Arquivo da tag: Animismo

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:

More Corporations Using Tag And Release Programs To Study American Consumers (Onion)

ISSUE 50•23 • Jun 13, 2014

A Procter & Gamble marketing team attaches a tracking collar to an incapacitated head-of-household specimen.

NEW YORK—In an effort to more closely observe the group’s buying habits and personal behaviors, a growing number of corporations are turning to tag and release programs to study American consumers, sources confirmed Friday.

According to reports, multinationals such as Kraft, General Electric, Goodyear, and Apple have embraced the technique of tracking down potential customers in their natural habitats of department stores and supermarkets, forcibly tranquilizing them as they shop, and then fitting them with electronic tracking devices that allow marketing departments to keep a detailed record of individuals’ every movement and purchasing decision.

“In recent weeks, we have employed our tag and release initiative to sedate and earmark consumers in several Costco parking lots and Best Buy television aisles, which has already yielded valuable data from numerous middle-class family units,” said Sony market researcher Nathan McElroy, whose team gathers data on the consumer population by attaching radio-transponder collars to specimens across all age groups and income levels. “Today we subdued and chipped a beautiful white male earning $60,000 annually whose subsequent actions—where he eats, where he works, whether he purchases extended warranties on electronic devices—will give us important insights into his demographic.”

“We’re really starting to get a clear idea of just what sales promotions and big-ticket expenditures make these fascinating creatures tick,” he continued.

Representatives from several Fortune 500 companies described to reporters a delicate process in which marketing associates journey to such varied field sites as Marshalls, OfficeMax, and Bed Bath & Beyond, where they lie in wait behind a row of shopping carts or a promotional cardboard cutout. Once a desirable target moves into view, a member of the marketing team reportedly attempts to immobilize it by firing a tranquilizer dart into its neck or haunches before it can panic and skitter off into another aisle. The unconscious consumer is then fitted with a small, subdermal acoustic tag that is synced to the subject’s credit cards, allowing marketers to both physically and financially track their quarries.

Claiming that every effort is taken to employ humane handling procedures and inflict minimal trauma, marketing associates stressed that consumers always wake up in the same clothing department or mini mall in which they were found, and most obliviously resume their browsing of store shelves within 30 minutes of being sedated.

Researchers affirmed they have become increasingly interested in valuable targets such as college graduates who allot more than $500 per month to discretionary purchases, saying they have become fascinated by the group’s herd-like movements to Panera Bread and IKEA as well as their ritual use of products such as Swiffers and tablets. By monitoring these consumers as they feed, groom, use their rewards cards, and mate, marketers acknowledged they have amassed a tremendous amount of useful knowledge.

“Just last month we collar-tagged a prime specimen of a variety we’d been attempting to capture for a very long time,” said BMW marketing executive Samantha Barlow, referring to a suburban mother in her late 40s who was found gathering bunches of watercress and beet greens at a Whole Foods, where her precise weekly route through the aisles has now been recorded and analyzed. “And we finally have geolocators implanted in several dozen young professionals aged 25 to 35, whose consumption of products such as Stella Artois, Hugo Boss apparel, and designer colognes suggest they’ll provide us with fruitful data for years to come.”

“It’s important that we tag them early in the development of their buying habits,” Barlow added. “Obviously, once they reach 65, they become useless for our purposes and we remove their tags, or just let them chew them off.”

Despite the success of their tracking programs, researchers admitted their work has been hindered by limits in their methodology, noting that they are unable to observe any quantifiable activity from as many as a quarter of their tagged targets who remain sedentary almost around the clock and rarely leave their dens. Marketers noted these larger, slower specimens must often be hit with two or three darts before they can be safely approached.

“A large portion of our targets are fast food consumers, and you’ll lose 10 or 12 percent of those each year, usually to heart disease,” said Jonathan Lockhart, an independent marketing consultant. “You hate to see that, but the upside is that we get useful data we can then turn around and sell to pharmaceutical companies.”

“What’s bad news for Burger King is great news for Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer,” he added.

Latinos in the U.S. have a strong belief in the spirit world (Pew Research Center)

MAY 15, 2014


A majority of American Catholics see Pope Francis as a major change for the Catholic Church. But in one area, Francis may be the most traditional pope in a generation: He has “not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have,” according to a recent Washington Post article, “but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces of evil at his beck and call.”

Francis is the first pope from Latin America, where “mystical views of Satan still hold sway in broad areas of the region,” according to the Post. Last week, Catholics from 33 countries gathered in Vatican City for a conference on exorcism. The Post estimated the number of “official exorcists” to be between 500 and 600, “the vast majority operating in Latin America and Eastern Europe.”

While we do not have data on how many Americans overall believe in the presence of spirits, a recent Pew Research survey found widespread belief in this among Latinos in the United States. More than half (57%) said that people can be possessed by spirits, and 44% said magic, sorcery or witchcraft can influence people’s lives.

In our survey, about one-in-eight Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. (12%) said they have witnessed an exorcism. Even more Hispanic Protestants (37%) – including 59% of Pentecostals – said they have seen “the devil or evil spirits being driven out of a person.”

Varying percentages of U.S. Hispanics also hold other spiritual beliefs, which in some cases may reflect a mix of Christian and indigenous or Afro-Caribbean influences.

Roughly four-in-ten U.S. Hispanics (39%), including a similar share of Hispanic Catholics, said they believe in the “evil eye,” or that certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen. A smaller share (15%) said they have had witchcraft or black magic practiced on them or someone close to them.

Do Animists become Naturalists when Converting to Christianity? Discussing an Ontological Turn (CUSAS seminar)

In the first CUSAS seminar this term, on Thursday 23rd January, Dr. Aparecida Vilaça presented her paper titled ‘Do Animists become Naturalists when Converting to Christianity? Discussing an Ontological Turn’.Aparecida Vilaça is currently Associate Professor in the Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, Museu Nacional/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, and a researcher for the National Science Research Council (CNPq). Since 1986 she has worked among the Wari’ Indians of Southwestern Amazonia, Brazil. Fieldwork has been financed by the Ford Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (predoctoral grant and international collaborative grant), and Finep. She was Professor Invité at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 1999, Directeur d’Etudes Invité at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in the same city in 2000, Visiting Professor of the Centre of Latin American Studies of the University of Cambridge in 2001, and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Social Anthropology at the same university in 2004. She is a visiting fellow at CRASSH during Lent term this year.

You can listen to the full lecture here.

Read Josef Ellis’ response to Dr. Vilaça’s paper:

Ontological Purification? A Response to (the responses to) Aparecida Vilaça’s CUSAS seminar

Dr. Aparecida Vilaça’s paper ‘Do animists become naturalists when converting to Christianity? Discussing an ontological turn’ sparked considerable ‘debate’ among the audience that witnessed its delivery. Yet the absence of one party in the debate was conspicuous, something I would like to remedy here. I might even suggest that the rhetoric of the arguments mobilised by the audience on Thursday afternoon contain striking resemblances to the very type of ‘purification’ or ‘apartheid building’ they aimed to attack.  In doing so, I will illustrate how Dr. Vilaça’s paper strikes at the heart of contemporary developments in anthropological theory.

While an inferior rehashing of Vilaça’s paper would be a waste (a recording of the talk is available on the CUSAS blog), I will briefly sketch a part of her argument. Vilaça discussed the Wari’, a group of Amazonian Indians in South-western Brazil. The Wari’, prior (and perhaps after) conversion to Christianity are considered by anthropologists to have been ‘perspectivist animists’. In other words, the Wari’ might be said to exist in an ontology in which each subject, both animal and human, is internally intensively differentiated from itself: living entities are therefore particular modulations of this infinite difference, actualised through the dispositions and perspectival positions which can be glossed as the ‘body’ (Viveiros de Castro 1998, 2012 cf. Vilaça 2005, 2009).  The body, nature or exteriority is what varies, with culture or interiority unifying all species (Ibid, Descola 2013). Wari’, and Amazonian ontologies are thus an inversion of Western naturalism, or multiculturalism, being instead a multinatural mode of existence. Vilaça drew out how this multinaturalism has also reared its head in high-theory, discussing various authors associated with the ‘ontological turn’ who, catalysed by the self-refuting universalism of cultural relativism (and also a particular lecture series held in the department (Holbraad in Viveiros de Castro 2012), shift anthropological questions away from representation and epistemology to investigations on a ontological plane, in turn eliciting a probing of the multiple natures of humanity, rather than remaining within the limits of western naturalism (Latour 1993, Viveiros de Castro 1998, 2003, Descola 2013). To return to the Wari’, it would seem that they are an exemplar of one of these divergent natures the ontological turn is concerned with. So what happens when they convert to a Christian (naturalist) religion?

