anthropomorphism – you are like me

Anthropomorphism is any attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) to animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts (Wikipedia). It is human to see human responses around us, and we have the ability for abstraction. So we apply human patterns to animals and objects. “An evil wind blows..” Computers are “thinking”, when that little spinny beach ball or hourglass pops up. I assure you, computers do not think, they compute. And crash. And they do not have malicious thoughts by themselves, try to trip you up or attempts to confuse you originating from any inherited intelligence. It may seem that way at times though; “it is doing it again” is a classic line often heard on computer support. It insinuates that the machinery have a mind of its own, and  the user does not have any influence, responsibility or impact. This is what support people call pebkac. Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair. Most people would not see human traits in a cockroach, say, a frog or a shark. But we all do it, particularly to big-eyed, furry mammals. Large heads, big eyes and mammary glands seems to be a prerequisite. Of course, primates tops the list. It seems we have to see our abilities in them to have empathy. It has been argued for many years that for example fish does not feel. A preposterous argument based on no evidence whatsoever. Just a convenient conclusion. Sometimes the interpretation can be correct, but do not take it for granted. Sometimes it is wishful thinking. Let snoozing lion lie.   People read expressions in animals and get very very surprised when the animal does not react accordingly or do not understand that we are “the good guys”. There have been incidents where seemingly happy and domesticated animals have killed or mauled their owners. To much surprise, “Buster was such a happy, caring tiger”. Right. This is the – at times – very misguided idea that animals understands us, and we them. The obvious examples would of course be people like TImothy Treadwell that lived with grizzly bears, played with their cubs, and argued that he “communicated” with them and protected them. Until they ate him. A Darwin Award for eco-warrior Mr. Treadwell. And various people who have kept wild animals, believe to have them under control, and then being killed by them. It is not because the cat is malicious. It is because we interpret the behavioural patterns as similar to ours. Dressing up animals in human clothes we remove their species identity and apply our own. It is fun in myths and stories, and can work as metaphors, but it is not doing us or their species any favours. Cats and dogs, in particular, of course, as they have been domesticated for many many years are usually victims of this. We “know” each other. And we give them  toys in multiple colours looking like human-baby toys. Many animals have poor colour vision, so this is not for their benefit, but for ours. It is cute. Funnily, animals often are in that respect like human children: often they prefer to play with the box the gift came in, an old sock, a post-it or a twig. Any old rubbish lying around, and the expensive “pet furniture” stands untouched. I am not opposed to pet toys or brightly coloured things. But I am opposed to humans  applying our wishes and preferences on animals. Such as giving a cat a nightlight. I mean, really. Cats are predators, they hunt at night, their night vision and sense of smell and hearing leaves us in the dust. In fact, studies shows that cats see better at night than in daylight. Which means, that for the cats sake, turn the light off. cat mummy, national museum of natural history, DC For thousands of years, we kept cats to get rid of vermin. They had a job, to catch mice. Still there are famous mousers in the distilleries in Scotland that do a very important job. I love whisky, and I do not want any mouse poo in my barley, thankyou. I do not think those cats are cuddled much. I do not think they lie in front of a fire or on a lap (I have met a couple). Yet I do believe they are taken good care of (good mousers being hard to find), and I believe they have fine lives. A cat does not, from some mythical primordial state, natively belong in a human lap. Now, cats are pets, and the catching of mice is a nuisance. Our expectations of cats have changed. Over time, the cats with less ability to drag headless rodents home and dump them on the carpet might be the ones that win out. Certainly, cats that get along with humans, fulfil our expectations and wishes, will have better lives and better chances of survival and possibly reproduction. There is no such thing as the primeval original, when there is constant adaptation. A good life for a cat does not mean spoonfeeding or a loopy lady calling herself “mammy”, nattering on with babytalk. Just because they have soft fur, does not mean they appreciate or need being petted all day long. Our expectations of animals determine their quality of life and chances of survival. As these expectations change over time, so the animals will try to adapt as well as they can. Humans should not underestimate species other than our own, nor try to make them more like us. After all. A lot of us are not really all that nice.