Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Harry Harlow and his monkeys: being cruel to be kind?


While researching my recent series on questioning authority, I got the idea to write a post about the seminal Milgram experiments on obedience to authority.

But while researching that post just now, I got sidetracked. This happens quite a bit with me, a phenomenon I like to think of as blogger ADD, or BADD.

So now I'm writing about Harry Harlow and his monkeys, and Milgram will follow in due time.

Why Harlow? A fascinating and troubling character, ethically controversial but well-designed research, and results that helped transform the advice given to parents on child-rearing.

When I was a psych major back in college, part of our learning experience involved--as you might expect--studying psychology experiments. Many were of the so-called "rat psych" variety, and some were of a more clinical nature. Then much later, while getting my clinical Master's in the early 90s, I had to read many more. In between, I actually worked as a social science researcher in a place with a sterling reputation. So I've done my time--and more--in the field of psychological research, including being a subject back in college (I remember interminable sessions with what was known as a "memory drum." Bloody boring.).

But I must admit (or is it confess?) that too much social science research is "garbage in, garbage out." Not all of course, but quite a bit. Some of this is the fault of sloppy methodology. But most of the problem may be inherent in the nature of the beast of social science research itself: too many variables to control for, too many unknowns.

But even social science has some experiments so very wonderfully done, and with such fascinating results, that they not only impressed me when I first encountered them, but they stayed with me and inform me still.

One was the famous "learned helplessness" research, in which dogs who received painful electric shocks without the possibility of escape learned that their efforts to avoid the pain were futile. Later, when they received shocks in a situation in which they were able to escape, they didn't even try. Another was the perhaps even more famous case of the Harlow monkeys. Still another, of course, was Milgram's research on obedience to authority.

The first two involved cruelty to animals in those pre-PETA days. The third involved feigned physical cruelty (and, some would argue, actual psychological cruelty) to humans. I'm no PETA member, but I've seen the visuals on Harlow's monkeys and the shocked dogs--both the films and the still photos--and they are disturbing to watch.

Harlow's research wasn't limited to the esoteric halls of academe; his surrogate-mother monkeys became well-known through a feature in Life magazine in the 50s, where I first encountered them as a young child.

There was something haunting about those photos. I could hardly take my eyes away from the mournful expressions of the baby monkeys Harlow had taken away from their mothers and raised with two "surrogate mothers"--a wire one with a bottle attached, where the baby could get its nourishment, and a cloth one the baby could cling to for comfort (see photo that begins this essay).

And cling they did:


Before Harlow, many psychologists thought that the mother/infant bond was based on the nourishment provided. Harlow theorized that touch and comfort were even more crucial--if not in keeping the infant alive, then in keeping it emotionally healthy. This may seem self-evident today, but at the time it was revolutionary.

Harlow's experiments exemplify the paradoxical nature of research that subjects animals to some sort of cruelty and yet yields results that can benefit humans.

Here's a description of what actually happened to Harlow's monkeys:

When the experimental subjects were frightened by strange, loud objects, such as teddy bears beating drums, monkeys raised by terry cloth surrogates made bodily contact with their mothers, rubbed against them, and eventually calmed down. Harlow theorized that they used their mothers as a “psychological base of operations,” allowing them to remain playful and inquisitive after the initial fright had subsided. In contrast, monkeys raised by wire mesh surrogates did not retreat to their mothers when scared. Instead, they threw themselves on the floor, clutched themselves, rocked back and forth, and screamed in terror...

In subsequent experiments, Harlow’s monkeys proved that “better late than never” was not a slogan applicable to attachment. When Harlow placed his subjects in total isolation for the first eights months of life, denying them contact with other infants or with either type of surrogate mother, they were permanently damaged. Harlow and his colleagues repeated these experiments, subjecting infant monkeys to varied periods of motherlessness. They concluded that the impact of early maternal deprivation could be reversed in monkeys only if it had lasted less than 90 days, and estimated that the equivalent for humans was six months. After these critical periods, no amount of exposure to mothers or peers could alter the monkeys’ abnormal behaviors and make up for the emotional damage that had already occurred. When emotional bonds were first established was the key to whether they could be established at all.


