Arquivo da tag: Animismo

This river in Canada is now a ‘legal person’ (Al Jazeera)

Indigenous communities are leading worldwide push to recognise legal ‘personhood’ rights of rivers, lakes and mountains.
The Magpie River, a 300km waterway in the Cote Nord region of the Canadian province of Quebec, was recognised as a 'legal person' in February [Courtesy Uapukun Metokosho/International Observatory on the Rights of Nature]
The Magpie River, a 300km waterway in the Cote Nord region of the Canadian province of Quebec, was recognised as a ‘legal person’ in February [Courtesy Uapukun Metokosho/International Observatory on the Rights of Nature]

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, 3 Apr 2021

Montreal, Canada – Jean-Charles Pietacho says the belief that nature is a living thing that must be respected, has been at the heart of the Innu people’s way of life for generations.

But now, that idea has been applied in a new way as the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit in February recognised the Magpie River, a 300km (186 miles) waterway in the Cote Nord region of the Canadian province of Quebec, as a “legal person”.

The designation – a first in Canada – aims to give the Indigenous community an added tool to defend the river, known as Muteshekau Shipu in the Innu language, from potential environmental harms.

“The Creator put us on this piece of territory called Nitassinan, which encompasses all these rivers, all these mountains, all these trees,” Pietacho, chief of the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit, told Al Jazeera in a phone interview. “The Innu people always believed that you had to protect the earth. It’s water – it’s life.”

The Magpie River, which sits on the north shore of the St Lawrence River and is known for its strong rapids, currently has one hydroelectric dam on it, but the provincial energy authority has said it has no plans for further development on the waterway.

“Despite that, we didn’t feel secure, we didn’t have total confidence,” Pietacho said.

“It’s very, very important for us to have arrived at this protection. It might be tested, but at least we have a majority – if not the entire region – that supports us.”

Indigenous stewardship

The Magpie is the first river in Canada to be granted legal personhood rights – through twin resolutions adopted by the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit and a local body, the Minganie Regional County Municipality – but it is unclear what would happen if the designation is tested in a Canadian court.

Among other things, the resolution affirms the river’s “right to live, exist and flow”, to evolve naturally, to be protected from pollution, to maintain its integrity, and to take legal action. It says “river guardians” will soon be appointed to ensure that those rights are respected.

The decision comes as a movement called “rights of nature” gains global attention.

Proponents of the idea, put forward in a 1972 paper by Christopher D Stone called Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, say current legal systems often fall short on protecting the environment.

The Magpie River is known for its strong rapids [Courtesy Uapukun Metokosho/International Observatory on the Rights of Nature]

Instead of treating nature as property under the law, they want it to hold legal standing on its own – in other words, legally enforceable rights akin to those of humans or corporations. Depending on how a specific case is framed, the obligation then falls to specific actors to ensure the legal rights of nature are not infringed upon.

Courts, various levels of government, and other decision-making bodies in countries around the world have recognised the personhood rights of ecosystems in different ways over the past few years: In 2017, a court in India ruled that the Ganges and Yamuna rivers should be granted the same legal rights as people. Colombia’s Constitutional Court declared in 2016 that the Atrato River in the country’s northwest was a “subject of rights”.

Over a decade earlier, Ecuador in its 2008 constitution recognised the right of nature to exist, maintain and regenerate. “All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature,” the constitution reads.

Experts say Indigenous communities around the world – where the idea that nature has inherent rights is longstanding – have emerged at the forefront of many of the campaigns to grant personhood status to bodies of water and other ecosystems.

“The rights of nature, in the Ecuadorian context, is very much tied to the worldviews of various Indigenous groups … of emphasing the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the social world,” said Maria Akchurin, assistant professor of sociology at Loyola University in Chicago, who has studied the Ecuador case.

Akchurin told Al Jazeera that while Ecuador is one of the region’s major oil exporters and has a growing mining sector, it is also extremely biodiverse – and the constitutional recognition came amidst underlying tensions between economic development, environmental protection and Indigenous rights in the country.

Indigenous people in Ecuador hold a banner which reads, ‘Vote Yes’, during a rally in support of a referendum to approve the country’s 2008 constitution [File: Guillermo Granja/Reuters]

Legal personhood for nature has been largely symbolic so far, she added, though it can give social groups and communities a new way to frame their opposition to extractive projects, especially as the rights of nature have begun to be applied by the courts. “But in terms of actually stopping projects it’s difficult to say if it’s been really effective,” Akchurin said.

“I think it’s a great conversation to have, I think it’s extremely valuable and I think it can work in particular settings; but we should also be mindful that just having rights on paper doesn’t necessarily translate into concrete change on the ground immediately.”

New Zealand

Perhaps the most prominent cases have been in New Zealand, where the Whanganui River – the country’s third-longest river, located on the North Island – was recognised as a “legal entity” in 2017 as part of a negotiated settlement between the government and the Maori people. The legal entity, called Te Awa Tupua, “has all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person”, the agreement reads.

Three years earlier, also in negotiations with Maori leaders, New Zealand similarly recognised Te Urewera, a former national park, as a “legal entity”. It also reached an agreement in 2017 with Maori tribes to recognise the Taranaki Mountain on the North Island as a person. Negotiations for the implementation of the latter deal are ongoing.

The Whanganui River is New Zealand’s third longest river [Courtesy: Creative Commons]

Jacinta Ruru, professor of law at University of Otago and co-director of Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, New Zealand’s Maori Centre of Research Excellence, said she does not consider these examples part of the environmentally driven “rights of nature” movement, however.

“In the New Zealand context, the legal personality arose from a hopeful reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples, Maori, not from a rights to nature [perspective],” Ruru told Al Jazeera.

Both the Te Awa Tupua and Te Urewera agreements clearly outline the legal rights, obligations and decision-making bodies tasked with monitoring the legal personhood status of the ecosystems. In the case of the river, the government of New Zealand and the Maori tribal federation each chose one person to speak on its behalf.

“From a Maori perspective, that comes very naturally,” Ruru said, explaining that Maori people have always spoken about rivers or mountains “as being their ancestors and that we must be respecting them, that their health and wellbeing is totally interrelated to the health and wellbeing of us as people and our community”.

Ruru added that the New Zealand agreements demonstrate that countries can better enable Indigenous participation in the management of lands and waters. “This is not Indigenous peoples necessarily saying anything new, it’s just that other peoples are now listening.”

A general view of a mountain range near Wanganui on New Zealand’s North Island [File: David Brookes/AFP]


In other countries, some have raised concerns about how legal personhood for nature is being applied. In Bangladesh, where the country’s top court in 2019 granted all rivers the same legal rights as people, some say without a clear framework for implementation, the decision could make it easier to evict poor communities living off the waterways.

“The New Zealand ruling recognised communities as stakeholders, and that is key,” Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, told the Reuters news agency at the time.

Meanwhile, in the United States, legal personhood cases have been met with staunch opposition. A court in the US state of Ohio last year ruled as unconstitutional the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, passed by the city of Toledo in 2019, which recognised the lake’s “right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve”. A farmer had sued, saying the move was an “unconstitutional and unlawful assault” on family farms.

A view of a power plant and frozen Lake Erie in Avon Lake, Ohio [Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters]

Another lawsuit seeking to have a court recognise the Colorado River ecosystem as “capable of possessing rights similar to a ‘person’” as well as “rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and naturally evolve” was withdrawn in 2017 after pressure from state authorities.

“At the time, the Attorney General was run by a Republican, so they threatened me with sanctions and disbarment,” Jason Flores-Williams, the lawyer who brought the case, told Al Jazeera. He said officials had argued “that it was ridiculous to make an argument on behalf of the rights of nature and personhood of nature”.

Nevertheless, the push to grant legal personhood to nature is gaining attention.

Back in Montreal, Yenny Vega Cardenas, president of the International Observatory on the Rights of Nature, said the Magpie River recognition drew interest from people across Canada and abroad, who have since called to ask if their local rivers could also get personhood rights.

She said a shift in thinking is under way – and with each successful case, more communities are considering the idea. “We’ve become aware of the weaknesses of our system,” she told Al Jazeera. “And if we don’t change now, when? We cannot wait any longer.”

Mônica Bergamo: Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral diz ter sido chamada para desencalhar navio no Canal de Suez (Folha de S.Paulo)

31 de março de 2021

A Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, entidade esotérico-científica que diz controlar o clima, afirma ter sido acionada por uma seguradora internacional para ajudar no desencalhe do navio que entalou no Canal de Suez por dias.

Retroescavadeira tenta auxiliar no desencalhe do navio, mas ele está preso desde o dia 25 de março.

Empresa Evergreen Marine, que opera o cargueiro, atribui a mudança de rumo do navio uma forte rajada de vento.

For Indigenous people, seeds are more than food — they’re ‘members of an extended family’ (CBC)

CBC News · Posted: Jun 19, 2020 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: June 19

(Potato Park/Asociacion ANDES/Cusco, Peru)

About 1,000 kilometres south of the North Pole lies Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago. Home to roughly 2,600 people, it also has another, larger, more famous population: that of 1,057,151 seeds.

This is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), an effort to preserve seeds from around the globe that could eventually be lost as a result of natural or human factors. The vault’s inventory includes everything from African varieties of wheat and rice to European and South American varieties of lettuce and barley.  

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 75 per cent of genetic diversity has been lost because of farmers transitioning to varieties of high-yield, genetically uniform crops. 

In 2015, groups belonging to Parque de la Papa, a Peruvian organization that aims to preserve agricultural diversity and Indigenous culture, deposited 750 seeds of differing varieties of potatoes in the Svalbard seed vault, the first Indigenous group to do so. Last February, the Cherokee Nation became the first U.S. Indigenous group to make a deposit. 

In fact, Indigenous people have long preserved seeds because they have important cultural ties within the community.

“There’s this very strong relationship that people have with seeds,” said Alejandro Argumedo, director of programs at the U.S.-based Swift Foundation, which aims to preserve biocultural diversity. “In the place where I come from, for instance, seeds are considered to have feelings and heart. And so you’ve got to treat them with lots of love.” 

It’s a deeply reciprocal relationship, he said.

“There’s this big difference between just looking at seeds like biological materials that are important for farming,” said Argumedo, who is Quechua from Ayacucho, Peru. “Indigenous people see them more as members of an extended family and to which you have to [tend] with care. Because there will be a reciprocity — they will be providing you … food, will be caring about you.”

Argumedo cites the “qachun waqachi” potato variety used in a marriage ritual, where the bride (“qachun” in the Quechua language) gently peels the potato to show her love and caring for her husband-to-be as well as for Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth. 

“The ritual articulates the Andean belief that love and respect between humans depends on and is nurtured by the land and epitomizes the commitment of couples to protect their seeds and food systems,” he said. 

Terrylynn Brant, a Mohawk seed keeper from Ohsweken, Ont., has dedicated her life to this effort.

“I do a lot of work that supports other faith keepers in the work that they do. I support healers, seers, people like that … because sometimes people need to use a certain food for a certain ceremony,” she said. “I treat [seeds] with honour and respect.”

Argumedo said that the preservation of specific seeds is important in Indigenous communities where rituals require the best, purest form of seed.

“People are more interested in different features or characteristics of the seed. So people do selection for cultural reasons. And many of those traits are associated with taste, are associated with the colour and shape, because they will be used in rituals or social gatherings to create community cohesion,” he said. 

“And if you want to have a better relationship with your neighbours, you better have the right seeds, because you will be offering it as a way of respect.”

Hannes Dempewolf, senior scientist and head of global initiatives at Crop Trust, a German-based organization that’s involved with the Svalbard seed vault, said there’s another important reason for preserving genetic diversity of seeds.

“Every seed, every variety is unique in itself,” he said. “They have a unique set of genes that we have no idea what they could be useful for in the future.”

Nicole Mortillaro

When Whales and Humans Talk (Hakai Magazine)

Arctic people have been communicating with cetaceans for centuries—and scientists are finally taking note.

Tattooed Whale, 2016 by Tim Pitsiulak. Screen-print on Arches Cover Black. Reproduced with the permission of Dorset Fine ArtsApril 3rd, 2018

Harry Brower Sr. was lying in a hospital bed in Anchorage, Alaska, close to death, when he was visited by a baby whale.

Although Brower’s body remained in Anchorage, the young bowhead took him more than 1,000 kilometers north to Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), where Brower’s family lived. They traveled together through the town and past the indistinct edge where the tundra gives way to the Arctic Ocean. There, in the ice-blue underwater world, Brower saw Iñupiat hunters in a sealskin boat closing in on the calf’s mother.

Brower felt the shuddering harpoon enter the whale’s body. He looked at the faces of the men in the umiak, including those of his own sons. When he awoke in his hospital bed as if from a trance, he knew precisely which man had made the kill, how the whale had died, and whose ice cellar the meat was stored in. He turned out to be right on all three counts.

Brower lived six years after the episode, dying in 1992 at the age of 67. In his final years, he discussed what he had witnessed with Christian ministers and Utqiaġvik’s whaling captains. The conversations ultimately led him to hand down new rules to govern hunting female whales with offspring, meant to communicate respect to whales and signal that people were aware of their feelings and needs. “[The whale] talked to me,” Brower recalls in a collection of his stories, The Whales, They Give Themselves. “He told me all the stories about where they had all this trouble out there on the ice.”

Not long ago, non-Indigenous scientists might have dismissed Brower’s experience as a dream or the inchoate ramblings of a sick man. But he and other Iñupiat are part of a deep history of Arctic and subarctic peoples who believe humans and whales can talk and share a reciprocal relationship that goes far beyond that of predator and prey. Today, as Western scientists try to better understand Indigenous peoples’ relationships with animals—as well as animals’ own capacity for thoughts and feelings—such beliefs are gaining wider recognition, giving archaeologists a better understanding of ancient northern cultures.

“If you start looking at the relationship between humans and animals from the perspective that Indigenous people themselves may have had, it reveals a rich new universe,” says Matthew Betts, an archaeologist with the Canadian Museum of History who studies Paleo-Eskimo cultures in the Canadian Arctic. “What a beautiful way to view the world.”

It’s not clear exactly when people developed the technology that allowed them to begin hunting whales, but scholars generally believe Arctic whaling developed off the coast of Alaska sometime between 600 and 800 CE. For thousands of years before then, Arctic people survived by hunting seals, caribou, and walruses at the edge of the sea ice.

One such group, the Dorset—known in Inuit oral tradition as the Tunitwere rumored to have been so strong the men could outrun caribou and drag a 1,700-kilogram walrus across the ice. The women were said to have fermented raw seal meat against the warmth of their skin, leaving it in their pants for days at a time. But despite their legendary survival skills, the Tunit died out 1,000 years ago.An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty Images

One theory for their mysterious disappearance is that they were outcompeted by people who had begun to move east into the Canadian Arctic—migrants from Alaska who brought sealskin boats allowing them to push off from shore and hunt whales. Each spring, bowhead whales weighing up to 54,000 kilograms pass through the leads of water that open into the sea ice, and with skill and luck, the ancestors of today’s Inuit and Iñupiat people could spear a cetacean as it surfaced to breathe.

The advent of whaling changed the North. For the first time, hunters could bring in enough meat to feed an entire village. Permanent settlements began springing up in places like Utqiaġvik that were reliably visited by bowheads—places still inhabited today. Social organizations shifted as successful whale hunters amassed wealth, became captains, and positioned themselves at the top of a developing social hierarchy. Before long, the whale hunt became the center of cultural, spiritual, and day-to-day life, and whales the cornerstone of many Arctic and subarctic cosmologies.

When agricultural Europeans began visiting and writing about the North in the 10th century, they were mesmerized by Aboriginal peoples’ relationships with whales. Medieval literature depicted the Arctic as a land of malevolent “monstrous fishes” and people who could summon them to shore through magical powers and mumbled spells. Even as explorers and missionaries brought back straightforward accounts of how individual whaling cultures went about hunting, butchering, and sharing a whale, it was hard to shake the sense of mysticism. In 1938, American anthropologist Margaret Lantis analyzed these scattered ethnographic accounts and concluded that Iñupiat, Inuit, and other northern peoples belonged to a circumpolar “whale cult.”

