A biologist says goodbye to a dying chimp

I came across this video in a New York Times review of an upcoming (March 12) book by Frans de Waal, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves. The notes below, however, are from YouTube, not from the book or the review:

Mama, 59 years old and the oldest chimpanzee and the matriarch of the famous chimpanzee colony of the Royal Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands, was gravely ill. Jan van Hooff (emeritus professor behavioural biology at Utrecht University and co-founder of the Burgers colony) who has known Mama since 1972, visited her in the week before she died of old age in april 2016. It took a while before she became aware of Jan’s presence. Her reaction was extremely emotional and heart-breaking. Mama played an important social role in the colony. This has been described in “Chimpanzee Politics” by Frans de Waal, who studied the colony since 1974.

If this doesn’t make you tear up, I don’t know what would.

The art accompanying the review, by the way is great; it’s an illustration by Wesley Allsbrook:

h/t: Nilou

33 Comments

  1. Mark R.
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I always tear up upon seeing moments like this. Thanks for posting it.

    • Posted February 25, 2019 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Those who have/had cared for their beloved parents or elderly folks would definitely feel the emotional impact of such a video.

      I have always liked Frans de Waal’s books, and his latest, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves” is no exception. I wish that we could have much more superior and effective communicative tools with which to understand animals better. This is one of the many issues that I have discussed in my multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary post entitled “SoundEagle in Debating Animal Artistry and Musicality” at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/soundeagle-in-debating-animal-artistry-and-musicality/

  2. Martin
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. Gives life its meaning.

  3. davelenny
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Those moved by the video might like the short story, End of a Captive by David Martin, published 1984 in Thirty Stories by MacMillan, ISBN 0 333 38028 2.

  4. sgo
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t yet seen the clip but did just read the review. I really want to read this book. De Waal’s earlier, “Are We Smart Enough …” was very interesting too. I did read Balcombe’s book “Pleasurable Kingdom”, mentioned in the review – very interesting too but at times too much of a summary of cases.

  5. merilee
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t going to watch, but did😿

  6. rickflick
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Sweet goodbye.

  7. darrelle
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, but heartbreaking.

  8. Posted February 25, 2019 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    It costs us nothing, but more, it elevates us all to simply be kind.

  9. Pam Wright
    Posted February 25, 2019 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been associated with a large zoo for almost 30 years and have seen how the staff handles chimpanzee deaths. They will always bring the body into the private area of the exhibit…out of view from the public…and gradually let the other chimps see the deceased, touch him/her and grieve. When we lost a young male in an accident so freakish that NOBODY would ever have imagined it…I saw the other chimps comfort his mother. These are our nearest relatives and they have an understanding of death. I’m glad Mama could see her old friend before she died.

    On Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 12:01 PM Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “I came across this video in a New York Times > review of an upcoming (March 12) book by Frans de Waal, Mama’s Last Hug: > Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves. The notes below, > however, are from YouTube, not from the book or the review: Mama” >

    • Christopher
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      I believe Darwin once said something about the difference between humans and the other animals is one of degree rather than of kind. Here we see a very small degree indeed.

      Very moving. Beautiful and bittersweet. My throat still feels a bit tight, my eyes a bit watery.

  10. Posted February 25, 2019 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Dr. C., I loved the video and thanks for posting it.

    It makes me think more of the Free Will issue. I think our appreciation of this chimp’s life and the bond with this long-time companion should make us realize how important it is to appreciate all the levels of reality built up and beyond the level of physics. This chimp and this relationship were far more than only atoms bounding off each other and their determined outcome.

    The events of a human life, and a near human life (the chimp), are filled with far more Quality than any puppet pulled on strings. Even though we and Mama are determined, its worth appreciating the levels of accomplishment that Mother Nature has granted us. Hard Determinism misses the glory of the journey up through these levels as it rushes to only regard physics as the meaning of life.
    Respectfully yours, GregWW

    • rom
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Hard Determinism misses the glory of the journey up through these levels as it rushes to only regard physics as the meaning of life.

      I take it you are not a hard determinist? As a person that subscribes to hard determinism, or more accurately hard incompatibilism, the wonder and awe of this universe are not lost on me. This is from the very smallest scales to the very largest. Including the meso scale we inhabit which includes the interactions of animals and humans.

      Now if you are a compatibilist you agree with Prof Coyne you cannot do otherwise. Yours is simply a semantic disagreement. If you are libertarian, you have some ‘splaining to do Gregg.

      • Posted February 26, 2019 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        I don’t understand how hard determinism is compatible with most of the vocabulary we use to describe the world and ourselves, including “awe”, “wonder”, “sorrow” and “affection”. I understand Coyne as a hard determinist who partially recognizes my point about much of our vocabulary when he calls for revising our thinking about criminal justice for, afterall, nobody — including criminals — is responsible for their behavior. We should stop talking like they are, he contends (I believe).

