There are events happening now
in animal groups that are dramatically bringing humanity to the realization
that many animals live much as humans do, and react in ways that humans do to
both good events and bad. Unfortunately, as destruction of the
environment becomes more accepted by humanity as a way to accelerate the
economy, these behavioral events are bad. The results of these events
are in the form of conflict; humanity is now being forced to accept that the
animal world can be affected just as humans are by stress and trauma.
And because one of these species being negatively affected is actually large
and intelligent enough to defend itself, it is apparently retaliating against
humanity in kind, with violence. This is humanity is transforming the
As demonstrated by Ha's skepticism of empathy in animals, even as he witnesses it, researchers faced with examples of empathy, as often as not, deny it exists. Fortunately scientists are trained to cite their observations factually when conducting studies, and their findings will contribute to the development of knowledge if the experiments are well designed despite the possible skepticism of the scientists.
An important study explaining relationships that elephants have within their communities occurred when an elephant community matriarch was bit by a poisonous snake, and then died slowly as a result of the poisoning. The fortunate aspect of this tragedy was that it was closely observed by a scientist who carefully documented the event, and published the results. He is himself skeptical about empathy in wildlife, though he cares very much about the elephant's survival.
The researcher, Douglas-Hamilton, states that "compassion or suffering among surviving elephants who encounter and interact with ailing or dead ones remains so far unanswered" at the beginning of his paper about the observations of the death of this elephant. The descriptions, and especially the photographs, are remarkable in describing the incident and give strong support to the vast wealth of nature observations that are usually dismissed as anthropomorphism, the projecting of human values and emotions to non-human subjects. In the conclusion section of the report, Douglas-Hamilton says that he is led
"to the conclusion that elephants have a generalized response to suffering and death of conspecifics and that this is not restricted to kin," and that "elephants and humans may share emotions, such as compassion, and have an awareness and interest about death."
His mention of "kin" relates
to another important belief of his from his observations that "evolutionary
thinking would suggest that it could have a selective advantage, especially if
it increases the fitness of surviving kin," for the explanation of the
existence of compassion, extended further to the concept of empathy, as a
necessary component of nature.
From reading Douglas-Hamilton's biographical information I found he loves elephants. His documentation comes through an organization called "Save the Elephants," so he must love elephants. Yet his approach is typical of cold scientists such as Dawkins; we seem him try to explain away empathy as a genetic advantage mechanism. Of critical importance to the discussion of empathy in nature is the discussion of the reason for empathy. Douglas-Hamilton states that elephants and humans "may" share the mechanism of emotional reactions, yet states that his belief for the existence of the emotional mechanism is to benefit family growth by giving a genetic advantage. This implies that emotions exist within wildlife only to increase particular family size as a product of the evolutionary process. The observation extends emotional concern outside of the family, so if he clings to his reasoning for the existence of emotions in nature --family growth-- then he now has to extend it to the entirety of the elephant population. In other words, Douglas-Hamilton now has to accept that, according to his thinking, that species survival is a mechanical product of genetics. He appears to strongly promote the biological concept of selfishness in genetics. Because his observations complicate his views to a point where his perception of nature may become dismantled, he guardedly uses the words "may share emotions" with humanity instead of outright saying that elephants "have been observed to have emotions" also seen in humanity.
A further even larger contradiction emerges; it is possibly one that may shake the culture of biological science at its core, eliminating major sections psychological and social research from relevant study. Douglas-Hamilton must tell us now if he believes that humanity is genetically engineered by evolution to behave certain ways; that the compassion he undoubtedly feels for his family, and even the elephants, exists only to give him a genetic advantage to expand his genetic line, and therefore his species. None of the great thinkers that I quote even imply this, least of all Darwin. Darwin shows that evolution has produced social affection, his term for empathy. He does not mention genetic advantages, only implies that life is improved, and that mate selection may be influenced by the desirability of affection in a mate, simply to improve life. The genetic selection, in the case of human mate selection, happens at the point of the inception of the relationship. There is no long term influence to the mutual satisfaction of love reaching us from the time when cells first started replicating. The long term benefit of affection for us as humans, Darwin says, is the continual refinement of humanity, which is rooted in our animal heritage.
