Why are so many people drawn to conspiracy theories in times of crisis?
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I agree almost wholeheartedly with Dr. Bekoff here. Where I differ is in the difference between being empathic and empathetic, for one thing. One is a natural function of animals, but one that doesn't require a "sense of self and other." The other is the difference between feeling loss and feeling real grief.
I don't know much about Dawkins but I do know that one of the reasons we don't tend to make the distinctions I'm making goes back to the thought-centirc nature of Darwin's theory, or at least in how it's been applied by others (we have "smart" genes, "selfish" genes, and even plants and viruses develop "adaptive strategies," etc.)
Unlike Antonio Damasio and Jaak Panksepp, I divide emotions into simple and complex varieties. Simple emotions exist in both human and non-human animals. And the manifest on their own, with no thought process or internal narrative attached, For instance, in this article Dr. Bekoff makes what I think is a common mistake when he says that animals can feel grief. Dolphins, whales, and orcas can, primates may be able to, and it certainly seems as if elephants can exhibit something very close to it. But in my view there is a vast difference between simple feelings of loss, which come naturally to almost all animals* and true grief. Grief as we know it requires the knowledge that the person we've lost is dead and won't be coming back, which means an understanding of mortality and the mental ability to time travel. I think it also requires an internal narrative, one that's been pretty clearly elucidated by Kubler-Ross.
Can animals feel shock to see a dead companion? Certainly. Shock, and its aftermath, are things that can have a deep impact on animals. A big part of my practice as a dog trainer is helping dogs work past issues directly related to PTSD. There's no question that dogs at least experience PTSD.
And, as I suggest above, animals can be very empathic, meaning they can sense or feel what another animal is feeling. This is something that's innate to all animals (plants too, if we're to believe "The Secret Life of Plants"). So to have that feeling of being emotionally and empathically connected as part of your daily experience, and then to one day be there and suddenly feel no life energy coming back toward you from one of your companions would, I think, be very shocking indeed. But while the behaviors we see in animals clearly indicate (to me at least) this feeling of shock, they don't necessarily show an awareness of the other animal's mortality. The argument may be that while animals feel grief, they don't necessarily have to follow the Kubler-Rossian model. To which I would say, yes, but they don't necessarily have the software or hardware to engage in the kind of thought processes and internal narrative that marks the difference (in my model) between simple and complex emotions.
As for the rest of Bekoff's thoughts here I say, right on! I'm no expert on animals in general, but I can say for certain that dogs, particularly those who are kept as working or companion animals,** are one of the most emotional species on the planet. There is nothing anywhere on earth like the love you get from a dog.
*(Panksepp would probably relate this to the feeling of panic that social animals feel when separated from their group)
**(While village dogs are also emotional -- all canines are -- they don't have the same level or richness of emotions that they would get from interacting on a daily basis with a human animal...)
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