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Nonhuman empathy

Sergio Navega snavega at ibm.net
Fri Feb 12 11:02:51 EST 1999

Jason Ebaugh wrote in message <7a1fqt$djk$1 at news1.tc.umn.edu>...
>Michael Edelman <mje at mich.com> wrote:
>>The fallacy committed by the turtle owner was not just in assuming the
>>existence of certain states to his turtle, but more importantly, assuming
>>that the turtle was experiencing a certain state based on a behavior that
>>would correlate with that state in humans.
>I said my turtle knew that others see. I made no guess as to what
>emotional state this is. I guess it was implied that an emotional was
>present in the turtle. That, however, is a far cry from saying the
>turtle feels all the things humans do or feels them in the same way.
>The fallacy committed by Edelman is the strawman. I never refered to a
>"certian state" as is claimed. And I never tried to correlate any
>state in the turlte to one in a human.
>My turtle acts differently when I am looking at him versus when I am
>going about some other business in my room. My turtle knows I see.

Jason, I obviously don't know your turtle, so I'm unable to say if
it is extraordinary or not. I guess you must be very linked to it
(you call your turtle "him"). I have three dogs in my home that
I treat equivalently.

But taking into consideration what I know about turtles and
similarly developed animals, I'd say that your impressions fall in
one of two possible categories: a) you're relating one impression
you have about the turtle or b) you're claiming that your
turtle (or worse, turtles in general) are able of such
empathetic behavior.

If it is a), then ok, I also do a lot of such things, usually
just kidding with my family.

But if it is b), then you have to admit that we're on the realm of
science, and your impressions are not a good method to go for it.

In science, you've got to have one hypothesis (say, turtles are
able to empathize with humans) and you've got to develop experimental
situations to prove your hypothesis to be right. Needless to say,
those experiments would have to use statistical methods, double-blind
tests and rigor in its preparation. Then, another scientist
(preferably at the other side of the world :-) would have to
replicate your experiments and his conclusions would have to be
pretty much the same. Only then, we should start looking seriously
for a causal mechanism for all this, and as a result of this
investigation we could discover that turtles are not so dull as
they seem to be.

That would, according to what we currently know about brain sizes
and evolutionary biology, appear to be pretty fantastic and will
prompt for a complete revision of most of the things we know about
biological organisms. "Unlikely" would not be strong enough a word
to describe this hypothesis.

By the way, this is exactly what should be done with all claims of
paranormal, and this is why the guys proclaiming ESP don't have
any evidence, let alone causal mechanisms, for their "powers".
Scientific tests fail miserably with ESP, although this nonsense
continues to make gullible victims (besides enriching clever guys).

Sergio Navega.

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