All posts by kcdrews

Rats and Mice

Rats

Inglorious Basterds – The Rat

The first thing I thought of when reading about human attitudes towards rats was the above scene from Inglorious Basterds. As Colonel Hans Landa points out in the clip, it’s all a matter of perspective on how prized are the attributes of a rat. Rats can be seen as man’s best friend more so than even dogs (or at least, as man’s constant companion), considering that anywhere man goes, rats go too. Rats are certainly as evolutionarily successful as humans, spreading across the globe and absolutely dominating native populations wherever they go. Rats can also mirror the dark sides of humans, constantly gnawing at their environments and turning on each other when competition gets too fierce.

When examining the rat it’s almost like one of those optical illusions that appears to be two pictures in one. Depending on how you look at them, they’re either one thing or another. The classic example is the old woman and the young lady. Just like those illusions, depending on how you look at them rats are either tough little creatures that survive in a hostile environment, or filthy, disease carrying vermin.

 

When discussing the reduction of individual identities of lab animals and in particular lab rats, it is important to note that the concept of “interchangeable parts” in the sense that one rate could be substituted in for another is crucial towards the application of science. Scientific progress hinges on reproducibility – if I performed and experiment claiming that my rats are immortal due to green gatorade and then Tanner tried doing the same experiment using the same conditions and his rats died, we could safely assume I’m wrong. To better create conditions in which variables that might account for differences in reproducibility are removed, the subjects (the rats) of those experiments must be as uniform as possible. Ideally all the rats involved would be the exact same clone, but as that’s too expensive to perform on a practical scale the closest thing we can come to it is the idea of interchangeable rats.

Mice

The Rader reading told the story of C.C. Little and his battle for the acceptance of inbred mice as animal models in science. Ignoring the scientific debates and reasons for using mice as the most common animal model, I found the cultural and social aspects of Little’s struggle fascinating. Little essentially had to convince not only his peers but the general public that mice were the way of the future and research involving their breeding needed to be funded. There are a lot of parallels with that today, especially with the state of funding in most scientific fields. Grants and funds are extremely competitive today, and the opportunities for almost anyone to receive funds are relatively bleak. I’ve met with scientists who consider heading into the scientific field to be a bad career move for a young scholar, as jobs, research opportunities, and grants are all drying up. Today, just like in Little’s time, researchers need to convince both their peers and the general public of the validity of their work. There’s a stark contrast between those scientists who easily and effectively utilize public opinion and media outlets and those that can’t or won’t.

I do believe that the view of mice has drastically changed in the past 100 years. It seems that originally mice were essentially associated with rats in almost every level. But now I think that most people do seem them as heroic or tragic figures, sacrificing their lives for the progress of science and the good of humanity. Treatment of scientific animal models is heavily regulated in the United States, and any projects that involve mice require a vast amount of training and certifications, in everything from physical handling of the mice to the ethics and moral guidelines involved with animal testing.

Darwin and Brantz

The excerpts of Darwin’s writing seem to have a sort of haughty air to them. The English breeders’ version of pigeons are far superior to the Indian or Java, and each time that a breeder wishes to change the bird he’s making “improvements.” According to Darwin birds in the past were considered inferior compared to the present day version, and it is assumed that those birds in the future will serve as improvements on those birds of the present day. This bias towards mutations constantly resulting in better versions of animals is contradictory to most of what we now know about the way mutations work, and leads me to wonder whether Darwin’s attitude was an offshoot of his slightly nationalistic tendencies (seeing England as superior to the rest of the world) or if it’s just because he hadn’t realized/considered the possibility that most changes are deleterious.

 

In the nineteenth century the mutations or changes Darwin described are all clearly visible to the naked eye: changes in tail feathers, coat color, beak length, etc. However, most mutations that occur are on the microscopic level, and they probably are never noticed because they result in death to the organism. For example, a mutation that changes the structure of a ribosomal protein may result in a lack of protein synthesis, which would prove fatal to an organism. However, we rarely see such mutations not because they don’t occur, but because when they do occur the offspring of an organism rarely survives long enough to reproduce even a single cell cycle. I’m wondering if perhaps Darwin experienced this same bias, and that those mutations that would be harmful to a pigeon actually never showed up because they were so harmful that the pigeons never made it to birth.

