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Morals
Posted: 31 October 2007 06:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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There could easily be unnecessary false disagreement if I were to insist on using human emotive terminology in such a discussion as this.  These sorts of terms are major no-nos in behavioral science.  I have immense respect for the field and I find your insights and expertise to be very interesting.  I also won’t say that I disagree with you about what cats and other species of animals think or feel, because I really don’t think that I do.  I think that there are major differences between the way that humans think and the way that cats think, or the ways that any other species think or don’t think, and there are some similarities as well.  This makes sense because we are different species and yet we are both mammals.

I see and applaud your point about the danger that false perceptions about certain animal behaviors can lead to a misinformed punishing of the animal.  Such punishment is useless and cruel, and cats don’t get the intended point.  This is a danger that I would like to see remedied.

I think there is also a danger, though, that some people write off the value or significance of other animal species on the basis of their not possessing certain human qualities.  This is not so different from the way in which people of divergent cultures often write one another off on the basis of their subtle cultural differences.  Invariably, many people write off all other animal species, quite entirely, as nothing more than rocks or trees.  Other mammals are not mere automata, and from the perpective of the whole of nature mammals such as cats have more in common with us than they have different.

I think that many people need to identify in some way with something in order to nurture and care for it.  I also think this is the case with animals.  Jane Goodall began naming her primate subjects before their “human” qualities were understood as such.  When she started this practice decades ago, she was regarded as rather kooky for doing so.  She has also been regarded as “kooky” for naming and talking to trees and rocks.  Perhaps more rightly so, but I think there is some value in paying homage to the fact that human nature is not particularly more special than any of the rest of nature.  Cat feelings may not be identical to our own, but it only makes sense that they do have some sorts of feelings.

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Posted: 31 October 2007 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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I spent many years studying and working with primates primarily because I was fascinated by how they are like us behaviorally. I amalso a great worshipper of Jane Goodall, though I have to admit she is a bit kooky despite her brilliant and insightful work with chimps (the whole sasquatch thing, for example). When I met her I felt she was numinous. She carried herself like a religious mystic, and you could see her passion and zeal shining through her small stature and soft voice like light through a paper lantern. Yet, I am always suspicious of such people and their mysticism. The rigors of science, which she often resents, kept her professional work excellent despite her temperment, though she has long since ceased to feel like science is the proper focus of her love for chimps. And yet she has properly pushed primatology in a direction it badly needed to go by her passion. A double-edged sword for sure.

I agree people do need to feel an emotional connection with something to care for it. My work is only possible because so many people feel their pets are members of their family. In the old days being a vet was a lot like being an auto mechanic. Now it is much more like being a pediatrician. I don’t know what the perfect balance is between acknowledging that other animals are different from us in relevant ways and yet maintaining this connection. I am admittedly biased because I see so much pop psychology inappropriately applied to dogs and cats that ends up leading to bizarre and hurtful behavior. But I take your point.

I think the continuum of sentience is one of the most interesting areas of behavior, and one of the hardest to access. One of the most interesting books in this area is The Great Ape Project. It is a collection of essays by scientists, philosphers, and ethicists on the ways in which we assign personhood and how cognition plays into that. Great read if you’re interested in the subject.

Anyway, a bit far afield from humal moral systems, and I don’t want to be guilty of hijacking the thread, even for a topic so close to my heart. I think we agree that human morals emerge from the same sources as the behavior of other animals, and that there is far more we have in common than note with the rest of the natural world. This alone sets us apart from the majority of Americans by a fair mile!

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Posted: 01 November 2007 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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In this clip they are talking not about primates, but about elephants and their mental health. The guy in the video thinks that an elephant who killed one of the caregivers now grieves over the incident and feels guilty. Is this what you’re talking about, Brennen? Is the guy wrong to think that the elephant feels guilty?

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