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Thoughtful Sharks

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Long term study of the behaviour of individual sharks has shown that they are not just acting on instinct. Not only are they thinking and highly intelligent—they are conscious too. So as the Year of the Shark in 2019 begins, here is a review of how their actions reveal some of their mental states. Over a period of fifteen years, I searched out and observed the reef sharks on different islands in the South Pacific and for seven years studied the population of blackfins intensively as individuals. By recording their actions long-term, I was able to access a dimension of their lives that had not previously been documented. My records ultimately included 581 individuals and I could recognize 300 different sharks on sight. Shark science has studied these animals through fishing them, dissecting them, and tagging, never through long term underwater observation, even though this is the method, termed “ethology” used to study wild animals on land. I concluded that they were using cognition, ra…

The French Revolution

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Photo by Norbu Gyachung
The news lately has been full of reports of the revolt in France, of the “Gilets Jaunes” or “Yellow Vests.” Their demonstration was triggered by a new tax on gas which was announced for the next year, but its true motive is the increasing disparity between the rich and poor in the country. Today is the fourth day of confrontations, and the movement is now nationwide.
Having been watching and waiting for years—decades—for a sign that the public was going to revolt against the ongoing squeezing of the middle classes between high taxes and low pay by western governments, it does not surprise me that it is France, the country in which democracy began, that has started it. After all, they were the people who once cut off the heads of their monarchy when a similar situation developed following the building of Versailles in the 1780s, and they still retain enough democracy to demonstrate without being killed.
While the public in the western countries has be…

Shark Attacks and Crow Murders

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 What do they have in common?


    When you watch the behaviour of many different wild animal species over long periods of time, you notice parallels which might not otherwise be seen. Having observed both species in the wild for many years in many different situations, I found a remarkable similarity between the behaviour of a flock of crows and a fleet of three dozen sharks. Though these animals are far apart on the evolutionary tree, it appears that their behaviour was similar because it had a common cause: both sharks and crows were angry.     The crows had systematically bullied the five off-spring of the local raven couple while they were maturing, and then the raven youngsters left the area late in the summer. But one of them returned in early winter, and when she did, the crows congregated around her in the trees, and when she alighted on the ground, they descended, prevented her from taking to the air, and pecked her to death with innumerable pecks to the eyes, face, throat, wi…

Fish Sentience, Consciousness and AI

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Lynne U. Sneddon and some of her colleagues have published a paper targeting the resistance raised by fisheries interests to the idea that fish and other marine animals can suffer, entitled, Fish Sentience Denial : Muddying the Waters.      She is the researcher who first established that they can feel pain, and her findings have been confirmed in many ways and expanded upon by other scientists through rigorous scientific experimentation.
     Yet each time they publish new evidence of fish sentience, fishing spokesmen attack the results and try to discredit them, sometimes by actually misstating their results. These attacks do not provide contradictory evidence, but only contradictory opinions, most of them based on the anthropocentric idea that since fish lack a human brain, they cannot suffer. You can see and download this important article here: https://animalstudiesrepository.org/animsent/vol3/iss21/1/


     Here is my commentary:


     Sneddon et al.’s (2018) target article…

Science's Blind Spot

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You are freed from the spell of the primate drama when you understand human behaviour in its correct context. But unfortunately, science has a blind spot that for centuries has caused it to stand in the way of the search for the true understanding of life.
True science began with the work of Aristotle, in an effort to systematically analyse our surroundings—the lines, the curves, the way a stone would fall—for the understanding of our environment and from there, the universe. Through observation, measurement, and reflection, a detailed picture of reality and its mathematical underpinnings emerged over the centuries, independent from the folklore of the times. Thus the edifice of science was built in tiny increments, as facts that could be mutually verifiedaccumulated through pure research done in the quest for knowledge. The Mechanical Philosophy In the 1600s western society was making swift progress in the invention of machines, and some intellectuals declaredthat the universe, too, is…