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Animal intelligence and emotions

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  • Vasu Murti
    Man And Other Animals Our Fellow Creatures Have Feelings - So We Should Give Them Rights Too By Jeremy Rifkin The Guardian - UK 8-15-03 While much of the talk
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 18, 2003
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      Man And Other Animals
      Our Fellow Creatures Have Feelings - So
      We Should Give Them Rights Too
      By Jeremy Rifkin
      The Guardian - UK
      8-15-03

      While much of the talk in big science this past year has centred on new
      breakthroughs in biotechnology, nanotechnology, computers and more
      esoteric
      questions such as the age of our universe, a quieter story has been
      unfolding behind
      the scenes in laboratories around the world - one whose impact on human
      perception and our understanding of the world is likely to be even more
      profound.
      And, strangely, the companies sponsoring the research are McDonald's,
      Burger
      King, KFC and other fast food purveyors. Pressured by animal rights
      activists
      and by growing public support for the humane treatment of animals, these
      companies have financed research into, among other things, the emotional,
      mental and
      behavioural states of our fellow creatures. What the researchers are
      finding is unsettling. It appears that many of our fellow creatures are
      more like us
      than we had ever imagined. They feel pain, suffer, experience stress,
      affection, excitement - and even love. Studies on pigs' social
      behaviour at Purdue
      University in the US, for example, have found that they crave affection
      and are
      easily depressed if isolated or denied playtime with each other. The lack
      of mental and physical stimuli can result in deterioration of health and
      increased
      incidence of diseases. The EU has taken such studies to heart and has
      outlawed the use of isolating pig stalls by 2012, and mandated their
      replacement with
      open-air stalls. In Germany, the government is encouraging pig farmers to

      give each pig 20 seconds of human contact every day and to provide them
      with two
      or three toys to prevent them fighting. The pig study only scratches
      the
      surface of what is going on in the field of research into animal emotions
      and
      cognitive abilities. Researchers were stunned recently by the publication
      of an
      article in the prestigious journal Science reporting on the conceptual
      abilities of New Caledonian crows. In controlled experiments, scientists
      at Oxford
      University reported that two birds named Betty and Abel were given a
      choice
      between using two tools, one a straight wire, the other a hooked wire, to
      snag a
      piece of meat from inside a tube. Both chose the hooked wire. But then,
      unexpectedly, Abel, the more dominant male, stole Betty's hook, leaving
      her only with
      a straight wire. Unphased, Betty used her beak to wedge the wire in a
      crack
      and then bent it with her beak to produce a hook, like the one stolen
      from her.
      She then snagged the food from inside the tube. Researchers repeated the
      experiment 10 more times giving her straight wires, and she fashioned a
      hook out of
      the wire nine times, demonstrating a sophisticated ability to create
      tools.
      Then there is the story of Alex the African grey parrot, who was able to
      master tasks previously thought to be the preserve of human beings. Alex
      can
      identify more than 40 objects and seven colours, and can add and separate
      objects
      into categories. Equally impressive is Koko, a gorilla who was taught
      sign language, has mastered more than 1,000 signs and understands several
      thousand
      English words. On human IQ tests, she scores between 70 and 95, putting
      her in
      the slow learner - but not retarded - category. Tool-making and
      developing
      language skills are just two of the many attributes we thought were
      exclusive to
      our species. Self-awareness is another. Philosophers and animal
      behaviourists
      have long argued that other animals are not capable of self-awareness
      because
      they lack a sense of individualism. Not so, according to a spate of new
      studies. At the Washington National Zoo, orangutans given mirrors explore
      parts of
      their bodies they can't see otherwise, showing a sense of self. An
      orangutan
      named Chantek at the Atlanta Zoo used a mirror to groom his teeth and
      adjust
      his sunglasses, says his trainer. When it comes to the ultimate test of
      what
      distinguishes humans from the other creatures, scientists have long
      believed
      that mourning for the dead represents the real divide. Other animals have
      no
      sense of their mortality and are unable to comprehend the concept of
      their own
      death. But animals, it appears, experience grief. Elephants will often
      stand
      next to their dead kin for days, in silence, occasionally touching their
      bodies
      with their trunks. Kenyan biologist Joyce Poole, who has studied African
      elephants for 25 years, says that elephant behaviour towards their dead
      "leaves me
      with little doubt that they experience deep emotion and have some
      understanding
      of death." We also know that virtually all animals play, especially
      when
      young. Anyone who has ever observed the antics of puppies, kittens or
      bear cubs
      cannot help but notice the similarities in the way they play and our own
      children. Recent studies in the brain chemistry of rats show that when
      they play,
      their brains release large amounts of dopamine, a neurochemical
      associated with
      pleasure and excitement in human beings. Noting the striking
      similarities
      in brain anatomy and chemistry of humans and other animals, Steven Siviy,
      a
      behavioural scientist at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, asks a
      question
      increasingly on the minds of other researchers: "If you believe in
      evolution by
      natural selection, how can you believe that feelings suddenly appeared,
      out of
      the blue, with human beings?" The new findings of researchers are a far
      cry
      from the conceptions espoused by orthodox science. Until very recently,
      scientists were still advancing the idea that most creatures behaved by
      sheer
      instinct, and that what appeared to be learned behaviour was merely
      genetically wired
      activity. Now we know that geese have to teach their goslings their
      migration
      routes. In fact, we are finding out that learning is passed on from
      parent to
      offspring far more often than not and that most animals engage in learned

      experience brought on by continued experimentation and trial-and-error
      problem-solving. So what does all of this portend for the way we treat
      our fellow
      creatures? What about the thousands of animals subjected each year to
      painful
      laboratory experiments? Or the millions of domestic animals raised under
      inhumane
      conditions and destined for slaughter and human consumption. Should we
      ban
      leg-hold traps and discourage the sale and purchase of fur coats? And
      what about
      killing animals for sport? Fox hunting in England, bull-fighting in
      Spain,
      cock-fighting in Mexico? What about entertainment? Should lions be caged
      in zoos,
      should elephants be made to perform in circuses? These questions are
      beginning to be raised in courtrooms and in legislation around the world.
      Today,
      Harvard and 25 other law schools in the US have introduced law courses on
      animal
      rights, and an increasing number of cases representing the rights of
      animals are entering the court system. Germany recently became the first
      government in
      the world to guarantee animal rights in its constitution. The human
      journey
      is, at its core, about the extension of empathy to broader and more
      inclusive
      domains. At first, the empathy extended only to kin and tribe. Eventually
      it
      was extended to people of like-minded values - a common religion,
      nationality
      or ideology. In the 19th century, the first humane societies were
      established,
      extending the empathy to include our fellow creatures. Today, millions of

      people, under the banner of the animal rights movement, are continuing to
      deepen
      and to expand human concern for, and empathy toward, our fellow
      creatures.
      The current studies into animals' emotions, cognition and behaviour open
      up a
      new phase in the human journey, allowing us to both expand and deepen our

      empathy - this time, to include the broader community of creatures who
      live
      alongside us. - Jeremy Rifkin is the author of Beyond Beef: The Rise
      and Fall of the
      Cattle Culture (Plume, 1992), and The Biotech Century (Victor Gollancz,
      1998). He is also the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in
      Washington
      DC Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/animalrights/story/0,11917,1020066,00.html

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