To violently reduce her nuanced and subtle ethnography; Vilaça argued the Wari’ did not simply reject or convert to naturalism. Instead, upon conversion to Christianity, the perspectivist regime seemed to encompass the naturalist. Instead of resulting in a stable background of a biological body, Wari’ bodies were still given by perspectives, only now in relation to God, or in some cases, the devil. Similarly, Vilaça argued that the Christian devil itself was a powerful generator of hybrids in Latour’s sense, entities that violate the modern constitution of the rupture of nature and culture (1993). Vilaça drew out two related implications for the ontological turn from this ethnography. Firstly, given that perspectivist animism and Christian naturalism appeared in some sense to exist at the same time among the Wari’, she aimed to qualify the strength of arguments which posit a radical separation between the two. In a related way, she drew attention to the fact that Christianity is not such a purely naturalist formation, as seen in its hybrid-producing devil (although that would make Christianity ‘modern’ in Latour’s sense).

The audience appeared to take this qualification extremely well, and many comments were made regarding the danger of the ontological turn’s supposed positing of extreme alterity between naturalists (the west) and other ontologies (the rest) (cf. Laidlaw 2012). Similarly, the ontological turn was attacked for being overly concerned with contradiction, and invited to entertain the presence of contradictory ontological potentials within cultures (or natures) rather than between them. Case closed then? Not quite.

I want to make it clear that some of the stronger anti-ontological worries and arguments emerged from the discussion of the paper, rather than being argued in the paper itself. Nevertheless, I offer a few small rebuttals for reasons of provocation rather than desiring to become a representative of a particular ‘side’. Firstly, the argument that the ontological turn consists of constructing an image of the world involving geographically bound ontological ‘zones’ should be questioned. This argument reacts more to the rhetoric and political pragmatism of the ontological turn than its analytical content (cf. Candea in Venkatesan et al. 2010). When Viveiros de Castro spoke of ‘the Amazonian ontology’ he did so out of an allegiance to a political project of ‘conceptual emancipation’ or perhaps the radicalisation of an ‘Amerindian war machine’ (sensu Deleuze & Guattari 1988) against Western philosophy (Latour 2009). Put simply, in the genesis of such a political project, initially clearly delineated lines might have to be drawn. This has lead to some confusion when other in members of the ontological term used the slogan of conceptual self-determination, giving the sense of bounded, or essentialized ontologies to be intellectually liberated wholesale (Henare et al 2007, Alberti et al 2011).

Yet as was made extremely clear in a recent positional paper at the AAA in Chicago this year, ontological self-determination is not concerned with the positing of the rest against the West, but rather about the recognition of the capacity to differ, which operate within a particular social milieu as much as between them (Holbraad, Pedersen & Viveiros de Castro 2014) This allows the ‘non-sceptical elicitation of this manifold of potentials for how things could be’ an understanding of the ‘otherwise’’ (ibid, cf. Povinelli 2012). Ontologies that appear to ‘contradict’ one another are not bulldozed by this project, they are expected by it. This leads me onto a second point about contradiction. As was perceptively put by an extremely esteemed member of the audience (as well as someone who has used ontology extensively recently cf. Lloyd 2013), the Western philosophical concern with the law of non-contradiction has been rather overstated, particularly in anthropology, and perhaps our writing should shift away from ‘purifying’ social contexts into embracing their ambiguities. While I would agree wholeheartedly with this statement (indeed I believe the particular faction of the ontological turn I am discussing would similarly give ascent), I want to make a small point in rebuttal. Even when we acknowledge, as Latour famously did, that western purification is accompanied by the production of hybrids it denies are possible, this does not remove the fact that the discourses of the most powerful in our societies are very much within the terms of the impossibility of contradiction. If the ontological turn is ultimately a ‘technology of description’ (Pedersen 2012) that aims to recognise the otherwise as ‘viable as a real alternative’ (Holbraad, Pedersen & Viveiros de Castro 2014) then this must necessarily need to reflect something of our political grammar to have any effect. While contradiction may always be present, the impulse to make sense out of the contradictory is a necessary side-effect of taking something seriously, and should not be dismissed easily. The ontological turn is a movement that is rapidly maturing, and I might suggest that some of the criticisms that were mobilised on Thursday were rather purificatory in their reduction of a theoretical turn that is shifting under our feet.

It is precisely for this reason that one might consider Vilaça’s paper an example of the productiveness that the turn to ontology has lent to our discipline. This is a productivity that does not reduce in any direction, but gives us the sensitivity to fathom complexity, both here and elsewhere.


Alberti, B., Fowles, S., Holbraad, M., Marshall, Y. & Witmore, C. (2011). “Worlds Otherwis” Archaeology, Anthropology and Ontological Difference. Current Anthropology. 52 (6). 896-912

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Massumi, B. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Descola, P. (2013). Beyond Nature and Culture. Trans. Lloyd, J. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Holbraad, M., Pedersen, M. & Viveiros de Castro, E. (2014). The Politics of Ontology: Anthropological Posistions. Fieldsights – Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology Online. January 13, 2014,

Laidlaw, J. (2012). Ontologically Challenged. Anthropology of this Century. 4.

Latour, B. (1993). We Have Never Been Modern. Trans. Porter, C. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Latour, B. (2009). Perspectivism: ‘Type’ or ‘Bomb’. Anthropology Today. 25 (2) 1-2

Lloyd, G. E. R. (2013). Being, Humanity and Understanding. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pedersen, M. A. (2012). Common Nonsense: A Review of Certain Recent Reviews of the Ontological Turn. Anthropology of This Century. 5.

Povinelli, E. A. (2012). The Will to be Otherwise/The Effort of Endurance. South Atlantic Quaterly. 111 (3). 453-457

Venkatesan, S. (2010). Ontology is Just Another Word for Culture: Motion Tabled at the 2008 Meeting of the Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory, University of Manchester. Critique of Anthropology. 30 (2) 152-200

Vilaça, A. (2005). Chronically Unstable Bodies: Reflections on Amazonian
Corporalities. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 11 (3). 445-464

Vilaça, A. (2009). Bodies in Perspective: A Critique of the Embodiment Paradigm from the Point of View of Amazonian Ethnography. Social Bodies. Eds Lambert, H. & McDonald, M. Oxford: Berghahn Books. 129-147

Viveiros de Castro, E. (1998a). Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 4. 469-488

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2003). ‘AND’. Manchester Papers in Social Anthropology 7.

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2012). Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere. Hau Masterclass Series. 1.

Considering the Humanity of Nonhumans (New York Times)

Elephants, chimpanzees and some cetaceans have shown that they can recognize themselves in a mirror. James Hill for The New York Times


Published: December 9, 2013

What is a person?

“Beings who recognize themselves as ‘I’s.’ Those are persons.” That was the view of Immanuel Kant, said Lori Gruen, a philosophy professor at Wesleyan University who thinks and writes often about nonhuman animals and the moral and philosophical issues involved in how we treat them.

She was responding to questions in an interview last week after advocates used a new legal strategy to have chimpanzees recognized as legal persons, with a right to liberty, albeit a liberty with considerable limits.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, an advocacy group led by Steven M. Wise, filed writs of habeas corpus in New York last week on behalf of four captive chimpanzees: Tommy, owned by a Gloversville couple; two at Stony Brook University; and one at the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls. The lawsuits were dismissed, but Mr. Wise said he planned to appeal.

He believes that the historical use of habeas corpus lawsuits as a tool against human slavery offers a model for how to fight for legal rights for nonhumans.

His case relies heavily on science. Nine affidavits from scientists that were part of the court filings offer opinions of what research says about the lives, thinking ability and self-awareness of chimpanzees.

