Tag Archives: evolution

The truth about cats and dogs?

Apropos of what we’ll be discussing for much of next week, this episode of PBS’ Nature series discusses the relationship between humans and our classic domesticated pets – cats and dogs. Through expert interviews, a visit to a Humane Society shelter, and owner-bios reminiscent of the famous couple scenes from When Harry Met Sally, the show seeks to explain – or at least explore – the bonds between pets and their humans.

It’s easy to get indignant about humans domestication of certain animals – we’re asserting our dominance! we’re pretending we rule the globe! we’re stripping them of their natural wild natures! – it’s also important to remember that we evolved alongside our domesticated animals, both pet and pastoral, and through this coevolution we all have become different creatures. Marc Bekoff, a former Guggenheim fellow and Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Boulder who is interviewed extensively in the episode, explains that these bonds of coevolution are strengthened by the presence of mirror neurons in both humans and common pets – that is, dogs and cats. Mirror neurons are what enable us to feel the emotions of another creature, be they of our species or another. As Bekoff puts it, they are “the neural basis for empathy…[required] for the formulation and maintenance of social bonds.” In other words, that prize human emotion – the one that leads to self-awareness, to social structure, to emotional relationships – is, in fact, not human at all.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t point out the often elitist – or at least excessively moral – human paradigm that we, as a species, tend to impose on the rest of the planet’s animals. And it’s important to note that these animals are not human – they are close to us, but they are not, and never will be the same as us. As one of the dog owners interviewed in the opening sequence says, “they’re another tribe…and what I really love about dogs and cats is that they’re not like us.”

So watch the documentary. Though be warned, it might bring you to tears –I know it did me – the kind of hot, messy, gut-wrenching tears that we seem to save for the inevitable goodbyes to our pets.


Cheating Extinction

I read Matt’s post about the danger of trash to animals and I am definitely looking forward to the discussion we will have in his class on Tuesday. But before that, I will present some initial thoughts regarding Matt’s main topic of discussion, “If we believe in evolution, survival of the fittest, and that extinction is a natural part of life, then why do we feel the need to ‘save’ endangered species.” Firstly, I think there is a dichotomy between those who think that extinction is natural and those who feel the need to save endangered species. Therefore, “we” should be better specified. So from now on, I shall use “we” for those who want to save endangered animals.

Some might consider the people who want to save endangered animals as “good” and people who will not step into action due to the belief in the naturalness of extinction as “bad”. But I shall state otherwise. Those who want to save the animals are the ones who want to transcend nature. Similar to the popular idea of cheating death, these people hope of cheating nature’s principles of evolution and extinction. I found a TV show on Animal Planet called Orangutan Island, in which people are trying to save the endangered Orangutans by protecting them and giving them homes. The title of Season 2’s Episode 1 is “Cheating Extinction,” which pertains quite well to our discussion. The regular viewer would think that the Orangutans are cheating extinction, but actually we are the ones cheating extinction. Not our extinction, but the Orangutan’s extinction. So now, we play a key role in the fate of other animals. Quite a weighty responsibility, isn’t it? Of course. Attempting to invalidate nature’s inherent laws by replacing it with human power is no small deal.

Survival: Take One

Working defiation of survival: to hit the curveballs that life throws at you, ideally knocking them out of the park

Outside magazine is the place to go if you want to learn how to survive. Of course, in this modern day of age you don’t pick up the actual magazine, you go to the website: a unrestricted mass of information.

While perusing the home page of the survival section, a couple of interesting things caught my eye right away. The first thing I saw was “Ask the survival guru.” I liked this for two reasons; that there was in fact a survival guru; and that you could ask him whatever survival question you may have.

What do you do when your stuck in nature with nothing but an iPhone? Ask the Survival Guru.

Second was a section called “survival skills 101.” These are the basics of surviving, an introduction if I may and I was quite interested in some of the things I saw. I was not surprised to see building and starting a fire, nor was I surprised by a section on packing essentials. But one thing caught my eye: Paiute Deadfall Traps. It could be the foreign word, or possibly the word ‘dead,’ but I was nonetheless intrigued. The link lead to me a video of Tony Nester of Ancient Pathways (The Survival Guru himself). Not only did I learn how to make a deadfall trap with which you can kill small prey to eat; I was introduced to a very interesting argument about survival. In the words of Nester

“If you want to live off the land, look at the archaelogical record of your area. Why reinvent the wheel? Ancients peoples are the blueprint of survival for that region.”

I found this to strike a harmonious chord throughout my brain. Survival is a human instinct, as a species we’ve been doing it since the day our cells evolved into something living; and as individuals since the day we were born. It’s funny to think how reliant we are on modern things to survive, when it was done for thousands of years with out any of that. I think we can do it if we try.