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Plato, searching for a succinct definition, once deemed man the only "featherless biped."  On hearing this, Diogenes promptly presented his fellow philosopher with a plucked chicken.

It's funny to picture the great thinker being the butt of such a joke, but the problem he was trying to solve -- how to separate man from the animals -- is a tough one.  Long before, and ever after, people have been trying to draw that line.  Animals are like this.  Man is like that.  Unfortunately, every line in the sand, whether built on precepts of physical differences or mental distinction, only becomes more smudged over time.

One of the guidelines that served for a long period was man's use of tools.  Man was "the tool-using animal," and this distinction was even used to help separate paleontological sites belonging to "human ancestors" from those belonging to other offshoots of the hominid line.  In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the critical moment that pushes man down the road to being man, is the point there the human-to-be lifts a length of warthog bone and discovers its capabilities as a club.  

However, a pair of recent articles point up the folly of making tool use the test of humanity.  It appears that chimpanzees had their own "stone age."  Around the same time the pyramids were being constructed in Egypt, Chimps in West Africa were using stone tools to get at hard-shelled nuts.  It's not only chimpanzees of the past who use tools.  It's long been known that some bands of modern chimps use sticks to tease insects from their hives.  Now it seems that chimpanzee tool use can be just as violent as those of our direct ancestors.

Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning spears from sticks and using the handcrafted tools to hunt small mammals -- the first routine production of deadly weapons ever seen in nonhuman animals.

Tool use in primates isn't limited to humans and chimps.  Many other great apes, particularly orangutans, have been seen making use of tools.  All of this suggests that tool use is something inherited from a common ancestor, not something that developed in humans alone.

So how can you draw the line between us and them?  Emotions?  Language? The answer is that you can't.  There are no lines.  Deeply unsatisfying as it is to the desire to group items into black and white (a tendency also not limited to humans), all the answers of science are grey.

Your species is not that special.  Reading the text of paleontology and history, there is no bold message of certainty.  Winding back the clock reveals no inexorable march in our direction, or even the triumph of "better" over "worse."  Let the clock come forward again, and we would not be here -- not in a million, million tries.  Likewise, human history has been defined as much by fortuitous placement of natural resources as it has been by human action.  You're the tail end of the tail end of a process that much more closely resembles random chance than progress toward an objective.

Your world is not that special.  Your planet is not located at the center of the universe.  Neither is your star, or your galaxy.  Perhaps most disturbing at all, as telescopes have revealed to us the enormity of space, both astronomy and geology have revealed the breathless expanse of time.  We are not just insignificantly small items living in a vast ocean of space; we're living in a moment so brief that it's barely a single tick of a clock that's already run through millennia without us, and will not pause when we are gone.

No, you are not that special.  And yet, you are a wonder, absolutely unique and irreplaceable.  Your species is a wonder, gifted with physical and mental resources that provide boundless opportunity.  Your planet is a wonder, swarming with life in infinite variety and complexity.  Your universe is a wonder, based on laws so precisely balanced that the slightest variation in any of them might have caused everything -- space, time, and everything that moves through both -- to never have appeared.

Einstein made some of his greatest discoveries starting with pure thought experiments.  Here's one you can try.  The next time you are caught in traffic, look at the lines of cars around you.  Instead of picturing them as an obstacles to your own progress, picture the occupants of each vehicle as unique individuals, as much at the center of their universe as you are of yours.  Don't worry for the moment about trying to extend this belief to all the people around the globe, just look at the line of taillights ahead, and picture each with family, friends, and dreams.  They are no less complete individuals -- and no more -- than you.  This is a concept almost as difficult to hold as the scope of the universe revealed through science.  

Our instinct is always toward tribalism, toward drawing lines between human and animal, manmade and natural, us and them.  However, these lines don't exist outside our own minds.  You can't draw a line between humans and animals because humans are animals, not less than the smallest ant or the largest whale.  

But what if you start to erase those lines?  Or what if you can sketch that line around other people, so that you don't chase down every personal desire without considering how it affects others?  What if you sketch that line to include the whole planet, so that you act in ways that help not just yourself, but your fellow humans (and fellow non-humans)?  Do that, and you're making real progress.  In fact, some might even call you progressive.

And in my book, that makes you pretty darn special.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:26 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A Totally Unrelated Comment (42+ / 0-)

    My father retired this week from the job he's held for close to four decades.  I penned this little thing for his retirement, and though I've already put it in a diary, I can't resist dropping it in again.  I love my pop.

    --

    In the midst of the Civil War, Lee took his forces north through Maryland.  They were coming off a string of costly victories, and the men were tired.  As the barefoot soldiers shuffled over the border into Pennsylvania, the roadsides were carpeted brilliant green with late spring grass.  Crops were swelling in the fields, and orchards were dropping the last of their flowers.  This was a land that had not yet been ravaged by the war.

    A proud native of the region looked at the passing men, and singled out one of the dusty southerners.  "What do you think of this country?" the man asked.

    The soldier stopped for a moment.  He pushed back his slouch hat and squinted against the sun as he looked at the rolling hills and neat white houses.  "It is beautiful," he said, "but it does not come up to home in my eyes."

    It's been my good fortune over the years to shake hands with senators, congressmen, and a former president.  I've also had the opportunity to get to know several of the "names" in Hollywood, a number of best-selling authors, and men and women regarded as captains of industry.

    But none of them comes up to home in my eyes.  

    My father took the position of Greenville's city administrator when I was in fourth grade.  That was longer ago than either of us wants to believe.  Today, he steps down from that position.

    It's my belief that the city has been blessed by his presence these past decades, and not just because he has worked hard and diligently at a job that has 4,500 bosses, but garners little praise.  The city has been blessed by his competence in so many areas, by his ability to get along with people in all walks of life, and by his basic unflagging decency.

    His pride in the city has never faltered, but anyone who has been a visitor to the town will tell you that it's not Greenville's wealthiest homes he is most eager to show off.  He's quick to show the parks, the housing for the underprivileged and the elderly, the cultural center, and the public facilities that everyone in town shares.  Even more, he is proud of the people he has worked with over those years: the ones who kept the streets in repair, the water flowing, the people safe.  The people who have contributed so much of themselves to the community.  

    I think that the town really has been blessed.

    But not half so much as I.

  •  So now chimps have WMDs too? (6+ / 0-)

    I suppose we have to invade West Africa now...

  •  no... (5+ / 0-)

    chimps become President, especially if they are from the Republic party aristrocracy.

    When liberals saw 9-11, we wondered how we could make the country safe. When conservatives saw 9-11, they saw an investment opportunity.

    by onanyes on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:30:29 PM PST

    •  Crows (8+ / 0-)

      Are too darn clever by half, and of course there's a couple of Darwin's finches who used cactus thorns.

      Sea otters are also tool users.  They're everywhere, darn it.

      •  My favorite crow talent (19+ / 0-)

        is this:

        When the lights change, the birds hop in front of the cars and place walnuts, which they picked from the adjoining trees, on the road. After the lights turn green again, the birds fly away and vehicles drive over the nuts, cracking them open. Finally, when it’s time to cross again, the crows join the pedestrians and pick up their meal.

        If the cars miss the nuts, the birds sometimes hop back and put them somewhere else on the road. Or they sit on electricity wires and drop them in front of vehicles.

        •  That is CRAZY! I have a newfound (3+ / 0-)

          respect for Crows.

        •  It's on Youtube (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          renaissance grrrl

          Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!
          -President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove

          by gringoringo on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 10:18:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  A few years ago, some government naturalists were (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          renaissance grrrl, sabishi, truthbeauty, I

          studying a crow population, or was it ravens, in Montana.  They wanted to capture and band the birds.  They had cages which had a long, narrow opening in the top that was wide enough for the birds to drop into the cage but not wide enough for them to fly out with their wings spread.  They placed bait in the cages and waited.  Sure enough the birds would see the bait, drop into the cage to eat and would be trapped.  The naturalists  would band the birds, take some notes on their apparent health and let them go.  

          But in no time at all, something happened.  The bait would be gone and so would the birds.  The naturalists could not figure it out.  On a few occasions they would find bird tracks after a snowfall but no bait and no birds.  They kept baiting the traps.  They wanted to know who or what was taking their bait.

          Then one naturalist found the answer.  As he was checking the traps he came upon one with the bird still in it.  It was eating the bait.  The naturalist waited.  The bird finished and then leaped toward the narrow opening, flipped on its back in midair and grasped a crossbar in the opening with its feet.  It then proceeded to rock up and down until it gained enough momentum to flip up through the opening and fly away.  Apparently this knowledge of how to escape the cages had been transmitted through the local population.

          Some years later I was at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon enjoying the view and watching some ravens playing, at least I think they were playing, in the updrafts.   They were only a few feet from me and yet they were actually high in the air riding a column of rising air.  They would float on the air like hawks do.  And then suddenly they started doing back flips.  Then I knew that they had to be playing.

          If you don't have an earth-shaking idea, get one, you'll love building a better world.

          by hestal on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 03:40:36 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, I once saw a sea otter (0+ / 0-)

        using a stone on a live (and huge) crab.  It was quite a sight, and fight.  

        •  Sea Otters rock (and kelp) (3+ / 0-)

          Yeah Otters are another tool user, no wonder the NW Natives thought they had magic powers, little sea people indeed. According to my daughter's new Ranger Rick mag, Otters also use Kelp to secure them in one place when they sleep.

          This got me thinking about tool use in animals as well.  Perhaps the difference between these animals tool use and human tools is that humans long ago began to alter natural objects to be used as specific tools and further move it hither and yon.  Up until this article, I was under the impression most animals were not altering objects, and used them once before discarding, so while technically a tool, it is not altered and thus different. Chimps sharpening spears, well that blows that theory.  

          Pessimism is just an ugly name for pattern recognition

          by potty p on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:51:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Their is a great documentary (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Fabian

      from BBC called The Life of Birds with David Attenborough.  One of the episodes features birds using tools.  There is a bird called a shrike that is aka the butcher bird.  I won't go into details here, but let's just say his pseudonym is a good fit.  BTW, I rented the whole series from netflix.

    •  So do wasps! (2+ / 0-)

      Ammophila is a well-known tool user.  It uses a pebble to tamp down the entrance to its nest.

      While not a tool-user per se, the jumping spider Portia uses a fair amount of logic in hunting.  It experiments with the right technique to capture a specific prey item (usually another spider!)

      How about the webs of spiders and the nets of mayfly naiads?  Admittedly they manufacture them from their own body, but still they are skilled (if instinctual) users of traps and casting nets (the ogre-faced spider holds its net and casts it on passing insects.)

      We need to have a little respect for other creatures.  Even archaebacteria deserve our respect- their line is several billion years old!

  •  But, (6+ / 0-)

    no damn monkey is Time's Person of the Year and I am, so there.

    " Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" Samuel Johnson

    by irate on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:33:21 PM PST

  •  We're not that special? Tell that to Dead-eye (0+ / 0-)

    Dick. He thinks he is....

    Chimpee is an embarrassment to stupidity! GTFO ASAP! AAF

    by Asinus Asinum Fricat on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:33:28 PM PST

  •  seperating animals from humans (5+ / 0-)

    The best way i can think of is to get rid of all Republicans

    Exodus 23: 2 "Do not join a crowd that intends to do evil.

    by roxnev on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:33:29 PM PST

  •  tribalism... (14+ / 0-)

    So many of the world's problems and conflicts stem from drawing imaginary lines on maps, not to mention the purely man-made constructs of "property" or "religion". We are our worst enemy.  And yet, there are thousands of people who are happy, mostly because they help others rather than exclude them. Thanks for this post.

    threatening the forces of conservatism since 1963...

    by cleverblogname on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:34:21 PM PST

    •  Religion... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KathleenM1, rMatey, Boisepoet
      ... 9/11 in a nutshell.
    •  Your tree or mine? (3+ / 0-)

      Human warfare for resources is in our Nature.  Chimps do it as well.  There was either a book or a referreed paper published recently that pointed out that human warfare and chimp warfare used very similar tactics.  [You do know that chimp clans are territorial and go to war with each other over resources?]

      So I think we can say intergroup warfare has been bred into us through evolution.  I say this as one who has for most of my life given the nod to nurture over nature, but the evidence for nature playing a foundational role is increasingly compelling, in my opinion.  Of course our species had not up until the last century encountered a fitness variable such as nuclear weapons and the like.

      Joseph Campbell is well-known for his psychosocial interpretations of mythology, and although he did fundamentally misinterpret a number of myths (according to those more intimately familiar with the respective cultures), his interpretation of the virgin birth, a myth common to almost all cultures, provides one of the most critical insights I've ever encountered.  That is, we as a self-aware species are capable of rising above our animal genes to a higher plane of spirituality, the birth of the spiritual springing from the animal.

      The question is, will we as a species evolve spiritually enough in time enough?

      "Life is forever menaced by chaos and must restore balance with every intake of breath"-- Jean Gebser

      by rangemaster on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:24:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I often wonder (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dirtfarmer

        if we are less spiritually evolved than other animal species.  Perhaps our tremendous cognitive abilities dominate our consciousness to the exclusion of spirituality.

        I do believe that my dogs may be more spiritually evolved than I am - maybe that's just me though.

