final - While puzzling over the condition of human...

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While puzzling over the condition of human empathetic emotions “so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe that they evolved,” Dillard concisely proclaims, “Either this world, my mother, is a monster, or I myself am a freak”(Dillard 1974). Maybe, just maybe, we are not alone in bearing the burden of empathy. What if we shared the burden with our distant cousins in the mammalian class? A mother goldfish consuming her offspring is shocks us. Are we the only “freaks” shocked by this? Ironically, our own empathy limits modern research involving the testing of animals we inherently believe exhibit empathy. Dogs, otters, elephants, whales, and dolphins can be observed anecdotally to mourn their lost or pity the lame, but we protect them from laboratory testing that would generate statistical data by virtue of keeping them from harm; that is because we empathize strongly with them. Mice, on the other hand, we do not tend to empathize with very strongly, and we give them much less protection from testing (USDA). Laboratory mice, the stereotypical workhorse of cognitive research experiments, bear more of Dillard’s empathetic burden that one might expect. Two mice, stranded unluckily in a garage sink, wore themselves out trying to escape the impassible porcelain walls imprisoning them. The owner of the sink discovered the pitiful sight and curiously placed three things into the sink: a bowl of water, a morsel of food, and a ramp to escape the sink. One mouse less fatigued than the other drank some water and ate a bit of the food to regain his strength. Pitying his comrade, the mouse took some food into his mouth, scurried over, and dropped the food at his comrade’s feet. Ensuring that he ate it, the heroic mouse began to place small morsels of food in a trail leading to the water. The weary mouse followed the trail let out for him and drank the water, regaining his stamina. The two mice then left the sink up the ramp placed by the silent observer (Pierce 2007). The encouragement this mouse displayed under stress is captivating. Immediately the military expression “no man left
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behind” comes to mind. The mouse understood the plight of his comrade, and gave him the
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This note was uploaded on 01/31/2012 for the course ENGL 1050H taught by Professor Adkins during the Fall '07 term at UGA.

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final - While puzzling over the condition of human...

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