The Peril Network

TIMEApril11coversmall If you get into trouble in the Murcia region of Spain and you call 112 (Europe's 911) from your 3G phone, the dispatcher may remotely switch on your cell phone's video camera, microphone and speaker and give you a simple directive: point your camera at the emergency. First responders watching the feed will assess the crisis. If you are about to be mugged, you will find it useful to point your camera at your mugger and say--as residents of Murcia have begun to do, “The police are watching you right now.” (En Espanol: “La policía te esta viendo.”)

I wrote about next generation 911 in this week's TIME magazine, on newstands today.

Consider the optimist

Since 2004, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling thinking about tsunamis and earthquakes. The monster wave that hit Indonesia that year was caused by a earthquake so violent it shifted the axis of the earth a few centimeters. Now I can’t get this out of my mind: The planet literally shook.

Everyone has one--whether its global warming, phthalates, flu, or junk food--it's that thought that makes them quake. Still, despite the fear, most people do their best to live sustainably, heal naturally, and raise their children right.

But how often is it that one's efforts feel good enough? For the most part, the solutions are inadequate or unachievable or overwhelmingly, confusingly both. If you turn on the air conditioner because you are too warm, you cause global warming. If you vaccinate your children to protect them, you fear the vaccine may hurt them, and yet if you get cancer, it’s your fault for being so angry and fearful all the time. What if you don’t actually want to walk to the local abattoir and slaughter your own pig so you can eat your sausages morally? What does that even mean?

You could consider optimism, for a change. I thought about it a lot when I reviewed Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist."

Be excellent to one another

Frans de Waal, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, believes that it's just as natural to be nice as it is be mean. Man may be wolf to man, as the old saying has it, but de Waal points out with casual eloquence in The Age of Empathy that wolves are often... Slate.

Simian crime and punishment

Chimpanzees take revenge upon one another, but only if it doesn't cost them. Humans, however, will inflict suffering on themselves in order to punish someone else. It may be that our willingness to punish others even if it hurts us is as important to the evolution of human society as our ability to cooperate with each other.

This week's PNAS describes an experiment where a chimpanzee that has access to a rope which can collapse a table with food on it (sending the food onto the floor and out of reach of all chimpanzees) will yank the rope 30% of the time if it can see the food but not reach it, or if it cannot reach the food itself but can see another chimpanzee eating it. It will yank the rope significantly more if another chimpanzee has pulled the food out of its reach. What chimpanzees won't do is send the food to the floor to punish another chimpanzee if they themselves are eating. New Scientist, Science Now.

Two of the researchers behind these findings, Josep Call and Michael Tomasello, appear in The First Word. Tomasello was also behind the research on generosity in humans and chimpanzees, reported in the July 8 post.