Tag: Charles Darwin

Those deeper ways of listening

How humans and animals communicate with each other has more than an edge of mystery to it!

We sleep with our bedroom door open to the main run of the rest of the house. Generally, all six dogs sleep in our bedroom unless it is a very warm night when some of them may choose the cooler tiled surface of the kitchen floor.

Cleo, our female German Shepherd, has a bit of a sensitive stomach and it is not unknown for her to need to be let outside in the middle of the night. Just a couple of nights ago her need for a ‘poo’ break came at 02:40!

But the point of this is that no matter how deeply I am sleeping, all it takes is a short, quiet whimper next to my side of bed and I am instantly awake. I need no time at all to know that Cleo has to be let outside from our bedroom door that opens out onto the deck. A few minutes later I hear her feet padding along the wooden boards of the deck and she is let back in to the bedroom.

Thus this demonstrates how well I understand her and in turn how well she acutely listens to me.

Just look at this photograph.

The connection, the intensity, of her attention towards me. And this was just from me pointing the camera at her and ‘click, clicking’ my tongue.

Moving on!

My introduction today was inspired by an article that I recently read on the Care2 site and that I want to share with you. Here it is.

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Can Humans Understand When Animals Are in Distress?

By: Laura Burge   August 13, 2017

About Laura   Follow Laura at @literarylaura

Have you ever jumped at the sound of birds fighting or a squirrel screaming? Heard an animal make a sound somewhere nearby that made your heart race?

More than one hundred years ago, Darwin suggested that there was a universal understanding of certain animal vocalizations — a way of expressing emotion that went all the way back to the Earth’s earliest animals. Now, researchers are re-examining that theory, and they’re making some interesting headway.

In a study published in the journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,” researchers decided to explore the idea that animal vocalizations, including distress calls, might be recognizable across different species — and even into different animal classes.

Earlier research delved into whether or not humans could detect which emotion, or signal, another mammal was using, but this study is the first to examine other vertebrates as well. Amphibians and reptiles joined the club, and, perhaps surprisingly, humans did pretty well determining what these animals were trying to communicate.

The researchers primarily looked into whether or not people listening to certain animal sounds would be able to detect the level of arousal — high or low — that an animal expressed vocally. High arousal indicates an animal in distress, expressing desperate or negative screams, who might be calling out because of a fight, a predator in the area or another perceived danger. Scientists believe that these sounds are part of an old signaling system.

Researchers asked 75 college-aged individuals to listen to sounds from nine different species. In order to account for language differences, these people included English, German and Mandarin speakers.

Scientists collected 180 recordings of animal vocalizations, reflecting high or low levels of excitement, such as “the sounds of frogs in competition for mates, monkeys reacting to danger or ravens confronted by a dominant bird,” and included humans in that list, instructing actors to react neutrally or with different, heightened emotions while speaking Tamil.

The 75 people were then asked to identify which vocalization out of paired sounds from the same species represented the higher level of arousal.

In this study, the results showed that people identified the correct “emotion,” roughly speaking, better than expected by chance. Here is how the accuracy broke down across species:

  • Humans: 95 percent correct
  • Giant panda: 94 percent correct
  • Hourglass tree frog: 90 percent correct
  • African bush elephant: 88 percent correct
  • American alligator: 87 percent correct
  • Black-capped chickadee: 85 percent correct
  • Pig: 68 percent correct
  • Common raven: 62 percent correct
  • Barbary macaque (monkey): 60 percent correct

It seems strange that people were less able to identify the distress call of a monkey than a frog, but Harold Gouzoules, a bioacoustician and animal behavior expert at Emory University, posits that the monkey calls may have sounded less extreme in intensity than those of the other species, making it harder to tell the difference.

“Our study shows that humans are naturally able to recognize emotional arousal across all classes of vocalizing animals,” said Piera Filippi, who studies the evolution of cognition and communication at the Vrije University Brussels in Belgium.

This doesn’t mean that humans should feel confident in interpreting animal emotions or body language in general, though. Those behaviors can vary greatly, and humans are prone to misinterpretation and anthropomorphism. You wouldn’t, for example, want to assume a wolf baring its teeth is simply smiling at you.

