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Author Topic:   Can animals be caring and compassionate
GDR
Member (Idle past 186 days)
Posts: 5410
From: Sidney, BC, Canada
Joined: 05-22-2005


Message 1 of 22 (581266)
09-14-2010 7:49 PM


As the owner of a couple of dogs I have often contemplated the question of whether or not animals are capable of acting beyond pure instinct, and if so, to what degree.

I received this e-mail today showing a crow taking care of an orphan kitten. The Crow and the Kitten I have received other similar e-mails in the past.

It does seem to me that animals are capable, in an animal like way, of acting compassionately and even with a degree of altruism.

Any comments?


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Dr Adequate
Member (Idle past 285 days)
Posts: 16112
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 2 of 22 (581297)
09-14-2010 11:04 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by GDR
09-14-2010 7:49 PM


Animals certainly behave altruistically, but I don't know why we should think of that as being "beyond pure instinct". Maybe they do so and they do so instinctively.

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Taz
Member (Idle past 2525 days)
Posts: 5069
From: Zerus
Joined: 07-18-2006


Message 3 of 22 (581305)
09-14-2010 11:40 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by GDR
09-14-2010 7:49 PM


I often wonder this myself.

Our dogs often fight each other for our attention and a place on our laps. Now, I used to make the argument that they just wanted us to give them treats. But my shitsu doesn't even like treats. He just wants to sit on my lap, sometimes all day if he could.


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Taq
Member
Posts: 8519
Joined: 03-06-2009


Message 4 of 22 (581309)
09-14-2010 11:49 PM


Koko love kitten
Koko, the sign language using gorilla, took on a kitten as a pet.

quote:
Back in 1984, Koko, an accomplished gorilla who understands and uses American Sign Language, asked her trainer, Dr. Francine Patterson, for a cat. So when some abanded kittens were brought to the Woodside, California, compound where Koko lives, she was awarded the pick of the litter. After examining the kittens carefully, Koko chose a tailless gray male that she named All Ball.

Koko proved a wonderful pet owner and mother. She was very gentle with the kitten and treated him much like a baby gorilla, carrying him on her back and trying to nurse him. When she was in a playful mood, she would dress All Ball up in napkins or sign to him suggesting that they tickle each other, her favorite game.

Unfortunately, their relationship ended abrubtly in December of 1984, when All Ball escaped from the gorilla cage and was killed by a car. Koko was extrememly distraught over the death of All Ball and spoke of it soon after:

When asked, "Do you want to talk about your kitty?"
Koko signed, "Cry."
"What happened to your kitty?"
Koko answered, "Sleep cat."
When she saw a picture of a cat who looked very much like All Ball, Koko pointed to the picture and signed, "Cry, sad, frown."
http://ask.yahoo.com/20000905.html



  
GDR
Member (Idle past 186 days)
Posts: 5410
From: Sidney, BC, Canada
Joined: 05-22-2005


Message 5 of 22 (581311)
09-15-2010 12:24 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by Dr Adequate
09-14-2010 11:04 PM


Dr. Adequate writes:

Animals certainly behave altruistically, but I don't know why we should think of that as being "beyond pure instinct". Maybe they do so and they do so instinctively.

I suppose that when I think about instinct I mean the instinct for survival. I think a lot of people look at pets and think that they bond to humans out of their need to be fed and feel secure. I agree that that does play a large part in their behaviour but I also think it goes beyond that.

I think though, what interested me in this particular video is that you have a totally wild crow seemingly showing empathy and a sense of connection and fondness that likely surprises us. It can't be something that has rubbed off from humans as it might be argued in the case of a pet.

Here is a very short bit on the intelligence of chickens I realize that intelligence is not the same thing as emotion or altruism but I think that if animals are more intelligent than we have previously thought then they are more likely to be capable of emotion and/or altruism.

Edited by GDR, : No reason given.


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caffeine
Member (Idle past 258 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 6 of 22 (581360)
09-15-2010 8:44 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by GDR
09-15-2010 12:24 AM


Intelligence and caring instincts
I realize that intelligence is not the same thing as emotion or altruism but I think that if animals are more intelligent than we have previously thought then they are more likely to be capable of emotion and/or altruism.

I don't think you necessarily need to be particularly intelligent to show compassion and caring, and it's wrong to think of it as seperate from instinct. We even talk in everyday langauge about people having 'the caring instinct' or 'the mothering instinct'. The latter way of putting it is important, I think. All the animals mentioned here - gorillas, dogs, crows elephants, etc. exhibit parental care; and live in social groups. If you have an animal that needs to dedicate months or years of its life to caring for a child in order to be reproductively successful, or that needs to cooperate and live together with friends and relatives constantly in order to survive, then this animal is going to need instincts and drives that will lead it to do so.

It's our emotions and sense of empathy that make us do these things. Why would humans have invented a wholly new system to inspire parental care and cooperation different from that used by other animals?


