RIO DE JANEIRO — High above this Brazilian city, in a jungle blanketing a mountain, the turtles were out, and the scene was hopeful.
Scientists were reintroducing 15 mud-caked tortoises to this urban forest where they had once been plentiful. Children were running around. People were oohing and aahing. A stern-looking security guard appeared to briefly smile.
But not government biologist Katyucha Silva. She was thinking about dogs.
What would they do to these turtles? What were they doing to Brazil?
It’s a question more researchers are beginning to ask in a country where there are more dogs than children — and where dogs are quickly becoming the most destructive predator. They’re invading nature preserves and national parks. They’re forming packs, some 15 dogs strong, and are hunting wild prey. They’ve muscled out native predators such as foxes and big cats in nature preserves, outnumbering pumas 25 to 1 and ocelots 85 to 1.
Every year, they become still more plentiful, spreading diseases, disrupting natural environments, goosing scientists who set up elaborate camera systems to photograph wild animals, only to come away with pictures of curious canines.
“It’s a difficult thing for people to hear,” said Isadora Lessa, a Rio de Janeiro biologist who wrote her doctoral dissertation on domestic dogs causing environmental mayhem. “They love dogs too much.”
How the dog became one of the world’s most harmful invasive mammalian predators is as much a global story as a Brazilian one. Over the last century, as the human population exploded, so did the dog population, growing to an estimated 1 billion.
That has been great for people — and even better for dogs — but less so for nature, according to a growing body of academic research implicating canines, particularly the free-roaming ones, in environmental destruction.
“The global impacts of domestic dogs on wildlife are grossly underestimated,” researchers concluded in a 2017 study published in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers, based in Australia, convicted dogs in the extinction of 11 species and declared them the third-most-damaging mammal, behind only cats and rodents.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a list of animals whose numbers dogs are culling. There are 191, and more than half are classified as either endangered or vulnerable. They range from lowly iguanas to the famed Tasmanian devil, from doves to monkeys, a diversity of animals with nothing in common beyond the fact that dogs enjoy killing them. In New Zealand, the organization reported, a single German shepherd once did in as many as 500 kiwis — and that was the conservative estimate.
“Unfortunately, we have a big problem,” said Piero Genovesi, chair of the agency’s invasive species unit. “There is a growing number of dogs.”
People all over the world are — begrudgingly — beginning to take note.
And in Brazil, atop a mountain outside of Rio de Janeiro, 15 tortoises were nestling into the forest floor, oblivious to the danger of the forest’s leading predator.
‘A complex problem’
And in Brazil, atop a mountain outside of Rio de Janeiro, 15 tortoises were nestling into the forest floor, oblivious to the danger of the forest’s leading predator.
Brazil is home to an estimated 52 million dogs, according to the most recent government statistics — more than anywhere in Latin America — but their lives vary widely. In a nation defined by inequality, where the rich fly in helicopters over the poor in the favelas below, the dog has become one more way of understanding the divide.
In wealthy cities, the dog is everywhere, strolling through fancy shopping malls, sitting in the laps of restaurant patrons, even riding paddle boards out on the surf. Some people wheel their dogs around in little strollers.
“The dog brings to Brazilians some things that Brazilians appreciate in themselves,” said Alexandre Rossi, a television personality more commonly known as Dr. Pet. “To be friendly, to want to socialize with everyone . . . and be there and be close to your family. These are perceived as very good Brazilian qualities.”
On the streets of trendy Ipanema one recent afternoon, few people could believe that a dog — or at least their dog — could be much of predator.
“The dog is a friend!” sputtered Philipe Soares, the furball Bobby at his feet. “No, I’ve never thought of him that way.”
“Difficult to imagine,” said Carlos Alberto Vicente, peering down at his own pooch.
“In her case,” said Flavio Vilela, a shirtless man striding through a park with a small mutt named Nicoli, “they’d hunt her.”
The problem, researchers say, isn’t these dogs, who lead the coddled lives of European or American pets.
The problem is the dogs in poorer and more rural communities, where the life of the dog is more frequently the life of hunger. They prowl the streets day and night with neither a collar nor an owner, looking for food wherever it can be found — in trash heaps, alongside roads, and in forests and fields, where they form packs to hunt and kill.
“It’s a very complex problem,” said Silva, the government biologist.
A stunning discovery
Ana Maria Paschoal, a researcher at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, remembers when she first started thinking about the dog differently. She was out in the Atlantic Forest in Southeast Brazil around a decade ago when she noticed there were an awful lot of them.
She wondered: How many dogs are using the protected areas? Are these feral or domestic dogs? Is their presence changing the occurrence of wild species?
So she set up cameras across 2,400 acres of forest to find out. What she discovered, published in 2012 in the scientific journal Mammalia, stunned her.
“The presence of the domestic dog is a threat,” Paschoal and her co-authors concluded.
The research, subsequently confirmed in a larger survey, laid the groundwork for a growing field of study here. One researcher linked Brazil’s dogs to the spread of diseases. Another accused the dogs in the National Park of Brasilia, where they hunted in massive packs, of scaring off natural predators. It was found that the closer humans lived to a nature preserve, the more likely dogs had penetrated it.
