"An important and timely message about the biological roots of human kindness." —Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape
Are we our brothers' keepers? Do we have an instinct for compassion? Or are we, as is often assumed, only on earth to serve our own survival and interests? In this thought-provoking book, the acclaimed author of Our Inner Ape examines how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans.
By studying social behaviors in animals, such as bonding, the herd instinct, the forming of trusting alliances, expressions of consolation, and conflict resolution, Frans de Waal demonstrates that animals–and humans–are "preprogrammed to reach out." He has found that chimpanzees care for mates that are wounded by leopards, elephants offer "reassuring rumbles" to youngsters in distress, and dolphins support sick companions near the water's surface to prevent them from drowning. From day one humans have innate sensitivities to faces, bodies, and voices; we've been designed to feel for one another.
De Waal's theory runs counter to the assumption that humans are inherently selfish, which can be seen in the fields of politics, law, and finance, and whichseems to be evidenced by the current greed-driven stock market collapse. But he cites the public's outrage at the U.S. government's lack of empathy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a significant shift in perspective–one that helped Barack Obama become elected and ushered in what may well become an Age of Empathy. Through a better understanding of empathy's survival value in evolution, de Waal suggests, we can work together toward a more just society based on a more generous and accurate view of human nature.
Written in layman's prose with a wealth of anecdotes, wry humor, and incisive intelligence, The Age of Empathy is essential reading for our embattled times.
Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University’s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This book is primarily a detailed exploration of animal emotions (such as empathy) and on how they stunningly correspond to the human.
Two main threads of thought emerge from this correspondence:
1. The need to recognize animals as much closer to us and to treat them with that respect, empathy and humaneness.
2. An optimism that the “better angels of our nature” are as deep-wired in us as the baser instincts that we call ‘animal instincts’. Both aspects are animal instincts with long evolutionary histories and are not mere impositions of civilization. This means that the better aspects of human nature are not as brittle and prone-to-breakdown. No thin veneer of civilization, no nature red in tooth & claw, no “Lord of the Flies” scenarios. This is optimistic because this allows us to place great confidence in fundamental human nature and not just in institutions that control it. This reminds me of 'Paradise Built in Hell.'
While I completely subscribe to this second argument, the first left me slightly uneasy. To me it was not a necessary argument. It is also a, perhaps unintentionally, negative assertion. Implicit in it is the assumption that a species/animal has to be closer to human beings to deserve dignity of life. It is a powerful emotional argument to claim that a species is close to us and share our emotional inner life, but it is also discrimination. Life is rich and diverse; there is no reason to draw a ‘degree of separation’ from the human to measure how well a species must be treated. That is just another version of the anthropocentric world-view that de Waal works so hard to denigrate in this book.
That said, the idea that the majority of our most exalted virtues have parallels throughout the animal kingdoms and is an essential part of the evolutionary mechanism bodes very well indeed. It made me much more cheerful in my quest towards understanding how our species can live at peace with the rest of the world.
You've got to love a book about primates that has chapter headings with quotes by Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant. And that's why this book is so exceptional, it makes you reconsider what is so special about our species in the first place and whether the Western concept of human exceptionalism is even a healthy trait to begin with.
Are concepts of justice, equality and empathy really glorious creations of the enlightenment or are they simply labels for phenomena that occur across the animal kingdom?
Frans de Waal really opens our eyes to the true meaning of evolution and he does so in a noncondescending yet completely brilliant manner.
Every once in a while, when your heart is heavy with all the fighting and hatred and envy and competition and the nastiness of your fellow humans, it is good to read about the kindness of other animals (besides man). Yes, there is plenty of cruelty in nature but there is also cooperation, compassion and loyalty. It's so fascinating (and so healing) to read example after example of animals caring for each other. Oh, and Franz de Waal, a biologist, writes with humor and clarity.
A mes heures perdues, il m'arrive d'enfiler un T-shirt orange et d'aller militer dans les rues pour la protection animale, contre le spécisme, contre les abattoirs, contre la consommation de viande, de poisson, et de produits d'origine animale. Et comme ces idées gagnent encore à être entendues, j'entends toujours les mêmes objections : le passant qui s'est arrêté pour prendre le tract et qui veut me parler prend soudain une grande inspiration, il fait un petit sourire malin, et en pensant faire une objection sûrement particulièrement intelligente et originale, il me dit exactement la même chose que le passant d'avant :
"Certes, les animaux souffrent, mais les légumes aussi ! Que savez-vous des sentiments de la patate, lorsqu'on l'arrache de la terre ?" "Oui, nous mangeons de la viande sans en avoir besoin, mais nous avons toujours fait ça ! Les hommes préhistoriques mangeaient de la viande !" "Mais pourquoi ressentir de la compassion pour les animaux ? Dans la savane, le lion mange les animaux !"
