity? I remember someone on this site, I’m not sure who, on some thread, asking if the fact that animals (All? I can’t say for sure, though I’d think so) don’t self-cannibalize, don’t try to eat their own limbs, constitutes an elementary self-recognition or self-identity. But then, what about thumb-sucking or fingernail chewing?”

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  • nother

    Does all this mean I’m going to have to stop eating cheeseburgers? How in the world am I gonna stop eating cheeseburgers?

  • The last time I went to a zoo I had very mixed feelings about it. I stood for a while watching river otters swim from an underwater window in a pretty nice natural looking environment. They looked like they were having fun. Although they were not free and wild it seemed like they were enjoying their human constructed environment. I did not feel voyeristic, more like watching kids play in a backyard. But then in the ape house the gorillas really got to me. They seemed like guys doing hard time. I was very close to them with glass in between us. I looked at them and they looked at me. They do not seem so far removed from humans. They were just sitting, passing time. Here I did feel voyeristic. I don’t know if they feel shame but I was pretty sure they were feeling boredom.

  • How does this new science force us to reconsider our place in the greater animal kingdom?

    from a scientific perspective i think the further elucidation of the deep commonalities across biological taxa simply adds a new, more subtle, twist to the understanding that we are fundamentally animals and part of the tree of life. it has been generations since evolutionary biologists took orthogenesis, that evolution exhibits a particular direction, seriously, and with that the chain of being has been cast into the waste bin of history. but, in the public imagination orthogenesis & chain of being thought remain powerful ideas. i suspect a lot of this actually has to do with the biological predispositions of our brain, we tend to naturally “essentialize” and engage in rank orders based on our normative preferences (scientists do this freely outside of their own domains).

    on a specific scientific point regarding characteristics such as “morality,” i think a lot of this is better handled by philosophers, or philosophically sensitive scientists. one of the major problems that i see in science is the translation of quantitative differences into qualitative terms. i think many scientists would admit that the ‘moral sense’ of various species exhibit quantitative differences in regards to how the parameters are weighted, not some qualitative “man morality” vs. “monkey morality.” in other words, human prosocial tendencies are not de novo, but work with the variation out there and extend and complexify aspects. the fact that we insult other humans for behaving “bestially” not only shows that we distinguish ourselves from other species, but, it implies that we have the same capacities for “animal” behavior, even if dampened or less emphasized (e.g., chimpanzee males will sometimes cannibalize infant chimps if they’re hungry. humans in duress have engaged din this sort of behavior, but it seems rarer).

    anthropomorphic statements imply anthropocentrism. i don’t have a problem with the latter really, i’m a lot more interested in human genetics as an end then i am in that of c. elegans, but, it is important to keep it in mind.

  • Bobo

    I pointed this one out in the Anthropomorphism show. But this guys was just such a huge influence in my life and in the entire science of zoology, that I have to give him another shout out. Konrad Lorenz.

    He was really the first naturalist to scientifically consider questions of animal intelligence and morality. Reading his studies of wolves and jackdaws, I am reminded of Watership Down. Except that this man is a scientist. That’s the best part. He doesn’t ascribe characteristics to these animals that they don’t have, yet he still makes us consider them with wonder. I always feel like a child when reading his books. I very strongly recommend “King Solomon’s Ring”.

  • herbert browne

    “One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human.”

    Loren Eiseley

    I’m not gonna bore anyone here with my observations of the polar bear at Pt. Defiance Zoo, or the rat who was sitting on my sleeping bag (with me in it), like a prairie dog, oblivious of me because Jazbo Collins had garnered all attention, there, in the radio on the sill… or the time that the baby crow demonstrated its dexterity with a brand new beak by grooming my eyebrow… because none of that was scientific. It’s just part of the body of apocryphal doo-doo (a quasi-scientific term). But I liked this quote, so there it is… ^..^

  • tbrucia

    I find myself remembering (cf Kurt Vonnegut ‘Slaughterhouse Five) Billy Pilgrim’s sojourn on Trafalmadore and his fun and games with Montana Wildhack in the zoo. The Trafalmadorians found the antics of the homo sapiens quite amusing! Who are the animals?

  • rahbuhbuh

    I think half of the comments from the Anthropomorphism show’s thread, aside from the story telling angle, still apply to this discussion. is there anyway to repost them? or compile another Cliffsnotes-esque review?

  • orlox

    Russell Fernald has shown that some fish use logic and observation to infer social status.


    PDF of the paper:

  • tbrucia

    — We want to hear from scientists doing original research about animals and ask them: what do we know about animals now? How are they both like and unlike humans? If animals have personality, morality, and senses of humor, is there anything left that distinguishes “us” from “them”? — Reminds me of the story of the two lab rats chatting next to a maze… The first rat asks, ‘How’s the experiment going?’ The second answers, ‘Not bad. My lab tech’s training is coming along…. Every time I finish the maze now, he gives me food.’