Mr. Wise argues that chimps are enough like humans that they should have some legal rights; not the right to vote or freedom of religion — he is not aiming for a full-blown planet of the apes — but a limited right to bodily liberty. The suits asked that the chimps be freed to go to sanctuaries where they would have more freedom.

Richard L. Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in California who opposes granting rights to nonhuman animals, described the legal strategy as “far outside the mainstream.” He said in an email, “The courts would have to dramatically expand existing common law for the cases to succeed.”

Lori Marino of Emory University, who studies dolphins and other cetaceans and is the science director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, said it “is about more than these four chimpanzees.” Mr. Wise, she said, “sees this as the knob that can turn a lot of things. It’s potentially transformative.”

She said she was under no illusion that rights for animals would be easy to gain. “It may not happen in anyone’s lifetime,” she said.

The science of behavior is only part of the legal argument, though it is crucial to the central idea — that chimps are in some sense autonomous. Autonomy can mean different things, depending on whether you are talking about chimpanzees, drones or robot vacuum cleaners, and whether you are using the language of law, philosophy or artificial intelligence.

Dr. Gruen sees it as a term that is fraught with problems in philosophy, but Dr. Marino said that for the purposes of the legal effort, autonomy means “a very basic capacity to be aware of yourself, your circumstances and your future.”

Science can’t be decisive in such an argument, as Dr. Gruen points out, but what it can do is support or undermine this idea of autonomy. “If you form the right kinds of questions,” she said, “there are important answers that science can give about animal cognition and animal behavior.”

Dr. Marino said that science could “contribute evidence for the kinds of characteristics that a judge may find to be part of autonomy.”

Dr. Gruen, Dr. Marino and Mr. Wise made presentations at a conference, Personhood Beyond the Human, at Yale over the weekend. They spoke in interviews related to the court case during the week before the conference.

The kind of science that supports the idea of chimpanzees as autonomous could also support the idea that many other animals fit the bill. There are affidavits related to cognitive ability, tool use, social life and many other capabilities of chimpanzees, but there are questions about how pertinent each line of evidence is.

“Is that important for being a philosophical person — tool use itself?” Dr. Gruen asked.

The issues of self-awareness and of awareness of past and future strike to the heart of a common-sense view of what personhood might be. Chimps, elephants and some cetaceans have shown that they can recognize themselves in a mirror.

But the rights project is claiming more, saying that for chimps, as Dr. Marino put it, “you know it was you yesterday, you today, you tomorrow,” and “you have desires and goals for the future.”

There is plenty of evidence that chimpanzees and other animals act for the future. Some birds hide seeds to recover in leaner times, for example.

One affidavit is from Matthias Osvath, of Lund University in Sweden, who studies the thinking ability of animals, particularly great apes and some birds. He cites a number of studies of chimps that support the idea they have a sense of the future, including resisting an immediate reward to gain a tool that will get them a larger reward.

In one well-known piece of research by Dr. Osvath, he reported on Santino, a chimp at a zoo in Sweden who stockpiled and hid rocks he would later throw at human visitors. Dr. Osvath argued that Santino had the capacity to think of himself making future use of the rocks he saved.

Science cannot prove what went on in Santino’s mind. But Dr. Marino said the cumulative evidence could be used to ask a judge, “If you look at all the evidence in total, then what kind of being could produce all that evidence?”

Not all proponents of animal welfare are convinced that calling for rights for animals is the best way to go.

Dr. Gruen said that she had misgivings about the rights approach, philosophically and politically. “My own view is that it makes more sense to think about what we owe animals.” Progress on that front in 2013, particularly for chimpanzees, has surprised and delighted many activists. The National Institutes of Health is retiring most of its chimpanzees. And the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed changes that would classify all chimps, even those in laboratories, as endangered, a move that would raise obstacles to experiments on privately owned chimps.

One point to remember is that personhood does not mean being human. Robert Sapolsky, a primatologist and neuroscientist at Stanford University who was not associated with the lawsuit, said, “I think the evidence certainly suggests that chimps are self-aware and autonomous.” That still leaves a vast gap between chimps and humans, he said. Chimps may look ahead in hiding food for later, or planning “how to ambush monkeys they are hunting.” Humans, he noted, could think about “the consequences of global warming for their grandchildren’s grandchildren, or of the sun eventually dying, or of them eventually dying.”

A version of this news analysis appears in print on December 10, 2013, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Humanity of Nonhumans.

Animais, plantas, natureza: os direitos do meio ambiente. Entrevista com Philippe Descola (Unisinos)

Por Marino Niola

Philippe Descola herdou a cátedra de Lévi-Strauss em Paris. E conta como a disciplina está evoluindo: “Há muitas formas de vida. Temos que levar isso em conta”. Em alguns países, a proteção e o respeito pelos recursos vitais foram incluídos na Constituição. É preciso aprender a coabitar.

A antropologia de Lévi-Strauss era uma grande teoria sobre o ser humano. A antropologia de hoje, ao contrário, deve ir além do humano. O ser humano sozinho não lhe basta mais. Porque natureza e cultura são uma só coisa. Sociedade e meio ambiente, uma só casa. As neurociências, a etologia, a genética, a ecologia falam claramente. Nós, bípedes, com o dom da palavra, não somos o umbigo do mundo, mas sim parte da vida, quer gostemos ou não.

Philippe Descola sorri maliciosamente. Ele assumiu o lugar de Lévi-Strauss na cátedra de antropologia mais prestigiada do planeta. A do Collège de France. Tudo aqui ainda fala do mestre que revolucionou as ciências do ser humano. Livros, estantes, objetos exóticos descritos precisamente em Tristes Trópicos. “Obviamente, eu não sou o herdeiro de Claude Lévi-Strauss, mas só o seu sucessor”, explica, com bom humor.

Eis a entrevista.

Um homem que tinha uma imensa e preciosa erudição, de savant de outros tempos.

E que não é mais de hoje. A sua análise dos mitos é um virtuosismo acrobático. Obras como O Pensamento Selvagem e O cru e o cozido são o produto de um talento pessoal muito próximo ao de um artista. Ele era capaz de se lembrar de um fragmento de um conto japonês lido 20 anos antes e de conectá-lo aos mitos dos nativos da América ou da Grécia que ele estudava naquele momento. Ou a um acorde da tetralogia de Wagner.

Lévi-Strauss fez da antropologia um dos grandes saberes do século XX. Ele demonstrou que, por trás das diferenças entre as culturas, há analogias escondidas que permitem remeter a miríade de diversidades a poucas leis gerais, comuns a todos os seres humanos.

Ele tratava as diferenças entre as culturas como variações de um mesmo tema musical. E a sua grande lição é que a tarefa da antropologia é ir além das diferenças superficiais, além da etnografia, para alcançar aquilo que nos torna todos igualmente humanos.

Ou até todos seres vivos. Humanos e não humanos. Nisso, Lévi-Strauss antecipou aquele sentimento de unidade entre sociedade e natureza, que envolve milhões de cidadãos globais. Não é por acaso que o senhor preferiu rebatizar a sua cátedra como “Antropologia e natureza”, tornando-se assim continuador do Lévi-Strauss mais atual e profético.

O fato é que os homens não estão sozinhos no palco da humanidade. E o resto, aquilo que normalmente se chama de natureza ou meio ambiente, não é propriedade nossa, nem uma projeção nossa, muito menos um simples recurso à disposição do nosso desenvolvimento. As outras criaturas, animais, plantas, minerais, também são coinquilinos do mundo. Não são coisas ou formas de vida, mas sim verdadeiros agentes sociais, que têm os mesmos direitos que os seres humanos. E muitas vezes características em comum, que não são meramente biológicas, mas até culturais. É por isso que hoje a antropologia não pode mais se limitar ao ser humano, mas deve estender o seu olhar a todos os seres com os quais interagimos e convivemos.

E, além disso, a nossa ideia de natureza é relativamente recente.

Ela começa a se desenvolver só no século XVII, no início da modernidade, quando o mundo foi dividido em duas partes. De um lado, o universo das convenções e das regras, ou seja, a cultura. De outro, o mundo dos fenômenos e das leis da natureza.