But the story is actually worse than that. It turns out that even the contact comfort of a cloth surrogate mother was not enough to raise a healthy monkey. All of Harlow's monkeys had severe disruptions when they grew up--for example, they could not mate.

You might ask: what's the point? Isn't this stuff obvious? Who needed an experiment to prove it? But that's 20/20 hindsight; at the time, Harlow's results sent shockwaves through the psychology community:

What may seem obvious to us now...was as counter to the conventional wisdom in psychology in those days as Galileo's ideas were to the astronomy in his day...The field was dominated by the behaviorist theories of psychologists like B. F. Skinner and child development theories exemplified by John Watson, who used his presidency of the American Psychological Association to conduct a personal crusade against cuddling children.

Harlow's carefully executed and presented research sent shockwaves through the psychology community, eventually discrediting behaviorism and many other -isms under the extraordinary force of the information he collected. His voluminous hard data replaced what previously had been anecdotal evidence in fledgling schools of thought, providing a much-needed scientific basis for theories like attachment theory, humanistic psychology (Abraham Maslow was his first graduate student), and patient-centered therapy.


And what of Harlow himself? According to this Boston Globe profile, he was a troubled and contentious man. His life included two broken marriages, alcoholism, and depression (did he, perhaps, have only a cloth mother, too?)

Harlow didn't even like monkeys--or animals--at all, which undoubtedly made it easier for him to conduct his research:

Harlow felt no kinship with his test subjects. "The only thing I care about is whether a monkey will turn out a property I can publish," he said. "I don't have any love for them. I never have. I don't really like animals. I despise cats. I hate dogs. How could you love monkeys?"

Harlow fired off some excellent bon mots, including this one:

[Harlow] was at a conference one day, and every time he used the word "love" another scientist would interrupt and say, "You must mean proximity, don't you?" until at last Harlow, a brash man who could also be strangely shy, said, "It may be that proximity is all you know of love -- I thank God I have not been so deprived."

But one wonders. If the original experiments were dark, later ones (after his divorces and electroshock treatments for depression) grew far darker, and entered the realm of sadism. I'm not using this word lightly; see whether you agree with me:

[Harlow] built a black isolation chamber in which an animal was hung upside down for up to two years, unable to move or see the world, fed through a grid at the bottom of the V-shaped device. This Harlow called "the well of despair." Indeed, it was successful in creating a primate model of mental illness. The animals, once removed, after months or years, were shattered and psychotic. Nothing Harlow did could bring them back. There appeared to be no cure. No way to contact, to comfort.

Harlow's earlier research was somewhat cruel, but it had a clear purpose and results that could be used to the benefit of humans. This later research (performed during the 60s) almost undoubtedly would not have been allowed today, whatever his previous reputation. It amounted to the torture of highly intelligent and sensitive animals, to no real purpose.

To me, it's a case of balance. Harlow's early experiments had elements of cruelty, but even before the experiments were performed it was clear that they could have some beneficial results for child-rearing (which have ultimately come to include advances in the treatment of premature and institutionalized infants, and the resurgence of breastfeeding). Furthermore, with those early experiments, the extent of the resultant disturbances to the monkeys' psyches was unforeseen and unexpected.

Harlow's latter experiments, however, seemed to have no redeeming social importance. The horrific results on the monkeys' psyches seem not only predictable, but inevitable, and it's virtually impossible to see how even the feisty Harlow could have argued, prospectively, of any real benefit to our knowledge of human nature likely to result from them.

In certain cases it may indeed be necessary to be cruel to animals in order to be kinder to humans. But Harlow's trajectory is a cautionary tale of the necessity to calibrate the two.

We may mock PETA for its excesses--I certainly do. But there are times--especially in the relatively unfettered past-- that research on animals can go too far. The trick is to make a considered and reasonable judgment about when that may be so, balancing the possible good with the probable harm likely to result. In that equation, people count more than animals, but animals still count for something.

25 Comments:

At 3:18 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

PETA's interesting. They make milk out to be horrible, giving you galstones and kidney stones and all kinds of nasty diseases.

Very impressionable upon the younglings.

I hadn't heard about Harlow in detail, although the monkey on wire maternity I do recall somewhat.

I think this has to do with the meta-golden rule. Treat your inferiors the way you would like your superiors to treat you.

