Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Most Divisive Animal

Name anything in the world, and you can find people that like it, and people that don't, but passions generally wouldn't run high. Not so with pigeons, however. For every person that is devoted to them, there seems to one who hates them with a passion, and such people seem to feel perfectly righteous in their hatred.

Probably the reason for such strong reactions is that pigeons are so very intelligent. And their intelligence allows them to adapt well to life in close proximity to humans.

Scientists are discovering just how intelligent pigeons are. Thanks to miniature GPS equipment, they can track the actions of a homing pigeon. The ability of a pigeon to find its way home has long been attributed to that magical catch-all, "instinct". But it has been observed that pigeons "scope out" the area in which they are released, so as to get their bearings and form a mental map. They find their way home by navigating according to landmarks, and if they are sent between the same two points repeatedly, they refine their route into the most efficient path home.

This explanation of pigeons mapping out their route is supported by tests that show that pigeons have a very good and long visual memory. Other senses are surely involved as well, but those are more difficult to measure. But it is obvious that real intelligence is involved, not some mythical "instinct".

Pigeons also have demonstrated real problem solving ability:



What I don't understand is the blind hatred of them. There's even a Facebook page for people who actively hate pigeons. It makes no sense.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Merry Christmas to All

I hope you had as much fun this holiday season as these guys did:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Lioness and Her Cubs, and Their Friend

Time for another look in at Kevin Richardson, this time with some really tiny lion cubs:



This video is a joy from beginning to end. Not only are the cubs adorable:

but you can see how touchy-feely lions are. They love physical contact.

For the benefit of the cubs, mama comes with a toy: the tuft on the end of her tail:

And there's more scenes of happy quiet times together:


Happy is the lion family that snoozes together:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This is higher learning?

The media were abuzz this week with the "news" that a new study from Oxford University "proved" that dogs are smarter than cats.

But what is the truth of the matter?

Let's start with the actual abstract of the article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America:
Encephalization is not a universal macroevolutionary phenomenon in mammals but is associated with sociality
by Susanne Shultz and Robin Dunbar
Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom


Evolutionary encephalization, or increasing brain size relative to body size, is assumed to be a general phenomenon in mammals. However, despite extensive evidence for variation in both absolute and relative brain size in extant species, there have been no explicit tests of patterns of brain size change over evolutionary time. Instead, allometric relationships between brain size and body size have been used as a proxy for evolutionary change, despite the validity of this approach being widely questioned. Here we relate brain size to appearance time for 511 fossil and extant mammalian species to test for temporal changes in relative brain size over time. We show that there is wide variation across groups in encephalization slopes across groups and that encephalization is not universal in mammals. We also find that temporal changes in brain size are not associated with allometric relationships between brain and body size. Furthermore, encephalization trends are associated with sociality in extant species. These findings test a major underlying assumption about the pattern and process of mammalian brain evolution and highlight the role sociality may play in driving the evolution of large brains.

Now, let's analyze this.

The Oxford University web site clarifies the fact that the research team "examined the growth rates of the brain size relative to body size to see if there were any changes in the proportions over time. The growth rates of each mammal group were compared with other mammal groups to see what patterns emerged."

Thus, the study perpetuates the concept of measuring intelligence by "brain size relative to body size". My question is, how in the world would the relative sizes correspond to actual intelligence? How is that supposed to mean anything? Does it mean that a tall or fat human is not as intelligent as a short or thin human?

(If you want a physical measure to "prove" intelligence, what about the fact that cats have 300 million neurons in their cerebral cortex [the "thinking" part of the brain] and dogs have only 160 million neurons? Not that I'm about to support the idea that actual intelligence derives from such physical measures, but scientists do it all the time, so maybe one of them could try to explain why "brain size relative to body size" could be a better measure of intelligence than the number of actual neurons in the brain.)

This study also tracks relative increases in brain size in various species on an evolutionary time scale. At Care2.com, Jake Richardson makes a good point:
For this study, the focus on physical brain measurements depends upon the assumption that an increase in brain size on a evolutionary time scale indicates dogs are smarter than cats. However, there is another assumption involved — that dogs and cats started off with equal intelligence, and dogs increased. Even if dogs and cats millions of years ago had the same size brains, does that mean they were of equal intelligence? It’s possible cats were smarter then, and still smarter now, but have smaller, more efficient brains. What is more likely given that evolution seems to reward creatures with adaptability and diverse skill sets, is that dog and cat intelligences are different, and comparing them is much more complex than simply measuring physical brain size.

There's another factor that needs to be questioned in this study. The study correlates increase in brain size over centuries with "sociality", which is defined in a somewhat circular manner as 'The state or quality of being sociable'. The trouble here is double: how do you define 'being sociable' in terms of behavior in different species, and how do you objectively measure it?

There is no question that dogs have social interactions in ways that are compatible with human perceptions. Cats behave differently, and people are societally trained to believe that cats are aloof, independent, and loners. But careful observation of cats will reveal that they are very sociable animals. Any veterinarian should be able to tell you that in multi-cat households, the cats form their own societal structure. They can be very affectionate toward each other as well as toward humans. I have observed cats comfort a sick cat, and mourn the death of another cat. I have two cats who will each bring me a toy to initiate a game of fetch or some other game.

No one will ever convince me that cats are not social animals, because that would require me to deny years of experience. Just as no one will ever convince me that intelligence is dependent on brain size.

I'm with Mr. Richardson on this one: each species has its own unique way of expressing its intelligence. Unfortunately, the mass media like the easy headline. It's a shame the easy headline has to originate from an institution of higher learning.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Search for Intelligent Life...

In today's Washington Post we learn that 19 radio telescope observatories and other facilities in 13 countries worked in coordination with each other to search for intelligent life on other planets.

They didn't find it and they won't find it.

I'm not saying that there can't be life on other planets. Simple mathematic probability says there must be. But it's not going to be more humans, or even humans with cute cosmetic differences like pointy ears or walnut shells on their foreheads. They will be completely different forms of life, with completely different forms of communication that will go completely unrecognized.

Much like the communication methods of the numerous animal societies that share our own planet with us.

I know, I have reported on breakthroughs in recognizing animal languages in past posts. But research in this area is still in its primitive stages. Considering how long we've had to observe our fellow creatures, this state of affairs is... well, discouraging, but promising, even if progress seems too slow.

There are even many in the "scientific" community that actively resist the notions of animal intelligence and languages.

And at the same time millions of dollars are wasted looking for human communication coming from unattainable other planets.

Does this make sense to anyone?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

If We Could Talk to the Animals...

A little music for a Thursday...



