Hyper-specificity in Animal Cognition

I’m a fairly unread ignoramus, so when I get to talking science, I do a lot of crawling out on limbs. Let’s see how far I fall from this one.

Some years ago I read a book by Temple Grandin on animal behavior, and how she derives insight into it as an autistic person. One of the ideas is that animals are best understood when we notice their reactions to stimuli can be hyper-specific. A horse might think men in hats are cool, but men in blue hats are nightmarish. A cow could become anxiously fixated on the motion of a denim jacket on a fence, flapping in the breeze.

The other day while toasting some bread this randomly came to me: maybe animals are also hyper-specific in cognitive abilities, and that could be cause for scientists to fail in observing the full extent of their intelligence. There are fundamental aspects of cognition (thinking ability) such as object permanence that are studied by scientists when ranking the abilities of animals. Some degree of object permanence has been demonstrated in some animals, and found lacking in others. But what if the tests are missing important data?

The idea put simply: Animals can have “advanced” types of thought, but for hyper-specific situations. The cat was found to be somewhat deficient in object permanence in a test involving hidden food, but maybe they have much better OP on a different kind of situation – or even with a different kind of food. Maybe they failed the trickiest part of the test with a tasty cat treat, but they would have succeeded with a live scorpion – something they might eat in the wild.

Likewise an animal could have an extremely simple brain, like a clownfish or tarantula, but still be able to perform complex thoughts in a narrow domain. I’ve heard of what can only be described as play behavior in turtles and even sea horses, and that’s usually thought of as the domain of more advanced animals. What could we be missing, because we didn’t catch the test organism in the exact right circumstance?

Forgive me for a moment in tying this subject back to humans – specifically those with cognitive impairment – in the following example. No equivalence is intended, it just demonstrates the point well. I read in an Oliver Sacks book that he had observed a woman with Down’s Syndrome under clinical circumstances and found her to have severe intellectual disability by every tested metric. But then he walked past her in a courtyard when no test was involved, and found her singing and dancing – abilities superior to what would have been expected from the tests alone.

Humans are the most advanced thinking animals on the planet. Even a heavily impaired human can do some amazing things. But maybe non-human animals are a little sharper than we give them credit for. Keep your eyes out for it, and as a good skeptic, think of alternative explanations even if you see something exciting. That’s all.

Sleepy Thoughts on Cannibalism

Content Warnings: Cannibalism, Eroticized Murder, Death, Sex, Misogyny, Children’s Sexuality. I don’t like that list. It didn’t feel as creepy writing it out as it does in summary.

Fressen. It’s a German word for eating, which I’m told implies animalistic action, devouring with lust. It was used in Rammstein’s song “Mein Teil,” which was (in poor taste, haha) about the German cannibal Armin Meiwes. That guy thought he could get away with killing and eating a man, by getting a willing victim – someone who wanted to be eaten. It didn’t work out.

Instinct is imperfect. It can give us desires, some oddly specific (cats must toss dirt around until the stinkiness stops, or flee the scene if it isn’t fast enough), some more abstract (the bug wants to rub its bottom on the big red thing). We want something from each other, but what is it? Grandma thinks you’re so sweet she could just gobble you up. We use our mouths to kiss, to suck, to nibble, to bite, to eat. Concepts get confused. Paraphilias happen. Vore and its variants. Sexualized cannibalism in serial killer types.

This is not to say killers are merely confused and therefore excused, just that it’s not surprising our brains can get scrambled on a feeling. It’s not easy to relate to on an emotional level, but maybe in the very abstract. What do we want from each other, in lust? To join, to push into each other, to pass through each other, to what? The impulse is vague until our socialization and learning shapes it.

It’s probably made worse by the human ability to teach. The more we can learn from words, the less we require instinct, right? Maybe our most teachable instincts are fading to make room for new operating systems and character plots on TV shows. If you look at the demented fantasies of MRA / PUA / incel types, it looks like they only see sex acts as achievements, notches on a belt, things to be performed in the rote pantomime of the crappiest mainstream porn.

Lessons over desires. But then, can we figure ourselves out by instinct alone? Maybe. A lot of us learn how to masturbate by accident and experiment. But maybe less so now. I’m of the last generation to not have ready access to internet porn at the age of eleven. That’s pretty bad news for some kids.

This is rambling thoughts, no thesis. I’ll leave it here.

