Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

2.10.2011

Reading Journal, The Well-Dressed Ape, Chapters 6-7 Quotes

Chapter 6 – Hungry As a Wolf: Diet

Lest we start to take humans too seriously, processing food is not a sign of staggering genius, judging by the other animals who do it.
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Modern females on a high-protein plan like the Atkins Diet can have difficulty getting pregnant. During pregnancy, too much protein may also drive down the birth weight of a baby. Furthermore, animal liver, with its high vitamin A content, can cause birth defects or spontaneous abortion. In fact, meat is a common subject of the food aversions that human females suddenly experience in pregnancy. So it could be that foragers' meat rules serve a biological purpose: to keep females fertile.
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From the look of things in the mirror, I've struck this balance. If anything, I'm a little overprepared for a famine. But I can hardly blame my body. It's operating on the old assumption that food behaves unpredictably. . . .

First, let's look at my natural defenses against starving. There's a good reason that I yearn for fettuccine Alfredo and chocolate. Every cell in my body is in a near-constant state of hollering for high-calorie food. My body wants to be bigger than it is today. Therefore my cells lobby for more sugar, more fat, more food. . . .

Why fat and sugar? Why don't I crave salad? My body is lagging behind the times. For the first few million years of hominid existence, salad was everywhere. You had to kick it out of the way just to get around. By contrast, energy-rich foods were either too seasonal or too fleet-footed for convenience. . . .

When my senses register the proximity of a Chunky bar, my strongest urge is to snatch it up and get it down the hatch before, A: it gets moldy; B: it's eaten by bears, C: I'm eaten by bears. . . .

One reason cravings are so strong, and that it's so joyful to yield to them, is that they tap into the same brain chemistry that will get a human hooked on cocaine or alcohol. When the sugar from a Chunky bar hits my bloodstream, opioids of my own making flood my brain with chemical happiness. I've eaten enough Chunky bars by now to get my brain addicted to these opioids. I need no heroin, only another Chunky.


Chapter 7 - Loose as a Goose: Reproduction

But for a few species, often those with spectacularly needy offspring, it takes two. It's a rare lifestyle among the mammals. Only about 5 percent of all mammals form couples--and most of those agree to a contract that lasts for only one year or one brood.
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When humans confront the the question of how to mate, the overwhelming majority of cultures conclude that multiple mates are acceptable. Therefore, Homo sapiens may not qualify as a monogamous animal.
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To get closer requires a reduction of the human's normal aggressiveness. Humans, although naturally social animals, are nonetheless suspicious of strangers. Unless we're given a reason not to, most animals tend to view one another first as competition, and only later as potential friends and mates.
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Humans are unusual. For some reason, humans will cop at the drop of a hat. The female's fertility peaks for just a few days each month. But she will cop any day of the week. In fact, the millions of human pairs who practice some form of "rhythm method" of birth control will cop any day except those when the female is fertile. This is, biologically speaking, nuts. But for humans, and just a tiny number of other species, copping is distinct from reproduction.
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So it's not surprising that I, like most humans, have occasionally undertaken the act of copulation while forgetting the goal of reproduction. The behavior is educational, revealing a prospect's stamina, intelligence, and communicating ability. And it tickles the brain, the way rich food and addictive drink do. It's just, um, fun.
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Even now that I’ve moved beyond the mortifying effects of low serotonin, the chemical miasma was sufficiently thick to fuse me and my mate-for-life. We proceeded to bond. This was no piddling miracle. Most mammal males and females avoid one another until the ultimatum of reproduction drives them together. Through a narrow crack in the hostility they make contact, copulate, and split. And don’t come back, if you know what’s good for you! The sheer volume of chemicals saturating my brain as I bonded with my mate reveal the extreme measures nature must take in order to get a male and female human to stay in the same shelter for years on end.

This addling of the brain is a sack of dirty tricks, when deployed in a culture that expects a pair-bond to last a lifetime. Most of the chemical effects--the hormone fluctuation, the dopamine, the serotonin--last only a year or two. Then you’re suddenly looking across the breakfast table at a deeply flawed and aggravating . . . well, a human. How could you have not noticed that he asks you a question then leaves the room? How could it escape you that she gnaws her nails? And that’s why we have oxytocin, which can be renewed daily. As I sit muttering about unanswered questions and unwashed dishes, my mate lays his warm forepaws on my shoulders and kisses my cheek. The oxytocin, always ready to serve, glows in my brain. And we stay bonded for another day. . . .

The same is true in my own culture. The only resource I needed from my mate was companionship. It was solely my decision how much I would squelch my territoriality and self-interest in order to meet that need. To set that sentence in the past tense suggests the war is over. Never. Just this morning I issued the gentlest of growls over his letting hot water--and our shared resources--run down the drain. Just this morning he held eye contact a second longer than usual when I announced my intention to trade resources for a pedicure. The war’s never over.
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A female's preference for male body type changes at this time, too, whether she's aware of it or not. If you ask the average young Western female to pick a prospective mate from a series of young-male photos, you'll get different answers depending on the time of the month. Most days, she'll favor the softer faces, their bones smoothed by moderate testosterone. Such males are statistically stronger on cooperation and child care. But if she's fertile, chuck all that. Now she wants a rascal and a rogue, a high-rise, high-testosterone male with a cleft chin and a wandering eye. And if you specify that she's shopping for a short-term mate only, the high-test rogues rank even higher.

This is more than academic musing. A mated human female, according to surveys in my culture, is more than twice as likely to seek what biologists call an "extra-pair copulation" during the lead-up to ovulation than during the infertile weeks afterward. Other studies have found females more likely to ditch the mate to spend an evening at a singles bar when they're fertile, too. This is leading theorists to propose that the female human (and perhaps the females of other species) employs a dual strategy regarding males: She pair-bonds with a gentle, generous male who will help with the offspring, and she strives to conceive those offspring with an assortment of dominant, aggressive males.
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One piece of human anatomy argues eloquently that males have evolved to compete with one another for the female uterus. Scientists experimenting with model penises and vaginas, and various recipes for mock sperm, have found an explanation for the strange shape of the male intromittent organ: That cone on the end is ideally shaped to collect and remove fluid from the vagina before making a fresh deposit. And that fluid would be the sperm of a female's previous copulatory partner.

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