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frako
Member
Posts: 2932
From: slovenija
Joined: 09-04-2010


Message 7 of 22 (581362)
09-15-2010 9:17 AM
Reply to: Message 6 by caffeine
09-15-2010 8:44 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
how do you then explain elephants that cry when they come to the dethplace of an old elephant from the same tribe that passed away long ago. i dont think that animals act on pure instinct i think they have a small abilety to reason and that they do have some form of emotions.

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 258 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 8 of 22 (581366)
09-15-2010 9:40 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by frako
09-15-2010 9:17 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
how do you then explain elephants that cry when they come to the dethplace of an old elephant from the same tribe that passed away long ago. i dont think that animals act on pure instinct i think they have a small abilety to reason and that they do have some form of emotions.

I think you misunderstood me. I'm not trying to claim that animals don't have emotions. I'm saying it's wrong to treat these as somehow seperate from instinct. That's what emotions are for, in a sense. To predispose animals towards certain forms of behaviour.


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GDR
Member (Idle past 186 days)
Posts: 5410
From: Sidney, BC, Canada
Joined: 05-22-2005


Message 9 of 22 (581368)
09-15-2010 10:09 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by caffeine
09-15-2010 9:40 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
caffeine writes:

I'm saying it's wrong to treat these as somehow seperate from instinct. That's what emotions are for, in a sense. To predispose animals towards certain forms of behaviour.

I think that there are behaviours that go beyond instinct such as the guy who risks his life to save someone else. The natural instinct would be for survival but we are able to rise above instinct.

In this case we have a crow that is attracted to, feeds and cares for a young kitten. That is unusual and I think that this particular crow seems to have risen to something that is beyond his instinctive norm.


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jar
Member
Posts: 33891
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004
Member Rating: 2.8


Message 10 of 22 (581371)
09-15-2010 10:23 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by GDR
09-15-2010 10:09 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
Crows are pretty smart old birds.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!

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caffeine
Member (Idle past 258 days)
Posts: 1800
From: Prague, Czech Republic
Joined: 10-22-2008


Message 11 of 22 (581373)
09-15-2010 10:25 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by GDR
09-15-2010 10:09 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
I think that there are behaviours that go beyond instinct such as the guy who risks his life to save someone else. The natural instinct would be for survival but we are able to rise above instinct.

You're leaping to an assumption right away here, though. Why should the natural instinct necessarily be for survival? I think you've gotten too caught up in the 'survival of the fittest' phrase. You need to remember that what's really important evolutionarily, in the sense of what will be selected for and passed on to future generations, is reproductive success, not survival.

It's easy to find examples of animals acting entirely contrary to their own survival, and doing so according to instinct. If you're a male honey bee, come mating time you take off after the queen and do your damndest to mate with her. In the process of doing so, your genitals are likely to come severed and wedged inside the female, after which you fall to inglorious death. This is just bees acting as their instinct drives them, and their instinct drives them, in effect, to suicide (but what a way to go!).

It makes sense to have instincts which cause you to put your own survival at risk, if doing so increases your chances of reproductive success. In a species whose young cannot survive without the care of their parents, parents unwilling to put themselves out for their offspring are unlikely to have any offspring make it to adulthood.

Edited by caffeine, : typo and to insert parenthetical comment about post-coital mortality


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GDR
Member (Idle past 186 days)
Posts: 5410
From: Sidney, BC, Canada
Joined: 05-22-2005


Message 12 of 22 (581382)
09-15-2010 11:42 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by caffeine
09-15-2010 10:25 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
GDR writes:

I think that there are behaviours that go beyond instinct such as the guy who risks his life to save someone else. The natural instinct would be for survival but we are able to rise above instinct.

caffeine writes:

You're leaping to an assumption right away here, though. Why should the natural instinct necessarily be for survival? I think you've gotten too caught up in the 'survival of the fittest' phrase. You need to remember that what's really important evolutionarily, in the sense of what will be selected for and passed on to future generations, is reproductive success, not survival.

That makes no sense. In order for someone to have reproductive success it is necessary for them to survive in the first place. Obviously if someone altruistically gives up their life then their future reproductive success is zero.

I don't see any evolutionary advantage in what the crow, or the gorilla for that matter, have for displaying what appear to be similar emotional behaviour as humans.

The whole thing also raises the question of how far down the chain does this go. Can a fish experience compassion? How about a cockroach?

Edited by GDR, : No reason given.

Edited by GDR, : typo


Everybody is entitled to my opinion. :)

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Modulous
Member (Idle past 1338 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


Message 13 of 22 (581386)
09-15-2010 11:53 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by GDR
09-15-2010 10:09 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
I think that there are behaviours that go beyond instinct such as the guy who risks his life to save someone else. The natural instinct would be for survival but we are able to rise above instinct.

That maybe your natural instinct - but it might not be that guy's. What evidence do you have that his instinct was not to help. Maybe his instinct said help but his conscious thought tried to over rule it "Don't do it, it's dangerous, someone else will do it...somebody with more training and who hasn't just had a big meal....".

