THE HEAVENS—Reminiscing over how much time had passed since His days as a younger deity, God, Our Heavenly Father, expressed His nostalgia and delight Wednesday after stumbling on the old, beat-up planet He carved ‘Mötley Crüe’ all over. “Holy shit, I haven’t seen this in decades!” exclaimed the Lord, noting that He can still remember the hours spent scrawling every lyric from “Shout At The Devil” into the planet’s northern ice cap while daydreaming of one day fronting his own heavy metal band. “Oh, man, this is really bringing Me back. I used to stash all My Zippos and rolling papers under those mountains back there and just rock out. Good times. I suppose it is a little embarrassing to see how into Vince Neil I was, but hey, I was just a kid back then. I didn’t know any better. In my defense, I got super into Slayer and Megadeth just after this.” At press time, His Holiness was using a 4-track to finally record the demo album He had always planned on releasing.
By Matthew Stelzner – January 24, 2020 (stelz.biz)
Hey Everyone: We have moved into another portal, what I’m calling the Heart Chakra Portal of 2020, and I’ve got a new video about it, just released on YouTube. Some of you journeyed with me through the Heart Chakra Portal of 2019, and that portal really began a new phase of my approach to astrology. I started my course “Tarot and Flow” under that alignment, and it was an exploration of how the tools of astrology and tarot are ultimately self-love practices that are meant to help us open our hearts to receive loving messages of guidance.
At that time I started to bring more focus to the conjunction phases (when two or more planets come within a close range in the same part of the sky) of the planetary cycles of time. It is the conjunctions of the planets that represent the ending of one cycle of time, and the beginning of a new cycle of time. These moments are opportunities for the integration of the previous cycle and also for visioning, and setting intention for the new cycle. These times can bring a fresh start with regard to the qualities and themes associated with the two planets in conjunction.
Some conjunctions happen often (like the conjunction of the Moon and the Sun each month at the New Moon), others happen yearly or bi-yearly (inner planet conjunctions) and others are much rarer, like our current Jupiter-Saturn conjunction which happens every 20 years. Other cycles of time begin even more rarely, like the Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto conjunction that I’ve been exploring in recent videos and blog posts, which won’t come into another powerful alignment for more than a thousand years.
The Heart Chakra Portal is a conjunction of Venus and Neptune and it happens approximately once per year. The last time they conjoined was in late March/early April of 2019, and the next time will be late April/early May of 2021. Now is a moment to reflect on the time period since last April and consider how you’ve done with the themes of the Venus-Neptune combination. These themes are explored in my new video, and I hope you will check it out.
Venus is the planet of love, beauty, art and music. It represents the human need for intimacy, friendship, and the pleasures of life. Neptune is associated with our spirituality, our imagination, and our relationship with the divine. It is related to consciousness exploration, moments of inspiration, our connection with the water element, and the dissolving of boundaries (with other people, with our higher selves, and with other dimensions of reality). Some questions to ask yourself as you consider this past year and start to set intentions for the year ahead:
“How am I doing with opening my heart to the love of the divine?”
“How am I doing with practicing loving kindness towards myself and others?”
“How much time have I devoted to prayer, and practicing loving self-talk?”
“How have I given myself the medicine of sweet waters, and how have I shared sweet waters with others?”
“How much time have I invested in experiencing and creating sacred music, sacred art, and sacred dance?”
“What are the heart medicines that I’ve found and received in this past year?”
In the recent posting on the Dragonrider Portal conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto, I wrote about how I feel Kwan Yin is a great model for riding the dragon of 2020 and transforming the intense energies in the direction of peace and kindness. I feel like this Heart Chakra Portal can really help us develop intimacy with Kwan Yin as the Venus-Neptune cycle of time is sacred to her and is her natural frequency. This is especially the case when the Moon (the mother force of the universe and the planet associated with nurturing and caring for oneself and others) joins Venus and Neptune in a triple conjunction, as it will from the 26th to the 29th of this month (most precise on the 27th and 28th here in the US, and on the 28th and 29th in Europe and further east). I focus on this special triple conjunction in the videoand use chart software to illustrate it.
I really encourage you all to try to observe the Moon Venus conjunction, which will be visible after sunset close to the western horizon. On the 26th and 27th you will see a beautiful crescent Moon below a brilliant Venus, and then on the 28th and 29th the Moon moves above Venus. I hope you will go observe this alignment and do some sort of ritual, extending yourself out to the Moon and Venus, and then going further past them in your imagination, in a strait line all the way out to Neptune. I would encourage you to pray to these massive expressions of consciousness, to pray especially for guidance towards sacred love, sacred art, sweet waters, soul mates and awesome music. Extend yourself outward, raise your frequency to the heart chakra, and then turn within to receive loving messages of guidance.
The Aquarius New Moon brings a blast of fresh air, beyond the shadows of recent eclipses. However, with the Sun and Moon square Uranus, planet of the unexpected, some developments may arrive as searing bolts from the blue, not gentle breezes wafting away the cobwebs! While Aquarius is associated with fairness, we may be quite struck by how unfair a set of circumstances seems.
Whether or not we feel motivated or empowered to do anything about it is perhaps an issue for the longer-term future, since a New Moon often coincides with a situation that feels “too early” for clear and confident action. But we can still work on the seeds of a possible plan, with a “to be continued” storyline underpinning it.
Any fallout some of us may have to handle, around this Uranus square, could take extra time and energy to manage. With a Uranian-style lightning strike, there may be no denying that something has changed, but taking in all the details of the change requires inner and outer adjustments. These can involve levels of rebuilding, quite fitting for Uranus in Taurus, which is linked with construction.
With Uranus aspecting the Sun and Moon, it could seem as though there is some collective inevitability around any unusual activity we encounter, which may be accompanied by a sense of frustration over lack of individual power. There might be another way of seeing the situation, though. Whatever Uranus represents may have a protective quality, more akin to the well-meaning guardian than the despotic ruler!
