Historian Rutger Bregman argues that the persistent theory that most people are monsters is just wrong.
- How have humans managed to accomplish significantly more than any other species on the planet? Historian Rutger Bregman believes the quality that makes us special is that we "evolved to work together and to cooperate on a scale that no other species in the whole animal kingdom has been able to do."
- Pushing back against the millennia-old idea that humans are inherently evil beneath their civilized surface, which is known as 'veneer theory', Bregman says that it's humanity's cooperative spirit and sense of brotherhood that leads us to do cruel deeds. "Most atrocities are committed in the name of loyalty, and in the name of friendship, and in the name of helping your people," he tells Big Think. "That is what's so disturbing."
- The false assumption that people are evil or inherently selfish has an effect on the way we design various elements of our societies and structures. If we designed on the assumption that we are collaborative instead, we could avoid the "self-fulfilling prophecy" of selfishness.
An elephant at the Bronx Zoo has become a cause célèbre for animal rights activists.
- A 47-year-old Asian elephant's final years are at issue in legal proceedings.
- The larger question is whether or not animals are entitled to habeas corpus rights.
- Several judges have gone on record stating that courts need to face the issue of legal rights for animals such as Happy.
The work of the NhRP<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc4ODc4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDkyMzYxNn0.02IMVvzctNmg69YidVXXEpX2npRLKqP_jDVcpeIiQ-A/img.jpg?width=980" id="26683" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1311c1cdd2ba7db3c4ff6c7c7c1872b3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A captive Asian elephant in Germany
Credit: Cloudtail the Snow Leopard/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>We've written previously about the NhRP and its legal work aimed at securing personhood rights for non-humans, including two chimpanzees named <a href="https://bigthink.com/robby-berman/court-ruling-denies-appeal-for-tommy-and-kiko-but-not-their-rights" target="_self">Tommy and Kiko</a>. The premise of the chimps' case was that they deserved protection from unlawful detention or imprisonment afforded under the legal concept of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habeas_corpus" target="_blank"><em>habeas corpus</em></a>.</p><p>In law, there are only two things an entity can be: It can be either a thing or a person. It's obvious that intelligent, feeling creatures—and we're learning that more and more animals are exactly this—are not just things. However, getting courts to recognize them as persons is a heavy lift. As NhRP attorney Steven M. Wise tells Big Think, "the word 'person' came loaded with emotional baggage," with people mistaking the legal term "person" as being synonymous with the common use of the word "human."</p><p>In the end, the NhRP wasn't able to secure the release of Tommy and Kiko to a chimp sanctuary, but nonetheless managed to move animal rights forward with a remarkable opinion by associate Eugene M. Fahey of the New York Court of Appeals. While ruling against the NhRP over legal technicalities, Fahey delivered a groundbreaking dissent about which Wise says, "I think in the years to come, that Judge Fahey's concurrence [with NhRP] is going to be seen as the breakthrough in the United States towards gaining legal rights for non-human animals."</p><p>"While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a 'person,'" Fahey wrote, "there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing." He added, "The reliance on a paradigm that determines entitlement to a court decision based on whether the party is considered a 'person' or relegated to the category of a 'thing' amounts to a refusal to confront a manifest injustice."</p>
An easier case to make<p>Fahey did disagree with the NhRP on one point—aside from the legal issue on which the court ruled against them—and Wise says that after thinking about Fahey's perspective for the last few years, he now agrees. The NhRP is pursuing a very different approach for Happy than they did for Tommy and Kiko.</p><p>Fahey noted that with laws already on the books such as New York State's <a href="https://www.animallaw.info/statute/ny-trusts-chapter-17-b-consolidated-laws" target="_blank">pet trust statute</a> that make Happy a beneficiary of legal protections, she already <em>has</em> rights. Following logically from that is that if she has rights, the judge pointed out, she is not a thing and therefore qualifies as a legal person entitled to <em>habeas corpus</em> protection.</p><p>In the past, the NhRP argued that Tommy and Kiko qualified as legal persons who would then deserve rights. Fahey's insight has given the NhRP a far easier case to make. It no longer requires a court to invent some new status that's neither thing nor person to deliver justice to animals.</p>
Happy's case moves forward<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc4ODc5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NzIwMDE1NX0.QYFzqzt3qdqGZQTDwTtqnFVa4aV_hnHMay9adba1n7A/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8238" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="88568365f58808b624dc7a535ebf778e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Asian elephant in the wild