        A compatiblist is someone who thinks something like Free Will is compatible with something like determinism. Help me with your understanding of these terms.

        • rom
          Posted February 26, 2019 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

          I don’t understand how hard determinism is compatible with most of the vocabulary we use to describe the world and ourselves, including “awe”, “wonder”, “sorrow” and “affection”.

          Fair enough … but not understanding how is not an excuse for asserting your conclusion. Would you agree?

          … afterall, nobody — including criminals — is responsible for their behavior. We should stop talking like they are, he contends (I believe).

          There are two general meanings of responsible, one is the moral sense of the word, which personally I would do away with. Then there is the sense of a proximate cause … a criminal is the proximate cause of the crime that was committed. I would contain the criminal (if necessary) in the same way I might contain a creek that has a habit of flooding my basement.

          Yes a compatibilist is someone who thinks free will is compatible with determinism. They are also known as soft determinists. A libertarian thinks somehow we do stuff that is independent of prior causes. For me this position comes from the “argument from ignorance”, in that just because we don’t have the internal fortitude to track down all the interconnected causes for our actions, does not mean they are not there.

          • Posted February 27, 2019 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for clarifying terms, that was helpful.

            To be clearer about what I meant, I meant that hard determinism IS incompatible with a clear understanding of how our language (and much of what we try to express with it) works. Language is not meaningful if hard det is true. Language becomes just more pushing and shoving, just strictly physical force (another proximate cause) and lacking in any significant quality of its own.

            Your example of “responsible” is just what I was contending. You are shifting its meaning from its primary and vital moral sense to its hybridization as a “cause”. Words like “wonder” and “awe”, I think, are in the same boat as “responsibility”. Hard Det has to down-size them all into something we are caused to do (‘say’) and little different than being caused to take a crap or urinate. But words have to carry a lot more significance than that for us to be using them now to debate this topic and for scientists to use them to DO science and not just have the sci ontology as the only thing “real” when they are done.

            I am a “soft determinist”. I believe that Language has an emergent quality similar to Genes, each as an information system that has some autonomy, some internal structure, that should not and cannot be simply reduced to its physical substructures. There are levels of complexity that matter. Hard Det is “greedy reductionism”. It “misses the glory of the journey up through these levels as it rushes to only regard physics as the meaning of life.” Or maybe I should say, Hard Det does not provide the reasons for believing in the experiences and practices that are based on theses high levels on interaction.

            I believe that makes some sense. Thanks!

        • rom
          Posted March 1, 2019 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

          I am interested in your reaction to the following. I will try to get to the issue that is the crux of the problem.

          Yep … I am still around Greg. Can I suggest or if you are interested there is a quiet forum
          http://www.agnosticsinternational.org
          that we can carry on this discussion, if you are interested. Formatting is a bit easier there.

          I’m mostly using Dan Dennett and other American Pragmatist philosophers and Dawkins.

          Funnily enough it was Dennett’s Freedom Evolved that brought me to this blog. I was completely dissatisfied with Dennett’s evaluation of free will, and I searched for book reviews. Here I found Jerry’s book review, which I could not help but find reflected my own concerns.

          When I have heard Dawkins speak on the matter, he sidesteps the debate completely.

          But, the point is ….
          The Hard Determinist ‘flow’ of causes is interrupted, so to speak, by Designs it has stumbled upon.

          Again the flow of causes for a hard or soft determinist are the same. This is a semantic issue.

          A Design or structure is something like that stream you mentioned that overflowed it banks, but think of it as getting “stuck” in an eddy. It swirls back on itself; it forms a feedback loop that actually takes on a structure, a form with parts, that has significance.

          Are you taking Dennett’s use of “design” here from his recent book? I have no problem with this other than a potential confusion for others. If so (and possibly not if) we are discarding the vital meaning of design and replacing it with a secondary meaning. If you catch my drift 🙂

          That is where Emergent properties ‘come from’, these kind of loops. Life, various ecosystems, language, and human society with its history are these kinds of loops that add Emergent abilities, non-magically to the world.

          Why the upper case E in the word emergent? In what sense is it a proper noun?

          It’s interesting that I and Dennett and Dawkins would claim that that is what Life is, a structured “eddy” in the briefly delayed flow of causes. In this sense, a living thing has a logical form, an interrelated set of factors (organs) that exist ‘all at once’ in relation to each other and They Function. They do something New, by caparison to a bunch of causes bouncing forward thru time.

          I like the metaphor of an eddy and I think it is a bit more than just a metaphor. Eddies are chaotic! There are patterns in the chaos, whether it be a snowflake, person, an organ or a behaviour. Chaos is throwing up new stuff all the time.

