What You Have In Common With A Stickleback

By drawing some deep parallels and contrasts between humans and animals Professor Robert Sapolsky makes some fascinating connections in this talk filmed at Stanford University and highlighted by TED’s Best of the Web feature earlier this week.  I particularly loved the mention of stickleback behavior (of course) but the final thoughts on culture – as the nongenetic transmission of behavioral styles to the next generation – really sparked my interest.  I regularly talk about highly social and investigative (if not intelligent, curious, and playful) marine mammals.  The idea of discussing their social groups as possessing a “culture” is a tricky one that still has not caught on strongly in environmental education circles.  There is a very fine line between anthropomorphizing and drawing parallels.

I think Sapolsky does a fine job of highlighting sameness to draw a contrast on differences, and its a style of presenting facts that I’m hoping to emulate at some point in the future.  When it comes down to it, its hard to avoid anthropomorphizing animals that show strong similarities to our own behavioral habits.  Particularly when it is possible to see rudimentary behaviors that expose theory of mind, empathy, and tit-for-tat cooperation styles.

Here’s hoping this new TED feature continues to shine a spotlight on great talks and intriguing ideas, even when they weren’t officially hosted by TED events themselves.