Re: virus: Faith, Logic and Purpose

Marie Foster (
Thu, 20 Nov 1997 16:50:19 -0800

Wade T.Smith wrote:
> >If one really looks at animal communities they see much more cooperation
> >than competition.
> That is quite a statement, as it goes against most everything I have ever
> seen or heard about animal behavior. Although it _may_ be an
> anthropomophic description of ant/termite/insect societies, it is rare
> that animals have 'societies' at all, and when they do, competition is
> far from absent. Yes, there are shared and strategic behaviors among
> hunting groups, and some instances of group child-rearing, but these are
> qualities necessary within a group anyway, they are part of the raison
> d'etre of the tribe/pack. Even then, what co-operation do you see in a
> pride of lions, (and what co-operation do you see, if any, with others of
> their species, not of the pack?), and how is this pre-eminent from the
> competitive?
> Culture is, among other things of course, a _plan_ for the future. As
> such, AFAIK, it is unique to humans.

Actually, there is quite a bit of cooperation between lions (primarily
the females to be sure...) in stalking and bringing down game. As
biologists really spend time observing what animals really do instead of
anthromorphzying them, we see more and more cooperation. In wild dog
packs for example the alpha female has all the pups and the other
females help her raise them. While kinship is evident in these groups,
it is not always required.

I know of several remarkable things that people have witnessed since we
really started spending time with animals in their own environment. I
will just mention one. A baby elephant had become mired in mud and was
very ill. His own family had abandoned him when they could not get him
unstuck. As night fell he started calling as if in fear. And out of
the darkness his distress attracted another group of elephants. They
immediately all started working to free this baby. And when they did
manage to free him they adopted him into their group.

Do you know why geese fly in a V formation? Scientists have discovered
that the birds get a boost of almost 70% (I am not sure of the actual
percentage...) improvement in lowered effort to fly. The one in the
front is the trail breaker and takes the worst of it. As he/she
struggles the others honk seemingly to urge him/her on. And when the
lead goose tires another will move up and relieve the leader. Finally,
when one of the geese gets shot, two birds will leave the formation and
follow the injured bird to the ground and will stay with it until it
dies or can return to another group.

I would call both of these examples pretty cooperative.

I believe Wade, that in the past our impression of animals has been much
devalued. Many scientists did not think there was that much to be
learned. The science was cursory. And because we tend to bring our own
baggage to studies, it is not surprising that we tended to see what we
expected to see.

I have to tell you that Jane Goodall is my personal hero. She was the
one to discover that chimps make and use tools. And I wonder how her
work would have been received by the scientific community if she did not
have Louis Leakey as her mentor?

As a woman in the same age group as Jane I know of the obstacles that
many women scientists have had to overcome in trying to have their work
accepted by their peers. I am also cheered in seeing how many women
have started to shake up the old boy science club. However, women face
some of the same possibilities for bringing our own baggage to our
work... But certainly feminine baggage is as good as male baggage -