Since this planet is associated with sweeping out the old, it could, for instance, be that circumstances force us to get rid of anything that has exceeded its use-by date. While we may have continued to hold onto something, we might have lost touch with the obvious rationale behind keeping it. Any lack of clarity is underlined by the Sun and Moon semi-square Neptune. And any such blurriness could soon be erased, as the more clear-cut Uranus focus takes over — bringing restoration to a fresh level of sanity with the introduction of something new.
If the tornado-like dynamism of Uranus seems too much to cope with at times, we can also take some comfort in knowing that, with the New Moon’s square to Uranus emphasizing early degrees of the fixed signs of Aquarius and Taurus, we are really just at the beginning of a new order. Things may be up in the air — even torn adrift — but this is just the start of a much-needed shakeup. With outer-planet activity, we can be fairly sure that nothing is purely personal; events are related to a force coming to the surface at a collective level, since what is afoot is best for the whole group.
This might not seem so easy to accept if we are experiencing private turbulence, but it may become so when we choose to connect more with others. We could soon realize that we are truly not alone, even if some of our circumstances have a uniquely individual signature. Again, this is part of the challenge of the Neptune semisquare: to be able to spot where there are similarities with and reflections in other people, rather than concentrating only on our individual trials.
This article is from the Mountain Astrologer, written by Diana Collis.
Michael Lucas Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda A Film by Michael Lucas As most of the world moves forward toward gay equality, Russia is seemingly heading backward. Antigay sentiment and legislation are spreading rapidly throughout the country. In 2013, the Russian parliament passed a ban on so-called “gay propaganda” that effectively makes nearly any public discussion of gay equality a crime. The city of Moscow has outlawed Gay Pride parades for the next 100 years. Adoption of Russian children is forbidden to citizens of any foreign country that permits gay marriage. And legislation is now being considered that would permit the Russian government to remove gay people’s children from their homes. The Kremlin has chosen the LGBT community as its scapegoat in a populist campaign against supposedly decadent “Western” values, and there are ominous signs of much worse to come. Violent attacks against Russian gays or suspected gays are more and more common. Videos of young LGBT people being taunted and tortured have been widely distributed on the Internet. Those are the stories that get the headlines, but there is much more to the Russian LGBT men and woman I have met. It is my hope that this documentary will educate viewers to their reality.
Legendary Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky (November 11, 1821–February 9, 1881) is best known as one of literary history’s titans, but he was also a brilliant entrepreneur and pioneer of self-publishing. Under the auspices of his enterprising wife Anna, Dostoyevsky overcame his ruinous gambling addiction to become Russia’s first self-published author. But it was the release of A Writer’s Diary (public library) — the same collection of his nonfiction and fiction writings that gave us Dostoyevsky’s memorable recollection of how he discovered the meaning of life in a dream — that turned him into a national brand.
In February of 1876, reflecting on the unanimous acclaim with which the first volume of the journal had been received, 55-year-old Dostoyevsky contemplates the paradox of people-pleasing and writes in the very diary whose success he is pondering:
I am interested only in the question: is it, or is it not, good that I have pleased everybody?
Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1871
From this, under the heading “On the Subject That We All Are Good Fellows,” he springboards into an exquisite discussion of our deepest goodness, emanating a deep faith in the human spirit — all the more impressive given what Dostoyevsky himself endured — and a conviction that we are inherently good despite the badness we sometimes put on like an ill-fitting suit to impress by imitating those we mistake for impressive.
We are all good fellows — except the bad ones, of course. Yet, I shall observe in passing that among us, perhaps, there are no bad people at all — maybe, only wretched ones. But we have not grown up to be bad. Don’t scoff at me, but consider: we have reached the point in the past where, because of the absence of bad people of our own (I repeat: despite the abundance of all sorts of wretches), we used to be ready, for instance, to value very highly various bad little fellows appearing among our literary characters, mostly borrowed from foreign sources. Not only did we value them, but we slavishly sought to imitate them in real life; we used to copy them, and in this respect we were ready to jump out of our skins.
While much of Dostoyevsky’s discussion of such misplaced imitation pertains to that specific point in Russia’s cultural history, embedded in it is a broader reminder that, to borrow Eleanor Roosevelt’s memorable words, “when you adopt the standards and the values of someone else … you surrender your own integrity [and] become, to the extent of your surrender, less of a human being.” In a remark particularly poignant in the context of Russia’s troubled present-day civic climate, Dostoyevsky considers the allure of imitating such villains:
We used to value and respect these evil people … solely due to the fact that they appeared as men of solid hate in contradiction to us Russians, who, as is well known, are people of very fragile hate, and this trait of ours we have always particularly despised. Russians are unable to hate long and seriously, and not only men but even vices — the darkness of ignorance, despotism, obscurantism and all the rest of these retrograde things. At the very first opportunity we are quick and eager to make peace… Please consider: why should we be hating each other? For evil deeds? — But this is a very slippery, most ticklish and most unjust theme — in a word, a double-edged one… Fighting is fighting, but love is love… We are fighting primarily and solely because now it is no longer a time for theories, for journalistic skirmishes, but the time for work and practical decisions.
Noting that the Russian people must recover from “two centuries of lack of habit of work,” he articulates the more universal and rather lamentable human tendency to deflect insecurity by lashing out:
The more incompetent one feels, the more eager he is to fight.
And yet Dostoyevsky approaches the problem with deep compassion rather than harsh judgment:
What, I may ask you, is there bad about it? — Only, that this is touching — and nothing more. Look at children: they fight precisely at the age when they have not yet learned to express their thoughts — exactly as well. Well, in this there is absolutely nothing discouraging; on the contrary, this merely proves to a certain extent our freshness and, so to speak, our virginity.
Illustration by Maurice Sendak from ‘Let’s Be Enemies.’ Click image for more.