Force est de constater que, confronté à une militante de la cause animale, le passant moyen affirme vouloir rendre hommage au comportement de ses ancêtres préhistoriques, imiter le comportement du lion, et, surtout, ressentir d'étranges émotions face à de la salade. Mais pour en revenir à l'argument du lion, pourquoi le lion ? Parfois, les passants se comparent à un autre animal, mais c'est toujours un fauve (le guépard est le deuxième animal le plus cité). S'il fallait choisir un carnivore, pourquoi pas le crocodile, ou le loup ? Pourquoi pas le vautour, puisque leur comportement alimentaire, à l'heure des supermarché, est peut-être plus proche de celui des charognards que des grands prédateurs ? Et surtout, pourquoi pas la gazelle - la vache, ou le cochon ?
Si les passants, confrontés aux militants de la cause animale, sont si prompts à s'identifier au lion, c'est, je pense, pour justifier à tout prix leur manque d'empathie face aux animaux qu'ils consomment chaque jour : le grand prédateur n'a visiblement pas la réputation de considérer avec empathie les autres animaux. "Ah, mais vous ne voulez pas que les humains consomment de la viande, et le lion, lui, vous allez l'empêcher de manger des gazelles ?" Non, d'abord parce que le lion est carnivore, et ne pourrait pas se passer de gazelles ; deuxièmement car le lion ne pourrait pas tirer de leçon morale de son sens de l'empathie. Nous, si. Et d'abord, qui vous a dit que le lion ne ressentait pas d'empathie ?
Frans de Waal, primatologue et éthologue, signe ici un très beau livre de vulgarisation sur l'empathie chez les animaux (et chez les humains aussi, j'entends). Nous apprendrons notamment que l'empathie se découvre à travers les phénomènes de reproduction des attitudes d'autrui (quand je souris, l'autre sourit ; si une foule tape des mains, impossible de taper des mains en décalé) ; mais aussi par la prise en compte des intérêts d'autres individus d'une même espèce ; et enfin, que les animaux même ressentent de l'empathie pour des individus d'autres espèces, qu'ils chercheront à aider sans pouvoir en attendre une quelconque rétribution.
L'ouvrage est truffé d'anecdotes aussi savoureuses que mémorables - mon coup de cœur va à l'histoire du chimpanzé qui, trouvant sur le sol de son enclos un oiseau mort, le prend soigneusement, monte en haut d'un arbre, déploie les ailes de l'oiseau comme s'il était un petit avion, et le lance de toutes ses forces, en espérant que l'oiseau puisse voler à nouveau.
Tout est clair, compréhensible, et les néophytes comme moi y apprennent énormément. Je n'avais jamais considéré que mes congénères du métro étaient si semblables aux babouins.
Reading this book constantly reminded me of our arrogance to consider that animals are not conscious, feeling beings. The author, a primatologist, does a great job recounting decades of animal research to back up his claim that both humans and our related animal cousins have a long history of community, social structure and organization, and responsibility to that community. He does an excellent job providing empirical research evidence that demonstrates that many species, particularly the great apes, clearly show empathy towards one another; including caring for each other, sharing resources (sex too!), and playing politics. He makes the case that the source of our own empathic emotions are shared with our cousins dating back millions of years, perhaps tens of millions of years. This is a wonderful book if you love animals, believe that animals share our emotions, or care to learn more about how and why we developed our sense of caring for one another member of our species.
This is the second book by Frans de Waal that I read, and I like his work so much that he is fast becoming one of my favorite non fiction writer. He is very good at writing about animals, and the research that is being done into their behavior, a subject that I’m quite interested in. He does it with a lot of anecdotes, and lot of reference to scientific research, in a writing style that is never dry.
In this book he is looking into animal emotions, but there is a twist. This book is written in the midst of the banking crisis that started in 2007, and he looks, among other things, into “economic” relationships between animals. The outcome is quite interesting. He is of course not the first writer to put up the parallel between humans and the way nature works, survival of the fittest and all that, but he has the science to back up his claims about how work and reward works in relationships in nature.
Frans de Waal is (almost) singlehandedly turning upside down the long-held notion of humans (and other animals) as supremely selfish, concerned only with their own survival, and perhaps survival of their offspring. de Waal finds instead huge amounts of empathy, cooperation, and concern amongst species, amongst tribal and other groups, and amongst families. de Waal has studied primates for years, and just about everything we thought was unique to humans also shows up in monkeys. They can count, they share, they can admire themselves in the mirror, they can deceive other primates -- and so on down the list. Years ago there was a theory about what sets humans apart known as "homo ludens" -- in other words, we're different because we're the animal that laughs. Well, after reading de Waal's groundbreaking book, you'd be hard put to find anything that humans do that the other primates (and probably birds and even rats) can't do almost as well.