Something interesting about that song is that it consistently refers to talking in each animal's own language: "Can you speak rhinocerous? Of courcerous!" It's pretty cool that a song writer would have that perspective when so often researchers aim to get animals speaking in a human language.

One well-documented example of the latter was the project involving Vicki, "the talking chimp". After much training, the researchers were able to get Vicki to approximate three words: Mama, Papa, and Cup. She did this with great difficulty and signs of stress, and had to use her hands to help her mouth form the "p" sound. The results were akin to getting a dog to say "I love you" or "mama"--you could imagine that the words were being said, but it does take imagination.

The failure to get the chimp to talk led to the myth of the "language instinct", that supposedly only humans have. But while a chimp can't speak English, it is plain that chimps can comprehend a spoken human language. This comprehension reveals that the animals do have language abilities. The inability to speak in a human language is the result of different physical aspects of their bodies, not underdeveloped minds.

More enlightened researchers, such as primatologist Dr Katja Liebal, believe that chimps have their own complex system of communication, and it is up to us to try to understand. Liebal is compiling a dictionary of the chimpanzee language, which uses gestures, facial expressions, and physical displays. She says that chimpanzees have a complex communicative system--even though they can't speak English.

Still, people prefer sameness. Earlier this year, much was made of a short film showing a bonobo chimp shaking her head to indicate "no". I was surprised at this, because I didn't think this was a great revelation. Even my cats will shake their heads to indicate "no". I suppose I should set up a camera and send a video of the cats to the BBC...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chickens on Thursday

A few fun and interesting videos for a Thursday...

It seems that it's not all that uncommon for brooding chickens to 'babysit' kittens. Here's a chicken with two eggs and two kittens in her nest:



The maker of this video says that the momma cat put her kittens in the chicken's box so she (the cat) could take a break:



There's also a photo of the kittens finally asleep with the chicken here.

In this video, two chickens seem to be intent on preventing two rabbits from fighting:



And finally, for now, a little look at a motion-feedback stabilization system (aka, a chicken):

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Voice for the Big Cats

Alan Rabinowitz is a naturalist who, as a child who stuttered so severely that he couldn't speak at all, made a pledge to an aging jaguar at the Bronx Zoo to become a voice for all the world's big cats.

With no professional help available for his stuttering, he discovered he could talk to animals, and he would sequester himself in his bedroom closet with apartment-compatible pets, and talk to them. "The animals didn't judge me. The animals had no expectations. The animals just let me be who I was." And their inability to talk to him made him feel closer to them. "They didn't have a voice, either."

At the zoo, Rabinowitz gravitated to the big cats. He remembers a tiger, locked in a cage the way he felt locked in his own head. And an old female jaguar who looked sad and broken, the way he felt.

"I swore to the animals that if I could ever find my voice, I would be their voice." he recalled. He reasoned that if animals could make themselves understood, people would treat them a whole lot better than they do.

Rabinowitz did learn to conquer his stutter, and he did remember his promise.

He is now president and CEO of Panthera, an organization active in preserving all wild cats. Rabinowitz takes an extremely wise, long-range approach to preservation: seeking ways for humans and big cats to co-exist in the same areas.

Rabinowitz tells his story and more in this interview with professional smart-ass Stephen Colbert:

The Colbert Report
Alan Rabinowitz

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Challenge to See "White Lion..."


This one will be tough, but undoubtedly worth it. Kevin Richardson's movie, "White Lion... Home is a Journey" opens today (October 15) in just 3 cities in the US: Memphis, St. Louis, and Louisville.



Professional movie reviewers are giving it a middling reaction, saying that it's not action-filled enough, but at the same time they say that it is a beautiful movie and emotionally powerful. That means more to me than overblown action sequences.

The story is told from the perspective of an old man recounting the tale of the young Shangaan boy, Gisani, and his adventures protecting a rare white lion, a messenger of the gods in his cultural lore.

We then see the story of the white lion, Letsatsi, unfold with remarkable close-ups of the lions that portray him and the other animals he encounters. Letatsi is forced from his pride, learns to hunt, and returns to his territory fully grown and ready to claim his due — all the while being stalked by hunters eager to bag such a rare trophy.

Kevin Richardson is depending on this movie's success to support the animals at his Kingdom of the White Lion in Africa. So, every ticket you buy will support the animals you see in the film.

One reviewer made this puzzling statement, without any explanation: Not recommended if you can recall Kimba the White Lion? I wonder what that means? I have been looking forward to this movie since I first heard about it. The trade magazine Variety predicts that this movie will not get a general theatrical release in the US. I hope they're wrong (in 1977, no one thought Star Wars was worth a wide theatrical release). Grab the chance to see it when you can.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Does It Take to Change People's Perceptions?

As part of its campaign to raise awareness and funds for gibbon conservation, the International Primate Protection League (UK), together with naturalist Bill Oddie, is re-releasing The Goodies’ hit 1975 single "The Funky Gibbon". The track has been re-mastered to include real gibbon sounds.

The music video to accompany the song was only just filmed on October 21. When it is released, I will include it or link to it here.

Since the music video isn't released yet, the clip below is obviously old. But it will give you an idea of the song. The Goodies (Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Graham Garden) were an amazingly funny comedy team and, of the dozens of songs they recorded, "The Funky Gibbon" was their biggest chart success. I'm sure the re-released version will do well, but will it make people think, or care, about real gibbons?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Myths, and Their Outcomes

Here's an interesting little fact: Animal control officers across the country have told the ASPCA that when they alert the media to a dog attack, news outlets respond that they have no interest in reporting on the incident unless it involved a pit bull.

Now, if every time you hear of a dog attack, it involves a pit bull dog, what does that do to your perception of pit bulls?

And in Denver Colorado, this perception has led to a long-standing complete ban on the breed. This ban has survived numerous legal challenges.

Apparently no one ever told the lawmakers or the judges that the breed most responsible for dog bites in Colorado is the Labrador. (And apparently none of those people in power ever bothered to research the issue.)

Mixed up in this mess is the emerging tendency (also reported by the ASPCA) for all short-haired, stocky dogs to be called pit bulls.

Amelia Glynn points out (in her Tails of the City blog) that "nearly every time a pit-bull-attack story appears in the news, it ignites new fervor for breed-specific legislation. However, the mass banning of specific breeds has been shown to be ineffectual when it comes to dog-bite prevention."

BUT... Once you get one breed-specific law on the books, it becomes incredibly easy to add new breeds to the ban.

AND... Certain very powerful and very active so-called "animal rights" organizations have stated that it is their goal to end ALL pet ownership...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Not By Instinct

So much of any animal's mental life and social life goes unrecognized that the myth of instinct was created to explain animal behavior. The myth is such a powerful and convenient replacement for reality that it is going to take a long, long time to replace it with real observations.

