translating biophilia into a love of life

Humans are a type of animal

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While some will argue otherwise, humans are a type of animal from a biological perspective.  Much research is conducted on animal models with the aim of extrapolating knowledge of animal form and function to a better understanding of human life.

A recent such study published in Current Biology compares behavioral flexibility in 7 non-human primate groups.  It turns out there are two general social structures that describe how primates relate to one another.  On the one hand there are fission-fusion societies in which relationships, loyalties and affiliations shift.  Humans would fall into this category, as would chimps.  On the other hand, some primates live in stable, cohesive groups.  The researchers found that fission-fusion animals have greater behavioral flexibility. That flexibility in turn enables their fluid social life.

As humans, we are members of a fission-fusion society.  Every day we interact with strangers, colleagues and family or friends.  Sometimes we change jobs or get divorced.  As time progresses, technology changes our capacity to interact.  I wonder how well the aforementioned animal behavior findings can be extrapolated to humans and beyond – including humans as we undergo globalization amidst a technological revolution.  Our social networks are increasing tremendously, is our flexibility keeping pace?

I subscribe to Tin House, an independent quarterly out of Portland, Oregon.  As a visual person, the first thing I saw on the cover of the issue I received this week was the Banksy image (see above).  Knowing Banksy’s artworks are often-satirical pieces of art on topics such as politics, culture, and ethics, I wasn’t surprised to read “The Political Future” above the cover image.

The first piece in the edition was an essay by Barry Sanders entitled America: A Very Brief Biography.  One of Sanders’ points that struck me is how we, as Americans, are lying to ourselves about who and what America is.  It is this self-denial about our country that allows us to believe lies we are told by our government.  Sanders wields the pen well, if brutally; calling attention to the truth that America is no longer the superpower that put a stop to WWII and the concentration camps, but is now synonymous with consumption (of various kinds), debt, torture and military.

My thoughts return to behavioral flexibility.  At heart, denial is a refusal, a resistance.  When I think of denial, I don’t think of flexibility exactly.  In fact, I think of rigidity.  How can we become the inevitable international society we are headed toward without flexibility?  We need it, and not just a pinch or two.  We need it by the bucketful.

To end this hefty post on a lighter note, I’ve been thinking an awful lot of this increasingly trendy poster memeing it’s way through the design world:

(and be flexible!)

(and be flexible!)


Written by morethangray

September 26, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Posted in thoughts

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