Jul 22 2010

The Animal Connection

We often take our relationship with animals for granted, but humans are unique in their ability to form working relationships with other species. (There are animals that have formed symbiotic relationships, but nothing compared to the multifarious use of animals by humans.) Humans nurture other species, feed and protect them, have guided their evolution in a process of domestication, and can communicate with them to a limited but useful degree. In exchange we use animals for protection, companionship, as a renewable food source, as a source of milk for our children, to provide wool for clothing, to perform strenuous manual labor, and for transportation of goods and people.

Anthropologist Pat Shipman has written a paper and an upcoming book hypothesizing that our relationship with animals was a key component of recent human evolution. Working with animals, she argues, evolved out of our knowledge of animals as prey and predators. Our ancestors intently learned about the animals in their environment, so that they could better hunt prey and avoid becoming prey themselves. This animal knowledge base then allowed them to exploit those same animals. Acquiring and passing on a complex knowledge base requires language, and therefore the benefits of animal knowledge became a key component of the selective pressures in favor of language itself. Those ancestors that were better able to form relationships with animals had a significant advantage over those who did not.

Let’s take dog domestication, for example. This was a long process, and what we can say at this point is that the dog genetic line split from the wolf line about 100,000 years ago. It is unclear what role, if any, humans had in this original split. One hypothesis is that some wolves began following human hunters to scavenge. Those that were less threatening to the humans were more likely to survive at the edges of human activity, until eventually you have a wolf transitioning to become a dog. At some point humans became involved in the process, feeding the proto-dogs in exchange for their service as an alarm system and protection against other predators. The oldest dog fossil dates to about 32,000 years ago, although this fossil still has some wolf-like features. The earliest example of clear human-dog cohabitation dates to about 14,000 years ago. Genetic evidence suggests that dogs are evolved from Middle Eastern wolves, although there was likely a contribution from Asian wolves which might have been an independent domestication.

Today we use dogs for companionship, as an alarm system, for protection, herding, hunting, and transportation. I use my dog to keep squirrels away from my bird feeders and deer away from my garden.

The advantage to our ancestors of using animals is clear. It is easy to imagine the extreme advantages to early tribes of humans if they had large hunting dogs at their sides, or horses to ride, or farm animals as a convenient food source, or even just cats to keep away the vermin.

But Shipman is making a further argument – the advantage of communicating knowledge about animals was significant enough to become an important factor in our own evolution. As evidence for this she writes:

“Though we cannot discover the earliest use of language itself, we can learn something from the earliest prehistoric art with unambiguous content.  Nearly all of these artworks depict animals.  Other potentially vital topics — edible plants, water, tools or weapons, or relationships among humans — are rarely if ever shown,” Shipman said.  She sees this disproportion as evidence that the evolutionary pressure to develop an external means of storing and transmitting information — symbolic language — came primarily from the animal connection.

That is an interesting argument. The fact that our ancestors focused their art almost entirely on the depiction of animals is certainly worthy of some explanation. But Shipman makes a tricky inference. It is also true that animals are often beautiful and fascinating creatures. It is easy to understand the artistic obsession with animals without invoking any other explanation. In order to interpret the implications of the disproportionate focus on animals in early art we would need to know the role of art in early human culture. Was it used to depict useful or important aspects of human life, or things that were thought to have a spiritual connection, or simply the most interesting things available in the environment?

I look forward to reading Shipman’s book to see how she further develops this argument. Regardless of the true implications of this observation about early human art, and the precise role that animals played in driving human evolution (specifically with language and tool use, as Shipman argues), there is no question that animals were vitally important to the success of humans as a species. I see the formation of useful relationships with other species as just one of many skills that our ancestors developed to help them survive and thrive, but perhaps one that deserves more attention.

Incidentally, I took two courses on human evolution with Pat Shipman while I was an undergrad at Johns Hopkins. She was an excellent teacher and helped further my interest in the science of evolution. She is now an adjunct professor of biological anthropology at Penn State University.

80 responses so far

80 Responses to “The Animal Connection”

  1. mazeedton 22 Jul 2010 at 8:16 am

    Very interesting but it seems to me that she is taking the focus of her study, the development of human- animal relationships, a little too far….

  2. mazeedton 22 Jul 2010 at 8:22 am

    Besides, it was my understanding that the domestication of animals was a relatively recent “development” in human evolution…. does not evidence suggest that language developed much earlier? (e.g. language genes in neanderthal dna)
    I suppose that simply “out smarting” other animals could have been the driving force but….

  3. gfb1on 22 Jul 2010 at 8:30 am

    glad to see that pat is still puttering away. her book, Taking Wing, is a long time favorite of mine — and one that I’ve had summer students read since its publication. even met a few times at dear.old.state …

    however, as i recall, the 100,000 year mark for domestication is a bit overstated. the original paper that suggested 100K (as opposed to the ‘traditional’ ~15K based on archaeological evidence) had some serious problems. several letters to the editor followed the original publication which were highly critical.
    Avise (1994, 2000) discusses some of the perils of estimating dates of divergence from the molecular approach.

  4. twinarpon 22 Jul 2010 at 10:19 am

    I love the reasons that my little dog comes and sits between my feet whenever I sit down. I wish I could post you all a pic. *smile*

  5. daedalus2uon 22 Jul 2010 at 12:00 pm

    I am skeptical of this. The article talks about tool use 2.6 million years ago, but dogs were domesticated only 1/100 of that time ago. Long after modern humans speciated (~200 kya), long after fire (~900 kya).

    The “sharp” tools of 2.6 million years ago were not tools for hunting, they were stones purposefully broken to produce edged tools for cutting food that had already been killed. Important so that carcases could be cut up for transport. Those manufactured tools were not useful for hunting.

