Monday, April 30, 2012

Of Ferrets and Humans

Source of photo

It’s also a bit difficult to draw conclusions based on comparisons between people and ferrets. “Ferrets are weird,” 
I think this deserves a place in in my storehouse of absurdist quotes.
It comes from a NYT article based on some research, which wanted to test whether the production of endocannabinoids evolved as a reward in species (like our own) who ran for long distances. To do this it tested humans, dogs, and ferrets on a treadmill and found that dogs and humans produced endocannabinoids but ferrets didn't. Fine as far as it goes but unfortunately it only goes that far.
It does nothing to support a hypothesis that endocannabinoids are a reward that encourages humans and other cursorial species to run. It really doesn't. The idea that the ferret choose not to run because they didn't get any pleasure from it is vaguely cartoonish  " No" Mr Ferret said with a great big yawn "You fellows go along and play outside if you really want to but I just think I will settle down for a nice long sleep in my hole. I really don't see the attraction in sunlight and fresh air and all that activity."  And I don't think early humans, many thousands of years ago, had a strokey beard moment and say to themselves "You know what I think we should all run a long way to get our food. That is what we should do. Motion carried?"
Species found ways to survive. If what they did worked they continued to do it and prospered, if not they either evolved some other pattern or they became extinct. The more they did something the more they became adapted to that task and developed helpful mechanisms. My guess (and it is only a guess as I am no evolutionary biologist) is that the production of endocannabinoids helps you to keep going, in the same way that sweating, by maintaining an constant body temperature, allows humans to run for long distances. I don't think of sweating as a reward. 
I am sure that finding food was the necessity that outweighed any other. You didn't have to have a a pleasure reward to get you out there. The prospect of food was enough. But it is interesting that humans did change and develop another pattern of behaviour, even though the old way was still viable. We became farmers and city dwellers and having to forego some endocannabinoids did not seem to be much of a barrier to that change. So obviously their reward could not have been that big an inducement.
Bah! The article is silly. 


Anonymous said...

I'm thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (although that seems to be my answer to any number of situations). I'm not sure if any ferrets get too caught up in self-actualisation mind you.

Highway Kind said...


As we have now learnt from the article "Ferrets are weird"