There is an ethical gap if you derive benefits from cruelty, because it opens the way for a superior race to be cruel to you and benefit thus.

The loophole is of course, if you are in a fight to the death, and you need certain things, then the ethical gap doesn't apply.

It is very weird that Harlow with no maternal instincts or empathy, contributed so much to correcting negligence in parenting.

But of course, the problem would never have existed in the first place, had scientists not begun a crusade against cuddling. There would be other problems, culturally, like China's preference to abort girl children.

But some problems science creates on its own, requiring a drastic desperation to solve.

 
At 4:19 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger Stephen said...

Wonderful meditation, not only on Harlow, but on an intriguing aspect of human nature. There's an old joke that a psychiatrist is a doctor who can't stand the sight of blood. During a medical internship I was often struck by the frequency of the need to inflict pain in pursuit of a therapeutic aim. The more you did it, the more you, necessarily, became desensitized and dismissive of the suffering patient. Harlow may never have liked animals (I find that a little hard to believe)or he may have gradually, defensively desensitized himself to their suffering. Fascinating how often creative individuals, while adding to our knowledge, come very close to sadism. Look at how frequently novelists are cruel to those closest to them, rationalized as pursuit of 'art'.

 
At 4:24 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger cokaygne said...

The end justifies the means, eh? When Harlow started his experiments he could not have known that the result would prove the need for a mother's love and affection, although he may have suspected that. This is the arrogance of science.

It is distressing to see the rise of ignorance in our day. Much as I may admire Bush's goals in the war on terror, when it comes to science he has been a disaster. Not because of cutting funding of toys for physicists or failing to back Kyoto, but because he has cultivated a political base that is openly against science and openly intent on promoting religious ignorance in our school system.

But science is not blameless. By that I mean social scientists especially. They gain their knowledge by amorally manipulating their 'subjects', and then put their knowledge to use in the fields of advertising and politics for cynical manipulation of consumers and voters.

The result is that scientists are not trusted. They are just another interest group.

 
At 5:20 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger Sissy Willis said...

I seem to remember reading that torturing animals is a common symptom among children who grow up to become sociopaths.

Then there's the evolutionary spin on loved vs. unloved. According to a McGill study on rats, having both behaviors in a population is beneficial:

Oxytocin Dearest

 
At 5:51 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger Elmondohummus said...

"...research on animals can go too far. The trick is to make a considered and reasonable judgment about when that may be so, balancing the possible good with the probable harm likely to result."

True. I actually feel this is something that at least my alma mater is getting right, at least back when I was a student. I remember my undergrad biology lab courses, and talking at length with one of the grad student instructors about this exact topic. He spun me a story about how back in his day, rats and certain lizards would be euthanized with a pencil: Lay it across the back of the neck -- right at the base of the skull -- and apply a quick, sharp rap. Sounds cruel, right? This fellow's point, though, was that the then newer method involved gassing the animal to asphyxiate them. After watching some animals sit there and gasp until they asphyxiated, sometimes taking on the order of minutes (and not just two or three, since it was not an immediate introduction of gas), my instructor was genuinely distressed that this was considered a more humane method of euthanizing the subject animals. As harsh as the neck break was, he reasoned, at least it was quick. If I remember correctly, this was something the grad students as a group were discussing with some research over-governing group (not the IRB, but some entity that specifically had the word "Animal" in it's title, and held authority over what the university could and couldn't allow).

Now, I know this sounds like concern for the animal backfiring and ending up with the opposite, more cruel result, but that's not my point here. My point is contained in that last sentence: There's a continuing dialogue about what's acceptible and what's not, and it's being conducted by genuinely caring people. So that's a positive.

I also remember another professor who credited her ability to walk to animal research. She had hip replacement surgery, and was not shy about telling folks that the sheep used in the research saved her from being crippled (yes, she was a biology professor; no, I don't know if the sheep were euthanized or simply experimented on). Here's a person not shy about evangelizing the point that some suffering of animals justifies the results.

I think Neo's point is a bit darker than my own: Some research walks the line of being openly cruel by todays standards -- I don't know where I personally stand on the monkies deprived of motherhood, but I can clearly see where the issue can be raised -- or even exceeds that line (Neo's info above regarding Harlow's later experiments). Yet, where's the balance? Science has to wrestle with some ethical questions in research, and I'm really glad there's an ongoing dialogue.

