Re: Proving intentionality and anthropomorphism
Thanks for this very interesting post, MaryLupin.
I'm not reading de Waal's book currently, but last week when my wife and I were at the Bronx Zoo we were quite taken with the African Wild Dogs. These pack animals and are said to be ruthless killers, but they also remarkably cohesive in their social groups. (I would imagine humans evolved much the same way during their hunter-gatherer phase.) Food sharing is a critical part of pack life. The dogs have been observed to care for their injured and sick, returning after a hunt to feed them or defend their access to a carcass. We might be tempted to see this behavior as altruistic, but is probably guided by Dawkins' "selfish gene." In my brief few minutes of research I've read that if the pack is on the move it will abandon those who cannot keep up. Survival is always the key.
William James (Henry James' brother) in his seminal book, Principles of Psychology
(published 30 years after The Origin of Species
), discusses our tendency to believe that human beings are above nature. We believe only animals are ruled by "instinct" and that humans are ruled primarily by "reason". But James took the opposite view, arguing that human behavior is more flexibly intelligent than that of other animals precisely because we have more
instincts than they do, not fewer. We tend to be blind to the existence of these instincts, however, because they work so well, because they process information so effortlessly and automatically. This tendency of ours to make the "natural seem strange" seems to be the same anthropomorphism that MaryLupin describes above.
James' work is one of the keystones of modern evolutionary psychology. Here's an excellent web site.http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html
William James wrote:
"It takes...a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange, so far as to ask for the why of any instinctive human act. To the metaphysician alone can such questions occur as: Why do we smile, when pleased, and not scowl? Why are we unable to talk to a crowd as we talk to a single friend? Why does a particular maiden turn our wits so upside-down? The common man can only say, Of course we smile, of course our heart palpitates at the sight of the crowd, of course we love the maiden, that beautiful soul clad in that perfect form, so palpably and flagrantly made for all eternity to be loved!
And so, probably, does each animal feel about the particular things it tends to do in the presence of particular objects. ... To the lion it is the lioness which is made to be loved; to the bear, the she-bear. To the broody hen the notion would probably seem monstrous that there should be a creature in the world to whom a nestful of eggs was not the utterly fascinating and precious and never-to-be-too-much-sat-upon object which it is to her.
Thus we may be sure that, however mysterious some animals' instincts may appear to us, our instincts will appear no less mysterious to them." (William James, 1890)