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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"My" sparrows

You guys did NOT respond to my invitation to read the link on Ur-languages that presented several epistemological issues worthy of interest in my book.
Since I am lazy, I am going to present part of my reflexion on reductionist science HERE, in this post, and not try to go through everything the link offers.
On my "loony" blog, I read this morning that hyenas are much more successful than chimpanzees at cooperative tasks in laboratory situations.
Which brings me to the WHOLE PROBLEM of the laboratory setting.
For me, the laboratory setting with animals is the quintessence of reductionist scientific thought.
It brings up images of white coats running around, looking important and "suffisant" as we say in French, and imagining that they are in the temple of TRUTH (all capital letters, neon flashing, and soft religious music in the background, please).
But... OBSERVING animals in THEIR natural setting, HAVING THE PATIENCE to stake them out, and wait hours to see what they do, that is NOT reductionist thought.
And WE are capable of doing it, and ARE doing it, for the benefit of viewers on programs like BBC's spring/autumn watch which are absolutely fantastic, and are going miles towards dispelling our 18th century prejudices about the animal world, back in the days when KNOWING meant... CLASSIFYING and little else...
So, my sparrows ?
I have engaged a little experiment for them.
I have stuck out roasted pumpkin seeds for them.
Now, pumpkin seeds are edible, and nutritious.
They are good for US, and they are good for sparrows too.
BUT... "MY" sparrows have never eaten pumpkin seeds before.
So... how do sparrows LEARN that pumpkin seeds are edible, and a source of energy ?
The only way for sparrows to learn this is if there is(are) ONE OR TWO individuals who TAKE THE RISK of pecking at that unknown object to find out if it's edible or not, and... finding that it is, transmitting this knowledge to 1) the group 2) their offspring.
I would say that the INDIVIDUALS who TAKE THIS RISK (sparrows, or humans, if you like...) are at the margins of the sparrow group, and my own personal prejudice dictates that these individuals have a form of intelligence that I heartily respect.
Of course, taking risks means that you risk... PERISHING from your risk taking too.
That's part of the game, isn't it ?
And... THESE are the kind of experiments we COULD be doing without resorting to white coats, temples, and hubris.


Dink said...

Well, the pumpkin seed curiosity provides more reproductive energy for the inclined sparrows. Over a few generations these quirks add up. Like a river carving a canyon.

Thai said...

Wasn't intentional ignoring- I only have quick replies as I am working a lot right now.

Great post.

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits