Thursday, August 8, 2013

'A Boy and His Mutant Wolf'

Heartwarming stories about "a boy and his dog" were a cliche by 1969: and gave science fiction writer Harlan Ellison a catchy name for a short story collection.

Tell folks that a story is about a boy and his mutant wolf, and they probably won't expect something "heartwarming:" even though dogs are what happened after we tweaked wolves.

Modified Wolves

Eric Isselee,; via LiveScience, used w/o permissionDogs are wonderful creatures. For at least 15,000 to 33,000 years they have helped us hunt, guard the family, and play with the kids. Once in a while a dog hurts or kills someone: but on the whole they're good to have around.

They also occasionally get together with grey wolves, producing wolfdogs. This shouldn't be surprising, since dogs are what happened when humans decided that wolves would be useful: after a few modifications.

Make that a whole lot of modifications. Some breeds, like the Deutscher Schäferhund or Husky, are still somewhat wolf-like. Others, like the Papillon or Neapolitan Mastiff, not so much. Then there's the Old English Sheepdog, that looks like a sheep: with fangs; that barks.

I'll grant that we don't know that the domestic dog is the first 'artificial organism,' the result of human intervention in some species' development. But when a critter 'just happens' to change into a good hunting companion, guard, and playmate: I strongly suspect that it didn't 'just happen.'

It's like the chap stopped by police: who insisted that the gentleman's watch and billfold 'just happened' to be in his pocket.

"Some Things Man Was Not Meant to Know"??

In my youth, I occasionally read variations on "there are some things man was not meant to know:" generally in a derisive vein.

As I've said before, I understand why folks who don't like religion describe 'those religious people' as technophobes and Luddites who hate science and anything invented since about 1850.

Some loudly-devout folks seem determined to perpetuate that stereotype.

The Catholic Church has the world's oldest science academy and that's another topic. (October 2, 2011)

Joshua and Mission Control

I ran into someone who didn't seem convinced that Earth goes around our sun, and not the other way around. (June 9, 2012)

As a Catholic, I have to take the Bible very seriously: It's the Word of God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 81)

That doesn't mean that NASA should use Joshua 10:12-13 as a guide for deep space navigation. I've been over this before:

What We're Designed For

We had an ideal thing going, with just one rule: don't eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad. Genesis 2:16-17 and all that. What got us in trouble wasn't using our brains. It was forgetting who we are, sort of.

The next chapter outlines what happened when we tried to 'become like gods:' on Satan's terms. That was a really stupid idea, since we already were like God: with dominion over this world. (Genesis 3:5; Genesis 1:26)

Learning about this astonishing creation and making new ways to use it wisely, is a good idea. It's what we're designed for. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2293)

Power, Responsibility, and Frankenstein

Folks who ran things in 19th century America and England, at least, didn't seem to have trouble believing that we're in control of nature. We'll probably be cleaning up the physical and spiritual mess left by that warped view of "dominion" for generations.

More recently it's been fashionable to believe that we're all gonna die because science and technology kill things. I'm over-simplifying the attitude, of course.

There's a (small) element of truth behind perennial doomsday warnings by the environmentally angsty set. A few centuries back, we didn't have automobiles, nuclear reactors, and non-biodegradable packing material.

We've got a lot more power, literally and metaphorically, now than we did just a hundred years back. There's nothing wrong with having more power, but as Stan Lee wrote:
"With great power there must also come -
great responsibility!
(Stan Lee, in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962) (the first Spider-Man story))
Mary Shelly's " Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus" (1818) told the story of Victor Frankenstein's science project, partly from the viewpoint of the 'monster:'
"... Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature, but I was wretched, helpless, and alone...."
("Frankenstein," Chapter 15, Mary Shelly)
H. G. Wells' 1896 novel, "The Island of Doctor Moreau." took an imaginative leap off the edge of his era's science, discussing "pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature." (Wikipedia) This time the 'mad scientist' was a vivisectionist who made "beast-folk" out of animal parts.

Then Hollywood gave us:
I think we can learn from great works of literature and drama. Even comic books have the occasional bit of wisdom. "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein" or "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"? - not so much.

More about dogs:
"Wolf to Woof: the Evolution of Dogs"
Karen E. Lange, National Geographic (January 2002)

"About 12,000 years ago hunter-gatherers in what is now Israel placed a body in a grave with its hand cradling a pup. Whether it was a dog or a wolf can’t be known. Either way, the burial is among the earliest fossil evidence of the dog’s domestication. Scientists know the process was under way by about 14,000 years ago but do not agree on why. Some argue that humans adopted wolf pups and that natural selection favored those less aggressive and better at begging for food. Others say dogs domesticated themselves by adapting to a new niche - human refuse dumps. Scavenging canids that were less likely to flee from people survived in this niche, and succeeding generations became increasingly tame. According to biologist Raymond Coppinger: 'All that was selected for was that one trait—the ability to eat in proximity to people.'

"At the molecular level not much changed at all: The DNA makeup of wolves and dogs is almost identical...."
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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.