Guest blog post on Scientific American questions the reality of emotions in animals

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I found  a guest blog post on the Scientific American website that seems to question the existence of animals experience emotion.

Kristina Bjoran on the one hand seems to want to believe that animals have feelings, but near the beginning of her post, she makes the following declaration:

“” The problem is, we can’t say for certain that nonhuman animals feel anything at all. “” – And she goes on to mention anthropomorphism as being a problem.

I could not resist commenting under this piece and noted –

Me – “” Too often people use the term anthropomorphism without applying logic to term. Anthropomorphism is the act of applying human qualities to non-human entities or objects.

“” But when we understand there are indeed shared qualities and emotions between humans and animals, we come to the understanding and realization that we not applying exclusively human qualities to animals at all. We are in these cases noting and observing our shared qualities. “”

And from me – “” So it’s not so-called anthropomorphism that is the problem, it is the inaccurate assumption that our emotional state is the only possible emotional state we can apply to animals.
“” It actually blocks scientific research to put up this wall. It starts the process off from a position of a false assumption. “”

Bjoran visited the Farm Sanctuary to do research for her master’s thesis on “nonhuman animal intelligence, both emotional and cognitive.” I don’t typically like to pound my own chest in public, but I wish she would have visited the Farm Sanctuary and called me too.

I’m not accusing Bjoran of doing this at all, but for too many people, the admission that animals have feelings and can suffer both physical and emotion pain is a place they don’t want to go. Maybe some simply don’t want to admit humans are not the only beings on the planet who can feel. But for others, it would mean a reevaluation of how an industry makes its profit or maybe a turn in support for an activity or industry they support.

4 thoughts on “Guest blog post on Scientific American questions the reality of emotions in animals

  1. I would like to recommend an excellent book by an ethologist named Alexandra Horowitz. The title of the book is Inside of a Dog.

  2. Tori,

    I have that book, but have been so busy of late that I have not had a chance to dig into it.

    Thanks.

  3. I hope you get a chance to read the book soon. I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot.

  4. Tori: The title of Horowitz’s books almost certainly comes from the Groucho Marx line, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

    Tom: You’re quite right about all this. I’m not an authority on animal cognition (though I used to date one), but I know enough about the subject to say that supposing that only humans are capable of thought and emotion is a violation of the basic scientific principle of parsimony. In fact, it amounts to solipsism at the species level. Despite this at one time it was common to assume that non-human animals were basically automata, but that view has been in decline for a long while and deserves to be dismissed as the pseudoscience it is, something just as ridiculous as going to the opposite extreme of pretending that there are no differences at all between humans and dogs.

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