Archive for the ‘People’ Category
New studies indicate the complex language used by animals.
There is so much of interest ‘out there’ that one could spend every hour of the day just reading and learning. Here’s a wonderful example.
Via a route that now escapes me, recently I came across a report entitled, The ABC’s of animal speech: Not so random after all. It was published on the PHYS.ORG website and knowing the leanings of readers of Learning from Dogs, I am confident that republishing it will be of interest to many.
Aug 20th, 2014
The calls of many animals, from whales to wolves, might contain more language-like structure than previously thought, according to study that raises new questions about the evolutionary origins of human language.
The study, published today [August 20th] in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analyzed the vocal sequences of seven different species of birds and mammals and found that the vocal sequences produced by the animals appear to be generated by complex statistical processes, more akin to human language.
Many species of animals produce complex vocalizations – consider the mockingbird, for example, which can mimic over 100 distinct song types of different species, or the rock hyrax, whose long string of wails, chucks and snorts signify male territory. But while the vocalizations suggest language-like characteristics, scientists have found it difficult to define and identify the complexity.
Typically, scientists have assumed that the sequence of animal calls is generated by a simple random process, called a “Markov process.” Using the Markov process to examine animal vocalization means that the sequence of variables—in this case, the vocal elements—is dependent only on a finite number of preceding vocal elements, making the process fairly random and far different from the complexity inherent in human language.
Yet, assuming a Markov process exists raises questions about the evolutionary path of animal language to human language—if animal vocal sequences are Markovian, how did human language evolve so quickly from its animal origins?
In this Science Minute from NIMBioS, Dr. Arik Kershenbaum explains new research that suggests the calls of many animals might contain more language-like structure than previously thought. Credit: NIMBioS
Indeed, the study found no evidence for a Markovian process. The researchers used mathematical models to analyze the vocal sequences of chickadees, finches, bats, orangutans, killer whales, pilot whales and hyraxes, and found most of the vocal sequences were more consistent with statistical models that are more complex than Markov processes and more language-like.
Human language uses what’s called “context-free grammars,” whereby certain grammatical rules apply regardless of the context, whereas animal language uses simple or “regular” grammar, which is much more restrictive. The Markov process is the most common model used to examine animal vocal sequences, which assumes that a future occurrence of a vocal element is entirely determined by a finite number of past vocal occurrences.
The findings suggests there may be an intermediate step on the evolutionary path between the regular grammar of animal communication and the context-free grammar of human language that has not yet been identified and explored.
“Language is the biggest difference that separates humans from animals evolutionarily, but multiple studies are finding more and more stepping stones that seem to bridge this gap. Uncovering the process underlying vocal sequence generation in animals may be critical to our understanding of the origin of language,” said lead author Arik Kershenbaum, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis.
Explore further: Bird study finds key info about human speech-language development
More information: Kershenbaum A, Bowles A, Freeburg T, Dezhe J, Lameira A, Bohn K. 2014. Animal vocal sequences: Not the Markov chains we thought they were. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or… .1098/rspb.2014.1370
Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B
If you wanted a reminder to be careful about what you say in front of the animals, then that study underlines that in spades, as does the closing picture!
(Thanks neighbour Dordie for sending it to me!)
This will take your breath away.
Yesterday, I read the latest from TomDispatch, an essay entitled Eduardo Galeano, A Lost and Found History of Lives and Dreams (Some Broken).
I wasn’t sure if I had vaguely heard of Eduardo Galeano before but whatever, I had no idea of the power and beauty of his writings and was simply blown away when reading them. As Tom introduced the writings:
Who isn’t a fan of something — or someone? So consider this my fan’s note. To my mind, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano is among the greats of our time. His writing has “it” — that indefinable quality you can’t describe but know as soon as you read it. He’s created a style that combines the best of journalism, history, and fiction and a form for his books that, as far as I know, has no name but involves short bursts of almost lyrical reportage, often about events long past. As it turns out, he also carries “it” with him. I was his English-language book editor years ago and can testify to that, even though on meeting him you might not initially think so. He has nothing of the showboat about him. In person, he’s almost self-effacing and yet somehow he brings out in others the urge to tell stories as they’ve never told them before.
