Thursday, August 25, 2011

I have been thinking a good bit about consciousness these days and connectedness to the greater world. On the one hand, I suppose there has been a lack of connectedness that has been part of my life.  However, as my body starts to work better, I have been wondering to what end?  What's the point of perceiving things?  What is this thing called awareness or consciousness?

Many of these thoughts have occurred when I have been walking in the woods and I have started pondering my relationship to nature.
One of the things that has struck me is the consciousness that is shared by animals. There are a lot of serious neuroscientists that are convinced that animals share at least some level of consciousness. In fact, we, humans, could learn a lot from animals. According to Vanessa Woods, "When it comes to emotional intelligence, bonobos put the human world to shame."The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the on...Image via Wikipedia

For my Gentle Readers who are not up on all things bonobo, Bonobos are close relatives of the chimpanzees but with striking differences in their social and emotional lives. Woods believes that "chimpanzees are wonderful. They have the ability to experience love and grief and possibly even empathy. And they have these amazing political lives. But, just like us, they have this dark side. They hunt each other, they kill each other, they have war. They beat their females, they kill their infants. So they are a reflection of ourselves. But bonobos, who are equally closely related to us, they have something that we don't. They have a way to maintain peace in their groups. And we really need to find out more about the psychological and emotional lives of bonobos so that we can learn how to do the same thing... So chimpanzees and humans, if we sort of see someone as not belonging to part of our group—so with chimpanzees it could be an enemy male in their territory, with humans, it's people of a different sports team, or religion, or race—we really have trouble overcoming our emotions. We have these involuntary reactions. It's really part of our biology. Bonobos don't have that. So emotionally, when they hear the voice of a stranger, or they see a stranger, I mean, they're much more likely to groom them for half an hour and have sex with them than to attack them. And this is something that I think is really important to look at."

Interestingly enough, Woods had been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had suffered a decade-long war, fought over its vast resources of diamonds, gold, cobalt, and other minerals, and in which more than five million died.  Women and girls have been savagely raped and mutilated.  Six-month-old babies are being raped; men with AIDs are intentionally infecting women.  The human suffering had fostered a rise in the bush-meat trade, and one of the prime targets was bonobos, the “other” chimpanzee.

Bonobos are part of the same genetic tree that humans and chimpanzees derive from.  Bonobos share, use sex to settle arguments, and possess almost 99 percent of our DNA. Bonobos make love and not war to reduce group conflict and live happily together.   This begs the question:  What happened?   Why did humans end up  more chimp-like and less bonobo like?  What are the evolutionary roots of bonding and attachment and all the good stuff in the bonobo world and how do we get it back.

Maybe human nature hasn't changed as much as we think.  Maybe we are still Cro-Magnons with Ipods.   But, maybe if we save the bonobo, we could save ourselves.

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