From the (Boston) Sunday Globe, an article suggesting “How animals made us human”:
What explains this yen to have animals in our lives?
An anthropologist named Pat Shipman believes she’s found the answer: Animals make us human. She means this not in a metaphorical way — that animals teach us about loyalty or nurturing or the fragility of life or anything like that — but that the unique ability to observe and control the behavior of other animals is what allowed one particular set of Pleistocene era primates to evolve into modern man. The hunting of animals and the processing of their corpses drove the creation of tools, and the need to record and relate information about animals was so important that it gave rise to the creation of language and art. Our bond with nonhuman animals has shaped us at the level of our genes, giving us the ability to drink milk into adulthood and even, Shipman argues, promoting the set of finely honed relational antennae that allowed us to create the complex societies most of us live in today. Our love of pets is an artifact of that evolutionary interdependence.
Shipman’s arguments for the importance of “the animal connection,” laid out in an article in the current issue of Current Anthropology and in a book due out next year, draw on evidence from archeological digs and the fossil record, but they are also freely speculative. Some of her colleagues suggest that the story she tells may be just that, a story. Others, however, describe it as a promising new framework for looking at human evolution, one that highlights the extent to which the human story has been a collection of interspecies collaborations — between humans and dogs and horses, goats and cats and cows, and even microbes.
The great value that was gained from these “living tools,” as Shipman calls them, also meant that people with a particular interest in animal behavior, and who were especially acute about observing, predicting, and controlling it, were more likely to thrive in early human societies and to have more offspring. To the extent that there was a genetic component to these skills, Shipman argues, it spread. Just as humans selected for certain traits in domestic animals, those same animals were unconsciously shaping their domesticators right back.
“Domestication was reciprocal,” Shipman writes in her Current Anthropology article. And our weakness for pets, she suggests, may be a vestige of that bilateral domestication.
Cats domesticated us to get the milk out of cows.
Shhhh, you’ll wake up Lil Bit!
Has this been peer reviewed by Megan McCardle yet?
If too many Sarah Palin equivalents were represented amongst those Pleistocene era primates, we might not have ever had dogs as she would be conking wolves from the treetops, preventing them from bonding with those in our forebears’ camps and eventually evolving into domesticated dogs.
Why her sub-primitive instincts are currently re-emerging so forcefully is anybody’s guess.
This is exciting only to me, but I thought I’d share anyway:
I had my first peer-reviewed article accepted today! Yay!!
Living with an animal keeps me in touch with the animal world. I look at the wild animals and I find myself feeling left out of a dangerous but exciting world. It’s 5th grade P.E. all over again. Having a pet makes me feel connected. I can’t hang out and pet a cheetah, but I do have a long-haired, miniature dachsund who accepts me and who depends on me to hunt and kill cans of Mighty Dog everyday. Gives my life meaning.
Dogs roaming the savannah snarling, “I’ll show them. I’ll show them what they really are.”
I don’t think it’s too complicated. When times got tough it was a lot easier to cook the family pet then go out and hunt for something.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Congratulations, Betsy and a big raspberry to all the cynics above….
mom to a black lab and 2 miniature dachshunds
I was just musing this weekend that it is strange the two things I have never flagged in my enthusisasm for, animals and music, lie outside the realm of my greatest strength, language.
Pure speculation to say, but perhaps this true of humanity as a whole. Animals and music touch something in us that is super-human and beyond language.
But, our animals have been intently observing us, learning how to control our behavior for just as long.
So, when will they catch up? Perhaps surpass us?
The neocons will work this up into a pet threat gap of some kind. Requiring vast sums for seminars and contractors.
And what animals have been more successful at this than the three animals who have trained Cole, fine tuned the poor guy, to a degree hitherto unknown in the annals of human history?
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem” (or Wheeling?)
The implications are terrifying. Everyone pray that Tunch be kind to us.
Dogs are wonderful not because they are complex emotionally, but because of the depth of their sadness when you leave and the height of there joy when you return.
I aspire to be the person my dog thinks I am.
Congratulations! I remember my first peer-reviewed article, and it was a big deal to me. All of the co-authors went out for dinner to celebrate, but they wouldn’t let me pick up the check for everyone.
Made me laugh out loud.
Thank you both! :D Yeah, it definitely feels like a bit of a milestone in one’s professional development. Or at least in MY professional development.
I for one welcome our new animal overlords.
++ Congrats Betsy!
