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Has natural selection destroyed your sympathy for the death of animals?

  1. Jun 26, 2004 #1
    I remember I used to be sad when I saw an animal die, especially if it were something like a domesticated cat catching a chipmunk and not even eating it. I was always aware of natrual selection, but it was never at the forefront of my mind when thinking about this, I always thought that it was just a senseless killing and had no purpose and a random animal died to benefit nothing. I didn't mind if I saw something like a hawk eating a rabbit or something like that, because I knew the predator needed to eat, but I'd always been opposed to animals dying not to be eaten.

    This year, I took biology in school, really got into it, did alot of reading on evolution, speciation etc, so all the knowledge I aquired this year is at the forefront of my mind.

    So anyway, today I saw a domesticated cat carrying an obviously dead (and rather large) dove in it's mouth, and my reaction was "Jeez, that's a big bird for that cat to be carrying." I felt no real sympathy for the bird. Because of my knowledge of the way natural selection works, I've begun to see animals not as individuals, but parts of a population. Pretty immediately after, I realized that it was unlike me not to feel sorry for the dead bird, then reminded myself that it was one slow-witted bird gone from the gene pool, and it would ultimately serve to benefit the population of doves in avoiding getting killed by cats. I've had simmilar reactions to roadkill and other animals that I've seen dead lately.

    Has anyone else found that they experienced a simmilar change in outlook when the principles of natural selection were brought to the forefront of your mind?
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2004
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  3. Jun 26, 2004 #2
    I can't afford to be sad, considering the amount of roadkill I pass on my way to school each day.
  4. Jun 26, 2004 #3
    My sympathy towards animal death has decreased. My Biology class last year had a student do a project in which mice died because a dog ate at them. Some people laughed at the pictures of the dead animals, which were shown on a PowerPoint. Natural selection has contributed to this, along with many other factors.
  5. Jun 26, 2004 #4
    He just had mice in a cage and let a dog kill them, or let the dog track them down then kill them?
  6. Jun 26, 2004 #5


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    I have noticed that birds in my neighborhood are pretty road-savvy. They may be investigating something in the paved street, and when they see my car coming, they will fly or run to the gutter, maybe hopping up onto the concrete sidewalk. Then after I pass, I look in my rear view mirror and see them going back onto the street. It is almost like they know they are safe when they are on the white surface. It would be interesting to know if a higher proportion of birds died due to being run over by vehicles back in the pre-World War II days when vehicles started routinely driving at speeds 40 mph and up. Or is a time period of just a few decades too short to have any significant effect on the statistics of road-kill?
  7. Jun 27, 2004 #6
    Birds are pretty road-savvy, but in my experience, squirrels just don't have a clue.
  8. Jun 27, 2004 #7
    I don't think that's true for all squirrels, it's just they have a huge portion of the population with an unsucessful variation, and we're helping to stomp it out :wink:
  9. Jun 27, 2004 #8


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    Kinda sorta on topic- but not really

    Pre-technological societies living deep in jungles have an elder in charge of "keeping the fire." He makes sure that they always have a small fire burning somewhere in camp, to serve to start another fire somewhere for cooking or for clearing trees for planting or building huts. The fire itself ultimately derived from a natural lightning-caused fire in their forest.

    I am wondering if humans have been "keeping fire" and cooking their food for so many generations that our modern desire for cooked food is now built into our very genes. In other words, if we could no longer cook food for some reason, would our hardship go above and beyond what pre-fire humans experienced in eating their uncooked food? Maybe our digestive tracts are not really suited anymore for a fully raw-foods diet?
  10. Jun 27, 2004 #9
    For me, it depends on the situation. I changed the substrate in my fish tank and it clouded up the water very bad, and I had to do some emergency water changes in the tank to help it clear up, and in all the mess I pulled the fish out, and when I put them back in one didnt' take the change very well and immediately started dying. I pulled it out and it flopped around upside down in water and died. It felt kind of weird to watch it die.

    But on the other hand, I'm doing research at school and in part of it we have to sacrifice a lot of fish, and it doens't bother me a bit to pull a fish out and kill it.

    Perhaps it depends on the amount of time or feelings you have invested in the animal that dies. When my 13 year old dog died of lung cancer I was very sad, and I did *not* think "Oh it's ok that he died, he wasn't resistant to cancer." You know what I mean?
  11. Jun 27, 2004 #10
    Oh yeah, I totally understand what you're saying, an animal like a pet isn't part of a natural population, when we take individual animals under our care, they're our responsibility, we interfere with natural selection, so it's our duty to keep them alive.

    I believe that the apendix is thought to have aided in the digestion of raw meat, and since it's no longer needed has become under-developed and unfunctional, so I guess we'd be in some crazy sh|t if we needed to eat raw meat again.
  12. Jun 28, 2004 #11


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    Actually humans are the only species that has any care for other species at all. Do tigers keep pets?

    Primitive people had superstitions about the animals they killed for food, just as they had superstitions about the weather and death. Tribal people alive today don't seem sentimental about the dogs that frequent their villages.

    It seems to me that civilization has transformed he essentially predator-prey relationship of primitive humans toward animals to the sentimental feelings found today. As far as I can see, vegitarianism is just an epiphenomenon of civilization.
  13. Jun 28, 2004 #12
    Wha? You've never seen those heart-warming stories on the news about a dog that adopted kittens and raised them as her own, or a cat that adopted squirrel babies etc? Also, Coco the Gorilla (you know, the one that used sign language) had a pet cat, and it got hit by a car and then Coco became very sad, but I suppose you could contribute that to Coco being "humanized". However, if you say that Coco only cared because it was a lesson taught to Coco by humans, than I suppose you could say that people only care because it's a lesson taught to them by their parents...
  14. Jun 28, 2004 #13


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    Not really. I don't think physical or natural laws/theories translate well to moral principles. Just because I learn about gravity doesn't mean I look any more favourably at jumping off cliffs.
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