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Nonhuman empathy

Sergio Navega snavega at ibm.net
Wed Feb 10 08:38:10 EST 1999

Jason Ebaugh wrote in message <79s34a$hla$1 at news1.tc.umn.edu>...
>There is a controversy about whether animals besides humans are
>capable of empathy. It appears to me that scientists who think that
>animals can empathize(sp??) are in the minority, with the majority of
>scientists holding on to the ideology that only humans have such
> My box turtle empathizes on a regular basis. When I am walking around
>the room he is usually fine and ignores me. But if I take an interest
>in him and look at him, he gets nervous and goes into his log to hide.
>He knows that  I "see" him. That's empathy. He is ware of my mental
>state. I know this far from a scientific experiment, but I never tried
>to have an experiment with him. I just noticed his behavior and found
>it quite interesting.

No, that's not empathy, that's only a reaction to a stimulus perceived
as dangerous. Empathy is a different sort of thing. What we mean by
empathy is a much rarer behavior. It seems to happen to bonobos, a
kind of chimpanzee, able to use symbols to communicate (see Sue
Savage-Rumbaugh's book about Kanzi). In an experiment, a man is put
in front of a bonobo chimp. Then suddenly, the adult looks to the
ceiling, pretending having seen something strange.

Impressively, the bonobo also looks at the ceiling, trying to see
what that strange thing is. This not only reveal the amazing perceptive
abilities of the bonobos but also its empathetic abilities
(recognizing the human's intention in looking for something strange).

Now try to do this with your dog. The result will be no recognition,
showing that dogs (as with most other animals) do not have enough
"brain machinery" to present this kind of behavior.

Sergio Navega.

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