  • Nick

    Guest suggestion: Bernd Heinrich, of the University of Vermont, author of many books, including the astonishing (and award-winning) Mind of the Raven.

  • Bobo

    On Ravens: The most recent Scientific American (April 2007) had an excellent article about raven intelligence. Among the most impressive results were the fact that ravens used facial recognition to tell humans apart from each other. Also, ravens have very advanced logical thinking and planning skills which grow better with age (older ravens think things out more and are less impulsive). Anyway, it was an awesome article which filled me with the same sense of wonder as Lorenz often does.

  • Robin

    Bobo, Konrad Lorenz sounds like he would have been a great guest if he were still living. Who, do you think, are his metaphoric heirs? Thanks for those other suggestions, orlox and Nick.

    Rahbuhbuh, I’ve put your suggestion to Greta and I think she’s on top of it.

  • Bobo

    Robin: Mary Midgley. (

    I’m not sure how old she is, but I know she’s still writing fiery diatribes which deconstruct all manner of false sciences. Especially of interest is her first book, “Beast And Man.” This is where I was first introduced to the brilliance of Lorenz. Mary Midgley would also provide a nice connection with the Paglia/God thread as she is infamous for her bitter feud with Richard Dawkins.

  • Bobo

    Robin Again: The technical name for this ‘new-zoology’ is, I believe, ethology. Although the wikipedia article on the subject lists Dawkins as one of the prominent ethologists. So my impression is that the field is rather large. In any case, I think that there should be at least one guest on the show who is a professional ‘ethologist’.

    Also, I just stumbled across this: — It’s the Konrad Lorenz Institute. Maybe someone there could be of assistance.

  • orlox

    My biggest suggestion would be Deborah Gordon. She studies ants. They may comprise 15-25% of the animal biomass.

    Anthropomorphism looms large in the study of ants. Colonies and queens, the very nomenclature reeks of human attribution. Ants ‘farm’, they ‘war’, take ‘slaves’ and ‘engineer’ complex structures.

    Yet any individual ant is a profoundly stupid creature, including the ‘queen’ whose function is reproductive not administrative.

    “Ant colonies offer an example of a system in which the component parts — ants — are fairly simple and there is no hierarchical control, yet somehow the whole colony performs complex, integrated behavior,” Gordon observed.

    Gordon has spent decades looking into the specifics of how that system operates and her work informed Steven Johnson’s [i]Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software.[/i]

    Johnson would also be an excellent guest to offer an alternative conceptualization of ‘intelligence’ and ‘personality’ as dynamic phenomena, sidestepping the top-down and self-refuting anthropo-morphism/centrism paradigm.

    Animal personality? Urban neighborhoods have personality, the buildings themselves… Is that anthropomorphism or anthropocentrism? Is it just semantics or a bankrupt analytical concept? Sometimes a talking cigar is just a talking cigar.

  • orlox
  • Bobo

    One class of intelligent animals which I would love to hear on the show: Cephalopods. I don’t know nearly as much about them as I’d like to, but there’s a few things I’ve heard which might be either cleared-up or confirmed on the show.

    I know that many cephalopods have extremely complex camouflage. They can mimic not only colors, but shapes and textures as well. What I’ve heard, and am not sure of, is that octopuses can consciously control what their skin looks like and can chose which textures and colors show up.

    I know that octopuses are considered to be very smart. I’ve hear that they sometimes make traps for their prey out of rocks and ocean debris. Is this true? Because that would just make octopuses about twenty times more amazing in my mind than they already were.

    Props to Orlox for bringing in the bugs, but don’t forget the cephalopods.

  • orlox

    Bobo – Check out the link under ‘personality’ in the intro. Cephalopods figure large.

  • Bobo

    Wait! This internet thing has links now?!

    Hehe, m.b. Thanks for the tip, orlox

  • Ben

    I second Nick on Bernd Heinrich, ravens and crows are amazing creatures and shadows of human beings on a level few others match. Transgenic artist Eduardo Kac would be very interesting to bring in regarding our relationships with animals as well.

  • Robin

    Alrighty! Great suggestions folks, thanks. Super-intern Sam loves the Bernd Heinrich suggestion; I’m going to try him tomorrow. Apparently Irene Pepperberg was on the Connection back in the day, but I’ll throw her on the list as well.

