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April 26th, 2010


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04:12 pm - Points of Connection
here's a fascinating if somewhat sad article (with videos) about chimps dealing with the death of one of their troop. What this article brought home to me was the fact that while our intellects are vastly greater than those of any other animal - we can theorize and imagine in ways that seem impossible for anything else on the planet - our emotions and personal lives are far less different. Those chimps dealt with the finality of death and saying one last goodbye in much the same way humans do. I remember having a professor in a history of science class who firmly agreed with some famous quote about how there is more difference between a chimp and a human than between a chimp and an amoeba, which is quite simply nonsense. As everyone reading this is likely aware, I'm a strong advocate of humanity becoming more than it is mentally, physically, and (hopefully) spiritually, but for all those hopes and dreams, it's also important to remember that our emotions are at their base, little different from those of other primates and any claims of human uniqueness should be tempered with this understanding.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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From:hasufin
Date:April 27th, 2010 04:52 am (UTC)
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I'll need to find time to read the article, but not now...

One thread I've noted which is disgustingly common in discussions of biology is the need to set Homo sapiens on a pedestal separate from all others. I've encountered complete denial that we are animals, that we are primates, that we evolved... that we are in fact part of, not separate from, the rest of Earth's biology.

A slightly more subtle, but even more common, form of this is to point out a trait which supposedly humans have but which nothing else shares: creativity, abstract thought, mourning, the ability to understand the feelings of another, technology, art... and each one gets knocked down, over and over again but some people have this need for humans to be Special and Better.
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From:heron61
Date:April 27th, 2010 06:02 am (UTC)
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There is much that makes us unique - we are the only primate that deliberately teaches one another and the only one that trades (I suspect these two activities are very closely related), we have an absolutely unique capacity (at least among Earth life that we understand - who knows with whales or giant squid) for abstract thought and complex imagination. However, chimps mourn, I have watched a cat of mine have a highly specific nightmare (the cat in question was an ex-stray who I saw dreaming, made an upset noise, woke up, looked tense and upset, and then and went to look at her food bowl, and relaxed completely once she saw it). People talk about our feelings and emotions as unique and often describe these things as "our humanity", when these are traits shared by many (and perhaps most) mammals. We are wondrous and unique creatures, but so are cheetahs, horses, parrots, bumblebees and all the rest of the amazing life on this planet.
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From:alobar
Date:April 27th, 2010 08:17 am (UTC)
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I once knew a family which had 2 dogs. One dog was old and sickly. They had the dog put down by a Vet, then buried it in the back yard. The other dog never was allowed to see the dead friend.

The surviving dog kept wandering all over the house and yelping in pain/confusion. It stopped eating and got sicker and sicker.

Once a close friend of the family heard about the dog who was wasting away, she drove 400 miles to visit them. She told the family that there was no closure and the dog was sick with worry over her companion. So they dug up the corpse of the dead dog. And brought the live dog out to sniff the rotting remains.

The dog was sad, but started eating again. She ceased wandering around and acting forlorn. Within a week she was back to her normal self.
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From:hasufin
Date:April 27th, 2010 11:09 am (UTC)
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You should check your assumptions. Some of what you're saying humans alone have I know to be false; the rest I'm just pretty sure. I've heard a lot of such assertions; none have proven out.

Yes, humans are unique. As with any other species, we're a very specific combination of traits made possible through the memetic and genetic options available to us - we are more refined than most in some areas (manipulative appendages, communication), and less so in others (defensive and offensive abilities). There is not, however, any one magical trait that sets us apart and makes us special.
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From:heron61
Date:April 27th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
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You should check your assumptions. Some of what you're saying humans alone have I know to be false; the rest I'm just pretty sure. I've heard a lot of such assertions; none have proven out.

Which ones? I'm not certain about other animals teaching, but I've seen a number of recent comparitive studies and many other primates watch and learn from one another, but none deliberately teach one another in any fashion, and none of them trade with anyone other than a close relative or potential mate.
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From:hasufin
Date:April 27th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
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Well, I'm not sure, for one, how you'd classify "teach" as distinct from "demonstrate a skill for another individual to watch and learn from" which is something which cats have been known to do (they even provide teaching aids in the form of stunned, injured, or dead prey).

I'll grant a guarded "maybe" in regards to the trade thing, but it's a maybe in that:
1) No few humans will only trade with a close relative or potential mate, unless forced to do so,
2) I sincerely doubt it's true, I simply can't off the top of my head cite a clear counterexample, and
2) That's really reaching. Humans are also the only species to come up with digital wristwatches, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that "being able to build digital wristwatches" isn't our special trait.

Personally, I think it's really pathetic how far people will go to try to feel superior to all the other animals.
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From:heron61
Date:April 27th, 2010 10:46 pm (UTC)
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It's worth looking at some of the recent research on teaching and primates - showing another member of your species how to do something is clearly different from allowing them to watch you do it. Also, trade is one of those things that gets discussed a lot in anthro - humans have been doing it extensively and over remarkably large areas since the paleolithic (the clearest example is trade in obsidian) it's just one of those things that humans do a remarkable amount of, and very often does this with strangers. Other animals simply don't do anything like this.

Personally, I think it's really pathetic how far people will go to try to feel superior to all the other animals.

I completely agree. However, it's equally true that we are different from other animals - we're specialized for high intelligence, just like a cheetah is specialized for fast sprinting, or a wolf for long distance running, and I think it's really interesting to finally be learning some of what goes into this specialization - some likely fairly small cognitive shift that made us better at cooperative work (other higher primates are fairly bad at this) is perhaps also responsible for the origin of teaching and trade, and all together those allow for a significantly faster and more reliable spread of knowledge, which is obviously one of the cornerstones of human culture - without it we couldn't effectively organize ourselves into any groupings much larger than several hundred people.
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From:krinndnz
Date:April 28th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
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That bothers me too, the H. sapiens on a pedestal thing. It's symptomatic of our need to make it all about us, us, us - and to pretend that the web of support around us, both as individuals and as a species, don't exist. That pretension is going to bite us, sooner rather than later.
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From:alobar
Date:April 27th, 2010 08:21 am (UTC)
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> there is more difference between a chimp and a human than between a chimp and an amoeba

Back in 1963 when I took an Animal Science course in junior college, the prof made a remark which stuck with me. He said there are more differences within any particular breed of dairy cows than there are differences between 2 cows of different breeds.
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From:onyxrising
Date:April 27th, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Have you ever read any of those studies on children's perceptions of death?
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From:heron61
Date:April 27th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
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No I haven't - do you have any recommdations for articles?
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From:onyxrising
Date:April 28th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
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They were lectures which referenced studies- I have a book whcih may reference the studies, though. I'll let you know once I'm done with said book if I can find the studies.
Anyhow, there were a couple studies establishing that children slowly figure out what death is. Some children are able to wrap their heads around it faster than others- like farm kids.
Anyhow, one such study involved giving a group of children goldfish to care for, and the control group plants, and checking back with them a good while later. Guess which group had the concept of death down better.

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