    Many organisms have an ability to communicate with each other. Maybe not using a language with syntax and grammar the way that humans do, but there is information exchange none the less. Prey and predator species have some degree of an ability to understand each other; one to avoid and one to locate. Birds that eat carrion are one of the first and most visible indication that a carnivore has killed something. Multiple scavengers cue on vultures. I presume humans cued on vultures long before dogs were domesticated.

    I suspect an early human innovation for hunting was to hunt in groups with some carrying spears to defend and some throwing fist size stones. Such groups could take on any large carnivore and win. The spears defend against the attacking carnivore and fist sized stones at point blank range could break bones, teeth, and put out eyes. The spears didn’t need stone points, sharp wooden points would have been fine. Such groups could take the kill away from any large predator. Wooden spears and natural stones would not leave discernible traces in the fossil record and could have long predated the use of manufactured stone cutting tools.

  6. colluvialon 22 Jul 2010 at 12:21 pm

    “The fact that our ancestors focused their art almost entirely on the depiction of animals is certainly worthy of some explanation.”

    I assume the best example of this sort of thing is cave painting. But you have to keep in mind that it was likely the members of the group responsible for hunting were also the ones painting the caves.

    While cave painting appeals to us because it resembles what we clearly perceive as “art”, there was also a lot of other artwork being done, such as basketry and beading, that depicted geometric or floral patterns.

  7. PScotton 22 Jul 2010 at 12:37 pm

    This is a bit off topic but reading the second paragraph made me think of all the fun articles I’ve been reading these last few years about the way microorganisms effect/control other animals and potentially humans.

    Will we one day be reading praises of some now unknown parasite living in our noodles?

    “The toxo-skidooza nurtures homo sapiens, feeds and protects them, have guided their evolution in a process of domestication, and can communicate with them to a limited but useful degree. They use humans for protection, companionship, as a renewable food source, as a source of milk for their children, to provide wool for clothing, to perform strenuous manual labor, and for transportation of goods and other parasites.”

    It seems to me that an analysis of the history of scientific breakthroughs, continually finds humans to be less unique than they think they are.

  8. bindleon 22 Jul 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Early man (and not so earlier) saw animals as their spiritual kin, and the drawings, figurines, and statues have been described as cultural icons. Behold the sphinx and satyr, and various mythological woodland gods. Behold the totems still standing in the various American Indian nations.

  9. SARAon 22 Jul 2010 at 4:13 pm

    Its not unreasonable to suppose that cave paintings are an early form of written language. And if my entire focus on life was just survival and those animals were the means there of – I would certainly write/paint about them.
    I don’t think doing so as a method to preserve knowledge. For one thing, why? Its far more effective (in that time frame) to use word of mouth, and physically showing and training someone.

    Being pessimistic (and without any evidential basis) I would be more likely to posit that cave painting were an early form of religious icon. A way for the painter to create a power over his compatriots by imbuing the painting with superstition and having them do things his way. Within their limited viewpoint, if he can paint the image he has an obvious connection to the beast itself.

  10. xmurryon 22 Jul 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Meg Daly Olmert a psychologist has another take on it. She suggests that touching animals releases oxytocin in humans and animals. Oxytocin is one of the most powerful hormones that the body makes and is a chemical that is responsible for social bonding. According to her this is why we have such a powerful connection to some animals and perhaps why we wanted to capture that in cave paintings.

    However, I would say our relations with animals are tipping the balance on symbiotic relationships and that “renewable food source” is quickly undermining the health of the planet. You can read more about livestock’s long shadow in a United Nations FAO report. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM

  11. bindleon 23 Jul 2010 at 12:00 am

    Some call that oxytocin release a function of cross species empathy. Which would fit with man having felt a kinship with certain of the animals that he depended on – some of which depended on man in certain circumstances as well.

  12. mazeedton 23 Jul 2010 at 4:23 am

    Xmurry: I don’t think (from a literature search) that there is sufficient evidence to support what you said about oxytocin actually…
    The only firmly established role of the hormone is to cause smooth muscle contraction in various circumstances…

  13. mazeedton 23 Jul 2010 at 4:32 am

    (the reason that people have jumped to conclusion I would wager is that its major action is during childbirth and while the mother is breastfeeding.)

  14. SteveAon 23 Jul 2010 at 7:42 am

    SARA: “Its not unreasonable to suppose that cave paintings are an early form of written language.”

    It’s been suggested that the letter ‘A’ is derived from a stylised pictogram representing the head of an ox (turn it upside down).

  15. mazeedton 23 Jul 2010 at 8:39 am

    Not to mention that the Egyptian hieroglyphs are basically pictographs representing various animals, humans and objects.

  16. mazeedton 23 Jul 2010 at 8:43 am

    Still, while we know that some art developed in that direction (the direction of more abstract representation) I am not convinced that there is reason to believe that most of it is… nor that the earliest human art is
    Surely if that was the case linguists would have noticed?

  17. BillyJoe7on 24 Jul 2010 at 4:47 am

    bindle,

    I’m just having a bit of a dig.
    …because you’re so easily wound up.

    Really, I have no ill feeling against you personally, whatever you may think. I know the feeling is not mutual but I can’t help that, that’s up to you. I just see no merit in most of your ideas. I find you explanations obfuscating, which sort of makes them pointless. I generally find your links do not support your ideas, which makes me think you misunderstand something.

    I don’t find the particular discussion on this thread very interesting. My understanding is that “music” (in scare quotes because it depends on what your defintion excludes) preceded language. Could I be wrong? Sure. Do I care much? Not really.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s worth getting upset over what people post on internet blogs. I certainly don’t. You have called me an idiot, and a fool, and a sonofabitch. And you have dismissed my extended and detailed commentary on one of your links with a single sentence. This has no effect on me whatsoever. And it amazes me that something that I have said could have upset you so much to cause you to respond in such a manner.