    Yeah, Bobo, I’m now familiar with the term ethology (although I certainly wasn’t a few weeks ago), and I s’pose I could/should have used it. I refrained from using it because I wasn’t sure it encompassed all the scientific variations we’d be talking about. (Sam Gossling, for example, self-identifies as a “social psychologist.”) I think you’re right in that we can probably use it as a catch-all, but I’ll have to ask our scientists what they think.

  • valkyrie607

    I love how people react when I point out that we are, after all, talking monkeys.

  • Bobo

    Razib: Thanks so much for that article. Wow. I’ve read some stuff about Alex before, but that was definitely the most comprehensive article I’ve seen. As Irene Pepperberg says, it “just blows me away”. I’m not sure why, but whenever I read an article like this, I find myself on the verge of joyful crying. It’s like “HEY! We’re not alone!” I think it’s about the same reaction I’d have if a UFO landed in front of me.

    We are not the only conscious species, nor the only sentient one. There are so many species on this planet who think, who feel, who can express themselves. The next step after researching these things is to start asking questions with answers we really care about. “Alex, what’s your opinion on x and y?” As many perspectives as there are among different humans, there are many more than that on our planet. Sure it’ll be difficult, but it’s possible to have a dialog with these creatures. To study them and to learn from them. I’ve got to stop now, I’m just getting way to excited about this, and I could ramble on all day.

  • The fact that pigs stutter was utterly fascinating to me.

  • Also, I’d love to see this show merge with a show on evolution of morality. Anyone who has seen the shame in a dogs face knows that morals did not begin with the human race.

  • Bobo,

    I once had a young octopus friend while I stayed in a hut on the Maldive Islands for two weeks. Very playful. After a couple of days, it followed me around as I snorkeled and I swear it was leading me to things. Once it seemed to let me know about the location of an eel. I would have swam right on top of the eel, and it was huge. The octopus had been following me, but suddenly darted out in front, went near the eel and then came back toward me and moved in a wide berth around the eel. As we were going by I saw this rather large head emerge from a hole. I was very, very glad to have my distance from it.

    I have a friend who lives with two Cocatoos. They are like children. They can speak quite a bit of English. Their command of the language developed as a child’s would. They put together original sentences and they express their emotions, experiences and thoughts on par with about a 6 (?) year old human. She always has fantastic stories to tell about the behaviors of these birds. They are clever and mischievous. One of them even developed the habit of claiming that the other bird had done his bad deeds. If you spend time with these birds, there is no doubt that animals can have personality, humor and their own sense of morality. I stayed out of the anthropomorphism thread because, in my experience with animals – I’m the person that people-weary animals will come to – it’s completley anthropocentric to believe that only we have these traits and that we are only projecting onto animals. As I watch my daughter learn a lot about relationships from our dogs and our cat, I imagine that it could be said that she has garnered at least some of her sense of morality from them. Perhaps it’s canine- o – morphic to have an affinity for authoritarianism.

  • hurley

    OliverCrangle’sParrot, where are you?

  • hurley
  • hurley

    To hazard an answer to the question posed in the header — does this new science force us to reconsider our place in the greater animal kingdom –I’d say yes, with the regret that we often need to see things in proximate regard to our own image to accord them any kindness. Why do we need science to tell us not to treat animals poorly? Most of us can recognize pain and fear when we see it, so why inflict it if it can be avoided? Paul Theroux’s sour, contrarian, utilitarian view of animal existence notwithstanding, of course. To quote Levi-Strauss yet again: Animals are how we think. Might it be that we’re how they think?

  • nother

    I might have told this story before, but this is my anecdotal instance of being humbled by another specious.

    Years ago my buddies and I would sometimes frequent a local bar called Sharky’s. It was your typical suburban pseudo sports bar where the only thing out numbering the Budweiser signs were the Red Sox caps on the proudly wobbling patrons.

    One distinction Sharky’s had was a live shark in the front hallway. It was about a 2 foot shark in a 6 foot tank – so it was a pissed off shark to boot. Leading my buddies through the door one night, I marched in with beer muscles and slowed down only to mock the shark…the hapless shark.

    The eye of the shark – caught my eye and whoa…it was like the air came out of my tires. Sharky had been hypnotically oscillating through the tank, but now he had stopped still, he seemed to be levitating, he was fixing a frozen glare – right back at me.

    My friends stumbled cluelessly past and left me alone in the hallway. I broke for the tank as if to say, are you talking to me buddy? Are eyes were locked and as I moved my face up face against the glass I felt a faint chill down my neck as the shark matched my move inward. Seconds went by…minutes went by…maybe ten minutes or more, with only centimeters and glass separating our motionless faces and calm determined eyes.

    That’s the end of the story. I eventually broke the staredown – I was thirsty for a beer. Although Sharky I’m sure, thinks he got the best of me. I will say this, when I left the bar I gave Sharky a very respectful nod, and the couple of times I went back, there was certainly no mocking from me…oh no.