 

Brantz mentioned  the idea of domestication as an act of civilization, and that concept may be part of what gave Darwin his (in my view) bias. According to Brantz’s research, thinking at the time ran that domestication caused animals to become more civilized, and that colonizing foreign lands and introducing domesticated agricultural plants was civilizing that area. In addition, Brantz went on about the nature of pets in high society and the concept that domesticating animals carried with it a certain air of power or arrogance.

 

 

Page 86 on Brantz: “Despite some major criticisms, Darwin’s ideas about variability through natural selection were quickly accepted on both sides of the Atlantic not least because they offered a new model for how to think about the relationship between humans and animals.”

I’m a bit confused by that passage because Darwin’s theories were not accepted quickly on both sides of the Atlantic, especially on the American side. There were all sorts of counter theories and schools of thought that argued against Darwin or argued for different versions of his theories for decades after he published his work.

Reindeer People

On page 48, author Piers Vitebsky wrote that “the interior of the country was turned into a homogenized space in which Soviet citizens could be moved from one end of the country to the another and find almost identical conditions wherever they went.”

I have two questions about that statement: A) Was it true? B) What about here in America?

The Soviet Union was incredibly vast, did they manage to at least partly accomplish their goal of having a roughly homogenized state?

In America, we certainly have extremely different cultures based on our regions. Someone from Boston has a very different cultural norm than someone from New Orleans, who is incredibly different than someone from Anchorage, Alaska or someone from San Fransisco. Do we as American aspire for homogeneity as well? Or do we try to be different from each other? I’d say that we embrace common themes like language and common laws but then do as much as we can to differentiate ourselves within those themes. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Should we be pushing for more homogeneity or less?

 *                  *                 *

On page 262 the book goes into the religious aspects associated with reindeer hunting, and it brought up something I’ve always had a question about. “A hunter can kill a wild animal only when it offers itself at the behest of Bayanay, who decides whether to give an animal or withhold it, place it in the hunter’s path or send it off in another direction.” On page 263 it talks about how a hunter must treat the body of an animal correctly, or he won’t be presented with future animals while hunting.

My question is, if hunting doesn’t work without the intervention of Bayanay, why bother hunting at all? I don’t understand the motivation of a hunter who thinks it wouldn’t matter how hard he hunts or how good he is, his success is determined entirely by Bayanay. Why not sit at home or in camp and wait for Bayanay to deliver something to you?

I grew up in a religious household, and these kind of questions pervaded my thoughts for years. Most people I brought it up to would say “God helps those who help themselves.” Without getting too deep into a religious debate here, that answer satisfied me (kind of), but from what I can tell Reindeer People doesn’t mention that kind of thinking.

 

 

Goat Song

The first thing I thought when I finished Brad Kessler’s Goat Song? I should buy a goat…

Then I realized I live in a three bedroom apartment in Blacksburg, with no barn, no pastures, no milking station, no hay bales, and most importantly, no idea where to begin if I somehow came across a goat. (I’d probably try to feed it my clementine peels or something)

My second thought? I should buy some goat cheese…

Here at least was a goal I figured I could accomplish easily enough. The Gucci Kroger has a pretty good cheese selection (at least compared to the other major grocery stores in Blacksburg), and if anyone would have it they would. Then I remembered that the last time I had goat cheese (a long time ago) I hated it. In fact, I thought I was being punished by my parents for some vile deed little eight year old me had committed by being hoodwinked into spreading it onto my favorite type of bread.

Yet with age comes wisdom (I hope), and certainly a change in palate. So next time I go grocery shopping I think I will buy some goat cheese and give another shot. Who knows? Maybe it was the particular brand or type I had tried, or the fact that I was only eight when I had it, or even the suspicion I had at being offered an “adult” food.

 

When I came back from spring break and realized we had to read an entire book for this post, I was annoyed that I hadn’t started reading over the previous week. When I rummaged around for the book and discovered I didn’t even have it yet, I was frustrated with myself. Luckily two things saved me from a possible migraine and subsequent ice cream relaxation techniques: Amazon Prime free Student Membership (probably the closest thing a college student has come to achieving a type of holy nirvana with textbook shipping), and the fact that the book is written so clearly and beautifully that each page practically begs to be read. I ordered Goat Song on Monday, received it on Wednesday, started it on Thursday, and finished it this morning (Friday). Hurrah for the convenience of the modern world!