De um lado, a pessoa humana, de outro, as não pessoas, isto é, todo o resto. Mas, desse modo, o ser vivo é cortado em dois e separados de uma parte de si mesmo. Essa foi a concepção que legitimou a dominação e a exploração do ser humano, assim como da natureza?

Certamente. Além de tudo isso, essa oposição entre cultura e natureza, entre ser humano e as outras criaturas, não é nem universal. Muitos povos não a compartilham. Basta pensar no primeiro capítulo da nova Constituição do Equador, que protege precisamente os direitos da natureza, em que a natureza, diferentemente de nós, aparece como uma espécie de pessoa viva. Justamente como a Pachamama, a mãe terra das religiões mesoamericanas.

Não por acaso, o presidente boliviano, Evo Morales, e uma cúpula latino-americana reconheceram que os ecossistemas enquanto tais têm direitos. Um modo diferente de sistematizar os problemas, que, também à luz de dramas como o do Chifre da África, deveria começar a influenciar a agenda política planetária, especialmente em matéria de bens comuns.

Em muitos países do mundo, é inconcebível que os recursos vitais sejam privatizados. A própria ideia de que existe um mercado dos bens de subsistência é um caso excepcional na história da humanidade. Aristóteles, na Crematística, a ciência da riqueza, já punha em questão a legitimidade da compra e venda dos bens indispensáveis para a sobrevivência. O que é interessante é que hoje cada vez mais pessoas tomam consciência do fato de que alguns recursos são intocáveis, porque não pertencem só aos seres humanos, mas a todos os seres vivos. E até ao conjunto dos ecossistemas inteiros.

Isto é, ao planeta na sua totalidade indivisível, na sua integridade vital que também nos compreende, enquanto nascidos da terra.

Nesse sentido, a antropologia tem uma tarefa importante, que é a de apresentar outros modelos de humanidade. Mostrar de que modo as outras civilizações enfrentaram e resolveram problemas análogos aos nossos.

Quais são as três grandes urgências do nosso tempo?

Ecologia, tecnologia e coexistência com as outras civilizações. Três questões que podem ser resumidas em uma, isto é, como fazer com que todos os ocupantes do planeta coabitem, sem muitos danos, renúncias e conflitos. E se não se chegar a isso, haverá uma catástrofe. Ambiental, demográfica e informática.

Por que informática?

Porque deveremos ser inundados por uma avalanche de informações cada vez mais incontroláveis, incongruentes, perigosas.

Também seremos inundados por montanhas de lixo digital, enfim. Mas a política lhe parece estar à altura da tarefa?

Infelizmente não. Hoje, eu vejo uma grande pusilanimidade nos políticos e nos vários G7 ou G20. Não possuem coragem e imaginação. Estão sempre atrasados com relação à realidade. Também porque subestimam o papel da cultura nas elaboração das políticas sociais e ambientais. E, frequentemente, não se vai muito além de alguns pequenos pensamentos politicamente corretos sobre a necessidade do diálogo entre as culturas. Mas não acredito nisso, verdadeiramente.

As pessoas comuns parecem acreditar nisso cada vez mais. Os movimentos que agitam o mundo neste período, que parecem fatos separados, não são talvez os sintomas de um novo sentido comum?

Sim, cada vez mais pessoas estão conscientes de que o modelo de desenvolvimento que tem governado o mundo nestes últimos dois séculos está se desfazendo. Eu diria que esses movimentos são exercícios no futuro, os primeiros passos para uma nova democracia global.

Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (Somatosphere)

September 23, 2013


Editor’s note: As part of our new series, Second Opinion (not to be confused with the SMA’s similarly titled newsletter) we ask two contributors to review the same book, respond to the same question, or comment on the same set of issues.  For our first pair of Second Opinion posts, we invited two reviews of Eduardo Kohn’s new book, How Forests Think. The second review will appear within the next few weeks.

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

 By Eduardo Kohn

University of California Press, 2013. $29.95, £19.95; Paperback, 228 pages.

There is a long genealogy of anthropologists who have borrowed their titles from the translation of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s La mentalité primitive — How Natives Think.  Running from Marshall Sahlins’ How “Natives” Think to Maurice Bloch’s How We Think They Think, these transformations run parallel to those of the discipline itself. By entitling his book How Forests Think, Eduardo Kohn indicates that he doesn’t study the way the people he worked with in Ecuador thought about forests, but the way forests actually think. By making a claim about the relation between life and thought, this book takes part in the ontological turn (Candea 2010) that decenters anthropologists’ longstanding focus on cultural representations to ask how representations emerge within forms of life. Following Philippe Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo Kohn shows that Amazonian ethnography challenges our conceptions of life and thought in a way that raises the ontological question of what there is. As the ecological crisis leads to a proliferation of new entities that both blur the opposition between nature and culture and ask for political recognition – “pets, weeds, pests, commensals, new pathogens, ‘wild’ animals, or technoscientific ‘mutants,’” (9) this kind of ethnography cautiously scrutinizes the continuities and discontinuities between humans and nonhumans. The book is ethnographic in a classical sense, and yet its chapters follow a theoretical progression, while powerful images plunge into an “enchanted” world – a term Kohn takes up deliberately – entangling humans and nonhumans in puzzling ways.

The main thesis of the book is about semiosis, the life of signs. If we are troubled by the idea that forests think, it is because we conceive thinking as a conventional relation to the world. Following 19th century American philosopher Charles Saunders Peirce, Kohn argues that all signs are not conventional symbols, and that there are other ways to learn the meaning of signs than to relate them to each other in a cultural context. When a hunter describes the fall of a palm tree under the weight of a monkey as pu’oh, the meaning of this sign is felt with evidence, without knowledge of Quichua (the language spoken by Kohn’s informants), because it relates hunters, monkeys and trees in a complex ecosystem. Kohn asks for “decolonizing thought” and “provincializing language” by looking at relations between signs that are not symbolic. Hence the program of an “anthropology beyond the human” that places human symbols in the forms of life from which they emerge. Without romanticizing tropical nature, Kohn argues that most of our problems are ill-shaped, or filled with anxiety – as in a wonderful description of the bus trip that led him to Avila – if we don’t place them in a larger semiotic field.

Following Terrence Deacon’s interpretation of Peirce (2012), Kohn is less interested in the classifications of signs into indices, icons and symbols than in the process through which they emerge one from the other. A sign refers to something absent that exists in futuro, just as the crashing of the palm tree under the weight of a monkey refers to a coming danger for the monkey, and a possible catch for the hunter. Habits fix the meaning of signs by producing similarity, and are considered as “interpretants” of signs. Using the example of the walking-stick insect, Kohn argues that what appears to look similar is actually the product of a selection from beings that looked different. Signs thus refer to the past as a memory of beings who have disappeared. Since this relation to the past and future is what, for Peirce, constitutes selves, all living beings, and not only humans, can be considered as selves.

The strangeness of Kohn’s text come from the way it interlaces these theoretical analyses of signs with an account of the life of the Runa people, considered not as a cultural context but as “amplifying” certain ontological properties of life itself. “Living beings are loci of selfhood,” Kohn writes. “I make this claim empirically. It grows out of my attention to Runa relations with nonhuman beings as these reveal themselves ethnographically. These relations amplify certain properties of the world, and this amplification can infect and affect our thinking about the world,” (94). This is an original intervention in the ontological reappraisal of animism. Kohn neither contrasts animism to naturalism as two inverse ontologies in the mode of Descola, nor does he engage in the paradoxes of perspectivism like Viveiros.  Instead, he considers living beings as selves in relation to past and future relations, and social life as an amplification of this process of self-formation.

Thus, puma designates both predators like jaguars and shamans who can see the way that jaguars see. Runa people need to learn how jaguars see in order not to be eaten by them. The soul, as what exceeds the limits of the body, is “an effect of intersubjective semiotic interpretance,” (107). What Kohn calls “soul blindness” is an inattention to the effects of the souls of other living beings. The problem is how to live with runa puma: jaguars who act like humans, and kill to revenge other killings, who are dreaded but also considered to be mature selves.

Dreams, analyzed in Chapter 4, are common ways of communication with souls and remediating “soul blindness.” Runa people give hallucinatory drugs to dogs so that they will dream, and their barks during dreaming are interpreted literally—in the same way as their daytime barks–while human dreams of hunting are interpreted metaphorically. Rather than doing a symbolic analysis of dreams, Kohn places them in the semiotic life they express, between humans, dogs and jaguars. Dreams are ways of communicating between species without abolishing them, constituting a “trans-species pidgin.”

