Author Archives: vkhosla

“Beasts of England”

I was working on my final paper today when I came across and very interesting song…

Beasts of England, beasts of Ireland,

Beasts of every land and clime,

Hearken to my joyful tidings

Of the Golden Future time.

Soon or late the day is coming,

Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,

And the fruitful fields of England

Shall be trod by beasts alone.

Rings shall vanish from our noses,

And the harness from our back,

Bit and spur shall rust forever,

Cruel whips no more shall crack.

Riches more than mind can picture,

Wheat and barley, oats and hay,

Clover, beans and mangel-wurzels

Shall be ours upon that day.

Bright will shine the fields of England,

Purer shall its waters be,

Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes

On the day that sets us free.

For that day we all must labor,

Through we die before it break;

Cows and horses, geese and turkeys,

All most toil for freedom’s sake.

~ “Animal Farm” by George Orwell

I found this song interesting, because although from a fiction story, it seems to bring up an interesting argument. Is it true that animals would be better off without human presence? For one, it can be argued that all animal cruelty will cease to exist. Nature would be able to function the way it’s supposed to, without the intervention of humans doing things like controlling the weather or playing god by saving species that should be extinct. In addition, animals could be free–dogs would no longer be subjected to human civilization, as would cats and horses. Cows and chickens would no longer be farmed just for the pure desire to eat. Tuna would be happily swimming in the ocean, instead of watching their numbers rapidly decline. Condors would be happily living without humans destroying their habitats. And marine animals would be able to live in non-polluted waters.

Yet there seems to be a major issue forgotten. Some animals have become dependent on human life. Dogs, cats, and horses are still able to live in the wild, yet they thrive in human societies today. Cows and chickens may be bred simply for food, but in the wild they will all be eaten eventually. Condors may have been able to live without human destruction, yet the reason condors are still around are because people saved the last pair alive in Bir Sur, California to breed until numbers could go up. For some species, it is non-negotiable: humans are more of a problem than they help. But for other species, humans have changed the traits that are the strongest, and now they are dependent on human society.

Ancient Peruvians were Stressed

I recently read an article that studied the hair of ancient peruvians who lived between 550 A.D. and 1532. They found the stress hormone cortisol in ancient hair. Cortisol is produced in response to real and perceived threats. After its release, the hormone travels to nearly every part of the body, including to blood, saliva, urine and hair. Interestingly they found the stress levels of these individuals to be higher than individuals today. The reason I thought this article was so interesting was because recently in class we’ve been talking about whether we impose our morals and values on other animals, thinking maybe they don’t even have them. But from an evolutionary point of view, stress can be explained. Perhaps, we can explain morals and values from an evolutionary perspective as well, which might indicate reason for other animals to want to have them. Although we know the human brain is very complex and very develop, we seem to think no other animals can ever have the amount of thought and complexity that we have. But maybe if we know early humans had things like stress, which helped them react and respond to bad situations, we can explain morals in similar ways. For example, we know that our morals tend to guide the actions of our lives, and from an evolutionary perspective they make sense since in general morals tend to protect human life.

“When every human chooses to stop breeding, Earth’s biosphere will be allowed to return to its former glory”

I read an interesting article about voluntary human extinction in which a group of people believe the best solution to climate control (and many other things) is for humans to wipe themselves out. Supporters of this group believe the best way to cause human extinction is by refusing to reproduce. In their minds, the goal would be to get every human to agree not to reproduce. The article led me to a website of the group, where they claim “Each time another one of us decides to not add another one of us to the burgeoning billions already squatting on this ravaged planet, another ray of hope shines through the gloom.” What’s interesting about this group is that they believe humans have essentially destroyed earth, and there is no in between in which earth can be surviving at it’s fullest and humans can be living. Another interesting thing is that they don’t seem to talk about the connects humans have with animals now– for example if humans were suddenly to go extinct, what about all the animals that are just holding on to their survival because of human intervention? Or animals like dogs who have basically become dependent on humans? They do say “the hopeful alternative to the extinction of millions of species of plants and animals is the voluntary extinction of one species: Homo sapiens… us.” But they seem to think that if humans go extinct, we will be the only ones to do so, and that will solve the problems we’ve left behind. If you believe in global warming, humans may not be able to stop it, but it also will not just simply go away if humans do.

Defying Nature? Or Not…

Darwin’s theory of evolution is widely excepted today; we learn about it in our biology class, and we discuss how animals have lived through it. We even talk about the human evolution, but we haven’t seen much change in recent years. Some may argue that humans are finally defying nature and no longer living according to the theory of evolution and natural selection. Many feel we are no longer part of that natural struggle, but we continue to watch the world around us follow that path. In a recent article by National Geographic, this idea is questioned. The article looks at four different possibilities.

First, there is no longer such thing as human evolution. We have reached our capacity and beaten down mother nature, so we define where are own species is going and on what terms. As said by anthropologist Ian Tattersall of New York’s American Museum of Natural History, “the fixation of any meaningful evolutionary novelties in the human population is highly improbable. Human beings are just going to have to learn to live with themselves as they are.” Supporters of this argument sense that natural selection occurs from a genetic mutation, but humans are no longer living in isolated populations, which means very few genetic mutations. Others support this by arguing that because of medical advancements, the weakest individuals of society are still able to pass on their genes, essentially beating “survival of the fittest.”

The second possibility presented is that humans will continue to evolve, regardless of survival rates in today’s society. A group of scientists support this theory by studying which physical traits tend to be passed on more. Supporter’s of this argument also suggest that evolution may be speeding up in humans, as Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico, shares that “You still have powerful mate choice shaping mental traits particularly … traits that are needed to succeed economically and in raising kids.” Miller also suggests that we will see more epidemics because of the spread of airborne viruses and bacteria, which will lead to stronger immune systems.