Credit: Deanna DeShea/Unsplash<p>The proceedings on Happy's behalf have been going on since October 2018. The case began in New York's Orleans County, some 300 miles northwest of the Bronx Zoo. It was a district identified by the NhRP as perhaps holding a sympathetic view of personhood based on a case in which it granted a used-car dealership that status as a victim of a break-in. Wise recalls a sentence in the judgement that caught NhRP's attention: "It's common knowledge that personhood can and sometimes does attach to non-human entities like corporations or animals."</p><p>So far, it's been a long series of push-and-pull maneuvers between the NhRP and WCS. While WCS has generally been winning judgements, often on proceeding-related grounds, NhRP has scored some landmark victories.</p><p>In December 2018, the New York Supreme Court, Orleans County heard oral arguments regarding elephants' rights to <em>habeas corpus</em> based on Fahey's guidance. This was the <a href="https://www.nonhumanrights.org/blog/happy-habeas-hearing-albion/" target="_blank">first-ever such hearing</a> on behalf of an elephant, and only the second for animals altogether. (The first was for two of the NhRP's early clients, chimps <a href="https://www.nonhumanrights.org/blog/celebrating-two-years-of-sanctuary-for-hercules-and-leo/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hercules and Leo</a>.) The hearing resulted in the case being transferred to the Bronx as per the WCS's wishes.</p><p>In Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alison Y. Tuitt, the NhRP found a sympathetic judge who heard an extraordinary 13 hours of arguments during which the NhRP presented testimony supporting their case from five elephant experts. Wise notes that the WCS, which employs many of its own elephant experts, curiously chose not to present any testimony from them supporting the position that Happy should remain where she is.</p><p>After hearing arguments, Tuitt described Happy, the first elephant ever to have passed the <a href="https://www.livescience.com/4272-elephant-awareness-mirrors-humans.html" target="_blank">mirror self-awareness test</a>, as "an extraordinary animal with complex cognitive abilities, an intelligent being with advanced analytical abilities akin to human beings." She also concluded that Happy "is more than just a legal thing, or property. She is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity, and who may be entitled to liberty."</p><p>While WCS presented detailed descriptions of Happy's current care, health, and status, Tuitt notes in her opinion that "none of the Bronx Zoo's affiants present any evidence that they have studied any wild elephant, or know about any elephant's basic social, emotional, behavioral, liberty, and autonomy needs, whether captive or wild."</p><p>Tuitt rejected WCS position that Happy's current living situation at the Bronx Zoo is the best option available for the elephant, stating that "the arguments advanced by the NhRP are extremely persuasive for transferring Happy from her solitary, lonely one-acre exhibit at the Bronx Zoo to an elephant sanctuary."</p><p>Expressing regret, Tuitt felt bound by appellate court decisions regarding NhRP's chimp cases and ruled against releasing Happy. Fahey has written elsewhere that he now believes those earlier cases in which he participated were wrongly decided.</p><p>The NhRP is appealing on November 19 to the First Judicial Department, which Wise says is not bound, as are other courts, by previous rulings. He feels optimistic that with Tuitt's supportive decision in hand, he won't need to spend so much precious court time relitigating the basics of the NhRP's case. He also notes that should the WCS once again prevail, the next stop would be the Court of Appeals, where Fahey is one of seven justices who will hear Happy's case.</p>
One of the world's most isolated island groups has just been made one of the world's largest ocean reserves.
- The small island group of Tristan da Cunha has created one of the world's largest ocean sanctuaries.
- Neither fishing nor extractive activities will be allowed in the area, which is three times the size of the United Kingdom.
- Animals protected by this zone include penguins, sharks, and many seabirds.
Tristan da where now?<p> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_da_Cunha" target="_blank">Tristan da Cunha</a> is a British Overseas Territory consisting of an archipelago in the south Atlantic. The titular island is the largest in the group at about 100 square kilometers. Those hoping to visit will have to get there by a week-long boat ride from Cape Town. The island's government gleefully notes that it takes longer to get there than it takes astronauts to get to the Moon. <br> <br> The marine protection zone will cover 627,247 square kilometers (over 242,000 miles) of the ocean around the islands. It will be the "gold standard" in ocean conservation, with neither fishing nor other extractive activities allowed, often referred to as "no-take." It will be the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic, and the fourth largest anywhere in the world. <br> <br> The zone includes small areas just off the inhabited islands in which sustainable fishing will be allowed, but these areas are a small fraction of the no-take area's size. Given the historical reliance of the island's economy on the sea, this consideration is quite understandable. <br> <br> These protected areas join many others covered by the United Kingdoms' <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-blue-belt-programme" target="_blank">Blue Belt Programme</a> of marine protection, which aims to preserve 30 percent of the world's oceans by 2030. </p>
Most important of all, what animals are protected by this?<p> The now protected fish that inhabit the waters are a vital food source for many kinds of animals, all of which will benefit from not having to share their food supply with humans. </p><p>The vast area is home to many species of whales, sharks, and seals. Endangered species of albatross also drop by. Many birds that live on the islands and cannot be found elsewhere, such as the Wilkins bunting and the Inaccessible rail, also stand to benefit from the new protections. </p><p>Most adorable of all, the endangered northern <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockhopper_penguin" target="_blank">rockhopper penguins</a> make a home on one of the archipelago islands. With luck, they may not be endangered much longer. </p>
The compound found in "magic mushrooms" has significant and fast-acting impact on the brains of rats.
- Psilocybin and psilocin are chemical compounds found in "magic mushrooms."
- A recent study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found very interesting results when psilocybin was administered to rats to research the potential impact the chemical could have on the human brain.
- Several studies have suggested that psilocybin could be a treatment for depression.