Here is one good place to start: What could be more "instinctual" than swinging from a tree branch, for an ape? But look at the orangutans at Ouwehands Dierenpark Rhenen, a zoo in The Netherlands. They had been kept in a low, simple cage that allowed no such activity as swinging from a branch. And when the zoo upgraded their enclosure, they didn't know how to do this quintessential ape maneuver.

So the zoo hired an Olympic gymnast, Epke Zonderland, to teach the orangutans how to swing from branches.

In their natural homes, orangutans rarely are found on the ground, but these had been forced to live on the ground in their old cage. When the zoo moved them to the new enclosure, with 30-foot-high trees, they seemed to not only not know what to do, they even seemed a bit afraid of the trees.

When this story was reported elsewhere, some labeled the orangutans as "lazy". But in reality this shows just how much of what can seem to be "instinctive" in an animal really depends on socialization--learning behavior from others.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two Additional Points

An article in yesterday's Washington Post brought up two points I should have included in my previous post about The Lost Dogs...

1.
Both the Humane Society of the United States and PETA called for Vick's dogs to be killed. Not rescued. Not rehabilitated. Killed. Always remember those two names, and what they really want to do.

2.
Most of the dogs were gentle but suffering from second-hand trauma--that is, they were aware of what was happening to other dogs, and it scared the hell out of them. Further proof of animals' intelligence and emotional sensitivity.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Michael Vick's Dogs

People are constantly posing the question, "what separates humans from other animals?" I think one of the answers has to be "torture".

But I'm not here to dwell on Michael Vick.

The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick's Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant tells the stories of the 51 dogs seized from Vick's dog fighting ring.

Like, "Jonny Rotten" a litle black-and-white dog who couldn't navigate stairs, couldn't climb onto a couch, and ran from any sudden noise. He had been locked up, away from people and other dogs, all his life, and had no socialization skills. Other dogs had been so traumatized that they flattened themselves on the ground and trembled whenever people approached them.

Thanks to US District Court Judge henry E. Hudson, Vick was ordered to pay for the rescue and rehabilitation of as many of the dogs as possible. The results show the intelligence of the dogs, as well as the benefits of proper socialization of an animal. Also fortunately for the dogs, the rescuers knew that each dog should be individually assessed and treated according to his individual needs.

Each animal is indeed an individual, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

The results are spectacular. Jonny Rotten now wears a vest that says "Therapy Dog" and works in a program that helps children improve their reading. And he's not the only one that is now a therapy dog.

And there are many other success stories, of dogs that can now live happy lives in normal families, with other dogs and cats.

You can read some of their stories on the Parade Magazine web site (if you can deal with all the ads).

The Pit Bull breed has such a horrible reputation, due to horrible treatment, that it is wonderful to know that people are willing to approach such dogs, even ones with serious problems, as the individuals that they are.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Soul of a Lion

Soul of a LionWhen I picked up the new book, Soul of a Lion, I was hoping that it would at least have a metaphysical slant to it. No such luck. Aside from one timid reference to the subject ("Each [animal] has a personality, and along with that, most volunteers who have worked and played with them agree that each has a soul.") the book is a biography of Marieta van der Merwe, creator and matriarch of the Harnas Wildlife Foundation, a huge wildlife sanctuary in Namibia.

But we do get hints of the metaphysical in the comments made by some of the volunteers who have worked at that sanctuary.

One volunteer said, "My soul has been laid bare. The routine and materialism that control my daily life at home feel like chains hanging on my heart.... I am rediscovering who I am and what is really important... Through spending precious moments with the animals, I am learning the art of silent communication and embracing the power of mutual trust and respect."

And another volunteer: "You can't put up a false front. We end up stripped and showing what we're really made of.... Everything comes out, whether you want it to or not. I feel like I'm naked--but everyone is naked. It's too bad that when I go home, I'll have to put up a wall again in order to survive in that world."

And one more: "...Animals don't judge you for your appearance. You just become your real self. You lose the other, fake part.... I want to stay this person. It's so much better than the person I was before."

These ideas and emotions come from connecting on a deep level with the animals at the sanctuary. I have said in an earlier post that looking into the eyes of an animal and truly seeing the person that is there can make you feel laid bare like no other experience; you know you are seen for who you are, there can be no pretenses.

Such connections would not be possible for those volunteers if the sanctuary was not a safe and loving environment. So, these testimonies about the outcome of her work tell the truest story of the person that is Marieta van der Merwe, much more than the telling of the tragedies in her life.

And here's something I found interesting: I thought the best possible illustration for the title of this site, "Intelligent Life Is All Around Us", would be the eyes of many different animals. At the top of the Harnas Wildlife Foundation web site, they have pictures of eyes of many different animals.

A trip to Namibia may be in order.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Devotion and Understanding

Once upon a time--1923, actually, since this is a true story--a professor at Tokyo University, Dr. Eizaburo Ueno, got an Akita Inu puppy and named him Hachi.

Dr. Ueno was quite a dog lover, and Hachi returned the affection. Dr. Ueno shared his meals with Hachi, and Hachi would go to the train station to see Dr. Ueno off in the morning and greet him in the evening.

One day, a couple of years later, Dr. Uneo went off to the university as usual, but he died suddenly during the day and never came home.

Hachi, who had no way of knowing about Dr. Ueno's death, went to meet Dr. Ueno as usual and waited there until dark for his friend who never returned. Every day from then on, Hachi went to the station in the evening, and waited.

Even when Hachi was given to one Ueno' relatives in another town, he ran the eight kilometers back to wait for Dr. Ueno every evening. This went on for a year until finally the family gave Hachi to a friend who lived near Dr. Ueno's former residence. Hachi continued his nightly vigil for Dr. Ueno, every day, without fail.

For ten years after Dr. Ueno's death, Hachi waited at the train station for him, every evening, until he died in 1935.

Hachi became something of a celebrity in Japan, and there is even a statue of him at the station. While some people try to come up with mundane reasons for Hachi's behavior, most see him as the epitome of devotion and faithfulness.

Hachi's story also points out how hard it is to accept the mysterious disappearance of a loved one. If Hachi had been allowed to see Dr. Ueno's body, he would have understood what happened. Animals do understand about death, but no one thought to give Hachi the chance to know what happened to his beloved Dr. Ueno.

I wrote a while back about how, when one of our cats dies, we hold a viewing for the benefit of the other cats. I believe this is especially important when the cat didn't die at home. Watching the cats' behavior as they see their departed friend one last time leaves me with no doubt that they understand.

If only Hachi could have been given the chance to understand... When my time comes, I hope that my cats are given the chance.