Lantis found evidence of this in widespread taboos and rituals meant to cement the relationship between people and whales. In many places, a recently killed whale was given a drink of fresh water, a meal, and even traveling bags to ensure a safe journey back to its spiritual home. Individual whalers had their own songs to call the whales to them. Sometimes shamans performed religious ceremonies inside circles made of whale bones. Stashes of whaling amulets—an ambiguous word used to describe everything from carved, jewelry-like charms to feathers or skulls—were passed from father to son in whaling families.

To non-Indigenous observers, it was all so mysterious. So unknowable. And for archaeologists and biologists especially, it was at odds with Western scientific values, which prohibited anything that smacked of anthropomorphism.
A whaler waits for the bowhead whales from shore in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, during whaling season in the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy Stock Photo

A whaler waits for the bowhead whales from shore in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, during whaling season in the Chukchi Sea. Photo by Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy Stock Photo

In archaeology, such attitudes have limited our understanding of Arctic prehistory, says Erica Hill, a zooarchaeologist with the University of Alaska Southeast. Whaling amulets and bone circles were written off as ritualistic or supernatural with little exploration of what they actually meant to the people who created them. Instead, archaeologists who studied animal artifacts often focused on the tangible information they revealed about what ancient people ate, how many calories they consumed, and how they survived.

Hill is part of a burgeoning branch of archaeology that uses ethnographic accounts and oral histories to re-examine animal artifacts with fresh eyes—and interpret the past in new, non-Western ways. “I’m interested in this as part of our prehistory as humans,” Hill says, “but also in what it tells us about alternative ways of being.”

The idea that Indigenous people have spiritual relationships with animals is so well established in popular culture it’s cliché. Yet constricted by Western science and culture, few archaeologists have examined the record of human history with the perspective that animals feel emotions and can express those emotions to humans.

Hill’s interest in doing so was piqued in 2007, when she was excavating in Chukotka, Russia, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. The site was estimated to be 1,000 to 2,000 years old, predating the dawn of whaling in the region, and was situated at the top of a large hill. As her team dug through the tundra, they uncovered six or seven intact walrus skulls deliberately arranged in a circle.

Like many archaeologists, Hill had been taught that ancient humans in harsh northern climates conserved calories and rarely expended energy doing things with no direct physical benefit. That people were hauling walrus skulls to a hilltop where there were plenty of similar-sized rocks for building seemed strange. “If you’ve ever picked up a walrus skull, they’re really, really heavy,” Hill says. So she started wondering: did the skulls serve a purpose that wasn’t strictly practical that justified the effort of carrying them uphill?

When Hill returned home, she began looking for other cases of “people doing funky stuff” with animal remains. There was no shortage of examples: shrines packed with sheep skulls, ceremonial burials of wolves and dogs, walrus-skull rings on both sides of the Bering Strait. To Hill, though, some of the most compelling artifacts came from whaling cultures.

Museum collections across North America, for instance, include a dazzling array of objects categorized as whaling amulets. From this grab bag, Hill identified 20 carved wooden objects. Many served as the seats of whaling boats. In the Iñupiaq language, they’re called either iktuġat or aqutim aksivautana, depending on dialect.

One in particular stands out. Hill was looking for Alaskan artifacts in a massive climate-controlled warehouse belonging to Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. The artifacts were housed in hundreds of floor-to-ceiling drawers, row after row of them, with little indication of what was inside. She pulled open one drawer and there it was—the perfect likeness of a bowhead whale staring back at her.

The object, likely from the late 19th century, probably functioned as a crosspiece. It was hewn from a hunk of driftwood into a crescent shape 21 centimeters long. Carved on one side was a bowhead, looking as it would look if you were gazing down on a whale from above, perhaps from a raven’s-eye perspective. A precious bead of obsidian was embedded in the blowhole. “It’s so elegant and simple but so completely whale,” Hill says. “It’s this perfect balance of minimalism and form.”

Sometime in the late 19th century, an Iñupiat carver fashioned this seat for an umiak out of driftwood, carving the likeness of a bowhead whale, its blowhole symbolized with a piece of obsidian. Photo by Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute (Cat. A347918)Sometime in the late 19th century, an Iñupiaq carver fashioned this amulet for an umiak out of driftwood, carving the likeness of a bowhead whale, its blowhole symbolized with a piece of obsidian. As with other whaling amulets Erica Hill has examined, this object may have also functioned as part of the boat’s structure. Photo by Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institute (Cat. A347918)

Using Iñupiat oral histories and ethnographies recorded in the 19th and 20th centuries, Hill now knows that such amulets were meant to be placed in a boat with the likeness of the whale facing down, toward the ocean. The meticulously rendered art was thus meant not for humans, but for whales—to flatter them, Hill says, and call them to the hunters. “The idea is that the whale will be attracted to its own likeness, so obviously you want to depict the whale in the most positive way possible,” she explains.

Yupik stories from St. Lawrence Island tell of whales who might spend an hour swimming directly under an umiak, positioning themselves so they could check out the carvings and the men occupying the boat. If the umiak was clean, the carvings beautiful, and the men respectful, the whale might reposition itself to be harpooned. If the art portrayed the whale in an unflattering light or the boat was dirty, it indicated that the hunters were lazy and wouldn’t treat the whale’s body properly. Then the whale might swim away.

In “Sounding a Sea-Change: Acoustic Ecology and Arctic Ocean Governance” published in Thinking with Water, Shirley Roburn quotes Point Hope, Alaska, resident Kirk Oviok: “Like my aunt said, the whales have ears and are more like people,” he says. “The first batch of whales seen would show up to check which ones in the whaling crew would be more hospitable. … Then the whales would come back to their pack and tell them about the situation.”

The belief that whales have agency and can communicate their needs to people isn’t unique to the Arctic. Farther south, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth whalers observed eight months of rituals meant to communicate respect in the mysterious language of whales. They bathed in special pools, prayed, spoke quietly, and avoided startling movements that might offend whales. Right before the hunt, the whalers sang a song asking the whale to give itself.

In Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth belief, as in many Arctic cultures, whales weren’t just taken—they willingly gave themselves to human communities. A whale that offered its body wasn’t sentencing itself to death. It was choosing to be killed by hunters who had demonstrated, through good behavior and careful adherence to rituals, that they would treat its remains in a way that would allow it to be reborn. Yupik tradition, for example, holds that beluga whales once lived on land and long to return to terra firma. In exchange for offering itself to a Yupik community, a beluga expected to have its bones given the ritualistic treatment that would allow it to complete this transition and return to land, perhaps as one of the wolves that would gnaw on the whale’s bones.

According to Hill, many of the objects aiding this reciprocity—vessels used to offer whales a drink of fresh water, amulets that hunters used to negotiate relationships with animal spirits—weren’t just reserved for shamanistic ceremonies. They were part of everyday life; the physical manifestation of an ongoing, daily dialogue between the human and animal worlds.

While Westerners domesticated and eventually industrialized the animals we eat—and thus came to view them as dumb and inferior—Arctic cultures saw whale hunting as a match between equals. Bipedal humans with rudimentary technology faced off against animals as much as 1,000 times their size that were emotional, thoughtful, and influenced by the same social expectations that governed human communities. In fact, whales were thought to live in an underwater society paralleling that above the sea.

a bowhead whale swimming amid multi-layer sea ice

It’s difficult to assess populations of animals that swim under the ice, far from view, like bowhead whales. But experienced Iñupiat whalers are good at it. Photo by Steven Kazlowski/Minden Pictures

Throughout history, similar beliefs have guided other human-animal relationships, especially in hunter-gatherer cultures that shared their environment with big, potentially dangerous animals. Carvings left behind by the Tunit, for example, suggest a belief that polar bears possessed a kind of personhood allowing them to communicate with humans; while some Inuit believed walruses could listen to humans talking about them and react accordingly.

Whether or not those beliefs are demonstrably true, says Hill, they “make room for animal intelligence and feelings and agency in ways that our traditional scientific thinking has not.”

Today, as archaeologists like Hill and Matthew Betts shift their interpretation of the past to better reflect Indigenous worldviews, biologists too are shedding new light on whale behavior and biology that seems to confirm the traits Indigenous people have attributed to whales for more than 1,000 years. Among them is Hal Whitehead, a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who argues that cetaceans have their own culture—a word typically reserved for human societies.

By this definition, culture is social learning that’s passed down from one generation to the next. Whitehead finds evidence for his theory in numerous recent studies, including one that shows bowhead whales in the North Pacific, off the Alaskan coast, and in the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland sing different songs, the way human groups might have different styles of music or linguistic dialects. Similarly, pods of resident killer whales living in the waters off south Vancouver Island greet each other with different behaviors than killer whales living off north Vancouver Island, despite the fact that the groups are genetically almost identical and have overlapping territories.

Plus, calves spend years with their mothers, developing the strong mother-offspring bonds that serve to transfer cultural information, and bowhead whales live long enough to accumulate the kind of environmental knowledge that would be beneficial to pass on to younger generations. We know this largely because of a harpoon tip that was found embedded in a bowhead in northern Alaska in 2007. This particular harpoon was only manufactured between 1879 and 1885 and wasn’t used for long after, meaning that the whale had sustained its injury at least 117 years before it finally died.

Other beliefs, too, are proving less farfetched than they once sounded. For years, scientists believed whales couldn’t smell, despite the fact that Iñupiat hunters claimed the smell of woodsmoke would drive a whale away from their camp. Eventually, a Dutch scientist dissecting whale skulls proved the animals did, indeed, have the capacity to smell. Even the Yupik belief that beluga whales were once land-dwelling creatures is rooted in reality: some 50 million years ago, the ancestor of modern-day whales walked on land. As if recalling this, whale fetuses briefly develop legs before losing them again.

An Inuit hunter sits on a whale that’s been hauled to shore for butchering in Point Hope, Alaska, in 1900. Photo by Hulton Deutsch/Getty ImagesInuit hunters in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, paddle an umiak after a bowhead whale. Photo by Galen Rowell/Getty Images

None of this suggests that whales freely give themselves to humans. But once you understand the biological and intellectual capabilities of whales—as whaling cultures surely did—it’s less of a leap to conclude that cetaceans live in their own underwater society, and can communicate their needs and wishes to humans willing to listen.

With the dawn of the 20th century and the encroachment of Euro-Americans into the North, Indigenous whaling changed drastically. Whaling in the Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth Nations essentially ended in the 1920s after commercial whalers hunted the gray whale to near extinction. In Chukotka, Russian authorities in the 1950s replaced community-based whaling with state-run whaling.

Even the whaling strongholds of Alaska’s Iñupiat villages weren’t immune. In the 1970s, the International Whaling Commission ordered a halt to subsistence bowhead whaling because US government scientists feared there were just 1,300 of the animals left. Harry Brower Sr. and other whaling captains who’d amassed lifetimes of knowledge knew that figure was wrong.

But unlike other whaling cultures, Iñupiat whalers had the means to fight back, thanks to taxes they had collected from a nearby oil boom. With the money, communities hired Western-trained scientists to corroborate traditional knowledge. The scientists developed a new methodology that used hydrophones to count bowhead whales beneath the ice, rather than extrapolating the population based on a count of the visible bowheads passing by a single, ice-free locale. Their findings proved bowheads were far more numerous than the government had previously thought, and subsistence whaling was allowed to continue.

Elsewhere, too, whaling traditions have slowly come back to life. In 1999, the Makah harvested their first whale in over 70 years. The Chukchi were allowed to hunt again in the 1990s.

Yet few modern men knew whales as intimately as Brower. Although he eschewed some traditions—he said he never wanted his own whaling song to call a harpooned whale to the umiak, for exampleBrower had other ways of communicating with whales. He believed that whales listened, and that if a whaler was selfish or disrespectful, whales would avoid him. He believed that the natural world was alive with animals’ spirits, and that the inexplicable connection he’d felt with whales could only be explained by the presence of such spirits.

And he believed that in 1986, a baby whale visited him in an Anchorage hospital to show him how future generations could maintain the centuries-long relationship between humans and whales. Before he died, he told his biographer Karen Brewster that although he believed in a Christian heaven, he personally thought he would go elsewhere. “I’m going to go join the whales,” he said. “That’s the best place, I think. … You could feed all the people for the last time.”

Perhaps Brower did become a whale and feed his people one last time. Or perhaps, through his deep understanding of whale biology and behavior, he passed down the knowledge that enabled his people to feed themselves for generations to come. Today, the spring whaling deadline he proposed based on his conversation with the baby whale is still largely observed, and bowhead whales continue to sustain Iñupiat communities, both physically and culturally.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify the original purpose of the whaling amulet that caught Erica Hill’s attention in the Smithsonian warehouse.

Author bio Krista Lee Langlois is an independent journalist, essayist, and “aquaphile.” She lived in the Marshall Islands in 2006 and now writes about the intersection of people and nature from a landlocked cabin outside Durango, Colorado.

João Doria apela para o ‘sobrenatural’ em São Paulo (Encontro)

O prefeito anunciou um contrato com a fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, que, supostamente, consegue controlar o tempo

por Marcelo Fraga  08/02/2017 08:14


O prefeito de São Paulo, João Dória Júnior, já causou polêmica com seu projeto Cidade Linda e, agora, acaba de fechar uma parceria com uma entidade “sobrenatural” que diz controlar o tempo (foto: Instagram/jdoriajr/Reprodução)

Recém-empossado prefeito de São Paulo, o empresário João Doria Júnior começou sua trajetória à frente da capital paulista com medidas polêmicas. Logo nos primeiros dias no poder, ele já se vestiu de Gari, simulou ser cadeirante e mandou apagar grafites em pontos famosos de SP. Agora, a mais nova ação de Doria também promete causar controvérsia.

De acordo com a jornalista Cleo Guimarães, responsável pela coluna Gente Boa, do jornal O Globo, o prefeito fechou uma parceria com a fundação Cacique Cobra Coral (FCCC), conhecida por, supostamente, conseguir “intervir” no tempo de forma mediúnica – teria “poderes sobrenaturais”.

De acordo com Cleo Guimarães, a FCCC estaria de mudança para a China, mas, a entidade decidiu permanecer no Brasil porque pretende dar “atenção especial a São Paulo”. Ainda segundo a jornalista, a fundação negociou com os chineses um trabalho à distância. Não se sabe qual função terá a Cacique Cobra Coral no país mais populoso do mundo.

Em seu site oficial, a FCCC afirma que sua missão é “minimizar catástrofes que podem ocorrer em razão dos desequilíbrios provocados pelo homem na natureza”. Isso, segundo a entidade, é feito por meio de sua presidente, Adelaide Scritori, filha do fundador, Ângelo Scritori. Ela, supostamente, incorpora o espírito do Cacique Cobra Coral e, assim, consegue intervir no clima.

Um dos casos famosos de atuação da fundação se deu em 2009, quando a médium Adelaide Scritori foi convocada pela prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro para usar seus supostos poderes para evitar a tempestade que prevista para a tradicional festa de Réveillon em Copacabana.

Prefeito de São Paulo firma parceria com a Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral (O Globo)


05/02/2017 13:05

Osmar Santos e João Dória

Osmar Santos e João Dória | Divulgação

João Doria, prefeito de São Paulo, fechou parceria com a Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, a entidade esotérica que teria o poder de controlar o clima. O contrato com a prefeitura paulista havia sido firmado na gestão José Serra e finalizado com Gilberto Kassab. A fundação estava de mudanças para a China, mas desistiu porque quer dar uma atenção especial a SP. No entanto, negociou com os chineses de trabalhar à distância.

Sem convênio com Crivella, Cobra Coral vai priorizar SP no ‘controle do tempo’ (O Globo)

Assessor da médium diz que cidade vai exigir mais ‘esforço e empenho pessoal’ do cacique. Fundação ainda recebe dados meteorológicos do Alerta Rio

Forte chuva alaga a Estrada do Itanhangá, em 31/01/2015 Foto: Pablo Jacob / Agência O Globo

Forte chuva alaga a Estrada do Itanhangá, em 31/01/2015 – Pablo Jacob / Agência O Globo


07/02/2017 8:21 / atualizado 07/02/2017 16:54RIO — Depois de quase duas décadas dando prioridade ao trabalho espiritual de tentar desviar nuvens de chuva que pairam sobre o Rio e expõem a cidade aos riscos de enchentes e deslizamentos, a Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral informa que mudou seu foco. Decidiu centrar seus esforços no controle do clima em São Paulo, após um pedido pessoal do prefeito João Doria Júnior, feito no fim de janeiro à fundação, conforme adiantou a Coluna Gente Boa no domingo. No entanto, a médium Adelaide Scritori, que diz incorporar o espírito do Cacique Cobra Coral, entidade que teria a capacidade de controlar o tempo, não abandonará os cariocas, apesar do convênio da fundação com a prefeitura do Rio ter expirado com o fim do governo do ex-prefeito Eduardo Paes.