  18. bindleon 24 Jul 2010 at 5:42 am

    BillyJoe7
    So if you don’t habitually start the insults as a substitute for having any substantive ideas, why are you now gratuitously insulting me again when you haven’t been involved at all in the discussion on this thread? Everyone here was getting along fine without you, so who cares if you don’t find this discussion very interesting?
    Having a bit of a dig? I’m easily wound up? Look at at yourself now whining that you put so much time and effort into a boring and useless commentary and I dismissed it with a single sentence. How pitiful is that? You festered about it ever since, but no, you weren’t upset. Except you can’t forget it?
    Give us a break, you’re a compulsive poster of inanities and a self-appointed member of the thought police as well. Look how you just went stupidly after mazeedt on the ‘locked in syndrome’ thread when nothing he had said had anything to do with you. No, I don’t like you – you’re a typical bully and a liar to boot, and I despise a liar. Paisley called you intellectually dishonest and that was putting it kindly.
    You’d do well to leave me alone in the future. You tried it for a while and I left you alone as well. But now you’re screwing with me again and so I’m going to give it back to you in spades. Enjoy.

  19. BillyJoe7on 24 Jul 2010 at 7:20 am

    bindle,

    Believe what you will, but very little upsets me.

    Really, it didn’t worry me a bit that you didn’t respond meaningfully to my post. I enjoyed reading that link and I enjoyed the fact that it did not support your view and was consistent with mine. I enjoyed being able to dissect it, whether or not anyone read it. I just thought it was telling that you did not (and, therefore, I will assume, could not) respond to my criticism in any meaningful way.

    Then, of course there was the post about the quantum mind claptrap. I chose not to comment this time except to dismiss it in broad generalities. It amused me then to see you trying to goad me into reponding further to it several times.

    Anyway, I still don’t have anything against you personally.
    Hell, we’ve never even met!

    —————-

    As for mazeedt, let him defend himself. He was defending the indefensible in my opinion. He was defending a poster who hasn’t bothered to defend himself, and that poster got back from Veronique and others much less than he was dealing out to the “locked-in” man and his wife and family. If there is a different interpretation of his posts I would be glad to see it.

  20. bindleon 24 Jul 2010 at 11:31 am

    Everything ever written is either consistent with your view or simple mindedly wrong to not be. And it was not me but Paisley who confounded you with the quantum mind “claptrap” to the point where you started to make an exception for it’s presence – in as minimal a way as possible of course. Consistency has never been your problem as it’s naturally an illusion that there’s meaning to be had in anything other than the meaningless coincidence of the predetermined. It’s in your destiny to be the thought policeman here as well and those like mazeedt better damned well get used to it.

  21. BillyJoe7on 24 Jul 2010 at 4:33 pm

    bindle,

    “And it was not me but Paisley who confounded you with the quantum mind “claptrap” to the point where you started to make an exception for it’s presence – in as minimal a way as possible of course.”

    Part of that was a simple mistatement on my part and part of that was a failure to realise the possible/probable significance of the role for a quantum process in the remarkable efficiency of photosynthesis.

    The mistatement was saying quantum effects are not seen at the macroscopic level whereas what I should have said was that macroscopic objects do not exhibit quantum effects. As Sonic pointed out quantum effects produce clicks on a geiger counter and, as I explained, the the dual slit experiment produces an interference pattern on the screen which is the result of quantum effects.

    On the other hand, quantum experiments have also shown that, as objects increase in size, such effects rapidly disappear and, once objects exceed the 50 atom size, the effect is no longer detectable. Certainly, as Eric pointed out, there has never been any empirical evidence of brains exhibiting quantum effects. And, neither you nor Paisley, have been able to link to any evidence of this, nor of consciousness affecting the outcome of quantum experiments.

    So, whereas you and Paisley interpret this as dishonesty, I interpret this as a learning experience. I will be careful from now on not to confuse “quantum effects of macroscopic objects” with “quantum effects seen at the macroscopic level”. And I have the interesting example of quantum effects explaining the remarkable efficiency of photosynthesis – although I don’t know how settled this idea is at present because I have to yet to find any references other than to the original article that examine the implications of this phenomenon.

    I have also accepted that quantum effects may occasionally disrupt the deterministic flow of cause and effect – though the frequency of such effects must be very low, otherwise the world would not make sense and we would not be able to make sense of the world. And, if quantum effects were the basis of freewill, we would make too many errors as we randomly veto the “decisions” made by basically deterministic brains that have evolved to respond to a basically deterministic universe.

  22. bindleon 24 Jul 2010 at 5:22 pm

    “I have also accepted that quantum effects may occasionally disrupt the deterministic flow of cause and effect – though the frequency of such effects must be very low, otherwise the world would not make sense and we would not be able to make sense of the world. And, if quantum effects were the basis of freewill, we would make too many errors as we randomly veto the “decisions” made by basically deterministic brains that have evolved to respond to a basically deterministic universe.”
    That’s absolutely stupid and you haven’t the intellectual capacity to see why. “Basically deterministic” is untenable as a concept. Some parts of the universe are predetermined and the others aren’t? Where do they separate or do they simply mesh together, or are there islands of the determinate floating within the indeterminate, or vice versa? You have no idea but are just blabbering on with some deterministic hope that if you have been destined to say the words, they must have meaning. And if not, so what, nobody knows who you are in any case.
    If evolution is to work, the universe can only be indeterminate, which means it’s free to determine it’s own choices, and evolve entities such as biological forms that take advantage of the opportunity.
    But you still cannot admit that even human brains make choices independent of any prior certainty.
    You seem to think possession of some veto power is not the same as having that same measure of prior independent choice. Delusional to the max right there.