He observes how this tendency plays out in his own craft — something undoubtedly amplified today, when criticism is not only professionalized but also sensationalized for profit by the commercial media industrial complex:
In literature, because of the absence of ideas, people scold each other, using all invectives at once; this is an impossible and naïve method observed only among primitive peoples; but, God knows, even in this there is something almost touching: exactly that inexperience, that childish incompetence even in scolding in a proper manner.
But underneath such defensive insecurity and cynicism, Dostoyevsky argues, lies a deeper, most earnest yearning for goodness:
I am by no means jesting; I am not jeering: among us there is a widespread, honest and serene expectation of good (this is so, no matter what one might say to the contrary); a longing for common work and common good, and this — ahead of any egoism; this is a most naïve longing, full of faith devoid of any exclusive or caste tinge, and even if it does appear in paltry and rare manifestations, it comes as something unnoticeable, which is despised by everybody… And why should we be looking for “solid hate”? — The honesty and sincerity of our society not only cannot be doubted, but they even spring up into one’s eyes. Look attentively and you will see that … first comes faith in an idea, in an ideal, while earthly goods come after.
It is our responsibility as human beings, Dostoyevsky suggests, to peer past the surface insecurities that drive people to lash out and look for the deeper longings, holding up a mirror to one another’s highest ideals rather than pointing the self-righteous finger at each other’s lowest faults:
A true friend of mankind whose heart has but once quivered in compassion over the sufferings of the people, will understand and forgive all the impassable alluvial filth in which they are submerged, and will be able to discover the diamonds in the filth.
He urges that such compassion be granted to the Russian people, but in his words there is to be found an enduring case for all disenfranchised groups and harshly judged communities:
Judge [the people] not by those villainies which they frequently perpetrate, but by those great and holy things for which they long amidst the very villainy. Besides, the people are not composed of scoundrels only; there are also genuine saints — and what saints! They themselves are radiant and they illuminate the path for all of us!
Somehow, I am blindly convinced that there is no such villain or scoundrel among the Russian people who wouldn’t admit that he is villainous and abominable, whereas, among others, it does happen sometimes that a person commits a villainy and praises himself for it, elevating his villainy to the level of a principle, and claiming that l’ordre and the light of civilization are precisely expressed in that abomination; the unfortunate one ends by believing this sincerely, blindly and honestly.
With the wry caveat that he is “speaking only about serious and sincere people,” Dostoyevsky reiterates his appeal at the heart of his creed:
Judge [people] not by what they are, but by what they strive to become.
A new book suggests that scientists take a closer look at a seemingly bizarre idea: that it’s not extraterrestrials piloting UFOs, but time-traveling humans from the future.
“We know we’re here. We know humans exist. We know that we’ve had a long evolutionary history on this planet. And we know our technology is going to be more advanced in the future,” author Michael Masters, a professor of biological anthropology at Montana Technological University, told Space.com. “I think the simplest explanation, innately, is that it is us [flying UFOs].”
Masters isn’t the first to float this idea. But in his new book, he attempts to support it by drawing on his expertise in anthropology. If future scientists could go back in time to see what today’s humans were like — rather than trying to learn from ancient relics — it might be hard for them to pass up the opportunity.
“The alleged abduction accounts are mostly scientific in nature,” Masters told Space.com. “It’s probably future anthropologists, historians, linguists that are coming back to get information in a way that we currently can’t without access to that technology.”
But scientists aren’t the only future humans Masters thinks could be visiting us via UFOs — he believes time travel could be a big tourist industry in the future, too.
“Undoubtedly in the future, there are those that will pay a lot of money to have the opportunity to go back and observe their favorite period in history,” he told Space.com. “Some of the most popular tourist sites are the pyramids of Giza and Machu Picchu in Peru… old and prehistoric sites.”
“PREVIOUSLY NOBODY BELIEVED THIS COULD BE POSSIBLE.”
BY KRISTIN HOUSER / JANUARY 21 2020 (futurism.com)
A newly discovered immune cell could lead to the creation of a universal cancer treatment — a “Holy Grail” treatment that would work for all cancers, in all people.
The treatment leverages T-cells, a type of white blood cell that helps our bodies’ immune systems by scanning for and killing abnormal cells. For background, scientists have recently started harnessing that ability in the fight against cancer through a therapy called CAR-T, which involves removing T-cells from a patient’s blood and genetically engineering them to seek out and destroy cancer cells.
While promising, CAR-T has limitations. It’s patient-specific, works against only a small number of cancers, and isn’t effective against solid tumors, which comprise the majority of cancers.
On Monday, researchers from Cardiff University published a new study in the journal Nature Immunology detailing their discovery of a T-cell equipped with a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR) that recognizes a molecule called MR1.
This molecule appears on the surface of many types of cancer cells as well as healthy cells, but T-cells equipped with this TCR know to kill only cancer cells.
And not just the kind linked to a single type of cancer, either. When the Cardiff researchers equipped T-cells in lab tests with this new TCR, the cells killed lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells — all while ignoring healthy cells.
In another lab test, the team modified the T-cells of melanoma patients to express the newly discovered TCR and found that the cells could then target and destroy both that patient’s own cancer cells and the cancer cells of other patients.
The team has yet to test the modified T-cells in actual cancer patients, but when tested in mice injected with human cancers, the cells recognized the MR1 molecule and exhibited “encouraging” cancer-killing abilities, according to a Cardiff press release.
The Cardiff scientists now plan to conduct additional tests. If those goes as hoped, the treatment could be ready for patients within a few years, researcher Andrew Sewell said in the press release.
“Cancer-targeting via MR1-restricted T-cells is an exciting new frontier,” he added. “It raises the prospect of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ cancer treatment; a single type of T-cell that could be capable of destroying many different types of cancers across the population. Previously nobody believed this could be possible.”
“The Fourth Age not only discusses what the rise of A.I. will mean for us, it also forces readers to challenge their preconceptions. And it manages to do all this in a way that is both entertaining and engaging.” —The New York Times
As we approach a great turning point in history when technology is poised to redefine what it means to be human, The Fourth Age offers fascinating insight into AI, robotics, and their extraordinary implications for our species.