— São Paulo vai exigir mais esforço e empenho pessoal do cacique. É muito mais difícil atuar para dispersar as chuvas por ser uma cidade mais plana. No Rio, o relevo ajuda, pois tem como desviar as nuvens para regiões montanhosas ou o mar. O objetivo será atuar para que as precipitações que acabam provocando enchentes na capital paulista se concentrem no Vale do Paraíba, junto à Serra da Cantareira, para permitir um aumento do volume de água nos reservatórios que atendem Rio e São Paulo. A situação nesses reservatórios melhorou este ano após a estiagem de 2014/2015, mas ainda não voltou aos níveis antigos— disse o porta-voz da Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral, Osmar Santos.

No Rio, a parceria com a prefeitura começou em 2001 por iniciativa do ex-prefeito Cesar Maia. Nesses anos, a parceria que era sem ônus para a prefeitura, vinha sendo renovada. A Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral só exigia que recebesse dados sobre investimentos na prevenção a enchentes e pudesse fazer publicidade do acordo. Em janeiro de 2009, quando o ex-prefeito Eduardo Paes assumiu o comando da cidade pela primeira vez, o município chegou a anunciar que dispensaria a fundação, mas voltou atrás 15 dias depois, após o primeiro temporal que atingiu a cidade.

Adelaide Scritori, médium que diz incorporar o espírito do Cacique Cobra Coral – Luiz Ernesto Magalhães / O Globo

Osmar Santos acrescentou que o Cacique Cobra Coral vai continuar a monitorar o Rio, porque, apesar de o prefeito Marcelo Crivella não ter renovado o convênio, a entidade continua a atuar como consultora. Isso porque a ajuda espiritual se dá também com o apoio da tecnologia. Sempre que a prefeitura decreta estado de alerta de risco dos temporais, os meteorologistas do Alerta Rio repassam dados detalhados sobre as condições climáticas por e-mail. O GLOBO teve acesso a alguns desses informes, que são repassados para um grupo limitado de pessoas na prefeitura.

Eventos no Rio em que Cacique Cobra Coral trabalhou

Edições do Rock in Rio desde 2005

Durante o show do A-ha, chuva castigou público do festival em 27/09/2015 Foto: Marcelo Theobald / Extra / Agência O Globo

A Fundação foi chamada para evitar temporais que atrapalhassem os shows. Em alguns dias dos eventos, no entanto, choveu bastante, como durante o show do Ah-a em 2015, última edição do festival.

Réveillons desde 2000

Queima de fogos do réveillon de Copacabana em 2015 Foto: Gabriel de Paiva / Agência O Globo

A Fundação foi chamada para evitar temporais na virada do ano em Copacabana desde o ano 2000.

Encerramento da Copa do Mundo de 2014

Alemães comemoram conquista da Copa do Mundo de 2014 no Maracanã Foto: Guito Moreto em 13/07/2014 / Agência O Globo

A final da Copa do Mundo no Brasil foi no Maracanã: uma partida entre Alemanha e Argentina. Os alemães conquistaram seu tetracampeonato.

Carnavais no Rio desde 2000

Guga e Nadal sob chuva no desfile da Viradouro em 15/02/2015 Foto: Marcio Alves / Agência O Globo

A Fundação monitorou os carnavais da cidade desde o ano 2000. A única exceção foi 2015, quando o estado vivia uma crise hídrica. Exatamente naquele ano, um temporal atrapalhou os desfiles da Mocidade, da Mangueira e da Viradouro, que até foi rebaixada.

Olímpiada no Rio

Cerimônia de Encerramento da Rio 2016 Foto: Jae C. Hong / AP

A Fundação Cobra Coral foi chamada para os Jogos Olímpicos no Rio. Na cerimônia de encerramento da Olimpíada, um temporal caiu sobre a cidade.

— Nós somos a melhor prova de que, com convênio formalizado ou não, assim como diz o prefeito Marcelo Crivella, nós não misturamos política com religião. Nosso objetivo é atender às cidades e não aos políticos. Mas não resolvemos tudo. Nós somos uma espécie de air bag do tempo que minimiza os danos. Problemas podem continuar a ocorrer — disse Osmar Santos.


Apesar de anos de dedicação ao Rio, Osmar e Adelaide têm residência também em São Paulo, onde passam a maior parte do tempo. Antes do acordo com João Doria, a Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral já havia prestado consultoria climática e espiritual à cidade. O acordo acabou rompido em 1999 devido a um desentendimento com o ex-prefeito Gilberto Kassab. Segundo Osmar Santos, o Cacique se irritou com o fato de os recursos para o combate a enchentes na cidade ter sido remanejado para outros investimentos.

Antes do convite de Doria, a médium fazia planos de passar alguns anos na China e monitor o clima brasileiro à distância. O acordo foi renegociado, e agora Adelaide vai passar apenas 40 dias por ano na Ásia.

Segundo a ONG divulga, o Cacique Cobra Coral é uma entidade que em outras encarnações já teria vivido na pele de personalidades como o cientista Galileu Galilei e o ex-presidente dos Estados Unidos, Abraham Lincoln. Um dos ex-diretores da Fundação é o escritor Paulo Coelho.

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Decision-making process of viruses could lead to new antibiotic treatments (Science Daily)

February 6, 2017
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications
Humans face hundreds of decisions every day. But we’re not alone. Even the tiniest viruses also make decisions, and scientists are researching how they do so, to help lead to better treatments for some diseases. A team of scientists has discovered how the lambda phage decides what actions to take in its host, the E. coli bacterium.

The lambda phage prefers to destroy E. coli bacteria, which makes it a prime target for researchers. Dr. Lanying Zeng, left, and her graduate student Jimmy Trinh developed a four-color fluorescence reporter system to track it at the single-virus level. Credit: Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kathleen Phillips

Humans face hundreds of decisions every day. But we’re not alone. Even the tiniest viruses also make decisions, and scientists are researching how they do so, to help lead to better treatments for some diseases.

In a study published Feb. 6 in the journal Nature Communications, Dr. Lanying Zeng and her team at Texas A&M AgriLife Research discovered how the lambda phage decides what actions to take in its host, the E. coli bacterium.

A phage is a virus that infects and replicates within a bacterium. Phages were first discovered about 100 years ago, but recently scientists have begun to study how they can be used to attack disease-causing bacteria, especially strains that have become more resistant to antibiotics.

So numerous and diverse are phages — numbering into the billions, according to various reports in the U.S. National Library of Medicine — that researchers are now hot on the trail of phages that have the potential for curing specific bacterial maladies.

The lambda phage, for example, prefers to destroy E. coli bacteria, which makes it a prime target for researchers. In tracking that target, Zeng’s graduate student Jimmy Trinh developed a four-color fluorescence reporter system to track it at the single-virus level. This was combined with computational models devised by Dr. Gábor Balázsi, a biomedical engineer and collaborator at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, “to unravel both the interactions between phages and how individual phages determine” the fate of a cell.

What they found was not unlike the decision-making process of humans. Sometimes the lambda phage cooperates with others. Sometimes it competes.

“Instead of just the cell making a decision, we found the phage DNAs themselves also make decisions,” Zeng said.

Through the process they developed, the scientists were able to determine that timing played a role in decision-making.

Zeng explained that some phages can have two cycles of reproduction: lytic and lysogenic.

In the lytic cycle, full copies of the virus are made inside of a cell, say an E. coli cell. When the phage-infected cell becomes full of the replicating viruses, it bursts open and is destroyed. In the lysogenic cycle, the phage’s DNA lives as part of the bacterium itself and both continue to reproduce as one. In short, lysis involves competition while lysogeny involves cooperation, she said.

So, a key to using phages to destroy bacteria, Zeng said, is to understand how and when a phage decides to “go lytic” on the pathogen.

“Say you have two lambda phages that infect one cell,” she said. “Each phage DNA within the cell is capable of making a decision. We want to know how they make a decision, whether one is more dominant than the other, whether they have any interactions and compete to see who will win, or whether they compromise.”

“They may even coexist for some time and then finally choose one decision,” she said. “But the phage is making a subcellular decision — and that is very important. There could be a lot of implications.”

The four-color fluorescence reporter system helped the researchers visualize that many factors contribute to the decision and that “from the evolutionary point of view, the phages want to optimize their own fitness or survival,” she said. “So that is why they choose either lytic or lysogenic to maximize or optimize their survival.”

The team identified some of the factors that led to competition and others that led to cooperation.

Zeng said because phage therapy is a growing field for seeking ways to treat bacteria, the results of this study will help other scientists advance their research.

“This is a paradigm for bacteriophages,” she said. “When we understand the mechanism of the decision more, that can lead to more applications and better characterization of other systems.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Jimmy T. Trinh, Tamás Székely, Qiuyan Shao, Gábor Balázsi, Lanying Zeng. Cell fate decisions emerge as phages cooperate or compete inside their hostNature Communications, 2017; 8: 14341 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14341

A New Origin Story for Dogs (The Atlantic)


June 2, 2016

The first domesticated animals may have been tamed twice.

Katie Salvi


Tens of thousands of years ago, before the internet, before the Industrial Revolution, before literature and mathematics, bronze and iron, before the advent of agriculture, early humans formed an unlikely partnership with another animal—the grey wolf. The fates of our two species became braided together. The wolves changed in body and temperament. Their skulls, teeth, and paws shrank. Their ears flopped. They gained a docile disposition, becoming both less frightening and less fearful. They learned to read the complex expressions that ripple across human faces. They turned into dogs.

Today, dogs are such familiar parts of our lives—our reputed best friends and subject of many a meme—that it’s easy to take them, and what they represent, for granted. Dogs were the first domesticated animals, and their barks heralded the Anthropocene. We raised puppies well before we raised kittens or chickens; before we herded cows, goats, pigs, and sheep; before we planted rice, wheat, barley, and corn; before we remade the world.

“Remove domestication from the human species, and there’s probably a couple of million of us on the planet, max,” says archaeologist and geneticist Greger Larson. “Instead, what do we have? Seven billion people, climate change, travel, innovation and everything. Domestication has influenced the entire earth. And dogs were the first.” For most of human history, “we’re not dissimilar to any other wild primate. We’re manipulating our environments, but not on a scale bigger than, say, a herd of African elephants. And then, we go into partnership with this group of wolves. They altered our relationship with the natural world.”

Larson wants to pin down their origins. He wants to know when, where, and how they were domesticated from wolves. But after decades of dogged effort, he and his fellow scientists are still arguing about the answers. They agree that all dogs, from low-slung corgis to towering mastiffs, are the tame descendants of wild ancestral wolves. But everything else is up for grabs.

Some say wolves were domesticated around 10,000 years ago, while others say 30,000. Some claim it happened in Europe, others in the Middle East, or East Asia. Some think early human hunter-gatherers actively tamed and bred wolves. Others say wolves domesticated themselves, by scavenging the carcasses left by human hunters, or loitering around campfires, growing tamer with each generation until they became permanent companions.

Dogs were domesticated so long ago, and have cross-bred so often with wolves and each other, that their genes are like “a completely homogenous bowl of soup,” Larson tells me, in his office at the University of Oxford. “Somebody goes: what ingredients were added, in what proportion and in what order, to make that soup?” He shrugs his shoulders. “The patterns we see could have been created by 17 different narrative scenarios, and we have no way of discriminating between them.”

The only way of doing so is to look into the past. Larson, who is fast-talking, eminently likable, and grounded in both archaeology and genetics, has been gathering fossils and collaborators in an attempt to yank the DNA out of as many dog and wolf fossils as he can. Those sequences will show exactly how the ancient canines relate to each other and to modern pooches. They’re the field’s best hope for getting firm answers to questions that have hounded them for decades.

And already, they have yielded a surprising discovery that could radically reframe the debate around dog domestication, so that the big question is no longer when it happened, or where, but how many times.

*    *   *

On the eastern edge of Ireland lies Newgrange, a 4,800-year-old monument that predates Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. Beneath its large circular mound and within its underground chambers lie many fragments of animal bones. And among those fragments, Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin found the petrous bone of a dog.

Press your finger behind your ear. That’s the petrous. It’s a bulbous knob of very dense bone that’s exceptionally good at preserving DNA. If you try to pull DNA out of a fossil, most of it will come from contaminating microbes and just a few percent will come from the bone’s actual owner. But if you’ve got a petrous bone, that proportion can be as high as 80 percent. And indeed, Bradley found DNA galore within the bone, enough to sequence the full genome of the long-dead dog.

Larson and his colleague Laurent Frantz then compared the Newgrange sequences with those of almost 700 modern dogs, and built a family tree that revealed the relationships between these individuals. To their surprise, that tree had an obvious fork in its trunk—a deep divide between two doggie dynasties. One includes all the dogs from eastern Eurasia, such as Shar Peis and Tibetan mastiffs. The other includes all the western Eurasian breeds, and the Newgrange dog.

The genomes of the dogs from the western branch suggest that they went through a population bottleneck—a dramatic dwindling of numbers. Larson interprets this as evidence of a long migration. He thinks that the two dog lineages began as a single population in the east, before one branch broke off and headed west. This supports the idea that dogs were domesticated somewhere in China.

But there’s a critical twist.

The team calculated that the two dog dynasties split from each other between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago.  But the oldest dog fossils in both western and eastern Eurasia are older than that. Which means that when those eastern dogs migrated west into Europe, there were already dogs there.

To Larson, these details only make sense if dogs were domesticated twice.

Here’s the full story, as he sees it. Many thousands of years ago, somewhere in western Eurasia, humans domesticated grey wolves. The same thing happened independently, far away in the east. So, at this time, there were two distinct and geographically separated groups of dogs. Let’s call them Ancient Western and Ancient Eastern. Around the Bronze Age, some of the Ancient Eastern dogs migrated westward alongside their human partners, separating from their homebound peers and creating the deep split in Larson’s tree. Along their travels, these migrants encountered the indigenous Ancient Western dogs, mated with them (doggy style, presumably), and effectively replaced them.

Today’s eastern dogs are the descendants of the Ancient Eastern ones. But today’s western dogs (and the Newgrange one) trace most of their ancestry to the Ancient Eastern migrants. Less than 10 percent comes from the Ancient Western dogs, which have since gone extinct.

This is a bold story for Larson to endorse, not least because he himself has come down hard on other papers suggesting that cows, sheep, or other species were domesticated twice. “Any claims for more than one need to be substantially backed up by a lot of evidence,” he says. “Pigs were clearly domesticated in Anatolia and in East Asia. Everything else is once.” Well, except maybe dogs.

*   *   *

Katie Salvi

Other canine genetics experts think that Larson’s barking up the wrong tree. “I’m somewhat underwhelmed, since it’s based on a single specimen,” says Bob Wayne from the University of California, Los Angeles. He buys that there’s a deep genetic division between modern dogs. But, it’s still possible that dogs were domesticated just once, creating a large, widespread, interbreeding population that only later resolved into two distinct lineages.

In 2013, Wayne’s team compared the mitochondrial genomes (small rings of DNA that sit outside the main set) of 126 modern dogs and wolves, and 18 fossils. They concluded that dogs were domesticated somewhere in Europe or western Siberia, between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. And genes aside, “the density of fossils from Europe tells us something,” says Wayne. “There are many things that look like dogs, and nothing quite like that in east Asia.”

Peter Savolainen from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm disagrees. By comparing the full genomes of 58 modern wolves and dogs, his team has shown that dogs in southern China are the most genetically diverse in the world. They must have originated there around 33,000 years ago, he says, before a subset of them migrated west 18,000 years later.

That’s essentially the same story that Larson is telling. The key difference is that Savolainen doesn’t buy the existence of an independently domesticated group of western dogs. “That’s stretching the data very much,” he says. Those Ancient Western dogs might have just been wolves, he says. Or perhaps they were an even earlier group of migrants from the east. “I think the picture must seem a bit chaotic,” he says understatedly. “But for me, it’s pretty clear. It must have happened in southern East Asia. You can’t interpret it any other way.”