By and large, the universities get the balance right, I think. Personally, I feel they go a bit too far in restrictiveness, but if the individual research teams are okay with the rules, who am I to say there's a problem? They may at times be overcautious, but the alternative can be truly hideous, so I can live with the overcaution.

And now for some controversy (and a potential thread hijack (sorry Neo!)): Since we're on the subject of ethical research, how do we feel about the use of results from the Nazi Medical Experiements"? Some of it was, frankly, garbage pseudo-science, true (remember Phrenology, as used as justification for the superiority of the German over the African (I think...)?), but I'm talking about some of the non-junk, potentially truly applicable research (Warning: Part of the linked story deals with a strongly controversial subject: Eugenics). The point I'm pitching out is the same as Neo's, albeit not related to animals any longer: What's the ethical balance between causing harm in research and producing benefits?

Discuss!

 
At 6:31 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

I remember this experiment from reading in my freshman year sociology class. How did we civilized become so devoid of soul and removed from God that we had to re-learn love? Or was rediscovering the value of life a natural beneficial phenomenon of our developing democracy? Or is this summary an ignorant condemnation, that humanity never understood the importance of nurturing our young? I suppose the important thing is -- now we know it. What do other cultures do in regard to engineering behavior [and for the better]? And in regards to for the better how does this help in regards to dealing with civilizations that show less, little, or no regard for the value of human life? When these civilizations put the dagger to our throat, does it help us fight harder to preserve what is precious? Or weaken us because we can not believe or comprehend cultural behaviors built on the opposite of what we take for granted? Is nurturing pretty much a progressive [and secular] singular development in the sum of the value of liberal democracies? Lots of questions – I like this topic :)

 
At 7:24 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger StenoNotes said...

xxx

 
At 7:56 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

In western culture, Christian iconography [Madonna and Child] provide ready evidence of the importance of compassion and caretaking toward children. Industrialization disrupted this practice; which is a reason why the Religious right was once the Religious left [the swinging pendulum]. Now we have moved beyond the hard foundation laying period of Industrialization and are resting easier – there is at least a ‘moment’ of leisure for families to bond. It was never easy and it’s not easy now – depending on the push or pull of the evolution of culture.

Liberal Democracies and Radical Islam are like two converging pendulums; repulsing, orbiting, clashing.

I’m probably babbling – I’ll shut up now.

 
At 10:32 PM, May 09, 2006, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

I do feel sorry for the monkeys but sorrier for my grandmother who was told by her pediatrician that holding her babies would harm them. And she would really damage them if they were fed more than every four hours from day one.

She was torn between her crying, hungry babies and the all-knowing doctor. She did what she thought was right but felt horribly guilty and worried that maybe she was harming her children by holding and feeding them.

 
At 12:36 AM, May 10, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

If you know much about the cruelty committed on animals by animals (even, or perhaps especially, by mothers on their young, or the young of others in their group) it's not so much the cruelty inflicted on the animal that is bothersome, it's the the ability of the human to do it, because, as previously mentioned, it opens the door to sociopathic behaviors. Once that door is opened, one only needs to see others as less human than they, and the sadism is permissible, perhaps even 'commendable'. The problem with PET A et al is that they place the importance in the animal, when nature clearly has not- they are inconsistant within their own worldview- what gives value to kindness to animals is human values, but they dismiss the humans that created those very values...

 
At 10:04 AM, May 10, 2006, Blogger Harry Mallory said...

Yes, you see, the monkey represents the proletariat deprived of his basic needs, which are manipulated by the capitalists. The capitalists, represented by Dr. Harlow at the bidding of his paymasters pick and chooses which monkey will have some, but not all of its needs fulfilled, thereby dividing the monkeys and setting them against each other.

/troutsky off.

 
At 10:53 AM, May 10, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I don't like treating our inferiors, which are called animals, in a cruel or bad way. The standard is, would you like a superior and advanced civilization to treat you that way? Obviously not.

However, the mitigating factors in this case was the fact that science had conducted a harm, it was the duty of scientists to resolve the problems they inflicted upon humanity with their "social sciences".

