Do rats laugh? At cats?
|July 5, 2012||Posted by News under Animal minds, Intelligent Design, News|
In “Rats Laugh, but Not Like Humans” (Scientific American, June 22, 2012), Jesse Bering asks, “Do animals other than humans have a sense of humor?” and answers “Maybe so.” But he doesn’t make out a very good case. Even he admits,
Now, Panksepp would be the first to acknowledge that his findings do not imply that rats have a “sense of humor,” only that there appear to be evolutionary contiguities between laughter in human children during rough-and-tumble play and the expression of similar vocalizations in young rats. A sense of humor—especially adult humor—requires cognitive mechanisms that may or may not be present in other species. He does suggest, however, that this may be an empirically falsifiable question: “If a cat … had been a persistently troublesome feature of a rat’s life, might that rat show a few happy chirps if something bad happened to its nemesis? Would a rat chirp if the cat fell into a trap or was whisked up into the air by its tail? We would not recommend such mean-spirited experiments to be conducted but would encourage anyone who wishes to go in that direction to find more benign ways to evaluate those issues.”
Laughter is an intellectual response to life, a recognition of the difference between what is and what could or should be. Does the rat think that the cat “shouldn’t” be a problem to him? Does he have a concept of the cat as an “enemy,” as opposed to a fear response to a predator?
We shall see. One worries that some of these people are apt to read far too much into animal behaviour. The problem isn’t the nonsense they subsequently talk about human behaviour (because so few believe them anyway) but the things they will miss about animal behaviour – that are genuinely interesting and instructive.
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