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.

2.16.2011

Reading Journal, The Well-Dressed Ape, Chapters 10-11 Quotes

Chapter 10 – Tough as a Boiled Owl: Predators

An ever-growing population argues that while this primate may occasionally lose a battle to a predator, it’s winning the war. The repercussions of this victory aren’t fully known. One result is an unforeseen sense of loneliness. The primate is now making the conscious choice to let some of its large predators survive.
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Despite having cleansed the planet of most large predators, humans can still do a decent job of behaving like prey. That freezing response is probably built into my genes.
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My reproductive capacity is evidence of my predatory status. Those creatures who are accustomed to being eaten give birth to big families. Rabbits breed like rabbits.
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As their predators rebound, the humans are doing a most un-animally thing. In the richest cultures, where bullets are cheapest, humans are waxing nostalgic for their old tormentors.
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Our competitors are more lethal to us than our animal predators, at this point in human history. Snakes, for instance, bite half a million humans each year, killing 125,000 of us--far more than the crocodile. And this is probably a gross underestimate. . . . All these deadly snakes aren’t out to devour humans. It’s just that snake territory and human territory often overlap. Each species wants to feel safe in this territory and each perceives the other to be a menace.
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It’s the growling animals with glowing eyes who populate the dark-night terrors of a human. It’s the snakes and spiders who inspire an otherwise rational primate to leap skyward with a screech. But in reality, our most dangerous predators are hairless, scaleless, toothless, and teensy.

Living as I do in a tool-rich culture, I’ve always succeeded in fighting off the microbes who attempt to devour me. But they’ve tried. Many have tried. I’ve endured cold viruses who opened the door to their friends, welcoming bacterial invaders into my lungs. One winter I wheezed and gurgled for days before someone convinced me I had pneumonia and had best see a doctor. I’ve had simple cuts that became staging grounds for strains of bacteria capable of poisoning my blood and dropping me like a sack of wet sand. Deep in a Madagascar jungle I was ambushed by a micro-assailant who liquefied my guts and could have drained me to a husk in a few days. Each time these predators attacked, I was able to get my hands on a tool that could beat them off. I’m fortunate.
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I think of my predators as those who kill a large percentage of the humans they prey on, and my parasites as those who kill only a few, more or less by accident. The latter usually kill the young, the old, and the already sick. The classic parasite merely burdens its prey, eating it slowly enough to keep it alive.
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Two of the wildest frontiers in medical research today are “bioprospecting,” in which scientists test random plants for useful chemicals, and “zoopharmacognosy,” in which scientists save themselves a bundle of time by first taking note of which plants other animals are using.


Chapter 11 – A Bull in a China Shop: Ecosystem Impacts

We kill species proactively, before they can attack us or eat our food.
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Where humans brandished fire, ecosystems metamorphosed. Interesting questions flare up when a landscape has been so altered by humans, and so many thousands of year ago: What lived here before? And what would you consider the “natural” landscape? Is it whatever was here before humans? Or is a human-made savanna just as natural as the beaver-dammed pond? Muddying the question further is the fact that farming humans, who migrated into the territories of hunter-gatherers in the past few centuries, often banned burning, which transformed those ecosystems yet again.
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Between unintended erosion and the intentional alterations wrought by farms, roadways, shelters, public buildings, and cities, humans have now transformed between 50 percent and 83 percent of all the earth’s surface. (Estimates vary.)
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Homo sapiens has eaten dozens of its fellow animals into oblivion. We have dug up the soil and transformed the earth’s surface so thoroughly that thousands more species have failed for loss of habitat. In our ravening for tools, tools, ever more tools, we have accidentally poisoned huge swaths of land, in addition to most of the freshwater and all--all--the air.

The modern human’s impact on its environment is near total. My species has so mastered tools, and so inflated it population, that all the fun has gone out of Earth wrecking. It’s too easy. We’re capable of annihilating almost any species that bothers us. Our dominion over the land and its plants is challenged only by mountains and glaciers. We’ve even adjusted the planet’s temperature--a rare feat indeed. And oddly, none of this Earth-altering behavior dates to our modern, messy era. The human animal has been messing up the planet since we first learned to strike flint.

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