        Got an issue, here's a tissue - Will & Grace

        by Flinch on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:58:31 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Not just you (5+ / 0-)

          It's a common for many of us to denigrate our own species.  But if you'll allow me the criticism, I think it's a bit arrogant in a Freudian way (ie, we seek superiority by describing ourselves as being inferior).  Perhaps a healthier perspective would be to think that we (all species) are all part of a long and absolutely awe-inspiring chain of life that is neither good nor bad, but simply is.  And we're doing our own things in our own ways.  That way we don't have to live up to the dog, nor does the dog have to live up to us.  Does that make any sense?

          "Life is forever menaced by chaos and must restore balance with every intake of breath"-- Jean Gebser

          by rangemaster on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:09:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It does make sense (0+ / 0-)

            and I actually agree that we shouldn't call differences in abilities either good or bad, just different.

            Humans certainly have amazing abilities, cognitive, social, physical, etc, far beyond most other species.  But I suspect that our spirituality is not one of our more highly developed domains, and may actually be less well developed than some other species.

            Got an issue, here's a tissue - Will & Grace

            by Flinch on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:46:06 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Other animals may not have religion (0+ / 0-)

      but many protect "their" territory and even build their homes.  But religion - yes - there you have it - the difference between humans and the rest.

      The Republicans are defunding, not defending, America.

      by DSPS owl on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:30:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Most animals are territorial... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rangemaster
      ...especially predators.

      Chimpanzees are also tribal and engage in murder and warfare

      -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

      by xynz on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:38:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Culture (0+ / 0-)

      It's not that humans are the "toolmakers", they are the "culture makers" . . . supposedly culture first existed to support instincts, but then we learned to write, make laws, make surpluses . . .I would argue that the most supportive cultures foster more cooperation then competion. That cultures that foster more competition than cooperation is what got us into the "mess".

      In that regard, other primate cultures look more life supporting than our own. Sure chimp culture has a heirarchy, but they are far more cooperative than our own, AND they build in touching to their daily activites. And then there's the bonobos! No internet porn for them. They like it up close and personal.

      David Abrams claims, in "The Spell of the Senuous", that the first "reading" took place when humans followed the animal tracks . . . that animal tracks functioned as symbols that humans "read" . . . from depth of track, to freshness, to size, etc.

      "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

      by MillieNeon on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:42:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I hate this argument (4+ / 0-)

    This egregious defamation of chimps must stop. Chimps are smart enough to craft tools. The primate in the white-house has not been observed performing any act that comes remotely close enough in terms of intelligence.

    It is an insult to a whole race of very intelligent beings to compare them with the excrescense that is hurling it's faeces all around the oval office everyday. One would call that racist. We are not racist here are we?

  •  I don't know if you're familiar with ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wreck Smurfy

    I don't know if you're familiar with the writing of Chet Raymo, but I tell you it is no small praise to say that this essay reminded me of his work.

    "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." - Nelson Mandela

    by Bearpaw on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:35:15 PM PST

  •  Wow! n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    renaissance grrrl, DSPS owl

    It's all about the appearance of security, stupid!

    by zeke7237 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:35:51 PM PST

  •  Monty Python (9+ / 0-)

    Who else had Monty Python's Galaxy Song bouncing around in their head while reading this?

    Just remember that you're standing on a planet that evolving, And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour....

    Love that.  Thanks DT.

  •  The fact that we are even having this discussion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bittergirl

    . . .  i.e. in the 21st century, is a horrid testimony to mankind.

  •  Bonobos (5+ / 0-)

    According to recent PBS special, The Last Great Ape, DNA studies show a closer link between humans and bonobos, than with chimpanzees and other apes.

    •  That was a great show (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SecondComing, feline

      But I think they said that we share the same amount of genes with Bonobos as we do with Chimps, not more.  We got our voilent side from Chimps and our ability to empathize with and nuture those outside our clan from Bonobos.  Well, that's a simplification, but that's the gist of it.

      I was struck by the observation made that if we'd discovered our close relation to Bonobos before we discovered it about Chimps, not after, we might have a different view of what defines humanity...

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." -Voltaire

      by poemless on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:07:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There was a paper in Science (0+ / 0-)

        a year or so back showing that Chimp/proto-Human gene flow continued until about 2 million years ago. This was surprising, since the same data suggested the bifurcation between us and them was about 6 million years ago.

        Maybe the chimps get their violent side from us.

      •  Violent Sides (0+ / 0-)

        Donna Haraway has some great work in this area. In the first half of the 20th Century, "Darwinism" became about domination and the survival of the fittest.

        Actually by fittest, Darwin meant those best fit to adapt to ecological niches. But Robert Yerkes, a psychologist who believe humans should be bred for special characteristics, founded the Yerkes Institute which studied primate behavior. Except, like in the rest of science, you tend to get what you look for, and he was looking for evidence that domination and competition was the driving force of the primates (us included). In order to come to that conclusion, he had to conveniently igonore the cooperative aspects.

        Violence arises with fierce competition and desire for domination. That's just a story we tell ourselves. There are many other stories we can tell ourselves if we've a mind to.

        "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

        by MillieNeon on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:53:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  What astounds me (8+ / 0-)

    continually -- based on what I was told was true about animals when I was a kid -- is how unique in personality and ability each and every one of my pet cats has been.  Yes, they are all cats, with certain commonalities -- but no two of them are the same.

    You just gotta get to know them, and let them be as "weird" as they want to be.

    Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? - Ian Frazier, Lamentations of the Father

    by Frankenoid on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:38:24 PM PST

  •  Only humans are morally responsible agents (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfadden, world traveler

    who can discriminate between good and evil, right and wrong.
    Otherwise Bush would be no more guilty of lying us into two catastrophic wars (and, perhaps, a third in the future) than my pootie pooping on the carpet.

    we're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression

    by Lepanto on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:42:06 PM PST

    •  Just curious, but (7+ / 0-)

      on what basis do you make that assertion?

      It's an assumption most of us carry around, but it really seems pretty questionable to me.  Philosophical/religious/scientific underpinnings, what?

      •  personal experience (0+ / 0-)

        and you've had it too

        we're shocked by a naked nipple, but not by naked aggression

        by Lepanto on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:48:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I second the motion... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jfadden, Flinch, Wreck Smurfy

        ...how do you know that animals do not have a sense of right/wrong?

        Our experience with dogs would tend to refute your assertion.  Have you ever seen a dog being scolded by its master?  The dog's body language positively screams out their sense of guilt and shame.  

        They can also be taught to be good dogs instead of bad dogs.  Of course, you might want to assert that they are trained to be good dogs instead of bad dogs....but why can't we say the same thing about humans?

        -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

        by xynz on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:45:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  dogs (0+ / 0-)

          ...like most animals are quite capable of using a discriminative stimulus, which essentially indicates whether or not a behavior will be rewarded or punished.

          It's true that dogs are very social animals and are keen on body language, but let's not assume further than that.

          •  The same could be said for humans (0+ / 0-)

            A dog can be trained to follow commands or to remain calm when guests arive and other behavior that "good" dogs do.

            However, people are also trained to do this.  Remember your morals are learned traits.  There may be tendancies that are natural, such as a tendancy to be more agressive or a tendency to be more inquisitive but the same can be said for animals.

            The deeper meaning of these such as "good" and "bad" may not exist in animals and may not be able to be taught to them but the concepts of good and bad are not inate in humans.  They are learned, probably developed as part of social evolution.  A society that has people who follow norms when no one else is looking just because it is the right thing to do will benefit over a society that does not have such individuals.  So we have the concept that they do not but that is only because we are more intelligent.

            So the difference between humans and animals is our higher cognitive abilities.  Now that is not that great of a distinction.  It is like saying the difference between a cheetahs and animals is that cheetahs are faster runners than all animals.

            All this boils down to saying that the only difference between humans and animals is a few million years of evolution.  Mayben not even that long.  A bit of selective breeding could speed that up greatly or genetic engineering even faster.  So there is no real great distinction between animals and humnas.  The simple fact is that humans are animals.

            "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain

            by Quanta on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:20:04 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The main difference between folks and animals (0+ / 0-)

              is that animals can't destroy the planet and make it unliveable for everyone . . . we don't know if they would if they could, but they can't.

              As Chris Rock said, hunting isn't a sport, because in a sport, both sides know their playing.

              "If religion is the opiate of the masses, then fundamentalism is the amphetamine." Miz Vittitow

              by MillieNeon on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:00:01 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  However (0+ / 0-)

                A century ago we did not have the ability to destroy the planet and make it uninhabitable.  If we go back 2 centuries then we don't even have the ability to effect very significant change to the planet, that is relative to our ability today and not relative to other animals.  Go back any further and we really don't have much power at all.

                "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain

                by Quanta on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:19:02 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Human's can't destroy the planet either.... (0+ / 0-)

                ...however, they can fuck up the ecosystem to the extent that it ends life as we know it.  In that respect, a runaway algal bloom that smothers the oceans could accomplish the same thing.

                -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

                by xynz on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 10:10:20 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  I never said that humans don't learn (0+ / 0-)

              the way dogs do.

              Of course we are similar.  But let's not imbue animal learning (even human learning) with something more profound.

              In a sense, I'm agreeing with premise of the diary: that we aren't that special when it comes to learning.  The way that animals learn is similar across species.

              But let's not then conclude that humans are no more capable than dogs.

    •  I suspect it's a matter of degree (16+ / 0-)

      I've watched my dog when she's caught getting into the garbage.  She spots me coming into the room, cringes, and hangs her head.  Then she slouches to a corner and covers her face with her paws, even though she knows I'm not going to strike her.

      Yes, humans have more idea of the problems their actions can cause, and more ability to sort through complex matters of right and wrong.  But you can't tell me that animals are free of moral discrimination.

      Just as we have more extensive use of tools, languages, and (supposedly) a higher degree of intelligence, we also have more ability to discern the moral nature of our choices.  That doesn't mean animals have none.

      •  No, but it means we should be (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jfadden, world traveler

        more responsible about our actions and be held more responsible for their consequences.  We seem to be the only ones capable of mass destruction... or maybe not, maybe we are just the only ones doing it.  Not sure at this point we can even be certain that we are "smarter" but we are definitely good at f@#*ing sh#t up.  

        •  animals wage warfare (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Devilstower, rangemaster, jfadden

          I saw a documentary on two large groups of chimps (about 100 or 200) who had this huge battle over territory.  

          Plus what makes mass destruction special?  Isn't destruction to any degree the same essense?  And how do you define destruction?  Killing?  What about trampling on grass?  Does their have to be malicious intent?  It's all a matter of degree in my opinoin, and so animals are capable of "mass destruction" but just to a lesser degree.

          •  Damned philosophers.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jfadden

            I did give you a recommend.  Good questions all.

            I once witnessed a herd of cows, all of similar color, try to run down and trample a calf that had just been introduced to the herd.  The calf was of a significantly different color and pattern of coloration from the members of the herd; it had been adopted onto a cow that had lost her calf.  The adoptive mother did her best to protect her calf from the others that were trying to run the calf into the ground, but running was the only real option.  I learned first-hand and in a poignant manner about xenophobia in other species that day.

            And the calf did survive; it was there a month later grazing with the rest of the herd, not even pushed to the periphery, but internal to herd.  

            Yeah, that was a second lesson learned, and a much more hopeful one.  :-)

            Maliciousness is a human-imposed ascription.  Apt for our own species (simply because we generally agree on this observation) perhaps, but nothing that we should think is valid for the rest of Nature.

            "Life is forever menaced by chaos and must restore balance with every intake of breath"-- Jean Gebser

            by rangemaster on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:44:21 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Dunno about morality (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jfadden, justalittlebitcrazy

        I don't think most animals think on those terms at all. Basically, I think our sense of right and wrong stems from an ability to empathize, rather than just sympathize -- to imagine ourselves in circumstances we're not actually in. I don't see much sign that my dog can do that, though she certainly feels bad with me when I do.

        I really do think that morality is a human invention. I think the dog learns not to eat from the trash because she knows it makes me unhappy with her, and she doesn't like it when I'm unhappy with her. That's not the same thing as understanding that it's wrong to eat the garbage because some other imagined person will have to clean up the imagined mess. Of course, I've known some humans who seemed to lack this ability as well.

        Also, nothing here is provable, and you're absolutely right that when it comes to provable assertions about any separation between other animals and humans, there aren't any that hold up.

        •  My dog feels sad if I do. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          xynz, jfadden, Flinch, justalittlebitcrazy

          That's at least the rudiments of empathy. They have a (very simple) model of other minds embedded in their minds.

          Mirror neurons may be hyper developed in human beings, but they are not unique to us.

          •  Maybe (0+ / 0-)

            it depends, though, on how you define "empathy" and "sympathy". It's a difficult distinction to make.

            •  I'm not sure there is a difference in most mammal (0+ / 0-)

              Since their self-consciousness is very limited, empathy and sympathy would be indistinguishable. It's kind of like a universal field theory, breaking into components over evolutionary time.

              •  I don't know whether I agree (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                G2geek

                I'm going off an assumption here that empathy, which I'm defining as an ability to imagine oneself in another's position, requires essentially a vivid enough imagination to identify with something outside your actual self. So it's not so much dependent on self-awareness as it is on awareness of others' awareness, if that makes sense. Again, I'm frankly not even sure most humans display much of that, though I suspect we're generally able to.

