Esteban Rivas’s Blog has not been updated for quite a while now with new posts and announcements of lectures and courses. Early 2013 I renamed my company the Institute for Animals in Philosophy and Science. I then set up two new sites. One is in English and is called Institute for Animals in Philosophy and Science. At this site I only publish new posts in English, particularly when they concern announcements of lectures, seminars and courses in the English language. The other site is called Instituut voor Dieren in Filosofie en Wetenschap and contains posts and announcements in the Dutch language. Because I’ve concentrated on organizing lectures, seminars and courses in Dutch, you will find that the Dutch site in particular is updated with great regularity. So from now on, to find news about animals in philosophy and science and the lectures and other events that psychologist and philosopher dr. Esteban Rivas organizes, go to these two sites of the Institute for Animals in Philosophy and Science.
Category Archives: General
Starting on Wednesday May 18, I will be giving a course of 5 lessons entitled Communicatie en taal bij dieren (Communication and language in animals) in the city of Groningen for the Seniorenacademie Groningen (HOVO). The registration for this course is open until Wednesday May 4, so hurry to register for my course. I hope to see you in Groningen.
Click here to register for the course at the Seniorenacademie.
Click here for more information on the course itself (in Dutch).
Klik hier voor dit bericht in het Nederlands op mijn Nederlandse blog.
On Saturday April 2 and Sunday April 3 Marc Bekoff was in The Netherlands for a seminar. The ethologist Marc Bekoff is a former professor of Ecology en Evolutionairy Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder and he has done a lot of research and written extensively about play behaviour, morality, emotions and consciousness in animals. He’s done many field studies on the behaviour of wild coyotes and wolves. A few of his most important books are Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives (edited together with John Byers, Cambridge University Press, 1998), The smile of the dolphin: Remarkable accounts of animal emotions (Random House/Discovery Books, 2000), Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart (Oxford University Press, 2002), The cognitive animal: Empirical and theoretical perspectives on animal cognition (edited together with Colin Allen and Gordon Burghardt, MIT Press, 2002), The emotional lives of animals: A leading scientist explores animal joy, sorrow, and empathy and why they matter (New World Library, 2007), Wild justice: The moral lives of animals (together with Jessica Pierce, University of Chicago Press, 2009) and The animal manifesto: Six reasons for expanding our compassion footprint (New World Library, 2010). In 2000 he set up the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies together with chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.
The seminar was organized by Astrid Verkuyl and her colleagues at Dogschool Feedback in Aalsmeer. The seminar itself took place in the tropical garden of Tropisch Rozenland in Burgerveen, where unfortunately enough the airplanes coming and going to Schiphol flew over low, causing the conversation to stop for a while. Otherwise, the organization of the seminar was excellent.
In his seminar Bekoff spoke about the emotions and consciousness of animals, and the moral and play behaviour of animals. He also showed some great videos of playing dogs, coyotes, dolphins, and polar bears. Below I will present some of the interesting things that Bekoff had to say about play in animals.
Charles Darwin already said in The descent of man from 1871 that happiness and pleasure in animals can be seen very well when they play together. Even insects play together: “the lower animals, like man, manifestly feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery. Happiness is never better exhibited than by young animals, such as puppies, kittens, lambs, etc., when playing together, like our own children. Even insects play together, as has been described by that excellent observer, P. Huber (7. ‘Recherches sur les Moeurs des Fourmis,’ 1810, p. 173), who saw ants chasing and pretending to bite each other, like so many puppies,” p. 61. Where I’d like to mention that nowadays we wouldn’t talk about “lower” animals, the way Darwin does here, but about “other” animals, without there being a ladder from low to high, with humans as the pinnacle. The reference to Huber is something to find out more about, as his research on playing ants sounds very interesting.
Bekoff also said that many birds show play behaviour as well. Play requires cooperation, fairness, on-going negotiations, apology, forgiveness, trust, reading others’ intentions and beliefs (having a theory of mind), and empathy (where Bekoff referred to the possible role of mirror neurons in empathy).
Animals know that they are playing by the following behaviours. First, there are clear play signals, of which the play bow takes place in many animals (dogs and cats, as well as wolves, hyaenas, lions, etc.). These communicative signals are honest in nature. Deceptive use of play signals is extremely rare. Also, in play role reversal takes place. A dominant animal lets him- or herself be dominated in play, like in a chase game where the dominant animal is chased. Furthermore, self-handicapping is shown in play: the animals restrain themselves and don’t bite as hard as they can, but modify it so the playbiting doesn’t hurt. Animals also make continual micro-adjustments of their behaviour in order not to hurt each other. Wildebeests play very roughly, but they take care not to hurt each other with their sharp horns. Finally, the sequences of behaviour during play are very variable: there is hitting, slapping, mounting, jumping and other behaviours. Which is in contrast to for example aggressive behaviour, which is much less variable. In play behaviour we can see behaviours from aggression, mating and predation, but clearly accompanied by play signals and in a variable way.