    In those ten minutes I could sense something deep happening behind those black glistening prehistoric eyes, something I will never be able to quantify or fathom, but something very deep to be sure.

  • nother

    I had a slightly similar experience in New Orleans, where I’d encounter these big brazen cockroaches in the street. I was fascinated how these roaches would not run away as you came down the sidewalk; in fact a couple of times the damm creatures actually charged at me. It was absurd and ghoulishly freaky.

    I would be curious to hear from the scientists whether the species with prehistoric origins – like sharks and cockroaches – have a move developed inner self.

  • nother

    Or maybe a better question would be – is the reason these creatures are still around millions of years later purely a physical evolutional phenomenon or is there some personality trait (like fierce pride) that has sustained them.

  • rahbuhbuh

    nother, I hear you on freaky shark stares. The Boston Aquarium is scariest place I can think of. But then I remember that anything which doesn’t blink and does not have emotive complex brow or eye lid muscles is alien and therefore disturbing/fascinating to us. That’s why dogs are cute, they have brows which can be furrowed, or droop like a basset hound.

    I’m not sure if our concept of shear will can sustain animals. The neighbor farmer’s geese would habitually block our road, crossing from the cliche watering hole to the other side. They seemed to defend the ground from intruders like me casually jogging through. It was akin to running a gauntlet, dodging their hissing flapping charges and bites just to keep going. Cars would slow, stop, and wait them out. One day, the bus driver wasn’t going to take it anymore, and made an example of one goose. Stubborn animals get run over by jerks in KOOL Menthol hats.

  • jazzman

    Re: Shark Eyes – Check out Gary Larson’s Far Side featuring Jakes Discount Shark Cages for the “fish-eye”

  • kbro

    for me, instead of wondering how animals are like humans, it is more interesting to explore how humans are like animals – how have many of our human characteristics evolved because of the same evolutionary pressures felt by other species? can cognitive scientists like steven pinker explain how humans benefit from an evolved sense of morality in the same way that demarconi’s dog might have in the post above?

  • tbrucia

    It’s interesting that folks divide the world into humans and animals when humans obviously ARE animals… shows how stuck we are on ourselves…

  • Bobo

    One thing which has always struck me is that so many philosophers try to begin their arguments by defining what a human is. But more than that, they so often define human as opposed to animal. A human is, in turn: “the thinking animal,” “the talking animal,” “the promise making animal,” “the rational animal…” Yet each time one of these definitions is made, it not only fails to exclude all of ‘animal kind,’ it also tends to exclude some humans as well. Some of the greatest atrocities in the world have been committed by people who try to establish what a human is. If we are thinking animals, then the severely mentally retarded are no longer human. If we are rational animals, then it is the insane who are disposable.

    Is it possible for us to define our species, without excluding some members, and also without setting ourselves up in opposition to other animals? Do we have a character all our own, or are we just one genetic variance out of many?

  • roseinpants

    Oh good, this show look like it might address exactly the problem I had with thte anthropomorphism show, namely that if animals and humans share characteristics (and we do), then identifying such surely *isn’t* anthropomorphism? Or is it still anthropomorphism as long as we call them “human” attributes (even if it’s just our shared mammalian past showing through)?

  • Potter

    Another sort of expert on animal behavior is Nicholas Dodman Professor of Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine here in Westboro MA, He is a delightful man to converse with and unusually tuned into animals. I thought I was tuned into my cats having lived with cats for many years- but he is on another level entirely. (We went to him for problems that two of our cats had, one a neurological disorder, the other debilitating anxiety. They are now on Prozac… works for my cats as it works for humans!)

    He has been on the radio a number of times and he has written a couple of books as well.

  • rc21

    Bobo, good comment on the mentally retarded, I believe in the not to distant future we will see newly born mentally retarded humans being put to death for the reasons you suggest.

  • bft

    Alfred North Whitehead started his “process philosophy” by defining what an “animal” is, as opposed to a plant. Eventually he got to humans.

  • bft

    Source for the above, to the best of my recollection, is Whitehead’s “Modes of Thought”, some excerpts of which (including definitions of “living bodies” of “animal and vegetable type”) are found here.

  • Nother, I stopped eating Cheeseburgers, about two years ago, and it’s all I can think about ever since. Having worked in a lot of restaurants in my younger years I picked up a lot of tips and learned to make a damn good burger at that. This is why I stopped: I was very close to my cat. A cat isn’t a cow I know, but some places in the world they eat a cat without thinking twice. Here we eat cows without thinking twice, in India that’s not the case, what’s the difference, perspective, not that one amimal is better then another. Why is one animal sacred and another dinner? This idea popped into my head one day, and I couldn’t ever really get my mind around it. So I stopped eating Mammals. I decided I wouldn’t eat anything biologically similar to me. I still eat fish and birds, so I’m not a vegetarian. I can still remember the best burger I ever ate, in San Luis Obispo, California about 15 years ago. THe fries were really good too.