          Sorry, that was probably not clear, but the point is that Designs are Real. That is what Dennett claims, but Dawkins claims they are only Apparent but still significant. Design works in the universe as a growing ladder of complexity and qualities (the Tree of Life.

          The universe has an unimaginably large number constituents that interact. Physics is our ‘description’ of those interactions. The universe is complex simply because of the number constituents and the distance over which the interactions occur. Chaos is our friend so to speak.

          And this Design happens Without A Designer, except for Mother Nature and Nat Selection.

          This is Dennettesque, which fine. But it is also a semantic ‘battle’, as our chaotic memes are replicating in the substrate of our brains.

          I hope that makes some sense, its a better than panpsychism, but some what similar. Got to go eat dinner! please respond.

          I am not a believer in panpsychism. If fact I am highly skeptical of my own personal psychism. I trust dinner was fine. It is my turn for dinner now.

          Again I suggest agnosticsinternational.org
          rom

          • Posted March 2, 2019 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

            As you suggested, these long comments suggest that you continue the discussion elsewhere.

      • rom
        Posted February 28, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        … hard determinism IS incompatible with a clear understanding of how our language (and much of what we try to express with it) works.

        Actually if you read Jerry’s posts the opposite is true. Jerry has provided clear evidence that people think of free will in the libertarian sense. It is soft determinism that mucks up understanding.
        Quagmire of evasion and wretched subterfuge as James and Kant described soft determinism, both of whom actually believed in free will.

        Language is not meaningful if hard det is true. Language becomes just more pushing and shoving, just strictly physical force (another proximate cause) and lacking in any significant quality of its own.

        How is this less true in a soft determinist’s world? The underlying physics is just the same!

        Your example of “responsible” is just what I was contending. You are shifting its meaning from its primary and vital moral sense to its hybridization as a “cause”.

        No not at all … I am pointing out that the supposed vital meaning in “moral” is similar to the vital meaning in “magic”.

        Words like “wonder” and “awe”, I think, are in the same boat as “responsibility”. Hard Det has to down-size them all into something we are caused to do (‘say’) and little different than being caused to take a crap or urinate.

        Remember if you are a soft determinist the underlying physics is just the same. Hence the quagmire of evasion quote.

        But words have to carry a lot more significance than that for us to be using them now to debate this topic and for scientists to use them to DO science and not just have the sci ontology as the only thing “real” when they are done.

        They do? Again using “magic” as an example: there are the softer versions like “magic shows” and the expression “that was magic”.

        The “vital” sense of the word magic most of us have walked away from. We can do the same with the fallout from hard determinism … and this is where I feel the awe and wonder.

        Also how do you measure the quantity of the awe and wonder I might feel being part of this universe? How might it be downgraded in someway if determinism is true?

        I will stress the physics for a soft determinist is that of a hard determinist. It purely a semantic battle.

        I am a “soft determinist”. I believe that Language has an emergent quality similar to Genes, each as an information system that has some autonomy, some internal structure, that should not and cannot be simply reduced to its physical substructures.

        Emergent is one of those funny words. It has many nuances. One is simply a property/behaviour that results from the underlying deterministic cause and effect of the constituents. The other is akin to – you guessed it – magic.

        There are levels of complexity that matter. Hard Det is “greedy reductionism”. It “misses the glory of the journey up through these levels as it rushes to only regard physics as the meaning of life.” Or maybe I should say, Hard Det does not provide the reasons for believing in the experiences and practices that are based on theses high levels on interaction.

        “Greedy reductionism” is simply an ad hominin dressed up as an argument Greg. You assert it misses the glory. You could well have claimed that is where the glory is.

        No one claims we should not believe our experiences (perhaps not hook, line and sinker). But we should take care in interpreting our experiences as they are limited. We are, on a moment to moment basis, unaware of the underlying physics that shapes our thoughts. And as a soft determinist you should be in agreement with this.

        • Posted March 1, 2019 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the good, and respectful, discussion! You make good points as usual. I’ll get back to you on this in more detail.

          Also, I liked your comparison of a criminal to a stream that floods your house; we dam it up. Very effective but I don’t quite agree with the point; more complexity to a person than a stream and that is kind of the basic issue we have—-what is an Emergent property? I don’t believe in Real Magic, but I do believe that Persons can and must KINDA choose, think of it as choosing, and yet its not based in the SuperNatural. This is a hard case to make. Stay tuned, please. Have you ever read Sean Carroll’s short and clear article “Free Will is as Real as Baseball” ? It’s good.

          • Posted March 1, 2019 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            Your comment—-“No one claims we should not believe our experiences (perhaps not hook, line and sinker). But we should take care in interpreting our experiences as they are limited.”
            This is the point, maybe. Determinism and Free Will, each we experience and there are different horns of this dilemma that you can choose to RE-interpret to get an understanding of our human situation. I will try to explain an understanding of Emergence that gives some credit to determinism and doesn’t get too “wooey” (Coyne) with choice.

