Hello. My name is Bix.


In it, [Thucydides] says that the motivations for us to go to war are fear, honor and interest. These three are all interpretations of evolutionary themes: fear of predation in order to simply survive to reproduce and rear the bearers of your genes; honor, pride or a sense of in-group protectionism to preserve the genes that related members carry; and interest in protection of resources that enable the survival of your genes, including territory, food and, for males, access to females. However, I am absolutely unwilling to offer these very sound evolutionary theories as any sort of moral justification for human warlike behavior. Though they superficially look like the same bases for going to war, it is intellectual folly and nonsense reductionism to attribute evolutionary principles to the extremely complex political and religious reasons that actual wars happen.

Adam Rutherford

Here's my thing, though: what if our storytelling compulsion simply creates narratives that mask the same old evolutionary imperatives? We construct social groups and definitions that might have no bearing on reality—say, race—and declare who is an outsider, who is a threat. Then the same old “fear of predation”, “in-group protectionism”, and “protection of resources” drives us. The only difference is for other animals the instinct is bare. For us it's wrapped inside a story.

Once again, it's not that we are so elevated or so different from the primal instincts which evolved to drive any other animal. It's just that we've come to tell ourselves and each other stories about these things, stories which don't necessarily have to be about real threats from predators, threats to the group, or threats to resources.

Much like the stories we tell ourselves about our decisions and our emotions don't necessarily mean they happen in ways greater than the ways they happen for other animals, the stories we tell ourselves about our reasons for war and hate don't necessarily mean they happen in ways greater than the ways they happen for, say, chimpanzees and their “coalition violence”.

What if the biggest story we've told about ourselves, that we keep telling about ourselves—the story that we are so very, very different—is wrong.

#Biology #July2019

What are we to make of this? Given that we are 99 percent chimpanzee, that we share largely the same DNA, is it really so impossible that they could appreciate something like a sunset? Or is that anthropomorphism? Are we projecting our thoughts and ideas onto another species, seeing the chimps’ behaviour through a human lens?

Ziya Tong

There's a thing I keep meaning to write about that always seems to get pushed off to some later date, about how people talk about non-human animal intelligence and emotionality as compared to our own.

Annoyingly, I can't find one of the things I wanted to quote, because it doesn't appear to be in my Kindle highlights for either of the two books in which I mostly likely found it: Life's Ratchet by Peter M. Hoffmann, or Life on the Edge by Johnjoe McFadden. It was a bit, I think, about the actual neurochemical processes involved in emotional reactions, or at least those involved in reacting to environmental stimuli in general. It implied (or, maybe, I inferred) that, in effect, our brains react to things and we generate explanations for those reactions only after the fact.

It's somewhat related to the idea that we might make decisions before we know it, as reportedly evidenced by brain scans.

Your brain makes up its mind up to ten seconds before you realize it, according to researchers. By looking at brain activity while making a decision, the researchers could predict what choice people would make before they themselves were even aware of having made a decision.

Whenever I read about the suggestion that we should be putting more consideration into non-human animal intelligence or emotionality, I think about these things and think that we talk about this the wrong way around. I think this suggestion mistakenly elevates what is going on in non-human animal brains , and does so because we mistakenly elevate what it going on in our own, human brains. We make more of our own intelligence and emotionality than perhaps is warranted.

At issue, I think, is the human drive toward storytelling, and how we apply it to absolutely everything.

When we developed the ability to tell stories, it was a clear competitive advantage. The moment one human ancestor was able to communicate to another that they'd been seeing mammoth down by the watering hole lately, and every time they leave, this same small one lingers for a bit, and if they two of them would just go there tomorrow and wait for that to happen they could easily take down the small one and then everyone would have meat for days, in this moment our ancestors had the advantage over any competitors who had not developed the ability to conceive of and communicate this kind of narrative.

Once we had this storytelling ability, the problem arose that it was something of a compulsion. We told stories about everything. We couldn't help it. We saw real patterns in the world and figured out how to tell others about them, but then almost everything became a pattern, many of them with meaning, whether meaning was there or not.

Stories about the outside world became things like religion and stories about the inside world became things like believing we were fundamentally different from other animals.

When we see intelligence or emotionality in non-human animals, I don't think it should be taken to mean those things necessarily are anything other than the neurochemical reactions of the brain any more than I think we should see our own intelligence or emotionality as necessarily anything more than the neurochemical reactions of the brain.

It's just that we tell stories about what they are, and why they are, and where they come from. We've generated post-hoc a narrative for our thoughts, decisions, and feelings, when all of those things perhaps are happening before we even notice them—whoever that “we” or whatever that “noticing” is. A stimulus action prompts an innate biological reaction, and then we tell a story that dresses up that reaction as a decision.

(All of which is exacerbated by time-binding, or the “characteristically human activity of transmitting experience from one generation to another especially through the use of symbols”.)

None of this means that we should treat neither humans nor animals humanely. I just feel like we have some things backwards and might mistakenly be elevating non-human animals because we won't consider the possibility that we've first mistakenly elevated ourselves. Maybe it's not that they are like us, but we are like them.

We're maybe not all that, is what I'm saying.

#Biology #July2019

In animals this is often fatal, because their cells and systems are highly specialised and inflexible. Think of animal biology as an intricate machine in which each cell and organ has a place and purpose, and all parts must work and cooperate for the individual to survive. A human cannot manage without a brain, heart or lungs.

Plants, however, develop in a much more flexible and organic way. Because they can’t move, they have no choice but to adapt to the circumstances in which they find themselves. Rather than having a defined structure as an animal does, plants make it up as they go along. Whether they grow deeper roots or a taller stem depends on the balance of chemical signals from other parts of the plant and the “wood wide web”, as well as light, temperature, water and nutrient conditions.

From Why plants don’t die from cancer by Stuart Thompson

#Biology #Highlights #July2019