But perhaps most striking? The dogs were neither feral nor domestic — but somewhere in between.
“All the dogs we detected had an ‘owner’ or a person that the animal has a bond with,” Paschoal said. “The species population increases following human populations, exacerbating their potential impact on wildlife.”
It was something Fernando Fernandez, an ecology professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, learned the hard way. For the last decade, he has been reintroducing native animals to the Tijuca forest, one of the world’s largest urban woodlands, which spills across Rio de Janeiro’s mountains.
First came the agouti, a squirrel-like rodent. Then followed a problem: “Dogs.”
They started killing the agouti, and not for food. It was just for fun.
Fernandez and Silva wanted to learn more. They set up cameras and discovered dozens of dogs in the forest. They estimated more than 100 dogs were in the park — not residents, it turned out, so much as frequent visitors, tracking in from nearby favelas.
“These are people who are very poor,” said Silva, who has six dogs at home. “They don’t have money to build walls. . . . When the owners leave for work, the dog leaves, too, and only returns when the owner comes back to the house from work.”
The owners often have no idea what their dogs are up to. Even if they were told, Rob Young said, they almost certainly wouldn’t believe it.
Young, chairman of wildlife conservation at the University of Salford in Britain, witnessed the psychology at work after seeing dogs kill flightless birds in the state of Minas Gerais.
“We’d do interviews with the farmers: ‘Have you seen these dogs?’
“And they’d say, ‘Yeah, but my dogs aren’t the problem; it’s my neighbor’s dogs.’
“Every farmer would say the same thing.”
These factors — inability to see aggression in dogs, intractable inequality, the rapid expansion of humanity — left Silva feeling apprehensive as she watched the tortoises being reintroduced into the Tijuca forest.
In the long term, she didn’t know how the problem of dogs laying waste to the world’s environments would realistically improve.
And in the short term: Could dogs kill these tortoises, just as they’d dispatched a few agouti?
“Yes,” she said. “They could.”
It’s a tough read and there doesn’t appear to be a solution, not in the short-term at least.
As was reported in the article it is as much a global problem with something of the order of a billion dogs roaming the planet.
Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s a match of dog and human.
Today, Tuesday, Jean and I went to visit one of the retirement homes in town. The woman who saw us at this particular one, Cindy, was a dog lover and had two dogs. But while we toured the home and saw this and that all three of us were much more interested in speaking about our dogs.
It came to mind while we were talking about our dogs, and remarking how we loved them and how life wouldn’t be the same without them, that dogs occupy a place in our hearts that is so special. Now it’s not unique; cats and horses to some are also special. (And there are some dog owners who don’t really endear themselves to their dogs.)
But there’s something about the dog that for most people is magical.
This came to mind when I was reading this post; something magical about the humble dog. Taken from The Dodo.
Frightened Shelter Dog Completely Transforms When She Meets Her New Human Brother
After Tricia Carter and her family lost their beloved dog Bailey back in November, it was hard to imagine another dog could ever take her place. But when Carter’s friend texted her pictures of a sweet pit bull/bulldog mix, just like Bailey, at their local shelter, she decided maybe her family was ready to adopt again.
The shelter didn’t know much about the dog’s past except that she’d passed through more than one shelter, and that she was likely used for breeding by her previous owner and cast aside once she was no longer useful. The poor dog, named Lola, seemed defeated as she came out to meet Carter, but Carter could tell that she was so sweet and just needed to find the right family to love her.
“She had a very quiet, calm nature at the shelter,” Carter said. “Didn’t really react one way or another to other dogs, seemed to hang her head for the most part.”
Poor Lola had already been adopted and returned to the shelter once before, and after meeting her, Carter knew she wanted to give her a chance. The official deciding factor would be if Lola got along well with her teenage son. Two hours later, Carter headed back to the shelter with her son — and as soon as the pair met, Lola’s demeanor completely changed. It was as if this was the person she had been waiting for all along.
“The moment she looked into his eyes, they both fell in love,” Carter said. “She had the biggest grin and it hasn’t gone away since.”
It was such a beautiful moment, and no one could believe how much the pair connected right away. Carter immediately made the adoption official, and sweet Lola couldn’t stop smiling the whole car ride home.
Lola arrived in her new home and settled in immediately, and slept the whole night with Carter’s son. The next day, her personality really started to shine through, and it was as if she knew she had finally found a place to stay forever.
To this day, Carter’s son is still Lola’s absolute favorite person, and she spends most of her time snuggled up with him. She also loves playing with the family’s other two dogs, and seems to feel more like a part of the pack every day. At the shelter, poor Lola could barely lift her head, but now she’s found exactly where she belongs, and she’s never looking back.
“She’s so happy and fun-loving — I can’t help but smile every time I’m around her,” Carter said. “No matter what her backstory might be, she’s a sweet girl who just wants to love, play and be loved.”
And there’s something more to this story of love and friendship – we can only guess at what the dog is thinking.
For sure this dog is very happy, and shows it, but for an animal that for years and years has bonded so closely with us we really don’t understand what’s going on.
An incident yesterday serves as an introduction to today’s post.
I went biking yesterday morning.
I decided to go down Azalea Drive to the end and return the same way; a total of 19.5 miles.
