“How we are turning into greedy predators, just like wolves. We have this need to kill more and more. Even if we had two hundred sables we wouldn’t feel satisfied, would we? Just like the devil, you see.”
He paused for a while. Then he added, “I suggest we calm down and stop hunting for a week or so.”
Rane Willerslev, Soul Hunters
In an article published in Skeptic Magazine last month, Mark Moffett described a phenomenon which was recently dubbed by psychologists and animal ethicists as the “meat paradox.1” The question at hand is why do people love animals but also want to eat them? For a large number of scholars and laymen, the meat paradox appears to be a bit of a conundrum. Why would we ever evolve a system that would make us guilty about something we need in order to survive? Why are we able to feel empathy for our prey when so many other predators seem to be getting by without these emotions at all?
One of the most common reactions to this paradox is the assumption that it is a recent phenomenon brought on by our modern lifestyles. Compared to hunter-gatherers who spend time physically hunting and killing their food, our separation from and inexperience towards the act of killing have made us soft. In other words, hunter-gatherers don’t feel this way and our feelings about killing animals are unnatural.
But as I accidentally came to find out, this view of our unique paradox can’t be true.
When I first entered graduate school four years ago with the intent of studying the evolution of tarsiers, I had a lot of ideas about evolution. During my first week, and even during first month of the program, I was certain about what I wanted to study. I let everyone know I was going to be the tarsier communication guy. I had all sorts of ideas about why these animals communicate in the way they do, and I was certain that out of my stack of four or five ideas, at least one must be correct.
During the next few months, I met a lot of people, including a rodent paleontologist (the fact that he is a paleontologist is important) named Tim, who was going to be my best friend for the next three years. The first day I met Tim, I told him about my dissertation topic. After a few seconds of thinking over a beer, he told me, “I have a paper you need to read.” Tim then introduced me to Gould’s 1979 paper, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm.” It remains one of the most important things I have read in my entire life. Over the next few months, I came to respect Gould’s thoughts about paleontology, natural history, and structural evolution, and I continue to read him until this day.
During the summer of 2019, I saw a lot of commentary about the career of Stephen Jay Gould. These were comments from people who, upset with his (perhaps misguided) book, The Mismeasure of Man, claimed his contribution to evolutionary biology was rather insignificant. Along with the claim that he had nothing to say were some more inflammatory claims which included the charge that he was a charlatan, liar, and scientifically worthless. Based on my own experience in reading Gould and how much he contributed to my own evolutionary reasoning, I knew this wasn’t true. Continue reading “The Enigma of Stephen Jay Gould”
I’ve been reading about the history of glasses today, and I came across the most interesting article on the use of bifocals in the animal world.
It’s kind of surprising to me that eyeglasses are nearly 800 years old in the West. Invented sometime in the 13th century, they’ve become a necessary part of life for many of us in the computer age. Interestingly enough, before their invention, the use of reading stones was fairly common in the Middle Ages (I guess before these came along you just squinted). Not much happened between the invention of glasses aside from significant improvements in optics and changes in style until Benjamin Franklin came along.
How many types of great ape are there? Primatologists believe that between us, our closest cousins the chimpanzees, the gorillas, and orangutans that there are four genera. Are there any more? Is interbreeding between these non-human genera possible, and if so, what does this mean for humans?