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Posts Tagged ‘animals’

A Manifesto for Rewilding the World by George Monbiot

In animals, biology, ecology, nature on August 8, 2013 at 05:18

From: A Manifesto for Rewilding the World by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

Until modern humans arrived, every continent except Antarctica possessed a megafauna. In the Americas, alongside mastodons, mammoths, four-tusked and spiral-tusked elephants, there was a beaver the size of a black bear: eight feet from nose to tail(1). There were giant bison weighing two tonnes, which carried horns seven feet across(2).

The short-faced bear stood thirteen feet in its hind socks(3). One hypothesis maintains that its astonishing size and shocking armoury of teeth and claws are the hallmarks of a specialist scavenger: it specialised in driving giant lions and sabretooth cats off their prey(4). The Argentine roc (Argentavis magnificens) had a wingspan of 26 feet(5). Sabretooth salmon nine feet long migrated up Pacific coast rivers(6).

Through rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it (18,19). Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the Biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

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Bananas! Kafka’s Ape by Justin E. H. Smith

In animals, biology, Europe, nature, science on April 27, 2013 at 20:20

From: Bananas! Kafka’s Ape by Justin E. H. Smith, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

In his 1917 short story, “Report to an Academy,” Kafka tells the story of Red Peter, a chimpanzee captured in Africa and brought back to Europe to be studied by the members of an institution very much like the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Red Peter, by some unusual transformation that is never fully explained, develops after his capture into a cultivated, language-endowed gentleman, and the titular report is in fact his narration of his own autobiography, beginning shortly after his first encounter with humans while still in his merely animal stage.

Peter recounts how, early in his captivity, he had been subjected to various experiments in which, for example, scientists hung a banana from the ceiling in order to see whether he had the requisite intelligence to stack blocks together and climb up to reach his reward. This sort of experiment, of course, takes a number of things for granted. Among other things, although it purports to be testing for something human-like, it does not allow for the possibility of individual whim; it does not allow for the possibility of a response such as that of Zira, the fictional chimpanzee in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), who cannot help but exclaim, when the human scientists try a similar experiment on her, “but I simply loathe bananas!”

The fact that experiments such as these require a certain course of action in order for an animal to be deemed intelligent suggests that what is being tested for is not really intelligence in any meaningful, human sense –since humans are permitted to have arbitrary whims and individual tastes– but rather a certain automatism that reproduces the kind of action of which a human being is capable, e.g., stacking blocks, but in the pursuit of a species-specific goal, a goal that a creature is supposed to have simply in view of the kind of creature it is, and that for that reason is not the result of a human-like willing, e.g., the will to obtain a banana. If ‘being intelligent’ is defined as ‘being like us’, we may anticipate in advance that non-human animals are doomed to fail any possible intelligence test.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia by Rane Willerslev

In anthropology, culture, humanities, society on January 19, 2013 at 00:24

From: Laughing at the Spirits in North Siberia: Is Animism Being Taken too Seriously? by Rane Willerslev, e-flux, http://www.e-flux.com

In many respects, the Yukaghir distribution of resources reflects a traditional hunter-gatherer economic model of sharing, in that they run a “demand sharing” principle.18 People are expected to make claims on other people’s possessions, and those who possess more than they can immediately consume or use are expected to give it up without expectation of repayment. This principle of sharing applies to virtually everything, from trade goods, such as cigarettes and fuel, to knowledge about how to hunt, but it applies most forcefully to the distribution of meat: “I eat, you eat. I have nothing, you have nothing, we all share of one pot,” the Yukaghirs say [figure 3].19 The important point for my argument, however, is that Yukaghir hunters engage with the nonhuman world of animal spirits in much the same way as they engage with other humans, namely, through the principle of demand sharing. In the forest, hunters will ask—even demand—that spiritual owners share their stock of prey. They will also address the spirits of the rivers and places where they hunt, saying, “Grandfather, your children are hungry and poor. Feed us as you have fed us before!” In this sense, their animist cosmology could be interpreted as an integrated system, an “all-embracing cosmic principle based in sharing” in which the forest is akin to a “parent” who gives its human “children” food in overabundance, without expecting anything in return, as has been suggested for hunter-gatherer peoples more generally by Bird-David.20 The trouble is that in proposing this argument, Bird-David assumes that the official rhetoric of these hunter-gatherers faithfully corresponds to their activity of hunting. But this is not so—if it were, we would have aligned the Yukaghir with something akin to a “death wish,”21 for surely a community that hunts simply by waiting for the forest to “feed” them, without making any effort to control their prey, would not survive long.