Now about 2 miles into my return I came across a dog playing in the road. Azalea Drive is a pretty busy road and as I approached the dog I had to wave down cars. Soon I was up to it and I noticed it wasn’t wearing a collar but it looked well-fed. It was incredibly friendly and came instantly up to me and allowed me to caress it around its head and ears. It was a black Labrador.
Now not wanting to leave it and the two gates alongside where I was, on the same right-hand side of the road, being padlocked shut I decided to walk a good half-mile down an opposite drive to find someone. I was pushing the bike in my righthand and the dog was walking very happily by my left leg. Eventually I got to the house and rang the bell. Pat and Earl came to the door; it wasn’t their dog as evidenced by the barking of their own dogs. Pat suggested trying the next house South. I left my bike there and Pat gave me a leash to walk the dog with.
So the dog and I walked back down the drive and up the next driveway South. I knocked on the front door. Several people came to the door. It wasn’t their dog either but a young man kindly offered to take the dog and return it to the property where it lived across the road. Apparently it wasn’t the first time that this had happened; the owners worked all day and the dog had found a gap in the fence.
So I left the beautiful Lab with the young man, thanked him profusely and walked the three-quarters of a mile back to fetch my bike. Thinking that some people didn’t deserve such a beautiful dog!
As a group of road workers were collecting trash along a highway in Dutchess County, New York, they suddenly heard barking. They were basically in the middle of nowhere, and couldn’t imagine why a dog would be wandering around there. Still, they knew they had to investigate, and so they followed the barking — and found a dog tied to a tree, deep in the woods away from the highway.
The workers were shocked to find the poor dog tied to the tree, away from where anyone could have spotted him, and he was just as shocked — and overjoyed — to see them too.
“He was very happy and excited to see anyone,” Lynne Meloccaro, executive director of the Dutchess County SPCA, told The Dodo. “He had been there for quite a while in 100-plus [degree] weather. He’s clearly got a strong will to live.”
After the New York State Police were contacted, the very excited dog was taken in by the Dutchess County SPCA, who decided to name him Pesci. The staffers there were dumbfounded by how anyone could have abandoned such a happy, upbeat dog. Even after everything he’d been through, he was so thrilled to meet all of his new friends, and didn’t seem to be scared of people one bit.
“He is a very sweet soul,” Meloccaro said. “He’s happiest when he’s with people — he loves to play and get cuddles.”
Besides being dehydrated, Pesci was surprisingly healthy. He’s now thriving in the care of all his new rescue friends, and simply can’t get enough of all the love and attention he suddenly has. The police are now actively investigating how he came to be abandoned, so they can hold whoever did it responsible.
“That he was so far off the road suggests that whoever put him there did not intend for him to be found easily,” Meloccaro said.
Luckily, Pesci is safe now and is already so loved, and the shelter has a feeling he won’t have to wait long before he’s adopted into the best forever home.
“He will be ready for adoption very soon, and given the public interest in this case, I think he will find his forever home in a shorter amount of time than he spent tied to that tree,” Meloccaro said.
The contrast between the dog I found, or rather the owners, and Dutchess County SPCA is stark!
As I said some people have no right to a loving dog.
A deeply fascinating essay from an individual at the University of Oxford.
I have long read the daily output from The Conversation. It’s a very useful way of keeping one’s brain cells functioning in some sort of fashion.
Yesterday morning I read an essay put out by Thomas Moynihan, a PhD Candidate at the University of Oxford.
It was fascinating and I am republishing it here.
Now it’s not for everyone. It is also long and it also has a number of videos to watch. And there’s not a dog mentioned!
But if you are interested in where we, as in human beings, are ‘going’, so to speak, then this is for you.
And I’m ready to admit that it may be an age thing; something that is of much interest to me because I shall be 75 in November and one naturally wonders about the end of life. Both individually and of society!
The end of the world: a history of how a silent cosmos led humans to fear the worst.
It is 1950 and a group of scientists are walking to lunch against the majestic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. They are about to have a conversation that will become scientific legend. The scientists are at the Los Alamos Ranch School, the site for the Manhattan Project, where each of the group has lately played their part in ushering in the atomic age.
They are laughing about a recent cartoon in the New Yorker offering an unlikely explanation for a slew of missing public trash cans across New York City. The cartoon had depicted “little green men” (complete with antenna and guileless smiles) having stolen the bins, assiduously unloading them from their flying saucer.
By the time the party of nuclear scientists sits down to lunch, within the mess hall of a grand log cabin, one of their number turns the conversation to matters more serious. “Where, then, is everybody?”, he asks. They all know that he is talking – sincerely – about extraterrestrials.
Bin-stealing UFOs notwithstanding, humanity still hasn’t found any evidence of intelligent activity among the stars. Not a single feat of “astro-engineering”, no visible superstructures, not one space-faring empire, not even a radio transmission. It has beenargued that the eerie silence from the sky above may well tell us something ominous about the future course of our own civilisation.
Such fears are ramping up. Last year, the astrophysicist Adam Frank implored an audience at Google that we see climate change – and the newly baptised geological age of the Anthropocene – against this cosmological backdrop. The Anthropocene refers to the effects of humanity’s energy-intensive activities upon Earth. Could it be that we do not see evidence of space-faring galactic civilisations because, due to resource exhaustion and subsequent climate collapse, none of them ever get that far? If so, why should we be any different?
