Where we Freak Out! and blame it on the cat

Ever wonder where questions like these originate, questions like “What’s got into you?” or “What’s eating you?”

Turns out, these questions might be literal, not figurative at all.

What’s got into you, literally, according to an Atlantic article arriving via snailman yesterday, is cat parasite. You know the one, the reason moms-to-be should avoid cat feces. I’m not making this stuff up. You can read about it here: “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy, by Kathleen McAuliffe, about Jaroslav Flegr, a Czech evolutionary biologist, who argues that the cat parasite “may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons.” It’s one of those articles where you come away yelling, “I knew it! I knew this all along”!

Flegr’s hypothesis goes something like this: the cat parasite can’t reproduce in the human, so it needs to get back into the cat. Enter Frank Zappa and Suzie Creamcheese, for the parasite then tries to manipulate the host into releasing it back out into the wild, into the cat, thus driving the host to Freak Out! level. Well, that’s the idea (lay version), and it’s getting credible attention from the scientific community.

And not only that, but another article just in from Jonah Lehrer, my favorite neuroscience journalist, talking about E. O. Wilson’s turnabout on altruism, a reversal that has Dawkins and his supposedly Darwinian cohort up in arms, for the survival of the fittestists can’t explain altruism from their cornered point of view. As Jonah says in the article, “This is science with existential stakes.” Dawkins’s view is that genes are selfish, that human behavior is driven only by self-interest, by the will to survive. The opposing viewpoint, which Wilson seems to be inching toward, is that human behavior is driven at least as much by cooperation, and that the idea of cooperation might even exist at the gene level.

“Kin and Kind: A fight about the genetics of altruism,” the Lehrer article, is behind the New Yorker paywall, but I don’t have my hard copy yet, but I couldn’t wait, so I read it in the digital version, but which you need a subscription for, but I rarely go there, preferring the hard copy, and I couldn’t remember my user name and password and had to email Help (Freak Out!), resulting in about half a dozen emails, all of which took me longer than reading the article, and I began to wonder if the cat parasite wasn’t at work.

Note: On Wednesday, February 29th, at 3 P.M. E.T., Lehrer will answer readers’ questions in a live chat. Follow link to New Yorker site.

Related:

E. O. Wilson’s Happy Ant in Mary Midgley’s Primate Picnic

Now is the Science of our Discontent: E. O. Wilson and the Sacrifice of Science