Insights and Healing with Patrick Moore

Are Coyotes Superior to Wolves?
February 1, 2016, 1:45 pm
Filed under: ecology, live food, nature, science, soul, synchronicity, tucson

I read a lot. Currently I am reading Lawrence Kohlberg’s book on moral stages , Wolves by Mech, and Best American Science and Nature Writing of the Year. I also received training from a major natural history museum on interpreting coyotes and wolves for museum visitors. I find that by reading as widely as possible, new ideas combine in my mind. Some combinations are too broad and people I share them with don’t see the connection. Here is a thought I had while reading this morning, and you can decide if it is useful or not to you.

The Heinz Dilemma is a fictional story Kohlberg would tell: Heinz’ wife has a fatal disease and the pharmacist is overcharging for the medicine she needs to live. Then Kohlberg would ask the listener, should Heinz steal the medicine to save his wife’s life?

Last week I heard that coyotes around Tucson frequently break into chicken coops and take the chickens. What occurred to me while reading this morning was, coyotes are answering the Heinz Dilemma: coyotes are stealing the medicine needed to save lives.

Kohlberg does not think there is a right or wrong answer. Kohlberg asks the person to explain why they have the answer they do. For example, some people say, “It is wrong to steal.” Why is it wrong to steal, Kohlberg would ask. One person might say, “Because you will get caught and there are penalties.” Another person might say, “Civilization depends on humans following a social contract. If people break this contract, our human species could disappear.” Kohlberg would assess these two answers as different stages of moral reasoning. As you might guess, Kohlberg considers the avoidance of penalty to be a lower stage of moral reasoning (stage two) than the promotion of the species (stage six). Coyotes appear to be explaining their answer with, it is right to steal when this preserves a species that could be lost. If you would grant coyotes could have moral reasoning (a stretch, I admit), their answers would place them in stage six.

And I don’t know if that’s why coyotes are truly stealing chickens, to preserve life, as Heinz might steal the medicine for his wife. And what do coyotes have to say about the chickens’ lives? After all, Heinz doesn’t kill the pharmacist to get the medicine. All I am saying is I had this thought while I was reading this morning… Maybe the connection I made isn’t worth blogging about. But I still wonder, can we learn anything about human stages of moral reasoning by considering coyotes and other animals’ behaviors?

Soon after my first thought about coyotes, it occurred to me this morning that wolves think differently than coyotes. Wolves have a social system where the strongest Alpha delivers punishments to the others to keep them in order. The rest appear to willingly submit to this structure. Those who behave correctly are given food, friendly touches and sometimes the pleasure of mating. Could we say wolves are at a stage two moral development? May we deduce that coyotes are operating at a higher moral stage than wolves? Let’s leave this idea for a minute. I will come back to this.

I regularly give presentations standing in front of wolf enclosures and coyote enclosures. Sometimes the wolves or coyotes listen in as I talk to the humans. I pass around (to the humans) the skulls of wolves and coyotes. Notice they are indistinguishable except for the size. In fact all canines: wolves, coyotes, foxes and your dogs at home can interbreed and have live, healthy pups who can also breed. When you define “species” as those who can have healthy live young who can also breed, as some scientists do, all canines are one species–Dog. The groupings, “coyote,” “wolf,” “fox,” “greyhound,” and “terrier” are just different breeds, with different specialties and habits.

Dogs have one molar per jaw, which means they are designed to eat some vegetation. The rest of the teeth and jaws are designed for killing and cutting meat. So if you only had skulls to go by you might guess all dogs would eat 95% meat, 5% vegetation. It turns out however that wolves eat 100% meat, and coyotes here in the Southwest eat 50% vegetarian. Coyotes here especially love saguaro cactus fruit. In cactus fruit season, coyotes abandon all meat and survive on fruit, which shows a preference, since meat is still available. Last summer I picked up some coyote poop in a baggie, that was full of little seeds. I planted the poop and within a week had hundreds of little saguaro cactus babies:


saguaro sprouts a week after Patrick collected coyote scat

It appears coyotes are a prime planter of saguaro cactus seeds, plus fertilizer! What a service they provide nature! Perhaps this is one reason the Tohono O’odham in this region consider Coyote to be one of three beings who created the world (the other two being Raven and Big Brother).