    You’re a master of the ability to rationalize away all logical inconsistencies – to pretend to yourself you now understand what you were otherwise incapable of grasping. And worse, are dead certain that anyone that grasps them, such as Paisley did, are somehow and absolutely wrong. Because the alternative is to recognize that you are relatively stupid when it comes to either science or philosophy. Which your teachers must have told you long ago.
    But you’ve walled that festering reality off in the “partly” deterministic area of the brain, so as not to interfere with your functionally challenged decision making capacities. And set yourself up as your own authority, blasting away at those like mazeedt who dare to aspire to some higher levels of abstraction than should, in your view, be allowed – if such conceptions hadn’t also been determined in advance that you should be allowed to see as well.
    Lying to yourself and necessarily lying even more to everyone else that might expose your hidden weakness. Accusing them of hiding knowledge from you in the bargain. And then insulting them when they deny it. How’s all that been working for you so far?

  23. Doctor Evidenceon 25 Jul 2010 at 1:14 am

    I’m a little skiddish about ‘arguments’ – are these testable claims? or will this be more like the book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” – which seems more about making a claim almost out of whole cloth, then ‘fitting’ (interpreting / forcing) bits of historical knowledge to support the claim, rather than using an inductive process to build a strong model first then testing it deductively against further evidence. I’ve no training in these fields, but (my perception of) the methodologies sometimes makes me squirm.

  24. BillyJoe7on 25 Jul 2010 at 8:05 am

    I have to wonder why artfulD changed his name.
    He appeared on the scene disparaging anyone and everyone for being too stupid to see how wrong they were and too stupid to even understand his own oh so obviously correct slant on things.
    But his reincarnation as bindle has come full circle. He sounds no different than that artless dodge who preceded him.

    Oh well…

  25. Eric Thomsonon 25 Jul 2010 at 10:30 am

    Don’t feed the trolls.

  26. xmurryon 25 Jul 2010 at 11:04 am

    Mazeedt

    I guess we look at different literature. Here is one take on it –
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/made-each-other/201005/dog-good

  27. xmurryon 25 Jul 2010 at 11:24 am

    The role of oxytocin and human/animal interaction is very new – I suspect we will see a lot more studies. There are some defense department studies pairing soldiers with PTSD and dogs. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/traumatic-stress-disorders/content/article/10168/1609334

  28. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Eric Thomson, aka: Miss Hilarious, now self identifies as another “basic determinist.”
    The self designated “neuroscientist” that they stuck in a lab to do the scut work because he was able to copy how to do the routines even though could never be taught why.
    Paisley ran him off and he comes sneaking back because Paisley hasn’t been here lately. He has his own site and is trying to get recognized as a science blogger but so far hasn’t made the cut.
    Talk about trolls, he’s trolling for an audience on other blogs to see if he can acquire the reputation by association that he can’t get any other way.
    Here’s an Ericisms (one of many) for you folks:

    “1. Stochastic isn’t synonymous with uncaused. Obviously, even though coin flip sequences are stochastic processes, but have a cause.”
    What was the material cause that made that coin flip causative in the context of selection? Is that explained at Eric’s site?
    Will BillyJoe start commenting on that site, and will Eric hold his tongue and let him jabber on as to how determinism explains randomness?
    Will Eric support that scholarly dissection of Mae-Wan Ho’s thesis on his blog? So many questions that I look forward to have answered over there. Especially as to those unaware amoeba.

  29. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 1:02 pm

    BillyJoe7, the problem you have is not with your name, it’s that you can’t change that muddled mess you call your mind. Partial determinism? Explain how that veto system works again. Eric wants to put that on his blog. Maybe you can guest post there and explain it further.
    A big maybe since you can’t explain it further here, but oh well indeed.

  30. ccbowerson 25 Jul 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Bindle – out of cuiousity what is your educational/ occupational background? I assume not a diplomat.

  31. mazeedton 25 Jul 2010 at 1:56 pm

    xmurry
    thanks very interesting.

  32. mazeedton 25 Jul 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Hahaha, it so happens I study at the same university as the woman who carried out the first study (-:

  33. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I can assure you my background as an evolutionist is much more suited to a discussion of the full spectrum of evolutionary theory and the present state of research on the subject than yours. But also “out of curiosity” since you don’t accept the authoritative views of those I cited on this subject, why should you be interested in my authority?
    Or better, what makes you so deathly afraid of my ideas?
    Note you and billyjoe7 have combined the tactic of using each other as authorities since no others would support your partial determinism voodoo. So more to the question, what is the educational/occupational background from whence you two derive that idiocy? The point being that whatever it is, it isn’t working for you.

  34. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Oops, forgot to address that last comment – it was for the ratfink ccbowers.

  35. mazeedton 25 Jul 2010 at 2:28 pm

    xmurry
    still I am not 100% convinced, your links do not lead to any actual research articles. will search a little more but at any rate it is nice to see the progress that is being made in our understanding of this subject

  36. Eric Thomsonon 25 Jul 2010 at 2:46 pm

    To engage in a fruitful comparative analysis of X, you need to have a pretty decent characterization of X. E.g., when I used to compare genome sequences we had a very well defined set of characters with which to perform the analysis. When it comes to language, it is a nontrivial task to even define the relevant set of characters. We just don’t know enough about the mechanisms governing language acquisition and use (Chomsky notwithstanding).

    Back to the point of the post: even if animal domestication didn’t cause language to evolve (I don’t find the evidence or chain of thought particularly compelling), such domestication practices clearly have been an amazing force for cultural evolution. I wonder how long it would have been for humans to hit upon the idea of natural selection if it weren’t for our domestication practices?

