Skip

Do animals know more than we think?
November 3, 2006 8:16 AM   Subscribe

A recent article recently came out in the Wall Street Journal, which cited new study from Stanford about animal consciousness. Elephants grieve, bees create mental maps, dolphins recognize themselves in mirrors. Snakes have more brain cells than humans, and chickens worry about the future. What are your thoughts? Does this change the way we treat animals?
posted by PetBoogaloo (86 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
No.
posted by docgonzo at 8:24 AM on November 3, 2006


Does this change the way we treat animals?

No. People have been treating animals brutally for thousands of years, if cows could talk tomorrow it wouldn't stop people from buying Big Macs. In fact, lots of animals "talk" while being slaughtered (if we can equate screaming in fear with talking).
posted by splatta at 8:24 AM on November 3, 2006


If cows could talk, we wouldn't be able to understand them anyway.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:28 AM on November 3, 2006




I think it won't necessarily change the way we treat animals, though it should. We do not have to believe they are "like us" to believe they have conciousness and therefore should be respected and that we share the earth with them, rather than own it and let them live here. Check out the work of Dr. Gay Bradshaw.

I love hamburgers though, so I'm going to continue to believe that cows are big dumb meat piles so that I can sleep at night. Hypocrisy? Yes.
posted by cal71 at 8:41 AM on November 3, 2006


Are you seriously asking this question?

Have you seen the way humans treat each other?! The animals are more screwed, because many of them are damn tasty.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:44 AM on November 3, 2006


I'm sure many humans are tasty too.

I don't eat animals if I can help it. I guess that means I don't get to play the blasé-game.
posted by hermitosis at 8:57 AM on November 3, 2006


No.
posted by OmieWise at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2006


Besides, animals really hate it when we anthropomorphize them?
posted by waltb555 at 8:58 AM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


If dogs were fully sentient, they'd tear their owners to shreads after posing in yet another bee costume.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:12 AM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


Can't overcome nature, despite efforts to the contrary.
posted by ruthsarian at 9:12 AM on November 3, 2006


Even as a vegetarian, I believe it is not particularly wise to feel sympathy for your prey. Counterproductive. Granted, when I stalk the wily broccolli in the supermarket, that perhaps is not much of an issue.

And ruthsarian, without dropping the post to yet another veg-head discussion, it is quite possible for genetically predisposed omnivores to survive and flourish as vegetarians. People have been doing it for thousands of years.
posted by elendil71 at 9:20 AM on November 3, 2006


I happen to be a cormorant, and a quick review of my Metafilter postings over the six or so years should be enough to convince you that I am at least the intellectual equal of Roger Moore, or several other humans I could mention. Therefore I should not be killed. You may kill other cormorants, however, as they are not to be trusted.
posted by Faze at 9:26 AM on November 3, 2006 [2 favorites]


"Chickens can be trained to wait for something" ≠ "Chickens worry about the future."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:32 AM on November 3, 2006


No.
posted by keswick at 9:32 AM on November 3, 2006


Even as a vegetarian, I believe it is not particularly wise to feel sympathy for your prey. Counterproductive. Granted, when I stalk the wily broccolli in the supermarket, that perhaps is not much of an issue.

Unless you've got an automatic weapon handy, feeling sympathy for your prey is the only way you'll ever find it. Tracking is all about sympathy, very deep sympathy. At the moment of the kill, you love that animal.

Which is good, because it reminds you at what cost your life is bought.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:35 AM on November 3, 2006


Forget it, Faze. CSI discovered your DNA all over Cock Robin's remains. It's gonna be the electric chair for you!
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:37 AM on November 3, 2006


Animals are gay.
posted by Mister_A at 9:38 AM on November 3, 2006


I'm sure many humans are tasty too.

Perhaps, but it is not currently socially acceptable to eat them. Which is a shame, 'cause this would be a great way to deal with politicians.

I don't eat animals if I can help it. I guess that means I don't get to play the blasé-game.

Well, it's not really a game, but if you want to play one, here's a suggestion. But the main course of the article was "animals are smarter than we thought, should we treat them differently" My point is that this question ingores the natural indgreidents of mankind i.e. humans treat other pretty terribly (speaking strictly in the general, buffet, way of course), so the animals don't have a leg to stand on, since everyone loves drumsticks.

Animals are tasty. It's just that simple.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:49 AM on November 3, 2006


What are your thoughts?

No change. I'll stick to eating animals that have had happy, healthy lives (they invariably taste better), unless the pleasure I get from eating it outweigh's the animal's pain (veal, foie gras, seafood eaten live, &c.).
posted by jack_mo at 9:50 AM on November 3, 2006


Thanks for linking that post jefgodesky.

Great review of what sounds like an excellent book and the discussion taking place in the comments of that post are well worth sticking around for.
posted by lyam at 9:51 AM on November 3, 2006


Eating should be about nutrition and sustainability, plus yumminess. Not how the dead thing felt. We seem to be the only animals that don't know this.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:04 AM on November 3, 2006




Speaking as an omnivore, I believe that meat is murder.

It's too bad that murder tastes so good.
posted by utsutsu at 10:11 AM on November 3, 2006


I bow to Temple Grandin on this one, and particularly her book Animals in Translation. Its central thesis is basically that animals are smarter than we think, they perceive and process the world in ways we don't understand, and mmm steak is good.
posted by Hogshead at 10:17 AM on November 3, 2006


utsutsu: Everything dies. Not everything is murdered. Most animals will eat found carcasses if the conditions recommend it.
So, by that logic, meat is natural and very nutritious, hunting is murder, and farming is psychopathic murder.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:18 AM on November 3, 2006


From docgonzo's link above:

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to non-human beings, objects, natural, or supernatural phenomena

We're apes that have evolved giant brains and have attributed 'uniquely human' characteristics to ourselves. What the Stanford study and many others show is that we're not quite as unique as we'd like think. Many of these 'uniquely human' characteristics, such as emotions, are neither unique (because they are shared with other animals, like elephants) nor 'human' (because much of our behavior is shared by other Great Apes: see Roger Fout's book Next of Kin).
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:18 AM on November 3, 2006


Unless you've got an automatic weapon handy...