    Anyway, Nother, not to pee on another man’s epiphany, but do you think maybe your shark encounter experience was augmented by the beers?

  • mynocturama

    I’ve been wondering about those self-recognition mirror experiments, and self-recognition in general. The standard and most straight-forward example I guess would be the chimpanzee with the dot on its forehead, looking at its reflection, seeing the dot, and reaching up to its forehead to feel what it is. The chimp understands that the image in the mirror is of its own body, that it sees itself in the mirror. Something similar has been done with dolphins, but I’m not clear exactly how.

    OK, so one question is, how far along the phylogenetic chain does this sort of thing go? I’ve watched cats interact with their reflections. They seem to realize that they’re not looking at another cat. In other words, they interact with other cats and with their own reflection differently. I’ve seen a hawk, however, with its wings outstretched, in an apparent attack or defense posture, staring at its reflection in an office building window, seemingly mesmerized, for a few hours. How well established is the mirror response throughout the animal kingdom?

    Another question: what, strictly speaking, constitutes mirror self-recognition? What sort of behavior does an animal have to demonstrate to demonstrate that it understands that the image it sees is of itself? Again, a cat seems, to me at least, to deal with its reflection differently, seeming to know that what it sees isn’t another cat. Or does an animal, like the chimp in the dot experiment, have to interact with its own body, reach towards its own body with its hands or paws, based on what it sees in the mirror, to demonstrate robustly that it recognizes itself in the mirror?

    And another question: what constitutes self-recognition in general? What are its components and levels of complexity? I remember someone on this site, I’m not sure who, on some thread, asking if the fact that animals (All? I can’t say for sure, though I’d think so) don’t self-cannibalize, don’t try to eat their own limbs, constitutes an elementary self-recognition or self-identity. But then, what about thumb-sucking or fingernail chewing? This isn’t self-eating, of course, but is it self-chewing?

  • mynocturama

    “self-tasting,” I meant to say at the end, not self-chewing.

  • Samgr

    It looks like Bernd Heinrich isn’t going to make it onto the show tonight, but I’m a long-time fan, so I’m going to talk with him in the next couple days. He’s not only a raven guy but also a bee guy, so maybe we can recruit him for our bee show.

  • mynocturama

    These thoughts might have been more apt for the first show. But I’m wondering if there’s a relation between our heightened sympathy and emotional responsiveness to fictional characters and our emotional sensitivity and susceptibility to animals. In both cases, it seems, the character or entity or subjectivity we’re responding to is in some sense created, generated, speculated. This is obvious in the case of fiction. We know the characters themselves aren’t real. And yet we seem to be more moved by them than we are by reality. (I’m generalizing, of course – I’m not saying this is true for everyone, or for each person everytime.) Their subjectivities are partly informed by us, projected by us.

    And maybe there’s something similar going on with animals. Perhaps we project ourselves onto them, informing our own sense of their subjectivity, and maybe this is a key as to why many of us our so moved by them. We ourselves create and assign (largely, or in part at least) their characters and personalities, paint our own picture. And, having invested ourselves in them, we’re more moved by them, more responsive to them.

    And sometimes you have both cases in one. A dog in a movie often elicits more of a response than the human actors. You can have an action movie in which hundreds of humans are mowed down by machine guns, and it more or less washes over the audience. But if a dog is placed in danger, the reaction is quite different, much more intense. All of a sudden something more’s at stake. So, in an already fictional context, the doubly fictional or speculative construct, the character or personality of the dog, wins out over the fictional human characters.

    Not trying to make a rigorous argument or claim here. But I do think there’s a link, between our imaginative investment in fictional characters, and our imaginative investment in, our informing of, the character or subjectivity of animals.

  • orlox

    bft – That Whitehead link was one nasty slog. His argument is not cohesive, moving from the micro to the macro, though in some sense, I don’t think it is really his fault.

    Beginning at the fundamental, he accepts the notion that particle/wave duality is illusory, that the waveform is actual and the particle merely a product of our interpretation/definition. In other words, there is only process, substance is a misconceptualization. Ho ho. I agree and think we are well on the road to proving that assertion. But we are not there just yet.

