Thursday, April 07, 2016

Two Amazing Men Discovered Evolution by Natural Selection!

Most everyone knows about Darwin, and what they think they know is that Charles Darwin is the discoverer of Evolution through Natural Selection. And for sure, he did discover this. But the amazing thing is....he wasn't the only one. And whereas Darwin came to this theory pretty much as a Big Data Scientist over a long period of time (mostly via "armchair" collection of data from scientists and naturalists around the world), The Other Guy developed his theory of Natural Selection very much in the field - more specifically, in the jungle, surrounded by the living evidence. 

His name is Alfred Russel Wallace, he is one of my heroes, and I offer below the "real story" for your reading pleasure. 

One of the things I really love about this story is the way Darwin and Wallace respected each other, and did right by each other. We all have a lot to learn from their integrity and compassion.

Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection: the Real Story 
By Dr George Beccaloni, Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project, March 2013

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/junglehero/alfred-wallace-biography.pdf

Alfred Russel Wallace OM, LLD, DCL, FRS, FLS was born near Usk, Monmouthshire, England (now part of Wales) on January 8th, 1823. Serious family financial problems forced him to leave school aged only fourteen and a few months later he took a job as a trainee land surveyor with his elder brother William. This work involved extensive trekking through the English and Welsh countryside and it was then that his interest in natural history developed.

Whilst living in Neath, Wales, in 1845 Wallace read Robert Chambers' extremely popular and anonymously published book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and became fascinated by the controversial idea that living things had evolved from earlier forms. So interested in the subject did he become that he suggested to his close friend Henry Walter Bates that they travel to the Amazon to collect and study animals and plants, with the goal of understanding how evolutionary change takes place. They left for Brazil in April 1848, but although Wallace made many important discoveries during his four years in the Amazon Basin, he did not manage to solve the great ‘mystery of mysteries’ of how evolution works.

Wallace returned to England in October 1852, after surviving a disastrous shipwreck which destroyed all the thousands of natural history specimens he had painstakingly collected during the last two and most interesting years of his trip. Undaunted, in 1854 he set off on another expedition, this time to the Malay Archipelago (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), where he would spend eight years travelling, collecting, writing, and thinking about evolution. He visited every important island in the archipelago and sent back 110,000 insects, 7,500 shells, 8,050 bird skins, and 410 mammal and reptile specimens, including probably more than five thousand species new to science.

In Sarawak, Borneo, in February 1855, Wallace produced one of the most important papers written about evolution up until that time1. In it he proposed a ‘law’ which stated that "Every species has come into existence coincident both in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species". He described the affinities (relationships) between species as being “...as intricate as the twigs of a gnarled oak or the vascular system of the human body” with “...the stem and main branches being represented by extinct species...” and the “...vast mass of limbs and boughs and minute twigs and scattered leaves...” living species. The eminent geologist and creationist Charles Lyell was so struck by Wallace’s paper that in November 1855, soon after reading it, he began a ‘species notebook’ in which he started to contemplate the possibility of evolution for the first time.

In April 1856 Lyell visited Charles Darwin at Down House in Kent, and Darwin confided that for the past twenty years he had been secretly working on a theory (natural selection) which neatly explained how evolutionary change takes place. Not long afterwards, Lyell sent Darwin a letter urging him to publish before someone beat him to it (he probably had Wallace in mind), so in May 1856, Darwin, heeding this advice, began to write a ‘sketch’ of his ideas for publication.

Finding this unsatisfactory, Darwin abandoned it in about October 1856 and instead began working on an extensive book on the subject.

The idea of natural selection came to Wallace during an attack of fever whilst he was on a remote Indonesian island in February 1858 (it is unclear whether this epiphany happened on Ternate or neighbouring Gilolo (Halmahera)). As soon as he had sufficient strength, he wrote a detailed essay explaining his theory and sent it together with a covering letter to Darwin, who he knew from earlier correspondence, was deeply interested in the subject of species transmutation (as evolution was then called).

Wallace asked Darwin to pass the essay on to Lyell (who Wallace did not know), if Darwin thought it sufficiently novel and interesting. Darwin had mentioned in an earlier letter to Wallace that Lyell had found his 1855 paper noteworthy and Wallace must have thought that Lyell would be interested to learn about his new theory, since it neatly explained the ‘law’ which Wallace had proposed in that paper.