Ouf, contente de l'avoir terminé celui-là. Comment prendre un sujet fascinant et en faire un livre parfois indigeste? De Waal réussit plutôt bien le défi ici.
Ce n'est pas ma première escarmouche avec le style de Frans De Waal : j'ai lu il y a quelque temps son livre Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (lecture parfois aride, mais vraiment passionnante). The Age of Empathy, publié quelques années auparavant, date déjà et cela fait un peu mal de le lire. Il a été écrit au moment où Barack Obama a été élu, et on sent l'immense espoir de l'auteur quant à l'impact que cet homme peut avoir sur la société américaine. Lire que l'auteur a espoir d'un meilleur équilibre social aux E.-U. en raison du discours empathique du nouveau leader fait mal, on va se le dire, surtout quand on regarde celui qui lui a succédé. Par ailleurs, De Waal émet quelques propos qui font sourciller, dont celui que l'immigration est "not a big deal", que les bateaux cercueils n'existent plus... Le livre a été publié en 2009. Peut-être que pour les primatologues néerlandais bardés d'honneurs, l'immigration n'est pas un big deal. Un drôle de manque d'empathie, drette là en commençant.
Mais quand on tombe dans le croustillant du sujet, c'est renversant. De Waal estime, dans la lignée des études et des recherches, que l'empathie humaine est aussi un produit de l'évolution, et que cette empathie existe chez nos cousins les primates. Avec de nombreux exemples tirés de recherches et d'expériences, l'auteur s'intéresse à l'émotion animale, à la sympathie, au sens de l'équité et de la justice (que les chimpanzés ont) et au soutien entre pairs. On comprend que pour éprouver de l'empathie, il faut être en mesure de faire la différence entre soi et les autres. On retrouve déjà les germes de son dernier livre : pour évaluer ce qu'un animal peut ou ne peut faire, il faut, en quelque part, se mettre à sa place, comprendre les enjeux de son territoire et de ses relations avec ses pairs.
Tsais, faire preuve d'empathie. Il en déplore le manque dans la communauté scientifique.
C'est le dernier chapitre qui est le plus percutant, à mon avis, puisque l'auteur propose que notre réticence à parler d'intelligence animale dépend plus de considérations religieuses que scientifiques. Il souligne aussi que ce sont souvent les traits hostiles que l'on reconnait comme génétiques (agressivité par exemple, ça déresponsabilise), et rarement les traits nobles. De Waal propose donc un modèle biologique de l'empathie bâti comme une poupée russe : il lui paraît absurde de confiner l'empathie à notre lobe frontal, la belle grosse affaire qui nous donne l'impression qu'on est le top de l'évolution. Refléter physiquement les émotions d'un pair (la contagion de l'émotion) est probablement la version la plus ancienne de l'empathie - et la plupart des animaux sont capables de le faire! Ensuite, consoler, réconforter sont des façons un peu plus sophistiqués d'exprimer l'empathie - les éléphants le font! Enfin, la capacité d'aider l'autre d'une façon ciblée représenterait l'empathie à son plus haut niveau de développement. Les humains le font oui, mais les primates à un moindre degré aussi.
L'empathie, conclut De Waal, n'a pas qu'un rôle biologique et relationnel : elle est souvent le moteur de la révolte qui pousse une société à exiger que la dignité des plus vulnérables soit considérée. Lire ceci à un moment de l'histoire où la haine prend toutes sortes de visages, où certains tirent fierté de leur égocentrisme et de leur insensibilité est déconcertant.
Many years ago I became interested in the biological and evolutionary basis for morality and how altruism could be consistent with Dawkins' idea of the selfish gene. The two ideas that everybody offered up back then were reciprocal altruism where I do something for you in the hope that you will do something nice for me later and the idea of kin selection where I benefit the reproduction of my own genes by helping people to whom I am related and who therefore carry some of my genes. Both ideas made some sense to me, but neither had enough power to explain the extent of observed altruistic behavior. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one to notice the need for better explanations and we have moved way beyond where we were when I first started reading in this area. Frans de Waal was one of the researchers who helped pave the way to a broader explanation. Humans and great apes are fundamentally social creatures and there are good reasons why evolution has favored our social development which includes a good measure of altruism.
In this book he discusses altruism, empathy, cooperation and fairness, focusing on apes and the lessons that ape society has for human society. He also includes discussions of other animals who exhibit behaviors that fit into these categories from mice to birds and beyond. It's all very interesting, and I found myself agreeing with most of his arguments, but the book, which was written more than a decade ago, is a bit behind more recent developments. For anyone who is interested in this area, I would recommend Michael Tomasello's fine book, "Becoming Human" which has a more up to date discussion of scholarship in these areas and includes appropriate nods to Mr. de Waal for his contributions to current thinking.
