Thursday, 11 August 2016

Do some animals feel empathy?

Read the following article.

Throughout her career as a neurobiologist, Peggy Mason has been told over and over that the rats she experiments on are not capable of empathy.
Don't people just love to make bald assertions! It would seem strange to me if we're the only animal capable of feeling empathy.

Alex Kacelnik, a behavioral ecologist, argued that Mason was simply projecting humanlike feelings and emotions onto these rat "rescues" — a tendency known as anthropomorphism.


What is the purpose of adding "humanlike"? And why is it "project" rather than "infer"?

To be accurate the sentence should be rewritten:

"Alex Kacelnik, a behavioral ecologist, argued that Mason was simply inferring feelings and emotions onto these rat "rescues" — a tendency known as anthropomorphism".

The question here is why such an inference is unreasonable? If they behave like us when we're showing empathy, then the most straightforward explanation for this is that the animals too are experiencing empathy.


We don’t have evidence that there is an internal first-person experience that leads the animal to do it," Kacelnik tells me on a Skype call from his office in Oxford.

The evidence would be that
they behave as if they have an internal first-person experience. Would I question whether other people have a first person experience? Surely, if animals behave as if they have a first person experience, then our default assumption should be that they indeed have an internal first-person experience? If one wants to doubt this, then they have to advance reasons to doubt it, not simply presuppose they are correct!

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