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Elephants Never Forget – Spite in the Animal Kingdom


How much do most of us really know about the other mammals we have so much in common with? Or perhaps I should ask how little do most of us really know. Here’s a thought provoking article from naturalist Dr. Daphne Sheldrick who spent 30 years working with elephants in the wild and in captivity.

Elephant Emotion By Daphne Sheldrick

Why is it that most people feel such empathy for Elephants, even if they have never had close contact with them? Is it because of their size, their quaint characteristics, or the the fact that they are so incredibly endearing as babies, tripping over little wobbly trunks that seem to serve no useful purpose other than get in the way? Or is it, perhaps, because Elephants are “human” animals, encompassed by an invisible aura that reaches deep into the human soul in a mysterious and mystifying way.

Of course, Elephants share with us humans many traits – the same span of life, (three score years and ten, all being well) and they develop at a parallel pace so that at any given age a baby elephant duplicates its human counterpart, reaching adulthood at the age of twenty. Elephants also display many of the attributes of humans as well as some of the failings. They share with us a strong sense of family and death and they feel many of the same emotions. Each one is, of course, like us, a unique individual with its own unique personality. They can be happy or sad, volatile or placid. They display envy, jealousy, throw tantrums and are fiercely competitive, and they can develop hang-ups which are reflected in behaviour. They also have many additional attributes we humans lack; incredible long range infrasound, communicating in voices we never hear, such sophisticated hearing that even a footfall is heard far away, and, of course they have a memory that far surpasses ours and spans a lifetime. They grieve deeply for lost loved ones, even shedding tears and suffering depression. They have a sense of compassion that projects beyond their own kind and sometimes extends to others in distress. They help one another in adversity, miss an absent loved one, and when you know them really well, you can see that they even smile when having fun and are happy.

Read the rest of the account at the source…

The idea of the soul was once tested by putting a dying man on the balance. Unfortunately the results were confusing because it all depends on whether he died expiring or inspiring. Just a thought. John Davison
Well said, Crandaddy. You're right of course. Thank you. DaveScot
Personally, I believe that the soul exists, but since it is a spiritual entity, I'm skeptical as to how detectable it is in the physical universe. What it really boils down to is an article of faith. In any case, discussion of the soul is not really appropriate for this forum, so let's try to keep it to a minimum. BTW, welcome to Uncommon Descent, Gandalf! I understand from comment #4 you two know each other? If you don't mind me asking, what's with the Lord of the Rings names? crandaddy
It's not a matter of "how much soul" any more than "how much intelligence". Different creatures have different capacities and capabilities, that is clear. The nature of soul in this discussion is one of free will, choice, emotion, relationship and other characteristics that are not purely deterministic in a materialistic sense. It's simply a philosophical perspective on the physical/metaphysical, the basic question of "What do you do with things that are real but non-physical?" (Does information fall into this category?) Of course, this is taking us beyond the realm of science to philosophical reasoning, but as we all recognize, philosophy and science have to feed each other or they atrophy as closed systems. Gandalf
To Gandalf - how do you propose I measure exactly how much soul I have compared to how much soul an animal has? With all due respect to your sources this apportionment of soul stuff sounds like some weird fabrication pulled out of thin air to justify someone's idea of his own superiority. DaveScot
Just to be clear, I don't agree with Dr. Sheldrick's closing paragraph which appears to be a gratuitous plug for Darwinian Evolution to keep the evolution police from Sternberging her. I googled "Sternberged" and "Sternberging" and didn't get a hit, by the way. So I hereby copyright the terms and expect an attribution whenever it is used! :-) DaveScot
Bombadill "I’d be skeptical that they would comfort others that are grieving." On scientific grounds what reason do you have to doubt Dr. Sheldrick's assertion that they do indeed comfort others in distress? She's been observing elephants for 30 years. You've been observing them how long? Heck, I've had cats and dogs that can sense the emotions of others and offer comfort. Based on that I have no reason at all to suspect elephants aren't commensurately more capable of it but I'd give Dr. Sheldrick the benefit of the doubt even absent anecdotal experience of my own. DaveScot
oh... and welcome to the blizzog, Gandalf. You and I go way back, by the way. ;) Bombadill
Great points, Gandalf. I [currently] take a position almost identical to Moreland's. His chapter in the [pro-ID] book "The Case For A Creator", is compelling. I highly recommend that one. Bombadill
(This is my first post, and I hope it's well-received even though slightly off-topic.) It's interesting to see the variety of opinions on this subject, which corresponds to some interesting philosophical debates as well. J.P. Moreland, a proponent of dualism (that the mind is both material and non-material) puts forward a thesis that animals have souls -- at least animals that we can have a relationship with have souls. The ability to make choices, experience emotion, and be self-aware require, in his view, a non-material component that humans and "soulish" animals have in common. (He considers the "spirit" to be a capacity of the human soul which enables us to relate to God, and that animals do not have a spirit.) I find many people, because of their theological presuppositions, claiming that animals cannot make choices, or that their choices are solely guided by instinct. Moreland's perspective eliminates that barrier and considers free will to be something that animals can exercise even in relationships. An interesting side note: some naturalists propose that a non-material soul is an emergent property of life. Some new age philosophers say that the universe itself has emergent intelligence. These views are obviously not theistic in nature, but provide some fodder for ID alliances, since ID is not inherently theistic. Gandalf
Very interesting. Though whatever thoughts and emotions they may have, they cannot project them outside of themselves, as humans do. An elephant may "grieve" due to loss, but I'd be skeptical that they would comfort others that are grieving. Regardless, I certainly don't question the fact that living organisms are comprised of the same "stuff". ;) Which of course would cause one to expect similarity in behavior. A notion which fits nicely with either non-Darwinian common ancestry as well as "special creation" from a common designer. Bombadill

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