The truth is out there. Or possibly right here.

For reasons that I can’t quite pull together, I’ve been thinking an awful lot recently about humans and our interactions with Earth’s other creatures. Mostly I’ve been thinking about how stupid we are.

No, no, let me rephrase: Mostly I’ve been thinking about how far we have to go in actually understanding what the hell is going on.

In no particular order, here are some thoughts that have crossed my brainpan of late:

  1. We (and here I mean: society at large. Not, you know: biologists) tend to think and talk about our relationship with the animal world as if we were King of the Jungle/Forest/Serengeti. Simba is powerful and all, and maybe if left alone in a room with him, we’d be kitty kibble, but us + a gun? Why, we can’t be beat! We are, the thinking goes, the one animal that is never successfully hunted by any other species. We’re top dog, dawg!

    But what about germs? I suddenly thought the other day. OMG!

    We’re not regularly brought down by anything big — but we are constantly brought down by living creatures so teeny-tiny we literally cannot see them. Of course we’re some other creatures’ prey! All animals are! And, not to freak you out too much or anything, but: They’re talking amongst themselves.

  2. Here in suburbia, we have an awful lot of two things criss-crossing our roads: squirrels, and cars. (I did see a coyote once, but I feel fairly safe in assuming that he or she was an anomaly).

    When I look out my car window and see a squirrel, I know, at least, what I’m seeing. But what do squirrels see when they see cars? Do they perceive moving vehicles as animals? Do they perceive moving vehicles as being in any way part of the tall bi-ped experience? When you and I get into a car, does the squirrel perceive us as having gotten into something — or does it perceive that something as having swallowed us?

    Honestly? I can’t tell you how bummed I am that I’ll never know.

  3. Do you remember (did you hear) that recent report that Dick Van Dyke was once rescued at sea by a pod of porpoises? No – really! Watch him tell the story to Craig Ferguson! (The story starts at about the 8:20 mark, if you’re heartless and want to skip ahead).

    Within hours of Van Dyke telling his tale, it was of course all over the web, newspapers, radio —  you name it, Western society was talking about it (probably Eastern society, too. Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang are very popular films).

    So here’s my question: Every time that a group of humans gets together to save a whale or a dolphin or a porpoise that has stranded itself on a beach — do whale newspapers write about the pod of bi-peds that saved Walter Whale? Are they stunned by our obvious intelligence and apparently gentle nature — especially given all the other news on the whale wire about pods of bi-peds who hunt sea creatures? Does whale Cute Overload feature some kind of sonar imaging of interspecies snorgaling (like this one, maybe) and do they go “aww! for predators, they can be so cute! Just don’t get too close, kids!”?

    Surely there is some understanding, when it happens, among the animals acquainted with the saved animal, of the fact that one of their number was saved by creatures with which they usually have no communication. But do they communicate that to each other, and/or others of their kind?

  4. And finally, to get to the title of the post: If we can’t understand bacteria and squirrels and whales – indeed, if we often can’t understand human beings from different cultures – indeed #2, if we not infrequently can’t understand the very humans with whom we live and build families — how on earth do we think we will ever understand intelligent life from some other planet, should we ever run across it? Why, the aliens might be standing at our elbows even now, as I type! Trying desperately to get our attention! And we’ll never know. Until we crack, like, squirrel code, or something.

So, yeah. No grand conclusions. Just a slightly closer look at what really happens In My Head. And the introduction of the notions that aliens are among us, and the germs are talking. Possibly to the aliens.

And finallyfinally, on an entirely different note, and not for nothing, but Dick Van Dyke is a national treasure. Can’t be said too often. Watch him here, giving birth to the sit-com:

PS It’s especially anthropological to watch this show after having steeped myself in Mad Men. Back when I used to watch re-runs of The Dick Van Dyke Show as a little girl, I was just looking at a pretty version of the world I lived in. It didn’t occur to me that the kitchen appliances and office equipment would some day become cultural artifacts from a by-gone era of style and dash. (Which really doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of this post, but I think that ship sailed when I embedded the YouTube link).



  1. Lise

     /  November 17, 2010

    I have long said that viruses and cockroaches will be battling for supremacy long after we’re gone. And my money is on the cockroaches.

    • Lise

       /  November 17, 2010

      I MEAN! My money is on the viruses! Really! I don’t know what kind of cockroach-mind-control experiment I’m living in, because I really believe that the viruses will win over all.