 

Kessler’s story is simple and yet profound. On the surface it seems little more than a tale of a first time shepherd and his goats. But the more you read the more you realize that the goats and their products (both milk and cheese) fulfill a deep seated need in the author’s psyche. He suggests that everyone has such a need, and I think I agree with that. For me the solution is not to all of a sudden start raising goats, but instead to go on hikes in areas I’ve never been before, to walk so far into nature I practically feel lost. There’s something primeval about being deep into a forest or mountain range, knowing you’re at least four hours from the nearest form of civilization, and that in that particular moment your entire world consists of leaf and twig, rock and stone.

Kessler mentions the unique feeling that comes with creating your own food from scratch, seeing it go from grass to hay to goat to milk to cheese. While I can’t say that I’ve ever had that exact experience, I have done something somewhat similar. Each year my father, brother, and I spend about a week canoeing and camping down a river (usually the New or the James), and of course we bring enough food to survive the whole trip. Yet along the way we catch fish as a method of providing dinner, and fresh caught bass tastes completely different from those bought in a store.  It’s not just the fact that the fish is fresh (never frozen or stored), but that just hours before all you had was a rod and reel, and using that you were able to find enough food to sustain yourself. It’s not convenient, it’s not easy, and it’s not even cooked particularly well (usually overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside; it’s really hard to make restaurant quality fish over an open fire), but it tastes better than a five star restaurant bass ever would.

While Goat Song does seem a bit sparse in terms of the history of domestication (at least compared to our other readings), its shortcomings should be forgiven when considering the fact that it is not a history book, or really a scholarly text of any kind. It’s simply a story of a man and his goats, and with that simple premise it excels beyond all my preconceptions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dunn and Zeder

Zeder

I thoroughly enjoyed this article, I think it addressed a number of nagging issues we talked about in class and gave a very clear and concise explanation for the domestication of multiple species. The point about having three distinct pathways towards domestication was fantastic. Oftentimes we mentioned the idea of dogs or cats coming from casual interactions at the fringes of human society and then in the same breath mentioned that such a method would not work with cattle or horses. Zeder’s theory addresses that issue by the incredibly obvious (now that it’s been pointed out) solution of multiple pathways. Why couldn’t there be multiple avenues of domestication? With multiple domestication events occurring worldwide the odds of the same method of domestication being used for every species is incredibly low. And as Zeder said, the pathways aren’t mutually exclusive. Animals such as pigs could have been domesticated through a variety of methods, as they no doubt were.

 

The article mentioned brain sizes and the relationship between domestication and decreased cranial capacity. A startling point was made when Zeder explained that though it seemed (relatively) easy to reduce brain size through domestication, it was very hard to increase brain size through reintroduction of domesticated species to the wild. This observation has a lot of implications for the survival of domesticated species without human beings. We know that many species are incredibly dependent on us for their survival (and vice versa), but in my mind at least there’s always been a vague notion that should human beings suddenly disappear, our pets and livestock would gradually turn feral and become undomesticated. Sure many would die from their dependence on the now vanished mankind, but enough would live to have a small but eventually thriving population. With the knowledge that brain size and other domesticated morphologies might be quite hard to reverse, it seems possible that in reality most of those animals would die out completely. It’s a rather sad thing to think about in my opinion…

 

 

Dunn

Dunn’s Wild Life of Our Bodies takes the typically attitudes and ideas about domestication and turns them on their head. You could argue whether his overall thesis is accurate or worth considering, but he certainly does make some good points. The length of time between most domestication events and today can be roughly estimated to about 10,000 years. This number differs of course depending on what species or event you decide to start from, but as a general number it’s relatively sound. 10,000 in human history is an eternity, in fact it’s essentially an entirety. However, 10,000 years in the history of the evolution is a blink of an eye. In the history of earth it doesn’t even register. One of the  principles of evolution is that it is slow. Even when considering rapid evolutionary shifts, 10,000 years is just barely enough time for fundamental  changes to arise. Dunn’s work points out that essentially what we’ve done as a species is overrun our own evolution. We’ve moved so quickly and changed our environments so rapidly that biological evolution as it has always occurred simply cannot keep up. In response, in order to meet the changing demands of our environment we’ve evolved technologically.

