Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vivisectionists' disease

According to Google, there were 167 news articles online today (August 26, 2008) about Yerke's researchers' report on evidence of empathy in adult female capuchins. [Frans B. M. de Waal; Kristin Leimgruber; Amanda R. Greenberg. Giving is self-rewarding for monkeys. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2008.]

I've listed the most common headlines below.

This study provides good evidence of animals having minds similar to our own. It is equally strong evidence of widespread mental illness in the vivisection community.

Our mental and emotional similarities make it abundantly and undeniably clear that we suffer similarly. The largest portion of this evidence comes from experiments using non-human primates, like this one.

And yet, in the face of this evidence, vivisectors subject monkeys to procedures that would never be allowed, even on consenting adults, and if attempted, would land the assailants in prison.

When I say they are mentally ill, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt. If they aren’t mentally ill, then their continuing use of animals must be explained in some other way. Maybe their bigotry is just so extreme and profound that they must always and absolutely deny the moral implications in the ever-building evidence. Is bigotry a mental illness?

Or, maybe job security is so important to them that any threat to their livelihood is a rallying cry.

Or, maybe some of them have come to the conclusion that what they do is immoral but feel that they have to defend themselves lest their families, friends, and neighbors start to disfavor them.

Whatever the cause, the vivisection community’s response to the evidence that animals have minds like ours is extreme and contrary to what the response likely would be from the majority of people.

I think the vivisectors know this, and that their fear of the public’s likely response is one of the main reasons that they are so secretive. Paranoia, cruelty to animals, bigotry, denial, delusion, and the absence of empathy seem to be the common symptoms of their illness.


Monkeys find giving rewarding
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom

Test of charity shows monkeys are capable of empathy
guardian.co.uk, UK

Monkeys Enjoy Giving To Others
Science Daily (press release)

Monkeys experience joy of giving, too, study finds
Reuters

Monkeys reward friends and relatives
The Associated Press

Study Finds Generous Monkeys
RedOrbit, TX

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

"This study provides good evidence of animals having minds similar to our own."

It does nothing of the sort. Read the paper first, not just the news hype that goes with it.

Rick said...

You must have ignored de Waal's comments altogether.

Anonymous said...

Which statements? The question remains: have you actually read the paper or only the press releases? Have you seen the data? No data in this paper can be taken to suggest that they "have similar minds to our own".

Rick said...

The entire paper is about these similarities. There was a time not too long ago that altruism was declared a trait unique to humans.

I don't think that a fair reading suggests anything like [brave] anonymous suggests. [Such a flat denial in the face of good evidence is one of the symptoms of vivisectionists' disease.]

I doubt most readers here will read the paper, so here are a few passages that catch its gist.

"The motivation behind animal altruism is little studied...

In humans, the dominant theory is that altruism is driven by
emotional identification and empathy with the other...

Thus, when human participants
do good deeds they report feeling good, and show activation of reward-related brain areas.

Although empathy has been proposed to also underlie the directed altruism of animals, little is known about self-rewarding effects. One way to find out is to present animals with choices between other-regarding
and selfish outcomes in a discrimination paradigm. A
systematic bias toward acts that benefit others would suggest that
performance of these acts is intrinsically gratifying...

Inasmuch as the subject’s own food reward remained the same during prosocial and selfish choices, the prosocial option’s added value must be of an intangible nature. It likely derived from seeing the partner receive or consume food, similar to one of the oldest definitions of sympathy, which postulates the ‘‘pleasure of seeing’’ another’s fortune.

Because, in both humans and animals, empathy is biased
toward familiar partners, the observed increase of prosocial
preferences with social closeness fits the empathy hypothesis.

Finally, in comparison with spontaneous altruism in chimpanzees, it is important to note both the differences and
similarities. The difference is that the monkeys in the present
study did not need to understand the other’s goals, only the
presence or absence of rewards for the other. In contrast, the
chimpanzees showed targeted helping, which requires appreciation of what the other tries to achieve. The underlying motivation may have been quite similar, however, in that both apes
and monkeys showed sensitivity to another individual’s welfare.
The observed choices may in both cases reflect empathy with the
other, a mechanism that needs further investigation in animals to illuminate its possible continuity with that in humans."