What this points to, then, is that the Yukaghirs’ rhetoric about the forest being a “generous parent” is not meant to be taken too seriously. Rather, it is a sophisticated means of spirit manipulation, which is an inherent, even necessary, part of Yukaghir hunting animism. This becomes evident when we realize that a paradox is built into the moral economy of sharing, which makes it risky—lethal, in fact—to take the principle of unconditional giving at face value.

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Reposted with permission from: e-flux

How Do We Judge Nonhuman Beings’ Personhood? by Jønathan Lyons

In animals, biology, ethics, nature, science on January 8, 2013 at 00:35

From: How Do We Judge Nonhuman Beings’ Personhood?  by Jønathan Lyons, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, http://ieet.org

“Various debates have focused on questions about the personhood of different classes of entities. Historically, the personhood of animals, women, and slaves has been a catalyst of social upheaval. In most societies today, living adult humans are usually considered persons, but depending on the context, theory or definition, the category of ‘person’ may be taken to include such non-human entities as animals, artificial intelligences, or extraterrestrial life, as well as legal entities such as corporations, sovereign states and other polities, or estates in probate. The category may exclude some human entities in prenatal development, and those with extreme mental impairment.”

Because this definition has built-in limits that impede our purposes – which is to say, for the purpose of eliminating the far too limited definition of person that includes only members of our species, homo sapiens sapiens (HSS) –  it is necessary to evolve that definition, adapt it into a more inclusive form. A “natural person,” legally speaking, means a human being. Other entities, such as corporations, ships at sea, and states, also have legal personhood – a bone of some contention here in the U.S. For our purposes, legal recognition of corporations and states and ships serves little purpose. For that reason, I hope to focus on the a notion of personhood that includes natural persons, but also extends to include not only nonhuman biological species who meet certain criteria, but also abandons substrate chauvinism by embracing the possibility of technological beings meeting those same criteria, and therefore qualifying as persons.

 

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Gaza, Goats, and the Art of Patience: A Conversation with Jeff Talarigo by Jennifer De Leon

In humanities, interview, literature, writers on November 8, 2012 at 03:24

From:  Gaza, Goats, and the Art of Patience: A Conversation with Jeff Talarigo by Jennifer De Leon, AGNI Online, http://www.bu.edu/agni

Jennifer De Leon: Your story “The Night Guardian of the Goat” (AGNI 74) is set in the Gaza Strip. What was your impetus for building a fictional world in this location?

Jeff Talarigo: On my second trip to the Gaza Strip, back in 1993, I went with the mindset of a journalist, but I returned with the desire to be a novelist.  What happened was, one May afternoon, I was sitting outside along School Street in Jabaliya camp, where I was living with a Palestinian family, and I saw two boys with an injured bird and a piece of string tied around its neck. The boys would toss the bird into the air and the bird would flap its wings and fly a few feet until the string ran out and the bird would be yanked back.  Watching this, I thought that it was a striking, almost prophetic image.  As a journalist I could write about it just as I have told you, but by a novelist, so much more could be done.  I jotted in my notebook—Bird on a string—and I carried this image with me for nearly a year before I wrote a story about it.  This was my first published piece of fiction.

JD: The story’s narrator is responsible for taking care of Ghassan Abu Majed’s last remaining goat every night during curfew. Ghassan calls his precious goat “the last link to the land.” Yet Ghassan’s wife says, “the link has long been severed.” In what ways are they both right?

JT: For the most part the refugees in the Gaza Strip have been there since 1948.  Most, and for many years, believed that someday they would return to the over 400 towns and villages that they fled in 1948. I believe that the large majority of those in the Gaza Strip have become resigned to the fact that this “return,” which they have held onto so dearly, will never happen; that Gaza is where they will die.  Still, the Palestinians, like all of us really, cling to these “links” or “connections” to the past.  Many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza still have the keys to their homes, the deeds to their land, and in my story, a goat.

