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Let's stop thinking we are superior to animals!

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The other path you follow is called evolutionary cognition, is not it?

Frans de Waal: Yes, it is a question of looking at the cognition of each species as the product of evolution linked to its environment. A dolphin, who lives underwater, does not need the same intelligence as a monkey, who lives in the trees; and bats are very good in geolocation because it allows them to find their way around, to avoid obstacles and to capture their prey; bees are experts in the location of flowers, etc. Each species has its specialty, so ask if the dolphin is smarter than the monkey or the bee has no interest. One consequence may be that we are less talented than animals in certain areas, such as in short-term memory, where chimpanzees beat us to a large extent. So what? Why should we be the best in everything? The desire to protect the human ego hinders the progress of objective science. We have been used to thinking that there is a scale of living beings, from the highest (us, of course) to the lowest (insects, molluscs or whatever). But in nature there is no scale! It is composed of many branches going in different directions. The hierarchy of living beings is an illusion.

But then, what is man's own?

Frans de Waal: This is a very French question! And who, traversing the centuries of philosophy, is for many in our anthropocentric approach to nature. To answer you, I like the image of the iceberg: its submerged part, the most important, corresponds to what brings together all the animal species, including us. The tiny emergent part corresponds to human specificity. The human sciences are crazy about this tiny bit! But for me, scientist, the iceberg is interesting as a whole.

Is this quest for the "clean of man" not linked to the fact that we must justify our exploitation of animals?

Frans de Waal: It is very possible. Previously, when we were hunters, a certain respect for animals had to prevail because we could see how difficult it was to find them and catch them. But to be a farmer is different: we keep the animals locked, we feed them, we sell them ... There is strong reason to believe that from this follows our very domineering and very simplistic attitude towards them.

Starting from your book, give a first example of human non-specificity: the use of tools ...

Frans de Waal: Not only many species use them, but many make them, whereas it has long been considered strictly human.An example: we present a transparent tube to great apes, but, being vertical and motionless, they can not catch the peanut that is inside. After a while, some decide to go take water from a nearby fountain and spit it in the tube to raise the nut. It is a very ingenious idea to which they were not trained: they must imagine water as a tool, persevere (make several trips to the fountain if necessary). Given the same problem, only 10% of 4 year olds and 50% of 8 year olds have this idea.

This type of test also requires some self-control ...

Frans de Waal: Indeed, we often tend to think that animals are only instinct and emotion, while humans know how to control themselves and think. Except that it is impossible for anyone, including pets, to have emotions and not to have control over them! Imagine a cat who sees a bird in the garden: if he immediately follows his instinct, he will go straight on him, and the bird will fly away. He therefore needs to repress his emotion a little to slowly approach his prey, he is even able to stay hidden behind a bush for hours, to consider the opportune moment. Another example: the hierarchy, very present in many species such as primates for example, is based precisely on the repression of instincts and emotions. Do you know the marshmallow test? We place a child alone in a room, sitting at a table, with a marshmallow in front of him, and we tell him that if he does not eat it, he will have a second one when he leaves. Some children are very good at mastering themselves, others not at all. We also did this test with great apes and parrots. They are able to control themselves as well - and others as badly! - only children. This disturbs many philosophers, because it means that men are not the only possessors of the will.

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