Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Story About Monsters For Halloween

A few months ago I did a post about birds in a big parking lot near here, Change: Sudden, Incomprehensible And Deadly.

A large department store went out of business. When the parking lot became abandoned, local traffic began to speed through the lot as a shortcut. The many seagulls, pigeons and other birds that spent their day in the parking lot had a difficult time with the new traffic patterns—cars drove quickly and didn’t look out for the birds and many birds got hit or run over.

I wondered what the birds thought about that sudden change in traffic behavior, presuming, of course, that birds think about things in any way that we would understand as thinking.

The birds, of course, wouldn’t know that the store had gone out of business. The birds simply found themselves confronted with automobiles suddenly behaving differently than automobiles had behaved for years and years, for many bird generations.

Now even bigger changes are afoot for the birds!

Now the parking lot has been almost completely fenced-in and demolition crews have brought in heavy machinery to begin tearing down the very large building itself.

I wonder what the birds think of this?

Presuming, of course, that birds think about things in any way that we would understand as thinking.

What I mean is that the big building has been there I think for more than a decade. Again, that’s many, many bird generations. The building was—from a bird perspective—part of the landscape itself.

And now the very landscape is changing. Getting ripped apart by things.

And I wonder what birds think when they see something like this. Obviously any human can understand it is a vehicle, but I wonder if birds in any mental way associate something that looks like this with the cars and trucks they’ve moved among for years. Certainly the cars and trucks birds witnessed never “behaved” the way this thing behaves—reaching out and grabbing the landscape and literally ripping it apart.

If birds think at all, this situation must push bird cognition to its very limits.

Do birds in any way “realize” that what they regard as their landscape is just a plot of land being re-developed by a different species of animal, living creatures like themselves but with different characteristics and abilities?

To the birds it’s their whole world. To us it’s a trivial zoning issue.

And of course predictably for me I’m wondering if in some abstract way this could have meaning for us.

Many things we would regard as “magic” or as “miracles” would make sense if our conception of the larger reality around us was as limited and misleading as—presumably—a bird’s conception of its landscape is limited and incomplete.

And more than just limits and completeness are at issue here.

I mean, suppose a particular bird was very thoughtful. Suppose this very thoughtful bird perched on a wire somewhere looking down at the scene in that parking lot and tried its very bird-best to understand it.

What could that bird ever hope to understand as we would use the word understand?

Not much, I think.

The issue for the bird is not that its understanding is limited and incomplete.

The issue for the bird is that a larger—and from our perspective a more “meaningful”—understanding is closed off to it by its bird-nature. The bird’s not going to come to grips with zoning issues and re-development schemes. The bird’s not even going to come to grips, I’d guess, with the differences between buildings and hills, between parking lots and pathways between trees. To the bird, I’m guessing, the ground is just “the ground”—that is, landscape.

Should we suspect, then, that our own thinking, even though we can reason abstractedly, is still somehow not just limited and incomplete, but somehow fundamentally unable to come to grips with reality around us in a truly “meaningful” way?

And if we were to accept such a paradigm of thought, what would the consequences be?

It certainly wouldn’t mean that thinking itself is futile.

Birds can live completely fulfilled bird-existences even though they may never understand, for instance, that a parking lot is fundamentally different from, say, the gravel shore around a pond.

If human thinking and human understanding is somehow similarly defined by the nature of our physical being, we can still live a completely fulfilled human-existence even if we “understood” in some abstract way that our grasp of reality was in some way completely and utterly, umm, missing the “big picture” and that the “big picture” was something we couldn’t ever understand.

This certainly isn’t a new thought. This is sort of the message God gave to Job, and the Book of Job is one of the oldest narratives available to the human race.

But isn’t it interesting that almost trivial speculations about birds dealing with changes to a shopping area leads in one way or another to such intriguing or possibly even illuminating thoughts about ourselves?

And I can’t help but wonder if a couple of birds might look at “simple” demolition equipment like this and see the giant claw-thing grabbing and ripping apart the landscape and say—in bird-talk, of course—“Check out that monster down there! It sort of looks like those mythical dragons the old birds tell the chicks about to give them a fun scare at night!”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

See Monsters?

On Stepping Into The Surround

Beautiful People Are Courageous

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