In Honor of Down with Cis Day

I like to have some fun art or good foolery on here for International Down with Cis Day, but I am lost in the woods of Camp Nanowrimo.  It’s a shame, because lately the cis have been at it again.  They deserve a good downing.

A few weeks ago I saw a young trans lady in my place of work.  I feel safe in assuming her preferred pronouns as her entire presentation was femme, hair and makeup laser precise.  She came up to the counter with her mother to buy some goods.  I make chit-chatty conversation and before I know it, her mother had misgendered her three times.

Come the fuck on, cis mom.  The girl was super sweet and maybe overly friendly through it all, like she wasn’t used to customer service people being nice to her or something.  To your mom, I say this:  Your child isn’t being validated by you and that makes her highly vulnerable to abusers and exploiters.  Support your trans babies, or get run over.  The Down with Cis bus is on the move.

And more recently, on the Transgender Day of Visibility, this big tall guy came in with an androgynous teen or young adult child of his.  They were cleanly buzzed on sides and back, wearing nothing at all feminine, and got female-gendered by dad a few times.  Well, who knows?  Maybe he doesn’t know from this trans stuff, maybe the child isn’t even trans.  Or maybe, he misgendered them to a total stranger for no fucking reason on a transgender awareness day.  Fuck that shit.

Anyhow, down with cis, goddammit.

Capitalism Rocks

At times I wonder if my lefty ways have been a mistake.
Pretty much everybody says that capitalism is the only
route that is concordant with human nature.  You might
imagine that’s just using an Appeal to Nature, so it’s
lightweight thinking.  But it has a deeper truth.

For how can we motivate anyone to do anything without
obstacles to overcome in the form of poverty, and with-
out the rewards of bourgeois creature comforts?  Life is
less meaningful without real travails, without a metric for
success.  That’s what capitalism gives us, and I’m grateful.

Capitalism, Heaven, and Hell

It is said without the threat / promise of heaven and hell, humans would have no reason to be moral. Worse people than I have pointed out the flaws in this. Standup comedians, skeptics, and more. One: laws and society enforce moral norms – not religion by itself. Two: if you need divine law to keep you from committing rapes and murders, you should probably seek counseling. Humans care for each other; it’s what social animals do.

It is often said that without capitalism, there would be no motive for labor, for innovation, for anything besides laziness. If you need greed and the suffering of others to motivate your every labor, you should probably seek counseling.

There are a million good motivations to labor that have nothing to do with the carrot of wealth or the stick of poverty. Again, caring for each other. It’s what social animals do, and what we could do a lot more effectively, if our lifeblood wasn’t being congealed into the foundations of castles.

Besides that, leisure. You work to minimize labor, conserve energy and resources so you can enjoy life. Building a house keeps out bears and keeps in heat. Less labor and resources spent building fires every night and guarding against bears. Let the fucking robots take our jobs, we shouldn’t need as many jobs in this world.

And there are plenty of jobs that need doing that are being left undone because they don’t generate gold bricks for the aristocracy. So much human need, infrastructure, education is being left to rot or straight burned to the ground right now in the name of greed.

Kudos for achievement, looking good, pride of accomplishment, basic executive function for self-maintenance. What are your reasons to labor? They don’t have to be dollars and cents or the fear of the economic abyss.

Belief in hell is one of the chief moral failings of the abrahamic religions. Belief in the necessity of poverty is the exact same fucking thing. Fuck capitalism.

Sucks ASS to be a Right Wing Martyr

Content Warning – Racism, Pedophilia, Terrorism, Death

Dying for the master race ain’t what it used to be. You get called a small dicked antifa manlet and race traitor and the whole nine. Allow me to explain.

So you’re a home-schooled right wing xtian fundamentalist kid, parents afraid you’ll learn to be OK with non-white and non-straight people if you breathe the same air. The indoctrination has you feeling pumped up, gotta go engage in the discourse online, blog about how you hate gay marriage and sex offender registries. OK, the second one is less about ideology than about identifying with a guy who bones children, whatever.

#BlackLivesMatter comes along and you are incapable of understanding that the statement is a response to a society that screams the opposite all but explicitly. Why, specifying that black lives matter can only mean that they think white lives do not. It’s race war! You gotta kill um all.

So you start bombing politically active black honor students and other undesirables. The feds eventually get off their asses to catch you and you end up dead. Well, at least you died trying to save the white man from those evil racist black people.