In The Fourth Age, Byron Reese makes the case that technology has reshaped humanity just three times in history:
– 100,000 years ago, we harnessed fire, which led to language.
– 10,000 years ago, we developed agriculture, which led to cities and warfare.
– 5,000 years ago, we invented the wheel and writing, which lead to the nation state.
We are now on the doorstep of a fourth change brought about by two technologies: AI and robotics. The Fourth Age provides extraordinary background information on how we got to this point, and how—rather than what—we should think about the topics we’ll soon all be facing: machine consciousness, automation, employment, creative computers, radical life extension, artificial life, AI ethics, the future of warfare, superintelligence, and the implications of extreme prosperity.
By asking questions like “Are you a machine?” and “Could a computer feel anything?”, Reese leads you through a discussion along the cutting edge in robotics and AI, and, provides a framework by which we can all understand, discuss, and act on the issues of the Fourth Age, and how they’ll transform humanity.
Turns out animal intelligence is not so different from our own
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BILL MAYER BY BRANDON KEIM | FEB 26 2019 (SierraClub.org)
IN MARCH 1996, STATE WILDLIFE OFFICIALS DELIVERED THREE ORPHANED BLACK BEARS to Ben Kilham’s door in Lyme, New Hampshire. Just seven weeks old, they weighed no more than four pounds apiece. They should have been inside their mother’s den, in the warmth between womb and world where each bear’s life begins. Instead, a logging operation had sent mom fleeing. So Kilham, a former wildlife biology student turned gunsmith and state-licensed bear rehabilitator, became their foster mother.
He bottle-nursed the cubs and fashioned a basket den in his guest bedroom. When spring arrived, Kilham walked the cubs in the woods, teaching them as best he could what to eat and introducing them to wild bears. He was protective, and also curious: Dyslexia had stifled his academic dreams of studying animal behavior, but a passion for wildlife remained. Fifteen months later, Kilham released the orphans into the wild. Two left the area, but one, whom he named Squirty, took up residence on the forested slopes of the White Mountains near Kilham’s home and rehabilitation facility.
Twenty-two years later, Squirty’s still in the neighborhood, and one early-October evening, Kilham drives me several miles up a dirt track to a clearing where she can be found. Squirty, who now weighs about 180 pounds, is there. So is her extended family, whom Kilham recognizes by sight. There’s one of her daughters, Demi, and granddaughter SQ2LO—her prosaic name signaling Kilham’s transition from curious to rigorous observer—and a great-granddaughter, Lightface. There are 22 bears altogether, the cubs gamboling, the rest waiting quietly around the clearing’s edges.
Kilham leaves me in his pickup truck and fetches two buckets of dried corn from its bed. Tall and slab-framed, he has an easygoing bulk that, cliché but inescapable, seems almost ursine as he pours a circuit of small piles. It’s not nearly enough to sustain the bears, but it’s a reliable snack that, like the bananas Jane Goodall provided when she began her chimpanzee studies, gives Kilham a chance to watch them. As the bears tuck in, he starts taking notes, just as he’s done most evenings for more than a decade.When a black bear in Upstate New York started opening the latest in bear-proof canisters, other local bears soon followed suit. Did she teach them?
Kilham’s observations collected while following radio-collared bears, along with genetic analyses of their identities, constitute one of the richest repositories of information ever gathered about black bears. Among his findings: Bears are quite social (the bears in Kilham’s meadow represent two distinct clans); they have a society of sorts, a matriarchy that in this case is governed by Squirty; they use a rich system of communication; they are highly self-aware; and, perhaps most surprising, they are governed by long-term relationships and rules of conduct.
Kilham thinks these dynamics reflect, and across evolutionary time have shaped, black bear intelligence—an intelligence comparable to that of chimpanzees and other great apes and sharing many properties with our own. “They’re like us,” he says. “They judge. They punish. They have gratitude and friendship. But because they’re bears, people see them in the light of conflict.” After a while, Squirty ambles over. “You look pretty good for 22,” he murmurs in response to her rumblings.
As I look at Squirty’s massive head through Kilham’s open door, I think of Flo, matriarch of the chimpanzee clan studied by Goodall when she arrived in Tanzania nearly 60 years ago. At the time, mainstream science mostly denied that animals could think and feel in meaningful ways. Claims of animal intelligence, ethologist Frans de Waal writes in his 2017 best-seller Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, were dismissed as “anthropomorphic, romantic, or unscientific.” Goodall’s findings of tool-making, alliance-forming, emotionally complicated chimps helped seed a revolution.
Nowadays, science overflows with such findings. A Google Scholar search for “animal” and “cognition” returns more than 190,000 publications in just the past five years as research has illuminated a menagerie of intelligence. Ravens can plan for the future and demonstrate a degree of self-control comparable to great apes’. Sperm whales engage in consensus-based decision-making during the course of their travels. Japanese great tits, songbirds related to chickadees, use syntax—a linguistic property long thought unique to human language—when they communicate. Experiments show that tiny zebra fish, a species used to model basic animal traits, possess detailed memories of events and can learn from one another. Many species possess emotions: Giraffes appear to grieve, bumblebees show signs of happiness, and crayfish can experience anxiety.
On and on the findings go, yet bears have remained in shadow. Though plenty is known about bears’ biology and ecological interactions—as well as how to regulate hunting seasons—science is just starting to pay attention to what’s going on in their heads. At any given moment, researchers are conducting long-term field studies or experimental tests on primate cognition—but Kilham is almost alone in his studies of bear intelligence. This research highlights an intriguing possibility: Could it be that much of North America is populated by hundreds of thousands of exceptionally intelligent nonhuman beings?
AMONG THE BEDROCK PROPERTIES of our own minds—minds encompassing the capacities of thought and feeling that constitute intelligence—is that of self-awareness, a sense of one’s self as distinct from others. Self-awareness is so integral to our own intelligence that it’s practically impossible to imagine its absence. Assessing it in animals, however, is contentious.
