What are we to make of this? Given that we are 99 percent chimpanzee, that we share largely the same DNA, is it really so impossible that they could appreciate something like a sunset? Or is that anthropomorphism? Are we projecting our thoughts and ideas onto another species, seeing the chimps’ behaviour through a human lens?
There's a thing I keep meaning to write about that always seems to get pushed off to some later date, about how people talk about non-human animal intelligence and emotionality as compared to our own.
Annoyingly, I can't find one of the things I wanted to quote, because it doesn't appear to be in my Kindle highlights for either of the two books in which I mostly likely found it: Life's Ratchet by Peter M. Hoffmann, or Life on the Edge by Johnjoe McFadden. It was a bit, I think, about the actual neurochemical processes involved in emotional reactions, or at least those involved in reacting to environmental stimuli in general. It implied (or, maybe, I inferred) that, in effect, our brains react to things and we generate explanations for those reactions only after the fact.
It's somewhat related to the idea that we might make decisions before we know it, as reportedly evidenced by brain scans.
Your brain makes up its mind up to ten seconds before you realize it, according to researchers. By looking at brain activity while making a decision, the researchers could predict what choice people would make before they themselves were even aware of having made a decision.
Whenever I read about the suggestion that we should be putting more consideration into non-human animal intelligence or emotionality, I think about these things and think that we talk about this the wrong way around. I think this suggestion mistakenly elevates what is going on in non-human animal brains , and does so because we mistakenly elevate what it going on in our own, human brains. We make more of our own intelligence and emotionality than perhaps is warranted.
At issue, I think, is the human drive toward storytelling, and how we apply it to absolutely everything.
When we developed the ability to tell stories, it was a clear competitive advantage. The moment one human ancestor was able to communicate to another that they'd been seeing mammoth down by the watering hole lately, and every time they leave, this same small one lingers for a bit, and if they two of them would just go there tomorrow and wait for that to happen they could easily take down the small one and then everyone would have meat for days, in this moment our ancestors had the advantage over any competitors who had not developed the ability to conceive of and communicate this kind of narrative.
Once we had this storytelling ability, the problem arose that it was something of a compulsion. We told stories about everything. We couldn't help it. We saw real patterns in the world and figured out how to tell others about them, but then almost everything became a pattern, many of them with meaning, whether meaning was there or not.
Stories about the outside world became things like religion and stories about the inside world became things like believing we were fundamentally different from other animals.
When we see intelligence or emotionality in non-human animals, I don't think it should be taken to mean those things necessarily are anything other than the neurochemical reactions of the brain any more than I think we should see our own intelligence or emotionality as necessarily anything more than the neurochemical reactions of the brain.
It's just that we tell stories about what they are, and why they are, and where they come from. We've generated post-hoc a narrative for our thoughts, decisions, and feelings, when all of those things perhaps are happening before we even notice them—whoever that “we” or whatever that “noticing” is. A stimulus action prompts an innate biological reaction, and then we tell a story that dresses up that reaction as a decision.
(All of which is exacerbated by time-binding, or the “characteristically human activity of transmitting experience from one generation to another especially through the use of symbols”.)
None of this means that we should treat neither humans nor animals humanely. I just feel like we have some things backwards and might mistakenly be elevating non-human animals because we won't consider the possibility that we've first mistakenly elevated ourselves. Maybe it's not that they are like us, but we are like them.
We're maybe not all that, is what I'm saying.