Is anthropomorphism always misplaced?
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18-09-2012, 09:33 PM
Is anthropomorphism always misplaced?
This seemed like more of a philosophical question, than a scientific one, so I am creating the thread here.

The question is as the title asks: "Is anthropomorphism always misplaced?"

This is something that I've been thinking about for a while, and it has been brought on by several things, mainly videos that I have watched. A lot of the things that have made me think about this are actions of various of the great apes.

First up is the gorilla Jambo, who 'protected' a child that was injured after he fell into the gorilla enclosure.





It does appear that Jambo is more or less 'guarding' the boy who fell into the enclosure, and it would make sense that he was concerned, seeing a small creature who was obviously in distress, and injured. We wouldn't be surprised to see a gorilla protecting another gorilla, and it does seem like Jambo showed a bit of concern for the child.


Second video is another gorilla, this time he's an endangered gorilla, that was reintroduced to the wild. One of his human 'friends' has come to visit the reserve where Kwibi is living, after having not seem him for 5 years.





In this case, Kwibi seems to take great pleasure in seeing someone he knew when he was younger, he doesn't want his friend to go.

Third, I will just post part one of a documentary on Koko, a gorilla who was taught sign language.





I don't remember what part it is in, but on at least one occasion in the documentary, Koko is swatted for doing something that her (trainer?) disapproves of. I think it was for breaking something. This is where I get a little bit mad. It doesn't seem fair for us as humans, to force our morals on another species. Especially since Koko didn't choose to be in this situation in the first place. Our morals are good for us, but since we aren't all that good at communicating with the great apes yet, it doesn't seem fair for us to punish them for doing something, when they don't really have a say in the matter.

Stories about Koko are very compelling though. There are times when she seems to show great emotional intelligence.





She seems to be emotionally affected by the sad part in the film that she is watching. (In the description of the video on YouTube it is noted that she has seen the video before. I'm not sure if she was coached at all to respond in this way to the movie. Perhaps she is responding based on cues from the people who are watching the film with her.)

Finally are all of the stories and pictures of animals who have nurtured animals who are not of the same species as them. You hear about dogs taking care of tiger cubs, and a tortoise who is 'friends' with a baby hippo etc. etc. Animals who are not human do seem to show a lot of traits that were once thought to be strictly human. Is it all right to assign meaning or (values?) to these actions taken by other species? I know some people say that we are just putting a human framework on the other animals, and that clearly the animals don;t have a concept of 'love' or whatever, but I disagree. I have read about elephants who mourn the death of their children, and come back to the body or bones, even years after the death to touch the bones or whatever. These stories really make me think about how we treat the other species on this planet, at least, how we treat some of the 'smarter' of the species on the planet.

I do see a bit of hypocrisy in my own views of the animal kingdom. I hate spiders, and so I kill them. I don't particularly like ants in the house, but if I notice a line of them outdoors, I try not to step on them. Mainly I think it's just spiders that I have a problem with. I don't feel bad killing a spider, I don't feel that bad about killing ants, I feel kind of bad about stepping on snails, I feel pretty bad about killing a lizard accidentally, and I felt horrible the one time I accidentally killed a mammal, when I hit a skunk in my car.

In the end, I think that it's probably all right to read a little bit into the actions of some animals, although when we get more evidence from our research, then we will be on much firmer ground.

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18-09-2012, 10:21 PM
RE: Is anthropomorphism always misplaced?
I am not completely sure what you mean. Maybe you can give a very specific sentence or two about how you are using anthropomorphism and misplaced. I do see the animals. I am often, truely, a bit slow to the take. I'll try.

I believe you are talking about people ascribing human characteristics onto the Apes shown above. Did you know that Koko also had a pet? It was a kitten she fervently watched over. This gained a great deal of attention and discussion about what PEOPLE believed she felt about her little fuzzy.

We don't really understand other animal minds. We do know that they rely more on instinct than we do, but maybe not. I supose it is instinct that we use our brain, maybe not. I am digging a hole and I am backing out now. If I have your question right, it is complex. I'll leave this to the brains and check in often.
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18-09-2012, 10:40 PM
RE: Is anthropomorphism always misplaced?
(18-09-2012 10:21 PM)depat Wrote:  I am not completely sure what you mean

Well that makes two of us. Do you mean, is it inappropriate to think of some traits as being human when it appears in other animals as well?

(18-09-2012 10:21 PM)depat Wrote:  We don't really understand other animal minds.

Holy shit, of course we don't, we don't even really understand our own minds.

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18-09-2012, 10:56 PM
RE: Is anthropomorphism always misplaced?
Well in the case of Koko's first cat All Ball, she expressed sadness over his death.

I used misplaced because I didn't want to say 'wrong'. It's one of the funny aspects of language, where, I want to say 'wrong' but I don't mean morally wrong. Let's use this definition of wrong: "deviating from truth or fact".


To rephrase: "Is it wrong to assign what are usually considered "human" traits to animals including but not limited to; love, sadness, intention, or morality."

While I am not really aware of any solid evidence to support assigning these traits or characteristics to various animals, there does seem to be a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that animals do possess these traits. A paraphrase from Jane Goodall "There isn't a sharp line dividing humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. It's a very wuzzie line. We find animals doing things that we, in our arrogance used to think was 'just human' ".

I have heard people argue that we can't 'humanize' animals by assigning intention to their actions, which is why I wanted to hear some other opinions.

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19-09-2012, 12:15 AM
RE: Is anthropomorphism always misplaced?
Thank you Near. This helps quite a bit. I'll return tomorrow.
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