                Sympathy on the other hand, where I feel bad because you feel bad, sure. Plenty of other animals do that. But it's not dependent on putting myself in your shoes, it just means that I like it better for myself when you seem happy.

                I don't think you can combine the two, really, under the way I'm thinking of them. But there are about a million different ways to think of them, so there you go.

                •  The problem is one of self-awareness. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  G2geek

                  If I have no I – no objective self – then I can't distinguish between feeling bad through sympathy, or by putting myself in your shoes. In an evolutionary sense, empathy is a specialization of sympathy. A social animal needs to predict the behavior of individuals in its group. It does this with a model of the other's mind. For most mammals, they don't distinguish between I and other, so from their point of view, there is no sympathy/empathy distinction.

                  Great Apes, on the other hand, have a model of themselves, and are therefore able to distinguish between their own feelings, and those of others, and have the possibility of moving between the two. But I would expect that the biological difference between those two states are fairly minimal, one being a fine tuning of the other.

        •  We didn't think animals used tools either (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pitbullEmily, jfadden

          or had language
          or waged war

          and these are relitivly easy things to observe,

          So it's not unreasonable to say that anmials may have other element we consider human like, especially when they are hard to observe - like a moral dimention.

          We are what we think. With our thoughts we make the world.

          by holder on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:37:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Certainly (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            jfadden

            it's not unreasonable. But it's also not unreasonable to observe my dog wanting to mangle cute baby squirrels because it's fun to hear them squeak and think that maybe dogs, at least, don't really "get" that whole "others have feelings too" thing the way we do. Other animals, and most humans for that matter, are just flat-out self-centered. I don't say this out of the blue, I say it after spending quite a lot of time training various animals. Most animals don't sit around questioning whether it's valid for them to consider themselves the center of the universe, you know?

            •  no, that's not why dogs mangle squirrels (0+ / 0-)

              you're thinking of cats.

              Dogs mangle squirrels because dogs are predators and squirrels are prey.

              Few dogs play with their prey the way cats routinely do.
              .

              •  Actually (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Spit

                cats play with their prey because it is behavior left over in them from childhood.  Cats have to learn how to properly hunt and kill prey.  Playing with small prey accomplishes this.  If they enjoy this it is because they evolved to enjoy it since they are predators and need to do this to survive.

                Humans, for the most part, think killing others is wrong and causing needless suffering in other animals is wrong.  However this is a learned social norm.  It is not inate.  It is likely a social evolution.  Afterall, society wouldn't work very well if every person was a sociopath.

                Even if an animal developed cognitive abilities similar to a human it would not necessarily mean they would develope a similar norm.  If they were a social species they probably would but if they were solitary like most cats they might not.  There just wouldn't be any reason for them to develope such a norm.

                "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain

                by Quanta on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:33:11 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  There is no morality, (0+ / 0-)

          there is only fear. Fear makes us the human beings we are and our sense of right and wrong is dutifully stroked from birth by our parents and then, to a lesser extent, by ourselves.

        •  My cat could give a shit... (0+ / 0-)

          heh...cats are like that.

      •  dogs want to be good (0+ / 0-)

        that's how wolves became dogs...  those individuals that wanted to hang around people evolved into dogs

        Dogs are more responsive to human expression than chimps are.. they are highly socialized to us.

        They respond "guiltily" because they know when we're mad at them, and they don't want to us to be mad at them.

        Unfortunately, dogs also live in the immediate, so garbage is pretty irresistable.... and many dogs won't resist the immediate urge.

    •  Exception (7+ / 0-)

      My cat can discriminate between good and evil and she always chooses to do evil.

      Did I read that if there would have been a few hundred more Neanderthals, they would have give Homo Sapiens a lot more competition?

      •  My cat does that too. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        justalittlebitcrazy

        The last few nights he's been jumping on my dresser, batting at small objects with his paws until they fall off, and then moving on to the next object.  It's totally intentional and super annoying especially when you cant find your glasses the next morning.

      •  I suspect that since we all trace ourselves back. (0+ / 0-)

        ....to a single mitochondrial Eve, that if she was outnumbered by a few hundred Neanderthals things would be very different indeed.

        -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

        by xynz on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:47:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Doubt it (0+ / 0-)

        Neanderthalis was well established in Europe and Eurasia.  Homo sapien sapien appears to have out-competed them in their own stronghold as H. sapien sapien moved out of Africa; greater cognitive and adaptive ability.

        "Life is forever menaced by chaos and must restore balance with every intake of breath"-- Jean Gebser

        by rangemaster on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:58:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  My black Lab, Satan (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xynz, SecondComing, bittergirl, JuniperLea

      knows right from wrong and does a better job of behaving himself that a lot of preachers.

      Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. - Sam J. Ervin, Jr.

      by tiponeill on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:53:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  the underlying difference (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rangemaster

      seems to be that only humans have demonstrated self-aware consciousness, that is, only humans have shown that they are aware that they are aware.  It's a pretty substantial jump from the other primates, and is embraced by people like E. O. Wilson, James Watson, and Francis Crick (yes, that Watson and Crick).  They've made the point in interviews (including a famous one with Wilson and Watson on Charlie Rose) and books (the Wilson and Watson editions of Darwin's major works, and Crick's last book before he died).
      Evolutionary Psychology has demonstrated it, but the titles are at home and I'm at work, so I can't cite those. But it's at the center of the great research in cognitive science: just "where" is this consciousness that we are aware we are?  

      Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

      by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:01:26 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is pretty hard to prove that though (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xynz, holder

        isn't it?

        •  Yes (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rangemaster, bittergirl

          That's why it's taken so long, covered so many disciplines, and required a great deal of investment of time and research dollars.

          And, it has also engaged some of the great thinkers in cognitive science (mentioned three).  But the results are coming in, and it's becoming the dominant paradigm.

          Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

          by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:06:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Not really (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek, world traveler

        chimps have, at least.

        Again it is a continuum - there is no bright line dividing other animals from humans just matters of degree.

        I've been following the consciousness problem for quite a while now and find it littered with a lot of nonsense - mostly coming from computer scientists.

        The most poersuasive researcher I have found so far is Gerald Edelman, whom I recommend highly.

        Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. - Sam J. Ervin, Jr.

        by tiponeill on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:15:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes, the computer science people (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tiponeill, G2geek

          have really muddled things up.  The human mind is not a computer and v.v.  That simulation stuff is more like literature, to me -- well imagined fictions.

          Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

          by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:37:36 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  great apes have self awareness (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DSPS owl

        They tested it by putting a red dot on the forehead while the great ape sleeps (chimp, gorilla, or orangutans all have the ability).  Then when the ape sees the red dot in the mirror it starts touching the red dot.  This is different than its baseline mirror behavior and demonstrates that it is aware that it is the creature in the mirror b/c it touches its OWN forehead and not the image in the mirror.

        •  But is it aware (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          holder

          of the fact that it is aware?  That's a mental phenomenon, that has to be demonstrated in spontaneous behaviour, and a different question from recognizing its physical form.

          Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

          by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:35:41 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  That's another often cited myth (0+ / 0-)

        Other animal species have demonstrated self-awareness.  Some apes, I think, also dolphins and elephants.  Any others??

        Got an issue, here's a tissue - Will & Grace

        by Flinch on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:06:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Many birds (0+ / 0-)

          but I'm pritty sure most of these animals are tested by showing them mirrors and seeing if they recognize themselves.  If they can realize that they are the animal in the mirror then they must have a sense of self.

          However, none of this shows that other animals aren't self aware.  Its an if then type of argument.  If an animal can regonize itself then it is self aware.  The converse, if an animal is self aware then it can recognize itself in a mirror is not necessarily true.

          I am pritty sure dogs are one of the animals that fails this test and I would be suprised if dogs were not self aware.

          "It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said." "The War Prayer" by Mark Twain

          by Quanta on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:02:50 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  We need sources to back that up. n/t (0+ / 0-)

          Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

          by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:07:21 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Chimpanzees (0+ / 0-)

      How could you explain Chimpanzees who give food to begging elders (documented behavior).

      Or humans who callously kill?

      I think your "line" is still pretty smudged.

    •  Survival of Species = Morality (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bittergirl, G2geek

      It is not difficult to get to this conclusion.  By doing the things that help our species survive, which happens to be highly social, we are in fact doing good things for each other.  Not much different than good moral behavior.  Bad moral behavior, especially those things we all agree are immoral (murder for example) does not help the species survive.

      Maybe just another way to look at.  Maybe the truth about morals.

      Do the right thing 'cause it feels better.

      by John Boy on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:07:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  How do you define species? (0+ / 0-)

        Everyone in your family?  Ethnicity?  Everything categorically called a 'homo sapien?' What about down syndrom "people" who have an extra chromosome-- are they human?  Neandrathals?  Homo Erectus?  Austrolopithicenes?  Apes?  Monkeys? Mammals?  Creatures with vertabrae?  Cephalized creatures?  

        Just a thought provoking question.

        •  as I've heard it (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DSPS owl

          a species is any group of organisms that can mate and have reproducing offspring.  Where's DarkSide?

          Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

          by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:13:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  So reproduction defines species? (0+ / 0-)

            What if I am infertile, does that make me inhuman? Of course not, that is ridiculous.

            Reproduction is only used as a standard b/c creatures that are "generally closely related" can "generally" reproduce with each other.  So it represents only a correlation not a legitimate standard in and of itself.

        •  That's a good question (0+ / 0-)

          I was thinking homo sapiens.  But species certainly change with time.

          Do the right thing 'cause it feels better.

          by John Boy on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:14:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  about 150 years ago (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mona John Williams

            there was a mainstream thought that whites and blacks were different species.  What makes two groups different species is all subjective.  Species is just a word after all and can have different definitions and interpretations of the definitions.

            •  Waiter! We need a geneticist over here! n/t (0+ / 0-)

              Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

              by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:30:16 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  The problem is (0+ / 0-)

              that there are multiple different definitions that have been used over the years.

              The idea of "biological species" is based on whether a group is "genetically isolated" from other groups -- in other words, could it theoretically breed with another population and produce healthy, normal, reproductive offspring?

              But that's not always been the definition, and a lot of species are actually defined by being morphologically different from others -- looking different in some clear cut and consistent way, for example.

              So it's kind of a muddle, and realistically it's not always clear what's meant by "species".

      •  How about killing old folks? (0+ / 0-)

        Then it must be "not immoral" (moral?) to kill old men and women who can no longer reproduce and/or perform any other function supporting "survival of our species".

        And how about torturing animals?

    •  good and evil (0+ / 0-)

      are human constructs.  It's only when we decided to "play God"--determining who will live and who will die--that these things ever existed.  

      Don't start a blog, build a community with SoapBlox - the NEW blog framework.

      by pacified on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:16:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'll politely differ here (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tiponeill, goverup1, Tetris

      I've known a number of dogs who were better at recognizing good and evil than humans were. And a few primates have been observed making moral judgements by researchers.

      Perhaps this is something only "higher" animals do and something we like to denigrate as "just instinct" in order to maintain the precious line between us.

      First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

      by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:18:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  How a dog's decision skills saved my life (6+ / 0-)

        My very obedient border collie only once blatantly ignored my command.  It was a warm summer day, and she was out on the front porch when she began barking at something in the bushes.  When she refused to stop, I opened the unlocked screen door and grabbed her by the collar to bring her inside. Completely out of character, she snapped at me and grabbed my hand between her teeth, pressing just hard enough to leave faint tooth marks. I tried again. She yelped and again  closed her mouth on my hands.  Realizing that she didn't plan to hurt me, I grabbed her collar and this time I managed to drag her inside, but here feet were clawing the cement porch as she braked against my efforts. Minutes later, the neighbor's german shepard came bounding over, and also began barking at the bushes. From the bushes suddenly emerged a man, who took off down the street, just in time to be nabbed by police for robbing the local jewlery store - with a gun.  Whenever I read about the Nuremberg trials, I think about my border collie who, unlike many humans, knew exactly when to ignore orders.  Moreover, she was able, with uncanny accuracy, to size up a perfect stranger as a threat.

        •  Pheremones or Canine ESP (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          goverup1

          Either way, she acted wisely on her perception to protect her pack leader (you).

          That "semi-bite" is a classic canine communication to say "Something is wrong. I'm not disputing your authority, but you need to pay attention!"

          Lucky you, to have such a smart companion!

          First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

          by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:50:37 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Some apes display a rudimentary form of religion (0+ / 0-)

      IIRC  a documentary with Jane Goodall about how a group of gorillas on a regeluar basis travelled to a specific place in the jungle. It was a beautiful place with a small waterfall and luscious vegetation. You could cleary perceive a display of awe and worship in the faces of the apes. She even put forward the theory that it may be an rudimentary for of religion.

      Also I strongly recommend the PBS doc on KOKO the sign language capable gorilla she is absolutely fascinating !!!!

      BTW Great post and superbly written.

  •  On the mark, but disagree here: (5+ / 0-)

    Our instinct is always toward tribalism

    There are, of course, countervailing instincts, which include empathy and curiousity.

    Human beings, both individually and collectively, are capable of tribalistic loyalty and inter-tribal cooperation and sharing. And those behaviors, like all human behaviors, come from a mix of instinct and rationality.