Douglas-Hamilton is a very good person, and he is clearly successful at his life's work, which is to benefit elephants. Yet he belongs to the culture of evolutionary thinking that has pulled away the very principle of evolution as explained by its founding principles, that evolution is what it sounds like, a process of continual improvement.
As with all the concepts of
evolution, the development of the concept of memes is also revolutionary; the
concept of the meme shows us how complex meanings combining subjective and
object components can be transported as a unit of sophisticated
learning. Yet, like the cold evolutionists, the developers of the meme
concept never relate it to empathy, and they even deny that it is a form of
education; they call it imitation. The meme communication process is far
more than imitation. These scientists deliberately separate themselves
from the widely recognized reality that existence, along with survival, is
dependent on emotional interaction, and that nature has provided us, and the
animal world, with the tools of thinking and communicating. These tools
give us an emotional experience that can only be
as warmth, the
sophistication of these mechanisms are so advanced that their analysis has to
be moved up to another layer, one above the component layer that the cold
evolutionism of the selfish gene cannot hope to explain. Selfishness is
a cold concept, whereas increasing evidence from both human and animals
studies points to a warmer, even hotter, understanding for the psychological
layer of biology. The minds of both animals and humans are designed to
interrelate on an emotional level. Mirror and
spindle neurons exist to accelerate not only all the empathic components,
including memes, but accelerate the evolution of understanding itself.
It is now being assumed by researchers that mirror and spindle cells will be
found in many more species. I suspect that parallel biological
components to spindle and mirror cells that promote empathy will be found in
all warm-blooded animals to help explain my observations of human-style
behaviors in the chipmunk, the mother mouse, and the turkey
Douglas-Hamilton's experiment-style observation of the dying elephant matriarch, and the behavior of her family, creates information that cannot be easily disputed. Unfortunately the vast bulk of information about wildlife comes more from large numbers of observations and reports which, while confirmable, are not considered scientific evidence; they are considered anthropomorphic. Yet when taken as a whole, and treated conservatively, they lead to far reaching conclusions about the conditions and experiences of wildlife all over the world; they make Douglas-Hamilton's findings appear even more conservative than Douglas-Hamilton himself intended.
Elephants all over the world have lived harmony with humanity since the beginning of human civilization, yet now there is conflict triggered by the sudden economic expansion of globalism, with its uncontrolled resource exploitation. Elephants from South Africa to Southeast Asia are involved in attacks against humanity and other wildlife in ways that have never been observed before. What is blamed is the disruption of what is described as an elephant culture. The brutality of humanity in its ways of dealing with wild animals is now being inflicted back on humanity by elephants. Elephant groups are retaliating against humanity in ways that are normally thought of as being human, as when humans rebel against the forces of brutality. (Seibert)
Elephants groups, or communities, are suffering from the fracturing of families, loss of resources, and the committing of horrific acts against them. This is being done in such a way that elephants can see both the aggression against them and the results of the aggression happening right in front of them: it is the mass slaughter of highly aware beings. It is widely assumed that spindle and mirror cells will be found in elephants as soon as studies can progress in that direction. It will then be widely accepted that each elephant fully understands what humanity is doing to them, and that they are communicating these conceptualizations of horror to each other, and to elephants in other elephant groups. It is also well known that elephants develop and co-exist in ways that are similar to humans, and that they show extended sympathy even outside their species.
Truly interesting behavior was cited in a piece by Charles Seibert in his New York Times Magazine article, Elephant Crackup. He said while in Africa, his driver
"mentioned to me an odd little detail about the killing two months earlier of the man from the village of Katwe, something that, the more I thought about it, seemed to capture this particularly fraught moment we’ve arrived at with the elephants. Okello said that after the man’s killing, the elephant herd buried him as it would one of its own, carefully covering the body with earth and brush and then standing vigil over it." (Seibert)
The New York Times Magazine article supplies information bringing us to the conclusion that elephants are highly empathic in the ways humans, and that they are suffering in the ways humans do when stressed and traumatized. He interviews Bradshaw, who criticized the torture of mice in the experiment cited above. Bradshaw told Seibert that
‘‘The loss of elephant elders, and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.’’ and that "orphans who’ve watched the death of their parents and elders from poaching and culling, exhibit behavior typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related disorders in humans: abnormal startle response, unpredictable asocial behavior, inattentive mothering and hyperaggression." (Seibert)
Most amazing, also cited by Seibert, is the possibility of a form of rebellion by elephants across their biome ranging from South Africa to Southeast Asia. There is speculation that because elephants can communicate over miles by vibrating the earth, they have coordinated their struggle against humanity. This may seem both paranoid from the human perspective, and optimistic about the social abilities and intelligence of elephants, but elephant communication is both expressive and can travel tens of miles. If you combine these communication skills elephants have with both the nature of group and community efforts, and the concept of community knowledge, then the hypothetical possibility exists of an elephant rebellion. Through communication, and with empathy, any minds can be drawn together into sophistication far beyond the efforts of a single human, in this case an animal minds.
