We’re not special

Chimpanzees mourn.

Update: Or do they? Jerry Coyne critiques:

This is a bit anthropomorphic to me, but doesn’t exceed the bounds of informed speculation.  Indeed, the BBC News headline this description as “Chimps ‘feel death like humans’”, and of course it shows nothing of the sort.  (The BBC link has a video of the death, which, unfortunately, you can’t access in the U.S.  If you do have access to Current Biology, you can see two videos here, including a male attacking Pansy’s body.) UPDATE: The videos are now on YouTube and I’ve embedded them below.

What the BBC headline misses is the ineluctable fact that even if we observe behaviors in other species that are similar to our own, we cannot understand what is going on in the consciousness of chimps. Are they grieving? We won’t know until we can teach chimps to communicate in a sophisticated way with humans, or, more easily but less usefully, observe a similarity in brain activity between the two species evoked by the occurrence of a death.


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