In Chapter 5, Kohn makes an important distinction between form and sign. “Whereas semiosis is in and of the living world beyond the human, form emerges from and is part and parcel of the nonliving one as well,” (174). The question he asks is that of the efficacy of form, the constraint it exerts on living beings. Taking the example of the distribution of rubber trees in the Amazonian forest, which depends on the ecology of parasites as well as on the network of rivers, he argues that shamanistic hunting and the colonial extraction of rubber were both constrained by the same form. Forms have a causality that is not moral but that can be called hierarchical: signs emerge from forms, and symbols from signs, in a hierarchy between levels of emergence that cannot be inversed. This is a powerful interpretation of the insertion of colonial extraction in forms that historically precede it: if power brings with it moral categories, this insertion cannot be thought of as an imposition from above, but rather as a fall-out or an incidental movement.

Kohn links this morphodynamic analysis of colonialism to Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of “la pensée sauvage” – a form of thought emerging from relations between signs rather than being imposed upon them. Through forms and signs, Runa people have “frozen” history in such a way that they can interpret events through their dreams. The dream of Oswaldo, who saw a policeman with hair on his shirt, is ambivalent: does it mean he will be caught by the white man, or that he will be successful in hunting peccaries? The final chapter of the book analyses the reversals in relation between the Runa and White missionaries or policemen, as well as the pronouns by which Runa people refer to themselves as subjects, such as amu. “Amu is a particular colonially inflected way of being a self in an ecology of selves filled with a growing array of future-making habits, many of which are not human. In the process, amu renders visible how a living future gives life some of its special properties and how this involves a dynamic that implicates (but is not reducible to) the past. In doing so, amu, and the spirit realm upon which it draws its power, amplifies something general about life—namely, life’s quality of being in futuro,” (208). The question for Runa people is how they can access the realm of the White masters, that is also the heaven of saints: what is generally called the “super-natural.”  To live is to survive, Kohn argues, that is to live beyond life, in the many absences that constitute life as a semiotic process.

The strength of this book is to propose a rigorous demonstration while never leaving empirical analysis. Starting on the level of signs in their triadic mode of existence, Kohn finds form on one side and history on the other, and describes their constraints and ambivalent relationships. This is not a dualism between nature and culture that would be solved through the concept of life – and Kohn tries to avoid an all-encompassing anthropology of life – but a logical tension that is amplified by humans, almost in the way that genetic material is amplified inside and outside the laboratory (Rabinow 1996). Kohn’s anthropology “beyond the human” – but not of the “post-human” – grounds itself in the life of signs where humans emerge to amplify them. The ambition of this ontological claim, its clarity and its theoretical productivity will not doubt be amplified by other ethnographic inquiries on life.

Frédéric Keck is a researcher at the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale (CNRS) in Paris. He has published works on the history of philosophy and social anthropology in France (Comte, Lévy-Bruhl, Lévi-Strauss) and translated Paul Rabinow’s French DNA into French. He now works on the management of animal diseases transmitted to humans, or zoonoses (Un monde grippé, Flammarion, 2010, Des hommes malades des animaux, L’Herne, 2012)


Candea, Matei
 (2010) Debate: Ontology Is Just Another Word for Culture.Critique of Anthropology 30 (2): 172-179

Deacon, Terrence (2012) Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: Norton.

Descola, Philippe (2005) Par-delà nature et culture. Paris: Gallimard.

Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo (1998) Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, n.s., 4, 469-488.

Rabinow, Paul (1996) Making PCR, A Story of Biotechnology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Social Networks Could Help Prevent Disease Outbreaks in Endangered Chimpanzees (Science Daily)

June 5, 2013 — Many think of social networks in terms of Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but for recent University of Georgia doctoral graduate Julie Rushmore, social networks are tools in the fight against infectious diseases.

Two adult males in the Kanyawara chimpanzee community rest in Kibale National Park, Uganda. (Credit: Julie Rushmore/UGA)

Rushmore, who completed her doctorate in the Odum School of Ecology in May, analyzed the social networks of wild chimpanzees to determine which individuals were most likely to contract and spread pathogens. Her findings, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on June 5, could help wildlife managers target their efforts to prevent outbreaks and potentially help public health officials prevent disease in human populations as well.

Effective disease intervention for this species is important for a number of reasons. Wild chimpanzees are highly endangered, and diseases — including some that also infect humans — are among the most serious threats to their survival. And due to habitat loss, chimpanzees increasingly overlap with human populations, so disease outbreaks could spread to people and livestock, and vice versa.

Disease prevention in wildlife is logistically challenging, and resources are scarce, Rushmore explained. Even when vaccines are available, it is impractical to vaccinate every individual in a wildlife population. She and her colleagues decided to use social network analysis to pinpoint individuals most important in disease transmission.

“Modeling studies in humans have shown that targeting central individuals for vaccination is significantly more effective than randomly vaccinating,” Rushmore said. “There have been a few social network studies in wildlife systems — bees, lions, meerkats, lizards and giraffes — but this is the first paper to map out social networks in the context of disease transmission and conservation for wild primates.”

Rushmore observed a community of wild chimpanzees in Kibale National Park in Uganda, recording the interactions of individuals and family groups over a nine-month period to determine which individuals — and which types of individuals — were most central.

“Chimpanzees are ideal for this study because to collect this observational behavioral data, you don’t need to collar them or use any invasive methods. You can essentially just observe chimpanzees in their natural environment and identify them individually based on their facial features,” she said.

Rushmore collected information about the traits of individual chimpanzees including age, sex, rank and family size. Rank for adult males was based on dominance, while for adult females and juveniles it was based on location: Those that lived and foraged in the interior of the community’s territory were considered of higher rank than those that roamed its edges.

From December 2009 to August 2010, Rushmore recorded the interactions of chimpanzees in the community at 15-minute intervals between 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., four to six days per week. She mapped her observations onto a diagram showing how often each individual associated with the others.

This analysis revealed that the most central figures in the network turned out to be high-ranking mothers and juveniles with large families. “They form nursing parties — essentially like day care — where several families will hang out together,” she said. “In that way they become quite central because they have contact with a large portion of the community.”

Second in centrality were the high-ranking males.

“There are many studies in humans, and at least one in chimpanzees, showing that from an immunological perspective, juveniles and children are really important for maintaining diseases in populations through play and things like that,” she said.

“In addition, high-ranking male chimpanzees are often immunosuppressed because they have high levels of testosterone and have been shown to have higher rates of parasitism. So it seems that in addition to being central to the network, the juveniles and the high-ranking males in particular could also have lower immunity than other individuals, which might help facilitate them acquiring and transmitting pathogens.”

Rushmore’s findings have implications for disease prevention beyond chimpanzees.

“This work can easily be applied to other systems,” she said. “You could use similar methods to identify which traits are predictive of centrality. The theme that would carry over from our findings is that these central individuals are likely important to target for vaccination or treatment.”

Rushmore and her colleagues are continuing their research into social networks and disease. They currently are using infectious disease models to simulate outbreaks on these networks and to develop targeted pathogen interventions.

“Ultimately, we want to develop vaccination strategies that could both prevent large outbreaks and lower the number of animals requiring vaccination,” Rushmore said.

The study’s co-authors were Damien Caillaud of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the University of Texas at Austin, Leopold Matamba of the UGA department of mathematics, Rebecca M. Stumpf of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Stephen P. Borgatti of the University of Kentucky and Sonia Altizer of the UGA Odum School of Ecology.

Journal Reference:

  1. Julie Rushmore, Damien Caillaud, Leopold Matamba, Rebecca M. Stumpf, Stephen P. Borgatti, Sonia Altizer.Social network analysis of wild chimpanzees provides insights for predicting infectious disease riskJournal of Animal Ecology, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12088

Doing Business With a Parrot: Self-Control Observed in Cockatoos (Science Daily)

Mar. 13, 2013 — Alice Auersperg from the Department of Cognitive Biology from the University of Vienna and her team has for the first time succeeded in observing self-control in cockatoos.

