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Joel Schlosberg

Very interesting that you should bring up the issue of human/primate aggression and your discussions with Carl about it, since I know it was a topic Carl was particularly interested in. For instance, in the last chapter of "Cosmos" when discussing the prospects for peace on planet Earth he prominently refers to Harlow's research on infant monkeys and psychologist James W. Prescott's cross-cultural research on the factors that cause violence in human societies -- which was based on Harlow's and similar research on primates, the idea being that violent practices against children such as corporal punishment and genital mutilation cause similar developmental problems to those that Harlow and others observed in isolated infant monkeys, resulting in society-wide violence when they are prevalent in a society.

I like how Prescott puts it: humans are by far the most violent primate species on planet Earth, yet we have 99% of our DNA in common with bonobos, who are the least violent primate species on the planet. His website http://www.violence.de/ (which I am involved with) has a lot of stuff about the subject of primate and human aggression: for instance, here is a letter on his website where he discusses the issue and points out that research into chimp and bonobo DNA is not being given the priority it should:

Nick Sagan

Yes, this was a particularly interesting topic to my dad, and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors spends a good amount of time on bonobos vs. chimps. Interesting subject matter. Thanks for showing me http://www.violence.de -- I'd not seen it before.

It's such an important issue, and I completely agree with you and Prescott: We should put more resources into finding out why we are the way we are. How can we work against our propensity for bloodlust without knowing where it comes from?

Thus far, I've been skeptical of the argument that violence is primarily a product of socialization, though I do think that many violent instincts can be suppressed or sublimated through social means. Yes, abused children (or monkeys) are likely to have developmental problems, but I don't expect that that's where this lives. Violence, hierarchy, obedience to authority--these instincts stretch back through our recorded history, the behavior looks strikingly chimp-like, and when I see the ease with which humans can be pushed into these tropes via the Milgram Experiment or the Stanford Prison Experiment, I tend to think this is deep programming that lives mostly in our genes.

Still, I'm willing to be swayed--I'll have to read more De Waal and Prescott.

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Idlewild Trilogy

  • i d l e w i l d

    "Sagan has a ferocious imagination."
    -- Stephen Baxter

  • e d e n b o r n

    "One of the best post-apocalyptic novels you will ever read."
    -- SFX Magazine

  • e v e r f r e e

    "Sagan's mind-blowing post-apocalyptic trilogy comes to a satisfying, terrifying conclusion."
    -- Kirkus Reviews


  • Aristeia Rising

    "An intense and intelligent story partnered with art that makes your eyes drool."
    -- Ain't It Cool News

  • Hubris

    "Lord, this is epic. If you thought the first volume of the Shrapnel series was intense, brutal, and dark, just wait until you get your hands on its follow up."
    -- Comics Bulletin


  • Future Proof

    "A delightful 'expedition in search of the future,' providing clear explanations of today's cutting-edge technologies to find where science fiction has become reality."
    -- Publishers Weekly

Star Trek

  • Voyager: Season 5

    "Year five of Star Trek: Voyager is the greatest achievement in its seven year run. This is Voyager in its prime, and in its absolute top form."
    -- DVD Answers

  • TNG: Season 7

    "One of Next Generation's best seasons ever... The series was at the top of its game, consistently turning out episodic sci-fi hours that felt fresh and captured the imagination."
    -- SciFi.com

Computer Games

  • Zork Nemesis

    "The story is dark and gripping. Numerous subplots and twists are heightened by a surprise climactic revelation. Character developments are complex. The portrayals of the dark side of mankind in these characters are chilling."
    -- The Adventure Collective




Carl Sagan

  • Visit the Carl Sagan Portal

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  • Visit the Planetary Society