[Paleopsych] CHE: 'Thinking With Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism'
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Fri Apr 15 20:35:07 UTC 2005
'Thinking With Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism'
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.4
By NINA C. AYOUB
Take a class in animal behavior and you'll probably receive a warning:
Beware of anthropomorphism. Explaining animals in terms of human
motivations, emotions, or mental characteristics invites suspicion in
science, note Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman. It's also, they write,
As co-editors of Thinking With Animals: New Perspectives on
Anthropomorphism (Columbia University Press), Ms. Daston, director at
the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, in Berlin, and
Mr. Mitman, a professor of the history of science, medical history,
and science and technology studies at the University of Wisconsin at
Madison, join seven other contributors to explore how anthropomorphism
works in cultural, scientific, visual, and other realms.
Opening the collection is Wendy Doniger with an essay on ancient
Sanskrit literature, a genre rife with both anthropomorphism and
zoomorphism, imagining humans as animals. Ms. Daston follows by
contrasting forms of anthropomorphism worried about in two very
different endeavors: the medieval study of angels and comparative
psychology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"Anthropomorphism was a theological sin long before it became a
scientific one," she writes. Also visiting Victorian labs, Paul S.
White explores anthropomorphism and the debates of scientists and
If anthropomorphizing is seen as an intellectual failing, what, asks
Elliott Sober, about the opposite mistake, or what the primatologist
Frans de Waal has called "anthropodenial?" Avoid both errors by not
embracing an a priori prejudice, argues Mr. Sober. "The only
prophylactic we need is empiricism." Sandra D. Mitchell then considers
examples of that empiricism in an essay on cross-species modeling
between humans and chimpanzees. Moving arguments from lab to home,
James A. Serpell explores how anthropomorphism shapes the human-pet
The book closes with three visual takes. The pensive (whoops) mandrill
on the cover is a photograph by Tim Flach. In her photo-filled essay,
Cheryce Kramer considers anthropomorphic projection in Mr. Flach's
stunning and disconcerting studio photography of animals for Getty
Images. In an essay on conservation furthered by film, Mr. Mitman
shows how such biologists as Iain Douglas-Hamilton bring us into
sympathetic intimacy with elephants by personalizing the pachyderms.
On a similar note, Sarita Siegel discusses her documentary The
Disenchanted Forest about the rehabilitation of formerly captive
orangutans in Borneo, and the pressure from her National Geographic
backers to cast individual apes as heroes.
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