The results of this research project appear in the current issue of the journal Biology Letters.

Waiting: a clever move

In the 1970’s, self-control of human infants was investigated using the prominent ‘Stanford Marshmallow Experiment’: the children were presented with a marshmallow and were told they could either eat it now or wait and receive a second one if the first one was still intact after a time delay of several minutes. Interestingly, children that were able to wait for the delayed reward showed greater success in adult life than the ones that ate the first marshmallow right away.

Schematic presentation of the Procedure: The birds were first shown both food types inside the open hands of the experimenter and are then allowed to pick up the item of lower quality. Thereafter the animals have to decide to either eat the lower quality food straight away or to wait out the time delay to earn the better food. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Vienna)

The ability to anticipate a delayed gain is considered cognitively challenging since it requires not only the capacity to control an direct impulse but also to assess the gain’s beneficial value relative to the costs associated with having to wait as well as the reliability of the trader. Such abilities can be considered precursors of economic decision making and are rarely found outside humans. Only few, typically large-brained animals, have been shown to be able to inhibit the consumption of an immediate food reward in anticipation for a bigger one for more than one minute.

Speculative trading of the Goffin cockatoos

A new study at the University of Vienna, on an Indonesian cockatoo species — the Goffin’s cockatoo — showed notable results. “The animals were allowed to pick up an initial food item and given the opportunity to return it directly into the experimenter’s hand after an increasing time delay. If the initial food item had not been nibbled by this time, the bird received another reward of an even higher preferred food type or of a larger quantity than the initial food in exchange” explains Isabelle Laumer, who conducted the study at the Goffin Lab at the University of Vienna. “Although we picked pecan nuts as initial reward which were highly liked by the birds and would under normal circumstances be consumed straight away, we found that all 14 of birds waited for food of higher quality, such as cashew nut for up to 80 seconds,” she further reports.

Evolution of self-control

Alice Auersperg, the manager of the Vienna Goffin Lab says: “When exchanging for better qualities, the Goffins acted astonishingly like economic agents, flexibly trading-off between immediate and future benefits. They did so, relative not only to the length of delay, but also to the difference in trade value between the ‘currency’ and the ‘merchandise’: they tended to trade their initial items more often for their most preferred food, than for one of intermediate preference value and did not exchange in a control test in which the value of the initial item was higher than that of the expected one.” She adds: “While human infants or primates can hold the initial food in their hands, one should also consider that the birds were able to wait, although they had to hold the food in their beaks, directly against their taste organs while waiting. Imagine placing a cookie directly into a toddler’s mouth and telling him/her, he/she will only receive a piece of chocolate if the cookie is not nibbled for over a minute.”

Thomas Bugnyar, who previously conducted similar studies on ravens and crows, says, “Until recently, birds were considered to lack any self-control. When we found that corvids could wait for delayed food, we speculated which socio-ecological conditions could favor the evolution of such skills. To test our ideas we needed clever birds that are distantly related to corvids. Parrots were the obvious choice and the results on Goffins show that we are on the right track.”

Journal Reference:

  1. A. M. I. Auersperg, I. B. Laumer, T. Bugnyar. Goffin cockatoos wait for qualitative and quantitative gains but prefer ‘better’ to ‘more’Biology Letters, 2013; 9 (3): 20121092 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.1092

Some Plants Are Altruistic, Too, New Study Suggests (Science Daily)

Feb. 1, 2013 — We’ve all heard examples of animal altruism: Dogs caring for orphaned kittens, chimps sharing food or dolphins nudging injured mates to the surface. Now, a study led by the University of Colorado Boulder suggests some plants are altruistic too.

A new study led by CU-Boulder involving graduate student Chi-Chih Wu, shown here, indicates corn plants may have an altruistic side. (Credit: Photo courtesy CU-Boulder)

The researchers looked at corn, in which each fertilized seed contained two “siblings” — an embryo and a corresponding bit of tissue known as endosperm that feeds the embryo as the seed grows, said CU-Boulder Professor Pamela Diggle. They compared the growth and behavior of the embryos and endosperm in seeds sharing the same mother and father with the growth and behavior of embryos and endosperm that had genetically different parents.

“The results indicated embryos with the same mother and father as the endosperm in their seed weighed significantly more than embryos with the same mother but a different father,” said Diggle, a faculty member in CU-Boulder’s ecology and evolutionary biology department. “We found that endosperm that does not share the same father as the embryo does not hand over as much food — it appears to be acting less cooperatively.”

A paper on the subject was published during the week of Jan. 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors on the study included Chi-Chih Wu, a CU-Boulder doctoral student in the ecology and evolutionary biology department and Professor William “Ned” Friedman, a professor at Harvard University who helped conduct research on the project while a faculty member at CU-Boulder.

Diggle said it is fairly clear from previous research that plants can preferentially withhold nutrients from inferior offspring when resources are limited. “Our study is the first to specifically test the idea of cooperation among siblings in plants.”

“One of the most fundamental laws of nature is that if you are going to be an altruist, give it up to your closest relatives,” said Friedman. “Altruism only evolves if the benefactor is a close relative of the beneficiary. When the endosperm gives all of its food to the embryo and then dies, it doesn’t get more altruistic than that.”

In corn reproduction, male flowers at the top of the plants distribute pollen grains two at a time through individual tubes to tiny cobs on the stalks covered by strands known as silks in a process known as double fertilization. When the two pollen grains come in contact with an individual silk, they produce a seed containing an embryo and endosperm. Each embryo results in just a single kernel of corn, said Diggle.

The team took advantage of an extremely rare phenomenon in plants called “hetero-fertilization,” in which two different fathers sire individual corn kernels, said Diggle, currently a visiting professor at Harvard. The manipulation of corn plant genes that has been going on for millennia — resulting in the production of multicolored “Indian corn” cobs of various colors like red, purple, blue and yellow — helped the researchers in assessing the parentage of the kernels, she said.

Wu, who cultivated the corn and harvested more than 100 ears over a three-year period, removed, mapped and weighed every individual kernel out of each cob from the harvests. While the majority of kernels had an endosperm and embryo of the same color — an indication they shared the same mother and father — some had different colors for each, such as a purple outer kernel with yellow embryo.

Wu was searching for such rare kernels — far less than one in 100 — that had two different fathers as a way to assess cooperation between the embryo and endosperm. “It was very challenging and time-consuming research,” said Friedman. “It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, or in this case, a kernel in a silo.”

Endosperm — in the form of corn, rice, wheat and other crops — is critical to humans, providing about 70 percent of calories we consume annually worldwide. “The tissue in the seeds of flowering plants is what feeds the world,” said Friedman, who also directs the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard. “If flowering plants weren’t here, humans wouldn’t be here.”

Journal Reference:

  1. K. Baruch, N. Ron-Harel, H. Gal, A. Deczkowska, E. Shifrut, W. Ndifon, N. Mirlas-Neisberg, M. Cardon, I. Vaknin, L. Cahalon, T. Berkutzki, M. P. Mattson, F. Gomez-Pinilla, N. Friedman, M. Schwartz. CNS-specific immunity at the choroid plexus shifts toward destructive Th2 inflammation in brain aging.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1211270110

Lully & nós (Valor)

23/11/2012 às 00h00

Por Joselia Aguiar | Para o Valor, de São Paulo

Daryan Dornelles/FolhapressCosta Lima ou Bruno Negri, que homenageia sua shitzu branca e preta: livro traz as reflexões filosófico-caninas capturadas por uma máquina inventada para traduzir “auês”

A obra podia entrar na prateleira reservada aos livros fofos, se tal existisse. O que existe, de verdade, é a chance de parar na lista de best-sellers como um “Marley & Eu” à brasileira. “Confesso minha ignorância: não sei que livro é esse, ‘Marley & Eu'”, responde o ficcionista novato Bruno Negri sobre uma possível influência ao escrever “Me chamo Lully”, seu relato de uma vidinha de cachorro que chega agora às livrarias – o lançamento, pela Book Makers, será no dia 5, na Livraria Argumento, no Leblon, no Rio. Vai ter jazz, MPB e coquetel para gente e bichos.