If mothers had not been told that holding their children would harm them, then the experiment would not be justified.

In the meantime, it is ONLY justified by those in the social science field. They were responsible for the harm done, they must be responsible for correcting it.

 
At 7:07 PM, May 10, 2006, Blogger Tom Grey said...

My 10 year old son was holding my hand on the way back from his music lesson. I liked it, and I'm sure he liked it -- I think it's easier in Slovakia than it would be in America.

My wife and I know we will be sad when our kids stop wanting to hold their parents hands.

The materialist benefits available to children don't eliminate the need to have comforting personal contact.


Healthy Christian families seem a lot more likely to give more physical, hugging comfort to kids than healthy secular families. Any studies on this known?

Bush's pro-Christian base has become "anti-science" when such is used to push anti-Christian values: no 10 commandments, no prayer in school, constant mockery and ridicule (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!); seemingly with the purpose to support promiscuous sex and the rampant abortions and disease such behavior more often leads to.

I have yet to hear of a study comparing pregnancy & abortion rates betwen a high school emphasizing abstinence and one emphasizing condoms.

When Science is used to enforce PC anti-Christian views, many Christians will naturally defend themselves, often effectively and offensively.

 
At 10:08 PM, May 10, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

Hey Tom -- I've been to Bratislava many times. Slovaks are a friendly, traditional, and good sense kind of people -- countryside is beatiful too.

 
At 6:14 AM, May 11, 2006, Blogger westbankmama said...

Great post! Two points about the ethical concerns:

1) Let's note that Harlow's experiment is poised at the very focal point of ethics in experimentation - paradoxically, most of us have no problem with experiments that inflict *physical* pain or death on animals to attain aims of *physical* healing. What disturbs here is that the pain is *emotional*, and the experiment is for that reason conducted precisely on animals that are *emotionally* similar to us.

2) Could those spouting the glib garbage about "superiors" and "inferiors" please clarify themselves - or else admit that they are talking gibberish?

We are not the "superiors" of chimps and other animals because we are stronger or smarter than them.

We are their superiors because we have a moral compass that is entirely foreign to them and their world, and does not enter into their own treatment of each other.

In other words, we're the only ones worrying about ethics.

What then is the analogue to those "superior" to humans?

The whole "if we treat chimps this way, others will be justified in treating us this way" is nonsense that dissolves on contact with a drop of reason.

 
At 1:59 PM, May 11, 2006, Blogger SB said...

Tom, is it really necessary to point out that...NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!!!!

 
At 2:27 PM, May 11, 2006, Blogger SB said...

Oh, never mind, Tom. One can never be too watchful for those sinister men in red...

We could say that the question has been asked as long as humans have hunted other creatures in order to survive. Don't many aboriginal people have myths and legends and customs to help rationalize the killing of prey? Like the animals are giving their lives freely to help the people feed their families. I'm mostly thinking about the Ainu and their bears - who are ritually killed but supposedly quite happy about it and immediately consigned to bear heaven. Also of cave paintings, e.g. Lascaux, which seem to have been a lot of trouble to make if the painters were just depicting meat on the hoof. I think the worshipful attitude toward the animals one hunts might help to assuage the guilt resulting from killing them.

Whether it's a positive development or not, science has taught us that killing is killing and dead is dead and no amount of mumbo-jumbo can alter the fact that the hunter (or scientist) has done the worse possible thing one can do to another living being. The same reasoning applies to torture. No rationalization is possible - only cold calculation: animal suffers, people are relieved of suffering. People are more important than animals, so animal suffering is justified. Thus the psychological fruits of secular humanism.

But there seems to be some irony here. A common attitude among religious people of the past (and some today) is that the entire world and all the creatures in it were created for Man's benefit. Therefore, it was OK to exploit and kill other living things. It was just God's natural order. Humans were more important than animals. Animals suffered, humans were relieved of suffering. Different reasoning than the scientist's, but reaching similar conclusions.

Frankly, I find the aboriginal's reasoning more realistic and compassionate. It recognizes the animal's status as another living being - perhaps even as an equal or superior being - and not just a complex biological system or a piece of meat. It recognizes the terrible but necessary tradeoff of taking another being's life in order to preserve one's own. And it tries, in some way, to make amends to the animal or the world or somebody for doing this deed. It deals with the act and the emotional consequences of the act.