Naturally, much remains to be studied in the effort to understand a wider range of animal emotions. Filippi hopes to repeat the experiment, but with the black-capped chickadees taking the place of the college-aged humans in interpreting the distress calls. It will be interesting to see if this understanding between humans and other animals goes both ways.

Could there be a beneficial reason for animals to understand each other’s distress calls? What do you think?

Photo Credit: Valentino Funghi/Unsplash

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Just so long as too many different animals don’t all sound out distress calls at the same time around here!

 

Lust, laughter and loyalty!

 

Something else we really can learn from dogs.

I’m not sure that I should admit that my dearest Jeannie is my 4th wife!  Long story that goes back to when I had just turned 12 years-old, back in 1956. I suffered an event that I interpreted as emotional rejection and promptly buried that deep into my subconscious where it stayed for over 50 years.

Then brought to the surface in 2007 (thanks Jon) after the failure of marriage number 3.  I met Jean some 6 months later, in December 2007, and we were married in Payson, AZ in November, 2010.  Being with Jean has been the happiest days of my life!

Jean, Father Dan and yours truly. St Paul's Episcopal Church, Payson, AZ. November 20th, 2010.
Jean, Father Dan and yours truly. St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Payson, AZ. November 20th, 2010.

Inevitably, while being married to Jean seems such a natural relationship, one is curious about what makes for a happy, lifelong relationship. Let’s face it, divorce is not uncommon.  In fact, the Divorce Rate website reveals that in 2012, the divorce rate was 3.4 couples per 1,000 population in the USA; the sixth highest in the world.

So it was fascinating to listen to a recent radio programme broadcast under the BBC’s Point of View series.  Just 10 minutes long, this particular programme was a talk by Adam Gopnik: The secret of a happy marriage 29th March 2013.  (Adam Gopnik is an American commentator and writes for The New Yorker.)

You should be able to listen to the programme by going here.  Or you can download the programme by going here, and following the instructions.  (Not sure how long the programme will be available to listen/download, so don’t delay.)

The programme was also featured on the BBC News Magazine Website. From which I quote:

A Point of View: Is there a secret to a happy marriage?

Nobody can explain the secret to a happy marriage, says Adam Gopnik, but it doesn’t stop people trying.

Anyone who tells you their rules for a happy marriage doesn’t have one. There’s a truth universally acknowledged, or one that ought to be anyway.

Just as the people who write books about good sex are never people you would want to sleep with, and the academics who write articles about the disappearance of civility always sound ferociously angry, the people who write about the way to sustain a good marriage are usually on their third.

Nonetheless (you knew there was a nonetheless on its way) although I don’t have rules, I do have an observation after many years of marriage (I’ve promised not to say exactly how many, though the name “Jimmy Carter” might hold a clue).

Later, Adam Gopnik speaks about Charles Darwin whose marriage to Emma he describes “as something close to an ideal marriage.

So what is it we learn from dogs?

So, marriages are made of lust, laughter and loyalty – but the three have to be kept in constant passage, transitively, back and forth, so that as one subsides for a time, the others rise.

Now Adam writes about the special form of loyalty that dogs offer us:

Be lit by lust, enlightened by laughter, settle into loyalty, and if loyalty seems too mired, return to lust by way of laughter.

I have had this formula worked out – and repeated it, waggishly, to friends, producing for some reason an ever more one-sided smile on the face of my beautiful wife.

Until, not long ago, I realised that there was a flaw in this idea. And that was that I had underestimated the reason that loyalty had such magnetic power, drawing all else towards it.

For I had been describing loyalty in marriage as though it were a neutral passive state – a kind of rest state, a final, fixed state at the end of the road of life.

And then, against our better wishes, and our own inner version of our marriage vows, at our daughter’s insistence we got a dog. And this is what changed my view.

“The expense and anxiety of children” indeed. Our daughter’s small Havanese dog, Butterscotch, has instructed us on many things, but above all on the energy that being loyal really implies.

Dogs teach us many things – but above all they teach us how frisky a state loyalty can be.

Dogs, after all – particularly spayed city dogs that have been denied their lusts – have loyalty as an overriding emotion. Ours will wait for hours for one of its family, and then patiently sit right alongside while there is work to be done.

Loyalty is what a dog provides. The ancient joke-name for a dog, Fido, is in truth the most perfect of all dog names – I am faithful. I am loyal. I remain.

