Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff, and Mccarthy, Susan Term Paper

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Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff, and McCarthy, Susan. When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. 1995: Delacorte Press.

In the prologue of this book, Massan explains that scientists have been carefully trained to believe that animals do not experience emotions. He dismantles that notion easily on the second page when he describes being charged by an enraged elephant. Unless anger is not an emotion, it's pretty clear that elephant experienced at least one emotion. Masson explains that scientists want to avoid "anthropomorphism," or attributing human feelings, attitudes or thoughts, to animals. With the story of the charging elephant, the author sets the reader up to have an open mind for what will follow.

One of the problems in attempting to observe emotions is in the nature of emotions themselves. They don't exist in a pure state. We talk about fear, and love, and hate, but usually what we feel is a mix of emotions. The author also notes that animals may experience different emotions based on their surroundings, or from species to species. In addition, the author points out that not so long ago, some humans believed that other human cultures or races that didn't experience as full a range of emotions as the superior Westerners did. Assumptions can lead to prejudice. He points out this kind of thinking by explaining that when people believe that animals have emotions, they are more likely to grand that they have negative emotions, such as fear and anger. They are less likely to suggest that animals might feel love, joy or compassion.

The reader might argue with those views. Anyone who has ever had a puppy knows that puppies feel joy, and it certainly seems to dog owners that dogs feel the emotion of love.

The author notes that we have put a lot of effort into demonstrating things humans can do that other animals cannot: laugh, worship, anticipate (p. 24). The reader notes that "use tools" used to be on that list. It can't be any longer because both chimpanzees and sea otters use tools. Chimpanzees will push a straw or small diameter stick down a to lure termites out so they can be eaten. Sea otters gather flat rocks that they lie on their stomachs. Then when they gather seafood, they beat the clams, snails or whatever against the flat stone to break them open. Reasoning, imagination and anticipation may be functions of intelligence rather than related to emotions. Another wrote that only humans contemplate death, but the author points out that this has been proven wrong, although elephants don't actually have graveyards, which was believed at one time (p. 96). In one of the most compelling chapters of the books, Masson and McCarthy write about the behavior of elephants around the bones of elephants who have died. They also describe elephants surrounding a dying female elephant, trying to lift her to her feet again and feed her. Elephants stroked her. Eventually most of the elephants left, but one female and her baby remained for some time, nudging her with a foot from time to time. Finally the other elephants called to her, and she left. This behavior suggests an awareness of dying, a trait animals other than humans are supposed to be incapable of (p. 95). They also describe animals who appear to grieve after a mate or partner leaves, and an elephant who cried tears when beaten for performing badly.

However, scientists are carefully trained to avoid assigning human emotions to animals, and those who do are criticized by their peers for it. Such a scientist is viewed as being over-emotional, and their conclusions are viewed as unreliable (p 32). Scientists emphasize this by naming research animals with letters and numbers, but the reader wonders if taking such a clinical approach to identifying animals isn't also self-protective. If the scientist or researcher is causing these animals pain, it might be easier to think of them as numbers than as "Smokey," "Curly," and "Rocky." The real problem, the authors state, is not anthropomorphism, but anthropocentrism, or assuming that animals are inferior to humans (p. 42). Traces of that view supported many racist views in the past as well - certain races of humans were believed to be inherently better than others. Anthrocentrism also attributed romantically artificial views of animals as beings who never murdered or did the other ugly acts humans are capable of. Jane Goodall, the famous studier of chimpanzees, however, observed chimpanzees killing other bands' babies. Dolphins can be aggressive. Animal cruelty does not approach the level of humans, but the capacity is there (p. 43).

The author points out that science holds rigid views regarding how they must write regarding animals: "A monkey cannot be angry; it exhibits aggression. A crane does not feel affection; it displays courtship or parental behavior." (p. 34). Masson's anecdote at the beginning of the book suggests that the elephant was angry. He had already chased the writer away; the mothers and their infants were safe. Nevertheless the elephant kept searching for the man. Masson was convinced the elephant was angry at him, and made a believable case for it.

Ultimately the writers make us aware that we must treat animals with high regard and consideration when using them in research. They point out that well into the 1980's, doctors believed that infants could not feel pain and routinely performed surgery on them without anesthesia (p. 32). The authors make a compelling case for requiring evidence, not assumptions based on our beliefs of biological superiority, when dealing with animals.

Masson's and McCarthy's anecdotes are compelling. They report that young African elephants who have witnessed other members of their herd murdered for their ivory "wake up screaming in the night." (p. 45). This suggests that elephants can relive past experiences and feel terror. In fact Darwin documented the facial expressions of animals he believed to be afraid (p. 49). Today's scientists would not be taken seriously if they made such claims. The authors also not that some species adopt the young of others, even young from other species (p. 75) including an amazing account of a mother rat who tried to get baby chicks to nurse. However, the authors do not persuasively make a case for emotion in this instance. Maybe the mother rat was simply full of milk and looking for relief.

Other remarkable anecdotes point toward friendship. For instance, a leopard raised with a dog as a companion played with the dog and never harmed her, but tried to kill other dogs (p. 80). But is that really friendship, or is it simply an animal understanding that those you are raised with belong to your pride, and outsiders are outsiders? The authors also documented instances where animals have pet animals themselves, such as the case of Koko the gorilla, who had a pet kitten. Koko had learned simple sign language and even named her pet - "All Ball." (p. 82).

At some points the authors seem to try to hard to make their case. They talk about the possibility of romantic love, and then quote Jane Goodall, who, although she saw many true emotions in the chimpanzees she studied, saw no signs of what we think of as romantic love. The authors say, "How do we know?" (p. 84). But it does seem that if anyone would have seen signs of it, Goodall would have.

The authors also see remarkable signs that animals may experience joy. They describe gorillas that put their arms around each other and make somewhat musical sounds. The authors point out that some things taken as smiles may not be, however. The structure of a dolphin's mouth makes the anima appear that it is smiling when really the "smile" is simply how the mouth is constructed (p. 113).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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