Hmm, I'll have to try that next I'm shopping. I have a feeling, though, that the supermarket employees (and the police) may be a trifle irked at me blowing holes in acorn squashes and onions. 'Course, they may not see me in my full urban camoflage, hee hee.
posted by elendil71 at 10:20 AM on November 3, 2006


Ambrosia: and I'm ok with that.

I'm grossly simplifying for the sake of a jokey comment, of course. I could get into detail but it's time to go eat a triple bacon cheeseburger.
posted by utsutsu at 10:21 AM on November 3, 2006


Hmm, I'll have to try that next I'm shopping. I have a feeling, though, that the supermarket employees (and the police) may be a trifle irked at me blowing holes in acorn squashes and onions. 'Course, they may not see me in my full urban camoflage, hee hee.

Yes, but at the supermarket you don't have prey at all, you just have victims.
posted by jefgodesky at 10:32 AM on November 3, 2006


The "snakes have more brain cells than humans" link has a bit of specious logic. It says snakes can regenerate brain cells throughout there lives while humans cannot (not exactly true, even beyond the hippocampus) and then jumps to the conclusion snakes have more brain cells. By that logic a petri dish with an immortalized brain tumor cell line has more brain cells than a human.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:43 AM on November 3, 2006


Okay... since we are starting to talk about plants here, there is also evidence that plants have consciousness:

Plant intelligence
Plant Language
posted by PetBoogaloo at 10:55 AM on November 3, 2006


As the Stanford article points out, there's awareness and then there's self awareness, and the former doesn't necessarily imply the latter. I'd always assumed that it was a widespread belief that animals were aware in the first sense but not in the second (e.g., conscious but not self-conscious). Yet all this talk of "animal consciousness" makes me wonder -- is it a widespread belief that animals generally lack even the most rudimentary awareness and are, in effect, nothing but biological automatons (e.g., Pavlov's dog's don't actually "hear" a bell, strictly speaking -- their bodies just react to the auditory input)? I think Descartes believed this proposition (and used it to justify vivisection -- the animal doesn't feel anything at all, because it's just a biological machine), but I didn't think it was a widespread belief.

On the other hand, maybe people are just being sloppy about how they use words like "consciousness" and "self-consciousness" . . .

As for the dangers of anthropomorphism, yes, I think we must take care to avoid it. But it seems to me there's an opposite danger of assuming that we're so radically different from the rest of nature that human consciousness has absolutely nothing in common with any other form of consciousness (if other forms exist). If we grant that human consciousness is solely product of biological evolution, then why would no other creature have something that at least resembles it to some degree?

Finally, the poster's question wasn't about whether or not we should stop eating meat, but about whether or not we should rethink how we treat animals. Whether or not it's possible to eat animals and treat them well at the same time seems like another debate, but I don't think it's hard to make the case that the conditions under which some animals are farmed are pretty horrifying (unless, of course, you think the animals are just automatons).
posted by treepour at 11:01 AM on November 3, 2006


Have you seen the way humans treat each other?! The animals are more screwed

Sad but true.

There's something screwed up about our culture that gets us to turn off our empathy. I need these slaves to harvest my cotton. We can't keep all this timber standing just to save a couple owls. We have to bulldoze these settlements. If we don't kill the terrorists they'll kill us. If we don't kill the mountain lions they'll kill our housecats.
posted by salvia at 11:03 AM on November 3, 2006


Augh, that chickens article irritated me. Of course the chickens look miserable--they're painfully tied up, immobilized (which panics almost any animal), crowded, and are exposed to harsh wind and loud noise as the truck barrels down the highway.

But physical misery and fear of immediate danger, awful as they are, are not expressions of some existential dread of what may come.
posted by hippugeek at 11:09 AM on November 3, 2006


assuming that we're so radically different from the rest of nature that human consciousness has absolutely nothing in common with any other form of consciousness

Prairie voles fall in love
and mate for life. Same hormones and everything.
posted by salvia at 11:10 AM on November 3, 2006


dances_with_sneetches: "It says snakes can regenerate brain cells throughout there lives while humans cannot (not exactly true, even beyond the hippocampus) and then jumps to the conclusion snakes have more brain cells. By that logic a petri dish with an immortalized brain tumor cell line has more brain cells than a human."

Snakes have more brain cells than humans in the same sense that a man has an infinite number of sperm.
posted by Plutor at 11:11 AM on November 3, 2006


There's something screwed up about our culture that gets us to turn off our empathy.

Human children are natural-born animists. We beat that out of them and get them to withdraw their empathy from anything that isn't human. After that, it's really easy to withdraw your empathy from people who don't look like you, or people who don't live like you, or people you don't know, or people you're not very closely related to....
posted by jefgodesky at 11:20 AM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


"The chickens were on their sides…they were not sleeping, but in fact were wide awake, with panicked, staring eyes…I knew that they KNEW trouble was on its way."

I would pay good money to see this.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:42 AM on November 3, 2006


Yes, but at the supermarket you don't have prey at all, you just have victims.

I dunno, those potatoes... they always looking at you...
posted by elendil71 at 11:49 AM on November 3, 2006


If I'd be a chicken, I'd worry, too..
posted by dominik at 12:12 PM on November 3, 2006


I agree with hippugeek - the chiken article is lame. If chickens are so smart, how come they can live with no head. .

Also comparing chickens being transported in a truck to slaves in a ship is trivialising the suffering of human slavery.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:19 PM on November 3, 2006


I find it scary that those in this thread who normally espouse kindness, love, and pacificism justify their habits through the value of taste. "They taste good" apparently means "Its okay to subjugate and kill another species".

Not judging (trying hard not to) but if you think it's okay to eat animals because you like the taste, well you have a pretty warped justification system. Can't you come up with a better defense? You abhor the torture of animals though right? Vivisecting a live puppy isnt okay is it? What if the cries bring pleasure to my ears? Does that make it okay?

*confused by the sudden lack of mental rigor*
*now heads back to the Ted Haggard thread*
posted by Dantien at 12:37 PM on November 3, 2006


If you're eating meat just cos you think animals are inferior, or that their pain or discomfort is somehow trivial, then you need to reconsider somewhat, maybe.

I eat meat because
- currently it's the easiest way to get protein in our diet (N. America)
- I like the taste
- it's how I was raised; I'm used to it.

But yes I feel a bit guilty about it, and I wish something didn't have to be killed so I can eat meat. I do try to shop carefully, limit intake, and not waste food.

