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Sharing is Caring? Or is it a Sin?

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Aren't animals just like furry little versions of us? Author Paul Theroux lays the smack down on E.B. White's penchant for anthropomorphism. His solution is that to love animals you must admit you can never share with them.

But Jad and Robert, dismayed at this posit, go trolling for another solution. And they come across a photographer named Paul Nicklen. He's got not just a story, but EVIDENCE (in high-def), of an encounter of profound sharing between the species.

Read more:

Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Nicklen, Polar Obsession

Comments [27]

ANdreas Schulz from germany

Radiolab is my favourite show - knowledge at its best!!!!
Well done guys!

Aug. 22 2013 01:11 AM
Aaron Buckley from San Diego

I don't understand why the gander biting the man who healed him back to health means the goose was ungrateful or not able to connect with the human on a deeper level. Maybe that was simply the goose telling the man ... I've had enough of the antibiotics, no more. The goose has not been societally trained how to politely say no thank you, so why fault the relationship when the animal is acting naturally? Being a nurse, I can tell you some people also act rudely to care treatment ... no more of that medicine, I'm sick of taking it. Great show. :)

Aug. 16 2013 01:56 AM
Chris from Pittsburgh, PA

Radio Lab is such a great show. I try to never miss an episode. The story about the leopard seal was so amazing, I've been playing it for everyone I meet. Thanks so much for the great program!

Jun. 16 2013 08:40 AM
Richard W. from Coral Springs, FL

What an amazing story that was. I was late to work just because I had to finish listening to the story about the leopard seal. Always enjoy your show. Keep them coming.

Jun. 15 2013 06:30 PM
Jean Katsaros from Cocoa Beach Florida

I was completely mesmerized by Paul Nicklen and the leopard seal story. I sat in the grocery store parking lot until it was over, but I still couldn't leave my car. The intense emotion Mr. Nicklen conveyed was stunning.

Jun. 15 2013 02:47 PM
Stuka

This is an amazing piece of radio show. Especially love the part where the seal trying to feed a human being. That was so cool

Mar. 15 2013 10:12 AM
kg

In relation to the dog that still looks guilty, when they are actually not guilty. Couldn't you relate that to humans and how children even when they have done nothing wrong when they hear a raised voice from their parents won't they also react in a similar fashion? Or is that even a reasonable question?

Apr. 27 2012 05:42 PM
Max

An amazing piece of radio!

Apr. 01 2012 05:22 PM
A. K. from Madison, WI

I was so engrossed by this podcast this morning that I literally couldn't remember a single step in my 30 minute walk to work today. I was just so wowed away by the whale story.

Love the podcast! Keep up the good work!

Feb. 25 2011 06:43 PM
Adam from Henderson, NV

I believe in the whale story. Empathic connections between species happen every day. Another good example would be Christian the Lion, and that one's on film!

It would be cool if Jad and Robert tracked down Christian's former owners; that'd be a hell of an interview!

Dec. 12 2010 09:06 PM
Anne Hubbard from Cambridge, ma

Caught the story of the leopard seal quite by accident. Beautiful, moving, and I can't get it out of my mind. Thank you.

Jul. 11 2010 11:02 PM
Jim from CT

Animal minds is a great show, and attempts a difficult topic, but I find that the perspective is a bit off. A great convesation about Konrad Lorenz and Nikolas Tinbuurgen is missing here. Their views and building of ethology acrosss the 19th century is sorely missed in this episode. Especially considering Lorenz's work with Graylag Geese, and his easily accessible work of King Solomon's Ring. If you added them in there would be a greater historical perspective on behavior and physiology before leading into modern ethology or ecology and evolotionary bio discussion.

Love the show, and keep up the great work!

P.S. I REALLY want a coffee mug with your show on it.

Apr. 22 2010 01:18 PM
Erica Johnson from Bemidji, MN

WOW and wow again, RadioLab never ceases to amaze me but 'Animal Minds' takes the cake.
It brought tears to my eyes, made me laugh out loud (got some weird looks at the office...) and left me feeling inspired.
Thank you for such a gift.

Apr. 14 2010 05:53 PM
Aggie Schwarz from Milwaukee, WI

Loved this episode! I had given our golden retriever a particularly food crusted ceramic bowl to "pre-wash" before it went in the dishwasher--then went to the basement to change a load of laundry. When I came back upstairs, a dog bed, which lives under a butcher block in our kitchen, had been pulled out and was about three feet from it's normal location. Giba was lying on her dog bed about six feet away looking very non-plussed. When I picked up the dog bed, I found part of the broken bowl hidden underneath, she had obviously broken it when carrying it back to her bed for better "work" conditions (I found two other pieces "hidden" on the stairs and under the dining room table). This implies to me some level of reason, call it anthropomorphism if you wish. Who are we to say animals do not experience remorse, regret or attraction. I have no doubt our dog thought "I'm in big trouble!" and acted accordingly.

Mar. 04 2010 06:45 PM
kaedence from corvallis, oregon

I agree with a lot of what has already been said here, comments about guilt in dogs, appreciation for the story about the whale and the leopard seal, I would add to the list appreciation of the orangutan story as well...and an almost ineffable sense of dissapointment with everything in between.

Let me clarify, I LOVE your show. I love the artistry of presentation and the attention each topic is given. However, in this episode. I found myself asking: "Jad, Robert! Why aren't you asking *this* and *this*"

Why? It seems--though none of the deliciously gigantic topics radiolab tackles could ever be exhausted within an hour (or even a month)--you folks at radiolab tend to do an *excellent* job of asking the questions that keeps curiosity spinning.