I read this for our "science book club" meeting, and we all agreed that this book was not up to snuff. It was like they sat the author down in a comfy chair and said "Just start talking, we'll put your ramblings together into a book." There was not structure or framework to the book -- no overriding thesis (other than maybe "empathy is good, chimps have empathy, people should be more empathetic" -- so it was difficult to pull apart and analyze his arguments. He doesn't present enough scientific context/background to give the reader a sense of what is generally accepted in the field, where there are disagreements, and where his personal beliefs intersect with what science has proved. And he makes huge leaps between observation ("I once saw a monkey give another monkey a hug") and lessons for mankind ("the election of Barack Obama is ushering in a new era of cooperation and mankind is on the brink of a new evolutionary step of civilization!"). If I had been reading this for pleasure, I might have enjoyed the author's reminiscences and stories more. But as a critical reader trying to understand how empathy in animals play out, and what impact this has for mankind, I was left extremely underwhelmed.
Indeed it is extraordinary how the horses and sled-dogs cooperate with each other and act in unison drawing the carriage or the sled at breakneck speeds, on cross-country pathways! Especially the blind-husky, Isobel who ran the lead tandem?! In Dutch bicycle-culture, it is very common for boys to offer girls a ride, because the girls have to hold on tight, and also lean with the rider says, Dr. Frans de Waal, who is a Dutchman himself, who continues, "On motorcycles this is even more critical. Their higher speed requires, deeper tilt in turns and lack of coordination can be disastrous. The passenger is a true partner in ride....". Very True! Guess for the same reason, I find partner-dancing (eg. Tango) so interesting (pardon my little digression). Another fascinating true story the author relates is apparently published in the Journal of New England Medicine. This was about Oscar the tom cat who made his rounds in a geriatric clinic in Providence, RI. The cat sniffed and observed each patient, strolling from room to room. When he decided someone is about to die, he curled up besides them, purring and gently nuzzling them. He left the room only after the patient has taken his/her last breath!
Here are some of the salient things in author's own words, that I've book-marked, and hope to recount for a very long time. "The appeal that elephants hold for humans is nothing less than astonishing and already witnessed in ancient Rome, not a place for squeamishness. Pliny the elder describes the way the crowd reacted to 20 elephants being savaged in an arena. When they had lost all hope of escape, they tried gain compassion of crowd, by indescribable gestures of entreaty, deploring their fate with sort of wailing, so much to the distress of public... that the public rose in body, bursting into tears and in unison started cursing the generals and heads of Pompeii. We humans are complex characters who form social hierarchies naturally, but at the same time we have an aversion to them and readily sympathize with others, unless we are threatened. We tolerate differences in income and standards of living, only up to a degree. We have deeply ingrained sense of fairness. The faith Danes(ref. people from Denmark), put in one another is called social capital, which may well be the most precious capital there is. In survey after survey, Danes have the world's highest happiness score. I saw people in America living in the kind of poverty that I knew only from the 3rd world! How could the richest nation in the world permit this? It became worse for me when I discovered that poor kids go to poor schools. How can a society claim equal opportunity, if location of one's birth determines quality of one's education and eventually quality of one's life. The obscene earnings of top 1% is back to the great depression levels and we have become, a winner takes all society, with an income gap that seriously threatens the social fabric. Europe is a more livable place and it lacks the giant under-educated, under-class of the United States. Marxism is founded on an illusion of culturally engineered human. Similar illusion plagued the US feminist movement, assuming gender roles are ready for a complete overhaul! The greatest problem today, of different groups rubbing shoulders on a crowded planet, is excessive loyalty to one's own nation, one's own ethnic-group, and one's own religion. Humans are capable of deep disdain for anyone who looks different or thinks in another way. When push comes to shove, groups do not hesitate to eliminate another! When asked about Iraqi civilian casualties, Donald Rumsfeld once said, well we do not do body counts on 'other people'.
Fostering empathy is not made easy by the entrenched opinion, in Law schools, Business schools and Political corridors, that we are essentially competitive animals. Conservatives who champion social Darwinism, miss the point by a mile, that we are deeply and innately social animals! Empathy is a part of our evolution. Humans must be biologically equipped to function effectively in many social situations without undue reliance on cognitive processes.
Ultimately the reluctance to talk about animal emotions has less to do with science than with religion, and particularly the religions that arose in isolation from animals! With monkeys and apes around every corner, no rain-forest culture has ever produced a religion, that puts humans outside of nature! Similarly in the east, surrounded by native primates in India and China, religions don't draw a sharp line between humans and other animals. Men may reincarnate as animals, and animals may attain divinity, like the monkey god Hanumaan. Only the Judeo-Christian religions place humans on a pedestal making them the only species with a soul. It is not hard to see how the desert nomads might have arrived at this view. Without animals holding up a mirror to them, the notion we are alone came naturally to them. They saw themselves as created in God's image and only intelligent life on the planet. It is extremely telling how westerners reacted when they finally got to see animals capable of challenging these notions! All of this occurred after western religion spread it's human exceptional-ism to all corners of the world.
