New Zoology

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

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?”

Related Content