Minds like us
Dolphins are even more extraordinary. Their brain size relative to body mass is second only to that of humans and until 1.5 million years ago they were almost certainly the most intelligent creatures on Earth. Modern studies show unrelated dolphins cooperate and work in teams. (Much of the world’s cutting-edge research is done at Monkey Mia in Western Australia.)
But scientists have not confined their attentions to lovable and exotic species. As Morell reveals, a great deal of work has now been done on some decidedly less popular creatures, including rats, fish and ants.
It is a sign of the confidence he inspired in the local community that Stanley received overwhelmingly helpful and positive responses, which have been incorporated into the final text.
It is fascinating to discover the varied human responses to this catastrophic fire and the ordeals that inevitably ensued.
The sad reality is that on Saturday, February 7, 2009, Melbourne’s temperature reached 46.4C — the hottest day in the 154 years since records began. The previous highest temperature had been 45.6C on January 13, 1939: Black Friday.
This extreme temperature was coupled with winds that reached 90km/h and fanned the fire. This meant that within minutes the unstoppable conflagration became the most
The results are intriguing. Rats, it appears, dream and play and laugh. Fish have memories and individual personalities and learn by observation. So do ants!
What are the ethical implications? First, it is no longer possible to draw a clear bright line between the mental capacities of human beings and other creatures. The differences are ones of degree.
Indeed, Morell argues the whole issue is peripheral: ‘‘ Given that we already know that we live in a world of sentient beings, not one of stimulus-response machines, we need to ask, how should we treat these other emotional, thinking creatures?’’
In her recent Quarterly Essay, Us and Them, Anna Krien made much the same contention in denouncing such cruel practices as live cattle exports, harmful laboratory experiments on animals and hunting for sport.
Yet the notion that human beings are special is deeply ingrained in our consciousness. It is a fundamental tenet of the Abrahamic religions that mankind was made in God’s image and with dominion over the Earth. It is also a fundamental tenet of modern science (or was until recently) that the temptation to anthropomorphise must always be resisted.
The latter principle is known as Morgan’s Canon, after the late-19-century psychologist who laid it down. Morell argues Morgan’s Canon has become obsolete in the light of the evidence, and she convinces me.
I would add that greater respect for animals is far from incompatible with faith. Jesus made it clear that while man is God’s highest concern, we are far from his only concern. (See Luke 12:6-7.) St Francis of Assisi, I’d wager, would not have been surprised by the revelations in this book.
in lethal fire history.
Not only did the magnitude of the 2009 fire exceed that of 1939, but while the Country Fire Authority had been helpful with previous smaller bushfires, it was unable to respond effectively to such a large-scale, catastrophic blaze. To make matters worse, on Black Saturday when the bushfire thundered towards Steels Creek, the CFA had not issued clear and timely warnings to those in its path. As Stanley poignantly puts it: ‘‘ In the event, the people of Steels Creek — like almost everyone else in the area that burned on Black Saturday — would face the fire largely on their own.’’
This fine book benefits greatly from a number of excellent maps drawn by Jennifer Sheehan. It is touching to record that the names of the people who died at Steels Creek are now stitched into a quilt that is on display at the newly extended local community centre, which opened in April last year. For the record, here are the 10: Charmian Ahern, Leigh Ahern, Jenny Barnett, John Barnett, Jaeson Hermocilla, Melanee Hermocilla, Lynne James, Gail Leonard, Greg Leonard and Greg Lloyd.
Yet despite all the heartache caused by Black Saturday, it is extremely pleasing to know that in 2013 Steels Creek remains a genuinely involved, active and often still hopeful community.
Two elephants reach out to each other at a livestock market in India