With the thought that art imitates life, I offer the following video. It's only a cartoon, but it will move you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eyes

So now there is yet another "what exactly it means to be human" book (Almost Chimpanzee) in which author Jon Cohen seeks understanding through focusing on how humans are different from other animals, specifically chimpanzees in this case.

Now you know, if you've read previous things I've written, that I am going to disagree with that approach. The key to understanding is not to focus on what makes us different. People already are utterly convinced that they are different, separate, and as a result somewhat lonely (yes, lonely--why else would they look for extraterrestrial humans?).

But it's when you can begin to see the similarities between all species of life that whole new vistas open up to you. I can tell you that the same spirit enlivens any species. When you understand that each animal has the same basic desires and needs, that all can experience love, then you can feel a kinship with any creature.

There is an interesting idea in the book, though: that "humanness" derives from the fact that human babies, unlike their ape counterparts, can lie flat on their backs, which allows them to gaze into their mothers' eyes.

I'm not sure I get the reasoning behind that statement. Surely ape babies have just as much opportunity to look into their mothers' eyes as human babies. But underlying the statement is the significance of eye contact. And this is indeed a very significant thing.

When Ace Bourke recently posted a picture of Christian, my immediate reaction was, look at his eyes! It's so easy to see the love in them.

Eye contact is essential in understanding any animal. That's why I made the collage at the top of this page--look at the intelligence in those eyes of a dog, cat, owl, and other animals. Use the search box at the right and see how often the subject of "eyes" comes up.

Dolphin advocate Ric O'Barry's life was changed when he looked into the eyes of the dolphin (Kathy) he had trained for the TV series "Flipper" and recognized what he now calls "captive dolphin depression syndrome". It was an epiphany that changed his life, as he realized just how similar dolphins' and humans' psyches are.

Izumi Ishii had a similar epiphany when he looked into a dolphin's eyes. The sudden realization changed his life, from dolphin hunter to dolphin protector.

The phenomenon of truly recognizing a fellow creature through eye contact is not unknown; it even made for a very effective scene in the fictional movie Fierce Creatures. But how often do people give themselves the chance to make contact? And how often are they held back by only seeing what they expect to see, and not seeing what is really there?

The eye of the tiger. Or the dolphin. Or the chimp. The window to the soul.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lower Life Forms?

Here is a nice little video rebuttal to anyone who uses the phrase "lower life forms", anyone who says animals can't think, or can't visualize another's perspective, or aren't altruistic, or any of that crap...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Healer Cat Gets Team Support

The San Jose, California, Mercury News recently had an article about a cat who has taken it upon himself to help other cats.

ChristopherChristopher was found on the side of a road unable to stand because his pelvis was fractured. He was taken to the Nine Lives Foundation's Feline Well-Care Clinic, where he was tended to and recuperated. He now lives at the clinic. Now, he will go to the cage of a sick cat and sit until someone lets him in, whereupon he comforts the cat inside.

Even more remarkably, he asked to be let in with a couple of feral kittens that were unapproachable and within a couple of weeks he had them completely socialized.

The newspaper article uses the word "tame", but what he did was socialize the kittens, so that they knew how to act with humans. This is the very definition of society, the passing of learned behavior from one generation to the next.

Going beyond even this, Christopher helped save the life of a tiny black kitten that needed an immediate blood transfusion. The doctor could not even get enough blood from the kitten to determine the blood type.

But then Christopher started rubbing on the doctor and nuzzling the kitten in a way that made the doctor think to use Christopher's blood for the transfusion. As it turns out, both the kitten and Christopher have the same rare blood type. Christopher was the perfect donor, and the kitten recovered.

Dr. Thompson said that if she hadn't paid attention to Christopher, the kitten would have died.

And that's another remarkable thing about Christopher's story. Not only does he want to help the cats at the clinic, the people there are alert and aware enough to pay that much attention to him.

Christopher and the people of the clinic make a wonderful team. You can read the whole article about Christopher at the newspaper's site.

The Nine Lives Foundation Shelter is at 3016 Rolison Road, Redwood City, California.

The Feline Well-Care Clinic is at 1683 Broadway, Redwood City, California

Thursday, August 19, 2010

This is not the lion I'm looking for...

...because obviously this is a staged scene. But it's still pretty cool.

The lion story I'm looking for is, I believe, a true story. I wrote what I could remember about it here.

Anyway, in this scene, Fagan the lion is looking for his owner, when he happens to hear his favorite song...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Remembering Christian

In remembrance of Christian's birthday (August 12, 1969), Ace Bourke has posted a wonderful picture on his blog. He's even been kind enough to post a very high resolution version of it; you can get it if you go to his blog and click on the picture.

All I can say is, look at Christian's eyes. LOOK AT THOSE EYES! Ace says the picture makes him want to cry, and I can understand that. It makes me want to cry, too. You can see his love in his eyes. Christian always seemed so connected to the people around him; he always seemed to me to be so very able to get people to think differently about animals. And it seems to me he still is able to do that, even though he left us so long ago.

Thank you, Ace, for sharing this "new" picture with us.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Simple Pleasures

While humans wrestle with the question of legalizing marijuana, cats just wrestle with catnip...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Things Half-Remembered...

I need a bit of help tracking down a story I read about 10 years ago... It was supposed to be a true story, which is why I think it's worth tracking down. I can't seem to find it anywhere.

It involved a man who went on safari in Africa on more than one occasion. This probably was 70 or 80 years ago. At night he had the habit of playing records on a portable phonograph. When he was in one particular location, a lion would walk to the edge of his camp and sit and listen to the music. When the man stopped playing records, the lion left.

Does this ring a bell with anyone?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Return of the White Lion

Just in time to give some perspective on Linda Tucker's book, Mystery of the White Lions, the Nat Geo Wild channel re-ran (and will again on July 27) a one-hour program about Linda Tucker's Global White Lion Protection Trust and the efforts to re-introduce white lions to the Timbavati region of South Africa.

The key to the success of the project is obtaining governmental protection for the white lions. The main obstacle to this is money. Shooting white lions, either in the bush or in a tiny escape-proof enclosure (canned hunting) is big, big business -- idiots of the world will pay as much as $150,000 for the privilege of hanging a dead white lion's head on their wall.

(In Tucker's book, she quotes an African saying that says, kill a white lion and you lose your soul. In my opinion, such a person didn't have one to begin with. But I digress.)

Official objections come in the form of "why just white lions? all lions need protection", and this is certainly true as stated. But--and the objectors surely know this--the white lion makes a good poster animal for the project, and once protection for them can be secured, it will be easier to expand protection to all lions. After all, regular-colored lions can be carriers of the white gene.