Dogs are there to remind us that loyalty is a jumpy, fizzy emotion. Loyalty leaps up at the door and barks with joy at your return – and then immediately goes to sleep at your side. Simple fidelity is the youngest emotion we possess.

The loyalty of a dog. No more to be said.

The love and loyalty of Hazel.
The love and loyalty of Hazel.

Dear George!

The sad story of the death of Lonesome George, a giant tortoise.

When you’re gone, you’re gone, it is said.  But in the case of this example of the beauty of Mother Nature, the idea of being gone is as final as it comes; George was the last of his species.

Here’s how the BBC reported the story,

Last Pinta giant tortoise Lonesome George dies

Staff at the Galapagos National Park in Ecuador say Lonesome George, a giant tortoise believed to be the last of its subspecies, has died.

Scientists estimate he was about 100 years old.

Park officials said they would carry out a post-mortem to determine the cause of his death.

With no offspring and no known individuals from his subspecies left, Lonesome George became known as the rarest creature in the world.

For decades, environmentalists unsuccessfully tried to get the Pinta Island tortoise to reproduce with females from a similar subspecies on the Galapagos Islands.

Park officials said the tortoise was found dead in his corral by his keeper of 40 years, Fausto Llerena.

While his exact age was not known, Lonesome George was estimated to be about 100, which made him a young adult as the subspecies can live up to an age of 200.

Lonesome George was first seen by a Hungarian scientist on the Galapagos island of Pinta in 1972.

Environmentalists had believed his subspecies(Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni) had become extinct.

Lonesome George became part of the Galapagos National Park breeding programme.

After 15 years of living with a female tortoise from the nearby Wolf volcano, Lonesome George did mate, but the eggs were infertile.

He also shared his corral with female tortoises from Espanola island, which are genetically closer to him than those from Wolf volcano, but Lonesome George failed to mate with them.

He became a symbol of the Galapagos Islands, which attract some 180,000 visitors a year.

Galapagos National Park officials said that with George’s death, the Pinta tortoise subspecies has become extinct.

They said his body would probably be embalmed to conserve him for future generations.

Tortoises were plentiful on the Galapagos islands until the late 19th century, but were later hunted for their meat by sailors and fishermen to the point of extinction.

Their habitat furthermore suffered when goats were introduced from the mainland.

The differences in appearance between tortoises from different Galapagos islands were among the features which helped the British naturalist Charles Darwin formulate his theory of evolution.

Some 20,000 giant tortoises of other subspecies still live on the Galapagos.

Continuing the tribute, Chris Mazzarella had some stunning photographs on his wonderful photographic blogsite Fast Forward. (Do take a look!) I held my breath and asked Chris for permission to republish his article and was delighted to be given his approval.  Thanks Chris, thanks very much.

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An Ode To George

To pay tribute to our late friend Lonesome George, I thought it would be appropriate to write a post in celebration of turtles. George was the last tortoise of the subspecies Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni from Pinta Island in the Galapagos. Sadly George passed yesterday at the tender age of 100 years. This could be considered middle aged for the tortoise who’s counterparts can live beyond 200 years.

This is easily the smallest one I’ve seen all year. To give you some perspective, this lily pad is about eight inches across.

In Vermont, we have seven species of turtles, and I run into many of them while kayaking around the state. The one I see most often is the painted turtle. I spot these guys by the dozen basking in the sun while I’m paddling throughout the northeast. They are very cooperative subjects, but will head for a swim if you get too close. I don’t like spoiling anyone’s sunbath so I do my best to keep a respectable distance out on the water.

You can check out the biggest turtle I’ve seen all year in an April post entitled Snappers.

I’ve read that snapping turtles are the most common turtle in Vermont, yet I do not see quite as many in my travels. When I do see them, they are usually trolling underwater, covered in algae.

I have encountered a few snappers above the surface this year. I found this old guy lounging on a log in Bradford, Vermont a few days ago.

One of the rarer species of turtle I encountered this spring was a wood turtle in Magalloway Brook. I didn’t have much time to prepare for this shot before he launched off the log and into the water. It was a brief meeting, but certainly a memorable one as this is the only wood turtle I’ve ever photographed.