    The behavior expressed at any given time is a product of circumstance -- in the present world, a set of circumstances largely defined by exploitative social relations.

    •  Language (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Spit, Unduna

      As someone who makes a living teaching about human language, language is, to the best of our knowledge, unique in the animal kingdom.

      Go and click on the language link that describes a pretty remarkable parrot.  Here is the kind of evidence for this remarkable parrot:

      In an experiment, the bird and his owner were put in separate rooms and filmed as the artist opened random envelopes containing picture cards.

      Analysis showed the parrot had used appropriate keywords three times more often than would be likely by chance.

      That certainly is remarkable, but if a four year old did this and did not use appropriate key words 100% of the time, we would be thinking there is some kind of language disorder.  I don't know the world of three year olds, but on naming activities I assume they do better than 3 to 1, too.

      With human language we can communicate about past events and events that have not occurred. To the best of our knowledge, no animal communication system can do that.  

      The wise are driven by reason; ordinary minds, by experience; the stupid, by necessity, and brutes by instinct. Cicero

      by MoDem on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:55:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The First Information Revolution (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bittergirl, Unduna, Cronesense, kmiddle

        Something happened about 50,000 years ago that gave a sudden boost to technology.  It happened at nearly the same time as the first representational art.

        I suspect that what happened was the invention of the story.  That we built, for the first time, not just words that described a situation, but words that were ordered to create history, ritual, and generalizations.

        Of course, the idea that storytelling itself might be the thing which boosted H. sapiens ahead of the rest of the pack might have something to do with the fact that I made my living by that skill for some time.

      •  And stories. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DSPS owl

        I teach early childhood special ed., and so, clearly, teaching language is a huge part of my life.

        What is clear to me, and very, very interesting to me, is not just the relay of history, but our fiendish desire to hear and tell stories. We are all absolutely freakin' obsessed with it. It's a multi-billion dollar industry that pretty much covers every form of human "entertainment" imagineable; it's just that it may be a hell of a lot more vital than "entertaining"...

        Something about questions and metaphor. I spend a lot of time on this. When one of my little ones starts listening to or telling stories, even just making an art story, I know we are ready to rock out. Massive developmental surges are on the way. It's awesome, it's weird, I love it.

        Questions and Metaphor, for me, = Human socio-psycho-congnitive-emotional manna. Very intriquing.

        "In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder, a secret order." Carl Jung

        by Unduna on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:10:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Language as marker (0+ / 0-)

        How do you know Neandrathals did not have language?

        Do the right thing 'cause it feels better.

        by John Boy on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:23:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  not so (4+ / 0-)

        I work with Koko (a lowland Gorilla) and she's quite capable of communicating about past events and events that have not or may not occur. Not only is her vocabulary large enough (thousands of signs) but she is clearly able to understand complex issues.

        Koko is not the only Gorilla with the ability to share her past experiences with humans. Michael, her companion of many years was able to tell the story of his mother's death by poachers and his capture from many years before.

        Not only that, but the latest research in Gorilla native gestural language suggests that their natural communications are also capable of meeting your test, with large vocabularies and clear understanding of past, present, and future.

        It's pretty obvious when you see a silverback gesture to his group that it's time to go find food. The gestures and response are clearly about a future that has not occurred yet. Similarly, Gorillas are know to convey through their natural gestural system information about their recent past -- an injury suffered, a child just born, etc.

        If there's a gray area, it's on the other side of the great apes and not between us and the rest of the great apes.

        •  Complex communication exists (0+ / 0-)

          in dolphins certainly.  It may not be language in the strictest sense, but it serves the same purpose.

          Whales, elephants and birds also have methods of communication that we don't really understand, so we can't say if it is similar to 'language' or not.

          Got an issue, here's a tissue - Will & Grace

          by Flinch on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:11:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Publications? (0+ / 0-)

          That sounds very interesting.  I know there's a gulf between anecdotal observations and the peer-reviewed paper, and that there's a great deal of professional risk in jumping too quickly from one to the other, but I also know that there are great nuggets of knowledge waiting in those anecdotal observations.  I'd love to learn more about this if there's something published or in the grey literature or somewhere else....

          "Life is forever menaced by chaos and must restore balance with every intake of breath"-- Jean Gebser

          by rangemaster on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:28:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  My observations (0+ / 0-)

            I would love to see the claims about Koko in peer reviewed journals.

            The wise are driven by reason; ordinary minds, by experience; the stupid, by necessity, and brutes by instinct. Cicero

            by MoDem on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:12:59 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  But, recent studies show that killer whales (0+ / 0-)

        aka, orcas, use symbols to build unique and genetically distinct cultures. See

        Do Orcas Use Symbols?

        We are mid-sized mammals who define ourselves and then fight over who's definition is right.

        by howardfromUSA on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 05:25:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Wonderful stuff, as usual, Dt (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      YellowDogBlue, bittergirl, dirtfarmer
      The exercise you mentioned, of picturing the people in the cars, is one I use a lot. But I learned it from Sherlock Holmes. Watching people and imagining their lives based on just what you can observe teaches you a lot about yourself as well. The same is true of watching animals.
        The Bonobo's are my favorite relatives. The are sex fiends and are constantly pleasuring themselves and each other and they don't like to fight.  You can understand why the religious right don't like the idea of being cousins with them.  Especially those who marry their cousins.  

      Everybody eats, nobody hits.

      by upperleftedge on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:03:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ishmael (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pacified, SecondComing, bittergirl, Unduna

    This diary makes me want to go and read Ishmael again.  Seems we can learn a lot from other animals on the planet ;-)

  •  It's too much... (5+ / 0-)

    When I was younger, I remember thinking, "It was really cruel to create an animal capable of examining its own exsistance."

    It's be alot easier if our brains were filled with only the following thoughts...

    I need food.

    I need sex.

    RUN!  Look at that thing with teeth chasing me!  RUN!

    I wish that's all I could think about.

    An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy. (Woodrow Wilson)

    by Alter Ego Manifesto on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:51:08 PM PST

  •  Great great post, Devilstower! (5+ / 0-)

    This is the kind of thinking that ultimately needs to guide us politically. It's the kind of shift in thinking that we need to advance a global progressivism.

  •  We are the only species (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    world traveler

    (as far as I know) that are aware of are own mortality.  Kinda explains why we've invented so many myths and superstitions.

    •  Myths and superstitions are (0+ / 0-)

      probably our originals too.  And cooking.

    •  Makes sense (0+ / 0-)

      If we are aware that we are aware, we are also aware that we come to an end of awareness (die).  And so we mythologize a world we go to, so we don't die, just assume a new modality.

      Abigail, I'm sure if there is something out there, looking down on us from somewhere else in the Universe, they're wise enough to stay away from us. --Grissom

      by world traveler on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:18:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  not only us (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bjornmmcc, G2geek, Flinch
      As I mentioned in another comment, I've had the pleasure of working with a couple of really amazing Gorillas and there's no doubt that they understand mortality. Koko has the ability to express that using a variation of American Sign Language and she's done so on many occasions (the loss of her companion Michael, the loss of her kittens, etc.)

      - A

      •  One of my two cats died a while back (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek

        the other one was obviously distressed and cried for 2-3 days.  I'm quite sure she understood mortality and was grieving.

        Got an issue, here's a tissue - Will & Grace

        by Flinch on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:14:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I love Koko! (0+ / 0-)

        She has always freaked me out in a very good way.  The fact that she learned sign language is amazing in itself, but the fact that she went on to teach others!  Oh my!  I'm goose flesh head to toe just thinking about it.  And didn't she tell people of her capture, recalling the incident from many years past?  We need a full-length docu-drama on that precious lady gorilla!

        To sit with elders of a gentle race this world has seldom seen ~ who talk of days for which they sit in wait ~ when all will be revealed

        by JuniperLea on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:22:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Did Koko understand (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bjornmmcc

        from the loss of her companion that she too would someday have to die? And if so, was that distressing to her? If this is what you meant by understanding mortality, then these animals are close indeed to us humans.

        How about a Department of Rutabaga?

        by Mona John Williams on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 06:26:34 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  yeah but what was that whole crazy (0+ / 0-)

        toy alligator thing?

        Where Koko said she was "afraid" of the alligator?

        Koko didn't have any real life experience with alligators, did she?  (do gorilla's even live in proximity to alligators in Africa???)   Where would she get the notion to be afraid of a plastic toy?

      •  Fascinating (0+ / 0-)

        Are we sure Koko wasn't just greiving for her loss, as opposed to understanding that she hersalf will actually cease to exist at some point?

        •  Addendum (0+ / 0-)

          And if she does understand that she will eventually die what is she doing about it?  Is she scared?  Is she making up afterlife myths (or are people making them up for her and explaining the concept of heaven, etc. to her)?

          Really, this is quite fascinating.  One could make their whole career around these question.

  •  Kinda squiggly logic... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mona John Williams

    ...necessarily comes into play here:

    Your universe is a wonder, based on laws so precisely balanced that the slightest variation in any of them might have caused everything -- space, time, and everything that moves through both -- to never have appeared.

    Of course, all those other possible universes never appeared, because they couldn't, and only at the right set of parameters did ours.  We can't really count ourselves lucky or rare; the fact that we exist at all means that the laws got it "right", otherwise we wouldn't be here at all to count ourselves unlucky.  So maybe all combinations were "tried", so to speak, and only our set of laws or something very close to it produced anything.  All the other ones were pre-screened out.

    Likewise, we are able to marvel at ourselves only because we went along just the right evolutionary path.  Any deviation and, well, we wouldn't be able to marvel or not marvel at ourselves.  

    What is my point?  I don't know.  I was just a-thinkin', so I started a-typin'.

    •  It's the weak athropomophic theory at work (5+ / 0-)

      The universe is as it is because if it wasn't as it is we wouldn't be here to see it.

      (now, try solving that sentence without knowing what the meaning of "is" is)

    •  Weaker than that, even (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Devilstower, jfadden, skralyx

      If the universe weren't the way it is, some other physical laws would have held sway and some other critters would be saying how perfectly everything suits them—or not.

      It's not an anthropomorphic principle but rather anthropocentrism.

      First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

      by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:28:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And of course... (0+ / 0-)

        ...there could indeed be other universes that coexist with ours, even right on top of it, but our perception isn't geared toward being able to know that they're there.  

        •  But if it's invisible... (0+ / 0-)

          ...to normal human senses doesn't that mean it can't possibly be real?

          Oh, wait. Dark matter, dark energy, alternate universes... seems like there's a lot of invisible stuff we're supposed to believe in these days.

          If only I had a more scientific mind... [/snark]

          First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

          by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:55:36 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Squiggly language, too (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skralyx

      because of those two kinds of laws that we have--prescriptive and descriptive. I can't help but think that the "laws" of science are of the second sort--they don't cause anything, just codify how things happen to be.

      But that still doesn't let me turn around Devilstower's statement that you blockquoted and say that if there were the slightest variation in reality, then all the laws would be different. I rather agree with you that any slight variation in the reality we know would have ended up in one of those failed attempts you refer to.

      Despite logic professors' insistence on allowing for alternate physical (but not logical) realities, they are really hard to imagine. Maybe that's what makes it so hard for us humans to see ourselves as freak accidents. But I agree with you and Devilstower that that's what we are.    

      How about a Department of Rutabaga?

      by Mona John Williams on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 06:46:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This just in.... Reality (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Adam, PBen, trashablanca, Flinch, Cronesense, hsvscg
    Excellent post Devilstower!  I do my share of nerd reading on the cosmos, physics, and other such subjects.  You know... subjects that cause people to look at me like a dog staring at a ceiling fan.  I particularly like this:
    Your world is not that special.  Your planet is not located at the center of the universe.  Neither is your star, or your galaxy.  Perhaps most disturbing at all, as telescopes have revealed to us the enormity of space, both astronomy and geology have revealed the breathless expanse of time.  We are not just insignificantly small items living in a vast ocean of space; we're living in a moment so brief that it's barely a single tick of a clock that's already run through millennia without us, and will not pause when we are gone.

    Whew... how true!  And, what a reminder of our place in the universe!  Ok, that having been said, I still have laundry to do and dishes to put away.

    •  humbug (0+ / 0-)

      For many years it's been a little project of mine to keep an eye out for this definition of "special" and a kind of copernican zeal that comes with a lot of science writing.  The "we're not the center of ..." or "we're not that big/small/fast/powerful/...".

      While I do get the point, and there is some utility in it, I think we should be careful when associating science with "not being special".

      In fact, I think that's why a lot of creationists are very suspicious of science -- it is too often correlated with this kind of apparently bleak statement.

      I do note the last sentence of the diary, and maybe that mitigates this effect somewhat, but I would still like to raise this issue with those on this thread.  

      Why such a strong reliance on measuring up to these old-school quanta like time, distance, and speed?

      I'll grant that these arguments are usually directed at people who do need to be shaken up a bit and have their reality questioned -- and not at those of us who have a firm grasp of science and scale.

      I'm trying to get started writing a dissertation in the area of programming languages (with a strong influence from formal human linguistics).  The most quantifiable thing I deal with is "information".  Information is inherently subjective, which is (imho) a good way to bridge the two camps.

      There's a lot more to say... just wondering if any of the folks here cringe a little bit when they see the "science says you're not special" meme, too.  What's the best way to walk the line?