It is perfectly logical to focus on the re-introduction and protection of white lions since people have been focusing on their destruction for decades. People's fascination with them is a perfect stepping stone to getting attention focused on all lions, which are not protected in any way even though their population is being exterminated rapidly. Not just for trophies, but for such things as satiating China's craving for tiger bone wine--tigers are protected, lions are not, so lion-bone wine is used as a substitute.

One scientist pooh-poohs one of the project's hopes -- getting white lions classified as a sub-species -- calling the concept of sub-species "arbitrary and artificial". But so is the whole classification system. Take any definition of "species" that you want, and you can find officially-recognized examples that don't fit it.

As presented in the TV show, the White Lion Trust seems to be worthwhile, well-planned, and thorough. I can't help but wonder what's currently going on with it, however, since the show was produced in 2008 and their web site mostly has not been updated since 2008.

In the previous post in which I critcized Tucker's book, I was reacting to the book's emphasis on so-called "new-age" spiritual concepts and her failure to present them in a convincing, coherent manner. In her exploration of the white lions' history, Tucker talks about extraterrestrials, unknown underground rivers, prehistoric gold refineries, pyramids, constellations, symmetry between northern and southern Africa, transmigration of souls, and more, in a manner that I found more confusing than enlightening. And I wanted to be enlightened, especially since at least one of the topics (transmigration) is near and dear to me.

But the White Lion Trust appears to be a very impressive endeavor and worthy of success. They need to get the word out to the public about their mission and the several very beautiful lions they are working with.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mystery of Mystery of the White Lions

The title of this post is not a typo. I have just finished reading Mystery of the White Lions by Linda Tucker, and I don't know what to make of it. The basic premise of the book is that white lions have a long and sacred history in Africa, and their recent reappearance in the wild signifies earth-changing events to come.

Perhaps my confusion comes from my hope, that the book would be revelatory, conflicting with my impression, that the writing is sloppy and dense, not to mention finding it to be downright wrong in places.

The worst offense, in my opinion, is Tucker's repeated references to her "near-death experience" which consisted of sitting in a disabled Land Rover with a bunch of other people in the African bush while some lions were close by. Not one of the people, Tucker included, suffered so much as a scratch on that occasion. No matter how frightening it may have been to her at the time, this is NOT a "near-death experience" as she repeatedly calls it, and to call it such not only perpetuates the ignorant corruption of the term that has seeped into popular culture, it does a great disservice to those who have had true near-death experiences. It also seriously undermines Tucker's quest to be one who bridges the scientific and spiritual communities. A true near-death experience involves a person flatlining, having a deeply profound and meaningful spiritual experience, and being revived. True NDEs DO bridge the physical and spiritual, they are enlightening and life-changing, and are far more significant than merely being scared. This apparent lack of knowledge of a true spiritual experience reported by millions of people really makes me doubt Tucker's sincerity in probing both the scientific and spiritual realms, especially since a true NDE is not really all that far removed from what some of what she claims to have researched and experienced herself.

Another seemingly telling slip is a one-time reference to white tigers as Siberian tigers, another misconception that is widespread among the uneducated public. Anyone with real interest in such animals knows that white tigers are Bengals, not Siberians. I find it hard to believe that someone who has spent so much time researching white lions and their genetics could not have come across such basic information about their close cousins. Add to this the fact that Tucker said she spent significant time with Siegfried and Roy, and this mistake just blows me away.

These are gaffes related to Tucker's main subject matter on such a basic level that I cannot help but be skeptical about the rest of her book.

Adding to my doubts is Tucker's web site, WhiteLions.org. The book begins with an excerpt from an eloquent "Plea for Africa" by Credo Mutwa (more about him in a minute). The book says the complete essay is on the web site. It is not. The entire web site gives the impression of abandonment and decay, since it has very little content newer than 2008, broken links (interestingly, in the section about buying the book), and a contact form that doesn't work.

The vast majority of the book is devoted to African shaman Credo Mutwa, a famous person but unknown to me until now. I shall have to research him carefully before I can come to any conclusions. But already I have come up with an interesting question: If we are to believe everything he is quoted as saying in this book, should we also believe his statement (not in this book) from January of this year, that half the world's population will not see the year 2011 because of oil...?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kingdom United Against Brutality -- I Hope...

Hey, England! Here are some videos of the animals your "landed gentry" want the right to literally, physically tear to bloody shreds:







That's right, now that there's been a change in government in England, the rich folk want the fox hunting ban repealed. They call the ban "class warfare". I suggest that they get their heads out of their castes and wake up to the fact that they are the ones committing brutal, senseless warfare against intelligent beings with feelings and a family life probably more advanced than their attackers'.

To think that in this 21st century, there are large numbers of people who consider it their right to be barbarians while calling themselves elite... The fox hunt ban not only needs to stand, it needs to have some real teeth put into it.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Technical Difficulties

On several older posts, I included audio recordings that were important to the post. Well, it seems Google has stopped supporting their player that I used, so I have switched to a player supported by Yahoo. So, if you read an older post and found a blank white space instead of an audio player, that's now been fixed. I hope.

Here is a list of such posts:
Advances in Language Study
More Cat Language
Calling All Lion Fans
The Christian the Lion Guys on the Radio
Another Lion Reunion, or, I Will Always Love You
Guest Speaker

Since each post had to be fixed individually, I probably missed one. If you find a post that is supposed to have playable sound but doesn't, please leave a comment on that post and I will fix it. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

De-Natured

Western Man has come to believe that he is the master of all living things, and that nature is there to be tamed at best; despised, broken, and destroyed at worst. This has led to a very dangerous situation: the belief that human beings can build a shining technological future without animals, and trees, and other life forms. Until this attitude is combated and erased from the human mind, Westernized human beings will be a danger to all earthly life, including themselves.

I say we must take a great spiritual leap backward. We must embrace the original view of creation: that everything around us is part of one great and interconnected whole. We must change this habit of regarding ourselves as superior or special creatures. This misconception has led us to the very brink of destruction.

We have become denatured. In old Africa, we believed that human beings could not exist without animals, birds, and fishes or trees. We believed that the universe was not only all around us, but also within us. For this reason, many African gods were depicted as part animal and part human.

copyright 1996 Eugene ArenhausIf your God had the body of a man and the head of a lion, would you shoot lions for sport, or commercial reasons?
--shaman Credo Mutwa,
as quoted by Linda Tucker in Mystery of the White Lions.
(emphasis mine)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not Off-Topic

This may seem to be off-topic, but really "Intelligent Life is All Around Us" is about regard and respect for all life. And obviously we have a hell of a long way to go in that direction.