Darwin, having formulated natural selection years earlier, was horrified when he received Wallace’s essay and immediately wrote an anguished letter to Lyell asking for advice on what he should do. "I never saw a more striking coincidence. If Wallace had my M.S. sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract! ... So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed." he exclaimed2. Lyell teamed up with another of Darwin's close friends, Joseph Hooker, and rather than attempting to seek Wallace's permission, they decided instead to present his essay plus two excerpts from Darwin’s writings on the subject (which had never been intended for publication3) to a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on July 1st 1858. The public presentation of Wallace's essay took place a mere 14 days after its arrival in England.

Darwin and Wallace's musings on natural selection were published in the Society’s journal in August that year under the title “On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; And On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection”. Darwin's contributions were placed before Wallace's essay, thus emphasising his priority to the idea4. Hooker had sent Darwin the proofs to correct and had told him to make any alterations he wanted5, and although he made a large number of changes to the text he had written, he chose not to alter Lyell and Hooker’s arrangement of his and Wallace’s contributions.

Lyell and Hooker stated in their introduction to the Darwin-Wallace paper that “...both authors...[have]...unreservedly placed their papers in our hands...”, but this is patently untrue since Wallace had said nothing about publication in the covering letter he had sent to Darwin6. Wallace later grumbled that his essay “...was printed without my knowledge, and of course without any correction of proofs...”7

As a result of this ethically questionable episode8, Darwin stopped work on his big book on evolution and instead rushed to produce an ‘abstract’ of what he had written so far. This was published fifteen months later in November 1859 as On the Origin of Species: a book which Wallace later magnanimously remarked would “...live as long as the "Principia" of Newton.”9

In spite of the theory’s traumatic birth, Darwin and Wallace developed a genuine admiration and respect for one another. Wallace frequently stressed that Darwin had a stronger claim to the idea of natural selection, and he even named one of his most important books on the subject Darwinism! Wallace spent the rest of his long life explaining, developing and defending natural selection, as well as working on a very wide variety of other (sometimes controversial) subjects. He wrote more than 1000 articles and 22 books, including The Malay Archipelago and The Geographical Distribution of Animals. By the time of his death in 1913, he was one of the world's most famous people.

During Wallace’s lifetime the theory of natural selection was often referred to as the Darwin- Wallace theory and the highest possible honours were bestowed on him for his role as its co- discoverer. These include the Darwin–Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals of the Linnean Society of London; the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals of the Royal Society (Britain's premier scientific body); and the Order of Merit (awarded by the ruling Monarch as the highest civilian honour of Great Britain). It was only in the 20th Century that Wallace’s star dimmed while Darwin’s burned ever more brightly. 

So why then did this happen?

The reason may be as follows: in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, natural selection as an explanation for evolutionary change became unpopular, with most biologists adopting alternative theories such as neo-Lamarckism, orthogenesis, or the mutation theory. It was only with the modern evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and ’40s that it became widely accepted that natural selection is indeed the primary driving force of evolution. By then, however, the history of its discovery had largely been forgotten and many wrongly assumed that the idea had first been published in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Thanks to the so-called ‘Darwin Industry’ of recent decades, Darwin’s fame has increased exponentially, eclipsing the important contributions of his contemporaries, like Wallace. A more balanced, accurate and detailed history of the discovery of what has been referred to as “...arguably the most momentous idea ever to occur to a human mind” is long overdue.

ENDNOTES

1. Wallace, A. R. 1855. On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 16 (2nd series): 184-196.

2. Letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated 18th [June 1858] (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2285 accessed 20/01/2013).

3. These were an extract from Darwin’s unpublished essay on evolution of 1844, plus the enclosure from a letter dated 5th September 1857, which Darwin had written to the American botanist Asa Gray.

4. Publishing another person’s work without their agreement was as unacceptable then as it is today. Publishing someone’s novel theory without their consent, prefixed by material designed to give priority of the idea to someone else is ethically highly questionable: Wallace should have been consulted first! Fortunately for Darwin and his supporters, Wallace appeared to be pleased by what has been called the ‘delicate arrangement’.

