Episode 105 – Animal Kin

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Episode 105 Pro Extension

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In Episode 105 – Animal Kin, we discover that animals are people, too, and some of them share a lot more in common with humans than you might think! For nearly as long as we’ve understood ourselves to be human, we’ve wondered what makes us unique from other animals. Philosophers, scientists and religious leaders alike have offered many answers about what makes us different — from intelligence and self-awareness to artistic capacity and imagination, from grief and fear of death to the belief in a human soul “made in God’s image.” Yet for every new theory about what makes us human, new research into our animal kin shows us that we share a lot more in common than we often assume.

In our first segment, we take a look at how biologists are reexamining the question of animal intelligence in “bird-brained” corvids — ravens, crows, jays and magpies — those clever companions and tricksters common in myths from all over the world. New research compares corvid intelligence with that of the great apes most closely related to humans, with some surprising results. Stories of creative crows and meticulous magpies pepper our examination of the neuroscience of avian brains and the evolutionary pressures that might give rise to wholly independent forms of intelligence in other animals.

Next, we explore how art and technology are slowly wearing away at the language barriers between homo sapiens and other animal species. The prominent linguist Noam Chomsky gets taught a lesson in recursive grammar by the common starling, and Jeff shares some new developments that might mean someday soon you’ll be able to use an iPhone app to talk to apes at the zoo (while Ali wonders if maybe scientists need to watch more movies about why this is a bad idea). We also discuss the controversial new exhibit by Jordan Eagle that incorporates animal blood into works of art, playing with our relationship to dark, light and gore in a sterilized modern world.

We wrap up the free portion of this week’s episode by looking at the evolving relationship between man and his best friend, as new research suggests dogs have been part of human communities for far longer than was previously thought and may have played a vital role in helping our ancestors out-compete the Neanderthals. We also look at studies comparing the genetic predispositions of domesticated dogs to those of wolves and foxes, and how canine companionship has shaped our own evolution as well, revealing a secret conspiracy to transform us into obedient personal servants for our woofy masters.

After covering the fascinating discoveries of conventional science, in our Pro extension we take a walk on the wilder side as we look at research into psychic animals and animal psychics. Jeff and Ali share stories of bizarre encounters and inexplicable experiences of their own, before moving on to research into the possible psychic relationship between pets and their owners. Why haven’t skeptics been able to disprove the work of one Cambridge scientist? And what does that mean for our relationship with our animal kin, and with each other?

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8 Responses to “Episode 105 – Animal Kin”

  1. sylvievmorin says:

    Dear Jeff and Ali, I started listening to segment five today, and I must say that I disagree with respect to the episodes being too long. It is absolutely true that in general I don’t listen to the entire podcast all at once, but reducing the show just to fit it into one hour would take away from the quality and depth of the discussion. I for one also enjoy the witty banter and joking, and sometimes tangents and diversions along the way lead to moments of truth. Plus, by rewinding sometimes and listening again the ideas really sink in, or I can meditate on portions of it throughout the day. I am a pro member and I love those segments already. Thank you so much for the wonderful work that you are doing!! Best, Sylvia Morin, Ph.D., http://sylviespassegen-werk.blogspot.com/.

    • Alison Leigh Lilly says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sylvia! No need to worry – Jeff and I are happy with the length of the episodes as they are and we plan to keep on trucking as long as there are folks like you out there listening! :)

      In fact, you’re in luck. Sometimes our tangents are long enough that we just have to cut them for practical reasons, but we’re holding onto them and they’ll all be included as part of the season’s album. As a Pro Member, you get that album for free at the end of each season! :) (Plus, bloopers!) It’s like the extended cut of the Lord of the Rings movies – lots of pay off for our nerdy fans.

  2. Liz says:

    Your episodes are NOT too long! If anything, they end too soon! Like you said, you just barely graze the surface of the topic. I wouldn’t mind hearing longer segments and more coverage on each topic. Even a whole podcast on one topic, if the topic warrants such comprehensive coverage. You’re right: they can use the pause button if they don’t have time to listen to the whole thing in one sitting.

    • Alison Leigh Lilly says:

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the episodes, Liz! We definitely have more in store. We’re laying lots of foundations now, so that later in the season (and in future seasons) we can build on what we’ve talked about in earlier episodes and really go deep. So no worries — there will be lots of in-depth coverage to come!

  3. Snowcrash says:

    okay, I’m a bit behind, so using today to catch up on my listening. :) I would have to agree with the ladies above. I don’t think the episodes are too long at all, for me personally they are just right. Sometimes I even come back and re-listen to some. I love the content you both bring to the shows – they are in-depth, informative and fun :) You bring up topics that make me think more on a subject or see things in a new light, which is just plain awesome. Thanks! ~Carol

    • Alison Leigh Lilly says:

      Awww! Awesome. :) We do at least a week of research for each episode — that’s one of the funnest parts of putting the show together, being able to hunt for really cool articles that give us lots of different perspectives on the same basic theme. So glad you’re enjoying it!

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