The video I've included below is, on one level, funny. It is an excellent song parody. But it is also very, very angry. And so am I. The direct link to this video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5Z9W59Z5ZY



August 18, 2010 update: Never mind that unconvincing picture recently released by the White House; read what the Associated Press has to say about the current state of the Gulf of Mexico. Remember as you read it that it has already been established that far more oil dispersant was used than was authorized.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Difference between Dogs and Cats…

…in peoples' perception is too often composed of erroneous notions and baseless attitudes.

Heard just yesterday on a supposedly educational TV show, from the mouth of a supposed veterinarian: dogs have "playful energy" while cats exhibit "naughty behavior".

Why?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

More than meets the eye.

I'm going to go in a new direction with today's post. Up til now, I've dealt mostly with scientists, research, and observations that show animals are thinking, feeling, loving beings. But there is more to life than hard physical evidence; so much that people generally don't talk about.

All of the following comes from a newsletter sent by Global Psychics, Inc. The first paragraph was not signed, but the "me" is Danielle at that organization.
For me, there has never been any question that animals have a soul, and like us will reincarnate. Which also means that we can communicate with them, in spirit, and that the bonds of love do indeed cross the dimensions of time and space, even with our pets.

Hi, do animals have spirits as we humans have? I mean when they die do the come back as spirits or angels or guides? Can they listen to what we are tryinng to tell them or do they understand our emotions of pain? I want to know about my pet who crossed over, what shall I do? Plz help Ruhi

Most certainly animals have spirits – they are living beings just like us sweetheart.

Not only have I personally experienced the most undeniable return of a few of my own pets (as spirits), there have been countless reports of numerous people experiencing much of the same. Animal spirits behave much like they did when they were alive. And most definitely they do feel our emotions and thoughts in spirit just as much as they did when they were alive.

One thing a lot of people say is that animals couldn’t possibly feel the way that humans do. But as an animal communicator and a life long horse trainer and worker, I have to really stress that animals DO feel emotions just like we do. It is ignorance of the human race to believe such a thing that animals cannot feel as we can or do not have spirits as we do. They are God’s creatures just as we are. Animals feel pain. They get depressed. They miss loved ones or play mates. They feel lonely or scared.

My husband and I rescued over 20 horses from slaughter. As we worked with them we could see the depression in their eyes. They would refuse to eat. Refuse to be amongst the herd (which is very uncharacteristic of horses seeing as they are in fact herd animals). I have also seen first hand how dogs and cats for example can sense when their owner is about to have an epileptic seizure – they will sit beside them or even lay on top of them until the seizure passes. Same as when their owner is sad or depressed; I don’t know how many times my female yellow lab Sheba has come to me, put her head on my lap and just sat there with me trying to comfort me.

Whether they are alive or have passed on, our pets always understand our emotions, thoughts, and pain. Realize too that most pets are indeed telepathic – they can not only feel the energy surrounding their owners, they can also “read your heart.”

Ruhi, you yourself can feel your beloved pet if you were to quiet yourself, be still, be peaceful, and just listen and pay attention. You may feel that brush up against your leg or a nudge on your hand by a cool wet nose. I do strongly believe our pets are always with us in spirit and heart just like our human loved ones that have likewise crossed over. If you wish to ask specific questions of your pet, and you cannot hear or feel the responses, you could also most certainly contact an animal communicator that works with spirits of animals as well as the living (some animal communicators only communicate with live pets, while others, as in my case, can and will do both).

I do hope that this has answered some of your questions and has helped you out a little bit. Please take care, and please try to rest easy knowing that your pet has in fact crossed over peacefully, and you should NOT harbor any guilt any more.

Much love and brightest of blessings always, Lisa Caza

Monday, May 24, 2010

On Behalf of All Pets

I've heard a couple of tragic pet stories lately, and they were too close to home for me to not feel the heartbreak. I don't think it would do any good to repeat those stories here, but they made me want to repeat something that has circulated a bit around the internet. This piece has gotten a bit mangled at times; the most common change is that instead of a writer credit, people say "author unknown". But it appears to have been written by "J.D.Ellis 2001, rottweilerdriver*aol.com", and yes, the email address is included at the author's request (although I couldn't stop myself from removing the @, hoping to stop at least a bit of spam).

Anyway, here is the important, thoughtful piece:
A Message from Max

My name is Max and I have a little something I'd like to whisper in your ear.

I know that you humans lead busy lives. Some have to work, some have children to raise. It always seems like you are running here and there, often much too fast, often never noticing the truly grand things in life.

Look down at me now, while you sit there at your computer. See they way my dark brown eyes look at yours? They are slightly cloudy now, that comes with age. The grey hairs are beginning to ring my soft muzzle.

You smile at me; I see love in your eyes. What do you see in mine? Do you see a spirit, a soul inside who loves you as no other could in the world? A spirit that would forgive all trespasses of prior wrong doing for just a simple moment of your time?

That is all I ask. To slow down if even for a few minutes to be with me. So many times you have been saddened by the words you read on that screen, of others of my kind, passing. Sometimes we die young and oh so quickly,sometimes so suddenly it wrenches your heart out of your throat. Sometimes we age so slowly before your eyes that you do not even seem to know, until the very end, when we look at you with grizzled muzzles and cataract clouded eyes. Still the love is always there, even when we take that long sleep, to run free in distant lands. I may not be here tomorrow; I may not be here next week. Someday you will shed the waters from your eyes, that humans have when deep grief fills their souls, and you will be angry at yourself that you did not have just "One more day" with me. Because I love you so, your sorrow touches my spirit and grieves me.

We have now, together. So come, sit down here next to me on the floor. And look deep into my eyes. What do you see? If you look hard and deep enough we will talk, you and I, heart to heart.

Come to me not as "alpha" or as a "trainer" or even a "Mom or Dad", come to me as a living soul and stroke my fur and let us look deep into one another's eyes, and talk. I may tell you something about the fun of chasing a tennis ball, or I may tell you something profound about myself, or even life in general.

You decided to have me in your life (I hope) because you wanted a soul to share just such things with. Someone very different from you, and here I am. I am a dog, but I am alive. I feel emotion, I feel physical senses, and I can revel in the differences of our spirits and souls. I do not think of you as a "Dog on two feet"--I know what you are. You are human, in all your quirkiness, and I love you still.

Now, come sit with me, on the floor. Enter my world, and let time slow down if even for only 15 minutes. Look deep in my eyes, and whisper to my ears. Speak with your heart, with your joy and I will know your true self. We may not have tomorrow, and life is oh so very short.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Birdsong

Traditional thought tells us that birds sing to define their territory and to attract a mate. But as I was lying awake this morning, listening to the pre-dawn "chorus" of birds, it didn't sound to me like it was all purposeful. So, I wondered if any animal scientists have had the nerve to come out and say that birds sing for the fun of it.

