Grief in an Orca Mother?


It’s a touching story and we can all resonate with the mother Orca and the loss of her calf. But is this grief, and if not, is grief more meaningful than what the mother Orca could otherwise be said to be experiencing?

Now when I argue that this is not grief because grief requires a comprehension of mortality, and furthermore if we’re going to confer grief onto animals this by extension means that Orca’s must worry about the next day’s fishing prospects, whether or not the life they’ve been living has been living up to an Orca’s true potential. And it’s not all upside as they would also be mentally capable of treachery, manipulative deceit, and murder. Another aspect of the dark side to being endowed with a capacity for grief is what about all the Orca mothers who don’t display grief, are they therefore lacking in moral character and maternal compassion?

While it may appear that I’m the grinch stealing the romance from the stories told about animals, it’s actually the other way around. I’m the only one saying that animals don’t have to think like humans to be deemed worthy of the high social virtues such as altruism, love, empathy, compassion, cooperation etc.. Because of the implications of attributing grief to the mother Orca as I’ve noted above, instead I believe we need to work harder to find a better answer. The answer is in the false dichotomy that if it’s not thinking than it is a machine. There is another way to understand animal intelligence without inserting a human intellect.

I propose attributing an immediate-moment mind to an animal.

This reveals that this mother Orca demonstrates something far more sublime and transcendent than attributing grief to the animal mind. And for the record she is indeed feeling loss, pain and a registry of disordered sensibilities so indeed I have compassion for her. We all know what that feels like. But nevertheless does she understand that her calf is dead?

First of all were we to see a human tending day after day to the corpse of a loved one we’d say they’re becoming unhinged, that there’s a mental dysfunction being triggered or at least amplified by the death of their loved one. In short, the problem is that they don’t accept their loved one’s mortality. They don’t believe they are dead.

Through an immediate-moment lens we see that emotion is a group energy, it has universal properties and principles of movement common to every emotional being. This means that an animal doesn’t see its SELF as separate and distinct from whatever it is attracted to and bonded with. And this means that what the animal feels on the inside, is what it feels causes what it sees on the outside. It feels that its internal emotional experience is what energizes its body and motivates it to move, and therefore what it feels inside is what energizes AND MOBILIZES what it is attracted to do what it does on the outside. The source of its life is not in its being, its life springs from the internal emotional experience of the one relating to it. And unlike the family of a person tending obsessively to the corpse of their loved one, the other Orcas don’t think she’s dysfunctional in the least since they feel the same way and are swept up into tending the dead calf  due to the mother’s behavior.

Now why did the the mother Orca lose the feeling and return to life as normal? Because maintaining a sense of self, and all the other selves therein contained in that master self, depends on feedback of a specific type, i.e. Newton’s third law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. (Note that emotion is a calculus of motion.) This is the basis of trust and a feeling of safety so one can count on the feedback they’re comfortable handling. So as the calf decomposed and failed to render any equal/opposite feedback, and its flaccid, morbid unresponsiveness absorbing all input like an emotional black hole, eventually broke the connection between mother and calf and she was free to move on.

Emotion due its universal properties and principles of movement creates a group consciousness, a networked intelligence. The Orca pod is operating through a collective mind due to a universal range of affect common to each one. And because each is an emotional counterbalance to the other, they move best when they mirror each other in conformance to the laws of motion. In short what I feel you feel and this composes one mind and doesn’t require human thoughts. Just the presence of heart and the feeling of loss. This is the sublime transcendental message we could be seeing in animal behavior, in short, the nature of Nature is to nurture.

{{ Things can always be said more clearly. The mother FEELS her calf as an extension of her body. If it’s not breathing she FEELS like she can’t breath. Thus get it to the surface. And to watch the body of the calf sink down into the abyss FEELS like she is falling which is how the animal mind constitutes death without an understanding of mortality. }}

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Published August 14, 2018 by Kevin Behan
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4 responses to “Grief in an Orca Mother?”

  1. Neil Golden says:

    A very sweet (and intelligent) disposition! An animal that definitely demonstrates this “shared feeling” phenomena are elephants, when witnessing the body (or even visiting the bones!) of a former group member. I’m not sure I agree with your last sentence however. I don’t think the(only) job of Nature is (to be) nurturing.

  2. Kevin Behan says:

    According to Constructal Law a system can only persist if its flow is constantly improving, i.e. generating more life. So according to physics and a basic principle of thermodynamics, the nature of Nature is to nurture.

  3. Neil says:

    Hi Kevin. Well first, Constructal Law is still a theory; and hardly a proven one. I hope you’ll take a moment to read the comments section of this article:

    Prof. Bejan and I come out of the same psychedelic/cultural “stew” that began in Cambridge MA in the sixties (he entered MIT the same year I graduated ;~) and many of the engineering students at that time (and just in that place!), developed an unusual way (especially for engineers!) of looking at the universe. And this background is plainly evident (to me anyway) in his constructal theory. That does not diminish its relevance to thinking about evolution, but I believe it a mistake to think it the best explanation.

    Anyway, my problem with the last sentence of your post is just one of semantics; not content ;~)) So while I find your your nature/nurture statement quite poetic, I think nurture might not be the best word to express the point you are making. Thanks very much,

  4. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes I’ve read the critical commentary and seen some debates on YouTube. When it gets into the weeds of math I can’t keep up but logically speaking I feel Bejan is right and there’s too much confusion on the word Design. It’s irrefutable that there is structure or design in the way all things work but we don’t have to concern ourselves with Why is that so. I formulated my theory decades before I heard of Constructal Law and refer to it to give people access to my immediate-moment theory by way of its reasoning. I’ve discovered that the animal mind works according to principles of energy, not according to methods of genetic selection. That a principle of conductivity is the basic unit of information, not this slightly more adaptive gene as opposed to that less well-adapted one. I don’t know Why an animal mind works according to electromagnetism, thermodynamics and the laws of motion, it’s just the How of the animal’s mind workings. It’s like electricity, we don’t know Why electricity exists we just study How electricity behaves and this leads us deeper and deeper into the structure of nature. Much appreciate your input, thanks.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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