In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view. Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.
The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.
Dogs have long been considered property. Though the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and state laws raised the bar for the treatment of animals, they solidified the view that animals are things — objects that can be disposed of as long as reasonable care is taken to minimize their suffering.
But now, by using the M.R.I. to push away the limitations of behaviorism, we can no longer hide from the evidence. Dogs, and probably many other animals (especially our closest primate relatives), seem to have emotions just like us. And this means we must reconsider their treatment as property.
Seems a ludicrously roundabout way to “prove” something readily apparent to anyone who’s ever spent a sympathetic moment around dogs, but whatever; maybe something useful will come out of the trendy obsession with brain scans after all.
October 10, 2013 @ 2:32 pm
Science needs measurements to be objective. It's frustating to see smart people confuse such measurements with subjective experiences and values. The measurements indicate no such thing and I'm sure you could find similar measurements for mice, and, extrapolating, nemotodes. Will we then grant mice citizenship? I notice that you are forgetting to mention your antipathy for humans when you point out that dogs have similar feelings. But dogs likely have those feelings because they were raised by humans – not that they aren't real and valuable, but science is never going to discover that kind of value because it is subjective – it can't be measured. I call myself a Buddhist because having compassion for all beings is the right thing to do. Assigning value by electro-biochemical response is foolish: of course other mammals have similar feelings.
October 12, 2013 @ 10:13 pm
It makes me think somehow of Descartes and his assumption that, having no souls, animals are just cleverly built machines, and the noises they make when you take them apart aren't actually indicative of pain.
October 13, 2013 @ 7:34 pm
Of course, we, too, are just cleverly built machines, and if avoiding pain motivates me so much, then I am obligated to be concerned about its occurrence in all other instances.
The idea that the amount of pain an organism can experience depends on its neurological functioning, which I'll grant as an updated version of Descartes' argument, must be right. Plants and jellyfish just don't have it in them. That means that there is a continuum of profundity of experience of which humans are perhaps the apex. It's the idea that humans are so much different from other animals that we don't owe them any compassion that is wrong. I agree with you: you don't need advanced neurological tests to see this.
October 13, 2013 @ 7:39 pm
Related and telling: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=rats-laugh-but-not-like-human
October 15, 2013 @ 1:51 am
I can't remember where I know Panksepp's name from…
October 17, 2013 @ 6:22 pm
Well it seems like the kind of thing that would be discussed here, but I got this from several sources, I think. It makes me feel like a German civilian in Nazi Germany, knowing that something terrible is going on, but powerless to stop it. Yes, I'm comparing the treatment of animals to the Holocaust. I can't help it – that's what it seems like to me.
October 18, 2013 @ 2:10 am
I'd agree with that.
October 19, 2013 @ 6:52 pm
To be clear, the way humans treat each other breaks my heart, too.