I look forward to a time when there's some efficient process for simply growing muscle tissue for harvest, as opposed to having to raise and kill something.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:44 PM on November 3, 2006


I pretty much always operated under the assumption that animals had thoughts and feelings and have always believed changes need to be made in the ways humans treat animals.

I'm sure scientific backing of my beliefs won't change a damn thing. Humans are assholes.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:53 PM on November 3, 2006


I eat meat because I'm an animal. Every breath I take is at the cost of another life. I don't sit in the sun photosynthesizing. For me to live, something is going to die.

I eat meat because I don't consider cows any more sacred than carrots. I eat meat because whether the life I take is plant or animal makes little difference--I've taken a life, and that binds me in a covenant to use that life to make the ecosystem that life came from a richer place, and one day, to lay down my own flesh for others in that place, in precisely the same manner as so many of them laid down theirs for me.

I eat meat because to do otherwise is sheer hypocrisy--a plea to pretend we're harmless, that we owe nothing to the place that gives us life. I fully understand abstaining from factory farmed meat as a stance against the things factory farming does to animals, but I don't understand vegetarianism as having any kind of intrinsic moral high ground. In that form, it's just an attempt to blind one's self to the essential toll one takes as an animal. Vegetarianism is anything but harmless.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:12 PM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'd like to echo treepour in that the question wasn't should we continue to eat meat, but rather do we treat animals differently? These are two different discussions (you can still treat an animal with respect and eat it, that's what free range is supposed to be about). Also, think zoos, etc.
posted by evening at 1:28 PM on November 3, 2006


jefgodesky, I don't think that article says what you think it says:

While the excess nutrients that flow into the Gulf of Mexico come from a variety of sources, Whitall said, the main source is agricultural runoff, namely chemical fertilizers and animal manure.

Vegetarianism is anything but harmless because animal manure and chemical fertilizers used to grow crops to feed said animals are poisoning the Gulf of Mexico?
posted by team lowkey at 1:47 PM on November 3, 2006


Oh brother. Before we know it, meat eaters will be accused of practising cannibalism.
posted by caraig at 1:59 PM on November 3, 2006


Crops are only used to feed animals?
posted by Tikirific at 2:01 PM on November 3, 2006


I tend to agree, jefgodesky. As I mentioned before, to feel sympathy for your prey is counterproductive. I concur that the vegan "high moral ground" is morally untenable. Accept that with your life, something else dies, and move on.

As for your link, you seem to presume that all vegetarians eat fish. Very strict vegetarians (of which I am not, since I love the occasional sushi-binge) dont eat any animal flesh. I chose a (dominantly) vegetarian diet because I find it healthier. Personal choice. No morals involved. On preview, what team lowkey said.

From a sort of metaphysical perspective, I suppose we should "respect" our prey, in as much as they give us life. But it seems to me that all life should be treated that way, regardless of whether we eat it or not, but lets not take that too far. Some animals have simply been bred for food - bred for centuries if not millenia. Lets not anthropomorphize them. I loathe the idea of those meat farms, it disgusts me, and not just because the food produced is unpalatable. I think we do have some basic moral responsibility not to eat more than we need, not kill when we dont have to, and not injure when its isnt necessary.

But we are the predator and they are the prey. Strategy may differ, but be assured that no tiger feels an ounce of remorse as to whether it eats an injured baby gazelle or brings down a healthy adult.
posted by elendil71 at 2:01 PM on November 3, 2006


Oh, and if it wasnt clear before, I misundstood your link jefgodesky. Ignore the second paragraph, except agreeing with team lowkey. Sorry about that.
posted by elendil71 at 2:13 PM on November 3, 2006


Vegetarianism is anything but harmless because animal manure and chemical fertilizers used to grow crops to feed said animals are poisoning the Gulf of Mexico?

Those crops aren't just grown to feed livestock. Where do you think all those vegetables come from?

As I mentioned before, to feel sympathy for your prey is counterproductive.

Like I said, that's simply not true if you're pursuing actual prey. To quote David Abram from The Spell of the Sensuous:
Without guns or gunpowder, a native hunter must often come much closer to his wild prey if he is to take its life. Closer, that is , not just physically but emotionally, empathically entering into proximity within the other animal's ways of sensing and experiencing. The native hunter, in effect, must apprentice himself to those animals that he would kill. Though long and careful observation, enhanced at times by ritual identification and mimesis, the hunter gradually develops an instinctive knowledge of the habits of his prey, of its fears and its pleasures, its preferred foods and favored haunts.
The truly human hunter, eschewing firearms or recent weaponry, practices a form of hunting that depends on sympathy for his prey. That sympathy is profound--at the moment of the kill, the hunter loves that animal (Ender's Game, anyone?). Which is good--it's a powerful emotional reminder of how much the hunter owes to that land, and how sacred that pact is, signed in the blood of an animal he loved, that just gave its life for his own.

As for your link, you seem to presume that all vegetarians eat fish.

Eh, no. I presume all vegetarians eat vegetables--the kind that are grown with fertilizers, which run-off into the Mississippi and flow down into the Gulf of Mexico and create the dead zone where all those fish die. "Harmless" vegetarians still eat farmed food, and so still need to answer for all the outrages of agriculture (see Richard Manning's Against the Grain--this isn't a recent development). There's no escaping it--if you're inside a civilization, there's a whole lot of blood on your hands, whether you eat meat or not.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:25 PM on November 3, 2006


Tracking is all about sympathy, very deep sympathy. Romanticised horseshit. It's just a skill, it's just knowledge.
At the moment of the kill, you love that animal. Yes of course do you. Ender's Game.. lol.
posted by econous at 2:48 PM on November 3, 2006


"Chickens can be trained to wait for something" ≠ "Chickens worry about the future."

Even more! They can be trained to wait for something... without heads.

Even as a vegetarian, I believe it is not particularly wise to feel sympathy for your prey. Counterproductive.

I disagree. I prefer to be well aware of exactly what I'm doing when I choose what to eat, just as I prefer to be aware of what I'm doing in all things. If you can't live with whatever guilt springs from your actions, then you shouldn't be doing them, natch.