Anonymous said...

What would a “human mind” do in this experiment? After understanding the rules of the game (that one token results in food for both participants while the other only to you) one would reason as follows.. “That poor guy next to me only gets food if I pick the red token, but I get a food every single time... So, lets go ahead and pick red from now on. I am not loosing anything if I do that...” What will happen is this: in all subsequent trials a human subject would pick the “prosocial” token. Even a 5 year old would behave in such a way in this game.

You want us to believe that monkeys perform such a reasoning based on empathy for its companion. But the data shows that the monkeys, even after extensive training on this task, only choose the prosocial token only ~65% of the time. Furthermore, this result is marginally significant (p~0.05). In addition, the tendency for a prosocial choice increases steadily over the trials (Fig 1). In a human subject, as soon as one understands the rules of the game, performance would jump immediately to 100%. This is not the case here.

The gradual performance increase in this task in characteristic of many animal learning tasks and, a more parsimonious explanation of the behavior, is that monkeys are getting some sort of positive or negative reinforcement from its companion on each trial (for example, the companion may vocalize if it doesn’t get food in the trial). In this scenario, the entire experiment would similar to a classical conditioning paradigm.

So the data in the paper shows that the behavior of the animals is extremely different form one that you would expect in a human reasoning on the basis of empathy. If wish they had run the experiments with human kids... Then, the differences would be so obvious that they would not overstate their results.

You can find additional criticisms of the conclusions of this experiment in: http://richarddawkins.net/

You say:

“I don't think that a fair reading suggests anything like [brave] anonymous suggests. [Such a flat denial in the face of good evidence is one of the symptoms of vivisectionists' disease.]”

You cherry-picked the conclusions that support your ideas and avoided altogether looking and understanding the actual data. I am not sure what you were teaching your kids in school, but I surely hope it was not science.

Rick said...

“What will happen [in humans] is this: in all subsequent trials a human subject would pick the “prosocial” token. Even a 5 year old would behave in such a way in this game.”

Maybe not. At age 3-4, the overwhelming majority of children behave selfishly. According to WebMD:

“In a scenario called the sharing treatment, the child was offered two choices. Choice No. 1: one piece of candy for himself or herself and one piece of candy for another child. Choice No. 2: two pieces for himself or herself, and nothing for the other child.

At age 3 and 4, only 8.7% of children in the sharing treatment chose to give another child they knew one of the pieces of candy. By age 7 and 8, 45% of children chose to share one of the candies. In general, older children chose more consistently egalitarian outcomes in all the scenarios, according to researchers. They were more likely to want everything to be fair.” [See: Fehr E, Bernhard H, Rockenbach B. Egalitarianism in young children. Nature. 2008.]

“You want us to believe that monkeys perform such a reasoning based on empathy for its companion.” You confuse me with the authors of the paper. There are people everywhere who insist on disbelieving many things, even in the face of good evidence.

“In a human subject, as soon as one understands the rules of the game, performance would jump immediately to 100%.” That may not be true fr adults and clearly isn't the case in children. There are many examples of people behaving in ways that are detrimental to others and many examples of people acting selfishly.

Your gripe is with de Waal et al. The passages I provided showed only that the claim that the paper says nothing about animals having minds similar to our own was pure bunk. The passages debunk that denialist claim.

This paper and others make it clear that humans and other animals do share many similarities of mind, and hence, those who harm them are villains.

Anonymous said...

“Your gripe is with de Waal et al. The passages I provided showed only that the claim that the paper says nothing about animals having minds similar to our own was pure bunk. The passages debunk that denialist claim.”

My gripe is partially with de Waal et al, as they so obviously overstate the implications of their results. My gripe with you is that you refuse to look at the data and reason about them.

You did not address the criticisms of the data and the alternative explanation I offered. Your argument is that “I am right because these other guys think the same as I do”.

“Maybe not. At age 3-4, the overwhelming majority of children behave selfishly.”

This shows you still have not read the paper in full after these exchanges. Read again: in a condition of inequality the monkeys are selfish too.

Gary said...

