We Think We’re So Smart

We think we’re so smart.  We’ve got our own websites, blogs, 4G cell-phones, i-Pods, i-Pads, 24-hour news-cycles, and multiple flights daily to anywhere else in the world.  And yet we remain blissfully ignorant in so many ways.   We still can’t explain some basic laws of the universe and natural world around us…..and it seems less and less relevant to us every day.  Yet the laws of the universe apply to everyone and everything, whether we are conscious of them or not.  Innumerable unanswered questions about the universe and how it’s inhabitants fit together still remain.  So many that we simply don’t know what we don’t know.   I’ll focus on a few areas here and you can decide for yourself, assuming you have the time and attention span to hang with me.

Mankind is smarter, collectively, than ever before…but, despite our endless, near-instantaneous news cycles, we have just begun to scratch the surface in terms of defining the laws of nature.  We purportedly know more about the moon than we do our own oceans–so says the preview for an upcoming show on the National Geographic channel.   And every scientist/naturalist going to Borneo seems to unearth dozens of new species. We know that we are ignorant about these things (if we are paying attention)–but we are too busy to care about scientists and species from distant, dark places.

Somehow, with the emergence of modern conveniences, we seem to have lost our natural curiosity–replaced with short attention spans, mostly directed at responding to the electronic gizmos making noises in our life.    We no longer seem to have any need for the continued divination of universal truth.   Or, we no longer have the time and attention span to devote toward doing that heavy thinking.  In this day and age of endless electronic stimuli and distraction, I submit that, now more than ever, we need to force ourselves to do more pondering and less responding.  We should all devote more time to observation, critical thought, and reasoned analysis.  Get outside and watch some birds, look for wildlife in their own habitat, and pay attention to details.

Consider this, many of the nuggets of knowledge which were mankind altering came from the minds of men just simply observing and thinking.  Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity—while witnessing an apple falling from a tree—is a great case in point.  Newton’s views of physics stood for over 200 years until Albert Einstein contributed his Theory of Relativity a hundred years or so ago.  And the impact of his works took several decades to fully manifest.  His works opening up our understanding of the sub-atomic world around us.

None of us know who that next great thinker might be–the one who figures out the next mankind altering natural law.  Will it cure cancer? Extend lifespans? Enable time-travel? Replace the need for fossil fuels/internal combustion engines? You get the stakes.

But short of mankind altering discovery, we also have plenty of familiar but ill-defined natural world phenomenon still needing scientific explanation.  I offer the following examples for your consideration.

First, why is it, that when you put healthy, reproductive-age women together on a regular basis, that their menstrual cycles sync-up.  What natural law governs this? Is it simply hormonal? Answer me that one, you budding Einsteins.

Second, why do we humans bond so strongly with our pets?  I recently just learned the answer to this question–the chemical–hormonal principle behind dogs and human bonding. Watching an Animal Planet documentary entitled When Man Created Dogs, I learned that our closeness with our pets is defined by an exchange of oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycontin or oxycodone—it’s sad that I even need to pass on this disclaimer).  Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the cuddle-drug” hormone, is released in both the dogs and their humans, lowering levels of cortisol–the stress hormone in both cases.  So there you have it. Our cuddly dogs make us feel better, feeling less stress, and we make them feel more cuddly.  It’s good all around.  So, we seek frequent oxytocin exchange with each other.

And who among us hasn’t heard cases of symbiosis among people and their pets?  I know I’ve heard more than one anecdotal story of the mother with an asthmatic child, purchasing a Chihuahua—-so that the dog would get the asthma and the child would get better.  Wives’ tale?  Not according to some.   Is there a law of nature at play here? If so, how does it work?

Along those same lines, who among us hasn’t heard of the animals acting strangely immediately prior to an earthquake? The animal kingdom clearly has skills and sensory perception that we just don’t understand yet.

I read a recent interview of Jane Goodall (who famously worked with the Chimpanzees in Tanzania in the 70s) in Reader’s Digest.  In response to a question about our zeal to save snails and beetles “impeding progress and development,” she said “that we are still learning about the interconnectedness of life”.  We’re just starting to understand that the killing of one bug at the bottom of the food chain, might just bring down the whole ecosystem.

Yet we continue to work with great haste and much purpose regarding wildlife management, without knowing what we are doing.  To use a recent example from our own paper here, I am compelled to ask “why is it that we are relocating Grizzly bears from the Whitefish Mountain Range to the Cabinet Mountains in Northwest Montana?”–when the bears are just walking back to their home range.  Two female Grizzlies, trapped and moved within the last year, have already moved back on their own—covering 60-70 miles in each case.   The most recent of the two returnees—set about the trek, within 24 hours of being released in the Cabinets.

She clearly knew where she wanted to be….and which direction to go to get there.  Within seven days of being released to repopulate the Cabinets, she had moved all the way back to her home habitat 3-4 miles east of the Big Mountain.  We think we’re so smart….because we can sedate them, tag them, move them and then track them…..that we never considered that they have a choice in the matter…..and have instincts and senses way beyond our ability to understand them.  We drove Grizzlies out of the Cabinets…and we want them back….so we move the Whitefish bears….and they vote with their feet.   I say, “you go girl! The Whitefish range has way more huckleberries.”

With all our modern conveniences, we are easily distracted from the world occuring around us.   We think we are so smart, but we still haven’t moderated our instinct to impose our will upon the things and sentient beings that are “interconnected” with us.  We still go overboard with our zeal—no matter which direction we go. It’s too bad that we don’t ever just stop to think, before we move the bears.  But, who’s got time for that?

Ok, if you haven’t done so already, you should now go back to your i-Phones…..or better yet, go give your dog an oxytocin boost.  You’ll both feel better for it.  JDPF

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