 

Instead of developing thicker fur or metabolic pathways that might grant us the ability to hibernate in cold winter climates, we starting wearing clothing. Instead of developing physical features that might allow us to flourish in unbearably hot conditions, we have an air conditioner. Impaired vision can be corrected with glasses, faulty cell replication systems with anti cancer drugs, and lack of sharp teeth or claws with knives or spears. These changes have allowed us to master our environment in an unprecedented manner, giving humans the ability to essentially remove themselves from the ever running evolutionary race by bypassing the main qualification that are required for such a race: time. We didn’t have the time to wait for evolution to catch up if we as a species wanted to spread out and continue reproducing. In response, we changed the rules and used our ingenuity to make physical evolution if not irrelevant, then close to it. Now, the ingenuity that allowed for such developments certainly is a product of evolution, so by that logic it’s possible to attribute all of human technological evolution to the biological evolution that preceded it.

 

Now for a small personal opinion of the book: I think this book relies heavily on the logical fallacy of false dilemma. Essentially, I believe Dunn has made a number of good points about the disadvantages of our current relationship with nature, but then by extension he goes on to say that because domestication of nature is “bad,” the hunter-gatherer/ancient ways must be “good.” That’s not true. It’s not bad or good, it’s simply different. While Dunn only states this a few times, his overall tone is conveyed through adjectives like the “dark path” that led to aurochs and human mutual domestication.

Week 5 – Congratulations! You’re so special!

** EDITS**
Because I couldn’t make it to class last week, I missed a discussion that involved reading the stories on the author’s terms instead of your own. So I’m going to try and re-write my reaction to the reading in response to that attitude.

Terrill’s narrative tells the story of her experiences owning and raising a wolf-dog. To my eyes she seemed a bit naive at first, expecting it to be somewhat like raising a very large dog. I know she wrote all about how she knew it would be difficult going in, but reading through the stories I think that’s more of a hindsight bias coming in as she was writing. Regardless, her experiences allow us (the readers) to glimpse at just how hard it would be to domesticate a wolf in a single lifetime. Inyo is not even a full wolf, imagine how much harder that would have been!

I think that popular culture has taken wolves and given them a mythical aura, making them out to be essentially prehistoric dogs. Maybe it’s just me, but when I think of domesticated wolves oftentimes I have this image of a caveman running around with his pet wolf, much like a modern man would run around with his pet dog. This book pretty much shatters that illusion, as evident by some of my original rants below. And if that idea about wolves is hopelessly wrong, the long-held ideas of how they became domesticated would definitely change. I know we’ve been reading a few alternative theories regarding the domestication of dogs in class, and for me this book is a personal anecdote that might reinforce those scientific theories. Even though anecdotal evidence is a logical fallacy when trying to support an argument, it does tend to create a vivid picture in our minds.

I think the biggest scientific point this book reinforces for me is that the ancestors of dogs were not wolves, at least not in the sense that we think of them today. It isn’t as if we could take a modern wolf and only breeding within wolves end up with dogs as we know them. Modern wolves and dogs shared a common ancestor, one which most likely we’ll never get a chance to experience in the flesh. Perhaps if Terrill had one of those creatures and tried raising it as she did Inyo, she’d have an easier time of it. An interesting thought experiment would be wondering what might happen if we found remains of that ancient animal in the ice somewhere (similar to mammoths), and then possibly clone it. It certainly would be an exciting venture…

 

I’ve left the original text below in case someone wanted to read it.