  37. Lucianon 25 Jul 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Although I haven’t read this book, what I got from this blog as the gist of what Shipman is saying is not that our relationship with animals is the single reason for the development of human language and intellect but certainly one of the primary topics early humans were trying to communicate through symbolic language. And that our manipulation, knowledge, domestication, etc of other species was a driving force behind our own evolution. That seems to make sense, and like Steve I look forward to seeing the arguments. I’d be skeptical if she were saying that the Animal Connection was the sole reason for the evolution of language, but what do i know, that may just be the case.

  38. ccbowerson 25 Jul 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Sorry bindle, we are getting too far off topic. Lets try to keep these comments more clean and to the topic. Am I to assume by your answer that you don’t have a PhD in evolutionary biology?

    “When it comes to language, it is a nontrivial task to even define the relevant set of characters. We just don’t know enough about the mechanisms governing language acquisition and use (Chomsky notwithstanding).”

    Well, yes and I think is why this idea is being explored. These are the challenges of evolutionary psychology. I don’t think we are really going to find an answer as much as explore possibilities and likelihoods. Yes it is a bit soft.

  39. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Eric Thomson writes: “We just don’t know enough about the mechanisms governing language acquisition and use (Chomsky notwithstanding).”

    Typical know-nothing explanatory response from the ccbowers-billyjoe7-Eric Thomson consortium. He knows less than Chomsky but is sure that Chomsky doesn’t know enough regardless. Lakoff not withstanding.

  40. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 4:10 pm

    No ccbowers you are not to assume that from my answer. Just as I am not to assume you don’t have a PhD from the evidence of your ignorance. I will say however that I’ve sat on research panels where we refused employment to PhDs on the basis of stupidity alone.

    Interesting that you bring up the subject of credentials yet keep yours hidden in the process. I’d laugh my ass off if it turned out that you actually had some, or even claimed you did – considering the level of erudition exhibited here.

    But hey, let’s move this discussion over to Massimo’s blog and see what they think of all this over there. I’ll give them a list of ccbowerisms and you can give them
    whatever you like of mine. Let them guess as to the extent of either of our credentials.

  41. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 4:25 pm

    But let’s not embarrass BillyJoe7 by even hinting that for the proponents in a debate, credentials are to be regarded as a compelling factor. Look at Thomson. He has them tattooed on his forehead, yet his brains have never noticed.

  42. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 5:19 pm

    And here’s some irony that’s rather striking here. The consortium that wants to see credentials as an adjunct to opinions attaches no importance to the fact that every evolutionary biologist I’ve referenced on behalf of my ideas has a PhD, and frequently in more than one such discipline. Yet all they have to say has been summed up by these putative intellectual giants as nonsense.

  43. ccbowerson 25 Jul 2010 at 5:26 pm

    “The consortium that wants to see credentials as an adjunct to opinions”

    I never said that you need a phD, but stated it was a curiousity. You don’t have to answer, but I figured if someone is trying to take down a well established theory in the comments section of a blog – he should have something to back him up other than belligerence.

    I’m done here for today. You can keep conversing with yourself

  44. BillyJoe7on 25 Jul 2010 at 5:48 pm

    bindle,

    “Explain how that veto system works again.”

    Please pay attention.
    I said it does NOT work.

    It does not work as a basis for freewill, and it would scuttle 1000,000 years of brain evolution for there to be a self that has a random veto power.

    I’m gald you’re agreeing with me here. 😀

  45. Eric Thomsonon 25 Jul 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Lucian: that would be reasonable if the claim were that such interspecies relations were one of many driving forces for the evolution of language. What worried me in the post was the claim from Shipman that “the evolutionary pressure to develop an external means of storing and transmitting information — symbolic language — came primarily from the animal connection” (italics added).

    Clearly language is a useful ‘external means of storing and transmitting information’, but this connection with other animals is counterintuitive.

    Language is powerful partly because it allows us to transmit/store information about any domain. When language evolved I think we can safely assume that there were a whole boatload of important concerns at least as important as animal husbandry. For intsance: the birthing process, weather, competing tribes, where your children are. With language we are given a powerful tool that reaches into whatever is important in our local situation.

    Perhaps animal relations should be one of the elements on that list, but the primary? More evidence and arguments are needed to support such a strange claim. Cave paintings are not particularly compelling–it could be that drawing humans was off limits because of some superstitions. Doctor Evidence was clever to bring up Jaynes’ theory of consciousness.

  46. bindleon 25 Jul 2010 at 11:21 pm

    ccbowers says: “I figured if someone is trying to take down a well established theory in the comments section of a blog – he should have something to back him up other than belligerence.”

    How about several thousand PhDs represented by the hordes of those in various countries working on the new biology experiments and hypotheses, publishing academic papers, writing books, and exponentially altering the dynamic of the science. The ones at my University system alone are in the hundreds.
    And all this “nonsense” is going on behind your back? There’s a real yawner.

  47. Lucianon 25 Jul 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Mr. Thompson,

    Primarily. Yes, that seems to be the kicker here, doesnt’ it? No doubt animals were an extremely important topic for early humans to discuss. But was it the first? What were early humans trying to do… stay alive, find food, reproduce. I would hope that one of the first words was something for “that thing that eats us.”
    But you’re right, making an inference based on what a majority of the artwork was concerned with is a bit of a leap. At the same time, although Shipman may not be proving anything in her book, she may be right. I can’t imagine any way to really know for sure. Our relationship with animals might have been the first thing that sparked language. It’s a novel idea, at least a new one.

  48. bindleon 26 Jul 2010 at 12:18 am

    BillyJoe7, you’re wording was ambiguous and I seem to have made the mistake of giving you the benefit of the doubt that you had moved off your previous position in the privy.

