Monday, May 26, 2014

Viewing Animals, Viewing Ourselves

On Self-Recognition

Animal Watching
Barash writes: The wild animals of the world have long inhabited the depths of the human
imagination no less than they have occupied the natural habitats of our shared planet. There
isn’t a human society on Earth, however primitive or high-tech, that doesn’t concern itself
with animal imagery, whether the critters are domesticated or free-living. Indeed, the human
fascination with animals is so ancient and so widespread that it seems to be a cross-cultural
human universal.

Photo Credit:  Lisi Niesner; Reuters
Source: Aeon
An article, by David P Barash  in Aeon raises the question on why humans (homo sapiens) have a long-standing and continued interest in our animal cousins. One answer is that by looking and understanding animals, we get to understand more about ourselves. So posits Barash, an evolutionary biologist, and professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington.

He writes:
One plausible explanation is that people, at least some of the time, look at animals – non-human primates in particular – as reflections, albeit distorted, of themselves.
[...]
This suggests some of the evolutionary underpinnings of the human penchant for animal-watching. First, that we are living, breathing, perspiring, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, eating, defecating, urinating, copulating, child-rearing, and ultimately dying animals ourselves. It is plausible that deep in the human psyche there resides the simple yet profound recognition of a relationship between Us and Them. ‘We be of one blood, ye and I,’ was the incantation taught to Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s memorable Jungle Book collections (1894-5). It confirmed the jungle boy’s connection with his non-human caretakers, friends and relatives. Perhaps it is ‘only natural’ that we, animals ourselves, reach out to other creatures. Even if we can’t talk to them à la Doctor Dolittle, or share the most intimate aspects of our lives, like Mowgli, at least we can lose – more likely, find – ourselves in watching them.
This is a fascinating scientific explanation, in that by looking and observing animals we can see various human behaviours, some of which are preferable to the ones we often now find normative in human society. It might well be that by observing animals we adults catch a glimpse into our better more naturalistic selves. And for both children and adults, animals represent the type of freedom and lack of restraints that humans rarely have. I suspect that our fascination with animals will only increase in the coming years.

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You can read the rest of the article at [Aeon]

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