As I checked various sources, besides the many references to territory and mates, I found that parent birds teach their baby birds the songs they sing. And baby birds will "babble" before they learn to sing their songs. "The parallels between human and bird language are indeed striking," said psychology professor Bob McMurray of the University of Iowa. While some birds learn to sing in a matter of days, the Australian Lyrebird takes on average six years to learn the song.

It's been known for some time that birds' songs vary with geographic regions; the equivalent of dialects. In noisy environments, birds alter their songs to be heard above the noise.

Recent studies have discovered actual bird conversations, as multiple microphones allowed the researches to follow responses through a flock.
They've shown that Banded Wrens are listening and responding to one another, sending out purposeful and dynamic messages to multiple neighbors.
But are they having fun? I found one person who was willing to allow that they were.
Luis Baptista, former curator of ornithology at the California Academy of Science, said they do sing for fun. "Sometimes birds sing just because they're happy, they've had a good meal, they've nothing to worry about. This is an expression, if you will, of well-being."

"If you will"? Of course I will. Why not?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Perspective

I never completed my review of the 3-part PBS series The Human Spark. Truth is, the last episode was so unfocused that it was nearly incoherent. But the overall problem with the series was that they started with an incorrect idea (that humans are different, separate from, and superior to every other life form on the planet) and concocted seriously flawed "experiments" to "prove" this idea. (See Looking vs. Understanding)

(What strikes me as strange, given PBS's ban on religious programming on their member stations, is that idea behind their series seems to me to be rooted in religion. But that's another matter for another time.)

But while Alan Alda was trying to prove how stupid chimpanzees are, on another channel (Animal Planet) there was a show (Extraordinary Animals) that showed that chimpanzees can out-perform humans in a key area of intelligence: memory.

At the Primate Research Institute in Japan, it started with teaching a chimpanzee named Ai to use a touch-screen computer, then to count, and to read. (Videos here and here.)

Then Ai had a baby (named Ayumu), and she taught him to do the same things. (BTW, that is the definition of culture [a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted]).

As the tests progressed, they went on to memory games and discovered that the chimpanzees possessed photographic memory. They could remember a sequence of numbers that was flashed on the screen for less than a quarter of a second--too fast for a human to even scan all the numbers.

In various tests, the chimpanzees vastly outperformed a world memory champion (yes, there are world championship memory games) at the institute's memory games.

Video of the chimpanzee and the memory game:



Here is some commentary on all this, from New Scientist magazine, December 3, 2007:
The finding challenges human assumptions about our uniqueness, and should make us think harder about ourselves in relation to other animals, says anthropologist Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University, Ames, US.

"Observing that other species can outperform us on tasks that we assume we excel at is a bit humbling," she says. "Rather than taking such findings as a rare example or a fluke, we should incorporate this knowledge into a mindset that acknowledges that chimpanzees - and probably other species - share aspects of what we think of as uniquely human intelligence."

The results are "absolutely incredible" says Frans de Waal, at the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, US. He says that chimp intelligence is chronically underestimated, and one reason is that experiments stack the deck against the chimps.

In the wild, this memory skill might be useful for memorising fruit locations at a glance, or making a quick map of all the branches and routes in a tree, he says.

Matsuzawa emphasises that the chimps in the study are by no means special - all chimps can perform like this, he says. "We underestimate chimpanzee intelligence," he says.
So, why the totally different perspectives from two supposedly reliable sources (PBS and PRI)? Well, for one thing, the PRI perspective derived from observation rather than preconceived notions.

And, in my opinion, the real "human spark" that tends to separate us from all other life is not only the ability to distort reality to suit our purposes (yes, I'm talking about the PBS series) but the desire to do so.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quoting George Adamson

A few words from George ("Born Free") Adamson, the "father of lions", from his book A Lifetime with Lions...

On making the movie, Born Free:
"Most of the people of the [filming] unit were extremely nice and friendly, but their way of life was not mine. There were too many dramas and 'goings-on' for my peace of mind. I felt safer with the lions."

On "enrichment" for captive animals:
"I am firmly convinced that it is the boredom and frustration of captivity which makes [captive] lions dangerous. One of their strongest senses is that of smell. To deprive them of the chance to exercise it is tantamount to depriving a human being of all reading matter."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Intelligence and Socialization

The Animal Planet channel is currently running a series called "Extraordinary Animals". This is a highly interesting series and coincidentally, it's about the exact opposite of that Human Spark series on PBS. While PBS is working with ancient notions and trying to prove the non-existence of animal intelligence, each episode of Extraordinary Animals focuses on one particular research study that shows just how intelligent animals really are.

AzyThis week, they showed an episode about Azy, an orangutan at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa. The researchers there have taught Azy a language based on abstract symbols (sort of like hieroglyphics), and also demonstrated that orangutans have long-term memories of companions (just as Christian the lion demonstrated) as well as self-recognition, all qualities that others have denied possible in animals.

The following describes some of what was shown on Extraordinary Animals, and is partially adapted from the Great Ape Trust web site:
Scientists at Great Ape Trust are exploring the abilities of orangutans to use symbols and syntax to express their thoughts. The orangutans are learning to use a symbol-based language that is presented on a computer monitor. The touch-screen monitor has large "buttons" that are big enough for orangutan fingers.

The symbol for apple.This symbolic language contains about 70 "words". All the symbols are abstract and have no visual relation to what they represent. There are seven categories, each containing ten individual symbols. The categories are: foods, non-food objects, proper names of people, proper names of orangutans, verbs, adjectives and numbers.

There is a logic to these symbols. Each category has its own unique exterior shape. For example, a rectangle means "food" and a circle means "non-food object." Individually, the interior components of each symbol are meaningless. It's the arrangement within the exterior shape that gives each symbol a specific meaning. In addition to the major categories, there are symbols that mean "send," "clear," "yes/good," and "no/wrong." The dictionary can be expanded as the orangutans learn more symbols.
Using this system, Azy is able to identify objects, ask questions, and even give commands.

The self-recognition test involves surreptitiously placing a mark on the subject's head, then seeing if he reaches for his own head when he sees the mark in a mirror. Sounds simple enough, but the test can disprove the old notion that animals have no idea of "self" and "other" (as they contend over on PBS).
Mirror self-recognition (MSR) has been a controversial topic in the field of comparative psychology since it was first reported by Gordon Gallup in 1970. He provided behavioral evidence that chimpanzees were able to understand the nature of their mirror image, meaning that they recognized themselves in the mirror. Consider the phenomenon. A mirror image is a representation of the world, like a picture or a photograph but unlike a still image, it is dynamic and mimics the behavior of the viewer. An ape who demonstrates MSR must understand that the mirror image is an actual representation of herself in both time and space, and that it is not simply another ape looking back at her.
Again, it sounds too simple, but children under 3 fail the test.

