Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reaction Papers: The Life of Mammals and A Beautiful Mind

Claro, Sheinna May D.

The Life of Mammals: Social Climbers and Food for Thought

The Life of Mammals is a documentary series written and presented by David Attenborough and produced by BBC Nature. It has ten episodes which tackles the habits and evolution of various mammal species.

In its ninth episode, Social Climber, Attenborough looks at the life of monkeys as tree-top dwellers. Different kinds of monkeys have their own special skills. The capuchin, for example, are able to crack clams from the swamps. They also have the ability to distinguish which plant is useful like distinguishing piper leaves, which has insect repelling properties, from leaves of the same color and shape but without special uses. This episode also shows how different type of monkeys can live alongside with each other without eliminating each other. In South America, the saki, spider monkey, pygmy marmoset and owl monkey live altogether in one forest – the saki is a nut-cracker; the spider monkey eats the ripest fruit; pygmy marmoset eats the insect and; the owl monkey feeds at night to avoid competition with others. The secret is that they have various diets.

The most complex relationship among the monkeys is their ability to live in groups. The larger the group, the bigger chance of survival against predators. More advanced type of monkeys are able to live in a community and form allies with other species. One way of establishing and maintaining ties is by grooming. Once they become allies, they work in a systematic way of warning the others when a bigger predator is coming. They have a distinct verbal communication that allows them to chatter with each other and only them would know what it means.

In the later parts of Social Climbers, Attenborough explains how the change in climate allowed a group of monkeys to leave the trees and gamble in the grasslands, today we recognize them as the apes. In the documentary series’ tenth and last episode, Food for Thought, Attenborough presents us with the similarities between apes and humans. Apes are intelligent creatures, with big brains, and their upright brothers sparked the human race. Attenborough shows us how apes learn survival skills by observing and practicing. It shows us how hunting for food became a key for evolution. Along with the change in climate, the apes adapted to be bipeds. As they evolve, they learn to modify the environment. As humans, we tend to alter our environment for the sake of providing enough food for the group. As the number of humans increase exponentially, the need for more food increases, too. In order to provide food, we need to scrap the nature’s own design and replace it with our own. As the documentary ends, we are presented with the thought of the Mayan civilization’s collapse and will it happen to us in the years to come.
I find it amazing to know that monkeys of different species can live in harmony like humans of different races do. Having bigger brain than other animals allowed monkeys and eventually the apes, to have a higher capacity of thinking. They are capable of establishing bonds even without anyone teaching them. Like humans, they have this instinct to survive. They also depend on nature to provide them with food but unlike humans, they do not cause much imbalance to the environment. They have not yet reached to that level of intelligence.

Most humans forget about the environment and tend to overdo the means for survival. Our continually growing population makes it harder for us to replenish everything that we owe to the forest and instead, we continue to diminish the natural resources. Nature can restore balance over time but we are not giving it enough time to regenerate, we continue to damage it instead. If this continues, nature will have to reclaim itself by force, in the form of calamities. We humans should do everything in moderation like how other animals do. We should learn not to abuse our environment if we do not want our race to die out.

A Beautiful Mind

The biographical film, A Beautiful Mind, features the life of mathematician and Nobel Prize winner, John Forbes Nash Jr. John Nash is played by Russell Crowe in the movie. The film started with Nash entering Princeton University for his graduate studies.

At the start of the movie, he meets a group of promising mathematicians. He is then acquainted with his roommate, Charles Herman. It was later on revealed that Herman was just in his imagination. Months passed, Nash was under pressure of publishing his dissertation until he stumbled upon the new concept of governing dynamics while discussing women in a club. After graduating, he was later appointed at MIT where Richard Sol and Bender, his fellow graduate students at Princeton, joined him. All was doing well until Nash’s imagination made him think that he is invited to Pentagon to crack encrypted enemy telecommunication. He became obsessed with finding patterns in newspapers and magazines even though nothing’s really in them. He sends his cracked codes to an abandoned building, which he thought was a place where William Parcher (a creation of his mind) tells him to. This went on even after he married Alicia Larde. Larde used to be his student. When Alicia became pregnant of their first son, Nash’s alternate reality made him think that the enemy recognized him as a spy for the United States Department of Defense. He became paranoid to the point of telling Alicia not to come out of the house as someone is watching over them. Alicia then figured out that something is wrong with her husband and sends him to a mental institution where he is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The doctor told Alicia that Nash only imagined Charles Herman and William Parcher. Alicia then went to the abandoned building where Nash used to send envelopes of cracked codes and brought the envelopes to Nash to make him realize that he has an alternate reality. Nash was given insulin shock therapy and was later released. It was doing well with Nash until he stopped taking his medicines and his alternate reality started kicking in again. Nash almost drowned their baby because he thought that Charles Herman was babysitting. He knocked Alicia down as he imagined William Parcher hurting her. The terrified Alicia runs away from home with the baby and Nash stopped her by saying that Charles Herman’s niece did not grow old, implying that he now knows what is real and what is not. Nash told the doctor that he will not take medication again and he will deal with schizophrenia through social therapy. Nash went to Princeton and asked Martin Hansen, his rival before, to grant him usage of the library. Through the years, Nash learned how to ignore his alternate reality with the help of his family and the community.

Herman, his niece and Parcher were created by Nash’s mind to provide him his desires. Herman was his closest friend, his confidante, the one he can openly confide to. Nash’s longing for a good friend made his mind to create one. “No man is an island”, even nerds and geeks need someone to talk to and discuss personal matters with. We cannot handle problems on our own, we need to seek help every once in a while. Keeping your problems inside might lead to serious cases like Nash’s. Human’s ability to form bonds is innate and no one can totally live alone. Herman’s niece, fills in Nash’s desire to start a family. The little girl reminds him of innocence and simple life, away from the stress and spotlight. Everybody needs a break, even scientists and mathematicians. One cannot create friends by experimenting and cracking codes all the time, everyone needs social interaction beyond work. Parcher on the other hand, I think was produced by Nash’s mind to fill the gap of longing for recognition. Nash wants to be above them all and at that time of his life, he had not yet won the Nobel Prize for his Game Theory. He wanted to be regarded as a high class, ranking among classified employees. He wants his works to be regarded as something that saved the world. Although it is perfectly human to envy others for their popularity, Nash has crossed the line.

I learned from this film that the boundary between insanity and intelligence is really slim. We need to do everything in moderation and stop overthinking. We should tell our problems to other people so they could help us figure things out. But, crossing the line does not mean it is the end. The film showed us that there is an alternative way to fight schizophrenia. There is still hope for those suffering from mental diseases. With proper guidance and support, I believe they would make it back to reality.

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