More evidence emerged this week that the ability to empathise with members of the same species, and even, in some cases, across species, is not unique to humans but is also present in non-humans. A paper published today in PLOS One by a team of researchers from Tokyo University showed that yawning is contagious in wolves (Canis lupus).
Yawning is generally regarded as an empathetic response when it is copied. It is very difficult for humans to stifle a yawn when someone near them yawns, and especially if that person is socially close to them.
We showed that the wolves were able to yawn contagiously, and this is affected by the emotional bond between individuals, which suggests that familiarity and social bonds matter in these animals the same way as it does in humans.The same has been observed in both common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (P. paniscus), in baboons and domestic dogs, and has even been demonstrated between humans and chimpanzees and between humans and domestic dogs. Some studies have even shown contagious yawning in some birds.
Teresa Romero, University of Tokyo
This comes on top of studies showing empathetic behaviour in elephants, which are even believed to grieve and pay their last respects to dead associates, and even rats which help a friend. As Teresa Romero of the University of Tokyo points out, "More and more research is supporting this idea that basic forms of empathy are very ancient, and they are present in a wide number of species, at least in mammals".
The problem for theologians of course is that they make a big thing of the existence of morality in humans and claim not to be able to understand how we know right from wrong without having been told what's what by their favourite god. The well-known author of fairy stories and Christian apologist C.S.Lewis even claimed it was his inability to work out how he knew right from wrong that convinced him he had just happened to be born to parents who believe in the one true god and giver of moral laws to humans.
In fact, of course, the ability to tell right from wrong derives from the ability to understand what you would want you to do if you were the other person. In other words it derives from the Golden Rule which is variously expressed as "Do as you would be done by", "Don't be an asshole" and "Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you". Humans can do this because we can empathise with other people and see things from their point of view.
The professed inability to understand the difference between right and wrong, and the professed inability to understand why one should behave decently and with humanity towards one's fellows without the promise of a reward or to avoid a punishment says a great deal about theists, although, to be fair, few of them seem to think it applies to them personally; it just applies to everyone else.
More and more research is supporting this idea that basic forms of empathy are very ancient, and they are present in a wide number of species, at least in mammals.Now it seems that this ability to empathise is not only not unique to humans but, because it is present in such disparate groups as rodent, canines and apes, it probably evolved way back in early mammalian evolution and expresses particularly in group behaviour where codes of conduct, or 'ethics' are essential to made cooperative groups work. That, in turn, requires sentience or self-awareness.
So much for yet another religious apologetic based on ignorant incredulity and a desire for easy, self-confirmatory answers with a low regard for truth and an idiotically arrogant notion that somehow humans are a different sort of organism altogether.
'via Blog this'