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greg dahlen

Alumnus, academy of achievement


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What have you learned from animals?

I was thinking about squirrels and how they eat pine nuts and acorns, and this led me to watch YouTube videos how I could harvest pine nuts and acorns.

Hearing how animals emphasize smell led to me to read books and articles about perfume.

Sometimes I'll get down on all fours and walk like an animal to exercise my arms.

Hearing how jackals eat bones on the African plains helped me realize you can eat hard things. I used to think you couldn't eat a snail live because the shell was too hard. But now if I find a garden snail on my walk I'll eat it, shell and all. I discovered the shell really isn't all that hard.


Closing Statement from greg dahlen

I concluded that people do watch animals and think about what they do and learn from them but I wondered if they could go farther. For example, I wish there weren't "indecent exposure" laws, I wish we could go nude in public like when I want to go out and hang laundry on the line to dry.

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  • Jul 18 2013: 1. Loyalty- We have a Pomeranian/Papillon mix that will wait in the front window for my wife for hours while she is at work. When she eventually spots her, the tail starts wagging so hard she knocks herself off the perch and then runs to meet my wife at the door, with a series of hind leg stands, tail wagging circles and hand licks.

    2. Adaptive behavior- Animals use what is around to survive and leave very little environmental damage.Animals also tend to adapt to their environment over generations.

    3. The importance of teaching your children how to survive-Animals usually have their children around them to make sure they know what is needed to give them the best chance at survival.

    4. The importance of staying active and physically fit-In the animal world, this means survival.

    5. The improved security of walking with a friend, or a group of friends-animals will travel in groups for protection.

    6. There are a number of things about sharks and fish that are physical adaptations that are design tips for people building underwater vehicles. Scientific American did an article on this many years ago.

    7. There are lessons to be learned in watching how species solve different problems- The problem may not be the one you need solved, buy if you can adapt the solution to you problem, you will probably have a very efficient solution. Animals do not waste much energy.

    8. Situational awareness-animals have very keen senses and pay attention to these senses- we should as well.
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      Jul 19 2013: Robert, what is the evidence that animals are traveling in groups for "protection," since we can't talk to them do we know, or make an educated guess, about their motivation? For example, if we see a bunch of little fish swimming together, are you saying they are doing this for protection? But if a shark comes along, is it really going to help, can the group defend its members against a shark? In truth I might think that the larger group calls attention to itself more, makes it easier for the shark to spot them.
      Not trying to be ornery here, just want to know more about your idea.
      • Jul 19 2013: I was thinking about a pack of coyotes, jackals, hyenas, or wolves that might become prey for some larger predator if left alone, but in traveling as a pack or herd, have the power to ward off a predator.

        Of course it is not true for all animals.
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          Jul 19 2013: Any idea, or knowledge, of why the little fish swim in schools, what advantage there is to them there?
      • Jul 20 2013: They (the experts) claim that little animals congregate in the face of enemies to appear larger and also to confuse the predator. I don't know about this hypothesis but it sounds possible. Also, the "herd instinct" applies to dolphins, elephants etc. who, when being attacked, come to each other's aid.
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      Jul 19 2013: Hi Robert and Greg,

      On little fish that swim in schools - there is also an advantage there. They are almost perfectly synchronised which helps when it comes to warding off bigger fish that may be predators (if attacked, they just change the shape of the school, predators tend to leave with nothing or little) and then there is energy saving - since they're small they do not have a lot of energy individually to swim through the waters and cover long distances, in a group they don't have to escape and thus cover long distances while still being able to survive in water which is characterised by some friction, more than we experience:


      That's what I think, anyway, I might be wrong.

