left biblioblography: The Source Of Identity - The Mote In The 'Mine's I'

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Source Of Identity - The Mote In The 'Mine's I'

I was watching Planet Earth with my nephew the other day (he's still oscillating between the Dinosaur/Nature phase), and was struck for the first time at how many species stake a claim, and seem to know instinctively how the border lines are drawn, as if there's some form of invisible demarcation that separates one squatter's domain over another.

In most cases, these are readily transparent (the bird's nest in a tree, or a bear's cave), but we were watching the episodes about the Arctic Tundra and the Great Plains, where there's a transparent lack of defining landmarks - it's all (relatively) level.

And from the obvious territorialism, some seeds sprouted in the garden of my mind (I trimmed it recently with a weed-whacker, so some things are a little more visible, hehehehe).

Watching birds fending off Arctic foxes, witnessing that even the nomadic Caribou have specific migration patterns, it seems that even the lower forms of life have a fairly powerful grasp of the concept, "Mine!"

So obviously, we can take the old "What came first, the chicken or the egg" scenario, and substitute 'chicken' for 'I', and 'egg' for 'mine'.

I'm sure that smarter folks than myself have come up with this concept.

We often hear this from theists: "How did consciousness get born from the lack thereof" (or something similar)?

It's really so simple, it's brilliant: the vast majority of life on earth has some conception of possession, a sense of ownership. Simple neural pathways of familiarity, from subtle to radical. Some compounded simplicity (evolution), mix in a few benign mutations, a change in diet (from minor to extreme), throw in an environmental shift (or not), and from 'mine' to 'I' is a short leap indeed.

It has been shown that apes, elephants, and some cetaceans evince varying degrees of self-awareness, so we're not quite alone in this development, as some theists posit. True, we've taken it farther (more to our prolificacy, is my bet): none of these critters have developed civilization, language, or any of the other multiple facets of our species. Give it a few more million years (if we don't get pulverized by another galaxy, comet, or meteor), and we will most likely be sharing this world with a number of other species who have managed to develop their own primitive civilizations.

That is, if we don't blow the bloody place up, or learn to transcend our obvious territorialism.

I'd be willing to bet that raccoons might be next up: they're bold as brass, omnivorous, have opposable thumbs, and are actually quite bright critters. While listed as carnivorous, they're actually omnivorous as a rule, and while not a pack animal per se, they do tend to travel in family groups.

What follows is a neat little video - enjoy:

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karen said...

Hey KA
Where is everybody?
It's slow around here.

Your post is timely in regard to the debate going on with imac on NGB. Or is that what prompted you to write it?

As for the video, I had to watch it a couple times, it was so good! I have a possum that steals food from my outside cat; would much rather face down a raccoon. And I loved the way he kept an eye out while he
slyly stuffed food in his yaw!

I notice the cat went after the other cat, but the dog ahd to take care of the coon, though I thought I detected a cat tail in there somewhere.

MINE! Back off!

remy said...

I absolutley love that clip. Just so humanesque. Look left, pick up food with right "hand". You may be right; perhaps when we are gone they will evolve to rule. Planet of the Racoons?

Krystalline Apostate said...

karen - actually, I wrote it prior to the latest NGB theist.
It is a tad slower than I'd like. I'm currently working, so I haven't had as much time to make my usual rounds (blogwise).
& trust me, you'd rather deal w/a possum. The 'coon in the clip was a little more...timid than most. Raccoons are related to badgers, & are reknowned for their fierceness, especially when cornered.

remy - the ironic thing of it is, I don't really like raccoons that much. They made my life an utter nightmare at 1 point, but that doesn't detract from the fact they're pretty smart animals.

beepbeepitsme said...

The cat and the dog both seemed to display a sense of "mine." As in - this place is mine and so is the food in it, even if I am not eating it at the moment. ;)

I have had a possum come into my house using the same method - straight in through the cat door.