A few months after Frank’s talk, in October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s update on global warming caused a stir. It predicted a sombre future if we do not decarbonise. And in May, amid Extinction Rebellion’s protests, a new climate report upped the ante, warning: “Human life on earth may be on the way to extinction.”
Meanwhile, NASA has been publishing press releases about an asteroid set to hit New York within a month. This is, of course, a dress rehearsal: part of a “stress test” designed to simulate responses to such a catastrophe. NASA is obviously fairly worried by the prospect of such a disaster event – such simulations are costly.
Space tech Elon Musk has also been relaying his fears about artificial intelligence to YouTube audiences of tens of millions. He and others worry that the ability for AI systems to rewrite and self-improve themselves may trigger a sudden runaway process, or “intelligence explosion”, that will leave us far behind – an artificial superintelligence need not even be intentionally malicious in order to accidentally wipe us out.
In 2015, Musk donated to Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, headed up by transhumanist Nick Bostrom. Nestled within the university’s medieval spires, Bostrom’s institute scrutinises the long-term fate of humanity and the perils we face at a truly cosmic scale, examining the risks of things such as climate, asteroids and AI. It also looks into less well-publicised issues. Universe destroying physics experiments, gamma-ray bursts, planet-consuming nanotechnology and exploding supernovae have all come under its gaze.
So it would seem that humanity is becoming more and more concerned with portents of human extinction. As a global community, we are increasingly conversant with increasingly severe futures. Something is in the air.
But this tendency is not actually exclusive to the post-atomic age: our growing concern about extinction has a history. We have been becoming more and more worried for our future for quite some time now. My PhD research tells the story of how this began. No one has yet told this story, yet I feel it is an important one for our present moment.
I wanted to find out how current projects, such as the Future of Humanity Institute, emerge as offshoots and continuations of an ongoing project of “enlightenment” that we first set ourselves over two centuries ago. Recalling how we first came to care for our future helps reaffirm why we should continue to care today.
Extinction, 200 years ago
In 1816, something was also in the air. It was a 100-megaton sulfate aerosol layer. Girdling the planet, it was made up of material thrown into the stratosphere by the eruption of Mount Tambora, in Indonesia, the previous year. It was one of the biggest volcanic eruptions since civilisation emerged during the Holocene.
Almost blotting out the sun, Tambora’s fallout caused a global cascade of harvest collapse, mass famine, cholera outbreak and geopolitical instability. And it also provoked the first popular fictional depictions of human extinction. These came from a troupe of writers including Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley.
The group had been holidaying together in Switzerland when titanic thunderstorms, caused by Tambora’s climate perturbations, trapped them inside their villa. Here they discussed humanity’s long-term prospects.
Clearly inspired by these conversations and by 1816’s hellish weather, Byron immediately set to work on a poem entitled “Darkness”. It imagines what would happen if our sun died:
I had a dream, which was not all a dream
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air
Detailing the ensuing sterilisation of our biosphere, it caused a stir. And almost 150 years later, against the backdrop of escalating Cold War tensions, the Bulletin for Atomic Scientists again called upon Byron’s poem to illustrate the severity of nuclear winter.
Two years later, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (perhaps the first book on synthetic biology) refers to the potential for the lab-born monster to outbreed and exterminate Homo sapiens as a competing species. By 1826, Mary went on to publish The Last Man. This was the first full-length novel on human extinction, depicted here at the hands of pandemic pathogen.
Beyond these speculative fictions, other writers and thinkers had already discussed such threats. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1811, daydreamed in his private notebooks about our planet being “scorched by a close comet and still rolling on – cities men-less, channels riverless, five mile deep”. In 1798, Mary Shelley’s father, the political thinker William Godwin, queried whether our species would “continue forever”?
While just a few years earlier, Immanuel Kant had pessimistically proclaimed that global peace may be achieved “only in the vast graveyard of the human race”. He would, soon after, worry about a descendent offshoot of humanity becoming more intelligent and pushing us aside.
Earlier still, in 1754, philosopher David Hume had declared that “man, equally with every animal and vegetable, will partake” in extinction. Godwin noted that “some of the profoundest enquirers” had lately become concerned with “the extinction of our species”.
In 1816, against the backdrop of Tambora’s glowering skies, a newspaper article drew attention to this growing murmur. It listed numerous extinction threats. From global refrigeration to rising oceans to planetary conflagration, it spotlighted the new scientific concern for human extinction. The “probability of such a disaster is daily increasing”, the article glibly noted. Not without chagrin, it closed by stating: “Here, then, is a very rational end of the world!”
Before this, we thought the universe was busy
So if people first started worrying about human extinction in the 18th century, where was the notion beforehand? There is enough apocalypse in scripture to last until judgement day, surely. But extinction has nothing to do with apocalypse. The two ideas are utterly different, even contradictory.
For a start, apocalyptic prophecies are designed to reveal the ultimate moral meaning of things. It’s in the name: apocalypse means revelation. Extinction, by direct contrast, reveals precisely nothing and this is because it instead predicts the end of meaning and morality itself – if there are no humans, there is nothing humanly meaningful left.