    So you’ve accepted that “quantum effects may occasionally disrupt the deterministic flow of cause and effect,” and we have “basically deterministic brains that have ‘evolved’ to respond to a basically deterministic universe.” But now you’re saying that things aren’t only “basically” deterministic, but absolutely so, no choices and no vetoes, regardless of any occasional disruption of the flow of cause and effect.
    That’s even stupider than your version that seemed to allow the brain a veto power. You’re back to life forms having no independent choice at all as to the functions that they supposedly “evolved” to carry out.
    Did you run this by your pals in the consortium? Or are you their designated leader and don’t have to.
    Because Bowers and Eric are cringing at the thought of giving further support to this inanity. Or not.
    And will you be running this by Massimo Pigliucci at Rationally Speaking as I suggested? Or will ccbowers run it by him for you? Or can I have permission to quote you on this over there? Because if you say I can, I will.

  49. JackJackon 26 Jul 2010 at 1:12 am

    Steve.
    Have you read Richard Wrangham’s “Catching Fire”? He suggests that fire tending began much earlier than is usually thought. Perhaps more than a million years in the past. The motivation for this development was cooking! The paleological indicator is tooth size. Cooking enabled our primitive ancestors to extend their available food supply and to greatly reduce the time they spent chewing (Hence the reduction in tooth size). Fire tending forces social organization. Weaker individuals can tend fire in relative safety.

    He’d be an interesting guest. I found his book fascinating.

    JackJack

  50. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 6:38 am

    Xmurry
    You were right, it does indeed seem like there is allot of evidence for the effects of oxytocin on social behavior. I have to admit, it was a year ago since I checked it out. Always nice to be corrected when your wrong.

  51. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 6:39 am

    (well I did also check some textbooks before I made the comment but those are probably a bit outdated)

  52. BillyJoe7on 26 Jul 2010 at 7:38 am

    bindle,

    You failed yet again with your recent post.
    But I’m sick of correcting your comprehension fails.

    I think Paisley are shrunken into this boots with emarrassment at his young protege, which is I suppose why we don’t see him around here anymore.

    Oh well…

  53. SteveAon 26 Jul 2010 at 9:57 am

    “I will say however that I’ve sat on research panels where we refused employment to PhDs on the basis of stupidity alone.”

    Does anyone else get the feeling that the majority of these panel members might be soft toys?

  54. bindleon 26 Jul 2010 at 11:27 am

    SteveA likes to think about sitting on a soft toy? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Wonder what the A stands for.

  55. bindleon 26 Jul 2010 at 11:38 am

    BillyJoe7, Funny you should mention Paisley as a supportive source. The last thing he said to you was:
    “What we have here is a clear track record of an individual who consistently engages in self-deception and intellectual dishonesty. If you continue to engage in such behavior, then you forfeit this debate by virtue of default.”
    My last post failed? Does that mean it’s OK to quote you verbatim over at the other blog?

    Can I quote you on the following as well?
    “BillyJoe7on 17 May 2010 at 7:52 am
    enjay111,
    “Can surrendering our logic to another person, a group or even an idea, be a survival mechanism? ”
    You have to think in terms of genes. A gene wants to survive into the next generation. It is an advantage for a gene to group with other genes in the form of a cell and help each other into the next generation. Similarly it is advantageous for a cell to group together with other cells in the form of animals. Finally, it is advantageous for animals to group together with other animals in order to enhance their chances of survival into the next generation.
    For this last group this is especially true if the groups consist of animals that are genetically related. In pre-industrial times, such groups were quite small and hence most members were genetically related. If the individuals in the group contained genes that result in them surrendering themselves to the group, the group would have a survival advantage over one where all the individuals rated self interest above the group.”

    That’s deterministic choice at work folks, and on the individual gene level at that. Who knew? Massimo will love it.

  56. daedalus2uon 26 Jul 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Most people do not treat their domesticated animals (pets) as tools. They treat them more like foster children. They are primarily love-type objects and not tool-type objects or food-type objects. It is not uncommon for people on farms who adopt food animals as pets to have great difficulty killing and eating that animal for food. My grandmother told the story many times of that happening to her when she raised a certain pig as a pet, and how after that experience she never allowed that to happen again.

    In cultures that treat dogs only as pets (US culture for example), there is visceral antipathy toward individuals and cultures that treat dogs as food.

    Many organisms have an ability to communicate with each other. Birds that eat carrion are one of the first and most visible indication that a carnivore has killed something. Multiple scavengers cue on vultures. I presume humans cued on vultures long before dogs were domesticated. The ability to cue on other animals is necessary for any hunting, is not unique to humans and virtually certainly preceded evolution of modern humans and certainly preceded domestication of animals.

    Dogs were domesticated quite late, long after human speciation. For domestication of animals to be important in evolution of pre-modern humans it would have to precede human speciation, which it did not. Dogs didn’t make it onto Australia until quite late, perhaps ~ 5,000 years ago. Dogs are the only domesticated species that Aborigines had.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC514485/

    That is inconsistent with domestication of dogs (or any animal) being an important part of human evolution.

    It is a cute premise, but it seems implausible and contrived to me.

    Humans are also virtually unique in being willing to foster the infants of other humans. Virtually no other animal does that. Humans do it promiscuously. I suspect that the invocation of promiscuous love for human children by human females allowed for greater brain size by providing for survival of infants with larger brains when their mother died in childbirth. I suspect that this promiscuous affection for infants also lead to the adoption of infants of other species leading to their domestication. Pets are seen primarily as objects of affection, as adopted children, and not as living tools. I suggest that the willingness of women to foster parent the children of other women may have been an enabling factor in increased brain size because a woman who died in childbirth due to cephalopelvic disproportion can still (rarely) have a surviving child, a child with a brain that is too large for the mother to survive.

