{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

November 22, 2017

Can Animals Cry With Emotion?

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{Credit: By Mr. T. W. Wood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}
As children, we are raised on films and books starring anthropomorphised animals who are endowed with emotions and feelings that we can relate to as young developing people. But why is that when we enter the school system - learn about biology and science and psychology - we come to strip animals of this ability to feel and suffer from basic pain and emotion?

Even that statement is not particularly true, especially if we become pet lovers, because we adamantly believe our cats and dogs, rats and parrots - our pets - love us, miss us, and can feel when we hurt them and yet strip this ability for emotion and feeling from animals who are not pets, such as apes, elephants, lions and tigers, and animals that form part of our food system.

We are told by the scientific world that when we believe our cats are 'happy' when they purr, it is a projection of our emotions onto the animal and there is no scientific way to determine such happiness. Indeed, scientists even warn of anthropomophising animals too much by assigning human motivations to their actions - such as when a rhesus monkey in a zoo appeared to commit suicide by tying a rope into a noose and hanging himself in 1936 or when Peter the dolphin deliberately suffocated himself after being moved from a NASA-funded animal-human language project in the Virgin Islands and the human he fell in love with.



But the personal experiences of many people who work with animals cannot help but disagree. Veterinarian Jonathan Cracknell, who has travelled the world to treat animals traumatised by captive conditions, says one cannot help but get a 'gut feeling' about why animals behave in particular ways. He points to such examples as crows deliberately sliding down a snowy slope over and over again or monkeys taking a dip in water when it is hot outside as evidence that not all animal behaviour is geared towards some animalistic, instinctual motivation. There are dozens of examples online: this veal calf enjoying falling snowflakes, a baby elephant appearing to sob uncontrollably after being rejected by its mother, or a dog so sad at being returned to a shelter that it refused to leave its cell. Or what about the bellowing of mommy cows whose calves are taken away from them so we can drink their milk instead or a dolphin fighting to save her baby captured by catchers in Taiji?

Scientists love to point to the activation of reward centres in dogs' brains as the real reason they choose to spend time with their owners, but surely these pleasurable motivations can also be assigned to humans - why else would we choose to spend our time with a particular person or become addicted to alcohol? What is it that makes humans believe we are any more complex than the animals with whom we share this world?

What about an emotional response such as crying, largely regarded as something only humans can do? Can animals also cry with emotion? Many biologists say the tears we sometimes see in the eyes of distressed animals are nothing more than a biological reaction to stimuli and does not mean the animal is feeling unhappy. While some concede that we may never know whether the animal is indeed feeling sad, they warn that we should guard against believing animals experience emotion as we do. This is a paradoxical point of view because it allows for the existence of animals' emotions and yet denies that they have them at all. It still places humans at the top of the emotional pyramid, so to speak, because we are simply 'better than', 'more evolved than', 'more intelligent than' the animal other.

But should there be any prerequisites to having emotion? Do we have to have a big brain? Dolphins have a big brain, indeed bigger than ours.

Brain size comparisons {Credit: By CNX OpenStax [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

Do we have to have control over our instincts? Even carnivores do not kill whenever they want, and sometimes kill because they can (just like us).



Do we have to walk upright and speak a translatable language? Gorillas and chimpanzees can walk upright and can be taught sign language.



To me, it all seems that our anthropocentric belief systems are what is holding us back from believing we share a world with animals who feel and experience as richly as we do. We need to strip notions of superiority if we ever hope to become true stewards of this world and the creatures we share it with.

Further Reading:

The Dolphin Who Killed Himself Over a Broken Heart
Are Humans the Only Primates That Cry?
Do Animals Cry?
Why Are Humans the Only Animals That Cry?

November 3, 2017

Book Review || The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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fault-in-our-stars-john-green-cover
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green happened to be sitting on the recent returns shelf at the library and I thought, 'Why not?' The novel is highly acclaimed and a New York Times Bestseller, and a film was made from it, so it must be good.

And that it certainly is, to a point. I laughed (well, sort of inwardly giggled with a smirk on my face), I cried. The characters have been given such tough luck in life that it is difficult not to like their immense optimism, especially Augustus Waters', and the strength it must take for them to make it through every day of pain. I liked that Hazel Grace tried so hard to be a silent sufferer. I liked that Isaac was more heartbroken at losing who he thought was the love of his life than his eyesight. I always enjoy the depth of character that comes from reading a novel instead of watching the film, so in this case I enjoyed the book much more than I did the film. In fact, I did more crying reading Hazel's innermost, private thoughts than I did watching an erstwhile depressed and downbeaten teen fall in love and suddenly have only happy feelings for her future.

That being said, something feels off to me in the way these teens speak to each other. Perhaps it is their nearness to Death that brings out their poetic genius and their witticisms, for I honestly don't remember being so pretentious as a teenager. Then again, as a teenager I never did do a lot of socialising or talking. I will have to ask my remaining friends if they ever felt this way about me, before someone calls me a liar. :) On the other hand, there is something endearingly childish about these teenagers - perhaps they are simply living their lives and having their say because they of all people know how short life is.

The Fault in Our Stars is actually a mirror of Peter van Houten's An Imperial Affliction (a made-up author and a made-up book). While Van Houten's novel literally ends in the middle of a sentence, these teens' lives could similarly end as quickly. Augustus' diagnosis shows that and the depth of Hazel and Augustus' sudden and deep love for each other may not be a fault in anyone's stars but just two people reaching out for true recognition in a world where everyone feels sorry for you on Facebook but don't really know who you are.

The message I took from the novel was that, obviously, life is short - whether or not you have cancer - and living what you have is infinitely better than living hoping for more all the time. Of course, one should also value your family and show them - something I'll have to work on this year.



Have you read the book or seen the film? Let me know what you think in the comments section!