So sayeth an interesting NYT article about MRI scans of dogs’ brains. Of course, I suspect anyone who loves dogs could have told you dogs have emotions. I witnessed a display of unbridled canine joy just yesterday morning, when my husband returned from a week in Japan. It’s hard to doubt it once you’ve seen our whippet bounding around, running in circles, and frantically snuggling up to him the moment he sits down.
What’s more interesting to me in this article is the argument that emotions comprise personhood. In our household, we do believe Una is a person, but we would claim it’s because she has a “personality”. Emotional reactions are part of her personality, but not all of it by any means. The article, however, implies that emotion should make the difference between our treating animals as “things” and our treating them as “people”.
But should it? Are emotions the most important measure of personhood? I don’t mean to imply that I have the answer. This is something I think about a lot, however, and play with in my writing. I’ve created a species of dragon who do not experience emotions in their natural form, but are subject to emotions in human form, and find them profoundly disconcerting.
Are dragons in dragon form not “people”? I think they are. Is having emotions somehow superior? Some of my characters believe that, but I don’t. On the flip side, dragons sometimes don’t consider humans “people” – they’re too irrational!
The challenge and the goal, I think, is to accord respect – and a recognition of personhood – to minds that are different than our own. Even just among humans, there’s a lot of variation. Recognizing animal personhood may not be feasible until we can genuinely value all the different flavours of our own.