    Then Whitehead (or whatever the source of the notes) loses his way rapidly. His clever construction “the many become one, and are increased by one” falls into the trap of re-applying substance. He is trying to address the means by which we move from electron, to atom, to molecule, to cell, to plants, to animals, to humans. But in accepting these levels as, at least in some sense, discrete, he has relegated process to some unexplained intermediary realm. On a macro level, it seems to offer how we can be more than just the sum of our cells but the explanation does not roll back to the fundamental. The many whats become the electron? If only process is fundamental where does the substance come from? If substance is a property of a second level of organization (so atoms have substance but electrons are just process) then atoms should be considered fundamental.

    If process is fundamental, then all is process. An entity is a process history, not a discrete substance even if defined as somehow more than the sum of its constituents.

    I say that the confusion in some sense is not Whitehead’s fault because all of our metaphysical conceptions are built on aristotelian notions of substance. The first order of business once you accept process as fundamental is to call for a new metaphysics because our existing categories of understanding assume substance as fundamental.

    The problem, of course, is the dimension of time. But that is a topic for… later.

  • nother

    In “Walden”, Thoreau writes of the young partridge outside his cabin –

    “The remarkable adult yet innocent expression of their open and serene eyes is very memorable. All intelligence seems reflected in them. They suggest not merely the purity of infancy, but wisdom clarified by experience. Such an eye was not born when the bird was, but is coeval with the sky it reflects.”

  • nother

    Later in the chapter (13) he writes of the battle of the ants he witnessed.

    “I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had been men. The more you think of it, the less the difference. And certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord history, at least, if in the history of America, that will bear a moment’s comparison with this, whether for the numbers engaged in it, or for the patriotism and heroism displayed.”


    “I have no doubt that it was a principle they fought for, as much as our ancestors, and not to avoid a three-penny tax on their tea; and the results of this battle will be as important and memorable to those whom it concerns as those of the battle of Bunker Hill, at least.”

  • nother

    Thus all the internal principles, that are necessary in us to produce either pride or humility, are common to all creatures; and since the causes, which excite these passions, are likewise the same, we may justly conclude, that these causes operate after the same manner thro’ the the whole animal creation.”

    David Hume “A Treatise of Human Nature”

  • Sir Otto

    What about altruism and the Moral Law in animals as per C.S. Lewis’s proof of the existence of God?

  • jazzman

    Anyone who has kept pets of any type or worked with animals (if one is the least bit observant) knows that each entity is an individual each with its own personality.

    Each is unique and the personalities are not a function of genetic makeup as cloned animals with identical DNA display unique personalities (many clones have quite different personalities.) See Ira Glass on “This American Life” story of the cloned Brahma Bull, “2nd Chance”.

    All this notwithstanding, until animals are able to have abstract communication with humans, so that we may be able to understand them on their innate terms, all the attributions of human behaviors and emotions to proximate corollaries in animal behavior is anthropomorphizing and projection on the part of the observers and cannot be separated from each other.

    When animals are subjects of observation it is impossible not to impart subjective values to them despite the best intentions. Animals (and I do not classify humans as animals even though we may biologically be classified as belonging to the Kingdom Animalia) have instinct (humans have free will instead) and as such have no need of human qualities or emotions and would do quite well without humankind, its characteristics and intervention. Intervention is only necessary to attempt to correct the balance tipped by human action.

  • Nick

    orlox: re your 4:28 PM. Thanks! It’s flat out brilliant. I was pondering similar issues today re the Morality thread, and even cited your post (here) over there just a few moments ago after reading it here.

    This stuff is just great:

    “If process is fundamental, then all is process. An entity is a process history?, not a discrete substance even if defined as somehow more than the sum of its constituents.

    …all of our metaphysical conceptions are built on aristotelian notions of substance. The first order of business once you accept process as fundamental is to call for a new metaphysics because our existing categories of understanding assume substance as fundamental.”

    Awesome. Much better articulated than anything I’ve been able to type. Wow. I’m nearly breathless with glee, and that’s not hyperbole.


  • Nick


    that ‘?’ after ‘process history’ was a typo, not a query!

    And yes, I italicized the phrase ‘process history’ because I think it an invaluble (and new to me) concept. Much more accurate than ‘entity’.

  • jazzman

    orlox says If process is fundamental, then all is process. An entity is a process history, not a discrete substance even if defined as somehow more than the sum of its constituents.

    That’s a mighty big if and leads to reductio ad absurdum. Process is not fundamental, it is a second order effect (and illusory to boot). Consciousness is fundamental and electrons (as well as everything else) are composed of it. Process is dependent on time which even Einstein knew was an illusion; there is only the omnipresent NOW. ALL exists in the now.

  • Potter

    It gets harder and harder to keep eating meat, even if animals are raised somewhat humanely.

  • orlox

    Jazzman – Consciousness is soluable, in anesthetic or even water, yet the electrons remain. Whatever consciousness is, it is most certainly NOT irreducible and thus not fundamental in any but the most poetic sense.

