Saturday, May 17, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

Last week, a study published in Nature revealed that lab mice react differently to their male and female researchers:
Mice, and rats, it turned out, are made especially stressed out by men. One way to watch the rising anxiety and depression of a mouse is to force it to swim. “Mice can swim very well, and they can swim for a long time, but they don’t really like it,” [psychologist Robert] Sorge said. Over a series of experiments, the team determined that even if a female scientist is working with a mouse, “just having a man in a room was similar to three minutes of forced swim.” …

The team determined that the rodents were responding to the scent of men, not the sight. … To confirm the smell theory, Sorge went on, “we’d have the man wear a T-shirt overnight in bed, with no cologne or anything. We’d have him take the shirt, put it in a bag, and drape it over a chair.” Sorge couldn’t detect the smell, though others in the lab could; the stink depends on the dose, he explained.

The team conducted the same musk test with other males—guinea pigs and cats and dogs, fixed and unfixed. (All male mammals, including humans, produce testosterone.) “We just used the bedding,” Sorge said. He brought in the pillow that his daughter’s cat sleeps on. In each case, the masculine scent provoked the same response from the mice. And it wasn’t just the introduction of a strong odor: “We tried vanilla smell. We tried banana—none of them did anything. It didn’t have to do with being a novel smell. It had to do with a testosterone smell.”
 - via Andrew

Another fascinating piece I read this week was Animal magnetism:Humans are fascinated by our fellow animals – is that just an evolutionary hangover or something more profound?

At ethology’s core is Rodin’s and Rilke’s deep, mindful, detailed and patient observation, watching one’s subjects with exquisite care and attention in order to penetrate their world, rather than forcibly adjusting them to ours. The naturalist Henry Beston captured this in 1928, in what I believe to be the finest paragraph ever written about animals, and the best advice I know for watching them:

We need another and a wiser… concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

My advice to all would-be animal-watchers is, in E M Forster’s words ‘only connect… live in fragments no longer’. Simply open your eyes, ideally with benefit of binoculars, to the reality of animal lives separate from your own. Prepare to lose yourself in one of the most positive ‘trips’ available this side of hallucinogenic drugs, drawn through the lenses and deposited into the world of the animal being watched, losing yourself while expanding – however briefly – into another’s life, resonant of your own, while also ineffably different.

‘There is a crack in everything,’ sang Leonard Cohen. ‘That’s how the light gets in.’ Watching animals opens that crack just a little wider, and through it we get a better view – not only of animals, but of ourselves.

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