Despite Tom’s blanket permission to republish his essays, I’m not going to do so in this case, there’s a small niggle in the back of my mind that the copyright issues are rightfully protecting Mr. Galeano’s publishing rights.
So just going to offer this single extract and trust that you will go here and read Tom’s full essay: please do!
Century of Disaster
Riddles, Lies, and Lives — from Fidel Castro and Muhammad Ali to Albert Einstein and Barbie
By Eduardo Galeano
[The following passages are excerpted from Eduardo Galeano’s history of humanity, Mirrors (Nation Books).]
The Berlin Wall made the news every day. From morning till night we read, saw, heard: the Wall of Shame, the Wall of Infamy, the Iron Curtain…
In the end, a wall which deserved to fall fell. But other walls sprouted and continue sprouting across the world. Though they are much larger than the one in Berlin, we rarely hear of them.
Little is said about the wall the United States is building along the Mexican border, and less is said about the barbed-wire barriers surrounding the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the African coast.
Practically nothing is said about the West Bank Wall, which perpetuates the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and will be 15 times longer than the Berlin Wall. And nothing, nothing at all, is said about the Morocco Wall, which perpetuates the seizure of the Saharan homeland by the kingdom of Morocco, and is 60 times the length of the Berlin Wall.
Why are some walls so loud and others mute?
See what I mean!
There is much more about Eduardo Galeano on the web as these two following links prove.
Eduardo Galeano is regarded as one of Latin America’s fiercest voices of social conscience. Yet he insists that language — its secrets, mysteries, and masks — always comes first.
November 30, 2000
“The division of labor among nations,” Eduardo Galeano proclaimed in the opening sentence of Open Veins of Latin America, “is that some specialize in winning and others in losing.” A native of Uruguay who was forced into exile under the country’s military regime during the 1970s, Galeano has always identified with the losing side. Open Veins, originally published in Mexico in 1971, employed captivating, elegiac prose to chronicle five centuries of plunder and imperialism in Latin America. Radically different in style, though not in content, from Marxist-oriented “dependency theory” of the 1960s — which held that Latin America had been systematically marginalized by the world economy since the colonial era — Open Veins quickly became a canonical text in radical circles, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the Southern Hemisphere. In a period of social upheaval, guerrilla warfare, and dictatorship, the book, composed in three months of intense labor, was routinely treated as samizdat: when Open Veins was banned by the Pinochet regime, a young woman fled Chile with the book stashed in her infant’s diapers.
Going to close by musing on the fact that in today’s visual, technological age, the sharing of words, in all ways, shapes and sizes, across so many parts of our global society, is a pure miracle. Such creativity out there!
Yet another positive sign.
Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post The power of hope comes this wonderful story about the increasing population of wolves in Europe. I can’t recall what led me to the item in the UK’s Guardian newspaper but this is what I read:
Incredible journey: one wolf’s migration across Europe
Slavc is a wolf. In 2011, he began an epic 2,000 kilometre migration across Europe from Slovenia to Italy via the Austrian Alps. Several months earlier, he had been fitted with a collar that allowed his movements to be tracked in incredible detail. I talked to Hubert Potočnik, the biologist whose work made this possible.
Every year, Hubert Potočnik and his colleagues at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia capture and collar a number of wolves in order to get a handle on the movements of these much-misunderstood creatures. In July 2011, he collared a young male that became known as Slavc. In June, I spoke to Potočnik for a feature that appears in New Scientist this week and he told me about Slavc’s extraordinary journey across Europe. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview …
HN: After you captured and collared Slavc in July 2011, he stayed with his pack for several months. Then, on 19 December 2011, he began to move. How did you know?
HP: We knew something was different because the GPS points showed that he had crossed two large motorways far outside of his natural territory.
Tell me about these collars. How do they work?
The collar is equipped with three types of different technology. It has a GPS receiver, a GSM modem to send SMS and also with a VHF radio transmitter as a back-up. We programme all our wolves to send a GPS signal every three hours, so we get about seven locations a day to give us continuous location sampling data.
To read the rest of this fascinating article then you will need to go here. Please do so as the article is breathtakingly interesting. It closes, thus:
HN: How would you sum up this experience?
There are lots of data about long-distance dispersal of wolves but there are very few cases where we have had the opportunity to follow an animal in such detail. Following Slavc across Europe offered a rare insight into the secret life of the wolf. It was one of the most amazing events in my life.