And this is precisely why extinction matters. Judgement day allows us to feel comfortable knowing that, in the end, the universe is ultimately in tune with what we call “justice”. Nothing was ever truly at stake. On the other hand, extinction alerts us to the fact that everything we hold dear has always been in jeopardy. In other words, everything is at stake.
Extinction was not much discussed before 1700 due to a background assumption, widespread prior to the Enlightenment, that it is the nature of the cosmos to be as full as moral value and worth as is possible. This, in turn, led people to assume that all other planets are populated with “living and thinking beings” exactly like us.
Although it only became a truly widely accepted fact after Copernicus and Kepler in the 16th and 17th centuries, the idea of plural worlds certainly dates back to antiquity, with intellectuals from Epicurus to Nicholas of Cusa proposing them to be inhabited with lifeforms similar to our own. And, in a cosmos that is infinitely populated with humanoid beings, such beings – and their values – can never fully go extinct.
In the 1660s, Galileo confidently declared that an entirely uninhabited or unpopulated world is “naturally impossible” on account of it being “morally unjustifiable”. Gottfried Leibniz later pronounced that there simply cannot be anything entirely “fallow, sterile, or dead in the universe”.
Along the same lines, the trailblazing scientist Edmond Halley (after whom the famous comet is named) reasoned in 1753 that the interior of our planet must likewise be “inhabited”. It would be “unjust” for any part of nature to be left “unoccupied” by moral beings, he argued.
Around the same time Halley provided the first theory on a “mass extinction event”. He speculated that comets had previously wiped out entire “worlds” of species. Nonetheless, he also maintained that, after each previous cataclysm “human civilisation had reliably re-emerged”. And it would do so again. Only this, he said could make such an event morally justifiable.
Later, in the 1760s, the philosopher Denis Diderot was attending a dinner party when he was asked whether humans would go extinct. He answered “yes”, but immediately qualified this by saying that after several millions of years the “biped animal who carries the name man” would inevitably re-evolve.
This is what the contemporary planetary scientist Charles Lineweaver identifies as the “Planet of the Apes Hypothesis”. This refers to the misguided presumption that “human-like intelligence” is a recurrent feature of cosmic evolution: that alien biospheres will reliably produce beings like us. This is what is behind the wrong-headed assumption that, should we be wiped out today, something like us will inevitably return tomorrow.
Back in Diderot’s time, this assumption was pretty much the only game in town. It was why one British astronomer wrote, in 1750, that the destruction of our planet would matter as little as “Birth-Days or Mortalities” do down on Earth.
This was typical thinking at the time. Within the prevailing worldview of eternally returning humanoids throughout an infinitely populated universe, there was simply no pressure or need to care for the future. Human extinction simply couldn’t matter. It was trivialised to the point of being unthinkable.
For the same reasons, the idea of the “future” was also missing. People simply didn’t care about it in the way we do now. Without the urgency of a future riddled with risk, there was no motivation to be interested in it, let alone attempt to predict and preempt it.
It was the dismantling of such dogmas, beginning in the 1700s and ramping up in the 1800s, that set the stage for the enunciation of Fermi’s Paradox in the 1900s and leads to our growing appreciation for our cosmic precariousness today.
But then we realised the skies are silent
In order to truly care about our mutable position down here, we first had to notice that the cosmic skies above us are crushingly silent. Slowly at first, though soon after gaining momentum, this realisation began to take hold around the same time that Diderot had his dinner party.
One of the first examples of a different mode of thinking I’ve found is from 1750, when the French polymath Claude-Nicholas Le Cat wrote a history of the earth. Like Halley, he posited the now familiar cycles of “ruin and renovation”. Unlike Halley, he was conspicuously unclear as to whether humans would return after the next cataclysm. A shocked reviewer picked up on this, demanding to know whether “Earth shall be re-peopled with new inhabitants”. In reply, the author facetiously asserted that our fossil remains would “gratify the curiosity of the new inhabitants of the new world, if there be any”. The cycle of eternally returning humanoids was unwinding.
In line with this, the French encyclopaedist Baron d’Holbach ridiculed the “conjecture that other planets, like our own, are inhabited by beings resembling ourselves”. He noted that precisely this dogma – and the related belief that the cosmos is inherently full of moral value – had long obstructed appreciation that the human species could permanently “disappear” from existence. By 1830, the German philosopher F W J Schelling declared it utterly naive to go on presuming “that humanoid beings are found everywhere and are the ultimate end”.
And so, where Galileo had once spurned the idea of a dead world, the German astronomer Wilhelm Olbers proposed in 1802 that the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt in fact constitutes the ruins of a shattered planet. Troubled by this, Godwin noted that this would mean that the creator had allowed part of “his creation” to become irremediably “unoccupied”. But scientists were soon computing the precise explosive force needed to crack a planet – assigning cold numbers where moral intuitions once prevailed. Olbers calculated a precise timeframe within which to expect such an event befalling Earth. Poets began writing of “bursten worlds”.
