Originally this post was going to be about rats and empathy, from a WSJ article on some research about rats helping other rats escape before sharing some chocolate. But that’s not the real story.
The real story is how researchers keep designing experiments which fail to show that animals exhibit human-like traits of self identification, empathy, fairness—because the research is set up to reflect a human’s approach to the problem. For example, in a study that failed to show that an elephant can recognize herself in a mirror, researchers painted a white mark on her forehead—but they used a mirror that was only large enough to reflect her feet and ankles! Years later when the research was repeated with an 8-foot mirror which allowed a full view, the elephant scrubbed her forehead with her trunk where the mark had been placed, exhibiting the capacity of self-knowing.
Don’t we do this all the time with each other? We set up an experiment with a colleague or boss, and we observe what happens and we see what we expect to see?
How do you escape yourself long enough to observe without attachment what someone else is up to? Is it possible to interact with other humans without having to be right about them? Can we just help each other, then have some chocolate?