A ignorância confessada, que seria fatal em alguém que pretendesse fazer sucesso no metier dos livros comerciais – afinal, “Marley & Eu” foi lido por milhões no mundo inteiro -, pode ser vista como um divertido alheamento intencional ou uma saudável distância técnica, quando se conhece enfim a identidade de quem está disfarçado pelo pseudônimo. Bruno Negri é Luiz Costa Lima, de 75 anos, um dos críticos literários mais importantes do país, há quatro décadas em atividade, mais de 20 títulos publicados, obra premiada aqui e no exterior.

De parecido com o livro do jornalista americano John Grogan, que narrou as peripécias de seu Marley, há, além do tema, uma capa com seu apelo emotivo: em close, um cãozinho se apresenta com olhar sedutor. Aí param as semelhanças. A grande diferença se configura pelo ponto de vista. Marley teve a história contada por Grogan, seu dono. Lully, ao contrário, é autora da própria história. Pois um laboratório nos Estados Unidos desenvolveu equipamento ainda em fase de testes que captura o pensamento de animais e o decodifica em linguagem de humanos. Aparentemente, só com alguns o experimento parece funcionar, com outros o resultado não é o mesmo. Com Lully, cachorra filósofa, funciona. Não com Benjy, seu filho e companheiro, incapaz da concentração necessária, muito menos raciocínio organizado para ter o pensamento capturado ou decodificado. Benjy é, por assim dizer, um cão atávico – uma de suas raras preocupações é impedir que Lully brinque com uma bolinha, enquanto ele mesmo não parece saber o motivo de cultivar tal hábito, já que nunca aproveita o objeto furtado.

O grau de autoconsciência de Lully é evidente desde o título, retirado da primeira frase que diz à máquina, “Me chamo”, e não “Me chamam”. Lully sobretudo compreende que os fios que a conectam da cabeça ao computador transmitem seu “auês”, a língua que domina. A seu jeito canino – filosófico, mas ainda canino -, ela narra dos primeiros dias no canil até os oito anos na casa de Pedro, Joana e o filho, Dani. Lully pensa não só sobre as coisas que observa como também as coisas que sente: medo, um tipo de afeição que não sabe dar nome (seria amor? paixão? decerto não é cio), a maternidade e a finitude. O que ela nunca consegue compreender é a passagem do tempo – o que são mesmo os dias, semanas, passado e futuro – e a divisão de classe social – o que se nota pela dificuldade de entender o que é uma princesa, título que lhe atribuem, e o que são os mendigos catadores no pós-Carnaval do Rio.

Cachorrinha que inspirou o crítico é “faceira e sedutora como uma teenager”, apesar de já ter oito anos; sugestão para livro foi da mulher dele

As perguntas ao crítico se encaminham com a devida vênia. Das fábulas de La Fontaine às de Orwell, os livros protagonizados por bichos, o “Flush” de Virginia Woolf ou o “Timbuktu” de Paul Auster, o que um crítico conhecido pelo rigor e exigência pensou em fazer ao publicar um livro fofo? Algum experimento? “Não pensei em coisa alguma, senão em dar alguma verossimilhança à história que queria fosse de minha querida Lully.”

Eis que Lully existe mesmo. É a shitzu de oito anos da família. “Não pense que é brincadeira ou fingimento. Embora saiba de ficções sobre animais de estimação, nunca li nenhuma delas”, prossegue Costa Lima. “Só lhe garanto que não quis brincar com Lully. Ela nos é muito querida para sujeitá-la a uma brincadeira. Seria explorar sua admirável ingenuidade canina.”

O campo dos estudos animais, da animalidade, dos limites do humano tem crescido nas universidades: trata-se de área multidisciplinar, que combina filosofia, literatura, ciências sociais. Uma nova pergunta quer identificar se houve, da parte do professor emérito da PUC-SP, uma tentativa de se aproximar desse tipo de reflexão a partir da própria experiência. “Sei disso, de livros escritos há décadas por Günter Lorenz. Mas lhe confesso que nunca li nada a respeito.” O processo da escrita? A resposta não dá mais margem para teorizações previsíveis: “Simplesmente não houve”.

A sugestão veio da mulher, a psicanalista Rebeca Schwartz. Então ele se sentou à mesa e, como diz, escreveu como sempre faz: primeiro à mão, depois no computador. “Creio que as emendas foram mínimas. Era como se a história estivesse amadurecida dentro de mim.” De que modo o crítico agiu no escritor, desmontando e remontando a maquinaria ficcional? “Alguém já disse que a crítica que se limite a ser o julgamento de um livro é algo bastante chato. O crítico seria uma espécie semelhante aos juízes do nosso STF que têm seu instante de glória à custa do que outros fizeram”, pondera. Temos algo diferente, portanto. “Embora a crítica não seja e não deva ser ficção, ela só presta quando traz consigo um ‘impulso ficcional’. No “Me chamo Lully”, a máquina ficcional pôde se mostrar explicitamente, sem disfarces ou transformações.”

É aqui, leitor, nessa parte da conversa, que você se lembra que o tal aparelho recém-inventado nos Estados Unidos, aquele que captura e decodifica as reflexões filosófico-caninas de Lully, é pura ficção. Não por outra, críticos costumam ser vistos pelos leitores como “desmancha-prazeres”, como nota Costa Lima. As engrenagens se expõem para quem quiser ver.

A perspectiva de atrair um leitor quase oposto ao seu parece animadora, horrorosa ou engraçada? “Alguns por certo me dizem que o livro atrairá muitos leitores, algo bem diferente do que conheço com meus livros de teoria e crítica literária. Se isso se der, ficarei muito contente. Em vez de engraçada, a hipótese me parece surpreendente. Mas não creio que seja possível.”

Lully tem longuíssimos pelos lisos – por sua pelagem, a raça é identificada no nome original em chinês como o “cão leão” -, é pequenina – a espécie nunca ultrapassa os 25 cm – e, na descrição de seu dono, “faceira e sedutora como uma teenager”, apesar dos oito anos, idade da maturidade em sua categoria. “Melhor, mais do que a maioria das que vejo frequentar a PUC.”

Benjy, que também existe, tem no livro um nome falso. O verdadeiro é Billy. O cão é “meio bobão, manhoso e longe do charme de Lully”, descreve-o o dono bastante crítico (a palavra “crítico” no sentido comezinho), para mais à frente reconhecer a possibilidade de ter sido injusto no relato que faz do cão macho por uma inconsciente competição pela fêmea.

Se escrever o primeiro manuscrito lhe custou duas horas, foi só depois da leitura de Rebeca, mais minuciosa e atenta aos acréscimos, que vicissitudes da vidinha de cachorro puderam ser registradas – desde a ração antialergênica às bolinhas homeopáticas – e muitos episódios, recordados com exatidão, do treinamento avançado de artes marciais para cachorro às crises de pânico de Billy ao entrar num carro, o que fez o casal ter de se desfazer de uma casa de praia. Quase tudo o que é contado Lully de fato viveu, à exceção de um sequestro, este completamente fictício. E há mais uma coisa ou outra recriada. “A cena da paixão pelo vira-lata tem um fundo de verdade, mas é um tanto estilizada”, diz Costa Lima. De fato, esta já dava para notar.

Resta saber por que escolheu o nome de Bruno Negri. “Eu mesmo não sei!”, diz. “Talvez porque de imediato pensei o título como ‘Me Chiamo Lully’. Sei apenas que tanto Bruno como Negri pretendiam acentuar, direta ou indiretamente, a cor da ‘autobiografada’: branca com manchas negras. Mas, no fundo, o nome não tem maiores razões.” Existe razão, essa sim, para adotar um pseudônimo, como explica: “Temia que o nome do crítico prejudicasse a circulação do livro”.

A trajetória de crítico não se interrompe. Meses atrás, saiu o recente “A Ficção e o Poema”, pela Companhia das Letras, desdobramento de dois anteriores, “História. Ficção. Literatura” e “O Controle do Imaginário e o Romance”. Costa Lima conclui agora um novo volume, que se chamará “Frestas” e deve sair apenas em 2014. Outra notícia recente vem de fora: um dos seus livros clássicos, “Mímesis: Desafio ao Pensamento”, acaba de ter tradução para o mercado de língua alemã. E para Bruno Negri, há futuro literário? John Grogan fez vários na linha do “Marley & Eu”. “Não, não creio. Pode parecer louco. Mas tenho muitos projetos de livros longos e trabalhosos. ‘Me Chamo Lully’ foi um felicíssimo acidente. Ainda que não fosse difícil continuar a aventura ficcional, suponho que minha opção de vida é outra.”