Except, you totally can. Wayne does (“I’m certainly less dogmatic than Peter,” he says). Adam Boyko from Cornell University does, too: after studying the genes of village dogs—free-ranging mutts that live near human settlements—he argued for a single domestication in Central Asia, somewhere near India or Nepal. And clearly, Larson does as well.

Larson adds that his gene-focused peers are ignoring one crucial line of evidence—bones. If dogs originated just once, there should be a neat gradient of fossils with the oldest ones at the center of domestication and the youngest ones far away from it. That’s not what we have. Instead, archaeologists have found 15,000-year-old dog fossils in western Europe, 12,500-year-old ones in east Asia, and nothing older than 8,000 years in between.

“If we’re wrong, then how on earth do you explain the archaeological data?” says Larson. “Did dogs jump from East Asia to Western Europe in a week, and then go all the way back 4,000 years later?” No. A dual domestication makes more sense. Mietje Genompré, an archaeologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, agrees that the bones support Larson’s idea. “For me, it’s very convincing,” she says.

But even Larson is hedging his bets. When I ask him how strong his evidence is, he says, “Like, put a number on it? If was being bold, I’d say it’s a 7 out of 10. We lack the smoking gun.”

Why is this is so hard? Of all the problems that scientists struggle with, why has the origin of dogs been such a bitch to solve?

For starters, the timing is hard to pin down because no one knows exactly how fast dog genomes change. That pace—the mutation rate—underpins a lot of genetic studies. It allows scientists to compare modern dogs and ask: How long ago must these lineages have diverged in order to build up this many differences in their genes? And since individual teams use mutation rate estimates that are wildly different, it’s no wonder they’ve arrive at conflicting answers.

Regardless of the exact date, it’s clear that over thousands of years, dogs have mated with each other, cross-bred with wolves, travelled over the world, and been deliberately bred by humans. The resulting ebb and flow of genes has turned their history into a muddy, turbid mess—the homogeneous soup that Larson envisages.

Wolves provide no clarity. Grey wolves used to live across the entire Northern Hemisphere, so they could have potentially been domesticated anywhere within that vast range (although North America is certainly out). What’s more, genetic studies tell us that no living group of wolves is more closely related to dogs than any other, which means that the wolves that originally gave rise to dogs are now extinct. Sequencing living wolves and dogs will never truly reveal their shrouded past; it’d be, as Larson says, like trying to solve a crime when the culprit isn’t even on the list of suspects.

“The only way to know for sure is to go back in time,” he adds.

*    *   *

Katie Salvi

The study informally known as the Big Dog Project was born of frustration. Back in 2011, Larson was working hard on the origin of domestic pigs, and became annoyed that scientists studying dogs were getting less rigorous papers in more prestigious journals, simply because their subjects were that much more charismatic and media-friendly. So he called up his longstanding collaborator Keith Dobney. “Through gritted teeth, I said: We’re fucking doing dogs. And he said: I’m in.”

Right from the start, the duo realized that studying living dogs would never settle the great domestication debate. The only way to do that was to sequence ancient DNA from fossil dogs and wolves, throughout their range and at different points in history. While other scientists were studying the soup of dog genetics by tasting the finished product, Larson would reach back in time to taste it at every step of its creation, allowing him to definitively reconstruct the entire recipe.

In recent decades, scientists have become increasingly successful at extracting and sequencing strands of DNA from fossils. This ancient DNA has done wonders for our understanding of our own evolution. It showed, for example, how Europe was colonized 40,000 years ago by hunter-gatherers moving up from Africa, then 8,000 years ago by Middle Eastern farmers, and 5,000 years ago by horse-riding herders from the Russian steppes. “Everyone in Europe today is a blend of those three populations,” says Larson, who hopes to parse the dog genome in the same way, by slicing it into its constituent ingredients.

Larson originally envisaged a small project—just him and Dobney analyzing a few fossils. But he got more funding, collaborators, and samples than he expected. “It just kind of metastasized out of all proportion,” he says. He and his colleagues would travel the world, drilling into fossils and carting chips of bone back to Oxford. They went to museums and private collections. (“There was a guy up in York who had a ton of stuff in his garage.”) They grabbed bones from archaeological sites.

The pieces of bone come back to a facility in Oxford called the Palaeo-BARN—the Palaeogenomics and Bioarchaeology Research Network. When I toured the facility with Larson, we wore white overalls, surgical masks, oversoles, and purple gloves, to keep our DNA (and that of our skin microbes) away from the precious fossil samples. Larson called them ‘spacesuits.’ I was thinking ‘thrift-store ninja.’

In one room, the team shoves pieces of bone into a machine that pounds it with a small ball bearing, turning solid shards into fine powder. They then send the powder through a gauntlet of chemicals and filters to pull out the DNA and get rid of everything else. The result is a tiny drop of liquid that contains the genetic essence of a long-dead dog or wolf. Larson’s freezer contains 1,500 such drops, and many more are on the way. “It’s truly fantastic the kind of data that he has gathered,” says Savolainen.

True to his roots in archaeology, Larson isn’t ignoring the bones. His team photographed the skulls of some 7,000 prehistoric dogs and wolves at 220 angles each, and rebuilt them in virtual space. They can use a technique called geometric morphometrics to see how different features on the skulls have evolved over time.

The two lines of evidence—DNA and bones—should either support or refute the double domestication idea. It will also help to clear some confusion over a few peculiar fossils, such as a 36,000 year old skull from Goyet cave in Belgium. Genompré thinks it’s a primitive dog. “It falls outside the variability of wolves: it’s smaller and the snout is different,” she says. Others say it’s too dissimilar to modern dogs. Wayne has suggested that it represents an aborted attempt at domestication—a line of dogs that didn’t contribute to modern populations and is now extinct.

Maybe the Goyet hound was part of Larson’s hypothetical Ancient Western group, domesticated shortly after modern humans arrived in Europe. Maybe it represented yet another separate flirtation with domestication. All of these options are on the table, and Larson thinks he has the data to tell them apart. “We can start putting numbers on the difference between dogs and wolves,” he says. “We can say this is what all the wolves at this time period look like; does the Goyet material fall within that realm, or does it look like dogs from later on?”

Larson hopes to have the first big answers within six to twelve months. “I think it’ll clearly show that some things can’t be right, and will narrow down the number of hypotheses,” says Boyko. “It may narrow it down to one but I’m not holding my breath on that.” Wayne is more optimistic. “Ancient DNA will provide much more definitive data than we had in the past,” he says. “[Larson] convinced everyone of that. He’s a great diplomat.”

Indeed, beyond accumulating DNA and virtual skulls, Larson’s greatest skill is in gathering collaborators. In 2013, he rounded up as many dog researchers as he could and flew them to Aberdeen, so he could get them talking. “I won’t say there was no tension,” he says. “You go into a room with someone who has written something that sort of implies you aren’t doing very good science… there will be tension. But it went away very quickly. And, frankly: alcohol.”

“Everyone was like: You know what? If I’m completely wrong and I have to eat crow on this, I don’t give a shit. I just want to know.”

Empathy more common in animals than thought (Science Daily)

Date: January 21, 2016

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Summary: A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous ‘love hormone,’ oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism.

Prairie voles consoling. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by James Burkett at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and colleagues was titled, “Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents.” Credit: Zack Johnson

A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous “love hormone,” oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism. Until now, consolation behavior has only been documented in a few nonhuman species with high levels of sociality and cognition, such as elephants, dolphins and dogs.

Prairie voles are particularly social rodents, causing them to be the focus of many studies. This led James Burkett and colleagues to explore their potential for empathy-motivated behaviors.

The researchers created an experiment where relatives and known individuals were temporarily isolated from each other, while one was exposed to mild shocks. Upon reunion, the non-stressed prairie voles proceeded to lick the stressed voles sooner and for longer durations, compared to a control scenario where individuals were separated but neither was exposed to a stressor.

Measurements of hormone levels revealed that the family members and friends were distressed when they could not comfort their loved one.

The fact that consoling behavior occurred only between those who were familiar with each other — including non-kin members — but not strangers, demonstrates that the behavior is not simply a reaction to aversive cues, the authors note.

Since the oxytocin receptor is associated with empathy in humans, Burkett et al. blocked this neurotransmitter in prairie voles in a series of similar consolation experiments. Blocking oxytocin did not cause family members and friends to alter their self-grooming behavior, yet they did cease consoling each other.

These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms of empathy and the evolution of complex empathy-motivated behaviors.

Journal Reference:

  1. J. P. Burkett, E. Andari, Z. V. Johnson, D. C. Curry, F. B. M. de Waal, L. J. Young. Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodentsScience, 2016; 351 (6271): 375 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4785

Ouvir o cacique (O Globo)


12/03/2010 10:14


É muito simples entender o que é a Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral. Trata-se de organização que se declara beneficente — e não há qualquer prova em contrário — que se atribuiu a missão de “minimizar catástrofes” avisando as autoridades com antecedência. Claro, entender é uma coisa, acreditar é outra. Mas também não falta quem acredite, e, parece, com boas razões.

A fundação foi criada por um certo Angelo Scritori, que morreu em 2002, com alegados 104 anos. Ele recebia os avisos da iminência de desastres naturais do Padre Cícero. Pouco antes de morrer, avisou à praça que seria sucedido pela filha, Adelaide, cujo contato com o outro lado passaria a ser o Cacique Cobra Coral.

Este se comunica com ela falando com sotaque de caboclo brasileiro, embora seja um índio americano Ao avisar sobre a substituição, Padre Cícero informou que o cacique também teria sido, em outras encarnações (se essa é a palavra certa, tratando-se de um espírito), Abraham Lincoln e Galileu Galilei. O leitor não deve ver esse dado com estranheza — até mesmo porque, se é cidadão de pouca fé, francamente, não tem qualquer razão para continuar lendo este artigo.

Mas parece que gente de muita fé não falta. O governo de São Paulo, por exemplo, tem contrato — sem valor financeiro — com a fundação desde 2005. Recebe aviso sobre catástrofes naturais a caminho, com tempo de tomar providências. Se as toma, não se sabe, mas isso não é problema para d. Adelaide.

Ela é bem-sucedida corretora de imóveis, moradora na região próspera dos Jardins de São Paulo. Há algum tempo, definiu com clareza o seu próprio papel como anunciadora de catástrofes: “Funcionamos como uma espécie de air bag. Reduzimos os danos, mas as autoridades têm de fazer a parte delas. O cacique não pode servir de muleta para os homens.”

Talvez como prova disso, a fundação já teve convênio com a Prefeitura de São Paulo, mas o rompeu na gestão do prefeito Gilberto Kassab, porque ele acabara com uma verba destinada a combater causas de desastres climáticos.

Seja como for, o prestígio da Cobra Coral vai além de São Paulo. Em novembro de 2008, a Comissão de Ciência e Tecnologia do Senado aprovou um convite a Adelaide para ir até lá discutir o apagão em 18 estados. Não sei se chegou a ir, não me lembro de notícia disso, mas o convite existiu.

Aqui no Rio, a fundação está discutindo com a Prefeitura a renovação de um convênio — que não envolve qualquer pagamento — pelo qual a fundação profetiza tempestades e assim ajuda a diminuir os seus efeitos. Sendo de graça, por que não ouvir o cacique?

Texto publicado no Globo de hoje.

Rock in Rio recorre a cacique cobra coral para evitar chuva (O Globo)

Publicado em 15/09/2015, às 12h01 | Atualizado em 15/09/2015, às 12h03

Da Agência O Globo

A unidade exotérica foi contratada pela organização do festival / Foto: Alexandre Macieira / RioTur

A unidade exotérica foi contratada pela organização do festivalFoto: Alexandre Macieira / RioTur

A previsão é de tempo aberto para os primeiros dias do Rock in Rio, mas mesmo assim a organização do festival resolveu recorrer à Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral. A entidade exotérica que controlaria chuvas por meio de uma médium foi contratada a partir desta terça-feira. A fundação já foi parceira da prefeitura no sistema de alerta e prevenção a enchentes, mas em 2013 rompeu o convênio.O motivo é que a prefeitura deixou de entregar, nos prazos previstos, relatórios com um balanço dos investimentos em prevenção realizados ano passado na cidade. A ONG é comandada pela médium Adelaide Scritori, que afirma ter o poder de controlar o tempo. Desde a administração do ex-prefeito Cesar Maia, Adelaide esteve à disposição para prestar assistência espiritual a fim de tentar reduzir os estragos causados por temporais. Em janeiro de 2009, a prefeitura chegou a anunciar o fim da parceria, mas voltou atrás após uma forte chuva.

Para o Rock in Rio, a previsão é de tempo aberto e muito calor. Segundo o meteorologista Luiz Felipe Gozzo, uma massa de ar seco ganha força a partir desta quarta-feira. No final de semana, haverá o predomínio de sol e temperaturas altas, de aproximadamente 33 graus.

No ano passado, em plena crise hídrica em São Paulo, a Fundação Cobra Coral disse que alertou, em agosto, o governador Geraldo Alckmin, o prefeito Fernando Haddad e a presidente Dilma sobre a crise da falta d’água. Segundo Osmar Santos, a fundação comandada pela médium Adelaide Scritori, que diz incorporar o espírito do cacique Cobra Coral, eles propuseram obra para interligar os reservatórios de água de São Paulo, mas receberam resposta negativa.

Editorial: Fogo, índios e folclore (Folha de S.Paulo)


A notícia de que a Fundação Nacional do Índio (Funai) está financiando a viagem de um grupo de índios a Roraima a fim de realizar o “ritual da chuva” para combater o fogo mereceria ser tratada como uma anedota. Mereceria, não fosse ela o relato de um exemplo caricatural da inépcia que vem caraterizando a atuação do poder público brasileiro diante da devastação das reservas naturais e da pequena economia do Estado.

É um disparate que um órgão público como a Funai desperdice os seus poucos recursos dando chancela a crenças e práticas que só fazem sentido dentro do universo cultural dos índios. Isto é, se está considerando que não há hipótese de que algum funcionário da fundação realmente acredite que o ritual caiapó possa levar chuva para Roraima.

Considerações sobre o absurdo à parte, o que está em jogo é um problema que precisa ser enfrentado de modo racional, com o auxílio de conhecimentos científicos e o uso de tecnologia adequada. Embora a Funai não esteja nem de longe no centro do combate ao fogo, a atitude da fundação parece, no entanto, ser equivalente à de um ministro da Saúde que resolvesse agora recorrer ao poder dos pajés para combater a expansão da dengue ou da malária.

A atitude da Funai dá tintas lamentavelmente folclóricas a uma série de negligências e irresponsabilidades que contribuíram para agravar a catástrofe ambiental em Roraima.

O governo federal demorou muito a agir, apesar de ter sido alertado há meses para a existência do problema. Recusou a ajuda internacional, mostrando desconhecer a gravidade do incêndio. Agora, ao nacionalismo injustificado, que, seja dito, ainda parece imperar em amplos setores das Forças Armadas, vem se somar o primitivismo da Funai, que no episódio infelizmente se inspira mais na magia do que na ciência.

*   *   *

Ianomâmis afirmam que a fundação deveria usar os pajés locais e não caiapós, como será feito
Funai “importa’ índios para dança da chuva (Folha de S.Paulo)

da Agência Folha, em Boa Vista

São Paulo, segunda, 30 de março de 1998

Lideranças indígenas de Roraima criticaram ontem a Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio) por se valer de supostos poderes sobrenaturais de dois pajés e duas crianças da etnia caiapó para fazer chover na região.

A equipe para celebrar o “ritual da chuva”, liderada pelo cacique Mengaron, estava sendo aguardada ontem em Boa Vista por funcionários da Funai. Hoje ou amanhã, a equipe será transportada de avião à reserva ianomâmi.

“Não faz sentido gastar dinheiro público com algo um tanto absurdo, quando a estiagem e o fogo estão deixando os índios sem ter o que comer”, disse Adalberto Silva, 39, vice-presidente do CIR (Conselho Indígena de Roraima).

Silva diz que teria sido melhor se a Funai tivesse comprado comida ou remédio com a verba que será gasta com a equipe do “ritual da chuva”. “O Mengaron é um funcionário da Funai e certamente os outros também são e moram em Brasília”, disse o diretor do CIR.