I eat meat, but I think I could probably enjoy myself as a vegetarian (though I'd likely still eat free-range eggs and the like). The one issue I see with it is that it's far more work, and it's also fairly expensive for a broke just-out-of-university chappy like myself to eat "morally".
posted by The God Complex at 3:01 PM on November 3, 2006


It seems barbaric to attempt to deprive nature of its soul, only because it is unlike our soul.—Constantin Brunner
posted by No Robots at 3:10 PM on November 3, 2006


I don't get this discussion. Why are people talking about whether or not we eat animals? Hunting and eating animals can be done with a sense of respect, interconnectedness, reciprocity, exchange, etc. Or not. Same for raising and eating vegetables.

To me, whether we eat animals isn't the issue -- it's how we raise and kill them, whether they are wild / free-ranged or factory-farmed in tiny cages. Likewise, whether we eat vegetables isn't really negotiable -- it's how we gather or grow them (whether we monocrop those vegetables, sterilize the fields with scary fungicides, and generally treat the land like a factory; or whether we reduce the need for pesticides by building up the soil with compost, better soil => stronger plants, etc.)

The Others: How Animals Made Us Human by Paul Shepard is a cool book touching on hunting and respect for animals. (I think this book by him is completely about hunting.)
posted by salvia at 3:15 PM on November 3, 2006


The God Complex: I eat meat, but I think I could probably enjoy myself as a vegetarian (though I'd likely still eat free-range eggs and the like). The one issue I see with it is that it's far more work, and it's also fairly expensive for a broke just-out-of-university chappy like myself to eat "morally".

I hesitate to further push this thread off-topic, but you might be interested in this askmefi thread about cheap vegetarianism.
posted by treepour at 3:35 PM on November 3, 2006


jefgodesky, I think we are arguing the same point, albeit from different ends.

I do tend to side with econous about the "romanticized" notion of hunting. Looks good in a piece about the "Noble Savage", but I'm willing to wager its nonsense for most hunters, past and present. Then again, while I have been on a couple of hunting trips, nothing was killed and I have never personally hunted anything.

I'm an anthropologist, among other things, and I've been privileged to know many Native Americans and been part of their culture. While they certainly have many rituals still that allude to the "love" you speak of, I assure you most would laugh and say something like; "Silly white man. It's meat."

I certainly dont disagree with Mr. Abram's quoted polemics, ie

the hunter gradually develops an instinctive knowledge of the habits of his prey, of its fears and its pleasures, its preferred foods and favored haunts.,

simply his sort of metaphysical interpretation. Every good hunter develops those skills, particularly if they hunt with something other than a gun.
posted by elendil71 at 3:41 PM on November 3, 2006


I hesitate to further push this thread off-topic, but you might be interested in this askmefi thread about cheap vegetarianism.

Interesting. Thanks.
posted by The God Complex at 4:01 PM on November 3, 2006


Crows invent technique of cracking nuts with cars

Perhaps I misunderstand the term 'consciousness', but I find it hard to see how this kind of nuanced creative thought is possible without a clear conscious thought-process and understanding of the world.
posted by MetaMonkey at 4:36 PM on November 3, 2006


The Cluckin' Chicken. (Embedded video)
posted by The Deej at 5:01 PM on November 3, 2006


Romanticised horseshit. It's just a skill, it's just knowledge.

Ever done it?

I'm an anthropologist, among other things, and I've been privileged to know many Native Americans and been part of their culture. While they certainly have many rituals still that allude to the "love" you speak of, I assure you most would laugh and say something like; "Silly white man. It's meat."

My education and passion lies in anthropology, though I don't make my money at it, but there doesn't seem to be much left of Native American culture after 500 years of all-out assault. Such a response wouldn't surprise me too much, but then again, I'd expect to see them using rifles while they're at it.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:35 PM on November 3, 2006


It's clear that a lot of animals are smarter than we think they are. The list of "smart" animals keeps getting larger and larger, dags, dolphins, elephants, apes, parrots, crows...

But our linguistic intelligence puts us in another category all together which no animal even approaches. Even regarding emotions I am hesitant to believe that animals experience them in the same way humans do. Complex emotional states like schadenfraud or existential angst seem beyond the capacity of animals.

The experiences of animals is completely different than our own. For example, How would an animal be able to distinguish waking experience from dream experience? Without a linguistic representation of the world, animals find is impossible to differentiate the two, while humans do it with minimal effort.
posted by afu at 11:08 PM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]


afu: But our linguistic intelligence puts us in another category all together . . .

Yes, but I'm not sure the abyss surrounding our "other category"-ness is as deep & wide as it seems. Regardless, this seems like an opportunity to recall Wittgenstein's famous statement:
A dog can expect his master, but a dog cannot expect his master at two o'clock on Tuesday.
posted by treepour at 12:09 AM on November 4, 2006


From the recent WSJ article [subscribers only], mentioned (recently) in the FPP:

Dissenters argue that any behavior that meets a basic need such as hunger shouldn't be ascribed to anything as lofty as consciousness. More and more, however, scientists are observing what they call altruistic behavior that has no evident purpose. Prof. de Waal once watched as a bonobo picked up a starling. The bonobo carried it outside its enclosure and set the bird on its feet. When it didn't fly away, the ape took it to higher ground, carefully unfolded its wings and tossed it into the air. Still having no luck, she stood guard over it and protected it from a young bonobo that was nearby.

Since such behavior doesn't help the bonobo to survive, it's unlikely to be genetically programmed, says Marc Bekoff, emeritus professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. If a person acted this way, "we would say this reflects planning, thought and caring," he adds. "When you see behaviors that are too flexible and variable to be preprogrammed, you have to consider whether they are the result of true consciousness."

---

In June, scientists reported new insights about compassion in African elephants. These animals often seem curious about the bodies of dead elephants, but no one knew whether they felt compassion for the dying or dead. A matriarch in the Samburu Reserve in northern Kenya, which researchers had named Eleanor, collapsed in October 2003. Grace, matriarch of a different family, walked over and used her tusks to lift Eleanor onto her feet, according to Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Animals, Nairobi, and colleagues at the University of Oxford and the University of California, Berkeley, reporting in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

But Eleanor was too shaky to stand. Grace tried again, this time pushing Eleanor to walk, but Eleanor again fell. Grace appeared "very stressed," called loudly and often, and kept nudging and pushing Eleanor. Although she failed, Grace stayed with the dying elephant as night fell. Eleanor died the next day.