However, particularly in the section about dogs, and bears, you spoke to sources that gave terribly flimsy arguments. Granted, it is basically impossible to prove the absence of s/th but still, if my amateur science background can dredge up arguments that render their statements silly, then maybe we're talking to the wrong scientists or asking the wrong questions. For example (on bears), humans in distress are regularly reported to attack humans attempting to help them. This doesn't even have the partial merit of a slippery slope argument.

Whether or not an individual has a scientific background, an absence of logic will never equal a worthwhile consideration.

I'm asking for a return to the thought provoking standard that is your norm. Thanks, keep up the good work, guys and gals!

Feb. 04 2010 02:03 PM
Anthony

I was dismayed when the one scientist couldn't even bring himself to say that the whale might have been expressing gratitude towards its rescuers.

Really, what IS "gratitude" or "thanks"? Is it a particular brain pattern? Can it be reduced to such?

Humans exhibit thanks in many different ways, some of which aren't obvious signs of gratitude. I can't see what's in their heads, and yet I know they're thankful.

Therefore I propose a much more practical definition of gratitude: if it feels like gratitude, then it is. So yes, the whale was thanking them, and any bear that eats its rescuer IS an ungrateful bastard.

Jan. 31 2010 10:07 PM
eric from vancouver

i'm a big fan, but a little confused as to what the point of this week's podcast was.
am i supposed to take away that i'm stupid for interpreting my cat's nightly routine of standing at the back door, looking at it, then looking at me and meowing as some sort of communication that he wants me to open the door so he can go outside? or am i an idiot for thinking that when i pat on my lap that the cat understands this as an invitation, just because 4/5 times he walks over and jumps into my lap right after?
i found the mocking of imaginary people who expected freed bears to thank them, rather than eating them, to be particularly absurd.
is this a problem?
is too much empathy for animals a big problem in this world?
if our factory farms and worldwide extinction rate are anything to go by, i would say that there is no danger of people identifying too much with animals.

Jan. 24 2010 09:16 PM
Phil V from CA

Great episode! Loved the story of the whale.

One quick question - why does this page say the episode is from April 02, 2010. Did you guys invent a time machine that you haven't told us about yet?

Jan. 21 2010 01:08 AM
Eric Gunther from Jersey City

Glad to hear you mining additional WNYC talent to lend there voices. Johnathan Schwartz reading E.B. White is mezmerizing

Jan. 20 2010 05:11 PM
Amira K from Paris, France

Wow, I love this show. I am a devoted follower. Just one thing.. Leopard seals and penguins live around Antarctica - not the Arctic. Coca cola ads might beg to differ, but its just one of those things. Can't wait until the next show!!

Jan. 18 2010 11:06 AM
Michael Bishop from Berkeley, CA

I have a quick question.

What is the music playing in the first few minues of the show. It's around 2:30 in? It's captivating.

Jan. 17 2010 02:31 PM
Steven Radzikowski from New Jersey, USA

great episode! all of your episodes are good.
this has to be the only one, however, where i feel a bit more empty at the end. where i wanted some kind of answer. hard to explain.

the last segment with paul nicklen's story is really powerful. it was hard not to cry when hearing him talk about the leopard seal.

thank you for sharing.

Jan. 15 2010 07:24 PM
Bob Walton from Parker, TX

Perhaps sharing between species is an individualized phenomenon that cannot be predicted or measured, happens randomly and rarely, and is only sometimes recognized by either participant. If so, can any experiment ever confirm or deny?

Jan. 15 2010 04:22 PM
kendra from tucson, arizona

Jad and Robert:

Loved this show, particularly the final segment about Paul Nicklen's leopard seal encounter. But guys, leopard seals and penguins are Antarctic polar fauna found in the Southern Ocean. They are not found in the Arctic Ocean as you said in this piece.

Just a slip-up I'm sure, but it's a common misconception about polar wildlife that I hate to see perpetuated!

Jan. 15 2010 12:21 PM
Carol Lindsay from Omaha, NE

I wondered, though it's off topic for this story, whether the geese really helped with the lawn at all.

I'm all for anthropomorphizing - it makes life fun. However, you must be realistic about it and know that you're doing it for your own entertainment. If you watch dog behaviorists like Caesar Millan he constantly reminds people that a dog is a dog. If you try to make them people you're going to run into problems.

Jan. 14 2010 01:22 PM
Brian Hamilton from Claremont, CA

I'm listening to the program right now on podcast, and I have to say, I wasn't very impressed with the findings of the scientific group that tested for guilt in dogs. I realize that dogs look submissive when they're scolded, but as I'm sure many dog owners can tell you, dogs will often look sumissive when they know they've done something wrong (like when they poop in the house) even though they have not yet been scolded, and even though their masters have not yet discovered what they did. I don't know if the dogs are experiencing guilt in these moments, or if they're simply anticipating the scolding that they know they're about to receive. However, I do think it demonstrates a recognition that what they did will not be appreciated by their masters.

Jan. 14 2010 12:58 PM
John from Princeton, NJ

I was so happy to see this episode. I believe I have listened to all your archives three times each.

I wonder about the 'feeling of shame' experiment showing the dogs don't understand. I would bet if you took a bunch of 5-year old human children and yelled at all of them regardless of what they did, good or bad, wouldn't they act 'ashamed' as well?

I have a friend, Greta, who happens to be a dachshund. She once barked and started to jump out of the car while we were traveling, and I slapped her. She looked at me with "Why did you do that?" all over her face. Not ashamed, not submissive but the same way I would look at someone who belted me for no reason (I thought I had a reason, she obviously didn't).

Maybe the researcher is correct, but I think his reaction had more to do with his poorly designed experiment than any disdain for anthropomorphism.

Jan. 12 2010 10:17 PM

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