I have seen only 4 episodes of Extraordinary Animals so far, but there is a pattern emerging, that explains why on Animal Planet they are showing us that animals are smarter than they are generally given credit for, while on PBS they are mired in old and untrue notions.

The animal experiments shown in The Human Spark are very rigid, very lab-sterile, and (as I pointed out in my last article) do not take into account the socialization of the animal. A chimp living in a zoo environment with other chimps is not going to be attuned to human society and so is not going to act according to human society's ways--a requirement demanded by the way those experiments are set up.

The animals shown in Extraordinary Animals are treated as individuals and the ones I've seen so far have all been hand-raised from infancy. This means they are socialized in human ways and thus are more likely give reactions in ways that we recognize.

What I'm saying is that interpreting an animal's actions means understanding the way the animal has been taught to act--this is not a reflection on intelligence; it is social training. When an animal has been brought up with close contact with human society, it will react in ways that are more recognizable to humans, thus revealing the intelligence that is always there, even in an animal that reacts according to a different society's teachings.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Looking vs. Understanding

On last night's "The Human Spark", an experiment was set up to prove that chimpanzees can't think in terms of abstract concepts, like "heavy" vs. "light".

Alan Alda brought a box into a room by himself, tossing it around to demonstrate that it was light. Then, 5 people brought in another box, struggling with it to demonstrate that it was heavy. A piece of fruit was placed on top of each box, and a rope was fastened to each box and then positioned so that a chimp could reach through a partition, grab a rope, and pull the box closer to grab the fruit.

The chimpanzee had one chance. The film showed him grabbing the rope on the heavy box, which he could not move, so he got no fruit.

Stupid chimpanzee -- doesn't know what heavy and light are.

But... what if the chimpanzee has a different view of things? What if (and this is not unreasonable, based on chimpanzee society) he sees the fact that 5 people clustered around one box, all grabbing it and manipulating it, means that the box is better than the one that only one person handled? Five people were all interested in that heavy box at the same time; only one bothered with the light box. Why wouldn't the chimpanzee go for the more interesting box first?

In my opinion, the experiment proved more about preconceived notions, than learning how things really are.

Light vs. Heavy -- or is it?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Looking for Humans

I have, occasionally in the past, made disparaging remarks about SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project. It's not that I contend there can't be intelligent life "out there", it's that the people are looking for other humans, communicating in human ways. Hoping to find that on a distant and completely separate planet is just ridiculous.

The same sort of thinking gets in the way of people's understanding of animals. "Why don't they act like humans?" is the repeated question. But why should they? They're not humans--but that doesn't mean they don't have equivalently rich lives.

One of the main aspects of the search for humanness in animals is language. Why don't animals speak like humans do?

Back in December, in the New York Times, there was an article describing how a Scottish group of scientists had managed to decipher words and syntax in the spoken language of Campbell's monkeys (that's one in the picture), thus giving them credit for at least a little human equivalency.

But a month later, the same writer in the NYT reports on some other, more pessimistic scientists, who contend that even these monkeys cannot have a rich language because they cannot conceive of the idea that another animal has a mind similar to their own; therefore they have no need to communicate.

I don't know why it is that so many scientists take a completely stupid course when it comes to their inability to understand animals. These pessimists will contend that an animal can't do this, or can't think that, or can't relate to another. They forget one fact that makes their arguments invalid:
You cannot prove the non-existence of something.
No one can prove that monkey x has no idea that monkey y has a mind. Each monkey may not perform exactly as expected or hoped, but that only shows that a human's preconception of how a situation must be handled did not hold true.

Careful observation always proves these pessimists wrong. Why would a cat, for example, have a way to say, "I'm sorry" --which they do-- if there was no inkling that another cat or person had a mind of its own? So why should anyone assume that a social animal like a monkey would not be able to realize that?

The gist of the latest NYT article is that animals can't communicate in anything resembling a human language, and this must mean they don't think or understand.
But...
they're
not
human.
And so the conclusion is illogical.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The "Human" Spark?

PBS is out to set our collective understanding of the world back by at least 100 years with a miniseries that started this week, called The Human Spark.

The aim of the show is to find out why humans are different from all other life, a very old fashioned idea and one that does not need exploration, since there is much more to learn about how other life is similar to humans.

They're using Alan Alda's star power to bring people to the show, and it is supposed to present "science" to support such proven-false ideas as,
empathy and cooperation are "characteristically human qualities" (their words),
humans are the only species to possess language,
humans are the only species to make and use tools,
humans are the only species to be concerned with social status,
and other things that are supposed to make us superior to all the rest of the living world.

Our society has suffered for far too long under such erroneous ideas that separate us from all other life. Animals' languages exist are are being deciphered by open-minded scientists. Animals make and use tools, as reported by scientists willing to observe clearly. And on and on; pick almost any article I've written here. To the careful, open-minded observer, there is a greater unity between ourselves and other living beings than outmoded, established science is willing to admit.

And the real problem here is, as history has shown, separation leads to unfamiliarity with the other, which gets transformed into the other being seen as inferior, which leads to the destruction of it.

Thus, all life on earth would benefit by exploring that which makes us one with all life. Spreading the fallacious idea of separation will lead to more extinction.

Unfortunately for us all, Alan Alda is prepared to tell us that we must believe in the dark-age philosophies. And because he is Alan Alda, an awful lot of people will not question what he says.

Thanks a lot, PBS.

The first of the series aired this week, but it focused on just one topic: Why homo sapiens is superior to what scientists have speculated about neanderthals (homo neanderthalensis). That's what it comes down to, speculation, because no one has ever observed neanderthals. They even created a wax bust showing how a neanderthal man was supposed to look different from modern man. The funny thing is, it reminded me of an actor from a few years ago.

Joe E. Ross versus artist's conception of a neanderthal
Point not made, PBS.

The scenario they presented about how homo sapiens took over Europe from the neanderthals actually played out nearly exactly the same as how Europeans took over the Americas from the Native Americans. This suggests, then, it isn't genes, it isn't brain size, or any other physical attribute, but instead it's a societal thing. One society was better prepared to move in and take over from another society. There was no proof of any innate superiority or "human spark".

Future shows are scheduled to demonstrate why homo sapiens is superior to other species. I don't expect any proof there, either.
"Humans have always assumed that they are more intelligent than dolphins because they had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- whilst all dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But the dolphins have always believed that they were far more intelligent than man -- for precisely the same reasons."
--Douglas Adams