One common approach, developed by psychologist Gordon Gallup in the 1970s, involves observing whether animals recognize themselves in a mirror. Humans generally do this as toddlers, but only a few other species—among them bottlenose dolphins, some great apes, Asian elephants, and magpies—have passed the test. Since the mirror test detects only the forms of self-awareness closest to our own, researchers disagree about whether it is actually found far more broadly throughout the animal kingdom. But recognizing oneself is certainly a powerful ability.
Propped against a tree in Squirty’s clearing is a tall, wood-framed mirror. On this night, the bears ignore it—but that’s not always the case. In Kilham’s 2014 book, In the Company of Bears, and in the thesis that earned him a PhD in 2015 at the age of 63, he describes bears passing through the stages of recognition. They licked and sniffed the mirror to determine whether the reflection belonged to a stranger; looked behind it; mimed to their reflections, repeating the same actions over and over; and finally, as recognition dawned, inspected themselves. “Black bears passed all four levels of the mirror self-recognition test developed by Gallup,” Kilham wrote in his thesis—a landmark claim, though one that hasn’t yet passed the peer-review gauntlet required for publication in a scientific journal. A skeptic might argue that the bears merely became accustomed to their reflections without truly recognizing themselves.
Such scientific objections miss a larger point: For most of human history, animal self-awareness was taken for granted. Many so-called primitive societies believed animals “to have essentially the same sort of animating agency which man possesses,” writes anthropologist A. Irving Hallowell in Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere. “They have a language of their own, . . . have forms of social or tribal organization, and live a life which is parallel in other respects to that of human societies.” If that sounds too anthropomorphic—indeed unscientific—it’s worth considering that early humans knew animals with a detailed intimacy now reserved for pets.
Bears merited a special veneration. Samis in northern Scandinavia spoke of “the old man with the fur garment.” The Yakuts of northeastern Asia called brown bears “beloved uncle” and “grandfather.” The Abenaki tribes of southern Quebec and western New England would have called Squirty “cousin.”
Ancient peoples even learned from bears. In the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, linguist Valeria Kolosova and colleagues related that Eurasian languages contain more than 1,200 plant names derived from bears: bearberries and bear’s garlic and bear’s cabbage and so on. “The Native American ‘pharmacopoeia’ was replete with plants they derived from watching bears collect herbs, berries, and roots,” Kolosova’s team wrote.
In Europe, however, aversion eventually replaced reverence. Agrarian societies treated bears as competitors rather than fellow denizens. They symbolized wildness—and much as so-called wildlands and wild people were subjugated and exploited, so were bears. During the Middle Ages, bear torturing was a common public entertainment, and the animals’ very intelligence became a tool of degradation as they were turned into circus performers. Meanwhile, Christian scholars portrayed animals as inferior to humans, who were, according to the Bible, fashioned in God’s image. Theologian Thomas Aquinas characterized animals as “without intellect” and controlled by instincts as thoughtless “as the upwards motion of fire.” Such prejudices went on to shape Enlightenment thought. French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, a foundational figure in the emergence of modern science, likened animals to wind-up toys: Though animated, they were unthinkingly mechanical.
Not all scientists were so close-minded. Notable among them was Charles Darwin, whose The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals argued that evolution applied to mental properties as well as anatomical traits. (Bears appear in a footnote to Darwin’s discussion of frowns as expressions of mental concentration.) Yet even as evolutionary theory ascended, claims of animal intelligence foundered. Scientists who theorized about animal intelligence were rebuked for relying on anecdotes. Sometimes the rebukes were fair, though one could speculate that animal intelligence was instinctively uncomfortable for societies founded on narratives of uninhabited wilderness awaiting a civilizing touch.
Biases against animal intelligence were transplanted to North America, where in the United States and Canada nature would become the domain of hunting-and-fishing-focused wildlife management and, later, conservation biology. Animal intelligence was not high on either discipline’s research agenda. Behaviorism, a theory that viewed animals as little more than Cartesian machines, dominated the academy. “Other species,” wrote behaviorist B.F. Skinner in 1974, are “conscious in the sense of being under stimulus control.”
By the time scientists started taking animal thoughts and feelings seriously again, it was more common to travel to Africa to study chimps than to ask questions about the bears outside town.
IT ALSO DOESN’T HELP THAT BEARS, big and powerful and expensive to care for, are ill-suited to captive study. “No universities are going to have a bear lab like they would have a rat or dog or primate lab,” says Gordon Burghardt, an ethologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “And the people who you think would be really interested in bears, their concern is how to manage them for hunters.”
Now renowned for his pioneering research on animal play and reptile cognition, Burghardt in the mid-1970s studied the intelligence of two captive orphaned black bear cubs. “These animals are very intelligent,” he says. “They’re up there with chimpanzees in many cognitive capacities.” The cubs grew up quickly, though, and few researchers followed in his path.
Subsequent observations often came from people outside academia. Among them were the late Charlie Russell, a Canadian naturalist who raised brown bear cubs on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula; Steve Stringham, one of Burghardt’s students, who now runs wildlife tours in Alaska; the late Else Poulsen, a zookeeper who wrote about bear emotion; Lynn Rogers, formerly a Minnesota state wildlife biologist, who now hosts bear behavior seminars; and Bill Kilham.
Common to these figures are their lives in unusual proximity to bears. To Barbara Smuts, a researcher at the University of Michigan who has studied social relationships in baboons, chimpanzees, and dolphins, that familiarity outweighs Kilham’s long-standing lack of institutional credentials. “He has a tremendous feeling for the bears,” she says. “That shouldn’t be dismissed just because it can’t be quantified. He’s a true naturalist.”