While turtles are not known for their speed they do offer unique challenges for photographers, particularly when shooting in the sun. Their reflective carapace makes them easy to spot, but difficult to expose for. A polarizing filter is sometimes necessary to reduce the glare on their wet shells. While this will help, the ideal situation is to shoot them under overcast skies.

Another thing to keep in mind is the angle of your shot. The kayak makes a great vehicle for wildlife photography because it keeps you low on the water. I often try to shoot wildlife at eye level. This gives you the same perspective from which the animal views the world. It’s much more interesting than a bird’s eye view, for example, and embodies the subject with the sense of pride that it deserves.

George’s passing marks the end of an important legacy, as the Galapagos turtles played a very important role in the foundation of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

To learn more and see photos of George check out this great article by Jess Zimmerman at Grist.org.

We salute you George!

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What stunningly beautiful photographs.  Once again, Chris, thanks for your permission to republish your Ode.

Finally, going back to 2009 there’s a BBC video of Simon Reeve visiting Lonesome George while visiting the Galapagos islands.

Transitions, pt Two

Reflections on these present times, concluding part.

I closed yesterday with, So maybe there’s a blindness with humans, and then set out the characteristics of that blindness.  One of those characteristics being,

Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable.  The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.

Let’s move this on a little.  The arguments from a wide range of scientists are overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition that mankind is using vastly more resources from the planet than the planet can provide.  Take oil.  This graph show past and projected oil production for the whole Earth out to 2050, less than 40 years away.

Here’s an extract from that website which I encourage you to read in full,

The part before 2007 is historical fact. The part that comes afterward is an ASPO extrapolation.

This graph is worth careful attention as a lot of world history is written into it. Note the steep rise in oil production after World War II. Note that 1971 was the peak in oil production in the United States lower 48. There is a sliver of white labled Arctic oil. That is mostly Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oil, which peaked in 1990. Prudhoe Bay was almost big enough to counteract the lower 48 peak of 1971. The sliver is very narrow now. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 is very visible. The oil produced by non-OPEC countries stayed nearly constant while OPEC production nearly halved. The embargo caused the world economy to slow. But the high cost of energy spurred the development of energy efficient automobiles and refrigerators and a lot of other things. Note the effect of the collapse of the Russian economy in 1990 on Russian oil production. Note the rapid increase in oil production when the world economy boomed near the end of the twentieth century. Oil was $12 a barrel at that time. Note that European (North Sea) oil peaked in 2000. Note especially what would have happened if the 1973 embargo had not occurred. It is possible that the world would now be on the steep part of the right side of the Hubbert curve.

Take population growth. Here’s a graph that shows that going through seven billion, which is due shortly, is likely to be way short of the eventual peak.  Likely peak might be in the range of  eight to ten billion!  Just take a look at that graph,

Take global warming.  Here’s a graph from NASA, from which I quote,

The five warmest years since the late 1880s, according to NASA scientists, are in descending order 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2006. (reported in the year 2007!)

No apologies for bashing you around the head with these graphs and figures – most people have a good sense about these aspects of our life on this planet.  But, in a very real sense, that’s the point.

The point that despite powerful and obvious evidence, mankind has great difficulty accepting obvious trends and understanding that whatever ‘today’ feels like, ‘tomorrow’ is almost certainly not going to be more of the same.

At the risk of hammering this point to death, here are two pictures and some text to show how quickly ‘today’ changes and becomes ‘tomorrow’.

Scientist left speechless as vast glacier turns to water

by Helen Turner, Western Mail

THESE images show the astonishing rate of break-up of an enormous glacier in north Greenland – from ice to water in just two years.

The before and after photographs, which left a Welsh scientist who led the 24-month project “speechless”, reveal the worrying effects of climate change in an area previously thought too cold to be much affected.

The Petermann glacier pictured August, 5th, 2009
Petermann glacier, pictured from same position, July 24th, 2011

Dr Alun Hubbard, a reader at Aberystwyth University’s Centre for Glaciology, returned from the Petermann Glacier in north-west Greenland a month ago, but did not see the stark images documenting the changes until this week.

He said: “Although I knew what to expect in terms of ice loss from satellite imagery, I was still completely unprepared for the gob-smacking scale of the break-up, which rendered me speechless.  It was just incredible to see. This glacier is huge, 20km across, 1,000m high.”