Empathy engages brain areas that are more than a hundred million years old. Evolution added layer after layer, until our ancestors felt what others felt and also understood what others might want or need. It is put like a Russian doll.
Called the 5th horseman of apocalypse, dehumanization has a long history of excusing atrocities.
Although men are violent and territorial, men clearly do have empathy. Cross cultural studies claim female brains are more hardwired for empathy but men can be just as empathetic as women.
Why does the 'dismal science' attract so few female students and never produced a female Nobelist?! Could it be that women don't feel any connection to the caricature of a rational being, whose only goal in life, is to maximize profit? Where are human relations in all of this. Every individual is connected to something larger than itself. Those who depict this as contrived and not part of biology, don't have the latest neurological data on their side! The connection is deeply felt!
The role of compassion in society is not one of sacrificing time and money to relive the plight of others but also to push political agenda to elevate human dignity! One instrument that greatly enriches our thinking has been selected by ages, which means tested over and over with regard to it's survival value. That is our capacity to connect to and understand others and make their situation our own, the way Lincoln did when he came eye to eye with shackled-slaves in Ohio. To call upon this inborn capacity is only to any society's advantage"
Is it just me, or does current non-fiction contain way too many personal anecdotes. Do I really care about something that happened to your brother-in-law? "Hot, Crowded, and Flat" was chock full of them. The difference between that work and "The Age of Empathy" is that there is some actual science behind de Waal's work. The "Age of Empathy" is really about several different emotions and traits thought to be uniquely human like empathy, sympathy, self awareness, sense of fair play, and egalitarianism. The author outlines examples from the animal world that show these characteristics to be anything but unique. Most of the examples are with Chimpanzees which are of course our closest relative, but there are also interesting studies with elephants, crows, dogs, etc. I thought this book started out strong, was a little weak in the middle, but finished up extremely strong. The section on human egalitarianism was particularly fascinating. Egalitarianism is a trait we do not share with Chimpanzees. Chimps have a far more hierarchical social system. De Waal related a story about an alpha chimp who was blustering up to a big dominance display. Right in the middle of it, he comically slipped on a tree branch. De Waal was observing and laughed out loud, but he noticed none of the chimps did. They were all dead serious. Humans admire and respect there leaders, but also like to see them fall a peg or two on occasion. De Wall also finished with a great comparison of Europe and America from an immigrants point of view. He stressed that of the three pillars of the French Revolution "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", The US always emphasized the first, Europe the second, but a truly happy society would probably focus on Fraternity. Another enlightening bit came in his conclusion where he described why religion has such a hard time accepting evolution. He states that only the monotheistic religions of the middle east are so fixated on human uniqueness where African and Asian religions do not draw such a hard line between humans and nature. The reason? There are no apes in the middle east. To the founders of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, we did indeed appear unique and special.
borrow the book, read chapter 7, "crooked timber" for an excellent summary of what the author intents us to understand from his book. then read the whole thing. worthwhile reading.
the genre: science with a social purpose. first, to show us the latest science of empathy, and second to dispel the idea that humans are so unique to be a mountain range emerging from the plains of other creatures, but rather we are like a high peak surrounded by smaller ones, then foothills, then lower hills. those creatures like us; great apes, whales, dogs etc, differ not as much in kind but in amount.
it's an easy but interesting and informative read, don't let the label science distract you, written for that mythical average educated reader, it's consciously aimed to teach and to be rememberable, the author wants people to use what they learn from him and for us use it to alter our world to better shape it to what people are really like, versus false notions of human nature, not based on science but wishful thinking..
which is the theme, understand what we are like as a result of evolutionary pressures, by a study not only of people but of our nearer relatives, chimps etc, then use those lessons to understand how we live together in community through the essential elements of empathy. it's a good, most relevant book given the political demands of the right for dog eat dog unfettered capitalism, which the author notes in the last chapter but doesn't seem to enter into the analysis early, good thing, science as straight as possible without a lot of commentary.
The Age of Empathy delves into social, economic, and political concerns of our time. By unlocking the the science of empathy in all mammals, Frans de Waal challenges the notion that greed and aggression are the dominate forces of human biology and survival. He gives of a new story of mammalian evolution, in which cooperation and empathy play a prominent role. Empathy becomes a much older and primal instinct, and much more relevant to our species.
Waal knocks down those who use the idea of "survival of the fittest" to excuse their behavior. From CEO's to politicians, religious leaders to economists Waal shows how social Darwinism has been used to defend greed and freeloading. He also points to how these policies have failed our society as we experienced in the hosing and banking crises, the fall of CEO's like Kenneth Lay, and trickle down economics. All the while connecting these human experiences to the experience of empathy in primate societies.
