Bunnies and Books: trust, outliers and evolution

I’ll start at what books got me in my current state of mind:
I just finished Bruce Schneier’s Liars and Outliers; the book was about the role that trust plays in society and how trust mechanisms change when society changes. I am currently reading Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise (a statistically oriented book about predictions from data; it is a joy to read) and was rereading Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth (about evolution and why it is considered a scientific fact).

So, all of that was in my mind when I saw a small bunny in the yard. I first noticed the bunny when it was a tiny baby; evidently it had just left its mother. It is growing; I’d call it a “pre-teen” bunny now. It has made its home under one of our large bushes; it is just so adorable!

It has been in the back yard when I was cutting grass; in fact when I cut down some brush it scampered away and went under another bush, but that bush is now a good home for it.

So, what does a bunny have to do with any of these books, or with trust?

Well, I pulled into the driveway and walked back to the alley to put some trash in a trash can. I noticed that our back yard was full of birds (a male/female cardinal couple, a couple of robins, among others) and our bunny was there too.

My walking past didn’t scare it, and it seemed unconcerned about the birds. On the other hand, it will run away if I get too close.

So what is the idea? Evolution has “given” animals a certain amount of trust; if it is too skittish, it would never stay in one place long enough to eat. On the other hand, being too trusting means almost certain death; we have a few stray cats, as well as foxes and hawks in the area.

The bunny has to balance trust and wariness, just as humans do!

Note: one way of defining how “tame” an animal has become is to measure its flight distance. I note that deer in the deeper wilds flee if you get too close whereas some deer in some of the more used parks (say, Forest Park Nature Center) are unconcerned with humans; you can hike within a foot or so of them.

I even noticed that some city foxes aren’t that worried about us; one just walked right past me. Evidently I was too big to eat but too slow to be threat.

Anyway, these ideas shaped my behavior toward the bunny; I had thought about buying some carrots and eventually gaining its trust, but I don’t want the bunny to become too trusting. So I’ll just enjoy it from afar.


July 2, 2013 - Posted by | books, evolution, science, statistics | , , , ,

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