Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Animal Intelligence

I was just out back [full disclosure, smoking some extremely intense legal! marijuana yay! and] listening to the lovely flock that lives in our hedge; and the extremely fine (as well as large) variations in pitch and rhythm they display in their communication raises a question for me: if those minute, intricate riffs on their deceptively small repertoire of sounds are completely deliberate, someone mathier than I am could start throwing out numbers of separate “words” or “letters” these subtly different strings of “chirps” could theoretically represent. I may well be hearing them pass on ancient oral histories, stories, poems, riddles?

When we were kids in the 60's, I used to hear people say “the one thing that separates humans from the animals is ...” ad nauseam, usually preceding a metaphysical assertion like “... we have ‘souls’ and they don't.” An anthropologist in the 70's told me it's the fact that we make tools. (Oops.) Then I heard it was that we are capable of altruism. (Oops.) Recently someone on TV said that the only human behavior he had never seen in another species is that we cook our food. That may be true, although I wouldn't count volcano-vent extremophiles out quite yet. Just not with frying pans, and perhaps "intention" the way we experience it.

Popularly in those days any animal sound was referred to as a “mating call.” Shit! Forget the whole damned universe. In our unfortunate arrogance we have made ourselves “all alone” right here on Earth.

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