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.

2.15.2011

Reading Journal, The Well-Dressed Ape, Chapters 8-9 Quotes

Chapter 8 – Busy as a Beaver: Behavior

By the end of this typical day, I will have spent less than an hour in social discourse via conversation, e-mail, and the telephone. That’s a piddling 7 percent of my waking day. . . . By the numbers, I’m not as sociable as a baboon (9 to 12 percent) or a bald eagle (12 percent), but I’m more gregarious than a solitary animal like a snake or a bear.
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Many humans feel quite out of balance unless there’s another species snuffling around the shelter.
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Recall that a leading theory on the origin of the huge human brain is that it takes a lot of neurons to keep track of all the favors we owe our allies and the favors we are owed. That same theory has been proposed for the chimp brain and the relatively large brains of crows, dolphins, wolves, and other social animals. . . . In zoo experiments, chimps have shown that they keep track of which comrades are best at solving a certain puzzle, and choose partners accordingly. They also remember which pal has groomed them or shared food with them. An animal with such a complex social life needs a lot of wattage.
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Many theorists now believe that the impulse to create art--as well as music and a sense of humor--evolved in humans because creativity showcases an individual’s intelligence to potential mates.
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To attribute these visceral doodles to great shamans seems a bit insulting to the great shamans--and to Occam’s razor, which is a rule of science stating that your theory should be no more complicated than absolutely necessary. If the simplest explanation for cave art is that boys enjoy both caves and visceral, gory images, then that’s your best theory.
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Humans aren’t the only animals to use language, but we are, by a landslide, the most articulate, babblative, communicatory, discursive, fluent, garrulous, logorrheic, prolix, verbal, verbose, vociferous, and plain old wordy.
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The brain regions that conduct critical analysis go dark when we hear something unpleasant about our new mate. Well, the brain behaves similarly with our beloved politicians.
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Unlike hunter-gatherers, farmers are tied to one spot on the land. If they run when violence threatens, they lose their livelihoods. Thus, anthropologists propose, farmers fight harder and die more. In some of these groups, violent aggression claims one in four males.
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Fascinating though it is, aggression is not the human animal’s most remarkable behavior. More interesting is how little aggression humans display, given that we like to live in groups but are territorial at the same time.
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He goes on to propose that play lays the foundation for morality in social animals like coyotes and humans, because it rewards animals for treating one another fairly.
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As most animals mature, their brains settle into the tried-and-true pathways that have proven most useful in childhood. . . . The crow is more like the human, and the chimpanzee, the dolphin, and a few other highly social, intelligent animals: We, the few, the goofy, we play for life. . . . I would venture that the human has a nearly unlimited capacity for play.
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And more than occasionally I swallow the fermented remains of fruit or grain, to enjoy the expansive and joyful effect of not worrying about everything on Earth for an hour or two.

But that last, perhaps, that “not worrying,” is not so playful. That may represent a second reason that humans crave drugs: to deliver us from the tyranny of our frightfully busy brains.
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I find the studies of subsistence cultures riveting in this regard. Those humans, from every study I've read, do not lay down their heads for eight hours of oblivion. And they would find my alarm clock and absurdity. Rather, when sleepiness catches up with a human in the middle of the day, she lies down and sleeps. Awakened in the deep of night by the snap of a twig, she puts wood on the fire and sits for an hour, grazing at the flames. Her brother might wake, too, and together they'll talk about the coming weather or the illness of their mother. As she settles back toward sleep, their cousin may rouse, step away to empty his bladder, then join the brother at the fire. And so the night passes. Humans weave in and out of sleep, punctuating the night with periods of conversation, soft song, or silent watchfulness.

This pattern, combined with the observation that the human's circadian rhythm does not neatly match the twenty-four-hour day of planet Earth, makes me wonder if the human animal didn't evolve to spend some night hours awake, keeping an eye on the world. When I sift through the numbers in a National Sleep Foundation survey, I find another intriguing clue: Three out of ten of my countrymen often find themselves wide awake in the middle of the night. And in a handful of languages, more clues: "Dead sleep" was the Middle English term for the first bout of the night; the second installment was called "morning sleep." The two terms occur in many European languages and at least on Nigerian language, according to American historian A. Roger Ekirch. And like subsistence humans, medieval European farmers also used the wakeful time in the small hours for socializing or solitary reflection. Should I wake tonight before the minute-counter approves it, I'm going to give this further thought.
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Previous post: From the "That Makes So Much Sense" Files


Chapter 9 - Chatty as a Magpie: Communication

Like all animal communication, my signals were bald attempts to bring the world into line with my desires. That theory of communication presents a bleak view of the thousands of words that flow from my face and fingers in a day. But I can't find a flaw in the argument.
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One of the clearest studies shows that 90 percent of mature females can identify an expression of sadness on an actor's face, while only 40 percent of males can. . . . (Males, on the other hand, can spot an angry face in a crowd quicker than females can. And both sexes identify angry faces quicker than they can identify the less ominous expressions.)
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All communication is a sign of failure. If everybody is pleased with the situation, then there is no need for communication.
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Try this [theory]: Vocalization caught on because yelling proved a more successful way to fight than hitting. . . . Rather than walking right up to his enemy, a vocal animal could vibrate his throat and telegraph his size through the air. This represented a tremendous savings in blood, infections, and lost limbs.
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Here's yet another theory on the origin of speech. This theory finds a foothold in my early babbling: That babbling was musical. . . .

Universally, human infants prefer to bestow their gaze on a mother who sings . . .

I was born with a version of perfect pitch, as are all humans. Most of us lose it as our brain commits itself to spoken language. . . .

So before I could walk, before I could talk, I acquired music. . . .

All humans are literate in the emotional content of music, even the music of other cultures. We all feel a physical response to music's rhythm, too. . . .

Did the hominids sing or hum or babble in rhythm before we could speak, just the way my own vocalizations progressed?
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Lying takes years of practice to perfect. But it's a worthwhile endeavor. Deception is not a subset of communication. Recall that communication is about manipulating others to your own benefit. So I propose that in the world's first conversation some animal mother called her infant toward a mound bustling with nutritious ants, and in the second, she told the mother next door that the ants were rancid.
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Occasionally an animal (besides the human) seems to make a conscious effort to mislead another. Among baboons, it's the young who seem most devious. One little devil reportedly learned to deflect his mother's wrath by standing erect, eyeing the horizon with terror, and screeching an alarm call. Another youngster specialized in false accusation of child abuse. This prodigy would watch a female baboon dig up a juicy root, then screech, "She hit me!" His mother, fooled into a protective rage, would barrel over and chase the "abuser" away from a hard-earned meal.
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The honeyguide of Africa is a nondescript bird with a knack for spotting bees' nests. Unable to breach the bee defenses herself, she instead flies in search of assistance. When the bird finds a honey badger, she issues a distinctive squawk and commences a swooping series of fluttery flights back toward the hive. . . . The honeyguides have also evolved to seek out Pygmies, who are happy to stand in for the badger.

More complex was the dialogue that developed between orcas and one family of humans in Eden, Australia, during the whaling era. Three local pods of orcas would cooperate to herd baleen whales toward Eden's harbor. Then a few orcas would sprint toward a farm owned by the Davidson family and roust the whalers by slapping their tails on the water. . . . The whalers would jump into their boats and row behind the orcas to reach the captive whales. Upon killing a whale, the Davidson crew would grant the orcas time to eat its lips and tongue. In the event that the Davidsons killed a whale without assistance from the orcas, it was then their turn to slap their oars on the water, signaling that tongue and lips were served. This interanimal agreement endured for a century.

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