It’s definitely a milestone, and one you deserve to be proud of. Just wait until you get asked to review somebody else’s articles; that’s another big milestone.
Report from my first day of being an evil gubmint worker:
WHEW!!! First day is over and I’m EXHAUSTED! I got up at 6 AM just to leave myself enough time to get there, got to the bus station right at 7:15. Bus ride downtown is VERY fast, but I end up getting off at the wrong stop! So I have to go six blocks instead of three. Good thing I left myself a nice time cushion!
Once I was there and in the room we were sent to get our ID badges. I was the first to go up, until they discovered they couldn’t find the right yellow background! So I got to be the guinea pig while they futzed around with some yellow folders until they got it so it was solid yellow. The guy in charge kept saying welcome to the IRS LOL. That ended up going way over time, so we sat around until everyone was done, but by then it was pretty much lunchtime. I got a quick bite in then back to watching some intro videos, then it was a one on one paperwork check (there it is again LOL) where I went first AGAIN!!! She didn’t even get through us all by the end of the day so I did a ton of sitting around doing nothing. But the coolest part of the day was taking the oath of office. That’s when it sank in I was in this for good.
Congrats Yutsano!!!! That is superfantastic.
We are but one animal species amongst many, though one with a special ability, that does not change the basic facts of life here on planet earth. The more we understand and integrate our lives with our fellow critters, the better ours will be. Though intelligent, yet unenlightened humans insist on feeling superior with bigger brains, and a perpetual habit of not using them for what matters. And that is the humbling knowledge we cannot survive without the sustenance of other life we share space with. And I would argue that goes beyond calories for the body, but calories for the spirit equally..
Well, two friends came by to visit this evening. I unlatched the screen door on the front porch and invited them in. Unfortunately, it apparently did not occur to them – as they followed me back into my house – that they needed to close the friggin’ door.
Which means that my six month old English Bulldog puppy wandered off. I have just spent three hours looking for him and he is nowhere to be found.
So, tomorrow, I’ve got to start putting out “lost dog” fliers, contacting the local vets, and praying someone finds him and takes him to a vet to get his microchip scanned.
Oh, yeah . . . And, just for fun, his tag – with his name and my contact information – fell out of it’s holder. So the only thing on his collar now is his rabies tag and the microchip tag.
I really, really hope I haven’t lost my dog for good.
I’ve always been an animal lover. The enjoyment and fascination has never gone away. They are so different from us; and yet, so alike.
And the mere fact that I live, and communicate, and love an alien species lights up the science fiction fan in me.
The fact that cats probably feel the same way about me; that’s spiritual.
@Swellsman: Oh, that’s horrible! But I don’t think a six-month-old Bulldog pup would’ve wandered very far on his own… hopefully, someone picked him up almost immediately, and tomorrow you’ll get a call from Animal Control / a veterinary hospital telling you to come pick up your little guy. At least you can take comfort in the thought that he IS chipped, and tagged, so that whoever picked him up knows how to go about finding you.
You & your pup will be in my positive thoughts. Our rescue dog Zevon is a chronic escape artist, which we did not know until 48 hours after coming to our house, when he jumped out a window and disappeared into a dark, drizzly November evening. That was one of the worst nights of my life, much of it spent dragging our other two dogs around the neighborhood, in the hopes Zevon would come to them even if he wouldn’t come to me. The next morning, I was on the phone to Animal Control as soon as they opened — and ten minutes later, they called me back with a report from a local vet clinic. Turned out Zeev had been picked up by a nice couple shortly after he escaped (on the wrong side of the third-most-dangerous intersection in the state!) and spent the night sharing their dogs’ dinner, toys & beds. Hope to hear that your little guy’s adventure has a similarly happy ending!
@Swellsman: Oh, that’s awful. I so hope you can find him again. Soon.
@Anne Laurie: Yeah, it is an awful feeling when your pooch runs off. I think Charlie is past that now, but at first, because he was picked up a stray, I suspect the call of the wild was strong to be again on his own. He will still chase other critters when off the leash, but doesn’t go far, and returns pretty quick.
Does this explain our webmaster’s obsession with football?
I suspect lily, Rosie, and the Tunchster ask the same question. Well, maybe not Tunch, so long as the pre game tuna is delivered.
@Swellsman: That really sucks.