A decisão da Funai deixou perplexos os ianomâmis, que têm seus próprios xaboris (pajés). “Nós não vamos entender xabori caiapó, porque caiapó é uma nação diferente”, disse João Davi, 36, líder da aldeia Papiú Novo (a 285 km de Boa Vista). “Não entendemos por que vão trazer crianças.”

Davi, que está sendo iniciado como pajé, disse que sua etnia faz rituais durante os quais recorre aos “espíritos da natureza” para fazer chover. “A Funai quer aparecer à custa de nosso sofrimento. A gente nem sabia que iam fazer isso.”

“Ainda pedimos aos espíritos para mandar chuva. A Funai podia reunir os xaboris ianomâmis num mesmo lugar, e não trazer de uma nação diferente”, disse.

O administrador da Funai, Walter Blos, considerou “natural” a realização do “ritual da chuva”. O chefe da Operação Ianomâmi, Marcos Vinícius Ferreira, 30, diz que a sugestão de fazer chover em Roraima teria sido de Mengaron. “Decidimos facilitar essa ajuda espiritual aos ianomâmis”, disse.

O Exército também estuda fazer chover, mas usando técnicas científicas. A 1ª Brigada de Infantaria de Selva pediu à Funceme (Fundação Cearense de Meteorologia) um técnico para avaliar a possibilidade de provocar chuva na região.

A assessoria de comunicação da brigada informou que o representante da fundação deve chegar durante a semana. De acordo com a brigada, a Funceme é conhecida no Nordeste por suas técnicas de bombardeamento de nuvens para provocar chuva.

Alarme falso
Ontem, às 18h50 (horário local, 19h50 no horário de Brasília), choveu em Boa Vista por cerca de dois minutos. A chuva chegou a animar alguns pedestres e motoristas que estavam na rua.

Cinco pessoas que viajavam na caçamba de uma camionete em frente ao Palácio do Governo, gritaram “Viva! Olha a chuva!”.

Alguns pedestres aplaudiram, e alguns motoristas buzinaram. Mas a alegria durou pouco. A quantidade de chuva não possibilitou nem mesmo a formação de poças ou de enxurrada.

A água da chuva apenas deixou marcas esparsas sobre o chão e as capotas dos carros. O céu continua encoberto, como está há alguns dias devido à fumaça dos incêndios que cobre Boa Vista.

Hoje deve chegar a Roraima o deputado federal Fernando Gabeira (PV-SP), membro da comissão de meio ambiente da Câmara.

*   *   *

O saber e a pose (Folha de S.Paulo)

Os índios são no Brasil de hoje um dos últimos redutos de uma espiritualidade autêntica



Escrevendo na Folha, uma cientista social (ah, como é rico em cientistas sociais este Brasil!) explica-nos que a eficácia dos ritos indígenas para produzir chuva é um resultado do consenso social. Não é maravilhoso? Pressionadas pela opinião pública, as nuvens fazem pipi de medo. Já a “Veja”, com seu característico ar de menininho primeiro da classe, alerta contra o ressurgimento das crendices, como se fosse muito mais  racional e científico acreditar na “Veja” do que nos pajés de Roraima.

Da minha parte, não me lembro de jamais ter acreditado piamente numa única linha dessa revista. Não vai nisso nenhuma ofensa aos coleguinhas: um jornalismo saudável não dá por pressuposta a sua própria infalibilidade, sobretudo em assuntos tão estranhos à mente jornalística como o é a arte de fazer chover.

Havendo motivos de sobra para duvidar de que citadinos incapazes de extrair um pingo d’água de um coco seco tenham grande autoridade para opinar em questões de pluviosidade ritual, parece-me que as classes falantes têm oferecido ao público, no que dizem da chuva que salvou Roraima, um triste espetáculo de ignorância presunçosa.

Enquanto os pajés davam com modéstia exemplar um show de eficiência e poder, os ditos civilizados procuravam esconder sua vergonhosa impotência por trás de pedantismos verbais, recriminações mútuas, acusações ao “governo ladro” que não produz chuva e, “last but not least”, despeitadíssimas tentativas de diminuir e aviltar o grande feito dos dois admiráveis sacerdotes.

Mas que mais poderiam fazer? Que entende de diálogos com o céu essa gente imersa na “completa terrestrialidade e mundanização do pensamento” preconizada por Antônio Gramsci?

A “Veja”, por exemplo, está tão longe do assunto que, quando fala de “renascimento da fé”, não entende por essa expressão nada mais que um fenômeno de marketing. Crendice, no sentido rigoroso do termo, seria acreditar que mentalidades lacradas na atualidade jornalística mais compressiva, incapazes de desligar-se mesmo hipoteticamente dos preconceitos contemporâneos, pudessem nos ensinar alguma coisa sobre o supratemporal e o eterno.

Para quem enxerga alguma coisa nesses domínios, há uma diferença abissal entre o mero “sentimento religioso”, fato imanente à psique humana, e o ato espiritual propriamente dito, cujo alcance se prolonga para muito além dos limites da subjetividade individual ou coletiva e chega a tocar um outro plano de existência, que nem por invisível é menos real e objetivo do que este mundo nosso de pedra e sangue.

Uma das mais notórias ilustrações dessa distinção é, precisamente, a diferença entre a pura força auto-hipnótica da sugestão coletiva e o efeito físico que certas preces e ritos determinam sobre a natureza em torno, imune, por definição, às flutuações da opinião pública.

Em última instância, como já ensinava o episódio de Moisés ante os magos do Egito, é o domínio sobre o mundo físico que atesta a diferença entre o carisma em sentido estrito – dom de Deus e poder espiritual autêntico – e o “carisma” em sentido sociológico, redutivo e caricatural, vulgar atração mútua entre as massas e seu ídolo.

Mas essa diferença é, por definição, invisível à mentalidade radicalmente mundanizada das classes falantes, um clero leigo empenhado em tampar o céu para que, na escuridão resultante, sua potência iluminista de meio watt pareça um verdadeiro sol.

Eis por que essas pessoas chegam ao supremo ridículo de atribuir o efeito dos ritos sobre a natureza ao funcionamento imanente da psique e da sociedade, como se árvores e nuvens, bichos e galáxias fossem regidos pelas leis da nossa vã sociologia. Explicar o objeto pelo sujeito, o transcendente pelo imanente é o mesmo que conferir às leis da eletrotelefonia o poder de determinar o que se diz numa conversa telefônica.

Mas, na ânsia de negar, o orgulho moderno não hesita em afundar no ilogismo mais estúpido. O apego à modernidade científica torna-se, então, uma crendice supersticiosa que faz um sujeito regredir à noite dos tempos e pensar como um neandertalóide.

Não, caros intelectuais, vocês não têm nenhuma explicação válida para a chuva produzida em Roraima pelas preces dos dois pajés, e o ar de superioridade fingida com que falam do que não entendem só mostra que sua ciência é bem menos confiável que a deles.

Certas tribos brasileiras conservam uma intensidade de vida religiosa e o domínio de conhecimentos espirituais que de há muito se tornaram, para a intelectualidade citadina, misteriosos e incompreensíveis. Os índios não fazem mistério algum em torno desses conhecimentos, assim como os santos da igreja, os gurus vedantinos, os grandes mestres do budismo. É a malícia temerosa do observador que torna obscuro e ameaçador o luminoso e evidente e que, não suportando a luz, busca reduzi-la à refração das suas próprias trevas.

Malgrado o empobrecimento de suas culturas, os índios são no Brasil de hoje um dos últimos redutos de uma espiritualidade autêntica, feita de um conhecimento que é objetividade, simplicidade e poder; nada tem a ver com o misto de sentimentalismo e exaltação ideológica apresentado como a única religião possível por uma pseudociência cega e pretensiosa, por todo um cortejo desprezível de padrecos e acadêmicos incapazes de enxergar além das paredes do poço gnosiológico em que se enfurnam.

Se os dois pajés fizeram o que a gente da cidade não pôde fazer, o mais elementar bom senso aconselharia admitir a hipótese de que sabem algo que ela não sabe. Se ela exclui essa hipótese “in limine” e ainda fala deles com despeito, isso, além de constituir uma ingratidão para com benfeitores – um dos “cinco pecados que bradam aos céus”, segundo a Bíblia -, é um vexame intelectual que ilustra de maneira especialmente eloquente a distância invencível que existe entre o saber e a pose.

Malásia detém 4 turistas que ficaram nus em monte atingido por terremoto (UOL Notícias)

AFP, Em Kuala Lumpur


As autoridades da Malásia anunciaram a detenção de quatro turistas – dois canadenses, um britânico e um holandês – que supostamente ficaram nus no monte Kinabalu, um ato que, segundo alguns moradores, irritou os espíritos tribais e provocou o terremoto da semana passada.

As fotografias de 10 turistas nus circularam pelas redes sociais e provocaram a revolta dos moradores, depois que um tremor de magnitude 6,0 de magnitude perto da montanha na sexta-feira passada matou 18 pessoas.

Seis turistas permanecem em paradeiro desconhecido, segundo a polícia.

O monte Kinabalu, declarado Patrimônio Mundial da Humanidade pela Unesco e muito popular entre os alpinistas, é considerado um espaço sagrado pelo grupo tribal Kadazan Dusun da Malásia, que considera o local uma área de descanso para os espíritos.

“Nós detivemos quatro deles na terça-feira e continuamos procurando os outros seis turistas”, afirmou Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman, chefe de polícia do estado malaio de Sabah, onde fica a montanha.

Jalaluddin disse que os detidos podem ser acusados de perturbação da ordem pública.

O ministro do Turismo da província de Sabah, Masidi Manjun, anunciou a abertura de processos contra os quatro estrangeiros e informou que eles permanecerão detidos por quatro dias.

O terremoto de sexta-feira provocou deslizamentos no Monte Kinabalu, quando mais de 150 alpinistas estavam no topo da montanha.

As autoridades confirmaram que 18 pessoas morreram na montanha, incluindo alguns jovens estudantes de Cingapura que estavam no local em uma excursão escolar.

Alguns internautas malaios e inclusive algumas autoridades atribuíram a tragédia aos nudistas, sugerindo que sua atitude irritou os espíritos e provocou o terremoto.

Mas para o ministro Masidi, a ideia de que as autoridades consideram que os atos dos turistas provocaram o terremoto está equivocada.

“Eu nunca disse que eles provocaram o terremoto, e sim que suas ações contrariaram os integrantes da maior tribo de Sabah. A montanha é um lugar sagrado e reverenciado”, declarou.

Um ritual tradicional de várias religiões deve ser organizado em breve para a purificação da montanha, com a presença de muçulmanos, cristãos e também de líderes tribais, afirmou Masidi.

Autoridade malaia acusa turistas nus de causar terremoto que matou alpinistas (UOL Notícias)

Jennifer Pak

Da BBC News

09/06/2015 06h51 

Para um funcionário do governo da Malásia, o terremoto que atingiu o país na última sexta-feira (5) e deixou ao menos 16 mortos teve pouco a ver com a atividade sísmica da região.

Joseph Pairin Kitingan, que ocupa um cargo semelhante ao de vice-governador na província de Sabah, disse que a tragédia foi causada por um grupo de turistas ocidentais que recentemente tiraram fotos nus no Monte Kinabalu, próximo ao epicentro do tremor.

Pairin disse que a atitude dos turistas irritou os espíritos da montanha: “O terremoto é uma prova das consequências, que já temíamos, das ações (dos turistas). Temos de entender essa tragédia como um alerta, sobre como as crenças e costumes locais não podem ser desrespeitados.”

Segundo o governo da Malásia, alguns dos turistas já foram identificados; entre eles estão dois canadenses, um alemão e um holandês.

Autoridades malais estão orientadas a não permitirem que eles deixem o país, enquanto as investigações estiverem em curso.

Segundo a mídia local, ao menos um dos turistas teria sido preso.

‘Sociedade moderna’

Moradores da região acreditam que o Kinabalu é sagrado por ser o último local de descanso de seus ancestrais.

Para muitos habitantes de Sabaha, não há relação entre o tremor e a atitude dos estrangeiros, mas alguns se ofenderam com a nudez.

“Eu não posso confirmar se os turistas causaram o terremoto ou não. Somos uma sociedade moderna, mas temos nossas crenças, e elas têm de ser respeitadas”, disse Supni, um guia do Monte Kinabalu.

O guia, que acha que os turistas devem ser punidos, conta que estava levando um grupo de montanhistas pela região, quando ocorreu o terremoto que deixou ao menos 137 pessoas isoladas.

Supni conta que ele e seu grupo precisaram caminhar por 12 horas, depois de serem informados que os helicópteros de resgate não estavam conseguindo chegar ao local onde estavam por conta do tempo ruim.

Ele conta que o grupo passou por alguns corpos presos nas pedras. “Passávamos em silêncio pelos corpos, em sinal de respeito. Muitas pessoas estavam chorando, mas tentamos manter a calma”, disse.

O antropólogo Paul Porodong, da Universidade da Malásia em Sabah, disse em entrevista ao jornal Star que tribos locais relacionam atos desrespeitosos a acidentes e que a nudez do grupo se encaixaria nessa crença.

Segundo a mídia local, ao menos um dos turistas teria sido preso. Para os próximos dias, a população local está planejando um ritual tradicional no Monte Kinabalu para “acalmar os espíritos”.

Os saberes indígenas, muito além do romantismo (Outras Palavras)



Não se trata de opor um fantasioso “espiritualismo” a um materialismo ocidental. Mas de desafiar nosso regime de sociabilidade com outras ideias, disposições e possibilidades

Por Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel

Houve um tempo em que falar de índios no Brasil era um exercício romântico. Tão romântico quanto fantasioso.

No começo do século XX, alguns doutos paulistas saíram pelo seu estado batizando os lugares com nomes tupi, do Anhangabaú a Araçatuba, movidos por ímpetos eruditos, não necessariamente por remissões mais escrupulosas à realidade. Quando a região de Guaianases, na cidade de São Paulo, foi batizada com esse nome, havia centenas de anos que os Guainá, que ali teriam sido aldeados à força no século XVI, já não mais existiam para contar qualquer coisa a respeito da sua história. Os índios daqueles eruditos paulistas, cultores do “tupi antigo”, eram algo bastante postiço. Realizando com perversa ironia os ideais antropofágicos dos mesmos tupi, que séculos antes iam à guerra, entre outras coisas, para caçar, para seus futuros filhos, os nomes daqueles que comeriam, acabaram eles agora transformados em não mais que nomes, desta feita como que nomes em conserva, para serem usados nessa curiosa salada toponímica.

Enquanto isso, no oeste paulista, a partir de Bauru, travava-se uma guerra pela expansão da fronteira agrária, empurrada pela ferrovia. Era um legítimo cenário de bang-bang, e as principais vítimas do extermínio, operado por “bugreiros” e outros agentes, eram os Kaingang e os Xavante, genericamente chamados de Coroados, gente da família linguística jê (muito diferente da família tupi, portanto); extermínio que a história oficial paulista fez questão de sepultar sob a tampa de concreto do silêncio, escrevendo, em seu lugar, o relato fantasioso de uma simples saga de imigrantes. Assim, Araçatuba, por exemplo, terra kaingang, hoje capital do boi gordo, no extremo-oeste paulista, pôde, também ela, ganhar seu bucólico nome tupi: bosque de araçás.

Note-se: não estamos nos confins selváticos e geograficamente obscuros de uma imensa Amazônia; uma Amazônia quase que alheia e que nem parece ter fim (e que daí, pela “lei” da oferta e da procura, se presuma como tão… barata). Estamos no hoje pujante e urbanizado oeste paulista, há não mais que cem anos atrás, apenas vinte anos antes de São Paulo embarcar em uma aventura militar contra um incipiente governo nacional antioligárquico.

