You would think the title of this article would be sufficient to “snap a bunch of folks out of” a behavior I have noticed appears to be becoming more and more prevalent over the course of time.
That behavior is to treat things as if they were people.
I can understand when people ascribe the properties more or less solely the province of personhood to animals—particularly the ones that appear to be more intelligent. I can understand it even if I don’t agree with it. In the case of animals, they are at least animate. This makes it so it can be assumed there is some level of thought occurring and expected with the animal in question.
Though things can be done to test, and observations can be made, to determine the apparent level of ability based on mental cognizance of a non-human entity, at least at this point in history, communication sufficient to confirm what’s happening is extremely limited. The result is, healthy skepticism should be employed when making any assumptions as to the relative mental acuity of any such animal.
Does that mean they lack intelligence? I have said, nor intended to imply no such thing. That being said, one of the first “truths” of science is that things are constantly changing in terms of what we understand and don’t. The result is that things we believed to be true a relatively short time ago, we now either question or outright denounce as fantasy or fallacy. Obviously, there are a fair few things that have not “changed” in terms of human understanding over the course of time; that doesn’t mean many of them won’t be challenged at some point, just the same.
With flora, it’s even harder to determine whether or not there are “mental processes” of some sort occurring. Far be it from me to state the impossibility of such things. On the other hand, dealing with things in more critical ways, I refuse to simply accept on the face of things that they are, either.
I want to keep an open mind for both fauna and flora, but keeping an open mind does not mean “blanket acceptance” of what some folks have decided is true, even based on apparent observation and experimentation.
I have often used the example—true or false—of the “scientist, measuring” the relative intelligence of folks of European familial origin, against those of African heritage to demonstrate just how important it is to be careful to not just accept what appears to be valid, complete research.
The story goes something like this:
A fellow is tasked with determining the relative mental abilities of individuals from Europe or of that “family,” as compared to people of African origins.
He performs a series of “measurements” and comes to the conclusion that people of European extraction are typically substantially more intelligent than those historically from Africa.
His research appears promising, so a group of scientists from other facilities come to perform “peer review” on his work.
The original researcher explains his methodology thus. “I start with the assumption that the larger the cranial cavity of a given specimen, the more intelligent that specimen will likely have been. With this in mind, I measure the cavity using lead shot (the type that was used in muzzle loaded rifles). I fill the cavity with the shot, then pour it out onto this scale. The heavier the result, the greater the anticipated intelligence of the entity with the measured cavity.”
The other scientists start out as open-minded as possible. Even so, the assumption that, to begin with, intelligence can be determined by the size of the brain, much less the cavity surrounding it, is noted as “shaky ground.” With that in consideration, they decide it is still worth their time to continue the peer review.
They watch as the scientist doing the “experiment” pours lead shot into the cranial cavity of an African subject. He quickly dumps it in, and pours it out onto the scale.
Now it’s time to do the same for the skull of a European. The researcher dumps in the shot, carefully tamps it down, and dumps in more. He continues this process until the skull is as full as possible. He then moves it from the cavity to the scale.
Of course, the weight is greater.
At this point, the peer review is invalidated, and the peer reviewers go home.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the research was “tainted” on multiple levels.
Firstly, the researcher presupposed things that were not inherently true, in that the size of a given brain, or the cavity that contains it, is a way to measure intelligence.
Additionally, he was obviously biased in his or her measurement! A trained researcher may spot many more errors in the “research cited,” but I think the two flaws listed are more than enough to invalidate the conclusions.
The point is obvious. Healthy skepticism is not just reasonable, it is essential. One ought not accept what folks are saying just because they seem to have credentials that indicate they are qualified to say it.
To this point, I have been discussing the idea of ascribing “human qualities” to living things. I make a differentiation between that which is living, that which is animate with definite purpose. It can be argued, by way of example, that a tornado or a hurricane is “animate.” The obvious “next question” probably should be, “Animated by what?”
Where a person like myself, who might make an argument for a “Higher Power,” might also make an argument that such a power might cause various “natural disasters” to occur as a result of some higher plan that is not understood or is questionably understood, those who are not believers would have a much harder time doing so, I would think.
Additionally, we should discuss the idea of things that don’t move naturally of their own accord. It is hard to imagine how folks attempt to imbue such things with human (or at very least, animal) attributes.
The point of all of what I have said is simple. I can understand wanting to “personalize” situations and circumstances. That being said, I cannot consider that a basis to attempt to turn things into that which they are not. That means, things like treating animals as human, or inanimate objects as living, reasoning things is somewhat beyond my ability to understand or accept.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t tend to think so.
As usual, more to say, but out of time and space to say it. Thanks for reading and may you happen upon good times.