Empathy with animals

December 26, 2011

I am trying to figure out how to harmonize the claim in one part of the NYTimes front page article about “people with Asperger’s” that “People with autism, Dr. Grandin suggested, can more easily put themselves in the shoes of an animal than in those of another person because of their sensory-oriented and visual thought process,” with the last part of the piece, in which the protagonists are requiring a cat to chase a laser beam and wondering about whether it is smart enough to recognize its reflection in a mirror.  I don’t see the behavior as consistent with “put[ting] themselves in the shoes of an animal,” let alone having an increased facility for doing so.  Dr. Grandin’s fascination with cow slaughtering I have never understood, either, for that matter.  These kinds of apparent inconsistencies leave me with the impression that we have no idea what we are trying to map, and we exchange one set of biases and inaccurate model for another.  Maybe eventually we will have a more objective understanding of what the symptoms we can observe arise out of, of the rest of the iceberg beneath the water, so to speak.

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