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Rediscovering Animals 

Universal Emotion: Relating to Animals and Aliens

Now that we’ve reviewed Rob Dietz’s “encouraging scenes from the steady state” in his recent guide to the future Dietz and Dan O'Neill Enough Is Enough, we should move on to the other issues that the books in “The Archives of Varok” address. We are running a comment contest until June 20—a set of books going to the most thoughtful ideas about two issues.

The first issue is directly related to the Hen House theme of our responsibility to animals that we adopt. Also to those who live near the Hen House and keep the mice under control, like this friendly rattlesnake who lived at the Seismosaurus Site and warmed himself around the generator. He politely let me take this picture, but only if I stayed back exactly 3 feet.

My reviewer at the Los Alamos Daily Post asked the best question so far--could an extended family, including aliens and humans, really work? The mixed family of The Archives surely do have their problems, and though they’ve met them head-on in both A Place Beyond Man and The Webs of Varok, there are more to come in the next volume, Conn: The Alien Effect, to be released early this summer.

I’d like to believe that we humans have matured to the point where we could appreciate the alienness of other beings. We’re doing much better with animals now, since Temple Grandin shared her experiences with us in her book Animals In Translation, New York: Scribner, 2005.

I agree that my birds do see things in WISIWIG mode. It takes them some time to learn, then to remember, that the gate is really open and that they need to go around the pen to see that it is. Scientists now are not hooted down when they seek to explore the emotional lives of animals.

The grin on DeeDee’s face expresses unmistakable delight when she greets me at the gate, ready to join us in the living room for the evening. So why not aliens? Surely they can also feel emotions, even if their DNA works with a different code. Does their evolution have to be so different we can’t relate to it? Don’t we all have similar survival instincts, including the ability to recognize mutual benefit? If we connect, can’t we commit to mutual support and be family?

My experience studying biology suggests that our understanding of chemistry, complex systems and self-organizing selection makes it reasonable to expect that evolution on Earth is a sorting process that could occur anywhere conditions are right. Some elements, like carbon, get together more easily than others, are more stable, more capable of devising interesting strategies for survival.

This is not to say that we humans are not unique. Even as individuals we are unique, though the details of our existence, the complex chemical and physical systems that define our lives, are universal—and downright awe inspiring in their complexity and precision. Makes one very thankful to be alive.

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