The Squirrel-Thing With A Thousand Faces

We find the young of most animals “cute” – simply because we have evolved to find them so. That is, we are the product of successful attempts of our own young to hack our operating systems. Big heads and big eyes command “protect me!” so imperiously that the trick even works with the young of other species, where there cannot possibly be any selection pressure operating.

Given that birdsong is actually various kinds of hustle and threat, why then do we find it attractive? We know that we can sing when we are happy, and so it is easy to assume that the birds are happy too; though precisely why having to guard territory against intruders and strut your stuff to attract a female all day long should make you happy is rather a mystery. Is finding birdsong soothing a cultural response or a biological one; has anyone exposed Inuit to their first treeful of singing birds to find out how they respond? If we imagine that a genetic basis for finding birdsong attractive might somehow arise, then we may suggest that its possessors will enjoy enhanced mental health, and thereby better chances of survival and reproduction. Such a gene could spread, because enjoying something that until recently was the background to everybody’s life would surely be beneficial.

Georges Polti created a matrix of thirty-six dramatic situations into which, he thought, every story could be placed. Others have suggested different numbers for the basic literary plots, going as low as one. Six or seven seems to be a frequent choice. It might be an interesting experiment to see just how many of these (N) possible plots can be written in terms of survival, resource acquisition and reproduction by other animals. Not, repeat not, the anthropomorphic figures of Disney and Pixar films, but real mammals, in a marriage of Polti & co. with David Attenborough. We might find that Boy-Thing Meets Girl-Thing and Boy-Thing Saves Its Community are easy enough to transpose, whereas the stories of quests and discoveries do not translate at all. Or perhaps they do. The exact proportion of the possible stories that would work for dolphins, wolves or orang-utans is something that we cannot know until someone does the work.

Posted on August 24, 2011 at 10:32 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Against Nature, Miscellaneous

5 Responses

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  1. Written by Mick Whitehead
    on August 24, 2011 at 13:28

    Bird songs may cause a ‘feel good’ hormone dump in humans due to genes shared by the two species. As noted, the songs are about mating or territory both of which excite humans in different ways ie. various hormonal releases. The newly-discovered FOXP2 gene is referred to as the ‘language’ gene shared by birds and humans.

    One might say we ‘like’ the songs because they activate ancient centers of the human brain involving sex, here defined as the creation of new gene storage units to which, in humans, have been given the name ‘children.’ Territorial claims, boiled down, come to sex.

    I’ve wondered by fistfights are such an attraction. This too may involve hormonal releases as fights often mean changes in the hierarchical structure and the results can affect one’s breeding chances for good or bad.

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on August 24, 2011 at 20:43

    Thanks, Mick, I didn’t think of the common-gene angle. You’re surely right about the fist-fights, and the continual non-lethal calibration of social status thereby. In the Vienna of Freud’s time, that was what happened in the Wienerwald on a Sunday afternoon. Women sniff at us, but they are of course just the same — I assume you’ve heard the saying that “women kissing (one another) is like prize-fighters shaking hands”?

  3. Written by Mick Whitehead
    on August 25, 2011 at 15:32

    Haven’t heard that one but it’s good. I do have some field data on this. When the subject of fighting came up two ex-girlfriends, both beauties, one intelligent the other not, blurted out the same line word for word, ‘a man must be able to fight.’ The airhead added, ‘or he must be powerful.’

    The latter I understood to mean that money/power could replace fists. Indeed I was going to entitle this post, ‘A Dollar Full of Fists.’ But I don’t think it quite works.

    We know from Livy that women of the Germanic tribes would often bare their breasts from the sidelines whilst their men engaged the Roman legions. Topless now they shouted, ‘look! Do you want them to have these?’

    A male snake who has been defeated in combat by another male will retire and not move for three days, presumably a rudimentary form of depression.

  4. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on August 25, 2011 at 16:19

    The German women and their breasts — does that explain Mardi Gras in New Orleans, then?

  5. Written by Mick Whitehead
    on August 25, 2011 at 16:51

    We must assume some kind of connection. One could say that in the New Orleans scenario the women are saying, ‘do you want these?’ In essence the Germanic women are doing the same–do you want these or shall they fall into the hands of Legio I Germanica?

    I have noticed that on the heels of women baring their breasts in New Orleans fistfights break out. As if the sight of the breasts incites men to violence.

    As a side note I would suggest here that the Berserkers had serious sexual problems and that this could be shared by modern-day Special Forces.

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