    Time was not an illusion to Einstein so much as it was unified with space and thus spacetime.

    So that NOW actually becomes relativistic. The sun you see in your NOW was the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. Any notion simultaneity is limited by the speed of light and the inability to give any one frame of reference superiority over another.

  • orlox

    Forgot to spellcheck sorry; soluble.

  • orlox

    Nick – thanks! I thought process history was important too but I just came up with it today so beware. It still smells of plucking something out of time and giving it a good vivisection.

  • Nick

    how ’bout “process library”?

    Or is my bibliophilia showing through? 😉

    I like “process (+ memory-access, be it history or something more apt)”. It’s a great new conceptualization — a kind of thinking we sorely need more of!

    I’ll access my synomyn finder soon, and let you know if anything more apt than ‘history’ jumps out at me. I kinda doubt it will, though…

  • Of course, my cat jumps on my chest and starts purring and head butting while I’m listing to this program. How could she not be considered to have emotions, at least at the level of affection and nurturing, “love” in a sense?

    I found a great article on cat emotions that mirrors a lot of the discussion up to this point, i.e., that they have emotions but must be interpreted from the point of view of the animal and in that sense may be different. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and cherish my cat’s emotions 🙂

    I am also wondering about cultural biases? We all know that people are willing to dismiss science to defend their cultural values. and a lot of cultural/traditional cultures insist on a bright line between humans and animals and resist anything that suggests humans are closer to other animals…

  • Your japanese crow video is cool. See also my caledonian crow video link via website, via birds link. I am experimenting with crows at work and at home. At work we have 3 generations of experience, at home only 2 having finally confronted my younger cat wanting to catch her 3rd crow a year ago [I have a video of her second crow captured being freed if you like; its called catch and release] as I am interested in studying how a species who master the art of teaching aquired predjudice [not anthro anything, just like humans, ok?] and seeing if input from a cognizant watcher/participant can influence anything is all. I feed crows at work the catfood my girls don’t finish. At home, more like bread, and I help them fend off seagulls in the latter context.

    They know me at work, and follow me between work and lunch everyday as well as greeting me as I deplane my bus to work on a daily basis.

    Crows rule. I hope to influence them locally, as opposed to the influence GWB holds on our sleeping nation….

    This is what science is for. To challenge the church and authority with repilcable experiments, yes?

  • by the way, some dogs do like beer. I gave a bowlful of guiness to my first girlfriend’s dog in 1975. An aquired taste, no doubt; her weiner dog lapped it up, then looked stupid trying to jump up on the couch. That had to hurt.

    Dogs have a distinctly lower tolerance for alcohol than even the cheapest date amongst us hairless apes…..

  • jscientist

    obviously animals or at least most animals have feelings like happiness, guilt, grief. my dogs eat something they look guilty. i think the discussion is immature because this is an all ready established fact. because we can see every day this happening. on another note your guest tonight said you can’t just put a mouse in a cage and come up with results. well maybe you can’t but it doesn’t take that long to come up with a hyprothesis like that

  • colin

    Sir David Attenborough has never failed to get it right. He’s the fellow who deserves the credit (vocally, at least) for the crow video posted above, but his work stretches across many hours of beautifully edited and produced BBC tape. Leaping Mandarins win for cuteness, and The Lyrebird for sheer confused wonder. But who could have imagined the beauty and tenderness of invertebrate… love? Slugs Mating, if you can get past the title, (and everyone must see this) makes me wonder whether, in our own ‘peak’ of evolution, we’ve lost an original, pure tenderness brought by instinct and precarious necessity. Borges writes, “He thought… while he stroked the cat’s fur, that this contact was illusory, that he and the cat were seperated as though by a pane of glass, because man lives in time, in successiveness, while the magical animal lives in the present, in the eternity of the instant.” (The South). At almost lowest level of understanding, the leopard slug, there’s something divine in that awareless form of beauty, making a moment of genetic intersection totally sublime.

    Maybe it’s just the music. Animals win, as far as Attenborough is concerned. Any chance to grab him as a call in?

  • bft

    orlox: I don’t vouch for Whitehead all the way to the bottom; but I though it was interesting in the present context how he analyzed the being of an animal. I still read Kant too, in spite of what physics has done to him!

  • orlox

    I would have found a way to say what I wanted to say even without Whitehead. However, he did provide an excellent foil. If my intent was just to critique him, I probably would have used another source beside those notes you pointed to.

    In truth, I had told Robin in an e-mail exchange that my primary concern was the theory of everything so I thought it might be wise to give her some indication that I wasn’t a complete loon. 🙂

  • jazzman

    orlox Says: Consciousness is soluble, in anesthetic or even water, yet the electrons remain. Whatever consciousness is, it is most certainly NOT irreducible and thus not fundamental in any but the most poetic sense.