So far (page 70 or so) I’m very disappointed in this book. I was excited to finally read something that addressed the issue of domesticated dogs in a way that the other readings we’ve done simply glossed over. However, instead of examining the issue of domestication and trying to explain exactly where dogs came from and how they got to their present breeds, Catherine Terrill instead simply tells the tale of her and her wolfdog. The story reads like a personal journal, which might be appealing to those who care about the author’s life and experiences, but frankly I don’t. The way I see it, there are several very good reasons that humans have dogs as pets and not wolves, and yet the author spends an enormous amount of time essentially defending the idea of owning a wolf (or an 85% wolf-dog hybrid), even in the face of repeated frustrations and issues that arise with such an animal. I understand that at this point Inyo is still a puppy, and puppies are frustrating sometimes. But even so, it sounds to me like her entire life revolves around this dog, even to the point of having Inyo sleep in between her and her husband on her wedding night. The entire story sounds like Terrill is just begging for attention and wants people to acknowledge that she’s special and managed to overcome the challenges of owning a wolfdog, with a lot of love, patience, and some good old Disney family-friendly magic (think the Beethoven movies with wolves). And talk about anthropomorphizing…

 

I’m very curious as to what year the author decided to move to Reno. She and her fiancé simply drove up and expected to find a place to live that would allow big dogs in one day? Also, why would owning a northern wolf be a good idea in the cities of Tucson and Reno? Both of which have very hot climates that I’d imagine would be unsuitable for wolves.

 

Chapter 10 is essentially 12 pages of “my beautiful, genius wolf is better than your ridiculously looking, stupid dog.” Also, Leda sounds like an extremely annoying person.

 

On page 119, Terrill feels guilty (but still does it) about letting Inyo free to eat vulnerable animals whose populations were declining. Yet a few chapters earlier she had harshly criticized poachers who shot wolves in the Northern and Southeastern US. Is that hypocritical?

 

Terrill mentions at the end of chapter 14 how money was very tight, with her husband unable to handle the finances. Yet they just adopted two puppies. I find it hard to feel very much sympathy with them when they knowingly add big expenses to their lives even when they can’t pay for things like electricity.

 

I did like the bit about foxes, but it seemed kind of out of place with the rest of her narrative. I wish her entire book had focused more on the type of questions she explored when examining the domestication of foxes, rather than her wonderful experiences owning a wolfdog.

Week 3 – From Trust to Domination

From Trust to Domination

The Cree example on page 7 seems less like the archetypal example of a hunter gatherer society and more like a typical religion. They believe in certain things that happen divinely (animals presenting themselves), they believe they must perform certain duties (treat the animals correctly post death, don’t kill unnecessarily), and if they fail in these duties they will be punished (animals stop presenting themselves). In addition, as a result of these beliefs everyone in the society benefits, similarly to the way that religion has been used in the past as a sort of control mechanism against chaos.

The whole notion of trust is romantic and all, but what happens in the hard times? If a drought comes and the vegetation dies, how would a gathering society come to terms with the sudden lack of trust presented by nature as evidenced by no longer being given bountiful food? And once trust is broken it’s usually very hard to reform, so does that mean that once a group hits some rough times with regards to food procurement that whole belief system ends? The author goes into it a bit with regards to confidence, but it seems to me that if 90% of a tribe is killed off during rough environmental times, the confidence and trust of the remaining 10% would be shattered.

 

WEEK 3 – Buillet and Other Readings

Buillet Chapter 5

I like Buillet’s ideas concerning the lack of direct human knowledge or intervention in domestication. The accidental domestications he describes (such as cats or pigs hanging around human settlements) do make sense when thinking about multiple domestication processes occurring around the world. If domestication was an active process that required direct human intervention, the likelihood that it arose spontaneously in multiple parts of the globe is slim to none. However, I don’t think he adequately explains how accidental domestication might have occurred for larger animals that wouldn’t be allowed or wouldn’t be able to hang around human beings long enough to become domesticated (like cows).
He does go into a bit about elephants and how they and other species have no cause to fear predators, therefore they are more predisposed to be tamed by humans. But that argument does nothing for domestication, as this predisposition to tameness wouldn’t result in successive generations of such animals simply ending up as domesticated if given enough time. Perhaps I’m simply missing his argument, but to me it sounds almost like:

“Hey guys!! Here’s this great idea for how small mammals became domesticated, and with bigger mammals they usually are more tame anyway and yada yada yada  we have domesticated cattle…”

Chapters 6 and 7

Domestication of canaries over the past 400 years is a fine example of affective uses being a cause for domestication. But there’s a world of difference between mankind in the seventeenth century and mankind 10,000 years ago. People of a few centuries past already had their supplies of food practically guaranteed. Farms and domesticated livestock allowed for a surplus of food and all the advantages that come along with civilization. During the early processes of domestication these luxuries were not to be found, and so I find it hard to believe that people would invest their incredibly valuable time and energy in the pursuit of domestication of animals for aesthetic purposes…

Regarding milk, I feel like he’s forcing the facts to fit his theory rather than creating a theory based on his facts. Milk serving an affective use  as a ritual object seems far fetched to me. Also, incredibly relevant Calvin and Hobbes comic strip!

