Mechanism and function are the eternal yin and yang of biology: they interact and intertwine, yet there is no greater sin than confusing the two.
If there is any form of contagion that is adaptive, it is the immediate response to the fear of others. If others are fearful, there may be good reason for you to be fearful too.
If you look at national economies today, for example, the American economy, the European economy, the Indians, the Chinese, we're all tied together. If one of them sinks, the rest are going to sink with them and if one floats, the rest are lifted up. I find that very interesting.
When humans behave murderously, such as inflicting senseless slaughter of innocents in warfare, we like to blame it on some dark, 'animalistic' instinct.
The intuitive connection children feel with animals can be a tremendous source of joy. The unconditional love received from pets, and the lack of artifice in the relationship, contrast sharply with the much trickier dealings with members of their own species.
Religions have a strong binding function and a cohesive element. They emphasize the primacy of the community as opposed to the individual, and they also help set one community apart from another that doesn't share their beliefs.
Very long ago our ancestors had moral systems. Our current institutions are only a couple of thousand years old, which is really not old in the eyes of a biologist.
One thing bothered me as a student. In the 1960s, human behavior was totally off limits for the biologist. There was animal behavior, then there was a long time nothing, after which came human behavior as a totally separate category best left to a different group of scientists.
What is the evolutionary value of blushing? It seems not to be to our advantage to do it, to involuntarily reveal our inner emotions. If we're trying to manipulate or lie, actions in furtherance of individual goals as opposed to the goals of others, blushing would not seem to be helpful. And yet everyone blushes, except the psychopath.
I was raised Catholic. Not just a little bit Catholic, like my wife, Catherine. When she was young, many Catholics in France already barely went to church, except for the big three: baptism, marriage, and funeral. And only the middle one was by choice.
Scientists are supposed to study animals in a totally objective fashion, similar to the way we inspect a rock or measure the circumference of a tree trunk. Emotions are not to interfere with the assessment. The animal-rights movement capitalizes on this perception, depicting scientists as devoid of compassion.
Closeness to animals creates the desire to understand them, and not just a little piece of them, but the whole animal. It makes us wonder what goes on in their heads even though we fully realize that the answer can only be approximated.
There has been so much underestimating of animal cognition that to perhaps overestimate it, as I probably do, is probably a healthy reaction.
Bonobo studies started in the '70s and came to fruition in the '80s. Then in the '90s, all of a sudden, boom, they ended because of the warfare in the Congo. It was really bad for the bonobo and ironic that people with their warfare were preventing us from studying the hippies of the primate world.
It is well known that apes in the wild offer spontaneous assistance to each other, defending against leopards, say, or consoling distressed companions with tender embraces.
I have often noticed how primate groups in their entirety enter a similar mood. All of a sudden, all of them are playful, hopping around. Or all of them are grumpy. Or all of them are sleepy and settle down. In such cases, the mood contagion serves the function of synchronizing activities.
Deep down, creationists realize they will never win factual arguments with science. This is why they have construed their own science-like universe, known as Intelligent Design, and eagerly jump on every tidbit of information that seems to go their way.
I was born in Den Bosch, where the painter Hieronymus Bosch named himself after. And so I've always been very fond of this painter who lived and worked in the 15th century.
It is hard to get animals which normally pay little attention to each other to do things together. One can teach dolphins to jump simultaneously out of the water precisely because they show similar behavior spontaneously, but try to make two domestic cats jump together and you will fail.
Chimpanzees, typically, kiss and embrace after fights. They first make eye contact from a distance to see the mood of the others. Then they approach and kiss and embrace.