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People Merge Supernatural and Scientific Beliefs When Reasoning With the Unknown, Study Shows (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 30, 2012) — Reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age, according to a new psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin.

Reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age, according to a new psychology study. (Credit: © Nikki Zalewski / Fotolia)

The study, published in the June issue of Child Development, offers new insight into developmental learning.

“As children assimilate cultural concepts into their intuitive belief systems — from God to atoms to evolution — they engage in coexistence thinking,” said Cristine Legare, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “When they merge supernatural and scientific explanations, they integrate them in a variety of predictable and universal ways.”

Legare and her colleagues reviewed more than 30 studies on how people (ages 5-75) from various countries reason with three major existential questions: the origin of life, illness and death. They also conducted a study with 366 respondents in South Africa, where biomedical and traditional healing practices are both widely available.

As part of the study, Legare presented the respondents with a variety of stories about people who had AIDS. They were then asked to endorse or reject several biological and supernatural explanations for why the characters in the stories contracted the virus.

According to the findings, participants of all age groups agreed with biological explanations for at least one event. Yet supernatural explanations such as witchcraft were also frequently supported among children (ages 5 and up) and universally among adults.

Among the adult participants, only 26 percent believed the illness could be caused by either biology or witchcraft. And 38 percent split biological and scientific explanations into one theory. For example: “Witchcraft, which is mixed with evil spirits, and unprotected sex caused AIDS.” However, 57 percent combined both witchcraft and biological explanations. For example: “A witch can put an HIV-infected person in your path.”

Legare said the findings contradict the common assumption that supernatural beliefs dissipate with age and knowledge.

“The findings show supernatural explanations for topics of core concern to humans are pervasive across cultures,” Legare said. “If anything, in both industrialized and developing countries, supernatural explanations are frequently endorsed more often among adults than younger children.”

The results provide evidence that reasoning about supernatural phenomena is a fundamental and enduring aspect of human thinking, Legare said.

“The standard assumption that scientific and religious explanations compete should be re-evaluated in light of substantial psychological evidence,” Legare said. “The data, which spans diverse cultural contexts across the lifespan, shows supernatural reasoning is not necessarily replaced with scientific explanations following gains in knowledge, education or technology.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Cristine H. Legare, E. Margaret Evans, Karl S. Rosengren, Paul L. Harris. The Coexistence of Natural and Supernatural Explanations Across Cultures and DevelopmentChild Development, 2012; 83 (3): 779 DOI:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01743.x

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at The University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observations can be stated unequivocally:

 The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving. Abundant new techniques and strategies for human and non-human animal research have been developed. Consequently, more data is becoming readily available, and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field. Studies of non-human animals have shown that homologous brain circuits correlated with conscious experience and perception can be selectively facilitated and disrupted to assess whether they are in fact necessary for those experiences. Moreover, in humans, new non-invasive techniques are readily available to survey the correlates of consciousness.

 The neural substrates of emotions do not appear to be confined to cortical structures. In fact, subcortical neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals. Artificial arousal of the same brain regions generates corresponding behavior and feeling states in both humans and non-human animals. Wherever in the brain one evokes instinctual emotional behaviors in non-human animals, many of the ensuing behaviors are consistent with experienced feeling states, including those internal states that are rewarding and punishing. Deep brain stimulation of these systems in humans can also generate similar affective states. Systems associated with affect are concentrated in subcortical regions where neural homologies abound. Young human and nonhuman animals without neocortices retain these brain-mind functions. Furthermore, neural circuits supporting behavioral/electrophysiological states of attentiveness, sleep and decision making appear to have arisen in evolution as early as the invertebrate radiation, being evident in insects and cephalopod mollusks (e.g., octopus).

 Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.

 In humans, the effect of certain hallucinogens appears to be associated with a disruption in cortical feedforward and feedback processing. Pharmacological interventions in non-human animals with compounds known to affect conscious behavior in humans can lead to similar perturbations in behavior in non-human animals. In humans, there is evidence to suggest that awareness is correlated with cortical activity, which does not exclude possible contributions by subcortical or early cortical processing, as in visual awareness. Evidence that human and nonhuman animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.

We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

* The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was written by Philip Low and edited by Jaak Panksepp, Diana Reiss, David Edelman, Bruno Van Swinderen, Philip Low and Christof Koch. The Declaration was publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, by Low, Edelman and Koch. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants that very evening, in the presence of Stephen Hawking, in the Balfour Room at the Hotel du Vin in Cambridge, UK. The signing ceremony was memorialized by CBS 60 Minutes.

Nelson Rodrigues e o “Sobrenatural de Almeida” (Portal Entretextos)


Miguel Carqueija

Um mestre do “mainstream” também entrou em terreno fantástico.

Nelson Rodrigues, de quem se comemora o centenário em 2012, não foi apenas um dramaturgo e contista, mas também produziu crônica esportiva. Por muito tempo manteve uma coluna no jornal carioca “O Globo” — e naquele tempo este diário, hoje decadente, possuia bons colunistas — que mudava de nome, mas o seu titulo principal era “À sombra das chuteiras imortais” (outros títulos usados foram “A batalha” e “Os bandeirinhas também são anjos”).
Nelson tinha um estilo sui-generis e, a rigor, reconhecível facilmente, mesmo se ele não assinasse. Fluminense doente, era descaradamente parcial nas suas crônicas. E eu, que torcia pelo Fluminense, as lia comprazer.
Detalhe interessante é que Nelson, na maior cara-de-pau, gostava de “profetizar” a vitória do Flu no então campeonato carioca. O futebol, naquele tempo, era muito regional. E, claro, a profecia dava certo quando o clube ganhava o campeonato.
Certo ano, durante o que parecia ser uma maré de azar, Nelson escreveu que o sobrenatural estava perseguindo o Fluminense. Dias depois o cronista publicou uma “carta” que teria recebido, e que diria mais ou menos assim: “No dia tal o senhor disse que o sobrenatural está perseguindo o Fluminense. Ora, o Sobrenatural sou eu, e garanto que isso não é verdade etc.” O “personagem” encerrava a missiva garantindo que no próximo jogo o tricolor ganharia, e assinava: “Sobrenatural de Almeida”.
Veio o domingo e o Fluminense perdeu. Revoltado, Nelson acusou o Sobrenatural de Almeida de haver mentido descaradamente. Aí começava a guerra da torcida do Fluminense, chefiada por Nelson Rodrigues, contra o sinistro Sobrenatural de Almeida.
Pode parecer estranho hoje em dia, para quem não conheceu o carisma do cronista e dramaturgo falecido em 1980, mas o caso é que o Sobrenatural de Almeida foi, durante algum tempo, verdadeira coqueluche na cidade. Os repórteres esportivos falavam nele. Certo jogo foi acompanhado de forte ventania, que chegou a desviar a bola que ia para o gol. “É o Sobrenatural de Almeida!”, gritou o locutor da rádio.
Veio um novo jogo e o Fluminense venceu. Nelson comemorou a vitória contra o inimigo, que teria se retirado melancolicamente do Maracanã. Depois, porém, por motivos que hoje me escapam, o campeonato foi suspenso por algum tempo. Nelson Rodrigues então “recebeu” um telefonema do Sobrenatural de Almeida, assumindo ser o responsável pela interrupção do campeonato.
Com o tempo o colunista foi dando maiores informações sobre a misteriosa figura, que nas caricaturas aparecia com uma roupa preta, tão “assustador” como o Zé do Caixão. Segundo Nelson, o Sobrenatural tivera os seus tempos de glória mas agora, coitado, morava em Irajá e viajava nos trens da Central. Por isso até chegava atrasado ao Maracanã, e só então começava a interferir.
Essa febre do Sobrenatural de Almeida durou semanas, meses, mas acabou saturando e o Nelson terminou parando de falar nele. Mas, de certa forma, foi uma contribuição do jornalista para a nossa literatura fantástica.