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Cat Mourns Dead Friend?

I know all the stereotypes about the heartless cat, and luckily this video seems to dispel them all.  The two cats had been seen together prior to the one being hit by the car.. the other cat was acting extremely aggressive towards anyone who approached the body post the accident.  This is an example of animal mourning, correct?

Not so fast.

Trotting out this video as an example of higher cognition in animals (i.e. the recognition of loss, of death, the example of grief) is a mistake.  Similarly, throwing this video out there and then stating that we humans should learn from this video about how to better our own species.. since we walk right on by past victims of crimes… is also a mistake.

Anyone who owns a cat will take one look at that and recognize the fact that the animal isn’t mourning.  For all intents and purposes, if you strip the video of the context (the two cats were friends, the one cat witnessed the other hit by the car…) it looks like the one cat is trying to mate with the other.  The kneading, the hip movements, the arching of the back, the biting of the neck.. that isn’t an attempt to revive the other animal, it’s a territorial need for reproduction.  No wonder the cat was aggresive towards everyone that tried to intervene.

There are plenty of good examples of animal compassion out there.  While the good examples may not be as emotionally compelling as the idea that one cat is trying to revive the other (as an aside, where did the cat learn CPR?) they are still touching and far more interesting.

Animals are not humans – and it is wrong to treat them as if they were.  While they should be treated with respect and not abused, while they should be admired for what traits they do have that are better than our own it is wrong to outright assume that they always take the moral high ground.  This is not an example of animal compassion, and quite frankly I’d be rather disturbed if someone walked away from this video feeling as if that cat was “doing the right thing.”

To be perfectly honest my first thought while viewing it was wondering whether or not if a vet got there sooner the other cat could have been saved.  It may have been the white cat’s little ‘display’ for the two hours that cost the black cat its life in the long-run.


Cultural Relativism

A quick update since we were lacking one yesterday – expect something longer tonight, Reader.

One of the most fundamental values of Anthropology is learning cultural relativism.  What cultural relativism offers is a chance to view and evaluate a culture from its own perspective, rather than that of your own.  For instance, the Northern Cheyenne eat dogs.. an idea that is horrific to most United States citizens.  However, if viewed from the Northern Cheyenne perspective it becomes less horrific and more understanding.

In Northern Cheyenne tradition there once was an extremely hard winter.  The food was scarce, and many of the tribe was dying from starvation.  The dog, the most faithful companion and loyal member of the tribe, came to the Chief and offered up his own body in order to ensure their continued survival.  Once a year, then, this honor and respect is paid to the dog through the eating of it.  It honors the memory of this, and it exemplifies the dogs true importance to the tribe.  No longer is this barbaric, instead it is strangely touching.  This is cultural relativism.

Michael C. Meril, in this essay “The Sunglasses Analogy” published by Youth For Understanding offers another way to understand Cultural Relativism.  In his story cultural values, attitudes, ideas, beliefs and assumptions are represented by a pair of sunglasses that every person wears.  In North America, let’s say that the sunglasses are yellow.

Should a person travel to, in this case Japan, where the sunglasses are blue they will begin to try to understand their values.  They may return to America, say they know what the Japanese are like and that their sunglasses are green!  The problem is that the Japanese customs were still viewed through the yellow lenses.

According to Mercil the only true way to adapt another viewpoint is to, for a moment, remove our own sunglasses.  We are not traveling or learning to judge another culture, but to learn about it.  It is hard, but developing “double vision” is the only way to see more than one side of an idea and to truly begin to appreciate it.

To learn double vision is to learn cultural relativism.  It is to understand and describe values, attitudes, beliefs, ideas and assumptions of American culture and to be able to verbalize and really understand what it is that makes an American an American.

So ask yourself – what assumptions do you tend to make on a daily basis?  What are your hard set beliefs?  Do not try to change your own mind, but rather try to understand why other peoples minds are differents.

Meditation *Part 1*

Meditation is a practice that has been gaining popularity in the United States since the 70s. The purpose of meditation is manifold, and it is hard to argue against the benefits that it can offer to the general practicioner. Even if casually dabbled in, meditation can help cure insomnia, reduce stress, and energize and revitalize you in mind, body, and spirit. For those interested in any sort of magickal practice, meditation is also the first step to take.

The first step to meditation, and often one of the most complex, is figuring out what to visualize when sitting there with your eyes shut. It is recommended to visualize a place that is calming to you, a place where you feel at peace. The place must be pictured in every detail, every sensation – do not hold back, you are trying to recreate this location within your mind.

There are two locations that I can think of where I felt truly secure and at peace. The first was Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. One year I went there in January, and it was virtually deserted.

If I close my eyes I can picture the way the beach looked at night. I can imagine the way the sand felt against my bare feet, chilly yet still yielding, devoid of the graininess present during the summer due to moisture that lingers in the air. I can imagine how cold I felt, shivering in my sweatshirt with the hood drawn, but how good I felt still.

I can imagine the scent of the ocean, salty but sweet with the tinge of some underwater plant rotting in the breakers. I can imagine the crispness of the winter air and the very feint scent of food from the restaurants out beyond the boardwalk.

I can imagine the way the wind bites at my bare cheeks, even with my hood up. I can imagine the taste of salt left on my lips, I can imagine how good all of this feels. For me, this was peaceful. For me, this was security.