Anonymous claims that humans practice altruism based on reasoning and that when engaging in altruism humans neither expect nor receive an award.

I submit that humans and animals practice altruism more by emotion than by reasoning. When we help a friend in need, we're typically not thinking out a logical plan. We feel, not think, empathy, and are motivated by our heart to do something nice.

OTOH, humans may indeed receive a reward for doing altruistic acts: the smile from the person helped, a feeling of virtue, and so forth. But I don't like to go down that road, because you can get into this game, or rut, where every act is defined as nothing more than self-interest. I notice that many people in favor of human domination over animals explain nonhuman behavior that way but not human behavior; it's a self-protective, dishonest, rigged game.

Animals, like humans, may in fact sacrifice time, energy, and rewards when practicing altruism. Hens at the Eastern Shore Animal Sanctuary give up their favorite barn spots for injured newcomers. A companion pig made sure a dog didn't play too rough with a human, even though doing so interfered with his own desire to play. One companion rabbit I knew stopped competing with his rival when his rival became ill and instead made sure his rival always got the best part of the salads; the former aggressor even fed his ailing former rival toward the end. A herd of elephants in Africa freed a group of captive antelopes (actually in this case, the liberation seemed quite methodical - and amazing). A sighted cat at Best Friends animal Sanctuary led his blind brother around by interlocking their two tails (how many humans would be so kind?) And so forth. Search for "interspecies friendship" or "empathy" on my animalwritings.com blog for more examples.

It's good that scientists are starting to realize that animals practice alturism. But I caution that science typically lags far behind commonsense observations when it comes to recognizing animal sentience. Most scientists denied that animals had any emotions until recently; now it's becoming the conventional wisdom. But anyone who ever had a companion animal knew from commonsense observation and from entering into a friendship with the animal that animals have emotions. Not that long ago, top scientists denied that animals could feel pain.

So science has repeatedly underestimated animals' cognitive abilities. We should assume that there are many - if not vastly - more capabilities in animals that science has yet to discover. I think we've barely scratched the surface. But we may be afraid to - because each discovery makes it painfully obvious that we should not be exploiting animals.

It's no surprise that nonhumans - especially those who live in social groups - would have the capacity for altruism. It helps us survive and improves quality of life. It may be an ancient trait.

Once again, like so many other times in recent history, humans seem perturbed, almost jealous that a trait they thought was uniquely human (humor, music, culture, using tools, recognizing self in mirror, etc.) is in fact shared by other species. This refusal to get off our self-constructed pedestal is getting tiresome; it, in itself, may be some form of mental illness, some widespread, basal insecurity in terms of our role in the world.

Anonymous said...

The existence of altruistic behavior in other species cannot be denied. In fact, I previously pointed that it also exists in other species, such as insects and even social amoeba.

However, one cannot infer from such behavior that "the mind of animals is like our own". Otherwise, one would be led to conclude the mind of social amoeba also shares similarities to the human mind. This, I hope we all agree, does not make any sense.

Rick said...

In all honesty I think it matters little whether their minds are exactly like our own or not. As usual, humans have to try to make everyone "like them" in order for them to have value. My common sense, as well as my version of morality, tells me that just because someone isn't exactly like me, that is nowhere near a justification for treating them as if they don't have value or worth. I think that it's sad that scientists, who are supposed to be so logical, rational, and (to be simplistic) smart, have to have some sort of convincing or reason why their egregious and downright evil experiments and tortures to animals are unjustified or wrong. How smart can they possibly be when they can't see that for themselves? It should be self-evident.

mindy said...

Great discussion in the comments.

The only thing I would add is that human minds differ greatly from human to human as well. Just because someone is much smarter than I am doesn't give that person the right to use me in whatever way s/he sees fit. Similarly, if I am much smarter than someone or have a higher emotional intelligence or more of XYZ (whatever it is!), it doesn't give me more rights than that person. That's kind of what it comes down to and what animal advocates are arguing - whether non-human animal minds are or are not "just like" ours doesn't matter. We know they feel pain, we know they have awareness of the world around them, that they form social bonds, etc etc - and that's enough to conclude that we ought to stop using them!