The rest of the year coyotes eat mesquite pods, palo verde seeds and ironwood seeds when in season. When none of their favorite foods are available they return to meat in the form of hares and other rodents, lizards and other reptiles and insects, which are available here year-round.

I tell the people in my presentations that wolves prefer meat, and coyotes prefer vegetables when they can get them, even though their teeth and jaws are identical. They’re the same species. It’s their choices that are different, their preferences, their behaviors, their culture, their traditions. Wolves eat one thing–animals larger than themselves that it takes a group to pull down. Coyotes eat what they can find including lots of things with seeds. Wolves are set in their ways. And because of this, wolf numbers are declining in the current world. The large game that wolves exclusively eat is hardly available for them except in a few protected areas. Except free ranged cattle. And when they eat cattle, ranchers kill them. Wolves’ choices are leading them to extinction in this modern world. Wolf numbers are declining, with certain sub-species like the Mexican Grey Wolf endangered and extirpated.

Coyotes on the other hand are flexible. They’re wily. Not only are they flexible with what they eat, but appear to have nothing against human encroachment. Coyotes are happy to live in cities. Phoenix has a very high population of urban coyotes who live in the dry washes and golf courses. In Tucson we have coyotes in my neighborhood and yard. The neighbors hate packrats, rattlesnakes and wouldn’t tolerate wolves or cougar in the neighborhood, but coyotes they love. Some houses in my neighborhood are even decorated with coyote silhouettes, as if to honor or welcome them. Coyote numbers are increasing in this modern world while wolves are declining.

Is there a message here? Are coyotes superior? Wolves are too large, and their ways and traditions can’t work any longer in this world. Keep this in mind as you hear the next part. Several natural wolf-coyote matings have been confirmed in the wild. Both male and female wolves have chosen to court coyotes to have offspring with. Why? Could wolves be thinking, My kind is not long for this world, I had better do something? Could they be thinking, We need to get smaller and be more flexible like coyotes if we are going to make it? Do even wolves notice the superiority of coyotes?

Let’s look at it from an evolution model. If coyotes and wolves had a common ancestor, and split into distinct mating groups around two lifestyle preferences, this would be an example of what is called natural selection, or survival of the fittest. The competition between wolves and coyotes would be en example of evolution in our midst. Our current era would be an early stage in the differentiation of canines into different species. For if we were in a later stage, coyotes and wolves would be so genetically differentiated by now that they could no longer have live pups when mating. Wouldn’t it be exciting if we are living in the midst of an evolution process? Two groups of cousins with different strategies: Which will win? Which will survive?

According to the evolution model, the group that survives is “fittest.” The survivors are better, superior, more evolved. According to this model, later developments in any species are superior and better than their ancestors. In this model every species now living is fitter and more evolved than the bacteria that are all our common ancestors.

Which sounds a lot like Kohlberg’s view of moral stages. Kohlberg says that since younger children never have stage six reasoning but only older children and adults ever get past stage five, later developments must be superior, higher moral reasoning. In both cases: the evolution model, and Kohlberg’s model of moral development, later development is superior, fitter and higher.

But I’m going to throw a wrench in the gears of those models. If coyotes survive and wolves die out, does “survival” prove that the one species is superior to the other? Or does it only prove the one species is more adapted to the world we have today? If the world still had giant sloths, mammoths or even buffalo roaming around, wouldn’t it be wolves who would be increasing and coyotes decreasing? Instead of fitter, should we simply say, have an advantage in the current environment?

