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Narrating Companion Species

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The discoveries of bacterial insertions in the human genome, escapes of modified plant genes into corn’s wild relatives, and mutations of Avian Flu into potential pandemics raise concerns about how bioethics remains largely (and inaccurately) premised on the control of discrete bodies like “selfish” genes. Stories of companionship, a term that derives from com panere, or those who break bread together, suggest a more workable baseline philosophical and scientific model. Whether in new evolutionary theories of cells as constituted by partnerships of formerly independent bacteria or more ordinary stories of people and pets training together for sports like canine agility, tales that focus instead on what happens between mutually domesticated messmates (and their inevitable problems with indigestion) demonstrate the alternate aesthetics required of current genomic understandings of our own as irreducible from other species.


George Young
Green Valley, Arizona


Monday, January 25, 2010 7:13:05 PM EST

Susan, fascinating lecture.  Could you say whether much research is  being done on animals' fields of awareness not necessarily shared by humans?  I know Rupert Sheldrake has written about dogs who -- almost telepathically-- know when their people are coming home.  Anything more like that going on?

Marilyn Gugliucci
Kennebunk ME


Monday, January 25, 2010 7:09:02 PM EST

Dr McHugh,

This was fabulous and as a Morgan horse owner, your talked resonated with me on many levels. In the field of aging, it is known that when communicating with other people only 7% comes from words, 38% from voice tone and 55% from body language. It appears an important point related to the companion species, is the concept of mindfulness and how it serves to aid us in our awareness of  movement and tone in "communication." Would appreciate hearing your thoughts/feelings on this.
Thank you