Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Empathy and animals

This New York Times article was about empathy and animals, specifically about the emotional connections humans have (or imagine themselves to have) with their pets. It made an interesting point about how humans largely "empathize" with those creatures who most resemble them:
Researchers trace the roots of our animal love to our distinctly human capacity to infer the mental states of others, a talent that archaeological evidence suggests emerged anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Not only did the new cognitive tool enable our ancestors to engage in increasingly sophisticated social exchanges with one another, it also allowed them to anticipate and manipulate the activities of other species: to figure out where a prey animal might be headed, or how to lure a salt-licking reindeer by impregnating a tree stump with the right sort of human waste.

Before long, humans were committing wholesale acts of anthropomorphism, attributing human characteristics and motives to anything with a face, a voice, a trajectory — bears, bats, thunderstorms, the moon.

James Serpell, president of the International Society for Anthrozoology, has proposed that the willingness to anthropomorphize was critical to the domestication of wild animals and forming bonds with them. We were particularly drawn to those species that seemed responsive to our Dr. Dolittle overtures.

Whereas wild animals like wolves will avert their eyes when spotted, dogs and cats readily return our gaze, and with an apparent emotiveness that stimulates the wistful narrative in our head. Dogs add to their soulful stare a distinctive mobility of facial musculature. “Their facial features are flexible, and they can raise their lips into a smile,” Dr. Horowitz said. “The animals we seem to love the most are the ones that make expressions at us.”
The concept of empathy for me must be like the concept of global warming to some -- although many people believe that it exists, personal experience makes me (1) doubt that and (2) wonder whether even if it does exist to some extent, people are using it largely to promote their own personal agendas (see also war). Even if people are actually feeling empathy, does it really just mean that they are attributing their own characteristics to others? Not that that is a worthless thing, just that maybe my inability or unwillingness to assume that everyone else thinks and feels like I do ("empathize") is not necessarily the horrible thing that it is made out to be.


  1. We all project ourselves on one another. Empathy to some extent is mutual projection.

    Where we draw the line between acting and mimicking to genuine empathy is something that we as individuals will only know from our own point of view for the most part (clinical screening/testing notwithstanding).

    I also don't think that agendas and empathy must be mutually exclusive. Call it the more devious side of empathy, capitalizing on the weakness and vulnerability you know all too well.

    Even a well trained mind is going to instantaneously view something from its own point of view first. A certain level of intelligence or cleverness is needed to peel back the membrane of someone's mind and thought patterns to anticipate what's going on in their head. Where one lacks the ability to intuit, they can excel in anticipation, and vice versa I would hazard to say.

  2. About time that 'empathy' is finally engaged.

    To address M.E's contemplation after the article, I think there's good evidence about necessity and hence natural existence of 'empathy' in the statement:

    "it also allowed them to anticipate and manipulate the activities of other species: to figure out where a prey animal might be headed, or how to lure a salt-licking reindeer by impregnating a tree stump with the right sort of human waste."

    ..and also Notables post about 'The New Truth' although it might be an ancient truth rather.

    They demonstrate that inferring logical and emotional patterns are skills that's critical in our survival in the case of the hunter(the article) or the hunted (Note's story). Since this skill has constantly been used and developed to a high degree of resolution, parts of it needs to be continually internalized according to the context and purpose of the mind(s) doing the processing.
    'Role playing'(putting oneself in the shoes of another or learning to think as the enemy or target) is part of growing up and training in so many aspects human existence. So it shouldn't be surprising that seemingly digressing lines or branches of attitudes about what 'empathy' is about should occur. Maybe it's the same animal but with different names.

    ..just sayin.

  3. Would it be stretching to say; maybe 'empathy' and 'manipulation' are the same beast but different names?

  4. Why yes, it *is* too much effort to review what opinions have been expressed, and how, before...

  5. thanks for the masterbation fodder, dog in the picture. sher r purty. always wanted to lick my dog's balls

  6. thanks for stopping by my blog, adam. why don't you come by more often? i have a cute dog, too

  7. Adam,

    Please Stop trying to throw me.

    I'm wall mounted, and concerned you may become injured.

  8. Why yes, now that you mention it, I do think I might be a subset of Masochism.

  9. ha ha funny, kitchen sink. my crash helmet scratched yer porcelain finish

  10. what's wrong with masochism?