“It’s like looking into the Grand Canyon full of ice and coming back two years later to find it’s full of water.”

“It’s quite hard to get your head around the scale of the change.  To be able to see that, everything changed in such a short period of time, I was speechless.”

Do read the full article on the Wales Online website here.

Stay with me a little longer, if you will.

Yves Smith in her wonderfully broad and addictive Blog, Naked Capitalism, had the first part of a powerful interview with Satyajit Das published on the 7th.  Here are a couple of extracts,

 It’s amazing how much money you can make just shuffling paper backwards and forwards. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece praising John Paulson who made a killing from the subprime disaster as an entrepreneur. But what did he make? What did he leave behind? Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, argued: “I wish someone would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth — one shred of evidence. US financial services increased its share of value added from 2% to 6.5% but is that a reflection of your financial innovation, or just a reflection of what you’re paid?”

Just let that quote from Paul Volcker stay with you for a while.  Satyajit goes on to say,

Management and directors of financial institutions cannot really understand what is going on – it’s simply not practical. They cannot be across all the products. For example, Robert Rubin, the former head of Goldman Sachs and Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, encouraged increased risk taking at CitiGroup. He was guided by a consultant’s report and famously stated that risk was the only underpriced asset. He encouraged investment in AAA securities assuming that they were ‘money good’. He seemed not to be aware of the liquidity puts that Citi had written which meant that toxic off-balance sheet assets would come back to the mother ship in the case of a crisis. Now, if he didn’t understand, others would find it near impossible. And I’m talking about executive management.

Non executives are even further removed. Upon joining the Salomon Brothers Board, Henry Kaufman, the original Dr. Doom found that most non-executive directors had little experience or understanding of banking. They relied on board reports that were, “neither comprehensive … nor detailed enough … about the diversity and complexity of our operations.” Non-executive directors were reliant “on the veracity and competency of senior managers, who in turn … are beholden to the veracity of middle managers, who are themselves motivated to take risks through a variety of profit compensation formulas.”

Kaufman later joined the board of Lehman Brothers. Nine out of ten members of the Lehman board were retired, four were 75 years or more in age, only two had banking experience, but in a different era. The octogenarian Kaufman sat on the Lehman Risk Committee with a Broadway producer, a former Navy admiral, a former CEO of a Spanish-language TV station and the former chairman of IBM. The Committee only had two meetings in 2006 and 2007. AIG’s board included several heavyweight diplomats and admirals; even though Richard Breeden, former head of the SEC told a reporter, “AIG, as far as I know, didn’t own any aircraft carriers and didn’t have a seat in the United Nations.”

In other words, there is no shortage of information from all corners of the world to show, with very little doubt, that the last few decades have seen unprecedented mistakes by national governments, mistakes in corporate governance, a lack of understanding of economic fundamentals, poor financial and social management, and on and on and on.

But practically all of us, and I mean all of us, didn’t see it at the time, didn’t see where it was heading and only now, when it is full in our faces, do we get it and see it for what it has really been, a long period of over two decades where the ‘me‘ has been more important than the ‘us‘.

That me versus us even being promoted, if that’s the right word, by a British Prime Minister twenty-five years ago.  That quote from Margaret Thatcher back in 1987,  “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” (Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987)

Let me draw this all together, yesterday’s part and this concluding part.

There is significant evidence, real hard evidence, that the patterns of mankind’s behaviours of the last few decades cannot continue.  Simply because mankind will go over the edge of self-extinction.  Darwin’s evidence and all that!  We have to accept that humans will see the bleedin’ obvious before it is too late.  We have to keep the faith that our species homo sapiens is capable of huge and rapid change when that tipping point is reached, so eloquently written by Paul Gilding in his book, The Great Disruption, reviewed by me here.  We have to embrace the fact that just because the world and his wife appears to be living in total denial, the seedlings of change, powerful change, are already sprouting, everywhere, all over the world.

So let’s welcome those changes. Let’s nurture those seedlings, encourage them to grow and engulf our society with a new richness, a new fertile landscape.

Let’s embrace the power of now, the beauty of making today much better and letting go of tomorrow.

For today, I am in charge of my life,

Today, I choose my thoughts,

Today, I choose my attitudes,

Today, I choose my actions and behaviours.

With these, I create my life and my destiny.

It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially when they involve the future!