Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Keeping Up with the Inquisitor (and other odds and ends)

I’m looking back at my last two posts (the Tom Cruise Scientology videos) and cringing a bit. It’s not that they aren't relevant. It isn’t that we, as rational thinkers, shouldn’t take note of the irrational in whatever form it shows itself. It’s not that Scientology doesn’t fit that description perfectly.

But I’d rather focus on things that perhaps have been a bit overlooked in our rushed and complicated daily lives. Little did I know when posting the first video that this was already a huge Internet story and that folks from all walks of life (I’m guessing a lot of them Christians) were already tearing poor Thomas a new asshole. If I had known, I would have just allowed it run its own sordid course. It looks like something that I’d like to think is beneath my meager dignity. In my defense, I had no idea. I thought I was on to a hot new topic. I should have know better. A quick Google search would have set me straight.

Then I stop by Spanish Inquisitor’s blog yesterday and it’s almost as if he’s mocking what I have been doing in relation to what I should be doing. Then again, if he and I only posted things like this, we’d both have one reader on a regular basis – each other. Not that The Inquisitor is bad company, if you only get to pick one.

So here are a couple of stories that are, I sincerely hope, more along the lines of what I try to focus on. I hope all 3 of you find them as interesting as I did.

The first is an article that came to my attention via Phillychief (who knows what a geek I am. He often tips me off to things of this nature. I hope he doesn’t end up giving all of the cool shit to Inquisitor)! From Science & Technology, it’s called “First fruit mimicry by a parasite reported” and if you happened to read and enjoy Carl Zimmer’s book, “Parasite Rex”, you should really find this interesting. And if you haven’t read the book – why not? I’ve been recommending it for months. Don’t you do as I say?

The next is a very short video. It was an intelligence test of an Orangutan. When you are watching it, remember that Orangs live in an environment where this behavior would never have come in handy and there is no way it learned this in a cultural setting.


Anonymous said...

Don't beat yourself up over the Tom Cruise stuff. Everybody needs a good laugh now and then. Tom was good for a chuckle or two.

John Evo said...

Yeah. I know. I just feel a little dirty for some reason!

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Hey. I thought the Tom Cruise Scientology story was very topical and relevant to an atheist blog. Just because others post on it doesn't mean you shouldn't. Hell, that's one of the purposes of the atheosphere. We can't all go reading everything that's out there. I rely on the few blogs I read to at least tip me off to stuff that's getting discussed elsewhere. It's like a big happy network. If only one blogger was to post those videos, odds are most of us wouldn't have seen it.

My post, which I gratefully thank you for linking to, was just a reiteration of stuff others had already posted. I figure that there may be a good portion of my readers who didn’t see it elsewhere, so I'm performing a service. Same goes for you.

So as Chaps says, don't beat yourself up. It may not be the fuckin’ Pentagon Papers, but so what?

John Evo said...

OK, enough everyone! I happen to ENJOY my post-Christian self-flagellation sessions.

Anyway, I had only seen one of the 4 stories you linked (though I was keenly aware of Darwin's birthday approaching. It's kind of my Christmas).

Just tell me that you had no idea that a parasite could turn an ant into something that looks like a berry and I'll be in atheistic blogger heaven.

The Exterminator said...

The orang test is fascinating to watch. There's an old folktale about a Crow who drops pebbles into a 1/4-filled water jug until the water level is raised enough for the bird to get a drink. Here, we see a similar situation in real life.

Bernd Heinrich, in Mind of the Raven, hypothesized that "insight" in animals was more common than many humans would like to assume. He says: It is hardly to be expected that the human animal would be qualitatively different from all others.

And by the way, Evo: I think you'd already shown how Tom Cruise can turn himself into a fruit.

John Evo said...

Kin and reciprocal altruism are another thing we should expect to see in our fellow mammals, and we do (and interestingly, much less among OTHER members of the animal kingdom). This is particularly important because it is from this that morality probably evolved. Actually, it's a very short stretch.