  •  Samuel Johnson (7+ / 0-)

    The beasts have memory, judgment and all the faculties and passions of our mind, in a certain degree; but no beast is a cook.

  •  My only discovered caveat to date: (3+ / 0-)

    metaphor.

    Don't know how important it is, I'm certainly not convinced it makes us better (I'm even generally convinced that humans actually sorta kinda utterly suck, comparatively speaking), but - the capacity for metaphor is rather intriquing.

    We obviously don't have a full maket on it, but metaphor is at a rather progressed state for us. I believe that other critters have equally as fascinating modes of communication, (many of which I'm convinced that we haven't even begun to appreciate or understand), but there is something about questions and metaphor. We tell big stories. Something fascinating happens to the human brain when we make art and learn to read. It's a precious peculiarity, and I like it.

    But I prefer other critters.

    "In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder, a secret order." Carl Jung

    by Unduna on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 02:57:18 PM PST

  •  Plato also thought Philosopher-kings should rule (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, PhillyGal, bittergirl

    Personally, I think engineer-kings should rule. Kos probably believes blogger-kings should rule. Funny that.

  •  Here's Kenneth Burke's take on the question: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xynz, pontechango, Unduna, ibonewits

    Being bodies that learn language
    thereby becoming wordlings
    humans are
    the symbol-making, symbol-using, symbol-misusing animal
    inventor of the negative
    separated from our natural condition
    by instruments of our own making
    goaded by the spirit of hierarchy
    acquiring foreknowledge of death
    and rotten with perfection

    The name is not the thing named, the map is not the territory. -- Gregory Bateson

    by semiot on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:02:23 PM PST

  •  Mother Culture screams at us (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bittergirl, Mona John Williams

    that we are special, separate from the animals.  Made by God for this purpose.  As you have eloquently stated, this is just not the case.

    The three myths of humanity:

    1. We're the center of the universe--it took us a long time to get over the fact that we're not.
    1. We're special creatures, and did not evolve from the a puddle of proteins.  Many in this world still fight this truth.
    1. The world was made of us to rule and "civilize".  No one is really addressing this issue so much right now.  I just hope we all realize it before we end up killing ourselves.

    Oh, thanks to the book Ishmael for those 3 things.

    Great post.  

    Don't start a blog, build a community with SoapBlox - the NEW blog framework.

    by pacified on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:02:54 PM PST

  •  Easy to say (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    semiot, Mona John Williams

    Our instinct is always toward tribalism, toward drawing lines between human and animal, manmade and natural, us and them.

    This instinct was developed over long millennia as a survival mechanism. Feeling warm and fuzzy to a short-face bear or Megalania prisca and offering it a toke was probably not conducive to propagating the species (well, not the human species). Wanting to get out of a blinding winter storm or away from a flood is probably also rooted in survival.

    But evolutionary memories are long, especially when they are regularly reinforced, sometimes against other tribes (Jews in the 1940s, India under the Raj, ...), sometimes against the natural (air conditioned buildings, high-tech clothing made from petroleum, shooting puma who "encroach" on public areas) so even when conditions change and those survival mechanisms become clearly destructive, it can be really really difficult to change. Old habits die hard.

  •  Erasing the lines (9+ / 0-)

    This Einstein quote from a great diary by erevann

    A human being is part of the whole called by us universe ... We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

    • Albert Einstein

    "Require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive".
    That sounds so daunting until you realize it IS the basis of progressive thought; to be inclusive in decision making. Not just open to alternative opinions, but mindful of consequencesof our actions.

    It would be nice to treat each other and our world in a manner more like the adults we say we are, eh?

    How many miles per soldier does your SUV get?

    by kamarvt on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:03:26 PM PST

  •  But they're not as violent as us (0+ / 0-)

    Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning spears from sticks and using the handcrafted tools to hunt small mammals -- the first routine production of deadly weapons ever seen in nonhuman animals.

    If you see a chimp use a tool (tool schmool, it's a weapon we're talking about) to kill antoher chimp, that's closer.  But they don't match our species for violence unless they go to war, and bands of chimps fight other bands with weapons, and then go on to 'ethnic cleansing' or genocide.

    By one count (sixty years ago by T.H. White in The Once and Future King) something like six species of ants go to 'war' against their own kind, one species of termite, and man.  And the ants and termites are social insects, so in a sense the 'organisms' are not individual insects; in many ways each 'hill' of ants or termites functions as a single living organism.

    If anything makes our species unique it's war, and genocide in particular.

    We're all pretty crazy some way or other; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is just a setting on the dryer.

    by david78209 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:03:58 PM PST

  •  Speak for yerself (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mona John Williams

    I'm the spittin' image of a super-de-duper Sky God that hates gay marriage an' loves zygotes. My book tells me so and I am a believer from way back.
    -
    I am not aware of any animals other than homo- sapiens controlling fire. That Promethius myth and all..

    Republicans: Proudly placing yellow smiley-face stickers on the face of doom since 1969 -8.88 -5.08

    by SecondComing on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:12:57 PM PST

    •  Neandrathals had fire (0+ / 0-)

      Neandrathals, generally excepted as a different species from modern man, did pretty much everything we have done except survive.  Maybe we killed them.

      Do the right thing 'cause it feels better.

      by John Boy on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:33:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What scientist told youu that story? (0+ / 0-)

        We were held as babies by UFO captains and they had three sexes and cows and milk is Gawd.

        Beats the "hell" out of the current "Bible."

        I detest oranized religion. I'll stick with worhipping evolved organs.

        Brains.. for instance.

        Republicans: Proudly placing yellow smiley-face stickers on the face of doom since 1969 -8.88 -5.08

        by SecondComing on Sun Feb 25, 2007 at 12:12:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  enormity of space (0+ / 0-)

    space is:

    1.  The quality of passing all moral bounds; excessive wickedness or outrageousness?
    1. A monstrous offense or evil; an outrage?

    Other than that, enjoyed your diary very much.

    "People like Carl [Sagan] and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through the motions. They are real seekers."--Ann Druyan

    by ubertar on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:13:14 PM PST

  •  Umm.. that parrot is practically human (0+ / 0-)

    An extremelythe rule rare exception that proves the rule.

    Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

    by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:14:27 PM PST

  •  All of a sudden, I feel..."soul-less"... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mona John Williams

    Oh wait, that's because I am.
    Great diary.

    Humanity will truly advance when all religion is finally seen as the mythology it is.

    by Boisepoet on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:15:45 PM PST

  •  Would you mind (0+ / 0-)

    if I quoted you and linked to this from my livejournal?  This corresponds with a lot of themes I've been talking about lately there.

    "Our struggle is not with some monarch named George who inherited the crown. Although it often seems that way."

    by erinya on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:16:51 PM PST

  •  We will use rocks... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower

    ...to crush your skulls on our tummies!

    otters

    There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't. - Robert Benchley

    by dj angst on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:17:05 PM PST

  •  Not really news (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SLJ, pontechango

    Scientists who actually study science rather than jump on the lazyness groupthought bandwagon have noted for a very long time that many animals and even insects use tools. Some beavers use rocks to break open clams as one example. Trapdoor spiders build homes with doors that are clever traps. Intelligence isnt homo-exclusive.. (theres a joke in there somewhere)

    "All you have to do to qualify for human rights is to be human" An 11yo Girl. Unbossed.com

    by cdreid on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:18:14 PM PST

    •  Not news. And the assertion about language is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cdreid, SLJ

      extremely weak and controversial.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/...

      Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

      by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:19:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  There is some insane human need (0+ / 0-)

        even among "educated" and "enlightened" minds.. or more likely.. especially among those, to convince ourselves that really , deep down we're different. We're outside the food chain. Outside evolutionary forces. That we're somehow special.

        We're simply one branch of the chaos of evolution who have happened to do well for an eyeblink in evolutionary time. We havent even come close to being as successful as the dinoraurs or, say, nearly any bacterium you can name.

        "All you have to do to qualify for human rights is to be human" An 11yo Girl. Unbossed.com

        by cdreid on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:51:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  We are different. It's a fact that humans have (0+ / 0-)

          languages that are vastly more complicated and arbitrary than animal languages.  I don't think it makes us particularly important, but it is dishonest to ignore it.

          Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

          by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:10:57 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Prove that statement (0+ / 0-)
            Please? You cant and are relying in fact on human ignorance to faux-prove the point. The truth is we dont even understand the simplest of non-human means of communicating. In fact we develop arbitrary "requirements" to call them a language based on either ignorance, lack of comprehension or intentional desire to create a false barrier. Imagine a language that includes sound and light frequencies we cannot hear, that is contextual, perhaps even to the environment and that involves body language we cannot possibly comprehend. Imagine "telling" a whale that when that tiny human makes sound X while making subtle gesture Y with his upper lip held in position Z it means something totally different than if he'd changed any of those variables. And that even the pitch change can change all that?? You're requiring other species act and think like we do in other to prove themselves "on our level". Thats like a spider requiring that we eat by digesting our food externally to prove that we are actually living beings.

            "All you have to do to qualify for human rights is to be human" An 11yo Girl. Unbossed.com

            by cdreid on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 09:23:26 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  It isn't insane (3+ / 0-)

          Don't take this as an argument - I'm not disputing what you say - yet consider a few things for extension of your statement: Religious traditions often declare Man to be master of all creation. They assert that we have dominion and ownership and all that stuff. And that's where we get this idea that homo sapiens is privileged in some fashion.

          And that's nonsense. We're part of the ecosystem, and the smart minds among us recognize that. Right now we're seeing the potential extinction of frogs and bees. The massive die-offs of these amphibians and insects portend very serious effects on agriculture and the ecosystem as a whole. If the interlocking connections of living systems begin to collapse, we'll go down with them.

          Yet, we are different from other kinds of animals in very profound ways. We extract petroleum from the ground and convert it to energy. We employ symbols and generate theoretical models of things our senses cannot grasp, then realize those models in things like atomic energy. We consciously set out to defeat illnesses and artificially manipulate our own genetic code to accomplish the task. I could go on, but you grasp the point, surely. My fear is that not enough of us understand our responsibility to use the unique faculties of reason we possess to improve our lot, that too many simply obey the dictates of our desires. Not enough Gore, too much Bush.

          Every day's another chance to stick it to The Man. - dls.

          by The Raven on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:18:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Of course, there are probably alien systems (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cdreid

            that make us all look like knuckle-dragging Republicans (I don't want to disparage any animals).  Not to mention the future potential of artificial intelligences that invent their own languages.  After such discoveries, we'd still be different, just not particularly unprecedented.

            Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

            by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:38:27 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  I used to think the same (0+ / 0-)

            but consider. What makes you think animals dont do that? How do we know what goes through the mind of a dolphin, or whale. A dog or a wolf? Yes we "farm" the earth.. but so do the other animals. They simply have needs for different things. What use iron ore to a dolphin? He doesnt need buildings or guns or machines. His food supply is all around him. He can change his environment by changing depth or simply choosing another direction. He has no need for protection from the wind and cold and hunger. A dog will however eat grass to cure an ill stomach. An otter will mine the ground for clams and the rocks to break them open.

            That we use symbols is merely a form of communication. Can you say that in the song of whales or dolphins there are not complex theorems and ideas? Or perhaps philosophical thoughts so complex we could not understand. Or perhaps simply poetry?  WE dont know is my point. And there is some deep abiding need in humanity to prove our superiority to the point we will set up all the tests to start from the assumption of human superiority and then twist the testing to meet our pretdetermined outcome.

            We are, as the japanese philosophers discovered long ago.. simply yet another insignificant spec in the stunning endlessness of the multiverse.

            "All you have to do to qualify for human rights is to be human" An 11yo Girl. Unbossed.com

            by cdreid on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 09:34:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  The Animal Mind (0+ / 0-)

              What makes you think animals dont do that? How do we know what goes through the mind of a dolphin, or whale. A dog or a wolf?

              You're right - we don't know how animals experience consciousness. Darksyde made a claim that our language use does not fundamentally distinguish us from other animals, and I'm asserting that it does. Biology, anthropology, and linguistics give us clues as to why that is.

              It's the transmission of culture, combined with our opposable thumbs, combined with our enormous frontal lobes and specialized systems like Broca's area in the brain that give us this ability. In the animal kingdom, we see cetaceans, pachyderms, and simians that possess some of these things, but not all three in the way that we have them.

              Whatever we can say about orcas or any other species is, at best, only speculative. We cannot, at this stage, state with assurance that other animals use language. Yes, they communicate, but signaling is not language. Confusion on this point usually leads to disagreement over semantic issues.

              Every day's another chance to stick it to The Man. - dls.

              by The Raven on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 04:59:29 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Again (0+ / 0-)
                It's the transmission of culture, combined with our opposable thumbs, combined with our enormous frontal lobes and specialized systems like Broca's area in the brain that give us this ability. In the animal kingdom, we see cetaceans, pachyderms, and simians that possess some of these things, but not all three in the way that we have them.

                You're requiring that other species BE us in order to be "on our level". I cant count the number of supposed differences "scientists" have quoted as setting us apart. Frontal lobes, Brain mass, brain mass to body weight percentage, frontal lobe size etc etc etc only to have their statements ripped apart by their own colleagues.  If you have a deep need to impart a "specialness" to yourself and your species it is likely more a failing in your philosophy of life than a scientifically resonable concept.

