I have never thought about mans ability to control the weather. While natural disasters cause destruction, displacement, and undue tragedy for humans it scares me to think that we could eventually control mother nature. I think sometimes with new developments and the interaction between nature and mankind we overlook the possible consequences.
I agree with Kelly – the technical information in this post is presented in a way that is accessible to us non-specialists. Thank you! I am going to be very interested to hear what you think about Dunn’s later chapters (about the legacy of the fight-flight response). I do not think he is nostalgic about the distant past or romanticizes it as somehow “better” than contemporary society. His main point supports your discussion here of neuro-plasticity, which is that our biological beings are both products of very old relationships with our environment and other species, and the contemporary context into which we are born. So both nature and nurture have historic and biological components. Neither is a given.
We should also keep in mind the other issue both Dunn and Stiner / Feeley-Harnick address, which is that our humanity is intimately and intricately bound up with other creatures.
The title of your post highlights a central tension (and most would say shortcoming) in Diamond’s theories. Geographic / environmental determinism has always been both appealing and treacherous (think back to Montesquieu). And I think most people wish that Diamond had some training as a historian or anthropologist to complement his expertise in biology. But leaving aside the kind of over-determined and ethno-centric implications of his approach, it is still interesting to think about how the development of particular kinds of relationships between humans and other species, especially herbivores that provided labor, sustenance and fertilizer helped contour power relationships between human societies, both historically and in the contemporary world.
Thanks, Peter – I should have read this before posting the comment above. Great links to the Smithsonian site on Neanderthals!
We can talk about this more in class tomorrow, but Tanner is right – “race” as we use it today (and for the last few hundred years) is a social construct not a biological given. When talking about humans (homo-sapiens) and Neanderthals, we are in that grey area of defining species (a scientific category) – and that definition is debated as well (with inter-breeding being one of the contested areas).
I love the “depth” of the first paragraph! You are so wise to remind us that our current view of how omnipotent, powerful, and entitled we are is, after all, a specific kind of historical construction. As Dunn notes, in terms of our evolutionary past, we were prey long before and for a lot longer than we’ve been predators or agriculturalists.
And yes, on Diamonds’ glaring omission of dogs – the oldest domesticate and certainly one of the most interesting. I’m looking forward to your future posts about them!
I think that you’re dismissing the possibilities of weather control a bit too quickly. There have been preliminary experiments with cloud seeding as a method of controlling rainfall, and given enough time we could see a day when cloud seeding (or another technique) is used to deflect storms, weaken them, or alter weather patterns altogether. I’m not saying if a tornado comes down we’ll have a magic button to stop it, but we could possibly have a method of determining how tornadoes form and then go about preventing the conditions necessary for formation.
One of my favorite quotes:
Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.
I definitely agree with your assessment of Dunn’s writing style. He does an excellent job of grabbing the reader and creating an image. I was especially taken by the image of the 2 feet of sand on top of Ardi’s remains, and the picture of the changes the world underwent after her death. The simple 2 feet of sand separating our world from Ardi’s seems so insignificant, yet Dunn really paints a picture of crucial those 2 feet really were in the development of modern humans. Even from the first moment you open the book, Dunn grabs you and pulls you into his world, and even by the end of the first chapter you find yourself yearning to live in a simpler time, ages ago, when humans were in harmony with nature. That being said, I think Dunn’s captivating writing, as beautiful and whimsical as it may be, is really the method he uses to camouflage a lack of real evidence for his claims. As I found myself dreaming of this “simpler time,” I began to think on the concept a little more and realize this time was a harsh, short and dangerous reality. The developments humanity has made have not only given humans more anxiety and more disease, but it has also lengthened human lifespans and saved many people from cruel and horrible deaths. I really do enjoy reading Dunn, and I think there is much to be said about his writing ability when you really consider the lack of support that he offers for his claims.
I’m glad I read your post! Your thoughts on Dunn complete the uneasy feelings I had with the reading, however I was unable to quite pinpoint why. For some reason, I had an issue with the complete separation of everything humanity has accomplished from nature. That just doesn’t feel right to me, and reading your much more detailed and deeper understanding of the reading gives some weight to the feelings I was having. It certainly seems unfair of Dunn to give an abridged version of humanity’s accomplishments and twist them all in a way which seems very negative. I do see Dunn’s point in that not every process humanity has created has been perfect, (such as the misuse of antibiotics you mentioned) however it’s completely unfair to not credit any of the positive impacts of modern medicine and technology,. I also appreciated your Ardi link. I was really curious to see how she looked!
I agree with Dunn that there is much that ties us to our ancestral plains and trees, but I think he romanticizes the old biomes in humans. Taking intestinal worms as an example, the worms provoke a body response to release chemicals that encourage healing not only in the intestines, but also in the lungs. In modern times, healing lungs could be done with different or even the same drugs, but without the damaging parasites. We’ve crafted an environment and a technology that either makes these kind of relationships obsolete, or co-opts their mechanisms and produces the same effects without the negative effects.
On Neanderthals, there seems to be some evidence of interbreeding (2), though to a small extent as would be expected since they could fall into a kind of uncanny valley, being both too much like us and too different for most people.