But if later-evolved does not mean superior or better, how can we explain humans’ strong sense we are superior to our pre-human ancestors? Are humans not superior to little primates and bacteria, but only better adapted to take advantage of the current environment?

Now apply these questions back to moral stages. In individuals, all Kohlberg showed was that older individuals tended to explain their moral reasoning using ideas higher on the six-stage scale than younger individuals. All he’s shown is that higher on the scale equates to older, not higher.

But if older does not mean morally superior, how can we explain that only people over 21 may vote and only people over 45 may be president? Are adults not superior moral reasoners to children? And how should we interpret the old saying, Be like the little children?

I am not trying to disprove any models. I happen to appreciate the models of natural selection and moral stages. But I don’t swallow them whole. I ask them tough questions. I don’t have good answers to these questions yet but if you do, please comment. Thanks.







Embracing Dark Energy
May 29, 2013, 10:47 am
Filed under: essence, Plato and Platonism, science

The following is an essay I wrote more than a decade ago and emailed to friends. I don’t know if my essay was an influence, but in 2007 Stephen Baxter wrote a Sci Fi story called Last Contact, in which expanding space caused the light of the sun to stop reaching the earth, and soon after the world ended. My essay has a much happier ending!

I opened this document a few days ago with the intention of rewriting it. I was surprised to find that much of what I wrote, still holds up after a decade plus. I only cut out a few parts where you see elipses (…).

by Patrick Moore c 2002
Discover magazine reported in September, 2002, that space is expanding much faster than physicists had ever guessed. What does this mean? Albert Einstein described the expansion of space to his son by showing him a balloon. Put two dots on the balloon at point A and point B. Imagine that an ant is walking across the balloon. The ant can surely walk from one point to the other. However, if you blow up the balloon at the same time, the distance the ant has to travel increases. If you blow fast enough, the ant will never reach point B. The same is happening with our universe. Light from sources more than fifteen billion light-years away will never reach us because the space is expanding too quickly. Expansion was first noticed many decades ago, but physicists believed that the gravity of the stars would eventually pull the universe back together, or at least match expansion. New observations of supernovae demonstrate that expansion is far greater than ever imagined, so the universe will continue dispersing. The implications of this fate are just beginning to be realized.

One of the discoverers in 1998, Brian Schmidt said that the future of the universe is bleak. He said that in 150 billion years, space will be so expanded that the only the light from our own Milky Way galaxy, and our nearest neighbor, Andromeda, will be close enough to reach here. The rest of the sky will be black. The article in Discover Magazine described the future as isolated, disturbing, cold, lonely, and void. The article is modified from a chapter in the book, God In The Equation by Corey S. Powell, 2002.

The news may be even worse than the science writers currently realize. Let’s face it: if space is expanding at an accelerating rate, then at some time after the starlight has disappeared, the light from our own sun will never reach the earth. When a person in the same room speaks to you, the sound from their voice will not reach your ears. Later, the sight of other people will not reach your eyes. Blood pumped from your heart will never reach your limbs, and thoughts from your brain will never reach across the synapses to the next neurons. Life as science has defined it will be completely suspended. Electrons will not be able to complete an orbit. Not only will each person be alienated from every other person, but each cell, each particle will be forever lost. It is like running for a boat that has just left port, when the gap is already too large to jump and the boat is accelerating away.

Also, findings in the last four years suggest that these changes may occur within 10 billion years, rather than Brian Schmidt’s estimate of 150 billion years. If this is true, our universe is already past half its life expectancy, and we weren’t even awake during most of the first half. We are having a mid-life crisis.

How will this discovery affect our world in the coming decade? Some may think, “I’ll grab what I can now because later it all drifts away.” Some may think, “Since everything that matters will fly apart, there is no reason to live.” I can imagine people justifying horrible behaviors with these thoughts. What if the news may yet benefit us? What if there is a way to bridge the widening gap? Awakening to time’s deadline may hurry us along in our human development. Permit me to explain.