            • Posted March 1, 2019 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

              I hope you are still around rom, I am interested in your reaction to the following. I will try to get to the issue that is the crux of the problem.

              I’m mostly using Dan Dennett and other American Pragmatist philosophers and Dawkins. But, the point is ….

              The Hard Determinist ‘flow’ of causes is interrupted, so to speak, by Designs it has stumbled upon. A Design or structure is something like that stream you mentioned that overflowed it banks, but think of it as getting “stuck” in an eddy. It swirls back on itself; it forms a feedback loop that actually takes on a structure, a form with parts, that has significance. That is where Emergent properties ‘come from’, these kind of loops. Life, various ecosystems, language, and human society with its history are these kinds of loops that add Emergent abilities, non-magically to the world.

              It’s interesting that I and Dennett and Dawkins would claim that that is what Life is, a structured “eddy” in the briefly delayed flow of causes. In this sense, a living thing has a logical form, an interrelated set of factors (organs) that exist ‘all at once’ in relation to each other and They Function. They do something New, by caparison to a bunch of causes bouncing forward thru time.

              Sorry, that was probably not clear, but the point is that Designs are Real. That is what Dennett claims, but Dawkins claims they are only Apparent but still significant. Design works in the universe as a growing ladder of complexity and qualities (the Tree of Life). And this Design happens Without A Designer, except for Mother Nature and Nat Selection.

              I hope that makes some sense, its a better than panpsychism, but some what similar. Got to go eat dinner! please respond.

              • rom
                Posted March 1, 2019 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

                I replied up above Greg.

              • Posted March 2, 2019 at 11:58 am | Permalink

                Hi Greg
                My reply seems to be stuck in moderation.

                We can carry on this discussion at my linked website.

              • Posted March 3, 2019 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                Will do, and thanks Jerry for providing your WEIT forum.

              • Posted March 3, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                rom, I tried but had trouble reCAPCHA. This will be my last post in this stream here. Thanks for the reference to Jerry’s review of Dennett’s book. Should be interesting.

                True, I am ‘cleaning up’ the connotations of the word “design”. I said a while ago that everyone in this discussion is going to argue for shifting meanings of some of its terms somehow. I will gladly follow Darwin and Dennett to allow “design” to occur without an intelligent designer (kinda).

                As far as capitalizing “Emergent”, just to suggest its going to carry a heavy load in my argument. I’m glad you liked the “eddy’ analogy, I don’t know about chaos theory but I don’t think I need it. Its not chaos (?) that created self-replicating objects, its Mother Nature’s unrelenting R&D program. Self-replicators where a combination that stuck and took off.

                In that vein, Complexity is not just a large number of objects in the universe and a big space using a physics vocabulary. Dawkins and Dennett contend it is an accumulation of different kinds of parts, that introduced new vocabularies and are connected by Information Systems such as DNA and human language and culture (memes). Those “eddies” in the ongoing flow of causes really do work to Emerge new abilities, like the ones we are using –conversion, logic, evidence, persuasion. A local place in this universe where these kinds of complexity occur and are our way of life, though in the biggest picture of only a limited impact.

                In Dennett’s vision, in the end the placement of all particles in the universe and their initial shove does work the same for hard and soft determinists. But rom (and Jerry) that’s a check we can never cash. That fact of physics determination only lies in the background of our thinking and does not tell us what to do next. We should use an enlightened form of our everyday vision of Free Will and Rational Thought to do that. We have a limited form of freedom and responsibility (moral sense not proximate cause sense) because of Complexity as suggested above.

                Hard and soft Determinists should both agree, we live in an utterly amazing universe; a very fortunate placement of particles! We should celebrate it and Do work (not just Happen work) to make it better.

                talk to you on other site if I can ever log in. Thanks for all your good work, Jerry.

  11. alexander
    Posted February 26, 2019 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Yes, animals have “souls”, no matter what the catholic church says. Looking at the television reports from Rome, many of these people in their weird purple clothes don’t look like they have souls, they are preprogrammed (done between age 2 to 7).

    See also:

    https://www.sciencenews.org/article/new-book-showcases-emotional-lives-animals?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=latest-newsletter-v2

  12. Andrea Kenner
    Posted February 26, 2019 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Leaky eyes

  13. Rupinder Sayal
    Posted February 27, 2019 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this beautiful video!

  14. Posted February 27, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Our cousins are so much like us …

  15. gijswijs
    Posted February 28, 2019 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    If you want to see Mama in better times, I can recommend the 1984 documentary ‘The family of chimps’ https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0411227/
    The documentary is made by the Oscar winning documentary maker Bert Haanstra, and was inspired by De Waal’s book ‘Chimpanzee politics’

    • gijswijs
      Posted February 28, 2019 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Oh, look, it’s even on YouTube!


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