De romantismo em romantismo, chegamos aos anos 80, em que os índios, eternos candidatos a nobres selvagens, passam a ser agora heróis ecológicos. Esses, pelo menos, ainda estavam vivos. É bem verdade que a relação dos índios com aquilo que chamamos “natureza” é muito diferente da que a nossa sociedade tem, a começar pelo fato de que, como nos ensina a antropologia amazonista hoje, eles não a reconhecem como “natureza” ― como objeto exterior e à parte, feito para ser usado, apropriado e apenas eventualmente “preservado” como coisa patrimonializada ―, mas como “gente”, como uma multiplicidade de sujeitos imprescindíveis de uma relação sem a qual o mundo habitado não é compreensível nem poderia existir. No entanto, transformar os índios em heróis da “nossa” natureza, incorporados como parte daquele objeto à parte, e igualmente alheio a nós, pode não ser mais que uma dessas nossas projeções, tão românticas quanto utilitárias, de ver Peri beijar Ceci… e morrer em seguida. Parará tim bum bum bum.

Se o novo romantismo ecológico ao menos chamou os índios para a agenda enquanto eles ainda estão vivos, sua tônica acanhadamente preservacionista os fez equivaler, mais uma vez, ao passado; a um passado de aparente pureza florística e faunística que precisaria ser sempre revivido ― ou “resgatado”, como gosta de usar a terminologia patrimonializadora em voga ― de forma idealmente imutável. Mais uma vez, os índios parecem entrar na (nossa) dança sob a clave do embalsamamento, mesmo que, agora, sob a agenda de uma patrimonialização talvez tão fetichista quanto a toponímia mítica dos velhos eruditos paulistas.

No entanto, nos últimos tempos, os últimos lastros românticos que ainda pareciam nos avalizar a existência dos índios parecem estar ruindo, o que não nos augura necessariamente algo virtuoso, porque ficamos mal-acostumados a depender dos romantismos para assegurar uma (traiçoeira e manhosa) legitimidade simbólica desses Outros Nacionais (como os chamou a antropóloga Alcida Ramos) e, por consequência, garantir as bases institucionais da sua existência enquanto povos acolhidos e protegidos ― não falemos sequer ainda de “respeitados”, porque o respeito à diferença não é algo que se aprenda por meio de projeções românticas.

Não é preciso lembrar, para as pessoas razoavelmente informadas, o estado de coisas em que andam as políticas de governo… e os horizontes obscuros das políticas de Estado… com relação aos povos indígenas. Também já é quase ocioso lembrar o quanto um e outro (políticas de governo e projetos de política de Estado) têm se estimulado mutuamente, para promover o etnocídio indígena por meio do solapamento dos direitos. Seja para quem for, qualquer solapamento de direitos é sempre um sequestro da cidadania. Daria até para lembrar, parafrasticamente, aquele poema de Brecht: “primeiro levaram os índios…”.

O que alenta e justifica essa marcha implacável nós também já sabemos o que é: a velha ideologia desenvolvimentista repaginada pelo avatar inquestionável do consumo como critério, seja de teórica “inclusão” seja de teórico “bem-estar”. Assim, no coração dessa nova ideologia desenvolvimentista encontra-se uma operação utilitarista singela: trocar a cidadania pelo consumo. E, nela, o único lugar para os índios ― uma vez corroídas, por esse realismo neoclássico rasteiro, as amarras românticas que os sustentavam ― é o de se tornarem, eles também, modestíssimos consumidores, apoiados por programas assistenciais do governo, depois de entregarem seus “meios de produção” a quem realmente interessa, como aqueles que, vencidos, entregaram outrora o que são hoje terras de boi gordo.

Claro que os que já se renderam inteiramente à coisificação utilitarista do consumo (e provavelmente se esqueceram até de ser gente) vão dizer: melhor boi gordo do que índio ― e no estado em que chegamos, isso é exatamente o que muitos pensam, sem que tenham a necessidade de pronunciá-lo. No entanto, a troca utilitarista, na sua racionalidade de meios e no seu afã predatório, quer apenas ganhar hoje, para a aventura de uns quantos, o que o bem comum poderia, de outra forma, ganhar multiplicado amanhã, se sobreviver até lá. E é aí que a equação que move as curvas de utilidade se alarga para variáveis e horizontes impensados pelos mecano-economistas.

No atual estado de coisas, entretanto, parece haver apenas duas alternativas para salvar a (potencialmente subversiva) diversidade existencial dos Outros Nacionais da sanha desenvolvimentista de moê-la e transformá-la em salsicha: ou reciclamos as projeções românticas em algum novo (e duvidoso) feitiço encantatório das nossas narrativas nacionais, ou tiramos os índios do alheamento passadista a que sempre foram condenados e os reconhecemos como uma aposta sincera no futuro; num futuro não apenas deles, como também não apenas nosso, mas num futuro de diálogo, para além do alheamento, no qual eles também são, necessariamente, sujeitos de fala ― não “eles” a pessoa x ou y, ou a “representação” w ou z, mas, ainda mais radicalmente, as suas visões de mundo. A primeira alternativa, a da reciclagem das projeções românticas, sempre foi aquela imediatamente sedutora, e, com ela, chega-se até mesmo a lançar mão de alegados exotéricos. A segunda, por sua vez, é a que reclama uma reflexão antiutilitária, mas estratégica, que talvez seja exatamente aquilo pelo qual muitos de nós, antropólogos, trabalhamos.

Em 1952, num texto escrito para a Unesco, Lévi-Strauss defendia que as sociedades só sobrevivem porque aprendem umas com as outras. Uma sociedade que se isola na certeza das suas verdades fenece diante dos problemas para os quais sua visão de mundo não alcança soluções. As “soluções” de grande alcance, portanto, não são meramente tecnológicas, mas conceituais. São as ideias que dimensionam a técnica e que dão uso às ferramentas, ou, segundo a fórmula famosa do epistemólogo Georges Canguilhem: o microscópio não é a extensão da vista, mas a extensão da inteligência. Sem o conceito de micro-organismo, o que se veria pelas lentes de um microscópio seria apenas um conto de fadas.

Evidentemente que as tecnologias ajudam, mas o que está sempre por detrás delas são as ideias. De pouco adiantaria, para a expansão europeia dos séculos XV e XVI, o astrolábio que os europeus aprenderam dos árabes, se alguns deles não dispusessem do novo e herético conceito de uma Terra redonda. Descobrir a América, nesse sentido, foi a consagração de uma grande heresia, frente a uma doxa tão potente à sua época quanto os mitos econômicos atuais e suas leis inquestionáveis. E as coisas não pararam por aí, evidentemente, porque, como também nos lembrava Lévi-Strauss, isso é a história, e os europeus, casualmente, não se encontravam na situação dos Mayas em torno do ano 1.000, quando, orgulhosos e isolados, viram suas opulentas cidades colapsarem por conta de uma crise ecológica, por eles mesmo provocada, e para a qual nem o refinamento do conhecimento dos seus astrônomos e sacerdotes tinha uma solução a dar.
150507_Palacio Nacional 09b

Ainda assim, um milênio após o fim do período Maya Clássico, o muralista Diego Rivera pintaria em uma das paredes do Palácio Nacional do México a lista do que a tradição ameríndia mexicana havia legado ao mundo: uma lista de cultivos alimentares que, além de cacau, tomate e feijão, é encabeçada, evidentemente, pelo milho, cuja notável diversidade genética dos cultivares meso-americanos a Monsanto está tratando hoje de eliminar, por meio de seu milho transgênico com patente “made in USA”. Não apenas o milho, mas sobretudo a batata, levada dos Andes pelos europeus, produzem muito mais calorias por hectare plantado que o trigo, nascido na Mesopotâmia e levado para a Europa. O cultivo desse tubérculo, rapidamente estimulado e expandido no Velho Continente, foi responsável por eliminar a fome endêmica e medieval da Europa, e constituir a base demográfica sem a qual a Revolução Industrial não teria sido possível e, com ela, a nossa arrogante modernidade.Por trás da domesticação dos tubérculos nos Andes há um enorme conjunto de ideias sobre como a mãe-terra gera seus frutos, como o trabalho comum os recolhe, como eles podem ser acumulados e conservados, e como devem ser distribuídos. À época da Conquista, os indígenas dos Andes eram muitíssimo mais bem nutridos e saudáveis que os europeus. Diante dessa diferença evidente, estes últimos aproveitaram apenas um produto específico, o que, para eles, já foi muito. Há quem acredite que o socialismo e o Estado do bem-estar social teriam sido inventados alguns séculos antes se os europeus, além das batatas, tivessem levado as ideias.

Apostar nos índios, e portanto na diversidade cultural, como nosso futuro comum de não-alheamento, não significa meramente apostar que a erva de algum pajé possa trazer a cura para o câncer. Expor nossas ideias ao contato com outras visões de mundo pode nos curar de coisas muito piores: nossos próprios e mesquinhos limites.

Quando comentávamos antes que o militantismo ecologista, ao trazer intuitivamente os índios à baila, acabou descuidando do que eles poderiam pensar a respeito da “nossa” natureza ― apenas para servirem ao que nós continuamos a pensar dela e da sua “preservação” enquanto objeto ―, sugeríamos também que a recusa, por parte dos índios, à sumária objetificação dessa “natureza” corresponde ao reconhecimento dela, por eles, como sujeito de uma relação. Conceitos como animismo, perspectivismo e multinaturalismo (por oposição a multiculturalismo) vêm sendo testados pelos antropólogos para descrever o sentido da socialidade indígena na Amazônia e a sua maneira de reconhecer os agentes das relações. Esse fenômeno, no entanto ― como tentamos demonstrar em nossas pesquisas nos Andes ―, pode, na realidade, se constituir como um traço ameríndio generalizado, continental. E o que ele desafia não é apenas a nossa forma de relação com uma “natureza” dada, mas sim a forma como nós a conceituamos, para, em seguida, nos sentirmos à vontade para subjugá-la, a partir de uma relação sujeito-objeto em que a extensão do uso e da posse (a simples destruição incluída) se define pelos casuísmos de uma racionalidade instrumental.

Se aquele tipo de perspectiva sobre a socialidade tem uma incidência efetivamente ameríndia, continental, e se a dimensão do seu desafio pode e deve ser posta em larga escala, então quem nos manda o recado político é o movimento indígena equatoriano, que inspirou em boa medida a elaboração da última Constituição do país, referendada em 2008. Nela, pela primeira vez no mundo, a Natureza foi reconhecida como sujeito jurídico de direito, para que em seu nome e da sua integridade, seja defendida como parte interessada em qualquer ação judicial visando garantir sua “existência, manutenção e regeneração de seus ciclos vitais, estrutura, funções e processos evolutivos” (Art. 71). Talvez seja ocioso se prender a emblemas ou ressentimentos étnicos: se essa Natureza corresponde tão somente, ou não, à Pachamama, a mãe-terra dos andinos, tal como explicitamente a nomeia o mesmo artigo 71… Estamos, antes, em um terreno de fecundas heterogeneidades discursivas, no terreno do desafio das ideias. E é aí que se fazem as grandes apostas no futuro, porque é isso que, para o bem ou para o mal, com a lista de Diego Rivera e muitas outras, e também com toda a precariedade das experiências, constituiu o Novo Mundo.

O desafio posto pelo pensamento ameríndio de reconhecer a socialidade como espaço de interação necessária de muitos sujeitos, que faz o mundo girar não por conta de alguma hierarquia natural ou do imperativo de marcas de origem que definem privilégios, mas por conta das diferentes maneiras de vê-lo e de tecer acordos, nos sugere que viver em não-alheamento significa reconhecer que o Outro é, inescapavelmente, parte de qualquer consideração que se faça sobre si mesmo. Como já o enunciava, bela e sinteticamente, o professor Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “para os ameríndios, o Outro não é apenas pensável, ele é indispensável”. Talvez não tenhamos lição melhor, para começarmos a repensar seriamente o que possamos entender por cidadania, em um contexto flagrado por iniquidades; um contexto que não será reformado se se insistir apenas no polo da objetificação alheadora, no fetiche da mercadoria e, em último termo, na dispensabilidade dos outros.

Não se trata de opor um fantasioso “espiritualismo” indígena a um materialismo ocidental “realista”. Trata-se de desafiar um certo regime de socialidade (o nosso, ocidental e moderno) com outras ideias, disposições e possibilidades. Algumas delas é bem provável que até já tenhamos aprendido inconscientemente, ao longo de nossa história cultural, afinal o território mais largo da cultura, a parte submersa desse iceberg, é, como também dizia Lévi-Strauss, esse inconsciente. Os índios que os portugueses aqui encontraram, com quem conviveram e que permanecem no (apenas aparente) subterrâneo das nossas mestiçagens, não legaram aos brasileiros de hoje simplesmente tapioca, rede de dormir e outras coisas. Legaram-nos também um modo de nos relacionarmos quotidianamente, que, muito diferente dos europeus, não parte do princípio do reconhecimento do lugar social e pertencimento de alguém sempre e necessariamente pelas suas marcas de origem ― algo que tanto prezam nossas elites senhoriais, que se querem mais “europeias”. Se os brasileiros aprenderam a se abrir cordialmente aos outros, digeri-los e abrasileirá-los como parte de um nós possível (ainda que muitas vezes perverso e hierárquico ― mas a hierarquia não é, com certeza, um legado indígena), isso seguramente não foi aprendido dos europeus.

E se se trata ainda de desafiar um certo regime de socialidade com outras ideias, disposições e possibilidades, então, levar a sério o não-alheamento diante da diversidade significa garantir aos muitos da cidadania um lugar ativo, ouvi-los mais detidamente e deixar-se desafiar pela possibilidade da invenção, pela potencial complicação do que parece já estar dado pelas nossas formas institucionais, recusando a simples tentação de domesticá-los às formas prévias, a uns quantos programas assistenciais, quotas e representações de fachada. Afinal de contas, o que é, por exemplo, o ideal político do “Buen Vivir” (ou, em quéchua, “Sumaq Kausay”), alentado pelas novas disposições constitucionais do Equador e da Bolívia, senão uma enorme complicação para a planura desenvolvimentista; uma complicação ainda a reclamar um ou vários Amartya Sen para lhe inventar indicadores por agora imponderáveis? Mas, e o que é também o ideal político do “Buen Vivir” senão um desafio em nome da “imanência da suficiência”, dos índios, contra a voraz e predatória “transcendência da necessidade”, do Ocidente capitalista, de que nos falava Eduardo Viveiros de Castro [1]?

Talvez seja também preciso dizer que encarar seriamente a opção do não-alheamento significa, com bastante probabilidade, molestar alguns lugares comuns tidos hoje como “politicamente corretos”, e que são aqueles tributários do multiculturalismo neoliberal, quais sejam, suas obsessões com fronteiras bem acabadas, identidades amuralhadas e os contratos de patrimonialização. Os verdadeiros diálogos não se realizam sobre a prévia domesticação dos seus termos por gramáticas unilaterais ― ou uma pretensa universalidade habermasiana. Eles não são uma mera exibição de emblemas, para marcar posição dentro de um mercado contratualista ― ou uma economia contratualista da alteridade. Os verdadeiros diálogos são aqueles em que nos “contaminamos” e nos arriscamos com as razões de ser dos outros. Os pós-estruturalistas talvez tenham nisso razão ao usarem o termo “devir”.

A Constituição brasileira de 88 consagrou os direitos coletivos indígenas como base positiva do direito à reprodução cultural. Sequestrar os primeiros é também sequestrar este último. O que perdemos todos com isso é mais do que uma diversidade meramente nominal, a diversidade passiva do multiculturalismo objetificador. Estaremos perdendo possibilidades de cidadania. E estaremos perdendo possibilidades de futuro. Pois é aí, e não num passado romântico ou instrumentalmente ecológico, que os índios deveriam sobretudo ser vistos.


Is empathy in humans and apes actually different? ‘Yawn contagion’ effect studied (Science Daily)

Date: August 12, 2014

Source: PeerJ

Summary: Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the ‘yawn contagion’ effect between humans and bonobos — our closest evolutionary cousins. By doing so they were able to directly compare the empathic abilities of ourselves with another species, and found that a close relationship between individuals is more important to their empathic response than the fact that individuals might be from the same species.

Scientists have found that differences in levels of emotional contagion between humans and bonobos are attributable to the quality of relationships shared by individuals. Credit: Elisa Demuru

Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the ‘yawn contagion’ effect between humans and bonobos (our closest evolutionary cousins). By doing so they were able to directly compare the empathic abilities of ourselves with another species, and found that a close relationship between individuals is more important to their empathic response than the fact that individuals might be from the same species.

