November 2nd, 2009 - An Evolution of Thought


Lying in bed this morning I was thinking of some video footage I saw last Friday night. It was my 'last' night of work at the nature center (I'm currently a seasonal naturalist) and we had nature videos playing on the big flatscreen all night.
I was going about my naturely business, cleaning out the Cecropia moth exhibit and doing animal care, etc. all the while watching the "Be The Creature" series from National Geographic with one eye as I moved about the exhibit room. The two brothers were following a pack of wild dogs in Africa, and it was really interesting.
The images still stuck in my head were of course of the mother regurgitating up her food for the pups to dine upon. They were more than happy to see her coming and pounced upon the bloody scraps of whatever the lion had just killed about as fast or faster than she could get it out of her mouth.
This had me thinking about what the wolfologist was saying when our group visited the International Wolf Center up in Ely, Minnesota. He said that when your dog comes to greet you and wants to lick your face, it all comes back to that regurgitation imprint and that what your dog would really like is for you to barf up something nice and tasty for him. That this is some left over imprinted knowledge that has been passed down through the generations, evolved if you will, or at least was carried through the genes and not connected to actions from a previous experience during the life of the animal.
I have also witnessed this with snakes. We were all crowding around the snake eggs in the incubator at the moment of the cutting of the leathery egg shell with snake's the egg tooth is just beginning, all keyed up and wondrous, ready to snap our photos as soon as we see the expression on the baby snakes' face as they experience our world for the first time. The snake cuts it's shell, and pokes it's head out, along with an amalgamation of gelatinous goo.

Ne're but a few minutes after the snake completely emerges from it's egg, and this is a CORN SNAKE mind you, it begins to shake it's tail in it's best imitation of a rattler to 'scare' us off and let us know it means business! Corn snakes don't have rattles. How did it know that we should be intimidated by a snake that rattles...?  It seems this behavior came from some place other than the snake's life experience to that point, as it really had none.
This got me thinking about humans. Why is it that we humans always think we are beyond animal behavior? The world was disgusted when Darwin blew us away with this radical theory that we evolved from monkeys, or lizards, or even worse, snails! This is a preposterous insult! Much of the world is still disgusted by it and can't accept that we could be animals.
So when I go to my psychologist to find the root of my anxiety and she asks me, "What's the earliest disturbing thought you can remember...?"
We find that thought, we talk about my childhood issues, and she bases her whole treatment and philosophy of my problem on something that happened in my childhood... because with humans it couldn't possibly come from anything except what I have experienced during my lifetime... right...?
Aren't we jumping the gun a bit? Why can't we humans have thoughts, fears and mannerisms imprinted from our close and distant relatives, whoever and whatever they were, just like all other animals?
How do we know that my mother-in-law's fear of putting her face into deep water isn't because her relatives grew up on a barren sand plane and now she lives on an island in the pacific?
I described this scenario to my wife Sharon, and she pointed out, "It's Nature versus Nurture."
Wow. She's right, it is. That classic argument as to whether we are influenced by our environment or our genes.
Do our thoughts evolve? Are we really in control of ourselves? Am I shaking a tail I no longer have...?
Time to let the dog take me for a walk.
Bye.