When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Susan McCarthy


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385314251
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/1995
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.38(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.14(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, former psychoanalyst and projects director of the Sigmund Freud Archives, is the bestselling author of two dozen books, including Raising the Peaceable Kingdom, Slipping into Paradise, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, Dogs Never Lie About Love, and When Elephants Weep. A longtime resident of Berkeley, California, he now lives with his family in Auckland, New Zealand.

Susan McCarthy graduated from Reed College and from the University of California at Berkeley and with degrees in biology and journalism. She lives in San Francisco.


Auckland, New Zealand

Date of Birth:

March 28, 1941

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois


B.A., Harvard, 1964; Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1978, Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard, 1970

Read an Excerpt

But there are signs of significant change. Recently Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a scientist at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, Georgia, wrote in the preface to her book Ape Language:

It is possible, if one looks beyond the slightly differently shaped face, to read the emotions of apes as easily and as accurately as one reads the emotions and feelings of other human beings. There are few feelings that apes do not share with us, except perhaps self-hatred. They certainly experience and express exuberance, joy, guilt, remorse, disdain, disbelief, awe, sadness, wonder, tenderness, loyalty, anger, distrust, and love. Someday, perhaps, we will be able to demonstrate the existence of such emotions at a neurological level. Until then, only those who live and interact with apes as closely as they do with members of their own species will be able to understand the immense depth of the behavioral similarities between ape and man.

Knowing what we feel is one way to judge whether an animal feels something similar, but may not be the only, or even the best way. Are animals' similarities or differences from humans the only, or even the most important, issue? Surely we can train ourselves to an empathic imaginative sympathy for another species. Taught what to look for in facial features, gestures, postures, behavior, we could learn to be more open and more sensitive. We need to exercise our imaginative faculties, stretch them beyond where they have already taken us, and observe things we have never been able to see before. We need not be limited by ourselves as the reference point, by what has already been written, by the existing consensus amongscientists. What do we have to lose in taking the imaginative leap to broaden our sympathies and our horizons? I decided to explore what had been written about animals in scientific studies to see whether they contained buried information about their emotions, even if they did not contain explicit discussions of such matters. As yet no prominent scientist has undertaken a sustained treatment of animal emotions. It is to be hoped, for the sake of animals as well as humans, that scientists will be persuaded to look more seriously at the feelings of the animals who share the world with us.

In this book I try to show that animals of all kinds lead complex emotional lives. Although many scientists have believed that the animals they observed had emotions, few have written about it. This is why my co-author and I have sifted a large body of scientific literature, looking for the unacknowledged evidence. I have drawn on a long list of expert witnesses, in particular scientists who have studied wild animals in the field. I have kept largely to work by recognized scientists, so that even skeptics will see that evidence comes from a wide range of careful studies of animals in different environments.

These field studies show what most laypeople have always believed: that animals love and suffer, cry and laugh; their hearts rise up in anticipation and fall in despair. They are lonely, in love, disappointed, or curious; they look back with nostalgia and anticipate future happiness. They feel.

No one who has lived with an animal would deny this. But many scientists do just that, which is why I have tried to address their worries in more detail than might be necessary for the ordinary person. "It's obvious," says the pet owner; "It's an enormous claim," says the scientist. This book attempts to bridge the gap between the knowledge of the person who has always observed animals without prejudice, and the scientific mind that does not want to venture into such emotional territory.

Many scientists have avoided thinking about the feelings of animals because they have been frightened--and realistically so--of being accused of anthropomorphism. That is why I have looked carefully at the issue of anthropomorphism. If it can be disposed of as a false criticism, then the study of animal emotions can proceed on a scientific basis, freed from a bogus fear.

I have also tried to look objectively at the arguments of evolutionary biology and ask, when do they help explain the real emotional lives that animals display and when are they used to dismiss that reality?

As you read you may be surprised by the unexpected emotional behavior of some animals: an elephant who keeps a pet mouse; a chimpanzee awaiting the return of her dead baby; a bear lost in rapture as it watches the sunset; ice-skating buffalo; a parrot who means what he says; a dolphin inventing her own games--and through it all, scientists who refuse to acknowledge what will probably seem obvious to you.

In the conclusion I will discuss some of the moral choices that flow from an accurate understanding of animal emotions. We will have seen that animals feel anger, fear, love, joy, shame, compassion, and loneliness to a degree that you will not find outside the pages of fiction or fable. Perhaps this will affect not only the way you think about animals, but how you treat them. The clearer it became to me that animals have deep feelings, the more outraged I grew at the thought of any kind of animal experimentation. Can we justify these experiments when we know what animals feel as they undergo these tortures? Is it possible to go on eating animals when we know how they suffer? We are horrified when we read, even in fiction, of people who kill other people in order to sell parts of their bodies. But every day elephants are slaughtered for their tusks, rhinos for their horns, gorillas for their hands. My hope is that as it begins to dawn on people what feeling creatures these animals are, it will be increasingly difficult to justify these cruel acts.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Half Moon Bay, April 1995

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Fascinating...Compassionate...A book to be read more than once...A kind of nature lover's rendezvous with reality."
Philadelphia Inquirer

"In this impassioned volume [Masson and McCarthy] argue their case with intriguing examples culled from scientific literature...In addition to offering a fascinating array of animals, it convincingly argues that their emotional life is an area worthy of scientific exploration."

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