The ability to experience others’ emotions is hard to quantify in any species, and, as a result, it is difficult to measure empathy in an objective way. The transmission of a feeling from one individual to another, something known as ‘emotional contagion,’ is the most basic form of empathy. Feelings are disclosed by facial expressions (for example sorrow, pain, happiness or tiredness), and these feelings can travel from an “emitting face” to a “receiving face.” Upon receipt, the mirroring of facial expressions evokes in the receiver an emotion similar to the emotion experienced by the sender.

Yawn contagion is one of the most pervasive and apparently trivial forms of emotional contagion. Who hasn’t been infected at least once by another person’s yawn (especially over dinner)? Humans and bonobos are the only two species in which it has been demonstrated that yawn contagion follows an empathic trend, being more frequent between individuals who share a strong emotional bond, such as friends, kin, and mates. Because of this similarity, researchers sought to directly compare the two species. Over the course of five years, they observed both humans and bonobos during their everyday activities and gathered data on yawn contagion by applying the same ethological approach and operational definitions. The results of their research are published today in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ.

Two features of yawn contagion were compared: how many times the individuals responded to others’ yawns and how quickly. Intriguingly, when the yawner and the responder were not friends or kin, bonobos responded to others’ yawns just as frequently and promptly as humans did. This means that the assumption that emotional contagion is more prominent in humans than in other species is not necessarily the case.

However, humans did respond more frequently and more promptly than bonobos when friends and kin were involved, probably because strong relationships between humans are built upon complex and sophisticated emotional foundations linked to cognition, memory, and memories. In this case, the positive feedback linking emotional affinity and the mirroring process seems to spin faster in humans than in bonobos. In humans, such over-activation may explain the potentiated yawning response and also other kinds of unconscious mimicry response, such as happy, pained, or angry facial expressions.

In conclusion, this study suggests that differences in levels of emotional contagion between humans and bonobos are attributable to the quality of relationships shared by individuals. When the complexity of social bonds, typical of humans, is not in play,Homo sapiens climb down the tree of empathy to go back to the understory which we share with our ape cousins.

Journal Reference:

  1. Elisabetta Palagi, Ivan Norscia, Elisa Demuru. Yawn contagion in humans and bonobos: emotional affinity matters more than species. PeerJ, 2014; 2: e519 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.519

Animalistic descriptions of violent crimes increase punishment of perpetrators (Science Daily)

Date: August 4, 2014

Source: Wiley

Summary: Describing criminals and criminal activities with animal metaphors leads to more retaliation against perpetrators by inducing the perception that they’re likely to continue engaging in violence, a new study suggests.

Describing criminals and criminal activities with animal metaphors leads to more retaliation against perpetrators by inducing the perception that they’re likely to continue engaging in violence, a new Aggressive Behavior study suggests.

When surveying jury-eligible adults, investigators varied animalistic descriptions of a violent crime and examined its effect on the severity of the punishment for the act. Compared with non-animalistic descriptions, animalistic descriptions resulted in significantly harsher punishment for the perpetrator due to an increase in perceived risk of recidivism.

“This research is yet another reminder that justice may be influenced by more than the facts of a case,” said lead author Dr. Eduardo Vasquez.

Journal Reference:

  1. Eduardo A. Vasquez, Steve Loughnan, Ellis Gootjes-Dreesbach, Ulrich Weger.The animal in you: Animalistic descriptions of a violent crime increase punishment of perpetrator. Aggressive Behavior, 2014; 40 (4): 337 DOI:10.1002/ab.21525

Walking to a place where “the mountains are weeping” (Glacier Hub)

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014

The author by the edge of the melting glacier. (Gísli Pálsson)

Having rested during the night we embark on a walk to Drangajökull. Unlike other Icelandic glaciers, it does not reach up to the high mountainous interior of the island. It is, nevertheless, impressive and has a history of its own. Centuries ago, local peasants and fishers would travel across it along specific routes, transporting driftwood and other goods, telling news, and spreading gossip.

We spot the glacier from the main road by the coast. Part of it stretches like a “tongue” (jökultunga in Icelandic) down towards the valley below it, as if it is making fun of us. We are not expecting a long walk, and we only carry a bottle of water and some fruit in our rucksacks but are equipped with solid mountain shoes that are well broken in. Walking on them feels like driving a caterpillar, smoothly plying the rough landscape of gravel, rocks, creeks, and wetlands. I have had my shoes for years now and I keep saying that they will probably outlive their owner. Nonetheless, I know that this is risky walk. If anything happens we are in trouble, since we are in one of the most remote areas of the island, without cell phone service.

Approaching Drangjökull, across wetlands and rocky landscape. (Gísli Pálsson)

Our only ambition is only to get to the edge if glacier. Walking on it would be difficult, and we don’t have the necessary expertise on potential routes and dangers. At the beginning of the walk, at the wide opening of the valley, we sense a gentle summer breeze against our faces. The air seems trapped in the valley, warmed by occasional sunshine. The scene feels still, almost silent. Occasionally, we can hear the song of birds.

As we get closer to the glacier, the narrowing valley begins to feel different. We next encounter the chilly air descending from the glacier. It is pleasant, though, as it cools us on the strenuous walk. The soundscape is changing fast, as if heavy speakers were blasting from everywhere with multiple echoes from the mountains. There is water running from all sides, gushing through the snow cap and from under the glacier. The only way for us to communicate is by shouting. Every now and then we have to cross small creeks, walking on stones or jumping across. We manage to avoid the biggest streams that come from the glacier itself. When we turn to look behind us, we see that they seem to add a brownish color to the ocean, visible behind us on the coast.

Subterranean waterfalls gushing through the ice. (Gísli Pálsson)

Along the way to the glacier we meet a few people on journeys like our own. There is a young couple from Switzerland. This is their second visit to the glacier in two years. Another couple, from Germany, had been on this route three years ago. This sounds like a pilgrimage and I wonder what it is that repeatedly brings people all this way. Ironically, none of us, the four Icelanders, has been here before.

A little before we reach the glacier, the heel on one of my shoes gets loose. For a while it follows me like an Achilles heel, with repeated nods or reminders on my foot. The walk turns out to take much more time than we expected. We seem to be getting closer, but will we ever reach the glacier? Getting there is supposed to take about two hours and we are beginning to feel fatigued. I am bemused that, after all, I have outlived my shoes, but the damaged sole poses a serious problem in this terrain. Luckily, I manage to tie the loose heel to the rest of the shoe with its long lace.

One of my travel companions, Helgi Bernódusson, under glacier. Note the different layers of snow and soil in the background. (Gísli Pálsson)

When we reach the glacier, we sit under it for some minutes, close to a large gap, something like a cave carved into the glacier. It is time to rest. The roaring sound of flowing water and the feel of ice-cool air are everywhere. We wonder what glaciers might have meant to medieval Icelanders and what impact global warming is heaving in places like this one. Some of the cave walls show curious layers or strata. Are these a kind of human narrative, carved in rocks, gravel, and ice? How much of what we are experiencing is informed by the dramatic events of the Anthropocene, when human forces finally had an effect on nature? Perhaps these are the some of the concerns that increasingly take people on journeys to glaciers, whether they are people like ourselves who are traveling within our own country, or others who have undertaken the greater effort to cross an ocean to arrive at this spot. On top of the pleasures of challenging walks and of outliving one’s shoes.

A "weeping" mountain in mid-summer. (Gísli Pálsson)

This guest post was written by Gísli Pálsson of the University of Iceland.

Meet Jibo, the cute social robot that knows the family (New Scientist)

14:00 16 July 2014 by Hal Hodson

It doesn’t just recognise you – it can field your phone calls and chat to you at dinner

IN SUITE 712 of the Eventi Hotel, high above the sticky June bustle of Midtown Manhattan, New York, one of the world’s most advanced consumer robots awaits command.

“Wake up, Jibo,” says Cynthia Breazeal, his creator. The robot’s round head shakes awake. He lets out a tinkling noise, then a yawn. Jibo’s two-part body twists and stretches and his face, with a single digital eye, switches on and turns to look at us. He looks like a Pixar character come to life.

Jibo is the first robot designed to be used by the whole family. He’s not a niche robot with a single purpose, like a Roomba, nor is he a toy. Available for $499 through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that starts this week, Jibo is designed to tap into the social fabric of a household and help out. The first model, which will ship in 2015, will perform simple tasks like taking voice reminders, fielding phone calls and messages – connecting to the family’s phones through Wi-Fi. He will also act as the heart of the home connecting to iPads, TVs and games consoles. More complex skills include automatically identifying the faces in a room and taking pictures on request and reading a story to a child.

Breazeal chats casually to the robot: “How are you doing, Jibo?”

“I’m great, thanks for asking,” he says, cocking his head slightly as his digital eye curves into a grin. Jibo explains all the different things he can do, after a quick dance to Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song.

“I would say this is the first social, personal robot,” says Illah Nourbakhsh, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Jibo’s body language and expressions are designed to convey emotional states in the same way humans do, while his sensors and programming are tuned to our presence. Jibo knows when someone enters a room, and can identify who it is if he can see their face or hear their voice. The idea is that Jibo’s social skills help him to fit seamlessly into the household.

Jibo’s body and head movements are complex and smooth enough to convey convincing human-like body language but he cannot move around. For that, he relies on the humans in the household to pick him up – he weighs a mere 2.7 kilos – and move him from place to place. Jibo charges up via wireless pads plugged in around the house, or he can run on batteries for about 30 minutes away from a power source. When he joins the family at the dinner table, for instance.

Jibo turns to face whoever is talking, so an absent family member can use him to video chat as the rest of the family sit around the table. “With Jibo, you feel like you’re really part of the group dynamic,” says Breazeal.

“I think that’s enormous, I love it,” says Ken Goldberg, a roboticist from the University of California in Berkeley. Goldberg works on robots that can move around their environment and manipulate it, more in line with the traditional notion of the home robot. But such tasks are difficult to perfect: the dream of the robot butler is a long way off. “Right now, the most state-of-the-art robot still takes a good 20 minutes to fold a small towel,” Goldberg says.

Breazeal’s research at the MIT Media Lab, along with that of Bilge Mutlu at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has shown how important it is for robot-human communication that robots can express emotion. “The ability to turn your head around and pay attention to something else has been taken for granted, but it’s huge,” says Mutlu.

Breazeal is also opening Jibo up to developers as a platform on which to build new kinds of apps, such as ones that let the robot place takeaway orders for “the usual” on request, or that control the lighting and heating in a home, or even keep an eye on activity patterns to make sure that senior household members are moving enough.

But socially aware robots raise new ethical questions. Would it be appropriate, for instance, for Jibo to announce that the senior family member he has been watching has fallen down and cannot get up? “We’re going to have a really interesting dilemma about when a robot can violate privacy to save a life,” Nourbakhsh says.

“The big deal with this is its optimisation for sociality,” says Nourbakhsh. “For the first time in history, we humans are going to have complex interactions with machines.”

This article appeared in print under the headline “The first family robot”

Animals and Cultural Diplomacy (Huff Post)

Posted: 07/09/2014 4:22 pm EDT Updated: 07/09/2014 4:59 pm EDT

It was almost a decade after the Puritan government of England had executed King Charles I, and the country had begun to descend into chaos. Oliver Cromwell, who ruled as Lord Protector silenced criticism by banning newspapers, intercepting letters, and employing a network of secret police. In his History of Four-Footed Beasts, Serpents and Insects, Reverend Edward Topsell wrote, “Would it not make all men reverence a good king set over them by God, seeing the bees seek out their king if he lose himself, and by a most sagacious smelling sense, never cease till he be found out and then bear him upon their bodies if he be not able to fly. . . .” Topsell then tried to add a bit of balance by continuing, “And what king is not invited to clemency and deterred from tyranny, seeing the king of bees hath a sting but never uses the same.” We have no reason to think Topsell was a political dissident, in fact he may really have believed that he was simply recording the ways of bees. Consciously intended or not, a subtext comes through, and the English Parliament apparently agreed with it, since, two years later in 1660, it invited Charles II, son of the beheaded king, back to rule, requiring, however, that he not use his office for revenge against the regicides. Simply by speaking of animals, one participates in an ongoing process of cultural, and often political, negotiation.


J. J. Grandville, “Beehive,” 1842

The world of animals here appears parallel to that of human beings, and differences of species may stand in for those of tribe, gender, class, profession and so on. This is a sort of vision that we associate with “totemism,” which the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss explained in the mid-twentieth century as the application of structures initially found in the natural world, especially among animals, to human culture, as a means of representing social distinctions among indigenous peoples. Apart from the vastness of their scale and the complexity of their organization, nations are essentially tribes, and the relations between them follow many of the same dynamics. Animal symbolism is so deeply embedded in human culture that it is almost impossible to talk about animals without, simultaneously, speaking indirectly about human beings.

Levi-Strauss’ notion of totemism has been qualified, challenged and refined by subsequent thinkers, but, without trying to tease out all possible implications, it still serves as a rough working model for understanding how animals and nature may contribute to cultural diplomacy. This is apparent in the beast fables from the tradition of Aesop, a half-legendary storyteller from the Greek isle of Samos in the seventh century BCE. Several of the stories commonly attributed to him such as “The Tortoise and the Hare” or “The Fox and the Grapes” are still familiar to contemporary people from childhood. Behind the moralistic tales of talking lions and foxes, we can discern a tribal religion, with its animal totems, deities, sages and tricksters, largely deprived of their numinous qualities yet, nevertheless, in ways not terribly different from those of many indigenous peoples of Africa or the Americas.

Richard Heighway, illustration to Aesop’s “The Fox and the Grapes,” 1910

From very early times, the fable has been primarily, though by no means exclusively, a form associated with slaves. Aesop, Phaedrus and Babrius – the three most celebrated fabulists of the ancient world, were all slaves, as was Uncle Remus, the mouthpiece for Afro-Indian tales in the Aesopian tradition, collected by Joel Chandler Harris in the deep south of the United States just after the Civil War. The fable enabled slaves, as well as people of other social orders, to indirectly express things which might otherwise be sensitive or forbidden.

Totemism became even more overt in the High Middle Ages, with the development of heraldry. This was initially a system of emblems painted on shields to identify knights in jousts, when their faces and bodies were completely covered by armor. In the most literal way, heraldic symbols were a substitute for the human face. Heraldry was gradually extended to feudal families, and then to states, businesses, clubs and almost all other institutions. These symbols were by no means confined to animals and vegetation, but creatures such as boars, wolves, bears, lions and eagles figured very prominently. Heraldry represented identity in terms of abstract relationships among symbolic objects, which are joined in fantastic patterns with no regard for common sense. They are deliberately esoteric, pointing to the mystery which is ultimately at the core of identity.

Crest of Britain with the Lion of England and the Unicorn of Scotland

In some contexts at least, modern societies have identified with animals with constancy comparable to that of tribal peoples. These creatures need not necessarily be indigenous, wild, contemporary, or even real. England is represented by the lion, which is not indigenous, or the bulldog, which is a domestic breed. The animal representing Mauritius is the extinct dodo, while Scotland is represented by the mythical unicorn. Those are simply animals that ─ whether for historical, folkloric, commercial or geographic reasons ─ seem to embody a nation’s uniqueness. Underlying this totemic practice is an implicit analogy between the diversity of human cultures and that of all living things.

The animals in fables of the Renaissance, such as those of La Fontaine, and of political cartoons, are essentially those of heraldry. The totemic notion that animals constitute a world parallel to that of people was also responsible for the practice of physiognomy, which held that the character of a person could be read by the resemblance of his features to certain animals, so there would be wolf people, pig people, bat people and so on. That tradition, without the theoretical underpinnings, continues in caricatures and, most especially, political cartoons up through the present day, as well as in literary works such as Orwell’s Animal Farm.


Illustration by Wilhelm Kaulbach’s to Goethe’s “Reineke Fox,” c. 1830

One might perhaps think that the stylized animals of literary fables, heraldry and editorial cartoons are too detached from their original models for their representation to have much impact on relationships between human beings and the natural world; experience suggests otherwise. White-tailed deer, turkeys and Canada geese, though on the brink of extinction in the early twentieth century, may now be more common in the United States and Canada than they were in preColumbian times. Bald eagles, moose, beaver, buffalo, and coyotes are making significant comebacks as well. These resurgent animals are precisely those that have great iconic importance in both Amerindian and immigrant cultures. The bald eagle is the national animal of the United States, and the beaver of Canada. The turkey is an old symbol of the New World, the buffalo of the Great Plains, and moose of the far North. All of the others as well are closely identified with certain regions, landscapes or peoples.