The cosmic fragility of life was becoming undeniable. If Earth happened to drift away from the sun, one 1780s Parisian diarist imagined that interstellar coldness would “annihilate the human race, and the earth rambling in the void space, would exhibit a barren, depopulated aspect”. Soon after, the Italian pessimist Giacomo Leopardi envisioned the same scenario. He said that, shorn of the sun’s radiance, humanity would “all die in the dark, frozen like pieces of rock crystal”.
Galileo’s inorganic world was now a chilling possibility. Life, finally, had become cosmically delicate. Ironically, this appreciation came not from scouring the skies above but from probing the ground below. Early geologists, during the later 1700s, realised that Earth has its own history and that organic life has not always been part of it. Biology hasn’t even been a permanent fixture down here on Earth – why should it be one elsewhere? Coupled with growing scientific proof that many species had previously become extinct, this slowly transformed our view of the cosmological position of life as the 19th century dawned.
Seeing death in the stars
And so, where people like Diderot looked up into the cosmos in the 1750s and saw a teeming petri dish of humanoids, writers such as Thomas de Quincey were, by 1854, gazing upon the Orion nebula and reporting that they saw only a gigantic inorganic “skull” and its lightyear-long rictus grin.
The astronomer William Herschel had, already in 1814, realised that looking out into the galaxy one is looking into a “kind of chronometer”. Fermi would spell it out a century after de Quincey, but people were already intuiting the basic notion: looking out into dead space, we may just be looking into our own future.
People were becoming aware that the appearance of intelligent activity on Earth should not be taken for granted. They began to see that it is something distinct – something that stands out against the silent depths of space. Only through realising that what we consider valuable is not the cosmological baseline did we come to grasp that such values are not necessarily part of the natural world. Realising this was also realising that they are entirely our own responsibility. And this, in turn, summoned us to the modern projects of prediction, preemption and strategising. It is how we came to care about our future.
As soon as people first started discussing human extinction, possible preventative measures were suggested. Bostrom now refers to this as “macrostrategy”. However, as early as the 1720s, the French diplomat Benoît de Maillet was suggesting gigantic feats of geoengineering that could be leveraged to buffer against climate collapse. The notion of humanity as a geological force has been around ever since we started thinking about the long-term – it is only recently that scientists have accepted this and given it a name: “Anthropocene”.
Will technology save us?
It wasn’t long before authors began conjuring up highly technologically advanced futures aimed at protecting against existential threat. The eccentric Russian futurologist Vladimir Odoevskii, writing in the 1830s and 1840s, imagined humanity engineering the global climate and installing gigantic machines to “repulse” comets and other threats, for example. Yet Odoevskii was also keenly aware that with self-responsibility comes risk: the risk of abortive failure. Accordingly, he was also the very first author to propose the possibility that humanity might destroy itself with its own technology.
Acknowledgement of this plausibility, however, is not necessarily an invitation to despair. And it remains so. It simply demonstrates appreciation of the fact that, ever since we realised that the universe is not teeming with humans, we have come to appreciate that the fate of humanity lies in our hands. We may yet prove unfit for this task, but – then as now – we cannot rest assured believing that humans, or something like us, will inevitably reappear – here or elsewhere.
Beginning in the late 1700s, appreciation of this has snowballed into our ongoing tendency to be swept up by concern for the deep future. Current initiatives, such as Bostrom’s Future of Humanity Institute, can be seen as emerging from this broad and edifying historical sweep. From ongoing demands for climate justice to dreams of space colonisation, all are continuations and offshoots of a tenacious task that we first began to set for ourselves two centuries ago during the Enlightenment when we first realised that, in an otherwise silent universe, we are responsible for the entire fate of human value.
It may be solemn, but becoming concerned for humanity’s extinction is nothing other than realising one’s obligation to strive for unceasing self-betterment. Indeed, ever since the Enlightenment, we have progressively realised that we must think and act ever better because, should we not, we may never think or act again. And that seems – to me at least – like a very rational end of the world.
I hope you have read it all. There’s much to engage one. And the message to me is very clear: We have to regard this race, correction: our race, as unique. As is put in the penultimate paragraph:
“Enlightenment when we first realised that, in an otherwise silent universe, we are responsible for the entire fate of human value.”
Now there’s a thought for an atheist on a Saturday morning!
I am not a great Facebook user. I have nothing against the app just prefer not to be active in terms of my comings and goings. However, I do automatically send posts from this blog across to Facebook. Some of my followers come from FB.
As was the case with Michelle Orcutt.
I went across to her FB ‘page’ to leave my thanks for her follow and read a wonderful account of Diya.
Michelle kindly gave me permission to republish the article in this place. Here it is.
By Michelle Orcutt
Most of my friends know I adopted Diya, originally a street puppy from India (aka a desi dog, an Indie, a native Indian dog, pariah dog, or a streetie), almost 4 years ago. I wrote this for her rescue’s private Facebook group a year ago, in hopes of encouraging a better understanding of street dogs, and have had some requests to make it public, so here it is:
What follows are my own musings, not anything coming from ISDF. I think about dogs a lot!😁 Through Diya’s rescuer’s visit to the Twin Cities, I was able to meet and observe 7 other Indian-Minnesotan dogs. Thinking about some common difficulties voiced by these dogs’ people, and also about some of the worries and frustrations recently expressed in group and my own challenges with Diya, I feel like sharing my perspective.