There is another difference, too. Aboriginal hunters and religious people don't usually torture their victims. Not sure what that means...

 
At 3:05 PM, May 11, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

We are not the "superiors" of chimps and other animals because we are stronger or smarter than them.
We are their superiors because we have a moral compass that is entirely foreign to them and their world, and does not enter into their own treatment of each other.

Moral compass is a subjective judgement. It depends upon who you're asking. Likely, most people will say that they are the ones with a correct moral compass, and everyone else is wrong about judging him or her. Murderers think this way as well. Superior aliens will also have a different moral compass, therefore while I don't use moral compasses as a criteria of differentiation, it still makes people with different moral compasses superior to others judging by your criteria. There's not much use to that criteria however.

If I take the reasoning in quotes above, it would just support my conclusions, even if I would not use such a reasoning myself. If we are the superiors of animals because we have a moral compass that is foreign to them and their world, and does not enter into the treatment of humans on humans, then this justifies any alien who has a superior way of treating people, to judge us as their inferiors.

The whole "if we treat chimps this way, others will be justified in treating us this way" is nonsense that dissolves on contact with a drop of reason.

Not really. People like terroists and fascist dictators always treat people who are more powerless than they are, their inferiors, in an evil way. That justifies almost any excuse to get rid of the terroists and fascistic dictators, particularly using the same thing on them that they did on everyone else. This goes all the way back to the Crime Must Fit the Punishment.

People who study Ethics already know this. But the problem with the golden rule of treat others as you would like to be treated, is that it lacked definition. It runs into the basic problem of what do you do with people who will committ the cruelest of tortures upon the innocent, and yet protect their family? What about the criminals who act respectful towards people who are more powerful than they are, but prey upon the weak? In those situations, treat others as you would like to be treated, is meaningless without further classification of the "others".

Hence, the meta-golden rule. Treat people who are less powerful than you are, the same way that you would expect more powerful people to treat you.

There are too many ethical beliefs that hinge upon this, too many to list for that matter. But the one about defending against aggression, defeating fascism, executing barbarous murderers. These things come close.

Most Americans would not buy the philosophy that you should treat torturous murderers with mercy when the murderers showed no mercy to their victims (9/11). Some Christians believe in turning the other cheek, but that's their perogative. Fake liberals will say that you are becoming as bad as the people you execute, but the fact is we are just giving murderers what they asked for, what they knew was coming, and what the murderers themselves deserve. Giving people what they deserve is justice, it is not becoming the enemy.

The logic that the murderers used when they killed their targets, justifies in return, a more powerful entity killing the murderers. It's as simple an application of the meta-golden rule as is possible.

The US is morally justified to do the things I recommend to Iran, not based upon international law or some kind of "national security interest". It is justifed, ethically, because of how Iran treats their own citizens and the citizens of Iraq. They send weapons and funds to kill innocent civilians, just for power. THey brutalize their own women and children, just for religious control.

Those who would treat their inferiors thus, deserve nothing better from their superiors, the United States.

If we use Westbank's criteria, then it doesn't work for Iran, because their morale compass is different than ours, which would make them superior to the US? Not very workable.

 
At 5:21 AM, May 12, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

"But there seems to be some irony here. A common attitude among religious people of the past (and some today) is that the entire world and all the creatures in it were created for Man's benefit."

That's because they were. Lions think antelope were created for their benefit too.

"Therefore, it was OK to exploit and kill other living things. It was just God's natural order. Humans were more important than animals. Animals suffered, humans were relieved of suffering. Different reasoning than the scientist's, but reaching similar conclusions."

That's right. It reached similar conclusions to the scientist's because it is accurate. God's law or the law of nature, either way, we're special, and top dog on the food chain.

"Frankly, I find the aboriginal's reasoning more realistic and compassionate. It recognizes the animal's status as another living being - perhaps even as an equal or superior being - and not just a complex biological system or a piece of meat. It recognizes the terrible but necessary tradeoff of taking another being's life in order to preserve one's own. And it tries, in some way, to make amends to the animal or the world or somebody for doing this deed. It deals with the act and the emotional consequences of the act."