The study: magic mushrooms and the prefrontal cortex/hippocampus of rats<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc4MzI1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzQxNjMwN30.JfKdSYpIUNFturZD_1QL788zveT2UHNXo33dLd_MK7E/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C299%2C0%2C299&height=700" id="ac809" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f87bcf6bacfca976a5bbcb028e790ee9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="mushrooms growing on log in a forest psilocybin magic mushrooms study" />
Psilocybin increases the expression of several genes related to neuroplasticity in the brain of rats after just one dose.
Photo by bukhta79 on Adobe Stock<p>The study examined the acute effects of a single dose (0.5-20mg/kg) of psilocybin on the brain of rats. In total, 45 genes and 8 reference genes were assessed using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The corresponding protein levels of the three most commonly regulated genes were then assessed using Western blotting.<br></p><p><strong>In the prefrontal cortex, the drug increased the expression of the following:</strong></p><ul><li><a href="https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=CEBPB" target="_blank">CEBPB</a> (protein-coding gene)</li><li><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/c-fos" target="_blank">c-Fos</a> (a proto-oncogene)</li><li><a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2019.01446/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">DUSP-1</a> (protein-coding gene)</li><li><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/98/20/11042" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FOSB</a> (protein-coding gene) </li><li><a href="https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=JUNB" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">JunB</a> (protein-coding gene)</li><li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4282558/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">IkBa</a> (inhibitor gene)</li><li><a href="https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=NR4A1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nr4a1</a> (growth factor gene) </li><li><a href="https://www.jwatch.org/jp201012060000001/2010/12/06/p11-protein-and-depression" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">P11</a> (protein)</li><li><a href="https://molecularbrain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13041-019-0520-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Psd95</a> (protein) </li><li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/6446" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SGK1</a> (protein-coding gene)</li></ul><p>The drug also decreased the expression of <a href="https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=CLK1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CLK1</a>, an enzyme that, in humans, is encoded by the CLK1 gene. </p><p><strong>In the hippocampus, psilocybin strongly increased the expression of: </strong></p><ul><li><a href="https://www.phosphosite.org/uniprotAccAction?id=Q8TBH0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Arrdc2</a> (protein) </li><li><a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2019.01446/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">DUSP-1</a> (protein-coding gene)</li><li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4282558/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">IkBa</a> (inhibitor gene)</li><li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/6446" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SGK1</a> (protein-coding gene)</li></ul><p>The drug also decreased the expression of <a href="https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/memory-gene-goes-viral#:~:text=The%20neuronal%20gene%20Arc%20encodes,that%20mediates%20intercellular%20RNA%20transfer." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ARC</a> (neuronal gene encoder), <a href="https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=CLK1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CLK1</a>, <a href="https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=EGR2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EGR2 </a>(protein-coding), and <a href="https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=PTGS2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PTGS2</a> (protein-coding). The protein levels of certain genes (IkBa, DUSP1, and SGK1) showed only partial agreement with transcriptional patterns, which stresses the importance of assessing downstream translation with these kinds of rapid gene responses.</p><p><strong>What does this mean? </strong></p><p>This study demonstrates that psilocybin not only includes gene expression that's heavily related to neuroplasticity, but it does so as a very rapid response to the chemical. The results were biased towards the prefrontal cortex compared to the hippocampus, but the findings of this study provide undeniable evidence for the rapid plasticity-promoting effects of psilocybin. </p>
Can magic mushrooms treat depression?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="44a65f388fea7701426102fac072709e"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pxuaYPff-14?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Several studies (including <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-13282-7" target="_blank">this one from 2017</a>) have suggested that <a href="https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/a-new-study-finds-a-psychedelic-treatment-for-depression-with-a-side-of-mushrooms" target="_self">psilocybin could be a treatment for depression</a>. In this study, 19 patients were given two incrementally larger doses of psilocybin administered one week apart. MRI scans were taken of the brains of patients before and after the doses were administered. The results of the study showed that the chemical reduced and then increased the amount of blood flow to (and thus changing the activity levels of) different regions of the brain, some of which are associated with depressive symptoms.</p><p>The patients of this study also self-reported improved mood spikes lasting for up to five weeks after the ingestion of psilocybin. The patients even explained that they felt as though their brains had been "reset" or "rebooted" - this effect being known (in unscientific settings) as the "afterglow" of psilocybin use. </p><p><strong>Psychedelic drugs (like psilocybin) may hold untold potential in treating not only depression but anxiety and addiction, as well.</strong> </p><p>While researchers are still pursuing how psychedelics like psilocybin could be beneficial to human brains, there are some theories surrounding how psychedelics could help in addiction therapies. </p><p>"People will often report a changed relationship in observing themselves. I think this is much like what we refer to as mindfulness: someone's ability to view their own motivations and behaviour from a more detached and less judgemental perspective," said Matthew Johnson, a professor of psychology at Johns-Hopkins University who is <a href="https://www.vice.com/en/article/bmvdnm/how-psychedelic-drugs-psilocybin-lsd-could-help-treat-addiction" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">testing psilocybin in a trial aimed at nicotine addiction.</a></p>
Across the world, wildlife is under severe threat.
Earth's fate and the devastation of the natural world were recently put under the microscope with the release of Sir David Attenborough's Netflix documentary A Life On Our Planet.