To a person, the Desi adopters I met here have been patient and accommodating towards their dogs, yet most of the dogs continue to have difficulty in certain situations. These are dogs, working from what their DNA and experience gives them to go on, in a wholly other environment from where they emerged into the world. Especially with random-bred, pariah type dogs like many from India, Oman, and Thailand, these dogs’ lives center around finding food and water, protecting themselves and their territory, avoiding harm, and successfully breeding, bearing, and raising pups. Certainly the pursuit of pleasure and comfortable resting spots plays into their lives too.
We ask these dogs, who are dogs as dogs are truly meant to be—to become “ours” when they arrive in America. We subject them to foreign constraints like crates and leashes, and saddle them with our own expectations. We spend a lot of time telling dogs they are good and that they are bad. But bottom line, they’re dogs, not just our fur babies, or our charges, but entities deserving of respect in their own right. This isn’t to minimize the difficulty and emotional toll of trying to change worrisome behaviors.
Our dogs think hard to get a handle on us; they interpret and build their own sense of the meanings behind our facial expressions, movements, words, tone, touch, habits, clothing, and smells. Their language is far broader than English, Hindi, Arabic, or Thai. They are another form of intelligent life in our midst, in our cars, on our sofas, under the covers and curled into the bend of our knees. Yet they can also be incredibly distressing as they bark at our friends, growl at our guests, lung at terriers, chase cats, and destroy door frames.
Dogs are incredibly adaptable; this is one of the reasons for their success as a species. A terrified dog rescued from meat trade smugglers in Thailand can transform into a remarkable beauty at ease in a Chanel boutique (😉😉Sparkle Stern); a dog from torrid Muscat can thrive in snow (you Omani pups know who you are). A Delhi puppy fated to starve in the same spot her mother died, can instead run miles through the Michigan woods and “go to work” in an air-conditioned office with her human mom and other people with their own dogs (yes, that’s you, Miss Lily). These changes don’t happen magically or automatically (except in the case of snow), but through initial acts of grace followed by steady and hope-fueled progression.
The things that come easiest to most of these former street puppies and dogs, are the ones that overlap with their natural instincts. Bonding with people who treat them well and provide their food, comfort, and positive mental stimulation is relatively straightforward, though many of our dogs retain more of a capacity for independence than common American companion breeds. Diya is always watching for suspicious people and crows; I live in a part of St. Paul where it’s not uncommon for neighborhood Facebook group posts to start out, “Was that gunshots or fireworks?” so I appreciate her sharp eyes and formidable-sounding bark (I love my city neighborhood, by the way. I love crows too—this is one of the points at which Diya and I differ).
It’s the things that are really weird for street dogs that are hard: being expected to be outgoing, friendly, and trusting of all people and other dogs…always having to stifle your growl…tolerating being left in a wire or plastic box for hours…not being able to run away when you get nervous or to sniff as many spots as you think you need to gather information…to have people decide what you need…going to the vet, going to dog parks, etc. Dogs are social animals, but their idea of social life is different from ours (and also very different from wolves’), and each has their own unique relationship with their person or people, and to the other animals in the household.
So when you are flustered and upset by your dog’s behavior, step back, and think of all we are expecting them to learn and all we are asking them to put aside. Learning new things can be very uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking, especially when going against strong instincts. Living alone with my dogs and cats, and being an introvert by nature, I’ve tended to avoid some trying situations that other families have to work through, but Diya and I have still come a long way. I look forward to finding out where all we’ll go and what we’ll teach each other.
If you just glanced at this post then make a note, a firm note, to come back and read it fully and carefully.
For Michelle captures precisely what it is to be a dog, especially a street dog.
It is a profoundly wise article and it is a great honour to be able to republish it in this place.
Almost 2 years ago, the lives of Sara Lebwohl and her husband Zach changed forever. That was when the first-time parents welcomed into the world their newborn daughter Halle.
But as the couple embarked on the journey of parenthood, they soon discovered there was someone eager to help them along the way.
That someone, of course, was their adorable dog Prince.
Even before Halle was born, Prince seemed to understand their family was about to grow. In fact, he rarely left Sara’s side, already devoted to the little one on the way.
Then the big day arrived.
“When she first came home, he went right up to her and sniffed her,” Sara told The Dodo. “He knew she was little and fragile. But he always stayed close and kept a very close eye on her. He was truly a nanny dog from the first day.”
Since then, Prince’s dedication to Halle has only grown deeper.
The two of them are simply inseparable — but although they always have a great time together, Prince still clearly sees himself as both playful companion and caretaker.
And it shows.
Halle is now nearly 2 years old, and has begun sleeping in her own room. But, as is often the case for youngsters her age, she still requires some comfort and reassurance in the early morning.
Prince, who usually sleeps in Mom and Dad’s room, has always been the first to notice when Halle is seemingly restless. And, without fail, he’d accompany whichever of them got up to attend to Halle during those inconvenient wake-up calls.
Recently, however, Sara and her husband had an idea: What if they left both their bedroom door and Halle’s open throughout the night? Would Prince put a fussy Halle back to sleep on his own?