The third idea is that humans will achieve the highest control by development of technology. This theory, called Transhumanism, sees humans taking control of their evolution and limitations by technology. Essentially, this group of people believes that human society is gearing towards artificial intelligence, and that soon the human race will be fully dependent on this life style.

The last possibility presented in that humans are about to embark on a new wave of evolution. Supporters of this theory see humans isolating themselves in the near future, by traveling and inhabiting planets other than just Earth. This allows small groups of people to experience speciation. “If we had spacefaring people who went on one-way voyages to distant stars, that might be enough to trigger speciation,” says John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After reading the four possibilities presented, I felt that one possibility was still left out. None of these theories see the advancements of humans today as part of evolution, but either insignificant to evolution or the reason we have beaten evolution. Perhaps, technological advancements that lead to longer life and increased populations are actually still evolutionary traits working, but in a different way than we’ve previously seen. The theory of evolution does not always mean that species have to die out, it simply states that species will adapt and advance themselves by natural selection in order to pass on our genes. Maybe humans have found a way to pass on more genes, and even though we don’t recognize it, all of our innovations and goals are quietly driven inherently by evolution.

Altruism in Chimps

It has come up many times in our class discussions about the way humans think and feel, and if we put those emotions on other animals. We seem to believe that we have more links to each other, and therefore our qualities or altruism, morals, and values are purely human qualities. Interestingly enough, I was browsing National Geographic when I found this article about chimps. Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute did a study with 12 mother/offspring pairs of chimps. All chimps were trained to use to sticks to draw straws out of reach towards them, and then use the straws to drink juice. However, chimps were not trained to share sticks, straws, or converse with each other in any way. Regardless of this, they found that 59% the chimps passed either the stick or the straw to another chimp even though both chimps did not benefit from the action. Furthermore, it was found that when a chimp made some sort of request for either a stick or a straw, the chimp with the item in question passed it off 75% of the time.

Does this mean that chimps regard each other and feel empathy for each other in the same way humans do? Not for sure, but I do think it’s naive to believe we are the only species that can do that. I think this begins to show us that maybe there is an evolutionary reason behind empathy, or if there isn’t, we aren’t the only species that has strayed from the path of evolution. In some of our arguments of separating humans from the rest of animals and nature, we argue that we have progressed so far because we have the most complicated minds. When we look at examples of animal behavior, we want to assign empathy to them, and we begin to feel empathy for them when we look at endangered species, but we don’t believe that they may have the same thoughts as us. I don’t think this article proves anything on whether other species do or do not feel empathy, but I think it begins to question the logic that we are the only ones who live beyond just survival instincts.

Intrigued by survival stories once again, I decided to look at Outside Magazines many stories recorded. A particular one caught my attention, one about two men who got lost in the Amazon on a 78 mile hike for 51 days. This story is about a pair of guys who set out to complete this hike, but rather got lost and lived even though they only brought enough food for the 11 days they had budgeted for the trek, a compass, a machete, a 60-square-foot tarp, and two hammocks. They collected water from the rain, kept a fire constantly going because they only had one lighter, and ate mostly plants, beetles, spiders, and one turtle. At first, they waited for the rescue mission, but after 40 days they decided something needed to be done. An unfortunate miscalculation of eating a venomous spider and not cooking the venom off  lead to intestinal poisoning and the loss of 57 pounds. What is amazing to me is not just that they survived the 51 days, but the way they managed to do it. One of the guys, Andrew Taber, talks about how they had to change in order to survive–and the way he describes it is by becoming more primal. He describes the desperate drive to eat anything, do anything for that small chance that they might end up in the right place. He says that tapping into the survival instinct is the most necessary thing.

What’s interesting is looking at this story in relation to Thayer Walker’s own experience and our discussions in class, is that it seems like it isn’t possible to actually survive such a story. Did they do it well? It seems to be that they didn’t, they became very ill and barely made it out alive. But they did survive, they lived to tell that story, so maybe that itself means they did it well. Walker seems to think his attempt was unsuccessful, but he never tapped into his survival instinct. His attempt was not as “successful” as the Amazon story, and maybe it’s because he knew he always had a way out. Maybe, as humans, that is what we are missing as we’ve evolved and changed more to our own societies away from nature– we no longer have full access to that survival instinct on a natural level. Perhaps, we cannot tap into that primal survival instinct unless we are truly in danger, and for most people that’s why we cannot survive back in nature.

Ideal Characteristics… for Survival

I know this week we’ve been mostly talking about hybrids and what the ideal characteristic would be… but I was browsing Outside Magazine online, when I found an interesting question. “What is the number one skill people should learn in case they get lost in the backcountry?” was the question asked. The answer, was put in two parts. On a physical level, they said fire. On a mental level they said mindfulness or situational awareness. Today in class, we talked about the ideal characteristic for any animal, and we defined things like knowledge, security, freedom, or power. Interestingly, Outside Magazine seems to think that the ideal characteristic for survival is mindfulness, something that did not even come up in our discussion. At first, I decided this was because Outside Magazine is looking to a very specific case–getting lost and figuring out how to survive with the tools we already have, not the tools we wish we could have. But then I was thinking about it, and I realized that maybe we can’t even begin to strive for anything else without situational awareness or mindfulness. I decided that situational awareness or mindfulness is the most basic skill we have to have before we can achieve things like power, knowledge, or security. When we talk about striving for knowledge, striving for power, do we assume that we already have mindfulness? Do other animals have it as well? I don’t think it’s something we should take for granted, but is it instinctual for everyone? Clearly Outside Magazine seems to think not, since they think that most people are constantly looking in front of them, but around them at the natural world. I think all animals have it instinctively, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not striving to use it all the time.