It is fascinating to read about the advances in science that are changing our understanding of animal cognition and emotion. It turns out that animals are much more like 'us' than we thought. So much of what we thought we knew was wrong and limited by poor experimental design. The distinction between human and ape is becoming more gray than black and white.
There is so much to think about and talk about after reading this book. It makes connections to so many different areas. I highly recommend it!
Chimps have it. Elephants have it. Wolves have it. De Waal suggests the reason we don’t recognize that empathy imbues at least the mammalian world is because of the Western world’s religious insistence that humans are outside of nature. He reports that when Queen Victoria first saw apes, she called them “frightful, and painfully and disagreeably human.’” (207). Lot lurking in that queenly observation.
De Waal believes that “empathy is a part of a heritage as ancient as the mammalian line. Empathy engages brain areas that are more than a hundred million years old. The capacity arose long ago with motor mimicry and emotional contagion, after which evolution added layer after layer, until our ancestors not only felt what others felt, but understood what others might want or need.” (208).
He suggests that empathy is like a Russian doll, with shells that fine tune and deepen its reach, and that psychopaths seem to have the shells without the “old mammalian core.” (211).
This is the first book I’ve read by Frans de Waal. It is written in simple, accessible language and is positively stuffed with provocative ideas and anecdotal stories. The premise, that empathetic behaviors and tendencies predate our evolutionary pedigree, directly addresses underrepresented views in both evolutionary biology as well as popular conceptions of our own animal nature. I found his unapologetic attitude about the political implications of his work to be personally refreshing and scientifically defensible. However, here’s what really sells the book: in casual conversation I found myself repeatedly (and indirectly) referencing “The Age of Empathy” as a touchstone for an astonishing array of tangential interdisciplinary topics. My only complaint is that I would have preferred a longer, more complex book on the subject.
De Waal casually spins tales of the animals he's watched. Either by design or happenstance, large numbers of social incidents appear where the animals choose what to do. What if one monkey gets food, and the others get none? What if one falls in the water? What do they do when a fellow animal dies or if a bird hits the glass and gets stunned? The evidence of empathy, jealousy, or social conformity is plain to see, despite it being technically unscientific to mention it. While discussing these things, the author deals with accusations that he is biased in favor of fairness and empathy. He doesn't shy from comparing animal behavior to that of our business leaders and politicians. Basically, De Waal traces the evolution of empathy as a force for survival, with unfolding levels of emotional intelligence.
Frans de Waal and Tanja Singer - The book "The Age of Empathy" is a light in the dark - there is no justification treating another living creature in contemptuous ways. Tanja Singer proves that empathy can be trained and learned and become part of our thinking and acting. We do not need to treat others badly to have personal gain. A very worthwhile thought, giving us hope that there is indeed a way to improve ourselves and make life more peaceful.
The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society By Frans de Waal
“The Age of Empathy” is an interesting look at human empathy and what it can teach us how in becoming a better society. Dutch/American biologist with a Ph.D. in zoology and ethology and author of Our Inner Ape and others, Frans de Waal, takes the reader on a journey of empathy and its long evolutionary history. This provocative 306-page book includes the following seven chapters: 1. Biology, Left and Right, 2. The Other Darwinism, 3. Bodies Talking to Bodies, 4. Someone Else’s Shoes, 5. The Elephant in the Room, 6. Fair Is Fair, and 7. Crooked Timber.
Positives: 1. Engaging and well-written book that is accessible to the masses. 2. A fascinating topic in the hands of a subject matter expert, empathy. 3. Entertaining and insightful. The book is easy to follow. Professor de Waal is fair and even handed. 4. Includes sketches that complement the excellent narrative. 5. Format is easy to follow. Each chapter begins with a chapter-appropriate quote. 6. Clearly defines the main premise of this book. “There is both a social and a selfish side to our species. But since the latter is, at least in the West, the dominant assumption, my focus will be on the former: the role of empathy and social connectedness.” 7. Provocative ideas. “This is not to say that monkeys and apes are moral beings, but I do agree with Darwin, who, in The Descent of Man, saw human morality as derived from animal sociality.” “We descend from a long line of group-living primates with a high degree of interdependence.” 8. There are some statements that resonate and leave a mark. “At times of danger, we forget what divides us.” 9. Modern evolutionary theories. “Mutual aid has become a standard ingredient of modern evolutionary theories, albeit not exactly in the way Kropotkin formulated it. Like Darwin, he believed that cooperative groups of animals (or humans) would outperform less cooperative ones. In other words, the ability to function in a group and build a support network is a crucial survival skill.” 10. The link between empathy and kindness. “There exists in fact no obligatory connection between empathy and kindness, and no animal can afford treating everyone nicely all the time.” 11. Discusses key concepts such as yawn contagion. “Yawn contagion reflects the power of unconscious synchrony, which is as deeply ingrained in us as in many other animals.” 12. The importance of mimicry. “Not only do we mimic those with whom we identify, but mimicry in turn strengthens the bond.” 13. Sympathy versus empathy. “If Yoni were human, we’d speak of sympathy. Sympathy differs from empathy in that it is proactive. Empathy is the process by which we gather information about someone else. Sympathy, in contrast, reflects concern about the other and a desire to improve the other’s situation.” 14. Examples given of altruism in apes. 15. Helpful advice. “In 2006, a major health organization advised American business travelers to refrain from finger-pointing altogether, since so many cultures consider it rude.” 16. The concept of mutualism. “This suggests mutualism and reciprocity as the basis of cooperation, thus placing chimps much closer to humans than to the social insects.” 17. Income inequality, say what? “He believes that income gaps produce social gaps. They tear societies apart by reducing mutual trust, increasing violence, and inducing anxieties that compromise the immune system of both the rich and the poor. Negative effects permeate the entire society.” 18. The reality of empathy. “Empathy for “other people” is the one commodity the world is lacking more than oil.” 19. Evolution in a nutshell. “We may not be able to create a New Man, but we’re remarkably good at modifying the old one.” 20. Notes and bibliography included.