I disagree with Buillet’s premise that sheep, cattle, and goats were domesticated as a result of using meat for sacrifice. I think that a lot of his evidence rests on saying “Human civilization revered X as a source of meat and __________ from the years #-#. Therefore looking backwards it makes sense that humans have always done so.” I think that basic argument is wrong. Just because the ancient Egyptians or  Mesopotamians thought something does not mean they got it as a result of long standing tradition and that that tradition was the cause of domestication.

Bottom line is that while I originally liked Buillet and his point I now think his book poses the same problem as Guns, Germs, and Steel: He came up with his theory and began pigeonholing evidence to support that theory while ignoring or dismissing other evidence that disagreed with him.

 

From Trust to Domination

The Cree example on page 7 seems less like the archetypal example of a hunter gatherer society and more like a typical religion. They believe in certain things that happen divinely (animals presenting themselves), they believe they must perform certain duties (treat the animals correctly post death, don’t kill unnecessarily), and if they fail in these duties they will be punished (animals stop presenting themselves). In addition, as a result of these beliefs everyone in the society benefits, similarly to the way that religion has been used in the past as a sort of control mechanism against chaos.

The whole notion of trust is romantic and all, but what happens in the hard times? If a drought comes and the vegetation dies, how would a gathering society come to terms with the sudden lack of trust presented by nature as evidenced by no longer being given bountiful food? And once trust is broken it’s usually very hard to reform, so does that mean that once a group hits some rough times with regards to food procurement that whole belief system ends? The author goes into it a bit with regards to confidence, but it seems to me that if 90% of a tribe is killed off during rough environmental times, the confidence and trust of the remaining 10% would be shattered.

 

WEEK 2 – Bulliet

Chapter 1
Picking up this book the prospect of reading 79 pages at once (my original plan) was a little bit daunting, but I’m already 10 pages in and it seems to have flown by. The writing is easy to comprehend and yet technical and precise enough to serve as a scholarly text. I find myself agreeing completely with Bulliet’s definition of Domesticity and Postdomesticity, and I really like the way he uses his definition as the basis for his entire premise (thus far).

Here’s an interesting phrase: “Repetition… is normal, dulls the senses.” (13) The quote refers to animal slaughter and animal sex, but what about in reference to human capacities for evil? Does the same basic wiring in our brains that’s responsible for a dulling of the senses in the face of repeated animal slaughter/sex help contribute to the bystander effect of something like the Holocaust?

Speaking of the Holocaust, what about Charles Patterson’s equating the Holocaust with our treatment of animals? (31) Despite what the comparisons between the mechanical processes of slaughtering animals and slaughtering people, I think it’s making direct comparisons between the two actions is absolutely ridiculous, and that Patterson’s attempt to portray “animal eating and genocide is as part and parcel of the same horror” (32) is wrong.

Regarding the urban terrorism practiced by animal rights groups (33) such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), I believe they should be prosecuted and treated the same way you’d treat any other terrorist group that undertakes the same actions. The worthiness or empathy their cause my generate should not translate to differing treatment by the state.

Chapter 2

I like Bulliet’s definitions and explanations of the differences between tame and domestic. (44) If animals were originally all considered wild, and only became domestic by the taming and breeding of tamed wild animals together, then how would humans know which animals to try and breed together?  The obvious answer is to simply choose the animals that were the most tame and use those as the parents, but would their tameness be a result of genetic inclination toward being tamed (in which case the domestication process should eventually work), or simply having been tamed for the longest period of time (in which case the domestication process probably would not work)?

It would be interesting to see the reactions of Descartes and other thinkers who believe animals exhibit no reason to videos such as this or that.

Chapter 3

Trying to identify a definite point of separation between man and animal is likely impossible. I think that the only way to truly describe the separation is with a type of Venn diagram, with animals on one side, humans on the other, and a gray area in the center which is not definable.