5. In a letter from Joseph Hooker to Darwin dated 13th and 15th July 1858 (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2307 accessed 20/01/2013), Hooker stated " I send the proofs from Linnæan Socy— Make any alterations you please..."

6. In a letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated 18th [June 1858] (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2285 accessed 20/01/2013), Darwin, who was referring to Wallace's essay, says "Please return me the M.S. [manuscript] which he does not say he wishes me to publish..." and in a letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated [25th June 1858] (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2294 accessed 20/01/2013), Darwin states that "Wallace says nothing about publication..."

7. Letter from Wallace to A. B. Meyer dated 22nd November 1869 cited in Meyer, A. B. 1895. How was Wallace led to the discovery of natural selection? Nature, 52(1348): 415.

8. See Rachels, J. 1986. Darwin's moral lapse. National Forum: 22-24 (pdf available at http://www.jamesrachels.org/DML.pdf)

9. Letter from Wallace to George Silk dated 1st September 1860 (WCP373 in Beccaloni, G. W. (Ed.). 2012. Wallace Letters Online www.nhm.ac.uk/wallacelettersonline [accessed 20/01/2013])

OTHER NOTES

Please cite this article as: Beccaloni, G. W. 2013. Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection: the Real Story. <http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/junglehero/alfred-wallace-biography.pdf>
This article is a slightly modified version of the introduction by George Beccaloni to the following privately published book: Preston, T. (Ed.). 2013. The Letter from Ternate. UK: TimPress. 96 pp.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Goodbye Old Bike, Hello Old Bike

In 1977, one of my best buddies told me about a friend he had, who had just custom-built a bicycle for him, from components. This guy would do the same thing for me. "How cool is that?" thought I.

A few weeks later, for (according to my admittedly leaky memory) about $200, I received a bicycle that became one of my all-time favorite machines.

It was built around a black Raleigh Competition Reynolds 531 double butted steel tubing. It was powered by a lovely, engraved, all-metal Shimano 600 Arabesque derailleur ("One of the most decorative groups Shimano ever released"):


The bike was a beautiful ride and all-around excellent transportation. It came to Chicago with me in 1981. It took me downtown for my first job as a programmer in Chicago, at First National Bank (I commuted by bike whenever possible). It accompanied me on day trips all over Chicagoland. It took me back and forth to the CISPES office, a cause and organization that consumed way too much of my life for too little in return. Whatever foolishness I chose to engage in, this bike helped me do it in style (my style: it was scratched up and usually dirty, but the chain and gears were clean and lubricated).

But for some reason (yes, that's right, I do not recall), about fifteen years ago, I decided to buy a new bicycle, and chose a Jamis Coda. I hung the black bike (I don't know what else to call it. It used to be a Raleigh Competition, but that was long before I took possession) in the back of my shed, and very much enjoyed the Coda. It was new, it was shiny, and it was a hybrid, better suited for city riding. After a while it wasn't new or shiny anymore - just my style, but it was still a great ride. I didn't think very often about my black bike, even when I noticed it hanging behind garden gear and abandoned kids' toys.

Well, a couple months ago, I got careless with my Coda and it was stolen. Arrrrggggh.

I figured I would buy a new bicycle, which I dreaded in part because everything has gotten so over-built, optimized for convenience, unnecessarily fancy, etc. Not my style. Started looking around and found myself at Bucephalus Bikes, where they do a brisk, proud business in reconditioning older bicycles to better-than-new.

That got me thinking: maybe I should bring in the Reynolds 531 frame (by this time, I was thinking that was all that was left of the bike) and see what it might cost to make it a beauty, once again.

I hauled it out of the shed and was delighted to see it was intact as a bicycle, but with understandably flat tires, rusty chain, and who knows what else wrong with it. I did, after all, choose to stop riding it long ago.

Feeling slightly guilty at not returning to Bucephalus, I brought the black bike to my neighborhood bike shop, Roberts Cycle. They made appreciative noises. They probably do that with all their customers. :-)

Well, in any case, a few weeks went by and yesterday I rode the bike home - smoooothly. Here are the parts Roberts needed to properly restore the bike:
  • Chain
  • Front and rear brake cables and housing
  • Front and rear shift cables
  • Seat binder bolt
  • Schwalbe 27-1/4 K-guard (Kevlar) tires
  • Sealed bottom bracket
  • Headset bearings (29, loose, had to be individually packed in)
  • Rear wheel bearings (22, loose, had to be individually packed in)
  • Front alloy wheel
  • Used rear derailleur
Yes, you read that right. They removed the Shimano 600 and gave me a "good enough" replacement for a very fair price. He never asked if I wanted to replace it. WTF? The guy who runs the shop explained that the 600 was actually not compatible with the rear gear assembly on the bicycle; I couldn't get to all the gears using it. So he swapped it out.

Gee, I'd never really noticed any problem. I rarely needed the very low settings. I started to feel aggrieved and righteous about the whole thing, but he so sincerely seemed to consider it an act of necessity. So in the end I accepted with grace (or so I told myself) the Shimano 600 (and every other part, including the old ball bearings - !!) in a plastic bag.

I tried not to be too sad. It really is pretty.

No, I won't tell you how much all those parts (and the accompanying, thoroughgoing overhaul) cost me. I suppose I could've gotten a new bicycle for the amount, but nothing as elegant or satisfying as my black bike. 

And as I said in an earlier post, "New is BadBuying things new is the way to consume the most resources and have the worst impact on our world. So I am going to make every effort to avoid buying new things and instead by used."

Hurray! I acted on my principles. I have lots of principles and I never feel like I act enough in accordance with them. I also am not sure how many I've forgotten.

So this act of reuse and redemption felt - and feels - really good. 

Now if only it would stop raining so I could go out for a ride!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

About My Son, Chris Silva, Amazing Artist, Father and All-Around Human Being

"For the record...."




Chris is the 2015 recipient of a 3arts grant, which makes me incredibly proud and also gives me the opportunity to share his professional art bio (I mostly experience him these days as Papa to my two wonderful granddaughters).

Born in Puerto Rico, Chris Silva has been a prominent figure in Chicago’s graffiti and skateboarding scenes since the 1980s, as well as an enthusiastic fan of a wide range of music genres which have resulted from the influence of metropolitan life. Building on his solid graffiti art foundation, Silva proceeded to play a significant role in the development of what is now commonly referred to as "street art." He now splits his time between working on large-scale commissions, producing gallery oriented work, and leading youth-involved public art projects. As a self-taught sound artist with roots in DJ culture, Silva also anchors a collaborative recording project known as This Mother Falcon, and has recently started integrating his audio compositions into his installation work.

In the early 90s, Silva worked on a mural with the Chicago Public Art Group and was eventually brought on board to help lead community art projects with other urban youth. As a result, the act of facilitating art experiences for young people has become an important part of his art practice, and he regularly includes students as collaborators on large-scale artwork that often leans heavily on improvisation. Over the years, Silva has helped orchestrate youth art projects both independently and in partnership with Chicago Public Art Group, Young Chicago Authors, Gallery 37, Yollocalli Arts Reach, After School Matters, and the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Silva was awarded a major public art commission by the Chicago Transit Authority to create a mosaic for the Pink Line California Station (2004); created block-long murals in Chicago's Loop “You Are Beautiful” (2006); created a sculpture for the Seattle Sound Transit System (2008); won the Juried Award for Best 3D Piece at Artprize (2012); and created large commissions for 1871 Chicago (2013), the City of Chicago, LinkedIn, CBRE (2014), OFS Brands, and The Prudential Building (2015). He has exhibited in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, London, Melbourne, Copenhagen, and The International Space Station. In 2007 Silva received an Artist Fellowship Award from The Illinois Arts Council.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Planet Hard Drive? Muddled nonsense from Scientific American

In the August 2015 issue of Scientific American, I came across an article titled "Planet Hard Drive", a "thought experiment" arguing that we can think of Earth as a kind of "hard drive" and "although Earth has an enormous capacity to store information, order is still rare....but the growth of order on Earth also stems from the production of cultural information."

The article is behind a paywall, so I cannot reproduce it here, but if you are a subscriber, here you go.

I find it generally hard to read SciAm these days, as well as many other scientific sources, because of the pervasive species-ism (humans unique, more important than all others) found sadly among scientists.

But this article was, I thought, a real disappointment, coming from SciAm. I sent this letter to the author:

Professor Hidalgo, 

I read your SciAm article with the above title, and I found it scientifically sloppy and offensively tone deaf, given the state of our planet today (specifically the threat of climate change and human-cause extinctions and species degradation). 

You might not read past that initial paragraph but if you do:

Scientifically Sloppy

I am all for interesting “thought experiments”, but it should have a reasonable amount of logical consistency. I think your experiment fails in this regard. 

Specifically, you talk about the growth of order on earth from production of cultural information.

This implies a clear net positive change in order due to our intensely “ordered” products. 

Yet previously, you recognized that there is order (lots of it) in living things. 

And that's where I see a very deep (specie-ist-driven) fallacy: to create our products humans destroy a vast amount of living things and therefore wipe out corresponding enormous amounts of order. 

Vast parts of the rainforest, extinction of entire species, degradation of the ocean, etc., etc., etc. - do you really think that if you even attempted to conceptualize the volume of order sacrificed to build iPhones, you could come out with a net positive growth in order?

I suppose it might be remotely possible - but you don’t even address this trade-off, making your argument incomplete and sloppy. I am very surprised that SciAm did not insist on a more rigorous treatment.

Sdaly, you seem to blithely accept that destruction of life on our planet in order to manifest our culture-as-thought as products. 

Which that brings me to…

Offensively Tone Deaf

Your insistence to see the entire world through a human filter and impose human paradigms onto the rest of the natural world is shocking, giving the growing awareness (especially among the most rational of us, like many scientists).
“A tree, for example, is a computer”
“Objects of this kind [manufactured products] are particularly special.”
“Biological cells are finite computers”
“People are also limited, and we transcend our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks.”
“Special” “Transcend”

You use words that impute relentlessly positive values to human activity. 

Yet if you do not place humans “above” all others, you could at least say (my changes in bold):

“People are also limited, and we augment our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks. A necessary consequence of this agumentation is the destruction of the computational capacities of billions of other living creatures.

At the very end of your muddled thought experiment, you finally hint at a bigger picture:
“The resulting hyperconnected society will present our species with some of the most challenging ethical problems in human history.”
Ah, ethics! Finally! Professor Hidalgo will now point out the grave price paid by our planet and co-inhabitants for human's desire for comfort and convenience, but....

No, no. For you, like way too many other humans, all that matters is the human species.
“We could lose aspects of our humanity that some of us consider essential: for example, we might cheat death.”
Now that would be a real ethical disaster (cheating death) - precisely because it mean accelerated devastation of our planet and non-humans.

But that doesn’t seem to even register in your thinking.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Lot To Listen To

A Lot To Listen To

Sometimes, if you're lucky,
there is nothing to hear
but the sound of the wind
blowing through trees.

Now you could say:
"That's not much to listen to."
Or you could listen...

Listen
to the rustling, hissing, whispering, sometimes angry sound
of thousands 
of almost silent brushings of leaf against leaf,
of feather-light taps of twig striking twig,
any single act nothing to hear at all
but when the tree is big enough
and the leaves are numerous enough
and the branches reach out 
thinner and thinner
poking out toward the sun
carrying leaves to their destiny,

then you might be able to hear
the sound of the wind
blowing through trees.

It's a lot to listen to,
if you can hear it.




Copyright 2015 Steven Feuerstein

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A natural born tree right in my own backyard!

As some of my readers may have noticed, I spend a lot of time these days among trees, paying attention to trees, cutting back invasive trees to save native trees, etc.

And one thing that I came to realize is that at least in an area like Chicagoland, humans tightly control the reproduction of trees. 

I live on a lovely tree-lined street. Big trees - 100 ft tall or more. Maples, oaks, ash....but there are no baby trees, except for smallish trees that the city plants when they have to remove diseased trees (such as all the ash trees, under assault from ash borers).