The bleak consequences arise because we currently experience distance between each other: you are over there while I am here. We believe some sort of powered locomotion is necessary to bridge this distance: the muscle power of walking, the sound waves generated by the voice, the light waves of sight, reflected from a powered light source. And crossing the gap from me to you still does not insure that we can hold onto each other if space expands. You and I cannot occupy the same space at the same time, we believe. The fastest speed currently understood by scientists is 186,000 miles per second, the speed of light. Scientists can “prove” (by referring to “laws”) that instantaneous communication is impossible, instantaneous travel is even more impossible, and “being” here and there simultaneously is impossibly impossible. However, if there is a way to “be” both subject and object simultaneously, universal expansion would have no unpleasant consequences.

Science Fiction presents alternative views. Here are three. In The Shobie’s Story, by Ursula K. LeGuin, a group of people make the first “flight” of instantaneous travel across many light years. However, when the people arrived, they did not agree that they had arrived, and this conflict of perspectives influenced whether they really had arrived or not. In the SF novel, Dune, by Frank Herbert, space can be “folded” to travel large distances instantaneously, but a certain kind of navigator, who maintains a certain mental state, is necessary. In the teen novel, A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeline L’Engle, people are able to travel large distances by tessering which is to bring point A into immediate contact with point B, rather than traveling the distance between them. To tesser requires no technology, just a stretch of the imagination. There are many examples in SF of instantaneous transporter beams, which rely on technology, but I chose these three stories because they show how the human shift in perspective is a necessary ingredient to instantaneous travel. Relaxing certainty, beliefs of limits, expectations, and other attachments makes travel possible.

Religions and philosophies have been demonstrating the same message for thousands of years. The laws of surface tension are no longer legally binding when a human can walk on water. The laws of pathology are repealed when instantaneous healing takes place. Shamans can reportedly travel into the consciousness of animals, streams, mountains, and other creatures, influencing and being influenced by events at a distance, which the laws of physics prohibit. Tibetan Lamas have reported the human capability to inhale air pollution and exhale pure air, to stop fires, to read books in two rooms at once, to give their skin to a leper, as well as other feats that are proven impossible by science. American money says, “In God We Trust,” and when a war is imminent, the highest commanders pray publicly that divine principles support their perspective. The laws of science are obeyed during smooth sailing, but when a terrible threat appears, we look for deeper meaning, alternative means, and higher powers. Maybe the threat of universal isolation was created by a higher power, which cares enough to remind us to look for better solutions.

… none of the four forces can explain the new findings that space is expanding, and that the rate of expansion apparently changes. According to Powell, they are now looking for a fifth force that has a repulsive rather than attractive effect, to explain the increase in expansion. And what makes them think that five is the final number of forces? … What “laws” can apply to finding this number? Even if it could be discovered that five and no more forces exist, and the Theory Of Everything gained the ultimate predictive power, what good will it be when the light from the calculator never reaches the eye of the scientist? A T.O.E. seems to offer little hope in comparison to a capability of “being both here and there.”

… has inspired my own questions: How do they know it is space expanding, and not time shrinking (how could they tell the difference)? Why assume that space expanding is a force, and not the very fabric of space stretching, the thread count multiplying (people go forth and multiply, why can’t space)? What if space is experiencing personal growth (when your partner is growing quickly, it puts the pressure on you to catch up or dissolve the partnership)? What if space is growing beyond human ability to see, as a literal response to human short-sightedness…?

Whether you call it (Zen) unifying subject and object, embracing others as self, or universal presence, this leap of perspective is the solution to the problem of space expanding. … to gain this refinement of perception.

If the danger is transcended through a change in perspective, the quality of life becomes dramatically better than it was before the threat emerged. A blessing in disguise. It makes you wonder if space has a sort of consciousness, if there is a compassionate being, an intelligent sci-fi author at work in the cosmos.