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Uploaded:2012-09-09
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In which hank discusses a question that doesn't have a lot of clear answers.
Hello, it's Hank. I just received a question from courageisallweneed on Tumblr, and I figured that I would just answer it here on Hankschannel. Hopefully courageisallweneed subscribes to Hankschannel. Um, the question is sort of a depressing one, "Do you think that animals commit suicide, or at least attempt suicide?" Now, there are a couple of, ah, questions in this question. One is do I think animals have a concept of mortality, their own existence, and whether that existence can end and be ended?

Um, and the answer to that question is a matter of tremendous debate, and you know, per animal..like it's clear that dogs do not have that, but chimpanzees seem to and dolphins and other cetaceans also seem to. Elephants, um, it's also possible that they do and some birds and even maybe squids? so it's weird, um, that's a lot of different non-related species of animal. Um, and so, but my opinion in that case is basically yes. I think that they do have the concept of mortality, that they have an existence that lasts a certain amount of time and then they die, and without that, though, I don't think that you can say that an animal can commit suicide because if you don't have the concept of mortality, even if you appear to be committing suicide, probably what you're doing is not suicide, it's just an emotional response to stimulus. And that's a sort of whole different thing, which I'm more likely to call like dying of emotion? and that totally happens. Like, uh, mother animals when their children die will like refuse to abandon their dead children and as a result they will be left behind by their herd or they will be - or they will just refuse to eat, um, same thing happens to animals who, uh, are in enclosures; they become very depressed, they stop eating, sometimes they abuse themselves, like they slam themselves against their enclosures until they hurt themselves badly, um, and so that would be a clear example of animal that would appear to be killing themselves, but is not necessarily what we would think of as suicide because it's more -

This is a terribly, terribly depressing topic, but I think it's important, um, to talk about things like this because, you know, you can study animal populations ecologically, you can study individual animals biologically, but psychology is like a huge part of how humans operate and we have only just begun to study animals psychologically. And I think it's important to do that, cause it gives us a better understanding of our place in the world and of the relationship that we sort of have with the rest of the biosphere. And so there's this sort of weird concept of humanity and can humanity expand beyond, um, humans? And I think we have shown that it can, it's just that we haven't done a particularly good job of it. So that's a very interesting, somewhat depressing question that I wanted to answer. Thank you to courageisallweneed.