Grace's interest in an unrelated animal can't be explained by her genetic disposition to help a close relative, a behavior that's been well established. The scientists instead argue that the elephant was showing compassion. Mr. Douglas-Hamilton has also seen elephants guard and help unrelated elephants who have been hit by tranquilizer darts to let researchers tag the animals. Since standing by an animal that has been shot puts the other animals in harm's way, it's hard to argue self-interest.

---

As for emotions, the conventional view has long been that while animals might seem to be sad, happy, curious or angry, these weren't true emotions: The creature didn't know that it felt any of these things. Daniel Povinelli of the University of Louisiana, who has done pioneering studies of whether chimps understand that people and other chimps have mental states, wonders whether chimps are aware of their emotions: "I don't think there is persuasive evidence of that."

The trouble is that all sorts of animals -- from those in the African bush to those in your living room -- keep acting as if they truly do have emotions remarkably like humans'. Last month, Ya Ya, a panda in a Chinese zoo, accidentally crushed her newborn to death. She seemed inconsolable -- wailing and frantically searching for the tiny body. The keeper said that when he called her name, she just looked up at him with tear-filled eyes before lowering her head again. The conventional view is that these were instinctive, reflexive reactions, and that Ya Ya didn't know she was sad. As the evidence for animal consciousness piles up, that view becomes harder to support.
posted by metaplectic at 2:23 AM on November 4, 2006


Ever done it? I abhor hunting so the only creatures that I've set out to deliberately kill are those that have annoyed me. Usually fruit flies. However I see the necessity of responsibly managing animal populations, if those animals are going to survive in a wild state. I also recognize the importance meat played in the development of civilization, without it we would've needed to spend most of the day eating, farting & shitting, rather than investing in social interaction. There is nothing spiritual or romantic about it. You seem to have bought into a mythology of mans natural state, where there is some sort of covenant between us and the land, the whole noble savage, the wisdom of ancient people, man and nature in 'balance' thing. I don't buy that hunting was ever a spiritual experience, or that there existed in the past some sort of magical relationship between man and nature.
posted by econous at 3:09 AM on November 4, 2006


I don't see how compassionate behavior is any evidence that bonobos or elephants experience anything like human compassion. Human and animal emotions come from the same evolutionary source, so it is no surprise that they appear to us to be having the same experiences we are.

I also have no doubt that animals have some kind of mental life. It's just that without the linguistic framework to back it up, they can never approach the deep intelligence of humans. Until is is shown that another species has language, we are truly unique in our experience of the world. While I would argue that the experiences of a bonobo and and an elephant are basically of the same kind.
posted by afu at 5:22 AM on November 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


But our linguistic intelligence puts us in another category all together which no animal even approaches. Even regarding emotions I am hesitant to believe that animals experience them in the same way humans do. Complex emotional states like schadenfraud or existential angst seem beyond the capacity of animals.

Good to know that, in a pinch, I can feed on retarded people and not feel too bad about it.

Free Range, of course.
posted by hermitosis at 10:08 AM on November 4, 2006


Is schadenfreude an emotion? I always thought it was simply the name for a particular kind of joy. Do you happen to know the name of the emotion I felt when England won the world cup in '66? Probably be the antonym of whatever emotion the Germans were feeling if that helps.
posted by econous at 10:54 AM on November 4, 2006


I once had a hippy-dippy friend whose philosophy was to only eat animals that would eat him. His thought experiment went as follows: fall over dead in a hog wallow, or a chicken farm, and you're dinner: pork and chicken is OK to eat. Cows, eh, not so much. Fish, certainly. This approach has a certain loopy consistency I find appealing.

It just seems to me the height of Western arrogance to turn down perfectly nutritious protein for "ethical" reasons while parts of the world starve. I've been in poultry processing plants -- they are horrible blood-soaked abbatoirs. They smell of blood and shit and death. But I just can't muster any sympathy for chickens, sorry.

Veal and foie gras seem qualitatively different, since torturing the animal before it is killed is necessary for the quality of the end product.

My rule is, I'll eat it if I could kill it and butcher it myself without getting all weepy. I've killed and dressed deer, no problem, and I enjoy the hell out of venison (make a spaghetti sauce with sauteed deer meat and beef will never seem as good), so I think I could probably handle killing and butchering a cow. Of course, I'd eat a LOT less beef if I had to do things this way -- I don't think I could fit a cow on my patio, and with no drains in the kitchen floor, cleaning up afterwards would be a double bitch.

Of course, all this sets aside the environemtal impact of our carnivorous ways, and I think a strong argument can be made that the run-off from processing plants leaching into the water supply and the vast acreages and gallons of water devoted to commercial livestock are probably detrimental to the health of the nation and the planet. That's a better argument than "vivisecting puppies is evil".

And apropos of nothing at all, I once dated a Korean girl in college who was all Goth and shit and who had a dog named Appy, short for "appetizer".
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:55 PM on November 4, 2006


What, what? Snakes on a train?
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:28 AM on November 6, 2006


Human children are natural-born animists. We beat that out of them and get them to withdraw their empathy from anything that isn't human.

Entering a small village in Rajasthan, I commented to my companions how the children there seemed to be in a state of pure youth -- they ran and played and laughed with an openness I'd never seen.

Then they brought a bird they had felled with a sling and still laughing, broke it's back and tortured it awhile, eyes wide with wonder at its squirming. It shuddered visibly with every labored breath.

That's childhood. Death is but a game. Some children learn empathy but that's a part of growing up, not a natural gift. Only we adults there felt any compassion for that poor creature. (I eventually coaxed it from them and ended its misery, which brought about the first hint of anything but glee from the children, disappointed that the game was over)

Eminently human, but natural animists my ass. It's shocking how easily people forget real childhood in favour of a fable.
posted by dreamsign at 6:28 AM on November 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


But our linguistic intelligence puts us in another category all together which no animal even approaches.

Really? I might even buy that human communication is the most nuanced, in the same way I can accept that the cheetah might have the fastest land speed--but these are distinctions of degree, not kind. We have vastly and systematically underestimated the sophistication of animal communication. David Abram puts forth a good case, with excellent examples, showing that even our vaunted human speech is grounded in our ecology, and informed by animal communication. The fact that the Koyukon can literally speak with birds, by incorporating and understanding their calls, is quite telling, I think.