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Reposted with permission from: AGNI Online

Animals and the Human Imagination By Linda Simon

In biology, nature, philosophy, science, social sciences on October 31, 2012 at 18:57

From: Animals and the Human Imagination By Linda Simon, The Montreal Review, http://www.themontrealreview.com

In his introduction, Aaron Gross points to a “danger” in a scholarly study of animals whose contributors come from the humanities and social sciences, rather than the natural sciences: that animals themselves might become “absent referents,” as he puts it; when “animals themselves seem beside the point. . . .when there is no one looking in the horse’s mouth or even in the direction of the horse.” Certainly animals as specific references are not often found in this collection. There are passing mentions of pets, but the only animals given extended discussion are wolves (as they represent wildness), dogs (as they are imagined in children’s stories), hogs (as they are treated by industrial farmers), and, notably, bacteria (as imagined in a science fiction novel). Nevertheless, the essays-erudite, engagingly written, and accessible to general readers-serve admirably to call attention, as Gross puts it, “to how a certain understanding of animality is implicit in our self understanding (and thus our understandings of language, symbol, myth, subjectivity, religion, etc.)” and can possibly “expose the naturalness of the category animal as illusory.” Once the human/animal binary is no longer useful, we will be able to see both terms as “strange” and may move toward new conceptions and definitions.

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Reposted with permission from: The Montreal Review

The Technological Elimination of Pain by Ben Goertzel

In ethics, medicine, philosophy, psychology, science on October 24, 2012 at 22:42

From: The Technological Elimination of Pain is Both Feasible and Possible by Ben Goertzel, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, http://ieet.org

The English word “pain” refers, primarily, to a subjective experience — the experience of something hurting.   But this experience isn’t a simple, indecomposable thing — it’s actually a complex experience with multiple layers.  Understanding the prospect of abolishing pain, involves carefully distinguishing these layers.

To abolish, or drastically reduce, our experience of pain, we will need to deal with pain in terms of its neural and cognitive correlates.  Subjective experiences — qualia — are different from neural or cognitive structures or dynamics.  But there are correlations.   For instance, deep thought correlates with the neocortex — if you remove it, the person doesn’t think deeply anymore.  The feeling of reminiscence correlates with cognitive structures related to emotion and episodic memory, and with neural regions such as the limbic system and the neocortex. And so forth.

What are the neural and cognitive correlates of the experience of pain?

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Are you bored at work? by libcom.org

In civilisation, history, society, sociology, technology on August 27, 2012 at 20:32

 

From: Are you bored at work?, http://libcom.org

Workplace boredom arrived hand in hand with the inventions of the office and the production line; it was in fact their psychological equivalent. An enormous intellectual and practical effort was made to rationalise both the production of goods and the processing of the information that controlled production and distribution of these goods. Early last century, so-called ‘time and motion studies’ examined the work of factory and office workers in rigorous detail. The results were interpreted and used to eliminate unnecessary effort or individual technique from the workplace. People were idealised as components in industrial machines. Little thought was given to what was going on inside their heads. This was the age of behaviourism – people and animals were understood to be black boxes with inputs and outputs (“So, how was it for me?” the behavioural scientist asked his lover): output and efficiency were the priority. Work became boring and repetitive by design, but profits soared.

A recent edition of the New Scientist magazine featured an article on evidence for boredom in animals kept in inadequate conditions. For example, the confines of a zoo’s enclosure have virtually nothing in common with a polar bear’s natural environment. Before long, the forlorn beasts begin to exhibit repetitive behaviour. They pace up and down the concrete, tracing exactly the same steps, swooping their heads from side to side. They look very disturbed, they are portraits of frustration. Examination of captive animal brains has revealed that when certain neural pathways are damaged, stereotypical behaviour can develop. These findings have brought into question a huge body of research using live animals – it was presumed that they had no capacity for boredom and it played no part in their behaviour. Lab rats, it seems, are bored out of their tiny rodent skulls.

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Reposted with permission from: libcom.org

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