If Niches were a narwhal: What does animal knowledge reveal about human stupidity?
Author: Justin Gregg
Publisher: Small, brown and company
Price: 29 dollars
“Man, all too human”: Justin Gregg’s If You Know Nietzsche is a thought I’ve had a few times when reading Nietzsche, and not just because the phrase is the title of a work by Nietzsche himself. Greg’s smart and provocative book is full of irreverent thoughts and funny stories about the creative side of being a human animal. But our ability to draw from our immediate experience means we can take that creativity very far.
“If Nietzsche had been born a narwhal, the world would not have had to endure the horrors of World War II or the Holocaust,” he wrote. what are you saying This seems like an excellent example of what Greg calls our species-specific “unexpected looseness.”
Such rhetoric is probably the result of his mocking of our obsession with reasoning. Nonhuman animals do well in “learned associations.” They associate actions with consequences without understanding why something happened. But humans are “why specialists”. We need to look for causal connections – to some incredible achievements but also to some strange experiences. Gregg suggests the old medieval remedy of rubbing chicken on a snakebite wound.
Greg studies animal behavior and is a dolphin communication expert. It allows us to draw pictures and write symphonies, it shows the complexity of human cognition. Instead of relying on instinct or direct experience to learn, we can share our ideas with each other.
But this compulsion to learn can be overwhelming, he said. We collect what the philosopher Ruth Garrett Millika calls “dead facts”—knowledge about the world that is not useful for everyday life, like the distance to the moon, or what happened in the last episode of Success. Our collections of dead facts, Greg writes, “help us think of an infinite number of solutions to any problem we face—for better or for worse.
Nietzsche Were a Narwhal If only fixated on the sick, or the way people say they’re making things better when they finally dump them. There is already a shelf of books about how we are not as smart as we think we are or how our smartness can lead us to destruction. But Greg makes a big deal about how human intelligence has ruined the planet. He clearly penetrates the conflict between optimists such as Steven Pinker and pessimists such as the English philosopher John Gray.
Complex thinking often becomes a long-term liability, says Gregg. The big minds that allowed us to reproduce as a species, developed the natural world, empowered us to wreak so much ecological havoc, we unwittingly created the conditions for our own extinction. Fossils have prospered while hastening the apocalypse. Human ingenuity was used to discover penicillin and commit atrocities. Examining the chickens in the backyard, Greg correctly predicts that they are likely to gather to “rain death upon the world en masse in honor of the Great Rooster Nation.” Human beings are another matter. “Narwhals don’t build gas chambers,” he said.
It’s true, and it’s worth thinking about how much trouble humans can get into when our desires exceed our needs. But Gregg, in his human desire to draw odds, can be prone to over-representation, seeing the animal experience as a human tragedy. Chickens may not be in any danger of creating the Great Chicken Nation, but they literally have the pecking order. Greg explained that the chicken shadow was the first to catch any food thrown into the coop. Dr. Becky finally eats. Greg wonders how stable their social structure is. Stable, yes; But is it right?
Leave him to ask questions about justice, who has nothing to say about natural selection, or what Gregg calls “the great arbiter of utility.” Humans can agitate for change and revolution because they can imagine a reality that does not exist. Not that Greg denies this truth, but he mostly writes in a polemical vein rather than an exploratory one. He talks about how “happy” and “healthy” we would be if we followed the lead of non-human animals, but he doesn’t touch on how capable nature can be; The sick, the weak, and the old don’t stand much. Luck in the wild.
On the other hand, we can sometimes go to “unnatural” lengths to offer empathy to strangers and even other species. Human existence is neither good nor evil in itself; Despite Greg’s comic twists — which are undeniably entertaining — the book’s most subtle comments are that, compared to nonhuman animals, our existence is far worse. In addition to chickens, Greg keeps honey bees. The males are only equipped to mate with honey bees or drones: their tongues are too short to extract nectar and they don’t have a bite to protect the hive. So after the drones are done mating with new queens from other colonies, the female bees push them out.
In what Greg calls a “sad – but perfectly natural – set of circumstances,” these helpless planes starve or die. He takes pity on them, puts them on board in a box containing some honey, and gives them rest before their doom is nigh. “I want to give them one last moment of happiness,” he wrote. I’d like to see a narwhal try to do that.