      EDIT - just to add a thought...the fish swim in schools to escape some "natural" predators... And there come the fishing nets of all sorts. Aren't we the humans the biggest, most cunning, most resourceful predators?
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        Jul 20 2013: but exactly how are imagining they "ward off"? Couldn't the predator just eat the ones on the edge of the group?
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          Jul 21 2013: You'rem right, I formulated my idea badly, I meant - stay protected. Some predators, especially alone, seem to be less effective that a lot of small fish in a group, which takes us back to the herd instinct mentioned above.
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        Jul 22 2013: do you happen to know how the small fish in a group protect themselves from a predator, if the predator attacks do they attack back? What is the nature of their attack, are they biting the predator?
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          Jul 22 2013: No, they don't fight back or attack back from what I know, they just escape. They chose flight, or a form of it, instead of fight, those are the two main strategies.
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        Jul 22 2013: That's what I don't get Anna because if that's true the group doesn't afford them any additional protection, a single fish can flee just as well as a group, in fact better because they aren't bumping into other members of the group?

        Enjoyed both videos. Did you say why ants interest you, I'm intrigued by the idea that there is no central control but they all find what jobs to do, she didn't say this but I wonder if some struggle before they can decide on what job they should do like some of us human beings struggle? Maybe some of them change jobs occasionally, they say now with human beings we try four or five different careers in our life. What jobs have you done, did you ever actually support yourself as a musician? What jobs would you like to do?
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          Jul 22 2013: I'm not sure I get it either, is there a marine biologist onboard? But still, small animals do seem and often are stronger in a group, I don't think fish collide with one another while swimming in a school.

          I didn't support myself, I was playing at home, singing outside, almost charity work. Free to come and listen. It's a bit ironic - I'm a religion critic and that used to sing gospel in churches... I've had a number of jobs, what I'd thinking of now is a career in winetasting... Just kidding :)

          Ants change their role and tasks depending on the demand, it's also true for humans as technology changes the world. Some jobs are obsolete now or at least less frequent than in the past, new ones appeared.
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        Jul 22 2013: well, even if they wouldn't bite the predator, perhaps they would just bump into the predator and the thought of that discourages the predator. No, I wasn't thinking they collide with each other as a general rule, only when they are fleeing from a predator and things have gotten crazy.

        Well, it might be difficult to support oneself in the arts. How much does music interest you, perhaps you should go to school for it. Can one really make a living in winetasting, someone who had worked on a commercial for McDonald's restaurants told me they kept a bag by the table and when the camera had shut off they would spit the food into the trashbag, they can't just keep eating as they do a number of takes of the same scene and would get too full. I was reading Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters about a making a video where he ate some candy and they did about fifty takes, he had quite a buzz off that.

        Do you remember when you first got interested in ants?
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          Jul 22 2013: Hi,

          Just a quick reply:
          - I wouldn't say I'm especially interested in ants but I can safely say that I got interested in nature and the world around me the day I opened my eyes for the first day which was three days after I was born. Ants are a part of it. I can also safely say that I'm more interested in ants than in who in Hollywood had what sort of cosmetic surgeries, although that's also nature
          - professional winetasters are very few but I'm sure they earn some sort of living given the size of the wine industry. They also have to follow rigorous rutines when it comes to preservation of the quality of their tastebuds and sense of smell - they cannot smoke, eat certain foods
          - I was at a music school, started when I was six, have never thought of having anything to do with music as a trade
          - why would little fish attack their potential predators? It's not their food...
          - winetasters cannot eat ants become of the bile, I'm sure of that
          - humans eat a lot of live animals at specialised restaurants. I remember a conversation about that with two experienced travellers - they bragged about what live animals they have been served during their travels, usually seafood. I must say that made me quite uncomfortable.
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        Jul 23 2013: well, I was not thinking the little fish would attack first, only if the predator attacked they might counter-attack. Again, just trying to explain the protective advantage of groups.

