February 20, 2007
A response to "Feelings Do Not a Science Make":
Marian Stamp Dawkins' review of Jonathan Balcombe's book, Pleasurable
Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good, Macmillan, 2006.
BioScience Jan. 2007. Vol. 57 No. 1, pp. 83-84.
By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
Many scientists willing to concede that birds and other animals can
experience negative emotions such as fear, cry "anthropomorphism" and
"sentimentality" if you dare to suggest that animals can experience
happiness and pleasure, as well. Marian Stamp Dawkins, a professor of
animal behavior in the Department of Zoology at the University of
Oxford, who has done a lot of experimental research into "what hens
want," scoffs at the presumption that the individuals of other species
showing similar behavior to that of humans when eating, being touched by
their companions, playing together, or having sex, enjoy the experience.
She implies that people who believe that nonhuman animals have an
evolved capacity to enjoy life have abandoned the rigorous intellectual
standards that define the behaviorist science to which she subscribes.
According to these standards, "the existence of conscious feelings
cannot be tested empirically, and so the study of conscious emotions is
outside the realm of science."
Let us stipulate that there are dimensions of reality beyond science,
just as there are scientific prospects that are beyond behaviorism. This
said, there is a correlation in human life between things that we must
do to survive and perpetuate ourselves and the pleasure we derive from
doing these things. We have to eat to live, and eating is a primary
pleasure in human life. We have to have sex in order to perpetuate our
species, and sex is a primary pleasure in human life. We have to play in
order to relieve tension -- and (to risk tautology) enjoy ourselves. Why
would it be more plausible, or plausible at all, to assume or conclude
that other animals, engaging in the identical acts of eating, touching,
playing together, and having sex that we do, have not been endowed by
nature with the same incentives of pleasure and enjoyment to do the
things that need to be done in order to survive and thrive?
If we subscribe to the idea that we can never learn or make logical
inferences about emotions, the same restriction applies to the emotions
of human beings as well as to inferences about an animal's, or anyone's,
fear. Why should we believe Marian Dawkins when she writes that
Balcombe's book about animal pleasure left her with a "depressing
feeling"? Why tell us about her feelings, which can't be proved?
In addition, there are studies being done in which the pleasure centers
in nonhuman animals' brains are stimulated in such a way as to encourage
or compel the animal to seek to perpetuate the pleasurable feeling, as
indicated by his or her behavioral response to the stimulus. Do I err in
my recollection that science has identified areas of the brain in
certain species of nonhuman animals that are responsible for feelings of
pleasure in those species?
Also, there is a standard of intellectual inquiry that calls for the
simplest, most reasonable explanation of a given phenomenon. If I see
sad body language such as drooping in one of our chickens, I conclude
that the chicken is not feeling well and that this feeling probably
reflects an adverse condition affecting the chicken. Conversely, if I
see a chicken with her tail up, eating with gusto (pleasure!), eyes
bright and alert, I conclude that her condition is good and that she
feels happy. Why should I doubt these conclusions when the preponderance
of evidence supports them?
What I see in scientists like Marian Dawkins, who scold people for
daring to infer (or to argue) that recognizable expressions of happiness
in an animal most likely mean that the animal is feeling good, is
stinginess, a niggardly attitude and a crabbed spirit hiding behind a
guise of so-called objectivity and principled, never-ending doubt.
Probably when a person views nonhuman animals mainly or entirely, for
years, in laboratory settings that elicit little more than dullness and
dread in the animals being manipulated for study, one loses one's sense
of continuity with these "objects," while extrapolating the deadening
anthropomorphic determinism of the laboratory environment to the entire
world, excepting one's own professional culture.
It could be that, over time, these circumstances have the effect of
eroding the capacity for spontaneous happiness and pleasure in the
behaviorist to such an extent that the behaviorist's own diminished
emotional capacity becomes the scientific standard by which she or he
judges everything else. When this happens, the so-called science is
little more than self-massage, the scientist little more than a
self-medicator, a self-referential system incapable of making a
worthwhile contribution to life outside the institution.
Karen Davis is the president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, a
nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful
treatment of domestic fowl. For more information, visit:
www.upc-online.org and www.upc-online.org/karenbio.htm.