    Humans are unique among mammals in that ~1% of pregnancies in the wild end in maternal death, often due to cephalopelvic disproportion. That must have had a gigantic effect on human evolution. I suspect that the observed promiscuous fostering of human children is an evolved consequence of maternal death in childbirth. Some children were so attractive to women as infants that they were fostered when their birth mother died, so they survived and the genes for infant attractiveness to females became more common.

    This isn’t an all-or-nothing feature. A woman who is incapacitated by a difficult birth for a few days but recovers may be able to reclaim her infant from the women in her tribe who were temporarily fostering it. She might then return the favor when one of those fostering mothers has a difficult childbirth too. This is not something that any other mammal does. An infant that is hyper-cute may be permanently fostered, greatly increasing the reproductive capacity of its mother. A tribe with common infant-cuteness-detection genes will out reproduce a tribe without them. Attachment is mediated through oxytocin.

    Humans find virtually all mammalian infants “cute”. Why is that? I suspect because humans evolved hypersensitive infant cuteness detectors and perceive cuteness in all mammalian infants, both human and non-human. I presume that finding unrelated human infants “cute” preceded and was an enabling factor to finding non-human infants “cute”.

    Most mammals don’t perceive infants of their own species to be “cute”, they perceive them to be food; unless they are one of the parents. I think the development of human infant cuteness and human infant cuteness detectors long preceded the detection of cuteness in non-human infants.

    Where humans are found to be not-cute, as in autism, the effects are mediated through communication pathways, not through tool-use pathways. I have some blog posts that discuss that in the context of xenophobia.

  57. Eric Thomsonon 26 Jul 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Very cool stuff daedalus I hadn’t seen that paper on the aborigines. I suppose that’s one really cool thing about domesticated animals: it’s relatively easy to do extremely through phylogeny reconstruction and estimates of major evolutionary events.

    While the data on the dingo is cool, could it be that the first language users did domesticate animals, even though many post-diaspora populations of humans do not? Is anyone here familiar with other anthropological research on hunter-gatherer societies and animal domestication/use?

  58. DeeTeeon 26 Jul 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Randon snippets:

    Domestication of animals has brought us the marvels of measles (via rinderpest virus) and influenza.

    Coppinger’s hypothesis about scavenging wolves has a corollary in Dimitri Belyaev’s domesticated foxes.
    Fascinating stuff.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lR-GHmuumAw&feature=player_embedded
    Watch how selection of foxes for “tameness” resulted in evolution of different coat colors, barking, ear changes, in other words evolution into “dogs”.

  59. ccbowerson 26 Jul 2010 at 1:46 pm

    “It is not uncommon for people on farms who adopt food animals as pets to have great difficulty killing and eating that animal for food.”

    Perhaps some of this is due to the fact that most people in the United States (and many other countries) in recent times are used to seeing meat in a styrofoam and plastic package with nothing resembling the outside of the animals to which they could become emotionally attached. I’m not sure that our current experiences are very relevant to a past when a trip to the supermarket was not possible, and the food in front of you may have been the only food available. Attitudes towards animals today are likely very different to those in the past… people are pretty good at compartmentalizing when they have to.

  60. bindleon 26 Jul 2010 at 2:19 pm

    ccbowers, do you mean to say that farmers and such in the US used to eat their pet dogs before meat was packaged in styrofoam and plastic?

    Note that you were quoting daedalus2u above and didn’t seem to notice that he derived some of his information from his grandmother’s experience with pets. She may well have lived prior to styrofoam meat packaging. Minor detail, I suppose – anecdotal as well – easy to compartmentalize in a search for the meaningful.

    By the way, there were butcher-shops around long before supermarkets, and they used to wrap meat in butcher paper. That’s why they call it butcher paper.

  61. daedalus2uon 26 Jul 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Eric, I suspect that language long predates domestication of animals, and perhaps even speciation of modern humans (or may have been a very important component of speciation).

    Language acquisition requires some very specialized brain structures.

    CC, my anecdote was about my grandmother, who grew up on a farm and lived on a farm her whole life. I am pretty sure the anecdote dates to before WWII. It does predate the use of styrofoam for meat packaging. She raised pigs for meat both before and after this incident.

  62. ccbowerson 26 Jul 2010 at 2:37 pm

    What I meant is that the distinction between pets vs. farm animals vs food is more distinct now than in the past. I did not mean to specifically comment on your grandmother’s experience… my mother had a similar experience with a pig as a child (not in the U.S.) This is not to say that people ate their pets… I’m sure that in the past their were certain animals (specific to the culture) that weren’t eaten. That doesnt mean that people could not have significant interactions with animals that they ate.

  63. ccbowerson 26 Jul 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Sorry, in the last post I was both responding to Bindle and daedalus2u simultaneously and realized that I didn’t separate my points very well. The first second half was in response to bindle’s comment.

  64. ccbowerson 26 Jul 2010 at 2:42 pm

    correction “The second half was in response to bindle’s comment.”

  65. bindleon 26 Jul 2010 at 3:17 pm

    So the styrofoam analogy has lost it’s relevance? Too transparent?

  66. ccbowerson 26 Jul 2010 at 3:51 pm

    “So the styrofoam analogy has lost it’s relevance? Too transparent?”

    No, I’ve never seen transparent styrofoam. I mentioned the styromfoam and plastic only as a image to represent the detachment that people have to the animals of which they eat. It has nothing to do with the material of the packaging, and I’m sure that you are aware of this. Its just hard to imagine the complexities of the relationships/interactions that people had with animals when our relationships and interactions are likely very different. That is all.

  67. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 3:52 pm

    DeeTee
    Very interesting! Still doesn’t convince me that all or most evolutionary changes happen in big leaps but, fascinating. Clearly what it does prove is that in such delicate systems as animals small changes can have very dramatic consequences also for traits that were not specifically selected for.