A quick web search came across this short but wonderful video; albeit without sound.
Published on Aug 26, 2013
Two wolf cubs were documented in Lessinia Regional Nature Park on August 7, 2013. At the end of the video it is possible to partially see an adult wolf, the mother of the cubs, that was recognized as Giulietta. Giulietta and Slavc became famous because they brought together two wolf populations that were separated for over 150 years. Wolf Slavc originates from the Dinaric-Balkan wolf population and was collared in Slovenia. He travelled over 1500km over Austria to Italy, where he met Giulietta, originating from the wolf population from the western Alps (Piemonte region).
source: Parco Naturale Regionalle Della Lessinia
Funny how things happen.
Yesterday evening we had close friend Don Reeve staying with us. To put this into context, it was Don and his wife, Suzann, who in 2007 invited me to spend Christmas with them at their Winter home down in San Carlos, Mexico. That, in turn, led me to meeting Jean, Suzann’s best friend, and look where that got me! :-)
(Can’t resist adding that Jean and I were born in London, some 23 miles from each other!)
Thus you can understand the pleasure it was for Jean and me again to see Don; albeit for a brief overnight stay.
What was an extra, unanticipated pleasure was meeting a young, rescue dog that Don had adopted in recent weeks. Her name is Margarita and she was found and rescued by Suzann from the streets in San Carlos. What was so glorious was to see the love and hope for a better future that flowed between Don and the sweet, young Margarita. It resonated so perfectly well with Suzan’s post published here on Monday: Rescued dogs are life-savers.
By the time I sat down at my desk yesterday, I was conscious of a) not having a clue as to what to write, and b) inspired by the sense of hope that dogs offer us humans. Serendipitously, the theme of hope led me to a post written by Jennifer Broudy de Hernandez over on her Transition Times blog. It was called Warriors for the Planet and was the most beautiful essay.
I’m delighted to reblog that here with Jennifer’s approval.
Warriors for the Planet
Another summer, another war. I wonder how many summers there have been in the last 5,000 years when human beings were not occupied with killing each other?
Correction: not “human beings,” “men.”
Let’s be frank: even though there may be women in the armed forces of many countries now, war still remains a masculine activity and preoccupation. The women who serve as soldiers must adhere to the masculine warrior code and become honorary “bros,” for whom the worst insult is still be called a “girl” or a “pussy.”
I have been reading Anne Baring’s magisterial book The Dream of the Cosmos, in which she gives a detailed account of the shift, around the time of Gilgamesh, from the ancient, goddess- and nature-worshipping “lunar cultures” to the contemporary era of solar, monotheistic, warrior-worshipping cultures.
In her elaboration of this shift, I read the tragedy of our time, enacted over and over again all over the planet, and not just by humans against humans, but also by humans against the other living beings with whom we share our world. I quote at length from Baring’s remarkable book:
“The archetype of the solar hero as warrior still exerts immense unconscious influence on the modern male psyche, in the battlefield of politics as well as that of corporate business and even the world of science and academia: the primary aim of the male is to achieve, to win and, if necessary, to defeat other males. The ideal of the warrior has become an unconscious part of every man’s identity from the time he is a small child.
“With the mythic theme of the cosmic battle between good and evil and the indoctrination of the warrior went the focus on war and territorial conquest. War has been endemic throughout the 4000 years of the solar era. The glorification of war and conquest and the exaltation of the warrior is a major theme of the solar era—still with us today in George W. Bush’s words in 2005: ‘We will accept no outcome except victory.’ This call to victory echoes down the centuries, ensuring that hecatombs of young warriors were sacrificed to the god of war, countless millions led into captivity and slavery, countless women raped and widows left destitute. It has sanctioned an ethos that strives for victory at no matter what cost in human lives and even today glorifies war and admires the warrior leader. This archaic model of tribal dominance and conquest has inflicted untold suffering on humanity and now threatens our very survival as a species.
