SCIENCE IS NOT OUR FRIEND. Or if it is, it’s the sobering, semi-snooty one nobody really wants to pay attention to even though he’s saying yards of interesting and useful things — it’s just that you don’t want to encourage the arrogant, little know-it-all. I recently crossed over to the pages of Discover Magazine from Wired via the writings of Steven Johnson. Instead of the thinly veiled hype that science and technology will either doom or save us all in the next five years, which seems to be Wired’s editorial bag, Discover is full of examinations into how humans are basically muppets, with thousands of years of evolution and biology pulling the strings — but, hey, the Universe is so big and so full of impossible stuff we’ll never comprehend there’s no reason to dwell on the fact that we’re just educated slime mold to begin with and — ooh! look at that crazy chemical reaction! — neato.
Anyway, this month I learned that nice and fuzzy are basically invented PR terms if ever applied to the natural world. Big, male chimps will kill little, baby chimps if they’re not quite sure who’s their daddy – which is just another observation in the long string of observations regarding the complexities and conflicts of parenting (“The Hardy Sarah Blaffer Hrdy”). Dogs only like us because they’ve been pre-disposed by evolution to cast their lot with ours, so their affections seem nearly as mechanical as AIBO, Sony’s robotic version of my favorite kind of cuddly canine quadraped (“AIBO as Research Tool”). And, here’s a good one, the deer population is exploding to the point where the ravenous, inconsiderate Bambi-monsters are ravaging the ecosystems of forests across the country – and have to be hunted and killed in big, big numbers. This is a plan conservationists are for, and, oddly enough, both the Disney-fied public and hunters are joined very much against (“Oh, Deer”).
Undoubtedly, the conclusions I’ve drawn here are not perfectly in line with the original intentions of the article’s authors, but this is what I learned into my excursion into science – and which actually happens to be a reoccurring theme after any amount of targeted study into any specific area of human understanding: Nobody knows anything. Or to put it another way, we’re only guessing here. We think chimps are cruel and barbaric, and then we read that some other poor human mother has left her newborn in the garbage. Dogs (our “best friends” for pete’s sake) only like us because we know how to operate the can opener, and before that, because we knew how to spear a wooly mammoth. Save the deer, kill the deer — Bambi is the enemy. I’m sure next month will tell me more about how life is basically hard, cold, and cruel and the only real difference between us and the rest of the universe (so far) is that we agonize a little more over it.
But now I forgot to mention the bit in the magazine about the Aztecs and their obsession with violent deaths and human sacrifice (“Empire of Blood”). Apparently, one way in which this played out in their culture was that high priests would basically make jump suits out of people – wearing the dangling, bobbled flesh as part of a spring ritual celebrating renewal. Why don’t they ever get into this stuff in school?
P.S. – Oh yeah, the war started. Forgot to mention, but I’m sure you noticed. So disregard the previous post. Bush is a crazy mofo, no doubt.