I abhor hunting so the only creatures that I've set out to deliberately kill are those that have annoyed me. Usually fruit flies. I see the necessity of responsibly managing animal populations, if those animals are going to survive in a wild state.

Wow. That actually made me shudder. First, to kill for food is something you "abhor," but you kill something that anoys you? And secondly, the "necessity of responsibly managing animal populations"? Who died and made you god? If it's such a necessity, then how did all those animal populations ever survive the millions of years they had to suffer without god-like humans to determine who should live, and who should die? The world got along just fine without humans, and in the short 10,000 years in which we've appointed ourselves gods and rulers of this planet, deigning merely being a part of it beneath our divine mandate, we've turned the Fertile Crescent into a blasted desert, the Great Plains into the dust bowl, torn 40% of the earth's surface up to produce nothing but wheat, corn and rice, baked the atmosphere and set off a mass extinction the likes of which this planet has never seen. Such is the result of the human wisdom you deem so "necessary." The world's proven capable of taking care of itself; it did so for several billion years before we came along. We, too, were doing just fine when we were content to be part of that system, but in that short span of time since we got it into our heads that we were "in another category all together which no animal even approaches," and that we've got to look after the "necessity of responsibly managing animal populations," well ... things haven't been going quite so swimmingly, have they? Hmmm, I wonder why all the earliest civilizations were so preoccupied by the question of hubris?

You seem to have bought into a mythology of mans natural state, where there is some sort of covenant between us and the land, the whole noble savage, the wisdom of ancient people, man and nature in 'balance' thing. I don't buy that hunting was ever a spiritual experience, or that there existed in the past some sort of magical relationship between man and nature.

I have, but only because the data left me no alternative. It wasn't any ideal utopia, and as Ter Ellingson argues in The Myth of the Noble Savage, that ideal utopianism has rarely, if ever, actually been believed by anyone--rather, it's a straw man knocked down by those espousing a defeatist, Hobbesian nightmare of human nature that's been so assailed by the evidence of anthropology that it no longer has a leg to stand on. Human beings, in their natural habitat, are as content and well-adapted as any other animal. The stress of our "fallen" nature owes entirely to a recent, maladaptive shift in our pattern of life; not a universal shift, either, but certainly not speaking to any kind of innate nature. Ideal? No, but nobody said it was. Yes, in our "natural state" humans live "in balance" with the rest of the world around them, and there's one basic, undeniable fact that attests to the truth of that: we're still here. This isn't a question of ecological sainthood, but the basic requirements for existing in an ecological community. It's only taken 10,000 years to bring civiliation to the point of collapse, an incredibly swift destruction in evolutionary terms. Anything better than that--anything that has any kind of long-term potential at all--will look like ecological sainthood from our perspective, but that says more about how unsustainable our way of life is than anything else.

I don't see how compassionate behavior is any evidence that bonobos or elephants experience anything like human compassion. Human and animal emotions come from the same evolutionary source, so it is no surprise that they appear to us to be having the same experiences we are.

The only evidence I have that you're capable of compassion is to what extent I see you engage in compassionate behavior. Why shouldn't we treat non-human animals the same way? Why is it so vital to be so miserly with our empathy? Is it the hazard that we might react to the world as we experience it, that might not align with a philosophical "objective" reality that might or might not exist?

Death is but a game. Some children learn empathy but that's a part of growing up, not a natural gift.

You confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy is merely the ability to put yourself in another's place. If you know another lives and breathes and feels, you know how to hurt it--the same things that would hurt you. Empathy is what tells me where to hit you so it hurts. Empathy does not include gentleness, and hunting is not painless. You'll find that hunters' religions always revolve around the ideas of pain, sacrifice, and above all, price--nothing is ever free, and all life is paid with death. There's none of the "free lunches" you find in farmer's religion, whether by the Grace of Our Lord and Savior, or by the Limitless Potential of Human Intellect. Ideal? Absolutely not. But I didn't say anything about gentleness; I was talking about empathy, the source from which both gentleness and cruelty derive.

Besides, how old were these kids? Five? Six? Seven? Most children are thoroughly enculturated by that age. They know the bird is alive, but they've also been taught that their life is so much higher and more important that the bird's life is simply there to amuse them. Look at what we put into children's books and entertainment. They expect everything to be alive. They respond to "inanimate" objects as if they were animate. That's our unfiltered experience of the world. It takes a conscious effort of thought to filter our experience and say, "This thing is not alive, it just seems to be." Most adults will revert to animism under stress, too; we will plead with electronic gadgets that aren't working, or refer to a "cranky" door handle that doesn't want to work properly. You may think that a child's cruelty belies any possibility of animism, but that's simply mistaking what animism means. Animism is simply the recognition that everything around you is alive; whether and where that realization leads to gentleness or cruelty is another question altogether.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:34 AM on November 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


You confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy is merely the ability to put yourself in another's place.

Again, if you study a little developmental psychology or pay a bit closer attention, you'll find that empathy is not innate but is gained. A child starts out incapable of putting him or herself in another's place. Your interpretation is that these children were able to exercise cruelty because they were able to envision themselves as the bird. That is clearly unnecessary. One does not have to imagine him or herself as another to behave with cruelty or experience sympathy, and doing so is the surest road to the latter. Human habit is to be the most cruel towards others when they are seen as fundamentally different -- a barrier to putting onself in another's shoes. The moment we cannot say "there but for the grace of god (chance/fate) go I" cruelty is that much easier an option. Interspecies cruelty is a perfect example of that pattern.
posted by dreamsign at 9:42 AM on November 6, 2006


As an intellectual exercise, perhaps, but most empathy is far more reflexive. We don't need to sit down and consciously consider how we would feel in another's place, but we extend empathy regardless. As I mentioned above, the only way I know that you experience compassion is when I see you do something compassionate. I don't sit and think about what it would be like to be you at that moment; I don't have to. That empathy is reflexive and immediate. Without any conscious consideration, I put myself in your place, and conclude that you feel compassion because I've known what it's like to feel compassion, and how that motivates me to act compassionately.