To be sure, iconic status in human culture can often endanger animals. In the United States immediately following the Civil War, the American buffalo were deliberately hunted almost to extinction, in order to dishearten the Plains Indians, in whose lives they had a central role. In Asia today, the South China tiger is being hunted to extinction in large part because of the central role that its body parts play in folk medicine. But such events simply show another aspect of the way cultural and natural concerns are inextricably bound together.

The United States Bureau of Fish and Wildlife currently lists about 500 species as “endangered” and about another 200 as “threatened.” The many thousand additional species have been proposed for these lists. Having a local species listed can bring publicity and status as well as money for conservation, as well as less-tangible psychological satisfactions, but there is no clear criterion for either categorization. Inclusion is, therefore, a subject of continual lobbying, in which it is not always easy to tell cultural or economic motives from environmental ones.

The mediation performed by animals in human affairs is continuous, if seldom noticed, like the sound of crickets on an autumn day. In the past, this process has occasionally emerged from the background, as when Harun al Rashid gifted two leopards to Charlemagne or, in 1972, when the government of China presented a mated pair of pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, D. C. It is hard to say how much ecological awareness, if any, is reflected by either of these gifts. But the presents were at the least a reminder to the recipient that the distant land contained not only wealth and people but also natural wonders.

My broader point is that environmental problems are also cultural, in fact one cannot address one apart from the other. In general, we can say that the representation of people in terms of animals and nature, an essentially totemic tradition, can place human concerns in a broader perspective, diffusing tensions and helping us to:
• Look beyond immediate personal or collective interests;
• Comment indirectly on subjects that might otherwise be too sensitive;
• Eliminate evasive political rhetoric;
• Unite people around shared concerns such as conservation and sustainability.
Like other forms of cultural diplomacy, this may remain primarily beneath the threshold of awareness, but can be made more effective through conscious appreciation.

The borders between nations are mapped out with great precision, but boundaries among cultures are fundamentally poetic. Literary, artistic and architectural accomplishments help to distinguish human cultures from one another. Interaction with the natural world, also embodied in customs from funerals to foodways, further differentiates them from domains that are still largely beyond human understanding or control. These frontiers, in turn, are constantly in flux, a bit like wetlands that shift with the weather, season and tide. Like the elements, cultures are engaged in a perpetual negotiation. Cultural diplomacy is essentially a natural process, which requires only a hospitable environment.

Topsell was not the only person who used bees to comment on human institutions. Socrates, in Plato’s dialogue “Phaedo,” suggested that people who lived as good citizens might be reincarnated as bees. Virgil upheld the bees to his fellow Romans as models of austere living and martial valor, especially because they would sting intruders at the cost of their own lives. In the Middle Ages, people thought of the hive as a sort of monastery, but, in the early modern period, Bernard de Mandeville satirized it as an imperiled feudal state that had failed to adapt to the ways of commerce, an idea that eerily anticipates the way honey bees are dying out today. Napoleon chose bees as his emblem, because of their association with industry but also with the early medieval rulers of France. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Maurice Maeterlink stated that bees were the most intelligent animals after man, and thought of them as socialists. On learning that the so-called “king” was actually a queen, some feminists have upheld the hive as a model of matriarchal society. These various philosophies and social systems might seem to have little in common, yet they are based on essentially the same imagery.


Standard of Napoleon III

Suppose, then, that one were to hold a conference on the current dying out of bees ─ together with its agrarian, cultural, spiritual and economic implications ─ and invite representatives of groups with radically opposing social, religious and political views, from the tea party to the communists. I cannot predict what the various factions might say or what the final outcome would be, but that is precisely why such a meeting might be beneficial. You would likely to encounter some surprising coalitions and novel initiatives. All would be compelled to think beyond their accustomed rhetoric, and probably to articulate some of their core values, thus extending the mediation to other problems.

(A version of this essay was read by the author on June 27 at the Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy in the USA at the Czech Embassy in New York City.)

Precipitation, not warming temperatures, may be key in bird adaptation to climate change (Science Daily)

Date: July 11, 2014

Source: Oregon State University

Summary: A new model analyzing how birds in western North America will respond to climate change suggests that for most species, regional warming is not as likely to influence population trends as will precipitation changes. “In general, our study suggests that if climate change results in winters with less precipitation, we likely will see a spring drying effect,” one researcher said. “This means that populations of drought-tolerant species will expand and birds that rely heavily on moisture should decline.”

Rufous hummingbird. Credit: Image courtesy of Oregon State University

A new model analyzing how birds in western North America will respond to climate change suggests that for most species, regional warming is not as likely to influence population trends as will precipitation changes.

Several past studies have found that temperature increases can push some animal species — including birds — into higher latitudes or higher elevations. Few studies, however, have tackled the role that changes in precipitation may cause, according to Matthew Betts, an Oregon State University ecologist and a principal investigator on the study.

“When we think of climate change, we automatically think warmer temperatures,” said Betts, an associate professor in Oregon State’s College of Forestry. “But our analysis found that for many species, it is precipitation that most affects the long-term survival of many bird species.

“It makes sense when you think about it,” Betts added. “Changes in precipitation can affect plant growth, soil moisture, water storage and insect abundance and distributions.”

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation with support from the U.S. Geological Survey and others, are being published in the journalGlobal Change Biology.

The researchers examined long-term data on bird distributions and abundance covering five states in the western United States, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia, testing statistical models to predict temporal changes in population of 132 bird species over a 32-year period. They analyzed the impacts of temperature and precipitation on bird distributions at the beginning of the study period (the 1970s) and then tested how well the predictions performed against actual population trends over the ensuing 30 years.

The scientists keyed in on several variables, including possible changes during the wettest month in each region, the breeding season of different species, and the driest month by area. Their model found that models including precipitation were most successful at predicting bird population trends.

“For some species, the model can predict about 80 percent of variation,” Betts said, “and for some species, it’s just a flip of the coin. But the strongest message is that precipitation is an important factor and we should pay more attention to the implications of this moving forward.”

The study incorporated a lot of complex variables into the model, including micro-climatic changes that are present in mountainous environments. The research area encompassed California to northern British Columbia and the mountain systems drive much of the changes in both temperature and precipitation.

The researchers chose December precipitation as one variable and found it to be influential in affecting bird populations.

“Someone might ask why December, since half of the bird species usually present in the Pacific Northwest, for instance, might not even be here since they’re migratory,” Betts noted. “But much of the critical precipitation is snow that falls in the winter and has a carryover effect for months later — and the runoff is what affects stream flows, plant growth and insect abundance well down the road.”

The rufous hummingbird is one species that appeared affected by changes in December precipitation, the researchers say. The species is declining across western North America at a rate of about 3 percent a year, and the model suggest it is linked to an overall drying trend in the Northwest. The evening grosbeak is similarly affected the authors say.

On the other hand, the California towhee shows a negative association with December precipitation, appears to be drought-tolerant — and its populations remain stable.

“We cannot say for certain that a change in December precipitation caused declines in evening grosbeaks or rufous hummingbirds,” said Javier Gutiérrez Illán, a former postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State and lead author on the study. “Our model shows, however, a strong association between the birds’ decline and precipitation changes and the fact that this variable pointed to actual past changes in populations gives it validity.”

“The study shows that models can predict the direction and magnitude of population changes,” he added. “This is of fundamental importance considering predictions were successful even in new locations.”

The next phase of the research is to use the model to determine if there are patterns in the sorts of species affected — for instance, birds that are migratory or non-migratory, or short- or long-lived. They also hope to test additional variables, including land use changes, wildfire impacts, competition between species and other factors.

“In general, our study suggests that if climate change results in winters with less precipitation, we likely will see a spring drying effect,” Betts said. “This means that populations of drought-tolerant species will expand and birds that rely heavily on moisture should decline.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Javier Gutiérrez Illán, Chris D. Thomas, Julia A. Jones, Weng-Keen Wong, Susan M. Shirley, Matthew G. Betts. Precipitation and winter temperature predict long-term range-scale abundance changes in Western North American birds.Global Change Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12642

Does That Cat Have O.C.D.? (New York Times)

It was love at first pet when Laurel Braitman and her husband adopted a 4-year-old Bernese mountain dog, a 120-pound bundle of fur named Oliver.

The first few months were blissful. But over time, Oliver’s troubled mind slowly began to reveal itself. He snapped at invisible flies. He licked his tail until it was wounded and raw. He fell to pieces when he spied a suitcase. And once, while home alone, he ripped a hole in a screen and jumped out of a fourth-floor window. To everyone’s astonishment, he survived.

Oliver’s anguish devastated Dr. Braitman, a historian of science, but it also awakened her curiosity and sent her on an investigation deep into the minds of animals. The result is the lovely, big-hearted book “Animal Madness,” in which Dr. Braitman makes a compelling case that nonhuman creatures can also be afflicted with mental illness and that their suffering is not so different from our own.

In the 17th century, Descartes described animals as automatons, a view that held sway for centuries. Today, however, a large and growing body of research makes it clear that animals have never been unthinking machines.

ANIMAL MADNESS How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. By Laurel Braitman. Simon & Schuster. 384 pages. $28.CreditSonny Figueroa/The New York Times

We now know that species from magpies to elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror, which some scientists consider a sign of self-awareness. Rats emit a form of laughter when they’re tickled. And dolphins, parrots and dogs show clear signs of distress when their companions die. Together, these and many other findings demonstrate what any devoted pet owner has probably already concluded: that animals have complex minds and rich emotional lives.

Unfortunately, as Dr. Braitman notes, “every animal with a mind has the capacity to lose hold of it from time to time.”

Take Gigi, a female gorilla who developed what looked like panic attacks after being terrorized by a younger male. Whenever she saw her tormentor, she “seemed to shut down, rocking and trembling,” Dr. Braitman writes. Many other beasts round out the miserable menagerie, including Sunita, a tiger with stress-induced facial tics; Charlie, a macaw who plucked out all her feathers; and Gus, a polar bear who swam endless figure eights — for as many as 12 hours a day — in his pool at the Central Park Zoo.

Dr. Braitman and the experts she consults are careful about how they interpret this behavior. For example, although a dog’s nonstop tail-licking may resemble the endless hand-washing of a human with obsessive-compulsive disorder, one veterinary behaviorist points out that because she cannot prove that dogs are having obsessive thoughts, she prefers a diagnosis of “compulsive disorder” instead.

Still, it’s clear that the animals are suffering, and the triggers are often the same sorts of stress and trauma that can cause breakdowns in humans: a natural disaster, abuse, the loss of a loved one. And we’re not the only species that bears the burden of war; some of the military dogs that served in Iraq and Afghanistan display the same PTSD-like symptoms that afflict their human colleagues.

Dr. Braitman does not shy away from controversial topics — most notably, the question of whether animals can commit suicide. Charlie, the feather-plucking macaw, died when she fell out of a tree and onto a metal stake in the ground, prompting her owner to wonder if the bird had deliberately brought about her own demise. “Suicide” is a loaded word, and Charlie’s story is unconvincing, but animals can certainly engage in self-harming behaviors, from repeatedly banging their heads against walls to simply refusing to eat.

Animals “may have fewer tools available to them to inflict mortal wounds and also lack humanity’s sophisticated cognitive abilities to plan their own ends, but they can and do harm themselves,” Dr. Braitman writes. “Sometimes they die.”

Throughout the book, she argues that anthropomorphism — or the assignment of human traits to other species — can serve a useful purpose, especially if we “anthropomorphize well.” She writes, “Instead of self-centered projection, anthropomorphism can be a recognition of bits and pieces of our human selves in other animals and vice versa.”

Though we may never know for sure what parrots or polar bears are feeling, “making educated guesses about animal emotions” is often the first step in alleviating their pain. Healing troubled animal minds is now a bona fide industry, populated with dog behaviorists, cat whisperers, elephant monks and horse massagers.

For some animals, behavioral therapy, environmental enrichment or companionship is enough to ease the agony. Others may need a pharmaceutical assist — from Prozac, Valium, Thorazine or one of the many psychiatric drugs now available to creatures throughout the animal kingdom.

“Prozac Nation has been offering citizenship to nonhumans for decades,” Dr. Braitman writes. Gigi, the terrorized gorilla, received a round of Xanax and Paxil and eventually recovered (mostly) with the help of a psychiatrist and a zookeeper who never gave up on her.

Though humans are a leading cause of animal unhappiness — captivity alone causes many problems, even in the absence of outright neglect or abuse — “Animal Madness” is also brimming with compassion and the tales of the many, many humans who devote their days to making animals well.

In This Papua New Guinea Village, People Use Cell Phones to Call the Dead (New Republic)

JUNE 17, 2014


We often fret that we’re too attached to our smartphones or that we let them wield too much influence over our lives. But our reverence for technology is relative. In the remote Ambonwari society of Papua New Guinea, villagers believe that cell phones are extensions of their human owners and can be used to commune with the departed.

Borut Telban, an associate professor of anthropology at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and Daniela Vavrova, an anthropologist at James Cook University in Australia, spent a year embedded in the remote village of Ambonwari in Papua New Guinea, looking at how the locals incorporate new digital technology into their existing cosmologies. They published an early version of their findings online in the Australian Journal of Anthropology.

“For 60,000 years, they had no influence of Western philosophy, no influence of Eastern or Western religion,” says Telban, who has spent years living and working with the Ambonwari as well as other cultures of Papua New Guinea. “They developed their own philosophy of life.” In the 1950s, a Catholic bishop introduced them to Christianity; in 1994, Australian Charismatics brought their brand of Pentecostalism to the village. The Ambonwari adapted elements of each Christian tradition while maintaining many of their own rituals and social structures.

When the mobile phone network provider Digicel began introducing cell phones to the village in 2007, the Ambonwari enthusiastically embraced the new technology. Even though their service was, and remains, sporadicvillagers travel to the hills of nearby towns to try to get a connection, and can rarely scrape together enough credit for a real conversationthey have found other uses for their phones: as watches, torches, music players, and simply toys. “They love playing with the phones,” said Telban. “They’ll look at the screen endlessly.”

The Ambonwari have also incorporated the new technology into their existing systems of thought. They have long been confident in their ability to talk to the dead, believing they can communicate with the world of spirits in dreams, visions, and trances induced by special rituals. The introduction of mobile phones has opened up new possibilities: The Ambonwari believe they can use them to contact their dead relatives, whose numbers they obtain from healers. And once they reach them, they can ask for anything. “It is a general conviction,” write Telban and Vavrova, “that once people know the phone numbers of their deceased relatives they can ring and ask the spirits to put money in their bank accounts.” I asked Telban if the villagers are discouraged that they never get through to the spirit world; he assured me that they’re not. They might assume the spirits aren’t available. And they ring random numbers so often that occasionally they do reach someone, whose voice they attribute to a spirit.

When their calls don’t go through, they don’t blame shoddy service or wrong numbers; they believe the spirits of the dead can interfere with their connections. Telban recalled one instance when an Ambonwari man called Terence died in the nearby province of Madang. Over the course of the next few weeks, several men attempted to call Madang. When they had trouble getting through, they concluded that Terence’s spirit was getting in the way of the phone line.

Better cell phone service would allow villagers to stay in touch with family members who move to other towns, but the prospect of increased connectivity presents risks, too. Telban is concerned about what would happen if the villagers got Internet connection through their phones. “They have no clue about spam,” he said. “They would be tricked immediately into sending money.”

And mobile phonesa prized possessionhave already proved a source of conflict in this traditionally egalitarian society. “Those few who are in possession of a wireless or mobile phone are constantly watched and expected to provide others with both information and goods,” write Telban and Vavrova. And Digicel has unintentionally incited ill will between villages, which compete to host the cell phone towers.

They haven’t had time to develop telephone etiquette have, either. Back in Slovenia, Telban’s phone rings nonstop. “They really love just to ring me,” he said. He never knows who’s calling, since villagers share the phones, and as soon as he answers, the other person hangs up: They don’t have enough credit for an actual conversation. But Telban doesn’t mind. “They are my friends,” he said. “They’re just saying hello.”

Academic article: