All posts by David Barash

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At the Heart of ‘Cloud Atlas’

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present.” That refrain pops up regularly in Cloud Atlas, the just-released major motion picture based on the best-selling novel by David Mitchell. To my recollection, the quotation doesn’t appear in the book itself, but the sentiment surely does, along with this follow-on: “And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.”

As a biologist intrigued by Buddhism, and who is exploring the parallels and convergences between this …

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Vulture Visions

Photo by J. Cantroot

It is a truth both obvious and profound that all creatures perceive the world via their own unique sensory mechanisms. Thus, when the philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote his oft-cited essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” ethologists as well as nonscientists couldn’t help agreeing with his conclusion: We don’t know, and the deeply frustrating reality is that we probably never will.

Not only is each individual necessarily separated from every other, but members of different specie…

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An Unevolved Take on Psychology From ‘The New Yorker’

The September 17th issue of The New Yorker contains a lengthy essay-cum-book review (in that magazine’s inimitable, occasionally impenetrable, and almost patentable style) by Anthony Gottlieb, titled “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Subtitled “How much do evolutionary stories reveal about the mind?,” its answer is: Not much. Enough there to catch my attention, and, I hope, that of many of The Conversation’s readers, since both evolution and the mind are much on the public and scholarly mind, as …

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Benjamin, Buddhism, and Bunnies

In an aversion to animals, the predominant feeling is fear of being recognized by them through contact. The horror that stirs deep in man is an obscure awareness that in him something lives so akin to the animal that it might be recognized.
—Walter Benjamin

Recently, I was walking through the upper meadow of our property (we live on 10 rural acres east of Seattle), when I startled a coyote that had just ripped into a juvenile rabbit. The coyote either wasn’t very clever, or not very hungry, or…