There’s a Zoo in Us

I recently came across this old Sesame Street cartoon. I wonder if the writers knew the real depth of what they were saying with this.

What better way to get kids pumped on evolution? There’s a zoo in us! We are full of animals. Through the cumulative processes of evolution, we became who were are. There were many steps along the way, which we can see, somewhat frozen in time, at the zoo. It is hard for some to admit, but if we allow ourselves to look in the mirror that is the zoo, so many of the behaviors we see are ours. In most cases they have been elaborated upon by our imaginative minds and through the cumulative feedback loops of culture. So many of these emotions and behaviors continue to operate in us, animating and guiding the acquisition of this culture.

When I get mad, out comes a lion and gives a great roar.
Anger can certainly drive us to—as your grandma might have scolded you for doing—behave like animals. To this I might add, “When I get horny, out comes a lion, who gives a great roar, and bites and pounces things.” It is lust and anger that seem to elicit the most raw, culturally unedited reactions from us.

When I feel proud, I strut my stuff, just like a peacock…
Proud as a peacock. What third grade boy has not done a poppa-wheelee in the presence of a gaggle of third grade grade girls? There is no shortage of evolutionary folk psychology on this topic. Some say this is the main driving force of the arts as evolutionary adaptation. I would say otherwise, but cannot altogether deny its validity.

And when I’m scared, I’m a tiny little rabbit who runs and hides.
Bunnies put the flight in fright or flight. There are things that still make me want to run and hide. Fear can make us shake, twitch, and become hyper sensitive to our environments. Sometimes we just run away.

When I get hungry, I’m a real bear.
Hunger is way at the bottom of Maslow’s Heirarchy. Our bodies need fuel and they will do amazing things for it. Like bears rumaging through a campsite, we can get quite ingenious with our food-gathering.

Maybe we need spend less time anthropomorphizing and more time animalizing, like this happy little cartoon boy, celebrating our heritage. Often behaving like an animal means behaving badly. We can’t deny, though, that human prehistory holds some serious answers to the puzzles of human nature. Pay a visit to the zoo in you from time to time. You don’t have to unlock all the cages, but at least have a look around.

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4 Responses to “There’s a Zoo in Us”

  1. dan says:

    i love this video of a dreaming dog .

    i’ve been enjoying looking at this in the opposite direction. looking for the human in animals. what are all the things that animals do that we do to? what is the continuum of “thinking” and what are the various examples from the animal kingdom of something close to us.

    Playing by ravens.->
    Trampoline by foxes->

    Tool making by crows->

    City building by ants. ->

    Drug addiction by cats.->

    Epic sex by slugs. ->

    Dancing by frostie the bird. ->

    Playing with bubble rings by dolphins. ->

    These are from a longer “animals” playlist of mine on youtube. Watch the whole set

  2. eric says:

    These are amazing. The whole business of anthropomorphization / animalization is so circular. We say, “aww look at the animals they’re just like us”, because the characteristics of ours we see in them were actually theirs first.

    And it’s reciprocal. Animals animalize us all the time. They don’t get the culture part, so they see us as just like them. Just like them, we growl, bear our teeth, roll around in the grass, fart, let off a scent when we’re scared, have sex, dance, etc.

  3. Lydia Owen says:

    drug addiction is really a very bad problem of the society, it destroys the life of a person`:`

  4. Martin Weiss says:

    I do programs for children about evolution and i would like to see this video. However, I cannot get it to play and can’t find it on You Tube. Can you help?


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