                "All you have to do to qualify for human rights is to be human" An 11yo Girl. Unbossed.com

                by cdreid on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 09:35:16 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  Interdependence (0+ / 0-)

            That's why a cooperative human society is much more positive and creative than a competitive one.

            •  Erm (0+ / 0-)

              that is far far from a uniquely human social construct. Jane Goodalls work is a good example. Any documentary of how a wolf pack or any herd animal operates is a good example. Actual symbiotic organisms are the best example.

              "All you have to do to qualify for human rights is to be human" An 11yo Girl. Unbossed.com

              by cdreid on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 09:38:06 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  I would maintain language IS the key marker (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Spit, pontechango

        Language allows for the transmission of culture. It is only because we have language that our species can access the knowledge base of prior generations.

        This is the essential difference between homo sapiens and the rest of the animal kingdom. The exceptions to this observation only serve to prove the rule.

        Recent discoveries with apes - chimps in particular - show that simians very much do tend to possess rudimentary forms of culture. Yes, as we have seen, certain tribes of chimpanzees will develop a type of tool and pass down the technique of its use to other members of the same tribe, while neighboring tribes remain ignorant of the breakthrough.

        But the difference between, say, passing on the trick of using a stick to snare termites is a far cry from our transmission of symbolic communications. You're quite right, pontechango - the assertion DK makes about language is extremely weak because regardless of whether a particular animal displays traits we recognize, the fact remains that the species as a whole is not seen to employ culture in an agglutinative fashion.

        The wiki article touches on some of this, and the essential observation with respect to language is the definition of "language" itself. Many - perhaps all - animals signal but that isn't language. Animals communicate. Homo sapiens employs language as a tool. This is arguably the single trait that sets us apart and allows us to pursue self-actualization.

        Every day's another chance to stick it to The Man. - dls.

        by The Raven on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:06:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Repeating my comment from above: (0+ / 0-)

          There does seem to be one marine mammal species that uses symbols to construct traditional cultures, which determine behavior including diet and mating, maintaining genetic distinctiveness within those cultures over thousands of generations. This is all accompanied by complex vocalizations that are specific to each distinct culture. See Do Orcas Use Symbols? for a place to start looking at orca cultures and use of symbols

          We are mid-sized mammals who define ourselves and then fight over who's definition is right.

          by howardfromUSA on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 05:52:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Open question (0+ / 0-)

            Cetacians are highly intelligent and use echolocution. We've taught them to recognize symbols. Beyond that, what we understand about their intelligence and communications is highly conjectural. They may exchange images, but as far as I know, these would only be images of the natural world, and not abstract concepts.

            Every day's another chance to stick it to The Man. - dls.

            by The Raven on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:22:27 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I think you are referring to bottlenosed dolphins (0+ / 0-)

              that have been taught to use symbols, which they do with agility and enthusiasm. But the picture becomes much clearer when we're discussing orcas. If you consider that arbitrarily restricting diet (orcas are the ocean's top predators and can eat anything, but each cultural community limits its diet to a tiny fraction of what is available) or mating (so far, each community limits mating to members of the community) or vocalizations (each community uses calls that are 100% different from those of any other community) as abstract concepts, then orcas do indeed agree on abstract concepts.

              We are mid-sized mammals who define ourselves and then fight over who's definition is right.

              by howardfromUSA on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:48:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  whale songs (0+ / 0-)

          change and develop in ways that seem highly cultural and symbolic

    •  Why Would Beavers Open Clams?? (0+ / 0-)

      What we really expect out of the Democrats is for them to treat us as they would liked to have been treated.

      by The Baculum King on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:55:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, thanks!!! nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DSPS owl
  •  AN office wag today suggested that to preserve (0+ / 0-)

    chimp habitat we ought to drop them some guns and an instructional video on how to shoot poachers.  But I am not at all convinces that the chimps would be nobler than humans-- they might wipe themselves out instead.

    Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car. © 2006 All Rights Reserved

    by oblomov on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:21:42 PM PST

  •  So, why ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SLJ

    So, why do we really NEED to think of ourselves as somehow different or distinct from other animals?  Is it really a matter of defending our evaluative heirarchy so we can justify sacrificing "lower animals" for our benefit?

  •  Humans have artificial external memory: writing (0+ / 0-)

    asdf

    -5.75 -4.72 3.14159 2.71828

    by xynz on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:23:37 PM PST

  •  and the Buddha says... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tek Jansen

    ..."If one fails to become acquainted with the essential identity of all things, one is no more than a talented animal who does not even know what lands his father presides over."

    Republican't Leadership is a dangerous combination of cut-backs and incompetence.

    by casamurphy on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:29:56 PM PST

  •  thank you for this diary devilstower (2+ / 0-)

    Studying Buddhism for many years laid the ground-work, yet it was reading "The Third Chimpanzee" that solidified my commitment to a vegetarian diet. That book really brought home to me how blurred the line is of human-ness.

    Reading your diary, I thought of a new (snarky) answer to that question I often get...

    Q) "Why are you a vegetarian?"

    A) "For all the same reasons I'm not a cannibal."

  •  Here is what separates us from the animals... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower

    Man is the only animal that fumbles for change.

    I hope this has been helpful.

    "...the big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart." -- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    by Roddy McCorley on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:36:09 PM PST

  •  Brilliant polytheology (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Flinch

    Mind if I quote you in my next book?

    It seems to me that the obsession to maintain artificial distinctions between humans and other animals is stronger in the monotheistic faiths than in the polytheistic or the nontheistic ones.

    As a polytheologian I find much modern science writing to be spiritually inspirational. You often provide such a stimulus, so please keep on doing it!

    First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

    by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:38:04 PM PST

  •  F***ing drivers w/their m*****f***ing taillights (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower, Mona John Williams

    They've got nothing better to do on a Friday night?

    Yeah, I can see they think time is infinite or something. Well, lemme tell ya -- theirs might be, but mine's not!

    So what if half of 'em are chimps ... lotta good that does me!

    Evolve already, willya's???

    Pass the word -- "No escalation without justification!"

    by RonK Seattle on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 03:44:24 PM PST

  •  Maybe it's just me, but ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jfadden

    I'm more impressed by open heart surgery, landing on the moon, the statue of David by Michaelangelo and 3 Ghz processors than wielding a pointy stick.

    Sure we weren't that advanced 10,000 years ago, but we've come a long way.

    I think we're pretty darn special compared to the rest of the species on this planet.  Too bad we can't do a better job not mucking up the place.

    •  I don't know; I'm pretty impressed (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mollyd, Mona John Williams

      by the ability to track another creature with just a few molecules of scent; to capture a mobile piece of food using echolocation; to spot your food from hundreds of feet away; to travel thousands of miles under your own power without stopping....

    •  Maybe you need to do some studying (0+ / 0-)

      Just by your post it is obvious you have never studied other species than your own. Ergo, you are not an informed commenter on these other species. You don't know anything about other species, for example, the American eel (Anguilla rostrata). So how can you pass judgement on their intelligence?

  •  Heh. (7+ / 0-)

    The next time you are caught in traffic, look at the lines of cars around you.  Instead of picturing them as an obstacles to your own progress, picture the occupants of each vehicle as unique individuals, as much at the center of their universe as you are of yours.

    I do this all the time.  And have done, for as long as I can remember.  People in cars next to me on the road.  People in line at the grocery store or the hardware store or the bookstore.  

    I do it with animals, too.  When I go home at night, after the cats have been fed, dinner made, dishes stacked in the sink, I wander upstairs and sit down at the computer to check my email.  Invariably all four cats follow me upstairs, and usually all four park themselves on the desk to keep me company.

    The youngest female, Maddie, always climbs up onto my left shoulder.  She likes to lay over my shoulder, sack-of-potatoes style.  I support her weight (all six pounds of it) by cradling her bum in the crook of my left arm, and I  listen to her purr in my left ear as I read my messages or surf the web.  She and I will sometimes sit like that for an hour or more, and as I hold her I often find myself contemplating the completeness that is this little black and white cat.  She's a tiny universe in and of herself, this little fuzzy, vibrating thing.

    My oldest cat, Lillybit, came to me eight years ago as a stray.  She was already past her prime then, and now she's very old, growing frailer every day.  Lillybit fascinates me, the way older animals often do.  I've adopted a few elderly cats from shelters before, and I look at them and wonder, where they came from, who they knew, who they loved, what kind of life they had, before they came to me.  I can't ever know the answer, and I guess I don't really want to know.  One of the best things about the old ones is the mystery that surrounds them, the knowing that they have had a life that didn't include me.

    Don't ask me why I sit around and think about stuff like that.  I just do.

    I have no illusions whatsoever about the specialness or the superiority of humans.  The animals in my life, ever since I was a wee kidden myself, have taught me otherwise.  I had a pony, Holly, when I was little, and he and I were more like siblings than anything else.  We played, we squabbled, we got mad at each other.  He bit me, I bit him back.  If he didn't feel like being ridden (which was often) he quite simply tossed me off his back or rubbed me off against a tree or fencepost.  He stole my PBJ sandwiches whenever he got the chance.  I never thought of him as a pet or a beast of burden or anything of the sort.  

    In his book The Outermost House, Henry Beston wrote this:

    When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes, as it were a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of a true humanity.

    We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

    For me, that sums it up pretty well.

  •  Cheers to Stephen Jay Gould! (0+ / 0-)

    I picked up a collection of his essays last weekend at the used bookstore, and am loving every one of them.

    Anyone who can teach biology, geology, and the history of science at Harvard is pretty smart in my book.

    John McCain, I'll hug your elephant if you kiss my ass

    by beemerr on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:01:01 PM PST

    •  I miss Gould (0+ / 0-)

      I had a chance to meet him a couple of times, and I'm very glad for it.  I also watched him give the graduation speech to an audience that was 90% business majors who didn't understand at all the gift they were being given.  Made me want to run around the room and give them all a kick in their be-robed tuccuses (tucci?).

  •  Tool-Making Ancestor? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mona John Williams

    I don't know that you can conclude that humans and chimps shared a "tool-making ancestor."  It seems to me that this is simply an example of convergence.  It is likely that any animal that has some manipulative capabilities (i.e., hands or some some functional equivalent, such as an elephant's trunk or a crow's beak), combined with a degree of "intelligence", whatever that is, (and I tend to believe that this concept is highly overrated, and that several animals have "intelligence" roughly comparable to humans) will engage in some form of tool-making behavior.  Obviously, humans do this on a scale unmatched by any other animal on earth, but you are correct that it is only a difference in degree, not of kind.  The other factor is communication skill: are tool-using chimps able to communicate what they learn about tool-usage to future generations of chimps, who ultimately are able to develop improved tools?  They may be doing this to some extent, but again, obviously not anything approaching that of humans.  I think that you cannot deny that humans have certain survival skills that are radically different from those of other species, and as a result, we have overrun the planet, along with rats and cockroaches, with somewhat similar consequences.

    •  We've certainly taken it to a new level. (0+ / 0-)
      But it's generally assumed when dealing with evolution that the simplest explanation, the one that involves the fewest separate evolutionary steps, is most likely correct.

      If all the species descended from a common ancestor share a trait, it is simpler that the trait evolved once, in the ancestor, than that it evolved separately in each descendant species.

      Or, under your assumption that any species with some kind of manipulative capabilities and sufficient "intelligence" will make tools, then it should be assumed that since both humans and chimps have sufficient intelligence and hands, the last common ancestor probably did as well and thus made tools.

      •  Don't Think It Has Anything To Do With Evolution (0+ / 0-)

        If "tool-making behavior" were somehow part of the genetic code of both humans and chimps, then all chimps that share the same genetic make-up would make tools.  As I understand it, this is a fairly recent discovery and tool-making behavior has not been universally observed among all groups of chimps.  Again, I think that this is merely a common form of adaptation to the environment in order to enhance survival - applicable to both humans and chimps.  If an animal has the capacity to make tools, i.e., it has hands and smarts, and the animal needs to make tools in order to have a better chance of surviving, then there is a high likelihood that it will do so.  I do not believe that making tools is a genetic "trait" in either humans or chimps, or in their common ancestors.  If our common ancestors also made tools, it was because they had the same needs and capabilities that we and chimps have, not because there was something in our common genetic make-up that inherently drove them to make tools.

  •  I would prefer to caption this diary as: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mehitabel9

    Give a monkey the capacity for symbolic thought and he thinks he's the center of the universe.


    I don't think the link to N'kisi dismisses the idea that only humans have language but I agree with the general sentiment.

    Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

    by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:08:47 PM PST

    •  language: (0+ / 0-)

      Until a monkey starts using language to language about language, then I'll believe that humans aren't unique.

      One useful definition of language:

      Culturally coordinating, culturally coordinated action.

      It's clear that many animals can coordinate action, and many primates have culturally coordinating action (I think of grooming in chimps), but it's pretty clear that they don't have a system to coordinate this culturally coordinated action.

      It's a mouthful, but the higher order abstractions with human language seem to soundly trump anything ever seen by non-human animals.

