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Natural Terror

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 02:10 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 52 
  • Words: 476
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Dr. Shepard was a Professor of Natural Philosophy and Human Ecology and wrote a number of books on our complex relationships with the earth and her other inhabitants.

Paul Shepard’s book, “The Others: How Animals Made Us Human” is an eye-opening look into our relationship with animals.

In “The Others,” Dr. Shepard’s focus is on the topic of domesticating animals. Originally our relationship with other species was simple. Either we ate that species, or we were eaten by it. Simplistic as it sounds, that has a profound impact on our central nervous systems, specifically the limbic system.

As an aside, domestication changed some species into status symbols, and it is possible to determine the social status of extended family members by whether they slept nearer or farther than the livestock.

In “Thinking Animals: Animals and the Development of Human Intelligence,” Dr. Shepard briefly discusses the neurotransmitters. Prey animals are hypervigilant, always watching and waiting for some unknown something to startle them into flight. Predators’ neurochemistry, however, mandates focus: moving slowly, with patience and determination, toward the object of their attention. What kind of animal can display both kinds of attention? It must require a wild mood swing to instantly change a creeping hunter into someone who is running at top speed from a predator. It is a huge shift from one neurochemical pathway to a completely different pathway, releasing a neurotransmitter and simultaneously inhibiting another. I believe that the ability to switch contexts was an important factor in our evolution.

No matter how much we have evolved both psychologically and culturally, the old systems are still wired in and still affect us. We are not a separate act of creation.

I’m sure that our protohominid ancestors were eaten by all manner of frightening creatures. Miss Bugs tells me that her ancestors, the sabre-tooth tigers, used to sneak up on our...

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