It makes me sad to think of how impoverished my immediate surroundings are, how unnatural. We don't even let trees - majestic living things that make our lives possible, that live through many of our own generations - live out natural life cycles. 

In fact, I have come to accept that trees planted singly along streets to enhance our lives are really just ornaments. If "a man is not an island" then certainly a tree is not a forest. And very few trees live naturally outside of forests of many, many trees.

Well, enough of sadness. Veva and I were sitting on our patio last week, enjoying the (finally) warm weather and our lovely garden (thanks to Veva), when she pointed out something truly wonderful:


Can you see it? We planted the birch trees years ago. They are now 40 feet tall, but nestled in between? A natural born baby birch tree! Can't see it? Here maybe this will help:


I feel so much better now. The (minimal) wildness of our garden (as in: no grass) made it possible for a birch seed to take hold and grow. A tree that humans did not plant and hopefully will allow to grow to maturity.

Humans love to debate things like "Do plants feel?" Of course, it is terribly difficult for us to imagine such a thing - because the way that plants would think and feel would be so different from us. So we will likely never really be able to answer the question.

Which means it would make a lot more sense to err on the side of caution and assume that trees and plants and creatures do feel, do think in their own way, do take joy in life.

And watching this natural born tree grow, it is certainly easy to believe that it is joyful. I sure am.



Saturday, May 16, 2015

The human being is the only animal that...

Last night, I decided to re-read Stumbling on Happiness, a book I'd discovered a few years ago and was (then) delighted with. 

I chose that over one of my (back then) favorite books of fiction, because I'd been thinking yesterday and how odd it is that lots of left-leaning humans are all upset about climate change and really pissed at their elected officials about their non-action on this literally world-changing issue at a time when radical action is necessary - yet they don't take radical action in their own lives.

It's pretty clear that politicians will not change direction (will not override the influence of the source of their funding), until their constituents demonstrate a deep desire for change, backed up by action.

Anyway, there I was wondering once again about humans and why we behave the way we do. And so I sought out some answers in SoH. After all, the renowned Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, says right on the cover: 
"If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me."
OK, so fine. If a person says "trust me", usually you want to run in the other direction. But hey....

So I started reading and soon found Daniel Gilbert talking about psychologists are expected sometime in their career to finish The Sentence that starts with "The human being is the only animal that..." and now it was his turn.

Exciting! And then he finished the sentence:
"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."
And then you know what I did?

I stopped the reading book - and tossed it into the recycle bin. Yep, I threw the book away. That's how much Gilbert disgusted me, right then and there.

Why? Because of all the things we know about the world and the way it "works", the one thing we can never know is what another animal - even another human - is actually, truly thinking

All we can know, all we can see, all we can measure, and then draw conclusions from, is how an animal manifests their thinking into the world.

Gilbert cites as one "proof" of his Sentence that squirrels will, ahem, squirrel away nuts in advance of winter even in places where they will then find, winter after winter, that nuts or other food remain abundant. 

Go, Gilbert, go! Apply a human frame of judgement onto other animals, sure, why not? Why not assume that means that squirrels don't think about the future, rather than saying: "Maybe they do think about the future and know that they cannot trust what the future will bring, because they are not willing to destroy forests to build houses to hide them from the vagaries of the future."

So I threw out the book, but that got me thinking about The Sentence. I thought I would offer my own variations on that statement and invite others to do the same. Here goes...

The human being is the only animal that:
  • creates garbage, including vast "islands" of plastic in the middle of our oceans
  • causes the extinction of entire species, year in and year out
  • poisons water, the source of all life on this planet
  • learns multiple languages
  • holds it in
And just to pre-empt some typical responses:

The human being is the not only animal that:
  • creates art - lots of birds do, too. Just check out nests of bowerbirds.
  • has a sense of right and wrong - black bears do, too. Just check out Among the Bears. Seriously: READ THIS BOOK.
  • uses tools - birds, chimpanzees and others repurpose stones, branches, etc. as tools
  • is altruistic - again, black bears, and even more so ants. Many species of ants are way more altruistic than humans.
So what can you think of that only a human does? And please don't tell me about your belief about internal states of mind. That's just an opinion. Tell me about what humans do.