        I was thinking when a predator attacks a smaller fish, it may take three or four bites before the predator can weaken the fish enough to eat it. But if the fish is in a group, it may be harder for the predator to get three or four bites out of the same smaller fish, as the fish are swirling together and it's hard to keep track of any certain fish. So this might be an advantage. Also, in a group one has many eyes, your buddy may spot trouble coming before you do and lead the group into some sort of defensive action. Except what is the defensive action, I wonder? To go hide by a rock, the schools of fish don't seem to hide as a group. So I still don't know.

        I think that's really charming that you're interested in ants, Anna, I've learned a lot from you on that. I'm interested in nature but also in Hollywood (I live two miles from Hollywood!), I do enjoy knowing a little bit about different subjects. I think it's okay to eat the ants because it's not done for cruelty, one eats for sustenance, I eat all kinds of things, ants, spiders, cockroaches, grass, leaves, paper, soap. But tiny amounts of all these things, mostly I just eat regular food like everybody else.

        I'd have to know more details about these travelers. My question is when the food is delivered live to the table, do they kill it before they eat it, and is it done in a more cruel way than an experienced animal slaughter specialist would do?
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          Jul 24 2013: Hi,

          Schools of fishes have their shapes, their members tend to be in harmony and work together but I've never heard of smaller fish engaging in counter-attack, just dodging. I agree with your other points.

          When it comes to serving live animals - what I've heard is this: usually when you serve a lobster or a crab they are cooked before serving, but not all places. If an experienced chef removes upper parts of the shell without cooking or otherwise altering the insides (apart from sauces and marinades on them, no heat) the animal is still alive while on the plate. I don't know how long they can survive in this state, but at some hotels in Thailand and otherv places (if I remember the first one correctly) the guests can grab a fork, walk to the table and take a bite fro a partly shelless crab or lobster, they usually react with moving their tails or other body parts. That sounded both a bit creepy and cruel to me when I heard it.

          The only experience I have with handling anything live for gastronomical purposes is with blue mussels. You can buy nets of freshly caught mussels where I live. Then you go home, prepare some water, best with some butter, white wine, onions, spring onions, cream, garlick, you clean the shells and cook them. The trick is that they actually die when subjected to hot sauce/water or steam, then the shells open, they're closed when bought.

          I wanted to make this meal for my sister when she visited me once to give her some local taste. When she found out that there is still some form of vegetative life inside the shells she protested. She took one of the mussels, called it Charlie and refused to give him up. In the end Charlie pleaded guilty of being just a mussel and ended up on her plate. For somereason I don't find that cruel, mussels do not have any advanced nervous system to feel pain the way other animals do. And they don't move, that's another factor.

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        Jul 24 2013: Yes, just to be clear I've never heard of schools of smaller fish engaging in counter-attack either, Anna, although I should research it before I can say it doesn't happen, for example we hear of the piranha being quite aggressive. Perhaps you'll look into for me, do the schools of smaller fish ever counter-attack and what is the nature of their counter-attack?

        If we compared it to people, perhaps a small number of big boys might attack a large group of small boys, and the small boys might take courage in numbers and fight back. So perhaps this happens in nature as well? However, my mother was pointing out that in the fish situation the predator may be much, much bigger than the prey, so it is different?

        Well, as you know, I eat many insects live, and I quite enjoy it, although I feel a little sadistic. It feels like I am getting maximum nutrition, I am catching the animal (insect) in its freshest state.One time I ate a spider and it bit my tongue as it was going down, and that area of my tongue was numb for a few minutes.

        I don't exactly understand the mussels story, if the mussels were dead from cooking it should not have bothered your sister?

        How do the Thailand guests only use a fork to get the bite as the tissue won't separate easily into a bite-sized piece from the surrounding tissue, has the chef already pre-cut it, but wouldn't that kill the crab?
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          Jul 29 2013: I'm not sure which species I should look at. Smaller fish is not exactly a species.

          When it comes to live animals being served to tourists and travellers - I'm not sure about the details but I don't think the insides are precut, the guests may get all sorts of cutlery, not only a fork. If I find out more about the details, I'll let you know.