Empathy is the only bridge we have out of our own heads. If a baby were truly incapable of empathy, it would never cry, because it would have no reason to think anyone or anything is out there that could, or would, do anything for it. But in our direct experience, there's nothing to indicate that other humans are worthy of empathy, but a tree or a stone or a brook is not. They present themselves to our experience as every bit as alive as other people. That's why we need to beat animism out of our children and teach them that only humans are truly alive. Otherwise, they'll go around being animists, assuming everything's just as alive as they are.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:56 AM on November 6, 2006


We'll have to agre to disagree there, jef. Babies cry because it works, not because of some innate intuition. Like object permanence, it is not something that is carried from birth. And knowing that another creature is suffering is not the same thing as being able (or willing) to put yourself in that person's shoes. You are the one engaged in the intellectual exercise -- where cruelty is a by-product of thinking how you would feel and pushing the right buttons. Most people are not so Machiavellian. If people really went around imagining themselves in the place of others, there would be a lot less hostility, a lot less violence. It would only partly solve the animal problem, however, because that's never totally been about lack of empathy -- children, the elderly, women and minorities at one time or another -- all have been subject to abuse partly due to lack of empathy and partly because they were powerless in society. Animals will remains so, and so their plight will remain.
posted by dreamsign at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2006


jefgodesky The fact that the Koyukon can literally speak with birds, by incorporating and understanding their calls, is quite telling, I think.
What would be telling is the birds speaking with us.

First, to kill for food is something you "abhor,"
Both morally and environmentally
Growing feed crops for animals, for humans to eat is massively inefficient and degrading to the environment. If we were to move to an entirely organic system, with no petroleum based products used at all, I'm not sure we could sustain anything like the western level of meat consumption. Vegetarianism is the rational choice, if the environment is of particular personal importance to someone, and it is to me.

but you kill something that anoys you?
The level of annoyance required, and the amount of effort I'm prepared to invest in alternative solutions, is directly proportional to the level of empathy I have for the fruit/house fly concerned. So far that's all I've deliberately killed. I've even occasionally had mice, but have always found a better solution than traps/poison. However the same logic would apply to dogs, horses and people. I know you probably think I'm a sentimental fool.

Who died and made you god?
There is no god/gods/ess. In a very real sense the welfare of this planet and every living thing on it, including each other, is in our hands alone. Humankind's demands from the land have increased from the first use of the first hand crafted tool. You have described the costs to the eco-system of our existance very well, do you recommend we continue to ignore our responsibilities? Or start acting now to preserve what we can. We could easily lose every large mammal, except for a few token survivors in zoos. I would hate that. Like it or not we are in charge.

Human beings, in their natural habitat, are as content and well-adapted as any other animal... . ...The stress of our "fallen" nature... . ..."natural state" humans live "in balance"... . ...10,000 years to bring civiliation to the point of collapse
This is the beginning of an ideology a faith system. There can be no real discussion here, because these are your beliefs.

we're still here
This we can agree on, but we are still here precisely because we have dominated everything else on the planet, turning much of it surface to our use, essentially out competing everything.
posted by econous at 11:48 AM on November 6, 2006


I think you're still investing this process with far too much conscious thought. If I truly had no empathy, and I wanted to hurt you, I might just as soon start jabbing empty air as slapping your face. I'd consider a punch to your stomach as effective as a knee in your groin or a kick to your shins. Because I have no empathy, I have no way of knowing what will hurt you and what won't. The fact that I know how to hurt you means I can put myself in your place.
posted by jefgodesky at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2006


jefgodesky btw thought your was site/blog pretty interesting, your writing there sort of reiminds me of the way Ray Mears talks.
posted by econous at 11:57 AM on November 6, 2006


What would be telling is the birds speaking with us.

And they do!

Growing feed crops for animals, for humans to eat is massively inefficient and degrading to the environment. If we were to move to an entirely organic system, with no petroleum based products used at all, I'm not sure we could sustain anything like the western level of meat consumption. Vegetarianism is the rational choice, if the environment is of particular personal importance to someone, and it is to me.

I thought we were talking about hunting? You said you "abhor hunting." What kind of bizarre hunting do you have in mind that involves growing feed crop?

In a very real sense the welfare of this planet and every living thing on it, including each other, is in our hands alone.

Depending on who all's included in "our," I might agree with you entirely, but I suspect you're only referring to human "ours."

Like it or not we are in charge.

I think it's the delusion of grandeur that "we are in charge" that lies at the root of the whole problem. We need to remember that we're not in charge, and start acting like it; learn to live as part of the world, rather than pretending to rule over it.

This is the beginning of an ideology a faith system. There can be no real discussion here, because these are your beliefs.

Not in the sense you mean; they're more conclusions.

This we can agree on, but we are still here precisely because we have dominated everything else on the planet, turning much of it surface to our use, essentially out competing everything.

What, because of the great threat of extinction posed by the Holocene? Even if we'd skipped that and continued living as we already had been for a million years, we'd still almost certainly be here. Even those foragers like the !Kung who are being pushed off their land and massacred by those of us who started raping the planet are still hanging on, despite the pressure we've placed on them. The human species now faces the very real threat of extinction because of what we've done to the planet we rely on, not in spite of it.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:00 PM on November 6, 2006


Sorry, I was responding to: First, to kill for food is something you "abhor," Hunting seems disgusting to me, pretty simple really. It is, however more honest then simply walking into McD. Sadly the general population seem to care less about conservation then hunters, who have a vested interest in it.

but I suspect you're only referring to human "ours."
Who's hands does the welfare of the planet rest in? Your not suggesting nature or god or something are you?

learn to live as part of the world, rather than pretending to rule over it.
I take it that you believe that human activity has been the cause of the environmental damage, animal population collapses and extinctions that we see around us. If so, it's up to us to change, if we want to reverse these effects. It's our decision. That puts humanity in charge, no?

Not in the sense you mean; they're more conclusions.
Well I can't read thirty essays right now. But I wonder how rigorous they are with the second in the list being titled: "Evolution is the result of diversity." do you mean that literally? In anycase you call conclusions I call them opinions.

Yes, in our with the rest of the world around them, and there's one basic, undeniable fact that attests to the truth of that: we're still here.

That we're still here doesn't attest to the idea that Yes, in our "natural state" humans live "in balance" with the rest of the world around them, and there's one basic, undeniable fact that attests to the truth of that: we're still here.. Unless you think we are living in balance, which you don't.

We are still here, 6 billion of us, because we have out competed everything else.

I get an odd feeling that we are speaking at cross purposes.
posted by econous at 1:38 PM on November 6, 2006


Who's hands does the welfare of the planet rest in? Your not suggesting nature or god or something are you?