Then there you are – only known for your race terrorism and explodey death, in the national spotlight. The people who influenced you – Alex Jones, Fox News, Breitshart – they should see what you’ve done, see why, and while they can’t publicly condone it, should at least pour one out on your grave, right?

Wrong. They renounce you, reject you, and worst of all? They deny your very identity, deny your faith, your beliefs, the very things you died for. They claim you are everything you hate – weak, effeminate, left wing, a tool of an evil liberal conspiracy trying to make the right and white supremacy look bad.

You don’t even get to be a martyr for your shitty beliefs. That’s why it sucks to be a right wing terrorist. So do yourself a favor – stop before you start. The more you know.

Jessica Jones Problem

Content Warnings: Rape Mention, Abuse, Horror

Jessica Jones is a Netflix original series based on a problematic-ass comic. The premise: A woman with super strength falls under the control of a villain with mind control powers. He rapes her and uses her to abuse and kill others as well. Somehow she escapes his influence, and in an ensuing accident thinks him dead. But he returns, and she has to find a way to defeat him without risking falling under his control again.

It’s an intense psychological horror in that premise, that plays out very well in the hands of appropriately sensitive writers and directors during the first season. But as the premise is so based on the “sensational” nature of a hideous sex crime, it would be reasonable to suppose that the elimination of the super-rapist would kneecap any further storytelling with the main character.

I wanted that to not be true. A rape survivor’s story shouldn’t have to be defined by her rapist, in fiction or otherwise. I believe better things could be done with this character, and the second season was their chance to do that.

They failed. At the most basic level of writing, it was all about the hook. The first season had an extremely powerful hook. They were never going to be able to match it, in terms of its potential for horror and intrigue. The hook for the second season? Not as compelling.

But as writers and directors, there are ways to make up for the weakness of a hook. Play up the intensity of local situations and scenes, put in a character arc people will really love even if they don’t care that much for the premise. It’s doable. But they didn’t pull it off, not at all.

Frequently throughout the season, it seemed like they were intentionally trying to draw the drama and events smaller, make them less important, or make things less powerfully felt. Bad guys were soft-pedaled and good guys tarnished to where they were indistinguishable, presumably in the name of artistic complexity, but with the effect of draining all sympathy and interest from the audience.

At its worst, it felt like the budget constrained writing from Inhumans. And the dialogue between Jessica and the big bad in the last two episodes felt almost as repetitive and trite as Luke and Vader’s exchanges in Return of the Jedi. The worst part is that two good guy / sympathetic characters from the first season were turned into sleazy assholes with NO resolution to their arcs of descent.

And in the end? It looks like Jessica is angling toward an ultra-heteronormative domestic situation. My feminism shrank three sizes that day. The show was anticlimactic and just tired.

This season had to potential to show that you don’t need a sensational story of sex abuse to make a compelling narrative about a survivor. It failed to do so, and disappointed my shit out. Three thumbs down. I blame no one but the writers, directors, producers. Better luck in your future endeavors, actors.

Cat Owner Question

I’ve always had cats, but haven’t always been very observant of how they interact. About ten years ago I noticed a certain annoying behavior for the first time – neck biting. It’s obvious enough it’s some kind of dominance move, but it looks totally rude, and I usually feel compelled to break it up. Stop biting your sister, Hecubus!

But then, it has occurred to me this might be bad. Do they need to reinforce their social status on the regular? Is the dynamic different with more than two cats? What should one do? Any experts out there?

Exeunt Satans

Motherfucker, I think I ate like a square inch of aluminum with that Chipotle burrito just now. I can’t like, anything maaan.
the "guess I'll die" meme
Apparently I got bone spurs too.  Got one foot in a boot.  My department manager says “You gonna get those things removed?” and I’m like, “Why would I wanna do that?”  If frogs can erupt their bone spurs for intraspecific combat, so can I.

Just… fuck it, man.  Fuck it.

Feet are Weird

In other news, I am not high. Or maybe the reason I don’t have to smonk big weed is that I think stoner thoughts all the time. So. Feet are weird. I’m doing a 3d art project for someone and when you think about us as the apes we are, our hind paws are extremely weird. What wild-ass ape decided to walk like this, got all her gente on board, and resulted in that wedge-shaped stiffened clumsy nonsense of an extremity?

I normally don’t have a problem with feet – the way they look and whatnot – but I know a lot of people who dislike them. And we all know there are people with an erotic interest in them. Love or hate, they’re charged. What do you think about feet? Whatever you think, you gotta admit. Feet are weird.