    When I use the term Consciousness, I’m not referring to the mundane “waking consciousness” that is used as a synonym for being conscious i.e., alert as opposed to unconscious (which is quite aware under anesthesia or sleep – dreaming and busy running the autonomous bodily tasks.) I refer to the irreducible fundamental basis of ALL matter and energy which form gestalts (in aggregate) from electrons to elephants to orlox.

    You may believe that consciousness is reducible but as you admit to not having a clue (certainty or poetry notwithstanding) as to its nature, the belief is unfounded. If you are interested in the subject, I refer you to the website of David Chalmers one of the preeminent researchers in the field of consciousness: D Chalmers who believes that consciousness is a fundamental property of all things physical.

    Time was not an illusion to Einstein so much as it was unified with space and thus spacetime. “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”. – Albert Einstein

    So that NOW actually becomes relativistic. The sun you see in your NOW was the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. Any notion simultaneity is limited by the speed of light and the inability to give any one frame of reference superiority over another.

    The NOW in which I see the sun is my (gestalt and mundane) consciousness’ now, the sun’s consciousness’ now in simultaneous terms, due to the illusion of time, may be thought of as 8 minutes in my “future” but its now and my now are always the same instantaneous (dimensionless) now. From the sun’s photons’ perspective, they are emitted and absorbed in zero time. Light therefore does not experience local time, all matter and energy (with the exception of Gravity which I maintain is a function of consciousness’ gregariousness) has been unified and composed of light (electromagnetic energy – which means electrons are composed of light so they are reducible not only to photons but Gell-Mann’s quarks) which is composed of consciousness which I submit isn’t reducible. ALL frames of reference are local to observers and relative to other observers whose frame is local to them. Consciousness is not bound by the speed of light, relative nor confined to particular frames of reference. The reason we experience the dimensionless series of NOW’s as “time” is a function of synapse gaps lapse, our neurons transmit in one now and are received in another thereby creating the illusion.

  • jazzman

    Sorry the Chalmers link is That was the first time I tried to imbed a link and I’ll have to practice further.

  • mynocturama

    orlox – I’m liking your comments too. Quick question: what would you make of the speculations of string theory? Are physicists here simply reiterating a substance-based metaphysics?

    And I just want to say that I enjoyed the show a lot. I think even a third show along these lines, maybe one dealing explicitly with the human/nonhuman boundary/relation, may be in order. I know you inevitably talk about this in talking about anthropomorphism, zoology, ethology and the like. But there’s a third show I think waiting in the wings, to come on stage, one addressing more fully how the human is reconceived in relation to what we learn about other animals, and maybe dealing with what the philosophical tradition has to say, misguided or otherwise, on the distinctiveness of human being.

  • rahbuhbuh

    the science of tail wagging, according to the New York Times:

    propensity towards the right = positive

    propensity towards the left = negative

    “A study describing the phenomenon, “Asymmetric tail-wagging responses by dogs to different emotive stimuli,” appeared in the March 20 issue of Current Biology. The authors are Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trieste in Italy, and two veterinarians, Angelo Quaranta and Marcello Siniscalchi, at the University of Bari, also in Italy.”

  • orlox

    Physicists, or at least quantum physicists, have come to accept the wave (dual)nature of reality even though I have never heard one claim to have the same deep, intuitive understanding that substance metaphysics offers for the macroscopic world.

    String theory is a dualistic reconceptualization of the zero-dimensional point particle of the Standard Model seeing instead (here comes the dualism:) a vibrating string. Complexity emerges from simplicity. I am all for the effort, and I think the effort is important, string theory was critical in the development of my own thinking. However, Brian Greene and I have entirely different definitions of the word ‘elegant’. Abandoning substance is more purely elegant and exciting than any other concept I have encountered, unfortunately that does not necessitate its veracity.

    And I wouldn’t bury duality just yet. Although the explanatory tide has favored waves over particles for the past century or so, we still have the photoelectric effect to explain.

    Even if duality is maintained, we still need a kick in our metaphysical butts to better account for process.

    Jazzman – I am reviewing Chalmers now and will get you a post in the next day or two.

  • rc21

    I just finished B. Heinrichs book “A Year in the Maine Woods” Great reading and some very interesting stuff on the study of ravens and other wild life found in the wilds of Maine.

  • orlox

    Jazzman – just to let you know I haven’t forgotten about this. Chalmers is a pretty big fish to fry and I have a deadline looming on another project. Soon though…

  • jazzman


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  • orlox

    jazzman – I took a swipe at Chalmers in the Hitchens thread.

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