MAD DOG: Basic Maternal Instincts

A lot of the things we do in life are based on instinct. Survival, sex, and staying away from TV shows on the UPN Network are all fundamental human instincts that help us get through life intact. They allow nature to take its proper course while freeing our conscious brain for more important things, like wondering how many soys have to be milked to make the soy milk for our decaf latte and whether the soy farmers treat them humanely.The maternal instinct is one of the strongest. That's why as women reach their thirties so many of them can no longer hit the snooze button on their biological clock without having an anxiety attack. It also explains how a mother can diaper a baby the first time she tries while a father can watch an instructional video ten times in a row and still manage to wrap it around the baby's head.Why this should be has been a mystery for ages, dating back to even before the first Die Hard movie was made. But it may not be a mystery much longer. Scientists, whose very existence is based upon the driving urge to destroy all of our romantic ideas by analyzing them to death and explaining them away in terms that involve boring sub-atomic particles, decided it was time to look into this.What they discovered was a gene in mice that, when missing, causes normally maternal rodents to turn into Joan Crawford. Their next project will be to figure out how mice manage to handle full-size coat hangers without opposable thumbs.When these scientists created mice without the so-called maternity gene, the virgin females showed no interest in retrieving a newborn baby. They also demonstrated little interest in nest-building. It's hard to believe that the lack of one little gene could make these mice act so much like human males.As if that wasn't enough, females without the gene who became pregnant and gave birth refused to feed their young, often refusing to even touch them. Worse, they also lost the ability to know when one of their babies got hurt while at school, to sense when a cashew was taken from the secret stash of mixed nuts they hid on the top shelf of the closet, and to fold fitted sheets neatly. Scientists admit they don't know how this correlates to humans even though we have a similar gene. But it's possible that scientists in Japan are already experimenting with it. That would explain why a recent survey of single Japanese women in their 20s showed that 27 percent of them have "no will" to get married, which is a far cry from the good old days when they would have gotten married against their will.This is odd because the instinct to settle down and start a family is a very strong one. Birds do it, bees do it, and according to the old song that doesn't make any sense, even educated fleas do it. But this may not go on much longer. Not if that instinct goes as out of whack as some others are.Take homing pigeons. Go ahead, they'll find their way home after you take them. Well, they used to, anyway. Homing pigeons, as you might remember from that National Geographic special you slept though last week, owe their entire existence and identity to being able to make it home after a long night of drinking and carousing in a far off city without the aid of a road map, something very few other animals can do, save Ted Kennedy.That's why it was such a shock recently when 2,000 homing pigeons got lost trying to find their way home from races in Virginia and Pennsylvania. This is sad. After all, homing pigeons which can't get home are about as useful as blind seeing eye dogs.Experts are baffled. They're blaming everything from sunspots to cellular phones. As far fetched as this sounds, cell phones could very well be the culprit. After all, we see people weaving down the road getting lost while talking on them every day.Most of the birds are just gone. A few were discovered in Oklahoma and Delaware when they stopped at a gas station and asked directions, which is, incidentally, how you can tell a female homing pigeon from a male. Their owners considered putting the birds' photographs on milk cartons ("Have you seen this bird?") until they realized that all homing pigeons look alike anyway. Except to the pigeons, and they'd never see it because they prefer soy milk.It also turns out that scientists aren't only trying to figure out how to eliminate our instincts, but how to affect them. A project by the Music Research Group at Britain's University of Leicester (motto: "You mean we get paid for this?") showed that music can have a subliminal effect on what we buy.Although shoppers in their test showed a definite preference for French wine over German, the researchers found that when they played German music in the supermarket more people bought German wine. When they played French music, people bought more French wine. And when they played John Tesh people bought lots of Thunderbird and threw up for days, though that was probably less related to the quality of the wine than the music.The upshot of all this is that it's getting harder and harder to trust your instincts. It's also getting harder to trust scientists. Of course if they do manage to snuff out the maternal gene in humans we won't have to worry about there being any more scientists. This is known as planned self-obsolescence.


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