The second place that I visualize is the field behind the elementary school I attended. During recess I used to lay on top of a metal car skeleton, looking up at the sky and watching the red tailed hawks circle. I would shut my eyes and feel the warm sun beating down upon me. I would smell the scent of pine and hay, the earthy scents of the farms near the school. I could feel the cool metal and lose myself to the calmness of the decidedly rural scene.

Do you, readers, have any similar memories that calm them? Would you all consider meditation as a form of stress relief?

Evolution VS. Intelligent Design *Round One*

In 1802, the English theologian William Paley set forth the case for Intelligent Design. If a man were to be walking through a field in the countryside and happened upon a pocket watch, the man would be inclined to view the watch as something unnatural, that is, man-made. He would observe the fact that the watch is intricately designed, put together in such a way that if a single part was taken away the watch would no longer function. Anything so intricately made, so perfect a creation that every part works together in harmony, must have been designed and not have simply evolved; such is the belief of Intelligent Design.

Michael J. Behe, in the article “The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity,” sets forth an argument that evolves directly from the Paley hypothesis. Darwin, Behe postulates, would not have set forth the concept of evolution in the manner he did if he could have known the inner-workings of cells. During Darwin’s time, the inner-mechanizations of cells were a “Black Box” that is, something that’s workings could not be divined. Could Darwin have seen the manner in which the cells operate, Behe believes that his entire hypothesis would have fallen to pieces. The standard for this belief was set by Darwin himself in a direct quote from The Origin of Species:

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

Successive modifications then, are what Darwinism is founded upon. In the case of the pocket watch, if any single piece of the inner workings is removed, the watch would no longer function. Behe’s argument rests upon a similar object – in this case a mousetrap. The mousetrap is a perfect invention, something which is very simple, yet designed with only one purpose in mind. If any piece of the mousetrap is removed, the mousetrap no longer works. The analogy turns biological when viewed with the cell. How could a cell evolve, if every piece of it is working in perfect harmony? If the cell ceases to work if any one piece is removed, then how could it evolve via successive modifications? With this argument in place, Behe has a sound case for Intelligent Design; or does he? Are cells actually irreducibly complex? (That is, not subject to successive modifications in order to evolve to its final form.)

Kenneth R. Miller responded to Behe’s article in the cleverly titled, “The Flaw of the Mousetrap.” Scores of people working on deciphering exactly how cells evolve need not fear for their jobs after all. The flaw in Behe’s argument is one that is often trotted out when evolutionism gets questioned. Successive modification does not just mean building one thing upon another; it also involves taking bits and pieces of other systems and turning them to a different purpose.

Nature, it seems, does not enjoy waste. Just like the human brain is in fact made of three separate “brains” (reptilian, mammalian, and the frontal lobe), so the cells inner workings are made up of various strands of protein originally utilized for very different functions. Evolution then, is not simply successive modifications on a visible level, but also on a molecular one, sea changes occurring via the copying, modifying, and combining.

In the case of the mousetrap, a similar argument can be postulated. The base of the mousetrap could be used as a paperweight; the spring could be used in countless other objects. The ‘trap’ portion could make a tie clip, or could function as a buckle. If you take it apart in that manner, rather than expect it to still function as a mousetrap, the evolution of it begins to make sense. Innovation, then, is the nature of evolution.

Intelligent Design, thus far, has eluded a firm definition. We are aware of it requiring an outside hand to create things that fall under the heading of irreducible complexity – but how do we necessarily detect design? That question was what was postulated by William A. Dembski, who described the process of detecting design as involving recognizing “specified complexity.” Complexity then would come out of something that had changed but not out of “chance or necessity.” Chance, then, would be defined as the adaptations to the environment that generally create physical changes within creatures, while necessity would be the result of similar situations. (i.e. the change of proportion of white moths to dark brown moths of the same species in a polluted area, or the change in beak size of Darwin’s birds.) Needless to say, there are many problems with this.

Robert T. Pennock responds to this hypothesis with a well-reasoned argument. A negative definition, in this case: anything that did not evolve out of “chance or necessity” is intelligently designed, is a poor definition. Negative definitions fail in their lack of specificity and, scientifically, the inability to test for them.

Some Intelligent Designers tend to raise the question: But where is the evidence that selection produces new features in new species? They argue that changes are only slight and not permanent, an argument that fails to take into account how long it takes creatures to evolve. New species are not just born that way – changes are gradual, and primarily genetic in nature. While Darwin’s theory cannot account for all features of living things, it doesn’t have to. Biological processes are known about today that could not have even been imagined in Darwin’s time. With knowledge of gene transfer, symbiosis, chromosomal rearrangement and regulator genes we now have an arsenal of information that can be applied to amplify and build upon Darwin’s theories. Evolutionary theory is not inadequate, if one takes account of what we know now that we did not know then.

Ten years ago the argument for Intelligent Design was set forth in earnest. Arguments have been had since then that argue about whether or not it should be taught in schools alongside Darwin’s theory of Evolution, essentially setting forth whether or not religion is a proper topic for a science class. In these ten years, Intelligent Design proponents have not set forth an empirical research program and have published no data in peer-reviewed journals to support their claims. If Intelligent Design is a true scientific possibility, then it should be treated as such and be held to the same standards as other scientific theories have been – as such, all it seems to be is a political and religious tactic.

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