Babs Gladhand said...

I stumbled across the fruit mimicry article a day or so ago and was amazed. And some of the researchers were from Arkansas! Holy shit!

The orangutan looks exactly like a former doctor of mine.

Not exactly relevant to the conversation, just thought I'd throw that in.

The Exterminator said...

Kin and reciprocal altruism are another thing we should expect to see in our fellow mammals, and we do and interestingly, much less among OTHER members of the animal kingdom.

Evo, you're a mammist! You've just gotta read a little more about birds before you make generalizations like that. I'm no expert (or even a well-read dilettante) in this field, but here are just a few examples of avian altruistic behavior:

* giving an alarm call to alert a group (even though the caller then becomes the member most in danger);
* mobbing (some birds will often fly to join in an attack on a hawk that has not immediately threatened them)
* cooperative breeding strategies (some birds "choose" not to breed in a year when the likelihood of success is low, and will, instead, assist with the rearing of younger siblings)

Anonymous said...

There's a subtle aspect of that orang video that's real interesting. What appears to be a younger orang (an offspring of the other?) sticks its finger all the way in and finds it can't reach the goodie and basically gives up. The older orang doesn't -- on its first 'test' before it adds any water its finger just brushes the top of the tube: it clearly 'realizes' that it can't reach the goodie without trying. After the first mouthful of water goes in, it sticks its finger just halfway and 'realizes' it can't reach it. After the second mouthful, it unheistatingly sticks its finger all the way in to retrieve the goodie. IOW, it sure looks like there's some visualization going on (leaving aside any visualization necessary to devise the water trick in the first place!).


PhillyChief said...

It's about time EBS resumed it's regular broadcast schedule. I was afraid you were going to go the route of TLC. Remember when that stood for The Learning Channel? Now it's Trendy Loser Crap. What happened to the smartsy shows? ;)

Well I like the Cruise video. No worries. Of course I watch some of that fluff on TLC too, so what do I know?

The orangutan is fascinating. I'd like to see how many humans would figure that out. That's a video I'd like to see, or a test of the monkey trap where you put food in the whole of a tree and the hole is just big enough to slide your hand in but not big enough to pull out if it's holding the food. Maybe put an ipod in a box on the street and see what happens. Ah primates! They make for good video.

Alejandro said...

What I find interesting is we all learned more from the orangutan than Tom Cruise. How's that for evolution?

Tom was funnier though.

Unknown said...

OK, enough everyone! I happen to ENJOY my post-Christian self-flagellation sessions.

You know we can't allow you to enjoy yourself. If that happened then the world might implode, or at very least Tom Cruise or other actors may drop dead. Oh my god! You killed Heath Ledger, didn't you?

Kin and reciprocal altruism are another thing we should expect to see in our fellow mammals, and we do and interestingly, much less among OTHER members of the animal kingdom.

I don't think we give other animal species enough credit. As Ex pointed out, certainly there are birds that do the same and they've been shown to use tools as well. Just because an animal's motives aren't understood and we they look much different than us doesn't mean they don't share many of the same traits, including traits that we think make us superior as humans.

Unknown said...

In other news, because we can't allow you to escape from Tom that easily:

An anonymous source has launched an attack on Scientology sites on the internet.

Anonymous said...

The Cruise video is available here. The only reason I'm posting a new link is because Cruise and his cohorts worked so hard to suppress it. That makes the video far more interesting than it was initially. Religious folks don't like it when outsiders shine the floodlights on their dark souls.

PhillyChief said...

Or in this case, their dark thetans. ;)

The Exterminator said...

OG said:
As Ex pointed out, certainly there are birds that do the same and they've been shown to use tools as well.

If you were impressed with the orang, watch this.

I guess I'm in my birding mode today, but I'd like to expand on what OG said. Not only have birds been shown to use tools, but they've been shown to make tools. Even more "astonishing," they teach others how to make tools and improve on previous designs. Read this.