Kilham’s early experiences with Squirty and other cubs led to meeting yet more bears. With permission from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, he radio-collared and followed dozens and eventually established the feeding site where we sit as darkness falls. Tonight it’s mostly quiet. The adults are already conserving energy for winter. The cubs are restive, though, and two who’ve scaled a tree begin to moan. “They want their mother,” Kilham says and begins to translate the scene for me. “Here she comes. She manages them with gulps and chirps”—he mimics the bear sounds—”and she wants them to come down. She’ll sit at the base of the tree and gulp, and they’ll come down. She wants them to walk her way, so she’ll gulp and walk away. It’s a syntax between body language and gulp. But she has to teach them the meaning of those sounds. It’s not instinctive.”
Just that fleeting interaction packs a lot of cognition. Mom, by Kilham’s account, understands her cubs’ mental state and communicates intentionally rather than reflexively voicing arousal. She uses a syntax that recombines and reorders “words” and teaches her cubs their meaning. But do mom’s vocalizations reveal what’s known as “theory of mind”—an ability to reason about the intentions of other individuals, which many scientists still consider unique to humans? How can Kilham be sure about the mother’s intent?
It’s just one anecdote, but illustrative and intriguing nevertheless (and it’s one of many). Even Jane Goodall’s original work, says Ellen Furlong, director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at Illinois Wesleyan University, “wasn’t some gold-star standard of cognitive research. But it was groundbreaking—a really important place to start.”
In assessing claims of intelligence in creatures whose behaviors are suggestive but not yet well studied, Furlong advises considering the animals’ ecological niche and life history. These shape the capacities of every lineage. Black bears are generalist omnivores, eating a rich variety of foods and adapting readily to local conditions, a lifestyle thought to nourish cognitive flexibility. Another great influence on black bears, Kilham says, is their sociality.
It’s a word seldom applied to bears. Besides descriptions of mother-and-cub relations and grizzlies feeding together on salmon runs, bears are usually depicted as solitary. It’s quite the opposite, argues Kilham. He’s observed, as did Lynn Rogers, that black bears encounter each other frequently and sometimes congregate around food. And because Kilham has run genetic identifications on the bears living near his rehabilitation center, he can also trace their family trees. He’s identified a matrilineal hierarchy with Squirty on top, presiding over an extended family with overlapping home ranges that stretch for miles.
In addition to Squirty’s kin, another clan is represented in the clearing. Kilham points out two descendants of Moose, an elder bear who allowed Squirty to live in her territory when Kilham released Squirty as a young orphan. Squirty now shares with Moose’s clan, and that isn’t coincidental, Kilham says. She’s returning Moose’s generosity—not because there’s some genetically hardwired program governing the exchange but out of obligation. It’s the sort of relationship that social hierarchy and intentional communication and self-awareness make possible. Favors are given and later returned.
Often this involves food. Squirty’s home range is rich in red oak; Moose’s clan lives in a beech-rich territory. When there’s a bumper crop of acorns, Squirty allows nonrelated bears access to her terrain; when acorns fail to set but the beeches are bursting, Moose’s clan follows suit. It makes more sense than fighting to control their individual territories. “They think highly of those who share with them,” Kilham believes, “and remember them for their lifetimes.”
When, in the early 1970s, evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers first theorized how such a system of exchange could evolve, it was dubbed “reciprocal altruism” and hailed as a window into the origins of human society. Perhaps black bears are another such window.
PERHAPS. It’s important to recall that all of this is still just a theory. Nevertheless, Kilham’s claims have heft. Richard Wrangham, one of the world’s foremost primatologists, has visited with Kilham and calls In the Company of Bears “a brilliant revelation.” The esteemed biologist and conservationist George Schaller, who sat on Kilham’s dissertation committee, credits Kilham with “not trying to humanize bears but trying to describe exactly what they do and think as bears.“
Ellen Furlong says that Kilham’s findings should prompt cognitive scientists “to get in there and tease apart the mechanisms and the behaviors.” Although the rigorous experiments performed with well-studied animals like ravens and jays—string-pulling tests of causal reasoning, food-hiding tasks that gauge a bird’s awareness of what others know—are rarely done with bears, there are a few such studies. Most of them come from Jennifer Vonk, a comparative psychologist at Oakland University in Michigan and head of the school’s Laboratory of Cognitive Origins. Vonk previously worked at the University of Southern Mississippi, near a small zoo that kept four black bears. She trained them to use a touch-screen interface, which let her perform various experiments. She could test number sense, for example, by presenting a bear with two sets of dots, then rewarding it with a snack for selecting the greater quantity. Then, to be sure the bear actually counted dots rather than gauging surface area, Vonk tweaked the dots’ size, presenting arrays that contrasted a few large dots with many tiny points. Indeed, the bears could discern quantities.
In another set of experiments, Vonk tested whether bears could discriminate between images belonging to different conceptual categories: primates and hooved animals, carnivores and herbivores, animals and landscapes. In a study published in Animal Cognition, Vonk described a bear at the Detroit Zoo recognizing photos of objects—a football, a shovel, a watering can—that the bear had previously seen, and also recognizing objects first encountered in photos. Such tasks sound rudimentary, but they’re not meant to encapsulate intelligence. They identify potentials: numeracy, concept formation, abstraction. Black bears “appear to display cognitive abilities commensurate with those of the great apes,” Vonk wrote in another journal, Animal Behavior and Cognition.
Anecdotes open up further lines of inquiry. Kilham describes how bears climb oaks in midsummer to examine budding acorns, as if checking what autumn’s crop will bring. Might they be making long-term plans? Researchers in Russia have documented brown bears eating clay, ostensibly to prevent diarrhea caused by a salmon-rich diet. How did they learn that? When a black bear in Upstate New York started opening the latest in bear-proof canisters, other local bears soon followed suit. Did she teach them?
Such questions don’t even touch on emotions, which are notoriously difficult to study empirically; until recently, talk of animal feelings was considered unscientific. That’s no longer the case, Furlong says, and emotions are now recognized as a basic, widespread evolutionary adaptation. “We’ll be learning more about emotion,” she says, “but we’re just at the cusp of beginning to move in that direction.”