          The mussel story - my sister was trying to 'save' the mussel Charlie when it was still alive, before the cooking process. The point of my telling the story was my trying to put the live animals on plate in perspective. You seemed to be interested in that. I must admit that your confessions about devouring live insects makes me a bit uneasy. I do understand the need to explore nature with all senses, that's what children do after gaining basic abilities, but still - since you already know that devouring spiders and tasting ants may possibly lead to discomfort - why not try to explore in different ways? Spiders are a vital part of the ecosystem. I propose a symbiotic relationship with them, if I may, or at least observe-and-learn.
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        Jul 29 2013: Yes, thanks, Anna, I'll have to look into what species of fish swim in schools in the deep water. Do you happen to know the names of some of the species, for instance is smelt one? Here is a video on cooking animals alive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kByLsTEPzOA. I watched another interesting one, cutting off the tentacles of the squid and eating the tentacles while they are still moving. But I couldn't find anything on eating crabs and lobsters while still alive.

        Well, my reason for eating things like bugs and leaves is well I am always hungry, so when they offer themselves I cannot resist. I have a lot of anxiety so chewing on something calms my anxiety, I don't like chewing gum. Most of these things are not delicious tasting, the trick to eating them is to eat them very slowly. For instance, I occasionally eat a live snail, but it takes me about half an hour to do it. First one puts it in one's mouth, and just holds it. Crack the shell a little with one's teeth, slowly ingest whatever comes out. Rest. Crack a little more, slowly ingest. And so on. It also is a wonderful way to learn about the environment, by eating it.

        I saw quite a wonderful movie yesterday called Blackfish. It is about the complications of keeping orca whales in amusement parks. Do you have those in Poland, the big ocean-related amusement parks where the big fish are kept in big water tanks and one can observe through glass.
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          Jul 30 2013: Ok, I understand more now.

          Here's a talk on eating insects that I mentioned:


          "The locust is the shrimp of the land."

          You made it clear that you don't eat them for the taste, but still - I think you'll enjoy the talk. Please mark that it's a more European/Asian perspective.

          Interesting video, but the fish didn't look like a delicacy. My mom and dad were definitely more skilled ;-)

          When it comes to amusement parks - I haven't lived in Poland for quite a while now but the last time I checked the country was poor that is - not having enough money for exotic parks, nor space for them. Not to mention the question of logistics when it comes to animals. I don't know of any of those in Northern Europe either. Europeans here? Do we have orca whales in parks? Hmm...
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        Jul 30 2013: Yes, tried to watch the video, Anna, it was buffering for two or three minutes every three minutes, so I'll watch it later. Like you say, it's a little different because it's about eating cooked insects, whereas I'm talking about eating uncooked ones that are still alive. I rather think when you eat the uncooked living ones you learn more about the creature, cooking somehow makes it all just one piece of meat that isn't too different from any other meat.

        I did write to a Ms. Hunt at the Marine Conservation Society in England, and she said the prey fish rarely fight back, instead they either flee or dodge. Or they start swimming more and more tightly together in a tight ball that makes it hard for the predator fish to eat one of them. But if it is a group of predators, such as dolphins or sharks, they make then eat the entire ball, every fish in the ball. I think at the start of this you had said the school changes its shape when attacked, so you were already very close to what she is saying.
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        Aug 5 2013: yes, I did watch that video on eating insects, it was interesting but not quite what I do, which is once in a while eating insects live, I really recommend what I do as a way to learn about insects, but most people are too inhibited to try it, I think. When you cook the insect you lose most of what makes the insect distinct, it just becomes another piece of meat, I wonder why that is.

        I don't know if you saw the part where I said after you eat a live snail, for about ten minutes you become very aware of the every tiny dip and rise in the ground beneath your feet, it's like you absorb the snail's consciousness of the ground that it gets as it slowly slimes along the ground.

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