TICKLING a juvenile chimpanzee is a lot like tickling a child. The ape has the same sensitive spots: under the armpits, on the side, in the belly. He opens his mouth wide, lips relaxed, panting audibly in the same “huh-huh-huh” rhythm of inhalation and exhalation as human laughter. The similarity makes it hard not to giggle yourself.
The ape also shows the same ambivalence as a child. He pushes your tickling fingers away and tries to escape, but as soon as you stop he comes back for more, putting his belly right in front of you. At this point, you need only to point to a tickling spot, not even touching it, and he will throw another fit of laughter.
Laughter? Now wait a minute! A real scientist should avoid any and all anthropomorphism, which is why hard-nosed colleagues often ask us to change our terminology. Why not call the ape’s reaction something neutral, like, say, vocalized panting? That way we avoid confusion between the human and the animal.
The term anthropomorphism, which means “human form,” comes from the Greek philosopher Xenophanes, who protested in the fifth century B.C. against Homer’s poetry because it described the gods as though they looked human. Xenophanes mocked this assumption, reportedly saying that if horses had hands they would “draw their gods like horses.” Nowadays the term has a broader meaning. It is typically used to censure the attribution of humanlike traits and experiences to other species. Animals don’t have “sex,” but engage in breeding behavior. They don’t have “friends,” but favorite affiliation partners.
Given how partial our species is to intellectual distinctions, we apply such linguistic castrations even more vigorously in the cognitive domain. By explaining the smartness of animals either as a product of instinct or simple learning, we have kept human cognition on its pedestal under the guise of being scientific. Everything boiled down to genes and reinforcement. To think otherwise opened you up to ridicule, which is what happened to Wolfgang Köhler, the German psychologist who, a century ago, was the first to demonstrate flashes of insight in chimpanzees.
Köhler would put a banana outside the enclosure of his star performer, Sultan, while giving him sticks that were too short to reach the fruit through the bars. Or he would hang a banana high up and spread boxes around, none of which were tall enough to reach the fruit. At first, Sultan would jump or throw things at the banana or drag a human by the hand toward it, hoping to use him as a footstool. If this failed, he would sit around without doing anything, pondering the situation, until he might hit on a solution. He’d jump up suddenly to put one bamboo stick inside another, making a longer stick. He’d also stack boxes to build a tower tall enough to attain his reward. Köhler described this moment as the “aha! experience,” not unlike Archimedes running through the streets shouting “Eureka!”
According to Köhler, Sultan showed insight by combining what he knew about boxes and sticks to produce a brand-new action sequence to take care of his problem. It all took place in his head, without prior rewards for his eventual solution. That animals may show mental processes closer to thinking than learning was so unsettling, though, that still today Köhler’s name is hissed rather than spoken in some circles. Naturally, one of his critics argued that the attribution of reasoning to animals was an “overswing of the theoretical pendulum” back “toward anthropomorphism.”
We still hear this argument, not so much for tendencies that we consider animalistic (everyone is free to speak of aggression, violence and territoriality in animals) but rather for traits that we like in ourselves. Accusations of anthropomorphism are about as big a spoiler in cognitive science as suggestions of doping are of athletic success.
Learn more: What I Learned From Tickling Apes
The Latest on: Anthropomorphism
via Google News
The Latest on: Anthropomorphism
- All 24 Pixar movies rankedon October 11, 2021 at 7:42 pm
Pixar has released 24 feature films, here's how they stack up. When it comes to animation and moving storylines, Pixar stands out. Since the release of Toy Story in 1995, the world's first ...
- REVIEW: A sheep in human’s clothing? ‘Lamb’ takes anthropomorphism to a whole new levelon October 11, 2021 at 10:09 am
As we travel to Iceland, the film takes us to a secluded and timeless valley filled with foreboding fog, imposing inclines and oddly, hybrid human-sheep. Opening with the point-of-view of a ...
- Nymph Claw II, 201 , 2021on October 11, 2021 at 12:17 am
Available for sale from Eve Leibe Gallery, Signe Ralkov, Nymph Claw II, 201 (2021), Colored pencil on paper, 28 × 21.8 cm ...
- Bad week for Russian vodka, and moreon October 9, 2021 at 5:00 pm
Anthropomorphism, after a Chinese college student climbed into a zoo pen so he could hug a panda bear. “Yangyang was so cute and I just wanted to cuddle him,” said the student from his ...
- Study explores how a robot's inner speech affects a human user's truston October 4, 2021 at 5:00 am
Trust is a very important aspect of human-robot interactions, as it could play a crucial role in the widespread implementation of robots in real-world settings. Nonetheless, trust is a considerably ...
- Animals have dwindled in novels since 1835. Is fiction undergoing its own extinction event?on October 1, 2021 at 2:03 am
A new study argues that a disconnect with nature has led to fewer creatures appearing in fiction. But is that really the case?
- Friend or Tool? Designing Robotson September 10, 2021 at 6:40 am
“There is a widespread belief that a certain degree of anthropomorphism has a positive effect on how robots are perceived and how humans interact with them. But there are findings that suggest ...
- Custom House II, 2020on June 7, 2021 at 11:48 pm
Often humorous and allegorical, his paintings involve animals, architecture, and anthropomorphism. His canvases revive and repurpose familiar motifs, referencing folklore while finding new metaphors ...
- Anti-Anthropomorphism in the Greek Pentateuchon April 30, 2021 at 12:07 pm
It is in this strictly technical sense that the term anti-anthropomorphism is used in this chapter. In Ex. 15: 3, where God is called a man, Human feelings as well as human form are attributed to God ...
- Owner Perceptions of Animal Welfare, Facts and Emotionson August 17, 2020 at 1:31 pm
4 Although anthropomorphism would appear to be responsible for many of the benefits people derive from the company of animals, its effect on the animals are more equivocal. So what does this mean for ...
via Bing News