In her book Carnivore Minds, psychologist and ecologist Gay A. Bradshaw, best known for documenting social breakdown among African elephants that saw family members killed, suggests that bears may also be deeply affected by death. It’s just a hypothesis, but it’s worth investigating. Lynn Rogers, whose thousands of bear video clips are being collated by Gordon Burghardt, describes a bear rushing to her dead brother’s side even as other bears ignored him. The sister bear sniffed her brother “for the longest time,” recalls Rogers, then dragged the body 50 feet before finally walking away with a last backward glance.
THE DAY AFTER I VISIT Squirty’s meadow, Kilham’s sister Phoebe, who oversees day-to-day care at the Kilham Bear Center, takes me on a tour of the surrounding woods. She points out a duckweed-covered wallow where bears cool on hot summer days—they approach it using a stiff-legged gait that leaves especially deep, individually identifiable tracks—and a nearby red pine marked at bear height by a palimpsest of scratches. These tracks and scratches, as well as scent deposits, are part of the ursine communication repertoire. They don’t just vocalize and gesture; they leave messages. Phoebe likens the scratches to hobo signs.
Seen through this lens, a bear’s landscape is a place inscribed with the etchings of society. That would make the woods something we might call a neighborhood rather than mere habitat; it might prompt us to consider the residents as thinking, feeling individuals as opposed to mere creatures. Chris Darimont, a conservation scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, has suggested that people should view wildlife habitat issues in a new light: Environmental degradation isn’t just about animal population trends; it’s also about animals’ lived experience of hardship. When a bulldozer clears a wood to make way for human residences, it destroys many homes first. Darimont also emphasizes that, when considering animals and our ethical relations to them, it’s enough to know that they suffer. Compassion isn’t contingent on intelligence.
Fair enough—yet it does seem that intelligence, however measured, adds to the moral calculus. Few of us would equate the plight of a stranded jellyfish with that of a beached whale. What sort of ethical regard, then, is owed to a bear?
For starters, we should strive to replace our culture’s fear of bears with a spirit of understanding and respect. Such respect is incompatible with killing bears for sport or profit—and while outlawing bear hunting is an unlikely event in many places, nonhunters should be represented on the state committees that regulate hunting. They can give voice to those who don’t speak in human tongues.
And hunting isn’t the only threat to bears: Equally important is how to live with them. No bear should die because someone didn’t secure their trash. Maybe we should spend a small fraction of the nation’s many billions of public infrastructure dollars on bear-proof canisters, as a gesture of neighborly generosity. And what happens when our efforts at coexistence prove insufficient and we accidentally harm or kill bears? We then have an obligation to care for the casualties, to show them compassion, just as the Kilhams have done for decades.
Phoebe takes me to feed the cubs. It’s been a bad year: Trees in the region produced few nuts and bears are wandering far in search of food. Many mothers have been hit by cars or have ventured onto the property of trigger-happy landowners.
By late autumn, the center will house 60 orphans, but on this day, there are nine. As we approach, all but one retreat to the security of the trees. The lone greeter is named Trebo. Knee high, with a striking white crescent on her chest, she was found in spring after an ice storm. “She’s the boss,” Phoebe says. “If she says we have to go, we have to go.” Trebo presses up against Phoebe, sniffing her legs and then my own, and calls out, but the other bears stay hidden.
After a while, a male cub appears and makes a short run toward us. “That’s a false charge,” Phoebe explains. “He’s not mad. It just means ‘move along.'”
As we walk away, though, the male cub follows, seemingly reluctant to say goodbye. It’s considered a challenge, so I try not to look in his eyes. But I can’t help being captivated by their depth.
This article appeared in the March/April 2019 edition with the headline “Does a Bear Think in the Woods?”
Intelligence All Around Us
For much of modern history, people have considered human intelligence to be radically unlike that of any other animal. A growing body of research shows that, in fact, many of our mental capacities are common among other species.
Forward-Looking Chickadees Each autumn, black-capped chickadees prepare a winter larder by stashing thousands of seeds in bark crevices. Whether they actively plan for the coming months or simply follow instinct’s imperatives—or both—is an open question, but experiments by psychologists Miranda Feeney and David Sherry at the University of Western Ontario show that chickadees engage in “anticipatory cognition.” They use their memories to go back and forth in time.
Playful Alligators Play is more than a fun way of passing time. It’s a vehicle for social lessons in fairness and for learning about the physical properties of objects, how one’s own body moves, and how to think creatively. Even alligators play; ethologist Vladimir Dinets has documented them frolicking beneath falling water and riding on one another’s backs.
Emotional Bees When people feel happy, they’re more likely to take chances. When they’re sad, they tend to play it safe. The same holds for bees. Following a simulated attack on their hive, honeybees are reluctant to investigate an ambiguously bittersweet smell; they behave pessimistically. Conversely, researchers found that after a tasty syrup snack, bumblebees quickly follow that bittersweet scent. They’re optimistic—and, as reported in Science, a dopamine-blocking drug reverses their behavior. The neurotransmitters involved in regulating our emotions also regulate theirs.
Caring Rats Labels like “pest” and “vermin” make it easy to avoid thinking about Norway rats as individuals—no small irony, since research on their lab-bound kin has taught us more about the rat mind than we know about that of probably any other nonhuman animal. But rats are quite sensitive. Peggy Mason, a University of Chicago neurobiologist, found them so distressed by the discomfort of trapped friends that they ignored chocolate in their haste to help.
Mindful Sunfish Until recently, conventional wisdom said that fish can’t even feel pain. Today, however, fish cognition research is flourishing, and old assumptions are being overturned. Fish behaviors may reflect considerable intelligence: Studies show that bluegill sunfish recognize their children, remember fish they’ve met before, and modulate interactions according to memories of past encounters.
