Monday, March 06, 2006

Anthropomorphism: another defense

Dash & Lilly in their nestbox last spring
photo by Kestrelcam

Steve Watson of Pasadena throws his knowledgable oar into the anthropomorphism debate. You may remember Steve. He's the guy who put a videocamera on his kestrel nesting box and let the world in on the secrets of kestrel family life.. He's now waiting to see if a new pair settles into the box this year, [
Last year Dash, the male kestrel, had a fatal enounter with a Sharp-shinned hawk before the eggs had a chance to hatch.] Steve's made the box more sharpie-proof this year, I understand, and is waiting for a new pair to move in. Below is a link to his website and kestrelcam:

Hi, Marie!

I have to comment on the anthropomorphism-vs-incidental behavior topic...I submit that it is very UNscientific to assume that animals do NOT have emotions (be they mammalian, avian or even reptilian). After all, if you view things from a "selfish gene"-centric viewpoint (for those who've read Dawkins), the entire organism is merely a conduit for the genes to be passed to the next generation (and that applies to Homo sapiens as much as to any other species). Thus, emotions, complex though we may think they might be, are simply another in evolution's bag of tricks for enabling that to happen. It works well for some organisms (like people), but perhaps less for others, to have feelings such as love, longing, hatred, etc. But I don't think there's any innate reason that species other than humans (or even other than higher-order mammals) can't have something we might think of as emotions.

Few pet owners would tell you that their pets (dogs, cats or even some birds) do not experience emotions (albeit most of them would agree that, if they do, it's probably different from what we experience, if only in intensity). Certainly other closely related species do (anyone who saw the tape of Koko the Gorilla crying when her kitten was killed by a car can't deny that she was deeply saddened...some would say heartbroken). What about less closely related species? Why not?

In the end, people are just animals...and if we have emotions, then why not other animals (why can't other mammals? and if mammals, why not other classes?).

To me, anthropomorphism is assigning *human* motivations, emotions, behavior and such to non-human species. I'm not advocating that, and I think it would be erroneous to do so. All I'm suggesting is that there may be more to what an animal "feels" than we can know. Perhaps some form of "love" or "like" is less "human" and more universal, with humans only experiencing a much more deeply felt version of it?

Okay, that was apologies! :) Anyway, here's hoping both coasts are successful in nesting this year...may Pale Male and Lola have a nest full of eyasses (is that the right spelling?), and that we attract another pair of kestrels!