The planet's a fairly self-regulating community, so the hands it rests in are pretty communal. Our idea of "nature" is a pretty Romantic construct, but yes, you could put it in those terms. I would rather put it in terms of the planet being in its own hands, and the sooner we lose this god complex of ours where we think it's in ours, the better, but even that isn't quite right. Ecology regulates itself--always has, that's why it was doing just fine and dandy for a billion years 'ere there was a single human soul. It does not need human stewardship--never has. In fact, the worst problems our ecologies now need to heal themselves of are the results of our "stewardship," and the hubristic notion that we're smarter than a billion years of evolution, and that our programs (including hunting) can do a better job of regulating ecologies than they can of regulating themselves.

I take it that you believe that human activity has been the cause of the environmental damage, animal population collapses and extinctions that we see around us. If so, it's up to us to change, if we want to reverse these effects. It's our decision. That puts humanity in charge, no?

I think that means, first and foremost, to stop doing so much damage, and that means relinquishing control. There might be some ways to help heal some of the damage we've caused--I have high hopes for permaculture, for instance--but first and foremost, we need to stop causing so much damage, and let our ecologies do what they do best: repair themselves.

Well I can't read thirty essays right now. But I wonder how rigorous they are with the second in the list being titled: "Evolution is the result of diversity." do you mean that literally? In anycase you call conclusions I call them opinions.

If you have diversity in a population, that population is going to evolve. Evolution is simply differential survival rates, so evolution is simply the result of having a diverse population. But I'd say that the difference between an opinion and a conclusion is that I've supplied the evidence and argument to back them up. I can appreciate that you don't have time to read them, but I don't see how you can cast aspersions as to their rigor in that case.

That we're still here doesn't attest to the idea that Yes, in our "natural state" humans live "in balance" with the rest of the world around them, and there's one basic, undeniable fact that attests to the truth of that: we're still here.. Unless you think we are living in balance, which you don't.

Burning down your house is a perfectly viable way to stay warm: for a few minutes. Even civilization can last for a measly 10,000 years, the same way that even burning down your house can provide a nice, cozy heat for a few minutes. But humans have been around for two million years--that's two hundred times longer than civilization has been around. So, if a genus emerges two million years ago, and it's still here today, then it absolutely must have at least that much ability to live with the rest of the world. The fact that civilization is eliminating itself after a mere 10,000 years is very strong, undeniable evidence of how grossly incapable it is in this critical regard.

We are still here, 6 billion of us, because we have out competed everything else.

We are still here, 6 billion of us, because even the most egregious train wreck takes time to unfold.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:08 PM on November 6, 2006


but first and foremost, we need to stop causing so much damage
I can agree with that.

Evolution is the result of diversity
This is plain wrong, the diversity of species is a direct result of evolution. The title 'The Origin Of Species' should be a big clue.

If you have diversity in a population, that population is going to evolve.
No reason to expect that not to be case. But we need to ask: how did that diversity originate? As far as your above statement is correct then so is: "If you have zero diversity in a population, that population is going to evolve". Obviously it may evolve rather than definitely will, in both cases. The point here is that diversity is wholly irrelevant, you only need a population. Even a population of one is enough.

Evolution is simply differential survival rates, so evolution is simply the result of having a diverse population.
It's not survival rates that matter here, only reproductive success. Random mutations that improve reproduction will be selected for. You need to go back to the library on this one.

I said: We are still here, 6 billion of us, because we have out competed everything else.
You replied: We are still here, 6 billion of us, because even the most egregious train wreck takes time to unfold.


We seem to agree that humans in their continued spread have out competed anything that stood in the way, leaving the environment in its current state. I think, where we part company, is that you see the process as being irreversible a train wreck in progress. I see it as being manageable, bit of an optimist.
posted by econous at 2:58 PM on November 7, 2006


This is plain wrong, the diversity of species is a direct result of evolution.

Evolution creates more biological diversity, but there was already diversity before evolution began: a diversity of chemicals and molecular compounds. Each chemical reaction had a certain probability of occurring, but once a chemical reaction that created more of itself eventually came about, the probability of it coming around again was 1. That was the beginning of evolution, and it happened because of diversity. Evolution happens because there's diversity in a population—lwhether of organisms or just chemical reactions. Some have a better chance of propogating themselves than others, and so become more represented. That's all evolution is—the natural end result of diversity.

But we need to ask: how did that diversity originate? As far as your above statement is correct then so is: "If you have zero diversity in a population, that population is going to evolve". Obviously it may evolve rather than definitely will, in both cases. The point here is that diversity is wholly irrelevant, you only need a population. Even a population of one is enough.

If you have a population with zero diversity, it is not going to evolve unless and until it reproduces with differences, i.e., unless and until it acquires some diversity. Evolution is not the only process that creates diversity; it only creates diversity among populations of things that reproduce themselves, and then only if it has some amount of diversity to start with. Evolution starts with diversity and uses it to create greater diversity.

It's not survival rates that matter here, only reproductive success. Random mutations that improve reproduction will be selected for. You need to go back to the library on this one.

I think you do. Survival rates have everything to do with evolution; if you have a million babies you have great reproductive success. If they all die before they breed, you have had no impact on evolution whatsoever. It's not just random mutations that improve reproduction that are selected for; have you never heard of r-K selection?

We seem to agree that humans in their continued spread have out competed anything that stood in the way, leaving the environment in its current state. I think, where we part company, is that you see the process as being irreversible a train wreck in progress. I see it as being manageable, bit of an optimist.

Kind of like how the reindeer on St. Matthew's Island out-competed anything that stood in their way. It's a classic case of overshoot. You may see it as being manageable, but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts I've already refuted your reasons in the aforementioned Thirty Theses.

Only one of two things can happen—either our society will continue to grow, or it won't. If it continues to grow, it will hit the limits for its growth in diminishing marginal returns even if we don't hit any resource walls, and stop growing. If it ever stops growing, since the system is unstable, it collapses, because our society is dependent on perpetual growth. It comes down to one basic question: can you grow forever?
posted by jefgodesky at 8:08 AM on November 9, 2006


Evolution creates more biological diversity.

Well, jefgodesky, exactly.
posted by econous at 4:36 AM on November 17, 2006


« Older Insurance Transparency Project   |   Hook, Line, and Sestina Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post