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We Are Not Alone: Listening to the 8.7 Million Other Animals Who Live on Earth

Truthout – By JP Sottile – Saturday, 01 October 2016

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Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout; Adapted: orangeacid, Reto Stöckli / NASA

Space. They say it’s the final frontier.

And they’ve probably been saying it for a long, long time. According to a recent study, active human exploration of space dates back at least 6,000 years. That’s when our star-struck ancestors constructed the first known “telescope” to assist them in their eager search of the observable universe.

The real news is that we’re up to our necks in a “deep field” of 8.7 million sentient life forms right here on planet Earth. And we don’t need an orbiting telescope to see.

We’ve certainly come — and gone — a long way since those early attempts to understand the night sky. We’ve been to the moon and landed on a surprisingly water-worn Mars. We’ve literally traveled time through the awe-inspiring “Deep Field” images collected by the Hubble telescope. And now the Kepler space observatory is bringing us tantalizingly closer to answering one of our oldest and most profound questions: Are we alone in the universe?”

So far, the orbiting telescope has found hundreds of potentially life-giving exoplanets peppered around the galaxy. It also found a surprising data anomaly that made big news as the beguilingly named “Alien Megastructure” star. The oddity of its intermittent, possibly structured dips in brightness sparked a truly earth-shattering hypothesis: What if an advanced civilization built a “megastructure” around the distant sun in a bid to harvest its energy? Or, even better, what if they placed a Jupiter-sized thingamajig in front of the star to signal their presence to other beings who, like them, longingly scan the universe in search of companionship?

Imagine how instantly gratified we’d be to find out we weren’t the only intelligent beings probing the deep, dark vacuum of space! It would be the ultimate validation. But this faint new hope of finding new kinship on a new planet is based on a fundamental fallacy. The fallacy is the notion that we are alone in the first place.

The real news is that we’re up to our necks in a “deep field” of 8.7 million sentient life forms right here on planet Earth. And we don’t need an orbiting telescope to see:

Social spiders with personalities who sometimes selflessly share food with their neighbors … much to their own detriment.

Humpback whale vigilantes who go out of their way to stop orcas from attacking other sea mammals … despite the alluring presence of their own main food source nearby.

New Caledonian crows who make tools like finely feathered craftsmen and their brilliant cousins in the Corvid class of birds who have greater neural density than comparable mammals.

African elephants who shed tears, bury and mourn their dead and their Namibian desert kin who pass down crucial knowledge of how to survive their harsh environment.

Capuchin monkeys who reject “unequal pay” and chimpanzees who work together to achieve a communal goal.

Pigs who can reason where food is by looking at its reflection in a mirror.

Baby chickens who acquire math skills and successfully play games based on “object permanence” well before a proportionately-aged human baby.

There are even sharks who worry, goats who pleadingly stare at people and snakes who, of course, deceptively act like “snakes in the grass.”

That’s right, folks. While the Search For Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) spent the last three decades fruitlessly scanning the heavens in search of alien signals … we’ve actually been surrounded by a miraculous variety of intelligence on the only planet we know for a fact sustains life.

It’s not that space exploration isn’t a good thing. Or that searching isn’t fundamental to being human. It might even be fundamental to being a primate. No, the problem is that we’ve been living in self-imposed exile on a world made artificially barren by science’s three-centuries-long ban against anthropomorphism. Ironically, this ban has helped validate the anthropocentric idea that humans are so unique that we are, in effect, an alien intelligence stranded here on Earth.

Anthropocentrically Speaking

Merriam-Webster defines anthropomorphism as “an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics.” For scientists, it’s long been a “four-letter word,” meaning bad science based on a faulty application of human paradigms onto non-human subjects of research.

There are real scientific reasons to avoid unfounded inferences and personal biases stemming from an uncritical anthropomorphism. And making humans the measure of all things rarely, if ever, produces good results — particularly for nonhumans. But this methodological aversion to anthropomorphism meant science not only rejected the implication that animals think, feel and suffer “like humans,” but it also cut off inquiry into whether or not animals think, feel and suffer at all.

The issue seems bigger than just the supposed scientific impossibility of measuring the “inner life” of animals. Instead, it may be that acknowledging the existence of complex animal intelligence undermines our unique place atop the natural order. A more “critical anthropomorphism” that modulates human inference with testable data is producing strong arguments for knowing animal consciousness, understanding their emotional lives and for accepting the reality of animal suffering.

As comparative psychologist Jennifer Vonk told Discover magazine, “People want to be special” and each time “a researcher finds that tool use or theory of mind or language-like communication is not unique to humans, somebody comes up with new categories that raise the bar.”

Read entire article here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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