  •  Celebrate your ancestors (3+ / 0-)

    Focus on one of your cells. Meditate on it. Hey, focus on a cell in your big toe. It has an unbroken line, traceable in principle, reversing a thousand cell divisions, back to a cell in each of your parents. And back to their parents. And back and back to pre-man, and early mammals, and back and back to inchoate clumps of cells that survived in the early ocean.

    Each one of them is an ancestor. And each struggled to live and improve and pass on its inheritance. A million brave battles to live and grow, and every one of them won. Each one celebrates the noble, although often brutal, struggle of evolution. You are the proof.

    I celebrate, with almost unbearable awe, the million ancestors who endowed my big toe.

  •  I think.... (0+ / 0-)

    I think humans are the only species that accurately and precisely subdivides time audibly.  Think music.

    Of course music exists throughout nature, and music is indeed in the ear of the beholder.

    But the accurate, precise subdivision of time...

    Perspective is nine-tenths of perception.

    by rockin in the free world on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:11:40 PM PST

  •  hrm (0+ / 0-)

    I've always looked at it as that humans have the ability to go against their instinct, whereas animals are instinctual creatures only.

    Now, I'm aware of most of the counterpoints - the anti-free-willians that claim that free will is just an illusion and that a non-instinctive choice is still instinctive... (those people creep me out)... and the people that claim that we can't really divine animal instinct so maybe they're going against their instinct all the time... but I'm comfortable discarding both of those points.  :)

    Check out my podcast of piano improvisations.

    by tunesmith on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:17:14 PM PST

    •  So are heroic animal rescuers... (0+ / 0-)

      ...who endanger their own lives to save humans or other pack members acting only on instinct, or is there room in their heads for love?

      First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

      by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:04:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't think we have always thought of ourselves (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower

    As separate from the animal kingdom.  Certainly the ancient Americans and ancients from other lands saw themselves as brothers to the animals, sometimes equal, and even sometimes lesser beings.

    I think there is a rediscovering in process.  Think in terms of recent discoveries of chimps and gorillas making and using tools... or the mass self-evacuation of animals before last year's tsunami... or the stories of elephants going berserk.  They aren't your father's "man bites dog" stories anymore.

    To sit with elders of a gentle race this world has seldom seen ~ who talk of days for which they sit in wait ~ when all will be revealed

    by JuniperLea on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:19:22 PM PST

  •  Yes we're special. (0+ / 0-)

    We have the faculty of reason.  That's how we survive.

    It's good for your enemies to think you're a little crazy. As long as you can back it up.

    by dov12348 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:21:38 PM PST

    •  If we are so smart... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JuniperLea

      ...how come we have had more success teaching dolphins our language than we have had learning theirs?

      Teacher's Lounge opens every Saturday between 11 am and noon. It's not just for teachers.

      by rserven on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:26:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I would look at it this way: (0+ / 0-)

        Compare the sum total of our achievements with the sum total of theirs.

        And with the dolphins -- hey, maybe we're better teachers. ;)

        It's good for your enemies to think you're a little crazy. As long as you can back it up.

        by dov12348 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:35:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If we don't understand them (0+ / 0-)

          How can we say for certain that they have had no achievements?

          To sit with elders of a gentle race this world has seldom seen ~ who talk of days for which they sit in wait ~ when all will be revealed

          by JuniperLea on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:50:07 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  But that's like me saying... (0+ / 0-)

            ...I believe gremlins live in the center of Neptune.  Prove me wrong.

            I think the person making a positive assertion has the burden of supporting it.

            It's good for your enemies to think you're a little crazy. As long as you can back it up.

            by dov12348 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 05:13:30 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Nope, I don't think it's the same thing at all (0+ / 0-)

              We know there are dolphins.  We know they communicate.  Do we know for a fact everything that they communicate?  No.  Until that time, we really cannot say with any certainty that they have made no accomplishments.

              We have seen "feelings" demonstrated in other animals, and some who have worked with dolphins say the same about them.  With the basic ability to communicate and feel empathy on some level, I think it's possible to make decisions.  The ability to make decisions is a cornerstone to accomplishments.  

              To sit with elders of a gentle race this world has seldom seen ~ who talk of days for which they sit in wait ~ when all will be revealed

              by JuniperLea on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 05:29:35 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I agree than many species can... (0+ / 0-)

                ..."think" to limited extents.   And they certainly feel some emotions.   But they still survive mostly by instinct; we cannot survive by instinct.  We have to think to survive, or we die.   And we are endowed with reason to achieve our survival by thinking. That's the crux of the difference between humans and all other species.

                It's good for your enemies to think you're a little crazy. As long as you can back it up.

                by dov12348 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 05:41:29 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Don't Agree (0+ / 0-)

                  Lots of animals "reason" in order to survive.  Not only is this true of humans and other primates, it is also true of numerous social animals such as hunting dogs, dolphins and killer whales, and elephants.  What makes humans different is that we have a unique combination of capabilities that have enabled us to develop technology.  I see these capabilities as being (1) manipulative skills (bipedalism plus manual dexterity); (2) communicative skills (human vocal chords are capable of making extraordinarily complex sounds); (3) large brain capacity.  I think that we are the only animal that has all 3.  Chimps and other primates have 1 and 3 but not 2.  Dolphins and killer whales have 2 and 3 but not 1.

                  •  An enormous difference. (0+ / 0-)

                    We can use our capacity of reason to perform abstractions.  For example, taking a concrete, such as someone getting shot, all the way up to a super-abstract concept such as "justice" in a matter of moments.   In this way we can learn enormous amounts and assess otherwise fantastically complex situations at rates no other animal ever could come close to.

                    A simpler example:  We abstract certain essential particulars from actual tables to form the concept "table" and we know that refers to every table that exists or ever could exist.   Combine that with "chair" to get the second-level abstraction "furniture" -- then combine groups of abstractions to form propositions -- and so on.

                    In your animal examples I think what you're referring to amount to relatively limited capacities to think in simple situations -- that DO help their ability to survive, but are not primary, compared to their instinct and more-or-less automatic "programming."  So perhaps some animals can be compared in this type of basic thinking, at best, with that of a human child.

                    It's good for your enemies to think you're a little crazy. As long as you can back it up.

                    by dov12348 on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 01:03:56 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Only Because of Technology (0+ / 0-)

                      You only get to think these big thoughts because you are the product of 10,000 years of human history, which is the product of technology.  You don't think about things like "justice" in a vacuum, or tables and furniture for that matter.  Whatever any of us thinks about these things is the product of the human society in which we live.  Take that society away, and you're not thinking about "justice" - you're thinking about how not to get eaten by a leopard and what chances you have of mating with a desirable member of the opposite sex, pretty much the same things that any other primate is thinking about.  Our unique ability to create technology, and the resulting ability to change the environment and create a human society, is the only thing that distinguishes humans from other animals.  Frankly, I don't know how you know what other animals are thinking.  My own hunch is that "if we could talk to the animals" we'd be shocked at how similar we really are.

                      •  Exactly. (0+ / 0-)

                        Whatever any of us thinks about these things is the product of the human society in which we live.

                        And that human society ultimately comes from other humans who lived in the past.  Thinking with their faculty of reason, but in more elementary ways -- necessarily.  Like how to build a fire, how to pland seed and grow food, how to protect themselves from the elements and animals, how to hunt, how to orally communitate -- then to written communication, etc. etc.

                        Now that we have a complex human society, there is no longer need to spend most of our time learning how to physically survive and practicing physical survival.   So our time is spent improving and organizing our lives and societies -- lives and societies in turn giving rise to the need for understanding more complex things, like justice.
                         

                        It's good for your enemies to think you're a little crazy. As long as you can back it up.

                        by dov12348 on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 02:42:49 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  But It Has Nothing To Do With Thinking (0+ / 0-)

                          Are you familiar with studies of chimps and other primates that have been taught sign language?  These studies certainly suggest an intellectual capacity for abstract thought.  The famous signing chimp Washoe used the signs for "water" and "bird" when seeing a swan, a creature it had never seen before.  While there has been some dispute as to what this actually meant, there have been many other examples that also suggest a capacity for abstract reasoning (a signing gorilla used the signs for "fire" and "bottle" when first seeing a Bic lighter).  I am very skeptical of the notion that the capacity for abstract reasoning is unique to humans.
                          Take the case of dolphins.  You try surviving in the water.  They are not the fastest creatures in the sea, they don't have particularly big teeth, and they have the disadvantage of not having gills and having to come to the surface regularly in order to breathe.  They survive on their wits, and through extremely sophisticated social skills, which appear to be based on the use of a complex language.  Notably, they seem to understand our language a lot better than we understand their's.  Personally, I do not believe that humans are any more "intelligent" (whatever that means) than dolphins.
                          What we've got over them is hands, and the fact that we live on the land, which is generally a much more hospitable environment for mammals.  As a result of these factors, dolphins have only a limited ability to manipulate their environment, and they have never developed technology and everything that goes along with it.

                          •  Interesting on dolphins. (0+ / 0-)

                            Very intelligent, I'm sure.  Maybe if they had hands they would create much more and be in a sense more obviously like humans.

                            On the chimps, as I mentioned, I think some animals can certainly learn simple abstractions -- like that of a child.

                            It's good for your enemies to think you're a little crazy. As long as you can back it up.

                            by dov12348 on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 03:30:44 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  do chimps have a sign for 'verb'? (0+ / 0-)

                            can a chimp sign a poem?

                            a poem about verbs?

                            a story about a poem about verbs?

                            I do not want to argue that humans are special.  We are lucky because of evolutionary chance.

                            But let's not imbue someone with more cognitive ability than they have.  

                            Dumbfuckistan did it in 2000, let's just leave it at that.

                          •  oops. (0+ / 0-)

                            I just want to say I regret the last sentence in the last post.  I think I was trying to be funny, I didn't intend to compare anyone in this particular debate about language with those who ever voted for Bush.

        •  So long, and thanks for all the fish (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dov12348

          So long, and thanks for all the fish
          So sad that it should come to this
          We tried to warn you all, but, oh, dear
          You may not share out intellect
          Which might explain your disrespect
          For all the natural wonders that grow around you
          So long, so long, and thanks for all the fish!

          Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

          by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:53:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Actually, reason doesn't always help us survive (0+ / 0-)

      Especially if you are a talk show host.

      Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

      by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:27:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am reminded of the Uplift War. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Devilstower

    Teacher's Lounge opens every Saturday between 11 am and noon. It's not just for teachers.

    by rserven on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:25:41 PM PST

  •  Proof that use of tools does not separate us from (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rserven

    animals.

    Essential funk: 'Indictment' by Antibalas

    by pontechango on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:29:46 PM PST

    •  Musical Interlude: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mehitabel9

      Can You Picture That?
      --Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

      Ohhh yeah! Whooo!
      Everybody's lover,
      everybody's brother,
      I wanna be your lifetime friend.
      Crazy as a rocket,
      nothin in my pocket,
      I keep it at the rainbow's end.
      I never think of money,
      I think of milk 'n honey,
      grinnin like a cheshire cat.
      I focus on the pleasure,
      somethin' I can treasure,
      can you picture that?
      Can you picture that?

      Let me take your picture,
      add it to the mixture,
      there it is I got you now!
      Really nothin' to it,
      anyone can do it
      it's easy and we all know how.
      Now begins the changin',
      mental rearrangin',
      nothing's really where it's at,
      Now the Eiffel Tower's
      holdin up a flower.
      I gave it to a Texas cat!

      [Musical bridge]

      Fact is there's nothin out there you can't do
      Yeah, even Santa Claus believes in you.
      Beat down the walls, begin, believe, behold, begat.
      Be a better drummer, be an up and comer.
      Can you picture that?

      CAN YOU PICTURE THAT??!!

      All of us are winnin,
      pickin and a-grinnin,
      Lordy but I love to jam
      Jelly-belly gigglin,
      dancin and a-wigglin,
      honey that's the way I am!
      Lost my heart in Texas,
      Northern lights affect us,
      I keep it underneath my hat,
      Aurora Borealis,
      shinin down on Dallas!
      Can you picture that?
      Can you picture that?

      Can you picture?
      You gotta see it in your mind!
      Can you picture?
      You know it's quick and easy to find!
      Can you picture?
      You don't have to buy a frame!
      Can you picture?
      Can you picture that?
      Can you picture that?

      Use it if you need it
      Don't forget to feed it!
      Can you picture that?

      Teacher's Lounge opens every Saturday between 11 am and noon. It's not just for teachers.

      by rserven on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:38:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Didn't the Plato school modify the (0+ / 0-)

    definition after seeing the plucked chicken to:
    "Man is a featherless biped, with flat fingernails."

    It is bad foreign policy to make enemies faster than you can kill them.

    by Paulie200 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:36:53 PM PST

  •  What? (0+ / 0-)

    I thought Eve came from Adam's rib! This is shocking, shocking!

  •  you missed one (0+ / 0-)
    blogging

    Most people are idiots... But don't tell them. It'll spoil all the fun for those of us who aren't. "We're all hicks, to these people."

    by d3n4l1 on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 04:58:19 PM PST

  •  cosmic education (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ibonewits, Mona John Williams

    In Montessori we have an area of the curriculum  called "cultural" which is to be "cosmic" education or "education for peace"   It is a way of teaching the sciences and social sciences to help children develop a respect and understanding of all cultures and life forms.  