I wish you the best of luck with finding him, but don’t get too discouraged if a couple of days go by. A cat of mine once disappeared for almost a month- turns out he got free of his collar and was lording up at some nice old lady’s house several blocks away. Apparently, it took her that long to overcome her initial desire to keep him for herself, and take him into have the microchip read. (In fairness, he was a nice cat.) All the while we were worrying about him, he was packing on two pounds and living like a king. Jerk.
Thankfully, my current dog won’t even go in the back yard on his own, so my days of this kind of stress are over, but I feel for you.
But really, the microchips really make all the difference in situations like this. I’m sure anyone who finds him will realize that it’s unlikely that breed of wog would be just wondering around on it’s own and that he has an owner somewhere near that’s worried about him.
Oh noes, I just read that Obama will be speaking at a school tomorrow for a back-to-school moment-of-hope. No other Prezidon’t has ever, ever propagandized to impressionable kids like this, two whole years in a row now.
“Stay in school, do well, respect your teacher” is, of course, secretly Kenyan for kill whitey and take all the money.
Oh Swellman, good thoughts going out for you. I hope your friends are helping you look. My lab used to wander off frequently in his younger days. He was chipped, so I always got a call. Twice from the pound. And their fines increase exponentionally with each grab. Next fine would be $150 but he’s too old to walk any further than the front yard these days.
Fingers crossed you find him and please let us know!
I’m a devout animal lover. I prefer them with worchestershire sauce, lightly broasted.
@Betsy: Yay, Betsy! Good for you!
@Swellsman: Oh, graciousness, I hope you find your pup soon. At least he’s chipped. Best wishes for you and the pup! I’ve got one who’s blind, diabetic, and Cushing’s but won’t wear a collar. It terrifies me that she might get out.
@Yutsano: Welcome, Yutsano, to my world! I’m a fellow IRS worker-15 years, and the water is fine.
Thanks, everyone for your kind wishes. I am very pleased to report that after a long night and the posting of many, many fliers, Homer and I were reunited just 10 minutes ago.
It turns out that he had actually wandered fairly far afield, all the way to the other side of the island on which I live. A vey nice family who is vacationing here came back from the pier and found him sleeping on their house’s front porch. They fed him and the kids (three young girls) played with him, and he was even allowed to sleep in bed with one of the kids.
I was out very early this morning posting fliers and asking anyone if they had seen my dog, and after only about an hour I got a call back.
So, all’s well that ends well, but – as I am sure everyone here can imagine – it wasn’t a particularly good night. Thanks again for wishing us both well.
P.S. Yeah, my friends helped out a lot, riding around for hours last night helping me to look for him, and filing a lost dog report with the local police while I kept up the search. And it was just a stupid mistake on their part, so I didn’t yell at them or anything. Still, wondering if I might have just lost my dog, I wa still pretty mad. Now I get to call them up and give them the god news, and assuage their consciences.
Don’t ants enslave other species for their milk? Does that make them antlike, or human?
@Swellsman: Good news!! And you live on an island. How cool is that.
@Phoebe: They enslave aphids for their honeydew. Prolly republican ants.
Oh! Interspecies Love alert: baby squirrel adopted by cat learns to purr:
It’s what makes cats human.
And congratulations to you Swellsman, and I’m glad you didn’t bitch them out. They were just being nice. I’m very happy for you and your dog. Now put a collar on him with your telephone number on it. I didn’t do that to my cat and it was not a happy ending.
That’s a completely bogus “Just So Story.”
First of all, humans hardly invented the use of other animals for food. Something else has to explain the fact that other carnivores/omnivores did not develop tool usage to the extent that we have. Lack of opposable thumbs doesn’t work because chimps are omnivores.
Second, the overwhelming likelihood is that humans did not domesticate dogs. The requirements for domestication are pretty restrictive (see Jared Diamond) and wolves just don’t fit.
Dogs appear at about the time that humans began living in permanent settlements. Any time human beings settle in one place, garbage dumps appear, which offer a ready food source for any animal able to tolerate the presence of people. That is a strong natural selective pressure, and dogs evolved in response to it.
Note that this account provides an actual selective mechanism, which Shipman’s does not. She is arguing backward from the conclusion, and you can’t do that. Evolution doesn’t have a goal toward which it is striving. It simply responds to immediate pressures in the immediate environment.
Oh! I just read that he had a tag. Ok. Those people really should have called the vet. Pfft. But yeah, get the cheap Petsmart tag that you can watch get engraved by the machine.