As humans, the instinct seems to be "go to extraordinary lengths to help out one of your own and go to extraordinary lengths to ignore or harm those that are not of your own." What is considered 'one of your own' is malleable. You could split 20 people into two random groups and members of both groups will feel they are stronger than the other team at whatever arbitrary task you assign them.

Convince someone that 'your own' includes your nation (With its Founding Fathers) and they might kill and die for their country (the best units are those with absolute cohesion...a 'band of brothers' you might say). Convince them it is their religious 'brothers and sisters' - and they'll kill and die for them just as easily.

In this case we have a crow that is attracted to, feeds and cares for a young kitten. That is unusual and I think that this particular crow seems to have risen to something that is beyond his instinctive norm.

It is certainly beyond it's norm - but birds have been known to feed cuckoos and other bird's children to the point of self exhaustion (and have even fed fake birds setup by evil ornithologists, to exhaustion). Maternal and paternal instincts are incredibly strong - and if they 'make a mistake' the results can be striking.


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Modulous
Member (Idle past 1338 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


Message 14 of 22 (581389)
09-15-2010 12:05 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by GDR
09-15-2010 11:42 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
That makes no sense. In order for someone to have reproductive success it is necessary for them to survive in the first place.

Not necessarily.

If I die - so that my 10 twin brothers can live - my genes have a much better chance of being passed on to the next generation (since my twin brothers have a copy of my entire genome inside of them). Therefore my dying increases my genes' reproductive success extraordinarily!

Which is why sterile castes of insects are not a mystery to evolutionary biologists.

Once you realize that an individual human's reproductive success is contingent on their being other individual humans on his side in this dangerous world - it should seem less mysterious to you.

I don't see any evolutionary advantage in what the crow, or the gorilla for that matter, have for displaying what appear to be similar emotional behaviour as humans.

There's no evolutionary advantage to masturbation feeling nice. It does so because it simulates sex by stimulating the same receptors etc. Likewise - caring for a cat may well fire some of the same reward centres as caring for your own child. Not the same perhaps - but a sufficient proximity. If the crow thinks the kitten is its child (as some animals might mistake a person for a parent) then there's no explanation needed.

Evolution doesn't guarantee crows will be perfect.

The reasons why animals and humans have similar emotions isn't because it is an advantage to animals to have similar emotions to humans but because humans, and other animals have inherited those emotions from their ancestors.


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GDR
Member (Idle past 186 days)
Posts: 5410
From: Sidney, BC, Canada
Joined: 05-22-2005


Message 15 of 22 (581422)
09-15-2010 1:56 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Modulous
09-15-2010 11:53 AM


Re: Intelligence and caring instincts
Modulous writes:

That maybe your natural instinct - but it might not be that guy's. What evidence do you have that his instinct was not to help. Maybe his instinct said help but his conscious thought tried to over rule it "Don't do it, it's dangerous, someone else will do it...somebody with more training and who hasn't just had a big meal....".

Yes and no. I contend that our natural instinct is the survival instinct but that our natural instinct can be adjusted by influences in our lives so that it does become more or less instinctive to do the unselfish thing for the benefit of someone else.

Modulous writes:

As humans, the instinct seems to be "go to extraordinary lengths to help out one of your own and go to extraordinary lengths to ignore or harm those that are not of your own." What is considered 'one of your own' is malleable. You could split 20 people into two random groups and members of both groups will feel they are stronger than the other team at whatever arbitrary task you assign them.

There does seem to be a great many people who do harm to their own and a great many people do good for those who are not of their own.

It seems to me that if you are going to make the argument that it is about maintaining your blood line then the only ones that would be considered 'one of your own' would be those in your own gene pool.

Modulous writes:

Convince someone that 'your own' includes your nation (With its Founding Fathers) and they might kill and die for their country (the best units are those with absolute cohesion...a 'band of brothers' you might say). Convince them it is their religious 'brothers and sisters' - and they'll kill and die for them just as easily.


Isn't that about being indoctrinated to overcome your natural instinct?

Modulous writes:

It is certainly beyond it's norm - but birds have been known to feed cuckoos and other bird's children to the point of self exhaustion (and have even fed fake birds setup by evil ornithologists, to exhaustion). Maternal and paternal instincts are incredibly strong - and if they 'make a mistake' the results can be striking.

Once again yes and no. I agree the paternal instinct can be strong but it also seems to end when the offspring mature and go off on their own. I know when we took our pup back to visit its mother there appeared to be zero recognition. This seems to be normal for all animals other than humans. If they lose the parental instinct for their own offspring then I'm inclined to think that there is more going on than just parental instinct in the case of the crow, although maybe less so for the gorilla.

Of course this is all just my opinion but it appears to me that animals, even wild ones, are capable of a degree of altruism that goes beyond their natural instinct.


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