    During WW2 Montessori left Italy (she and Mussolini did not see eye to eye on how children should be educated....she had some crazy notion that children should develop into independent thinkers).  She wound up in India and became friends with M. Gandhi.  They had many discussions about why people fought wars and they came to the realization that it was because people are taught to believe that they are citizens of their town or country and everyone else belonged to a set of "others".   They agreed that to create peace we need to start with the children and teach them to be citizens of the world.  

    In our  elementary curriculum, you start with the big picture in each area of the cultural works.  In history you actually start with the Big Bang and don't really get to people until 4th year.  In biology you start with the characteristics that all living things share (MRS GREF:  movement, respiration, sensation growth, reproduction,excretion, feeding) before learning about each different form of life and what makes it special.   We also stress the importance of all living things and once you teach a child to value bacteria and understand that they share common characteristics with procaryotes and protists, it's not hard for them to see all people as valuable beings alike in more than they differ.  In geography we start with the solar system, move into planet earth and learn about all the continents before focusing on where we live.  

    I can tell you that my former students are an aware, kind, innovative and just awesome group of  people.  If all children had the chance to learn about the world this way  we would have a much saner and healthier planet.

  •  Thanks for the essay. (0+ / 0-)

    With a glass of wine, it's a wonderful segue into the weekend.

  •  No wonder you get the big bucks (0+ / 0-)

    on this site. This is a great post. No telling what preculded it, but this is as well written a diary as I have seen here. Almost like you were a Scientist, or something.

    Thanks for the thought. It really was good.

    Common Sense is not Common

    by RustyBrown on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 05:23:18 PM PST

  •  you're wrong on language (0+ / 0-)

    No animal has ever participated in a truly human form of language.  All evidence for animal communication has been simply behaviorist, reward-based behavior in which the ape/parrot/whatever only speaks for the purpose of some kind of food or comfort reward.  Look up "nim chimpsky" if you don't believe it.  Truly human language involves the spontaneous generation of sentences that have never been heard before; animals simply repeat what they have heard.  A human toddler will create completely new constructions, using grammar to link vocabulary, while an animal can only recite vocabulary for a reward.
    The human gene FOXp2, which evolved into its present form within the last 200,000 years, appears to be one of the main sources of the human linguistic ability, as loss of function mutants are stricken with an aphasia that limits them to animalistic language ability.

    •  You are wrong. (0+ / 0-)

      What, is this 1930s Nazi Eugenics Classic Movies Week ?

      When you can communicate with a sperm whale in its own language, then tell us what they are saying.

    •  Your error is a parrot (0+ / 0-)

      There have been reports in science magazines over the last few years of african gray parrots creating new sentences based on rearranging vocabulary in grammatical patterns learned from their owners.

      I also recall the signing chimpanzee who combined two words to insult his keeper for not giving him a treat: "poopy head" — a classic human toddler insult.

      I respectfully suggest that you research the topic in sources other than orthodox behaviorist journals.

      First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

      by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:21:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  source? (0+ / 0-)

        I'm a neurobiologist, and I've read the basic literature on the African grey parrots.  Basically the only scientists who believe this truly is language as we define it in humans are the zoologists who train these animals, want them to succeed, and fall in love with them.  If you don't believe me, ask Noam Chomsky, the most accomplished linguist of all time.  Yes, the African grey parrot can associate some meaning with the words he says, but he can't generate sentences and syntax them.  I was wrong to call it simple behaviorism; operant conditioning is more accurate.

        •  I'll have to go look it up (0+ / 0-)

          Google should probably have the references.

          I will point out, however, that the will to disbelieve can be just as strong as any will to believe...

          First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

          by ibonewits on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 08:36:23 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  The Tao Te Ching said (0+ / 0-)

    something to the effect of,

    you are a person just like everyone else, and that makes you ordinary.  But you are aware of your condition and your place, and that makes you extraordinary

    I'm a progressive because I believe in a high standard of life for everyone, bar none.

    by pegleghippie on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 06:06:38 PM PST

  •  My favorite part about this story (0+ / 0-)

    is the nervous laughter it provokes over at Free Republic

    -------------------------------------------------------
    Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

    by SFOrange on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 06:10:24 PM PST

  •  "Promptly"? (0+ / 0-)

    How promptly could he have produced a plucked chicken?  Did he just have one lying around?  Because it takes time to pluck a chicken.

  •  Adult Stem Cell Study Showing "Promise" Is Flawed (0+ / 0-)

    A 2002 study that showed promise for the use of Adult Stem Cells (as opposed to the controversial Embryonic Stem Cells) is flawed, says a Scientific Panel:

    Adult Stem Cell Study Flawed

    The flawed study has been quoted repeatedly by the GOP and opponents of Embryonic Stem Cell Research.

  •  I loved this. Thank you. (0+ / 0-)

    I think, therefore I vote. I vote, therefore I can bitch at length.

    by CJB on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 06:27:31 PM PST

  •  The human race (0+ / 0-)

    is nothing more than a bunch of hairless apes, with delusions of grandeur.

    "I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do." Robert A. Heinlein

    by Wes Opinion on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 06:29:22 PM PST

  •  True Difference (0+ / 0-)

    Humans are the only animal who destroys its host while pretending to improve it.

  •  wow! (0+ / 0-)

    250+ comments in and nary a box turtle snarky comment.

    Yeah I said it! ;-)

  •  Don't know how smart (0+ / 0-)

    those Chimpies really are.  All I know is that tonight is Jon Stewart night.  And I'll be sipping on some Jack Single-barrel along with some Yuengling Light Lager.  Just watchin' the show, and to hell with the tools.

    -5.50, -3.49 Xxtian

    by rMatey on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:03:06 PM PST

  •  Humans are not animals (0+ / 0-)

    Well, of course we are.  Except that we don't have to be.

    Why?  Because categories are not a natural subdivision of nature.  And the category of "animal" is an entirely human created one.  It's bounds are set by humans, and its contents are populated by humans.

    So when we say humans are animals, we're not wrong.  But when a mediaeval monk denies that we are animals, he is also not wrong.  Because what an animal means to a scholastic monk and what it means to me, a biologist, are two different things.  The meaning of the category has evolved in conjunction with our technological approach to asking questions about the category.

    Anything's possible with Commander Cuckoo Bananas in charge. -Homer J. Simpson

    by Cheez Whiz on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 07:35:14 PM PST

  •  Double scope blending - Cognitive Science theory (0+ / 0-)

    The way we think takes George Lakoff's theory of Metaphor and language and generalizes it to an explanation of how animal and human brains work.

    Authors Giles Fauconnier, Chair of Cognative Science at UCSD and Mark Turner, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Case Western define Mental Spaces as the building blocks of the mind. Animals and humans use Mental Spaces but only humans can blend different Mental Spaces to create new ones. This unique human ability enables symbolic thought and creativity.

    This theory has gained acceptance by the Lakoff branches of Cognative Science. The book takes motivation to get through but the reward is an understanding of how minds work that is standing up scientific scrutiny. For me, since reading this and related books my own mind is more explicable to me.

    •  Would this theory explain why I keep having the (0+ / 0-)

      urge to answer this great post with my weird thought? People plant trees on purpose. Even when they are old.  And wanting to snark with "Plant a tree or stop breathing my air."   (I assume anyone who read this far doesn't need explanations of tree benefits or that it is something we can all do while we try to get politicians and/or polluters to do something big and effective.)  Do animals do anything (other than letting only the strongest males mate) to benefit coming generations?

      Unless all votes count, none count. REVOTE FL 13!

      by Neon Mama on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:24:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You could look at non-reproducing wolves... (0+ / 0-)

        ...apes, and other animals who live in groups and who care for others' young, though I suppose a determined skeptic might claim that the behavior was to benefit the pack/tribe as a whole and thus their own survival.

        First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

        by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:29:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Symbolic thought and meaning (0+ / 0-)

        Planting trees has meaning to humans and meaning comes from blending different mental spaces, like say, trees and well being and caring for others. Animals are terrific problem solvers and primates can be taught things like painting and using words but they can't make the leap to creative art or language.

    •  Thanks for the book tip (0+ / 0-)

      I'll read it, but I have to say I'm finding myself more interested in people exploring how we are similar to other animals than those who are trying to prove our superiority.

      First, oversight; second, investigations; third, impeachments; fourth, war crimes trials!

      by ibonewits on Fri Feb 23, 2007 at 08:25:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Best science friday ever! n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ibonewits
  •  What else do you have? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    simon389

    For several centuries now, secularism has been defining and constructing the world. It is a world in which the theological is either discredited or turned into a harmless leisure-time activity of private commitment. And yet in its early manifestations secular modernity exhibited anxiety concerning its own lack of ultimate good -- the skepticism of Descartes, the cynicism of Hobbes, the circularities of Spinoza all testify to this. And today the logic of secularism is imploding. Speaking with a microphoned and digitally simulated voice, it proclaims -- uneasily, or else increasingly unashamed -- its own lack of values and lack of meaning. In its cyberspaces and theme-parks it promotes a materialism which is soulless, agressive, nonchalant, and nihilistic.

    -- Radical Orthodoxy: A new theology, Milbank, Pickstock, & Ward

  •  A way of looking at tool use and ability to (0+ / 0-)

    build...

    It's clear that there is something builtin to the dynamic of living things that both allows and requires the use of tools among some and the building of structures among others.

    Stromatolites and coral reefs are structures built by bacteria and polyps, for crying out loud, hardly "advanced" forms of life, but there you are. And their structures were being built at or near the very beginning of life on Earth.

    Various insects build nests and hives of great complexity, and some insects raise crops and farm animals too. Of course they are not thinking about what they are doing the way we do, and yet their actions and their structures are impressive nonetheless.

    Some birds use tools, build structures and even decorate their habitations for their own pleasure and that of their mates. Some birds are known to have keen artistic sensibilites. Some can talk -- speak perfect English in fact -- and it is believed by some observers that talking birds can actually understand what they are saying.

    What humans seem to be able to do is combine the various tool-using and structure building and communications capabilities that flow through the entire panoply of life on Earth, from its very beginning, into a coherent and expanding skill and interest set that has made it possible for life on Earth to venture into the cosmos, if only vicariously for the moment.

    And we may find that such ventures, too, were part of the origins of Life...

    So much still to learn.

    --felix

  •  Unnatural Selectors (0+ / 0-)

    I've often thought that most of nature's evolutionary effect on humans stopped once we learned how to use tools.  At that point, other human beings became the primary force in our environment, far more dangerous than saber-tooth tigers, thus making ourselves our own selectors.  This would advance evolution far more quickly and ingeniously than nature ever could have to a non tool-using beast, thus the seeming uniqueness of humans, as no other animal has had such a feedback mechanism in its environment.  Once the first stick was sharpened by the first primate, whether beneath the shadow of a large black obelisk or not, things would have proceeded rapidly and strangely, sharpened stick-weilding tribes of primates forcing each other quickly up the evolutionary paths.  Soon, rocks are sharpened, then attached to the sticks, then the axe-wielders would decimate the stick-wielders, and breed . . .

    We are unique in the sense that a chihuahua is unique among its wolven brethren, being merely an evolutionary freak among canidae.  We are like the chihuahuas of the primate kingdom, barely recognizable from the state our species was in (primate, as opposed to wolf) before tool-using hands intervened in our evolutionary paths.  Though it took us a lot longer than 3,000 years to breed ourselves into our currently unrecognizable state, it was the same for both dog and man: nature did not plot our course, but men.  Or, we now learn, monkeys with sharp sticks.  Terrifying!

    Hopefully this will put an end to the idea that Adam & Eve ate from the tree of knowledge.  It was those damned, dirty apes!  They got kicked out into the wilderness to fend for themselves long before we came around.

    "It's time for you to turn off the TV and stop playing GameBoy, we've got work to do." -- Barack Hussein Obama

    by aeson on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 07:18:24 AM PST

  •  Why do we wear clothes? & Altruism (0+ / 0-)

    I know the lines are blurry, but they're there.  I live in Africa, so I understand the argument about more simple people not wearing clothes (because some still don't over here).

    But you can't say that there aren't some blurry lines.

    I mean, crap, any chimps here tonight?  Not that we're better than chimps, but just more capable at doing good and bad.  And might this be what being made "in God's likeness" is all about?  That we are closer to the degree of intelligence, compassion, morality, power, altruism/selflessness that he possesses?

    Our ability to think of others without concern for ourselves is only human, and in humans only.

    Who's for separation of business and State?

    by simon389 on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 08:26:53 AM PST

  •  Brain (0+ / 0-)

    capacity/complexity is the defining "difference".

    The similarities between animals and humans are so obvious. Eyes, heads, feet, arms, bones, flesh, blood, vagina, penis, spine, nerves, DNA, liver, bladder, pee, poop, stomach, ears, hair, symmetry, emotions, pain, mouth, tongue, teeth. etc.

    You have it, you are made of it, the cat has it, the mouse, the tiger, etc. Even fish have organs like the liver, the heart, the brain.

    So we have enough brain to build computers, TVs, cook fancy food. Or lets say, some people do when the organize (again, the brain...) because who really knows how to build a computer, a TV or cook a fancy meal (from total scratch, of course).........

    It's simple. Evolution resulted in "humans" having a rather powerful brain (and a pathetic body) compared to "animals". That's basically it.

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