“The cosmic battle between light and darkness was increasingly projected into the world and a fascination with territorial conquest gripped the imagination and led to the creation of vast empires. It is as if the heroic human ego, identified with the solar hero, had to seek out new territories to conquer, had to embody the myth in a literal sense and as it did so, channel the primitive territorial drives of the psyche into a Dionysian orgy of unbridled conquest, slaughter and destruction. We hear very little about the suffering generated by these conquests: the weeping widows, the mothers who lost sons, the orphaned children and the crops and patterns of sowing and harvesting devastated and disrupted by the foraging armies passing over them, the exquisite works of art pillaged and looted….The long chronicle of conquest and human sacrifice, of exultation in power and the subjugation of enemies might truly be named the dark shadow of the solar age” (118;124).
Like Baring, I see our time as a critical era in the long history of homo sapiens on the planet. There is still hope that enough of us will be able to detach ourselves from the pressures and busyness of our lives—will become conscious of what is happening to the planet and human civilization writ large—will understand that there are other ways to relate to each other and to the Earth, ways that will seem increasingly possible and obvious once we focus on them and begin to put our energies into manifesting our visions of a creative, collaborative, respectful mode of being.
Baring ends her disturbing chapter on the ascendancy of the solar warrior culture with a hopeful quote from The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas, from which she springs into her own positive vision of the potential of our time.
“’We stand at the threshold of a revelation of the nature of reality that could shatter our most established beliefs about ourselves and the world. The very constriction we are experiencing is part of the dynamic of our imminent release. For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life; to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously.’
“As this deep soul-impulse gathers momentum, the ‘marriage’ of the re-emerging lunar consciousness with the dominant solar one is beginning to change our perception of reality. This gives us hope for the future. If we can recover the values intrinsic to the ancient participatory way of knowing without losing the priceless evolutionary attainment of a strong and focused ego, together with all the discoveries we have made and the skills we have developed, we could heal both the fissure in our soul and our raped and vandalized planet” (130-131).
My heart aches for the suffering of the innocent civilians trapped in the crossfire in Gaza this summer, and for the grieving families of the passenger plane heinously shot down by warriors who were either poorly trained or just plain evil.
I am heartsick when I think about the holocaust that is overtaking living beings on every quadrant of our planet as humans continue to ravage the forests and seas, to melt the poles with our greenhouse gases, and to poison the aquifers and soil with our chemicals.
This is where the solar cultures, with their “great” warrior kings, have led us. And yet, as Baring says, they have also presided over the most amazing advances in science and technology that humans have ever known in our long history on the planet.
We don’t need or want to go back to the simple innocence of ancient lunar societies. We don’t have to bomb ourselves back into the Stone Age.
What we need is to go forward, wisely and joyously, into a new phase of consciousness, in which the masculine warrior spirit is used for protection and stewardship rather than destruction, and the Earth is honored as the Mother of all that she is.
Never let anyone tell you it can’t be done. It is already happening.
May I tempt you to go back and re-read that penultimate paragraph. A sentence that I cannot resist emphasising:
What we need is to go forward, wisely and joyously, into a new phase of consciousness, in which the masculine warrior spirit is used for protection and stewardship rather than destruction, and the Earth is honored as the Mother of all that she is.
The power of hope!
It is the differences between us that are to be praised.
On the 10th August, Alex Jones, he of The Liberated Way, published a post under the title of Wisdom comes out of calm. I read it and approved of the sentiments expressed. Here’s a flavour of what Alex wrote:
My attitude towards dogs, and everything I do, is it is better to act in harmony with my world than impose violent control upon it. Nature is my teacher, and calm is one of its teachings. Calm is the sister of patience and tolerance, letting nature flow at its own pace and in its own way. When I planted acorns, I was unable to force them to grow, they acted in their own timing, at their own pace. I am like a parent rather than the master of eight strong oak saplings. I provide my saplings with opportunity through water, sun and good soil; protecting them from caterpillar and fungus; they follow their own nature in becoming fast growing little trees.
Well, Paul, the entire essay answered why it’s wrong to equate calm with wisdom, as Alex does. If it was only him, it would be an interesting quirk. However, it’s pretty much a mass mood.
That philosophy of boiled vegetable leaves the plutocrats free to do a home run, home being, for them, hell. Part of the program is biospheric annihilation.
I didn’t agree with Patrice and my immediate reaction was try and take sides. Yet both writers were the authors of many fine essays. What to do? As I expressed to Alex:
I have read both posts and, frankly, are bemused. It feels as though each is describing something utterly different to the other. I have a number of hours of electrical work today but will also give the matter a ‘coating of thought’ while working and offer my humble conclusions later on.