The theory that Homo erectus might have been able to travel across the globe due to their meat eating disposition makes a certain sort of sense, but it glosses over one or two things. What about poisonous animals (like frogs)?

Chapter 4

I’d really like to see someone discuss dogs in depth. Bulliet mentions that dogs were the first domestic animals, and were domesticated before even plants were made domestic. But what were dogs used for? Different breeds of domestic dogs implies different uses, so when did breeds arise? He mentions that even before cattle were used for plows, they were most likely used as a source of wealth, meat, and milk. So what purpose did dogs serve?

 

 

WEEK 1 – READINGS

ENERGY AND ECOSYSTEMS

This chapter begins by lamenting the human impact on the environment and the constant changes to the environment as a direct consequence of human existence. However, when I read this type of writing (and others like it), I always question why the writer considers human beings as something distinct from the environment. Humans are a part of nature, and alterations to existing environments by organisms prevalent in nature happens ever single day. Species are driven to extinction in areas by a number of factors, and human beings are not the only catalyst for such drastic change.

The author writes that the rippling extinction of megafauna  “probably owe something to human expansion and hunting.” (page 81) To me this seems like correlation implying causation, which is not the case. A major factor in human beings becoming as prolific as we did is the change in global environments and a shift in global climate. Such a shift would have certainly caused rippling extinctions throughout the world, regardless of the proliferation of humans.

I disagree with the authors conclusions that a calorie is a calorie, whether in fuel or in food. Perhaps that would be accurate if we were discussing only calories lost from the environment, but the reading discusses it in terms of calories gained by human beings. In the discussions of humans as K-selected species, the reading completely fails to mention the most obvious reason that human beings were able to grow so rapidly despite our classification as a species that might not ordinarily to so:  space to move. When humans began filling out the carrying capacity of a certain environment, we simply moved somewhere else. Granted, the movement consumed the environment in different ways and altered it drastically, but the text never goes into this detail.

Neanderthals are actually not an evolutionary dead end in the sense that they were wiped out by competing species or gradually died off on their own. There’s a growing body of evidence that shows that Neanderthals interbred quite readily with Homo sapiens, and thus might have naturally bred themselves into extinction (combined with other factors). It wasn’t a case of being outcompeted.

 

WILD LIFE OF OUR BODIES

In the introduction Dunn mentions a host of diseases that are emerging and links them to our changing relationships with the world around us, especially all the animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria that we might not be interacting with on a daily basis. However, many of his diseases do not belong on such a list. Sick cell anemia, for one, is a direct result of a genetic mutation that lends the carrier immune to malaria. Distancing ourselves from mosquitoes doesn’t cause sick cell anemia, simply living long enough to the point where the symptoms would become evident does. Autism rates are increasing, that is certainly true. But there’s much evidence for the conclusion that the reason autism rates are increasing is because we are becoming better at diagnosing it, not because the disease itself is on the rise.

Dunn’s introduction reads almost like he believes that we were healthier in the age before technology, in the age of our ancestors. He says we are headed to a time in which our daily lives are more removed from nature and we are “sicker, less happy, and more anxiety-ridden for it.” (Introduction, I can’t find the page number on the ebook). Frankly I believe his entire attitude is delusional. He briefly touches on the fact that we should avoid reverting to wilderness and the dangers associated with it, but then laments repeatedly about our increasing dissociation with nature. Life was brutal and short before we started altering nature to fit our needs. Probably the single biggest life saving feature ever implemented in human society was the chlorination of water systems. Yet chlorinating water is a great removal from Dunn’s attitude of embracing nature. There’s a reason human beings changed their environment and removed ourselves from nature. Nature isn’t some happy environment in which we all thrive and grow equally. Nature is brutal and leads to very short, hard lives.

He comments on how we as a species used antibiotics to rid ourselves of one bacteria and in the process killed off the entire microfauna in our guts. That is utterly ridiculous. Antibiotics certainly are coming around to bite us, because they’ve been abused and misused. Yet there’s a very good reason they were used in the first place. Preserving the microbiome in someone’s gut is an excellent goal, but it’s a hollow victory when that patient subsequently dies from syphilis (or some other bacterial disease, take your pick).

Here’s Ardi, for those interested in what she might look like.