Saturday, July 15, 2006

If Mice Have Empathy...

Science magzine recently reported that mice may have empathy toward other mice(Science vol. 312, 30 June 2006). This shocked me because I just got the renewed impression that humans have little empahy toward other animals, especially those raised for consumption. Empathy has often been thought to be a uniquely human attribute. It has been argued that in order to experience empathy we humans developed story-telling, operas, sports, novels, movies, and many other cultural events. When the German soccer captain butted an Italian player in front of TV cameras, many, if not most, felt empahy toward the former, thinking that he had been badly insulted, so badly that no one could blame him for ruining his last match as professional soccer player.

But if mice too have capacity for empathy, a whole different picture would emerge. A laboratory mouse may feel pain when seeing other mise being subject to unpleasant treatment. Since there is no reason to believe mice have more empathy than pigs, a pig, too, may feel intense fear seeing other pigs butchered. Then, what about a cow hearing other cows screaming in a slaughterhouse reeking with blood? I would therefore suggest that we should treat our fellow animals more "humanely." I'm not only talking about dogs and cats but also about cows and pigs.

- MT

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