"Barely audible to human ears, perhaps, but elephants call in infra-sound – below the range of human hearing – and so he may have been communicating with other elephants miles away." (Seibert)
It is common knowledge for us that we as humans can spread information quickly and very far with a rippling effect, as in the spreading of a rumor. Consider this along with Seibert's description of elephant communication in relation to the idea of biome wide rebellion:
"When communicating over long distances — in order to pass along, for example, news about imminent threats, a sudden change of plans or, of the utmost importance to elephants, the death of a community member — they use patterns of subsonic vibrations that are felt as far as several miles away by exquisitely tuned sensors in the padding of their feet." (Seibert)
We are learning continually that animal intelligence far exceeds what we have been told by scientists in the recent past; search of the Internet brings new information daily about animal perceptions, communication, and intelligent activities.
Self-actualization: living things expand in their environment to reach their maximal potential
The alternative to the cold science "genetic advantage" idea was proposed by the Humanists Rogers and Maslow long ago: self-actualization. Rogers describes life itself as having purpose; the nature of life is to allow each living thing to fulfill its maximal potential. Rogers defined self-actualization for himself when he was thinking about mental patient clients stuck in the back wards of hospitals nearly a century ago. They were having the worst lives imaginable, suffering from within, in the pre-medications era of his early career. He said that despite their suffering, each of his patients got up every morning and tried to make the best of every day, probably with the help of his expert empathy. He gave credit for his discovery to a barrel of potatoes his parents kept in their basement when he was young; each potato tried valiantly to create a sprout that would reach up for the light of the dirty basement window above the barrel, trying to make the best of its existence. This potato example was not for him just an analogy, but life's reality. (Rogers)
Everything, he felt, had this energy, but in humans and higher animals, this energy can be twisted and extinguished. Humans, when damaged, become self-destructive. These traits are increasingly being found in laboratory animals, and documented separately from experiments, simply because of the damaging nature of experiment labs, as well as the sadism of experimenters.
What alternatives do we have to the selfish gene approach? For many, the purpose of life is self-refinement; we have evolved to be better, not worse. Clearly life outweighs death; in every situation, no matter how bad; if people are given the proper beneficial social ingredients, life always gets better. Even institutions specifically designed to be unhappy places, such as factories or mental hospitals, can have happiness within them. The conceptual development of the factory deliberately ended for the farmer and the craftsman the sense of self-respect that came with self-reliance, yet the factory lunch room stands as one of the most popular social environments there is. In another example, the movie One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, the actors created for us a believable scenario where a ward of mental patients transcended their surroundings and became happy and healthy with hilarity. This is social self-actualization, and it is found all through humanity and the animal world; no matter how bad things are, they can get better as soon as the necessary social ingredients for improvement become available. In humanity, this means the release from oppression, usually in the form of authority, and a return to the natural and historical community of knowledge.
In a more geometric sense, maybe a view of this possibility of natural refinement in life as a result of genetics can be demonstrated by the beauty and refinement of a snowflake. The general order of things, according to physical science, is form order to disorder. However, in life, human and animal groups make things livable and then enjoyable and comfortable conditions encourage the formation of families. When a snowflake forms, it becomes well ordered. The order arrangement is described as fractal, and the study of the ordering is chaos theory. In the formation of a snowflake, its beauty comes from chaos. With this metaphor we can envision the possibility of a naturally warm gene that generally creates good things especially in animal families.