Rather quaint and romantic, your view. They feared going hungry, so if 'honoring' the killed animal (or the god/power that it bolonged to) kept game around, and stomachs full, they were all for it. It was a fear motivation (don't anger the great buffalo...), not so much a 'respect' issue, though it ends up granting some 'respect' to the creature- not that that is bad, but it ain't the motivation.

"There is another difference, too. Aboriginal hunters and religious people don't usually torture their victims. Not sure what that means..."

It means they're hungry, not bored. By the way, modern hunters USUALLY don't torture their 'victims' either.

 
At 5:22 AM, May 12, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

And what to make of cats that 'torture' their catch?

 
At 9:49 AM, May 12, 2006, Blogger SB said...

D - Good points. Maybe scientists are just more honest about their motivations than my version of primitive hunters.

It probably is a romantic view - I get my meat at the grocery store. My grandfather took me to a cattle auction once, and after that we visited the slaughterhouse. I got to see them popping the cows in the head with a bolt gun. The guys doing it didn't seem too guilty, and if they were praying it was probably just for Friday to get there sooner. Maybe hunters think the same way about their jobs.

So guilt about the treatment of animals is just a peculiarity of our non-hunter-gather, mostly non-agricultural lifestyle. We have the leisure to sit around thinking about what killing animals "means." (Or at least I do, sometimes, when I'm not thinking about women and booze.) And to project our guilt (those of us who feel it) onto the "noble savages" who have noble, mystical ways of dealing with it. If we were honest, we'd just say some animals kill other animals to survive and we're right in there with them.

So would that make us more or less civilized? And would it mean for the lab rats?

Oh - the guys who popped the cows in the slaughterhouse didn't spend their weekends torturing little children; nor do most scientists who perform animal research. So I'm not sure I buy the notion that killing or torturing weaker species "leads to" adult sadism. Torturing animals is a possible indicator of future mental pathology, not a direct cause.

And cats get a pass because they're cuter than scientists, Christians, or primitive hunters.

 
At 4:48 AM, May 13, 2006, Blogger douglas said...

"So would that make us more or less civilized?" I don't think it pushes one way or the other, in and of itself, but I tend to think good science is more civilized than superstition, usually...

"I'm not sure I buy the notion that killing or torturing weaker species "leads to" adult sadism. Torturing animals is a possible indicator of future mental pathology, not a direct cause.

Agreed, which is why I said "...it opens the door to sociopathic behaviors." The person is likely a sadist internally, but then the seal is broken, and inhibitions to acting on those tendencies is reduced or destroyed.

"And cats get a pass because they're cuter than scientists, Christians, or primitive hunters."

Fair enough!

 
At 4:39 PM, May 13, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Why would someone be guilty about animals being killed to feed them? I tend to think this was a result of Leftist indoctrination.

First it's the fairness issue, let's all share, you share your food even if you're hungry because otherwise you are a big meannie. I suppose with a few more years of that, we can go into guilty for being fed animal phase.

 
At 4:07 AM, May 15, 2006, Blogger Tom Grey said...

Neo, have you considered that, from an atheist viewpoint, organized religion is the "cloth monkey" of spiritual comfort, where the ONLY alternative is a wire no-comfort monkey of meaninglessness?

Which is why so many atheist groups become so unbalanced (Nazis, communists, greens?).

 
At 2:08 PM, September 16, 2008, Blogger Rick Bogle said...

Interesting piece. It's good that a few more people learn a little about Harlow's work.

You wrote: "Harlow theorized that touch and comfort were even more crucial--if not in keeping the infant alive, then in keeping it emotionally healthy. This may seem self-evident today, but at the time it was revolutionary."

This is the myth.

In fact, Harlow modeled his deprivation studies on the work of John Bowlby. This is clear and not in dispute. Bowlby published his WHO monograpgh in 1951. Harlow's Nature of Love was in 1958. They knew each other. Stephen Suomi, his best known student, says that his studies were modeled on Bowlby's theories. Bowlby based his ideas on the results of his WHO-sponsored review of mental health among the many orphans of WWII.

A set of papers examining Harlow and Bowlby's relationship is published on line. Links can be found here:

http://primateresearch.blogspot.com/2008/09/harlow-and-bowlby.html

 

Post a Comment

<< Home


Powered by Blogger