So take that, you mammist!

John Evo said...

Well I've been watching the incoming comments, but really kind of busy. Still I have to respond to the Bird Attack from OG... oh, and Exterminator.

You bet I'm a "mammalist" and damn proud of it. But that doesn't mean I don't have love for our distant cousins, birds, reptiles and amphibians... now fish... I have big love for them too. But it's more of a 'taste' thing'.

I understand the fascination with birds. They are also descended from a (much more distant) common ancestor. Naturally, we would expect to see a LOT of evolutionary similarities.

That said, (and I appreciate the bird links - some of it I've heard about, others not) Let me quote myself - Kin and reciprocal altruism are another thing we should expect to see in our fellow mammals, and we do (and interestingly, much less among OTHER members of the animal kingdom) I added the bold.

OK, guys, MUCH LESS is the key. I didn't say it's non-existent. I didn't say you can "hardly ever find it". But as much as you love birds, you better be willing to admit that the total similarity and the degree of similarity is much harder to find in birds than in mammals. Again, based on our understanding of evolution it is precisely what we would expect and what we find.

As long as I'm here, that Anonymous attack on Scientology is pretty funny. I went to the Scientology site and it is acting very oddly - slow to load, many pages "not available", etc. But, WOW, is this going to make them even more paranoid!

John Evo said...

From the article Ex linked to at National Geographic: Despite the fact that chimps use tools for a wider variety of tasks, such as foraging and grooming, they don't appear to pass on tool-building knowledge in the same way that people, and possibly New Caledonian crows, do.


Another article, also from NG states In a later, groundbreaking discovery, scientists found that tool use practices represent different chimpanzee cultures. That is: Different groups use tools in different ways. Now, Lonsdorf is the first researcher to study how these cultures were developed and passed on in a community.

What you need to take from this is that different communities of chimps have invented different uses for tools (even when the foods being foraged for are EXACTLY the same)! It's true for grooming techniques also. One society may use a rough rock for grooming while the other chimp hangs from a low branch (giving access to a larger section of his body. Another may use a twig while his partner sits hunched over. If you put a chimp into another community, his skills will spread. It also appears that there are communications differences (early language?)

The point is, animals share many traits that you can imagine early hominids had. Yes, even SOME birds!

The Exterminator said...

What you need to take from this is that different communities of chimps have invented different uses for tools.

Yes, Tom Cruise, Bill O'Reilly, and Ron Popeil all have different uses for television.

John Evo said...

Exactly Ex!

Unknown said...

I've seen the crow video before. I sent it to my mother-in-law because she had a pet crow when she was a girl. But my link has long ago gone dead. So, thanks for the link! It was interesting to watch it all over again.

I think in the study the crow was able to get the pail 9 out of 10 times by bending the wire to make a hook. But I may not remember it correctly.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Somebody over on SciBlogs (I don't remember who, one of the neuro blogs) had a clip of a wild crow making a hook out of a branch it selected for the purpose and whittled down, and then taking the hook around to pull grubs out of logs; it would lay the hook down while it ate, then pick it back up and run over to another log.

Corvids are smart - way smart - and social.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Check out Jesus and Mo on Cruise...

John Evo said...

Thanks for that Ridger. This looks like a site to keep our eyes on. I hope the will have an ongoing series. It LOOKS like that is the idea.

PhillyChief said...

Jesus and Mo are awesome. I think I posted one in a recent Iggy response. I hadn't seen that one until now. Great stuff.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Jesus and Mo are ongoing - the guy's published three collections so far. The strip is awesome.

John Evo said...

Thanks. I figured it out after Philly left his comment. The one you linked to was the most recent one, and rather than scrolling down like in the rest of our blogs, you have to click on the back arrow to see past ones. I went back quite a ways. Very funny stuff. I'm surprised I never ran across it before.