  11. That's why people like dolphins and put them in cages, cos they look like they are smiling.

    On the topic of empathy:
    Convo I had yesterday.
    Person: 'What are you? Are you an Empath? It's like you know what I'm thinking. What I feel, you think. What the hell?'

    Me: '...Yes, well, I have special powers...But it's not that conscious...'

    Person: '...You do it on purpose. You're so secretive. You're like a cloud but the rain just won't fall out. I feel like I don't know anything about you. You're evil...'

    Me: *laughs out loud* 'I don't do it on purpose.'

    Person: 'You do. I hate you'

    Me: 'I hate you too.'

    Person: 'No you don't'

    Me: 'Fuck You'

    Person: 'When and Where'

    So, this guy was stoned and is true asshole material, but still, some funny shit.

    In case anyone cares, I got alcohol poisoning a couple days ago. I. will. never. drink. again. No joke. Fuck. :(

  12. Adam,

    Even though your Auntee gets peevish when you relieve yourself on me. I still like it.

    I feel really, really close to you right now.

  13. i love raping chicks so i'm gonna organise a fight for your right to be sluts protest. w00t.

  14. imagine a jersey shore type setting with just sociopaths, beepers and narcs. that would make awesome tv!!

  15. anon it was already made, it's called jersey shore.

  16. iamwomanseemytatasMay 24, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    omg! rapists making chicks march as sex objects! thats, like, sooo postmodern!

  17. @Gag... I don't think empathy and manipulation are the same beast.

    Emotions can certainly be used in order to manipulate. Heh, welcome to my world. Or you can manipulate someone based on their ability to empathize by taking advantage of the fact... but empathy in and of itself, no.

    In that sense, A lack of empathy does not imply a lack of manipulation.

    Empathy just is... what people choose to do with it, well that's something else.

  18. my rape army is so balmy the feminnsts won

  19. whatever. i have a army of sluts.

  20. @Haven..Ok I see the folly of dingdo articulation.

    I should say: I don't see why manipulation couldn't be seen in a broader non evil sense. For eg. as someone mentioned before, teaching a child/people to be nice with the promise of rewards. Of course to reinforce the the point, Pavlovian consistency must be maintained.

    Conversely empathy could also be interpreted in an 'evil' (selfish) sense as only too well and often presented by the socio's here.

    Views insisting that these are always polar opposites seem suspect with hidden intent. Vindication being quite common.

    Therefore, as popular ancient eastern philosophy would have us believe, two sides of the same coin? :)

  21. Adam please let me channel your virile anger

  22. Gag: I do see your point. Two sides of the same coin indeed.

    I can see the argument of empathy as an 'evil'.

    I can certainly see the argument for manipulation as not evil. I actually agree that it has broader reach than what it initially comes across as. I mean yeah there are those of us that manipulate overtly and with mal-intent but really People manipulate all the time subconsciously. Or if not subconsciously then in ways so small they're the equivalent of those 'little white lies' everyone seems to accept so easily. Batting an eye at a stranger, 'accidentally' making a gf jealous... I'd go far enough to say that it's human nature to manipulate.

    Then again, it's human nature to be empathic {generally speaking}... so maybe you were on to something after all haha.

  23. I've been looking for an Alphapet to complete my boxed set of human playthings.

    And Adam, i want you to know that I hold you personally responsible for Cats and you're going to have to repent.

  24. Adam the AlphapetMay 24, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    Woof! Woof!

  25. ALL sociopaths love to suck cock, and get their ass crammed with dick. they also really love sucking balls, at the time their nose is DEEP in hairy ass crack. GO SOCIOPATHS!!!

  26. NO SHAVING ME!I get all swampy. Then i feel like a wet vag.

  27. please dont try to toss my salad, adam. unless you're givn me a jizz colonic

  28. If you can define can define empathy as "projection" or "role-playing" then I would question if you've actually experienced it. This is sympathy not empathy. My experiences with empathy have rarely been empowering ones so I understand doubting those who would use it as a vehicle for empowerment. While social agendas and social movements may be *informed* by empathy, the nature of politicking is such that these rarely *embody* it. I don't think there is any value or advantage to empathy in "sociopath world." I imagine it must only be an aggravating blind spot to you. You can convince a colorblind person who doesn't see green that green exists because the majority of people do see it. Plus,a person who doesn't see green can still wear green and write about green and talk about how important green is to the color spectrum. Perhaps I am being cynical because I think there are more people who see green than who experience empathy, and that it is easier to prove that green exists than that empathy does.


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