Yes, is the answer — and here’s some sweet video to prove it:
“Surprisingly it has worked out well,” Sara said. “We crack the door open for him when she gets up, and he walks in to greet her. He has a little routine he does, including rolling around on the ground. Then he will look at her and lay down. The amazing thing is that this calms her, and she goes back to sleep.”
The dog’s stellar nannying skills have made life better for Halle — and her parents, too.
“Prince has been an unexpected savior, allowing us a bit more precious minutes to hours of sleep. When he walks in the room, we know she is in good paws and we can all get some more rest,” Sara said.
Now, everyone’s morning is that much happier.
This is just one of the ways that Prince has made life better. Every waking moment is improved by having him around, a faithful companion to those who love him the most. And as Halle grows, there’s no doubt he’ll continue to share in the joys and challenges that lie ahead.
His favorite little girl wouldn’t have it any other way.
“He takes his job as protective big brother very seriously,” Sara said. “Our family feels so fortunate to have a dog that is so loving and good-hearted. We are also thankful that Halle adores Prince.”
See what I mean!
It’s a beautiful story of Prince being so attentive to the needs of Halle and Halle in turn adoring Prince.
Long after Prince has died, indeed for the rest of Halle’s days, she will love dogs.
At only 9 days old, a foal named Tye lost his mother. But that same night he gained an unexpected friend — an Australian cattle dog named Zip.
Zip had never shown much interest in his horse siblings. “We raise foals every year, and he would kind of look in the door and just look at them,” Karla Swindle, Zip’s mom, told The Dodo.
But on that fateful night in March, it was as if the 5-year-old rescue dog could tell he was needed.
Tye’s mother became sick days after giving birth, and despite treatment, quickly went downhill. When things looked their bleakest for the mother and baby, Swindle stayed by their side. As always, Zip tagged along after his owner.
“I spent the night at the barn taking care of the mama horse, hoping that I could pull her through,” Swindle said. “Zip stayed with me in the alley of the barn all night — the foal was laying in the alley, and he just lay there beside the foal.”
“He was whining,” Swindle added. “You could tell that Zip knew something was wrong that night.”
The next morning, Tye lost his mother, but he wasn’t alone.
Zip insisted on keeping the newborn horse company, comforting the little animal with his presence. When Zip was around, Tye was relaxed and happy. “It seemed to me that the foal knew that the dog was trying to help him,” Swindle said, “which is so sweet.”
For six weeks, Zip wouldn’t let Tye out of his sight. Whenever Swindle went to feed the foal, Zip was first in line to greet the little horse. “Every time I would take off to the barn, Zip would run to the stall, and stand in front of the stall and wait for me to get there,” Swindle said. “He would beat me to the barn every time.”
“As soon as I opened the door, he would about knock me down before I could get in there,” she added. “If the foal was laying down, he would go over there and lay his head on him.”
As months passed, Tye quickly put on weight, growing into a healthy young horse — in part, thanks to his adoptive dad.
Now, Tye spends most days out in the pasture with his older sister, who is teaching him the ins and outs of being a horse. And while Zip still accompanies Swindle to the barn, he doesn’t beg to go in the stall with Tye anymore.
“The foal is a little rough now,” Swindle said, “raring up, trying to play, so Zip kind of stays away from him now.”
The proud dad understands that Tye needs to test his independence, and it doesn’t make their relationship any less special.
“You could tell that when the foal needed Zip, Zip was there for him,” Swindle said. “And now Zip knows that the foal is OK, so they kind of went their separate ways.”
But it seems the little horse has opened up room in the older dog’s heart — space that he has since filled with another baby.
“He loves my granddaughter,” Swindle said. “Whenever she comes over here, he goes directly to her. He treats her like he did the foal. He just loves to be around her.”
We have mentioned it time and time before. That dogs are so special. And then one comes across an account of something that is even more special.
All of the photographs are delightful but that third one shows the intimacy that is in the relationship. The caring that is being shown by Zip!
I have said it before and no doubt will say it many times more: Dogs are incredibly wonderful.
Sean Coughlan wrote a most delightful piece on the BBC News website the other day.
No matter how many times dogs are referred to it always cheers me up to read about them, especially on a major news website.
Dogs ‘prevent stressed students dropping out’
By Sean Coughlan, BBC News family and education correspondent
July 2nd, 2019
Stress among students really can be reduced by spending time with animals, according to research from the US.
It has become increasingly common for universities to bring “therapy dogs” on to campus – but claims about their benefits have often been anecdotal.
Now, scientists say they have objective evidence to support the use of dogs.
Patricia Pendry, from Washington State University, said her study showed “soothing” sessions with dogs could lessen the negative impact of stress.
The study of more than 300 undergraduates had found weekly hour-long sessions with dogs brought to the university by professional handlers had made stressed students at “high risk of academic failure” or dropping out “feel relaxed and accepted”, helping them to concentrate, learn and remember information, she said.
“Students most at risk, such as those with mental health issues, showed the most benefit,” said Dr Pendry.
It has also become more common in the UK, with Buckingham, University College London, Cambridge, Nottingham Trent, London Metropolitan and Swansea among those deploying dogs.
The University of Middlesex has even put “canine teaching assistants” on to the staff, to stop lonely students dropping out.