Marc also showed a very nice video of playing dolphins, studied by Kathleen Dudzinski of the Dolphin Communication Project. Dolphins modify their communicative signals in play. They then approach each other from the side, and not the front, as they do in aggression. There’s also lots of affectionate rubbing with their pectoral fins. He also showed a beautiful video of a polar bear in Brookfield Zoo near Chicago who had grown up without his mother. Another young polar bear showed him his toys in order to get him to play. Eventually the orphan bear started playing at last. Some animals never learn to play again after a trauma like growing up by themselves. By looking at whether animals play or not we can thus learn something about their early development. The emotional well-being of an animal can also be read from its play behaviour.
Animals in the wild play less than domesticated animals. Young wild coyotes play about 2 to 3% and young deer 10% of the time. In the wild there has to be abundant food in order to be able to play, given that play itself costs a lot of energy. Baboon mothers restrict the play of their young when there is less food available. There is also a risk at predation when playing. Domesticated animals are usually provided with enough food and usually don’t run the risk of being the victim of a predator.
Other signals with which dogs, wolves and coyotes initiate play are the following. Besides bowing, they also bark, usually when the play bow has not led to attention from the other animal they want to play with. They also show exaggerated approaches, including a bouncing gait and rushing to one another. They also show face-powing, like a light slap in the face. They approach and withdraw back and forth. And they use subtle movements of the head, eyes, shoulders and whole body.
Bekoff has done extensive research on the play bow. It’s a stereotyped, fixed behaviour that is easy to recognize as a very clear signal that the behaviour that will follow is not aggressive. There are four rules of play in animals: 1. Ask first, 2. Be honest, 3. Mind your manners, and 4. Admit when you’re wrong (for example, dogs make a play bow when they have bitten another to show that they didn’t mean any harm). Marc has also written a fantastic children’s book about play in animals, Animals at play: The rules of the game (Temple University Press, 2008), in which he shows in a clear way the most important aspects of play in animals.
Next Summer Bekoff will be back in The Netherlands. He will then speak at the Minding Animals II conference, which will be held from July 5 to 12, 2012, at the Ethics Institute of the University of Utrecht. This conference will discuss the scientific, ethical and social aspects of humans’ interaction with and use of non-human animals. Click here for more information on the Minding Animals conference. Click here for Marc Bekoff’s website.
This is a picture of the famous chimpanzee Washoe yawning while sitting in the outdoor area of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute (CHCI) of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, USA. The picture was taken one morning in Fall 1995 during one of my visits to the CHCI for my dissertation study. Though my eventual conclusion on the chimpanzees’ signing was that their sign use cannot be considered linguistic, it is important to recognize the many similarities we humans have with other apes. One of them is yawning, as in the picture. It was always quite impressive to see the chimps yawn, as you got a good look at their big teeth and molars, dangerous weapons with which they can bite off fingers of uncautious, overenthousiastic humans, and with which they kill red colobus monkeys when the chimps hunt in the wild. Another observation I made several times at the CHCI is that the chimps cough just like we do when they have a cold. In fact, the cough’s sound was very similar to a human cough, which surprised me when I first heard it. Humans and other animals share similarities and differences with each other. It’s important to recognize both if we want to respect animals for what they are and treat them accordingly in an egalitarian manner. Find out more about Washoe and the other signing chimps by registering for one of my Communication and language in animals courses!
Yesterday it was Aids Memorial Day and in Amsterdam people gathered in the Dominicus Church to commemorate those who died of aids. There were several hundred people, gay, straight, transgender, from all kinds of cultures and nationalities. For the first time there was a speech by a muslim, Emir Belatoui of the gay muslim organisation Secret Garden. He spoke about the problems muslim people face when they are diagnosed with hiv/aids, often dying in loneliness, without being able to tell their family. Quilts were all over the church and in the middle was a big red ribbon where everyone could light a candle. It was very moving when the lights were dimmed in the church and hundreds of names were called out, of those who died of aids now and in the past (in The Netherlands there are still about 2 people each year who die of aids). This was followed by everyone standing and singing the moving aids hymn The Rose. We then walked in a parade from the church to the Torensluis bridge at the Singel, carrying white balloons with names of those who died on them. My lover Eric headed the group in his Scottish uniform, playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. Eric was diagnosed with hiv in 1987 and after several years of illnesses was saved by the medication that came available in 1996. He has been very lucky and we’re very happy he is one of the longtime survivors. At the Torensluis we let the balloons fly up in the air. The memorial day was like every year a moving social event.