On elephants and anthropomorphism

20 Mar

A tweeted @NPRnews article headline caught my eye the other day. Gotchya! Elephant Caught Cheating. It was meant “to catch” me, and it was successful. As I read the story about a young female elephant who figured out how to get the result (food) that she wanted without having to do the work (the learning and collaborative system designed by the researchers), I found myself bothered by the anthropomorphism of the author.

The young female elephant who figured out how to get the food through a means other than designed by The Humans is called “a cheat.” A cheat? Did she sign an agreement with The Humans to do the experiment as They designed. Perhaps in her “cheating,” she was actually exploring physics and solutions that were different? Perhaps she was applying her intelligence in a new way because the experiment was stupid and low-level. Perhaps she was exerting her dominance with the other elephant and she had Her Reasons.

These things I don’t know. And my attempts to figure it out have me being anthropomorphic also. It’s not my job to know her reasons for going around the parameters of the experiment. I will say that I found rather off-putting The Human Journalist’s application of pejorative adjectives to the elephant.

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One Response to “On elephants and anthropomorphism”

  1. Shay March 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I agree. Especially since in the video, it takes a lot longer for her to get her food when she’s just stepping on the rope instead of pulling it. I wondered whether there’s something about the rope that made it unpleasant for her to pull on it with her trunk.

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