Thursday, February 23, 2006

In [modified] defense of Anthropomorphism

Pale Male and Lola in close proximity - Jan 8, 2006
Photo by Lincoln Karim

Interesting letter from a reader reacting to John Blakeman's recent comments:

As a scientific observer, John Blakeman has some obvious and well appreciated strengths. Your readers, myself included, through his comments which you’ve regularly posted on your site, have been able to greatly enhance their knowledge of RTH’s. I’ll have to say though, that his vigilant efforts to keep your readers from muddying the waters of scientific objectivity by ever attempting to dissuade them away from finding behavioral traits in common between hawks and humans can sometimes be amusing.
In the Sunday, February 19th post, for example, after going on in some detail to dismiss the validity of the word "like" in any connection with the bird’s relationship, emphasising the importance of the word "mate" in its place, he notes how the birds hang out together all year round, declining to view each other as intruders into the nesting territory once the reproduction phase has concluded for the year.

Then Blakeman says; "Can we see how non-mammalian, how non-human this arrangement is?". Speaking for myself, I’d have to say respectfully, "Well no Mr Blakeman, No we can’t see this". In fact, the arrangement he describes has so much in common with how many human couples conduct their relationships, it could be said to be identical in some respects to that of humans.

It seems obvious why RTH’s wouldn’t want to establish a practice resembling the human social ritual of smoking jackets, cocktail dresses and martinis with out-of-towners. Outsider hawk presence seems to stem only from an interest in moving in on a territorially established pairs' good thing. They’ve got to work too hard to be coming over just to visit. Hawks confronted by outsiders, seem to have this figured out while in many instances, humans' behavior demonstrates they have not.

Blakeman’s insistence on the idea that RTH pairs' close proximity to each other in their territory has absolutely nothing in common with human relationships seems extreme. They have a big territory, after all, and good eyesight. If they really had no interest in each other beyond cyclical mating, why would they ever have occasion to come any closer than 50 to 100 feet of each other? The watchers seem to find them sitting next to each other often.

Just by noting Blakeman’s own observations about RTH behavior, and the nature of humans and other animals in general, it seems wrong to presume the complete absence of affection or other emotion between the two hawks. Hawks and other animals shouldn’t be portrayed to children and gullible people as humans in animal bodies. On the other hand, it’s ridiculous to outright dismiss the existence of certain kinds of experience in species with whom we are unable to directly communicate as a means of confirming or denying the presence of that experience.

Darrell A. Tuffli