Negatives: 1. In a world looking for black and white conclusions this book offers a lot of gray areas that may not be as satisfying. 2. Repetitive. 3. Hard to live up to some of his other books. 4. Conservative-minded readers may have a tough time dealing with de Waal’s liberal bias.
In summary, this was a solid accessible book. Professor De Waal succeeds in educating the public on empathy. His mastery of the topic is admirable and is careful to be grounded on the facts and not to oversell an idea. Some minor quibbles like redundancy and many gray areas keep it from scoring higher but overall a worthwhile read. I recommend it!
Further recommendations: “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”, “The Bonobo and the Atheist”, “Our Inner Ape”, “Chimpanzee Politics” by the same author, “Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel” by Virginia Morell, “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect” by Mathew D. Lieberman, “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel” by Carl Safina, “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery, “Animal Wise” by Virginia Morell, “Zoobiquity” by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, “The Secret Lives of Bats” by Merlin Tuttle, and “Last Ape Standing” by Chip Walter.
A lo mejor no es el libro que más me ha gustado de él por su mayor análisis político económico del ser humano pero, como siempre, ha sido sumamente interesante volver a sus estudios de los antropoides para poder conocernos. Conceptos tan grandes como la empatía, la compasión o la justicia se dan en estas reflexiones de un Frans de Waal de no hace mucho.
Ik had graag gezien dat het sterkere filosofische gedeelte, zoals in het laatste hoofdstuk, iets meer naar voren kwam. Op een gegeven moment vond ik dat er meer dan genoeg voorbeelden waren gegeven dat apen over empathie en jaloezie beschikken. Ik wilde dit toegepaster zien op mensen of dieren. Al moet ik erbij zeggen dat mijn biologische achtergrond en daarmee interesse een beetje beperkt is t.o.v. de gemiddelde lezer.
Af en toe voelde ik me verrijkt met nieuwe inzichten. Vooral het hoofdstuk over het onbewuste imiteergedrag van zowel mens als dier was zeer interessant. De plaatjes waren volledig zinloos, maar het tempo was goed. De tekst is redelijk fijn om te lezen.
Verder wil ik er aan toevoegen dat zo'n boek over empathie zeer geschikt is om onder het mom van een smerig glimlachje te geven aan iemand wie je een subtiele hint wilt geven.
Nature is well known as "red in tooth and claw." Yet many organisms exhibit remarkable cooperative behavior:
1. A cat makes daily rounds in a geriatric clinic in Providence, Rhode Island, sniffing and observing each patient, and then selecting one to curl up and purr beside. The cat has nurtured at least 25 patients, sensing with uncanny accuracy when one is about to die .
2. In an experiment at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, chimpanzees at a sanctuary in Uganda were shown a human unsuccessfully reaching through some bars for a plastic stick. Many of the tested chimps spontaneously came to help the person by picking up the item and handing it to them. They were not "trained" or "rewarded" for this assistance. The results held even when the experimenters increased the cost of helping, by requiring the chimps to climb a platform to retrieve the stick.
3. As a result of an explosion off the coast of Florida in 1954, a bottlenose dolphin was observed to be stunned -- it surfaced, listing badly to one side. Soon two other dolphins came to its side, buoying it to the surface in an apparent effort to allow it to breathe while it remained partially stunned, until their companion had recovered.
4. In 2005, a female humpback whale was spotted off the coast of California entangled in (and being injured by) some nylon ropes. Divers from a rescue team spent about one hour in a difficult (and treacherous) job of disentangling the whale. When the whale finally realized she was free, she swam in a large circle and nuzzled each diver in succession, evidently thanking them for their help.
