[Paleopsych] CHE: 'Thinking With Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism'

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Fri Apr 15 20:35:07 UTC 2005

'Thinking With Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism'
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.3.4


    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,
    wholly natural.

    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.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list