Serendipitously, the answered then arrived.
I’m about a third of the way through an audio course on Building Great Sentences delivered by Professor Brooks Landon, Professor at the University of Iowa English Department. Professor Landon talks about style and how difficult it is to define a particular author’s style.
It was at that moment that a flashbulb went off in my mind. Wouldn’t literature be incredibly plain and boring if there were no real differences in the styles of all the many authors; past and present!
It brought me back to Patrice and Alex and, by default, hundreds of other authors of blogs right across the ‘blogosphere’. Of course they express themselves differently! Of course they hold different opinions! It is those differences that are critical, utterly so, to each and every reader coming to their own conclusions; conclusions to a wide range of subjects and topics.
This was hammered home to me as I watched our dogs playing so well together. The differences in each dog’s backgrounds and experiences contributed to the wonderful, unconditional way that they played and lived together. The power of their unconditional love.
It is those differences that offer us insight into our own beliefs and prejudices. It is those differences that allow us, and dogs, to make sense of ourselves. One might argue that it is the differences that deliver truth.
That feels much better! :-)
Some people just keep going.
In last week’s picture parade, I featured my mother swimming up at Secesh Reservoir near Wolf Creek. There were many lovely comments and it made my mother’s day to read all your kind words. I also mentioned that my mother was determined to take a swim in our nearby Rogue River and that it would be featured in today’s picture parade.
So here are those pictures.
Matson Park is not far from Grants Pass here in Oregon and has the great advantage of offering a beach, albeit a stony beach, that makes entry into the water easier.
Jean had to lend my mother her shoes as the river bed was pretty stony.
Luckily the lack of recent rains meant that the river was flowing much more gently than would be usual.
Yet even with the low volume of water flowing by, the current was a good three to four miles-per-hour and Mum was only able to stay local to us by vigorously swimming upstream.
Very soon it made sense to return to the beach. What a remarkable lady she is!
Soon the day came round for Mum to return to London. This picture was taken just before we left for Medford Airport.
Finally, to close today’s post, here’s a photograph of Mum’s Great Uncle. Believed to have been taken around 1930, Uncle Foreman was the baker in the small village of West Malling in Kent, South-East England.
Fear for the future is driving change.
Apologies again for today’s post being largely the republication of other essays but looking after our guests is, as it should be, taking first priority.
Just as yesterday’s post, the essay by Alex Jones, offered hope, so do today’s items.
Will the Pacific Northwest be a Climate Refuge Under Global Warming?
As global warming takes hold later in the century, where will be the best place in the lower 48 states to escape its worst effects?
A compelling case can be made that the Pacific Northwest will be one of the best places to live as the earth warms. A potential climate refuge.
and offers this conclusion:
So what conclusion does one inevitably reach by studying the IPCC reports, the U.S. Climate Assessment, and the climate literature?
- The Northwest is the place to be during global warming.
- Temperatures will rise more slowly than most of the nation due to the Pacific Ocean (see below)
- We will have plenty of precipitation, although the amount falling as snow will decline (will fall as rain instead). But we can deal with that by building more reservoir and dam capacity (and some folks on the eastern slopes of the Cascades have proposed to do exactly that).
- The Pacific Ocean will keep heat waves in check and we don’t get hurricanes.
- Sea level rise is less of a problem for us due to our substantial terrain and the general elevation rise of our shorelines. Furthermore, some of our land is actually RISING relatively to the sea level because we are still recovering from the last ice age (the heavy ice sheets pushed the land down and now it is still rebounding).
- There is no indication that our major storms…cyclone-based winds (like the Columbus Day Storm)… will increase under global warming.
- Increased precipitation may produce more flooding, but that will be limited to river valleys and can be planned for with better river management and zoning.
The second item was this:
Antarctica’s Point of No Return
POTSDAM – Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.
What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.
There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.
Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.
The full article may be read here.
So why do I say that these articles offer hope?
Simply, because the quicker that the awareness of the critical challenges ahead becomes widespread knowledge, right around the world, the quicker that there will be political movements to change our relationship with our planet.
It’s never about not needing governments, it’s always about needing the right sort of governments.