These and numerous other examples that de Waal cites demonstrate clearly the author's point that nature is much more than "red in tooth in claw," but instead can teach us humans a great deal in how to cooperate and understand each other in an increasingly polarized world.
This book is really hard to rate. I liked this book and I love DeWaal so I feel like a dick for only giving it 3 stars, but there were so many cringeable moments that I can't in good conscious give it the 4 star ratting I would like. My big complaint is DeWaal relies so heavily on observational methods, which is very interesting and useful, but then dismisses critics (who regard observational findings as inconclusive) as big reductionistic meanies who are too un creative or tin hearted to understand that animals have empathy and are intelligent. I think almost everyone (with some notable exceptions e.g. Skinner and Ted Negent) intuitively understands that animals are intelligent and empathetic. The reason biologists and social scientists want systematic, experimentally derived evidence is because they want to understand the exact mechanisms of said phenomena (for various excellent reasons). Furthermore, DeWaal exercises every opportunity to present experimental evidence that support his claims. Beyond that, the book is discursive and disorganized, making it nearly useless as a reference for later use. The book is essentially preaching to a choir (of which I am a member). Entertaining and confirming of some good feelings, but low on hard use value.
Empathy, argues Dr. De Waal, is not unique to humans. It is, instead, something that can be found throughout the animal kingdom in a variety of forms, and we humans are remiss to not look at the positive traits we share with animals. I’ve heard plenty about the negative traits we share with animals, and it was fascinating (and refreshing) to read the opposite spin – that getting in touch with our animalistic instincts can, in fact, be a very good thing. This book was enlightening to me, especially because of some of the recent events that have engulfed modern society. It’s nice to be reminded that compassion, empathy, and teamwork are not weak societal constructs but are instead fundamental parts of our genetic make up and, in the end, leave us (both individually and collectively) stronger. The anecdotes Dr. De Waal uses to illustrate his points are fascinating – and yes, I know I keep using that word, but it so perfectly summarizes my feelings on this book. It’s fascinating, and it’s worth a read. Highly recommended.
A lot of people assume that humans are naturally selfish (see: classic economics, social darwinists, Ayn Randians, etc.) Frans de Waal tries to prove that this is not really the case, that though we may be selfish sometimes, empathy is a natural emotion that occurs in humans and even some non-humans. De Waal being a primatologist, this book focuses primarily on primates, though he does cover some other species (dolphins, whales, elephants, dogs) and humans. He makes a very convincing argument that these animals are capable of feeling empathy and even some other human-like emotions. I only wish he delved a little deeper into the implications of this fact, because there are many. For instance, how can we mesh capitalism, based on the idea that the selfish actions of individuals can create a greater good, with our knowledge that selfishness is not the natural state of humanity? I understand why he didn't want to head off too far in that direction, though it's definitely an interesting subject.
Empathy and cooperation come naturally to us and play a big part in why we’re here today. Is caring for our fellow humans something that comes naturally to us? Turn on any news feed, and it seems unlikely. The truth is we likely wouldn’t be here if our default behavior was to be insensitive and uncompassionate to our fellow humans. Biology and history both support that we as humans have a strong sense of compassion and cooperation that tend to be an instinct for us. Consider parenting where empathy is second nature. Parents just have a natural sensitivity toward their offspring as a means to keep children healthy and safe. Imagine the fate of a helpless newborn if the parents were instinctively uncaring and dismissive. The chances of survival for the infant would be slight without outside intervention.
I am so grateful that a scientist took it upon himself to write this book. It is an up-to-date explanation of the root of human empathy, its widespread existence among other animals, and its implications for human society. Most notably, this book concludes that there are two hands guiding human society: 1) the invisible hand of the market and 2) the hand of compassion. Scientific investigations have time and again concluded that people tend toward cooperation, a sense of fairness, and sharing more than they tend toward pursuing self-interest. As the world tries to comprehend and recover from economic, social, and environment tragedies, we should bear these facts in mind. Empathy is has what has kept humans going for millions of years -- ignoring it would be destructive and regretful.
The author is a biologist who uses his studies of social behaviours in animals as a basis for the study of empathy. He argues that empathy comes naturally to humans as well as many animals. Acknowledging that there is far more research that needs to be done, he nevertheless shows that there is a solid base for further research on a variety of animals. While many have argued that humans are, by nature, selfish, looking out for themselves at the expense of others, de Waal argues against this, and makes a good case. Using examples from recent history and culture, he shows the human side of this story. The animal side is shown through his own research with chimpanzees and elephants as well as the research of many other biologists. This is a compelling and hopeful book.
If someone behaves badly, we call them "an animal." But, when someone uses empathy, we call their behavior "humane." Except that, some animals have empathy too... Transplanted Dutch academic Frans de Waal discusses empathy in animals - particularly primates - and empathy in humans, and why empathy is as basic a component of biology as our more aggressive instincts and is here to stay.