  68. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 3:53 pm

    (I might mention that I am not convinced of the opposite either)

  69. bindleon 26 Jul 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Sorry, there was plastic wrap as well in that analogy. In any case, I was just wondering why you didn’t start with old fashioned butcher paper.

  70. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 4:29 pm

    daedalus2u
    Very interesting, a delight to read
    The first time I read: “…by providing for survival of infants with larger brains when their mother died in childbirth” etc. it seemed a bit far fetched but it actually makes allot of sense when you think about it
    “I suspect that this promiscuous affection for infants also lead to the adoption of infants of other species leading to their domestication.”
    It rings true… also would fit quite well with the fact that domestication is such a late phenomenon in human evolutionary history
    One point I would like to make though is that far from all domesticated animals are treated as “adopted children”. After all we eat pigs and cows etc. This may suggest that other factors were involved when we began to domesticate animals.
    On the other hand I suppose that it could also be that what took its root in affection turned into a win-win relationship but which took on a more pragmatic/cynical approach of “I protect and feed you and in exchange I eat you when I feel like it”

    Also you forget (well, do not mention more like) the whole animal side of the story. Take the foxes in the youtube video just before. No matter how cute you find them, if they bite you I do not think that they would make good pets. Still, that probably just means that there had to be some factor that made it advantageous for the animals to be friendly to humans and as the fox video showed it may not have taken that much in terms of selective pressure for that to happen.

  71. BillyJoe7on 26 Jul 2010 at 5:41 pm

    bindle,

    I’m impressed that you took the trouble to hunt down that post of mine you quoted. Or did you save it somewhere? Pity you didn’t take the trouble to understand it. But then that’s not exactly your strong point is it?

    Oh well…

  72. daedalus2uon 26 Jul 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Mazeedt, I think it depends on how you define “most”. The most human-domesticated animal relationships now are between humans and dogs or cats. Dog and cat owners do not have dogs and cats (mostly) as tool-like extensions, they have them as companion animals.

    Once humans became really good at hunting and scavenging and bringing back more meat than the tribe could consume, what did they do with the excess? They threw it out in the trash midden when it got to be too rotten. What happened to it then? Scavenger ate it. It was probably better to allow large animal scavengers eat it than have organisms like screw flies (living flesh eating maggots) consume it. Animals like dogs and cats would also consume rodents and other vermin that were a threat to stored agricultural products like grain and nuts and which dogs and cats don’t consume.

    Humans cannot consist only on protein, the human liver has insufficient urea production capacity to detoxify the ammonia released from protein deamination. What to do when there is more protein than can be consumed and it goes bad?

    If a wolf-pack became associated with the human tribe long term, the more aggressive wolves would likely have been killed if they attacked or threatened any human children. In a few hundred wolf generations (a blink of an eye in evolutionary time), that could have made a huge difference in how “wild” the remaining wolves were, even with gene flow from wilder populations.

    In South America, animal products and excess food seems to have been turned into terra preta, the very rich synthetic soils that are black from the charcoal they contain. That may have been another mechanism to avoid increasing the screw fly population.

  73. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 5:52 pm

    “Humans cannot consist only on protein, the human liver has insufficient urea production capacity to detoxify the ammonia released from protein deamination.”
    cool, didn’t know that

  74. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 5:54 pm

    I am curious daedalus, on your blog you write
    …REPAIRING THE DEFICIENT NITRIC OXIDE PHYSIOLOGY THAT MOST INDIVIDUALS HAVE.

    what exactly do you mean by that?

  75. daedalus2uon 26 Jul 2010 at 6:00 pm

    mazeedt, it is my hypothesis that an important part of human physiology is having a biofilm of the correct commensal bacteria on the skin. These include the bacteria I am working with, the autotrophic ammonia oxidizing bacteria. They convert ammonia and urea in sweat into NO and nitrite and that NO/NOx is absorbed into the skin and sets the basal NO/NOx level.

    When your body needs more NO/NOx, it sweats and the biofilm turns it into NO/NOx and raises the basal NO/NOx level.

    There are many lines of evidence that point in this direction.

  76. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 6:07 pm

    cool
    It makes sense in allot of ways
    Between our increased understanding of the importance of gut microbia for food digestion and findings that living in a “too” clean environment during childhood correlates with increased incidence of asthma and allergies it seems that we are gaining an understanding of the significance of the micro environment that our bodies evolved to deal with and the effect that altering it may have on our bodies

  77. mazeedton 26 Jul 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I liked your piece on the Catholic sex scandal by the way, as a former catholic I found it very illuminating.
    Sadly I have seen the same tendency to downplay the importance of the scandals and to blame the media for being “anti-catholic” in many people that I know…

  78. daedalus2uon 26 Jul 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Yes, I think these bacteria are a major player in the hygiene hypothesis.

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/w4238w34v3762551/

  79. tmac57on 26 Jul 2010 at 7:19 pm

    daedalus2u- “Animals like dogs and cats would also consume rodents and other vermin that were a threat to stored agricultural products like grain and nuts and which dogs and cats don’t consume. ”
    I have a beagle mix and a Jack Russell that will eat (apparently) anything. Grains,turf grass,vegetables of all kinds,pecans and acorns when they can find them. My Jack especially loves Kleenex tissues and paper napkins! (BTW, I don’t usually feed them these things,they get kibble from me.)

  80. xmurryon 13 Aug 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Daedalus2u
    The theory on bacteria and hygiene is very interesting and makes a lot of sense. Am also trying to reconcile it in my own mind with T1DM diagnosis which often occurs in 11-13 year old who can be quite adverse to bathing!

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