VIDEO: "The Human Animal" series (1994), presented by Desmond Morris (a BBC/Learning Channel production) episode on "The Immortal Gene"

selected points:

  • Biologically, Our children are our "immortality"
  • Parental love is predictable considering our investment
  • Concern for children and their separation from the protective family is exemplified by a child gone missing at a fair or on the first day of school
  • Humans have the heaviest parental burden ("parental investment") of existing animals - why are we so protective? is it altruism?
  • Birth: in some cultures, mothers-to-be are treated as sick and "protected" (for example in a traditional Russian hospital) - babies are born into an alienating environment and "swaddled" (but they stop crying) and are kept from their mother except for nursing.
  • Some cultures have a more "natural" mode of childbirth: use gravity and have extensive mother-infant contact as soon after birth as possible
  • Infants are born with interesting skills: swimming skills, imitation (which can seen within first 15 minutes).
  • Mothers & infants "unconsciously learn" each other's scent (takes infant about 45 hours to learn)
  • Humans (most species?) have automatic nurturing responses to the infant's appearance
  • Some cultures (Maori) grandmothers feed infants from their own mouths [origin of kissing?]
  • Adults alter their behavior to be more attractive to infants (high-pitch voice, "baby-talk" & repetition . . .)
  • Adults are constantly talking to and interacting with infants, fostering their speaking (intelligible by 18-24 months)
  • Children socialize (and sometimes suffer thereby, beginning in play)
  • Children begin being "useful" --helping out
  • Rites of passage and rituals (First communion, Italian sapling-splitting ceremony; boy scouts)
  • Generational Change? Slowed by ceremonial conformity; cultural indoctrination (e.g., group attachment and discipline; military and its attractive stimuli of drums and marching)
  • Wanting to conform (parades) . . . but also the rebellion of youth [innovation vs tradition is the "essential tension" (Kuhn) and seems more-or-less wired into all of us]
  • Pairing, bearing, and rearing
  • post-reproductive attempts to defeat the aging process
  • But WHY do we live so long ?? the huge parental burden includes grandparents
  • The human capacity for foresight and a sense of time allows us to contemplate our deaths; some of us believe in an afterlife and build tombs to facilitate it
  • Some of us try to defeat death by cryogenics
  • But it is the genes that are "immortal."