Communicating Crows American crows trapped by students of John Marzluff, a corvid cognition expert at the University of Washington, scolded the researchers for months after being released. So, for that matter, did crows that were not trapped. The birds learned from their peers about the untrustworthy humans. These findings hint at the social dynamics shaping crow cognition. They live, as do we, in fission-fusion societies, moving between different groups—family, feeding flock, teeming autumn roosts—with whom they share information and negotiate relationships.
One of Harvard’s most famous professors to ever live was William James. Having studied medicine and biology, he was first appointed as an instructor in physiology. From there, he went on to teach anatomy, before he established himself as a preeminent psychologist and philosopher.
In the world of philosophy, William James is most famous for championing the theory of pragmatism; the idea that truth isn’t about hard logic or metaphysics, but that truth is what works in the real world. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that he dedicated much of his life to the study of psychology, a field he laid the groundwork for in his book The Principles of Psychology.
Among many other things, he was the first psychologist to claim that our core traits don’t change much across time. In The Principles, he wrote, “In most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster, and will never soften again.” Much subsequent evidence has shown this observation to be largely true. Genes play a huge role, and the environment, too, makes its case, and after the first few decades of life, people stop changing their inner core in meaningful ways. Whether or not change is possible is one thing, but it does seem true that most people are happy to stick with what they have grown comfortable with.
There are two things we can be sure of in life: for one, change itself, and secondly, uncertainty. When we are born, we don’t know much. In fact, we are incredibly needy, and without parents and caretakers, babies would have no chance of survival. Over time, however, we learn, and we develop our mental model of the world. The cultural stories and the physical incentives around us mold our minds and our behaviors until we form an initial concept of self. We learn to avoid danger, seek rewards, and see ourselves through the eyes of others.
For the most part, growing up, we know that we don’t know much. Our bodies are also changing so fast that change itself is evident. And we are okay with it, mostly because we still have other people who protect us from facing the downsides that uncertainty and change offer. At some point, however, when we leave the safety of our parents and our caretakers’ nests, we are thrown into the world, and suddenly we actually have to face uncertainty and change ourselves. This is a time of maturity.
Humans innately crave stability and security, and when we are faced with making sense of a complex, changing world, one which our parents can no longer protect us from, the only source of stability grows from within — our inner self and its behaviors become a center of safety. After decades of experience, they have learned how to weather the trials and tribulations of life, and so, they decide that it’s time to settle down and continue to use these same habit patterns for whatever the future has to offer us.
When we are young and growing rapidly, most of our time is spent in exploration mode. We seek new adventures. We spend a lot of time doing leisure activities, playing around to see what we like and what we don’t like. Once the threshold of maturity is crossed, however, once we have learned our preferences, once we have come to terms with ourselves, we start to move into exploitation mode. This is a stage that we tend to stay in for the next few decades of life. Rather than exploring new habits and new likes and dislikes, we settle down and we double down on what we already have.
So far, so good. In this sense, there is nothing to fear about James’ claim, and for most of us, this is as it should be. This is the basic definition of what it means to grow into an adult. If you have done the work to know who you are and what you want, it makes sense to just zone in and focus.
Around the time of maturity, there is, however, something else that sneaks up on us that isn’t quite as beneficial for us in the long run. That something is seriousness. Seriousness often looks and feels and behaves like maturity and adulthood, which is why it is so dangerous, but it’s an entirely different beast, one that inhibits growth rather than supports it.
Maturity says: I am ready to take responsibility for myself. It’s the part of our character that has figured out how to manage our emotional landscape and can reconcile it with the world as it pursues what it wants. Seriousness says: I know what is best. It’s the part of our character that thinks that it has the world figured out, and then attempts to control it based on a limited perspective rather than working with it as it moves along. Maturity is about having developed the habit patterns that support your growth as a person in a complex world in your chosen direction. Seriousness is about trying to enforce your belief systems onto other people because you know best.
You can be mature while still retaining your ability to keep an open mind. Seriousness, by default, is rigid and closed-minded. The former has personal preferences, while the latter dresses judgments up as facts.
When we are young, much of what we learn is learned through play. Evolutionarily, we play because it teaches us about our physical surroundings, our social norms, and our cognitive capacities in a low-cost way. Although the point of play isn’t to learn, learning is a natural result of play. It’s a state in which our mind is open to the stimuli of the world — a non-judgmental kind of flow and engagement. There is no right or wrong way to play — it’s a constant negotiation with the present moment.
Seriousness is the precise opposite of this. It’s a pure state of judgment confined by preexisting boundaries of what the wearer of the mask assumes is right and wrong, without any consideration of the fact that it may be lacking complete information in an incomprehensible world. The base of seriousness is the dread of uncertainty. Deep down it knows that it doesn’t know much and is terrified of it. Rather than continuing the state of play into mature adulthood, it instead doubles down on what brings it comfort.
Ultimately, seriousness is no way to live if growth and challenge and truth is what one is after. Maturity may harden some of our habits, but it can generally be fluid enough to respond to things, good and bad, in ways that are diverse, keeping itself open to learning new things. William James, even as he wrote those words about character hardening knew this, because even in his own life, he did some of his best work in his later years. He only did so, however, because he never fell into the trap of closing his mind.
One of my favorite quotes of his comes from The Varieties of Religious Experience, where he wrote:
“Good-humor is a philosophic state of mind; it seems to say to Nature that we take her no more seriously than she takes us. I maintain that one should always talk of philosophy with a smile.”
In doing this, in taking this approach himself, James’ chose to play, just like we played when we learned how to walk, how to talk, and how to socialize. The common tragedy of adulthood isn’t necessarily that we forget to play — it’s perhaps the most natural thing that we can do as human beings. Rather, it’s that we convince ourselves that it just isn’t a thing we are supposed to do as we age. We stop looking at work as play. We stop treating our interactions with friends and loved ones as play. We stop making time to play.
The cost of all this is that our mind becomes rigid. It forgets how to open up to new information, new stimuli. But the beauty is that it can learn to do so at any time, as long as it is willing to face the underlying uncertainty. The road leading there is precisely where the gift waits.Personal Growth