Me, Myself, and I

Posted on July 14, 2014. Filed under: Animals, Nature, Self-awareness | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

LIARS* from the elite and restricted club of The Great Learned** have decreed that, if a living entity cannot recognize the reflection in a mirror as itself, it cannot be self-aware.  Such evaluations ignore that…

  • Humans are born not knowing squat about anything except screaming and kicking.
  • Human babies, like all mammals, learn by mimicking what others around them are doing.
  • Human babies finally see the grooming utility of mirrors after much coaching from older persons.  More importantly, they are taught the satisfaction of admiring the fine creature-form looking back at them.  (Oooh!  From this angle I have a Roman god-like profile.  And check those pec definitions…   uh, sorry!  Having flashbacks.)
  • Most life forms, including non-human mammals, depend on other senses than sight to describe the world and their particular placements in that world.
  • A wide variety of life forms have survived on this planet for millions upon millions of years.  Had they not been able to delineate the boundary between SELF and the surrounding environment, they would not have survived for one single day.
  • Being alive is about being SELF-ish.  Didn’t anybody read anything in that book The Selfish Gene?***

But, the Great Learned maintain that if an entity does not perceive the world as the Great Learned perceive it, then that entity must be simply a robot-like biomass bound to instinctive action and programmed reaction.  So, I repeat my question from a previous post:

  • If a blind homo smart sapiens cannot recognize its reflection from a reflective surface, is that h. smart sap. NOT self-aware?

The world in which non-humans live is fast-moving and dangerous.  Lethal even.  Quite often.  The only creatures goofy enough to kill time staring at their reflections are those who are not constantly on the lookout for predators and have the leisure time and safety to amuse themselves…   with themselves.  The ability to even see that reflection in the first place is a biggie, too.

All living entities know about Numero Uno.  The only ones in the dark on this have been converted to Numero Dos.  All others not SELF (the perceiving Numero Uno) are accorded different degrees of trust in keeping with their genetic and social distance from SELF.  These are my classifications of sentient entities:

  • self = me, myself, and I; numero uno; an entity’s awareness that it is separate from other stuff
  • near-self = siblings and other kin and relations bonded to SELF during the growing years.  Accorded the highest degree of trust
  • other-self = distant relatives and casual members of the self, near-self group.  Accepted, but regarded cautiously
  • far self = others that sort of look like me and my group, but, I don’t know them and I don’t trust them;  unrelated others of my species

Through the years, I have been out and about at all hours of the day and night.  Taking public transportation some years ago put me out on the streets around dawn and dusk when certain birds (grackles) flocked from sleep mode and, later, flocked in from their far feeding ranges.  At first, the view was just a noisy din of chatter and fluttering feathers amid a chaotic and frantic in rush of bird bodies.  Over repeated inclusions in these social interactions, a pattern began to resolve itself:

  • MORNING.  Great rushes of feathered bodies rose from the various night lodgings (trees to you hardcore city dwellers) and began chattering and swooping, then briefly settling on electric power lines.  There, you could see strings of bird-beads arrayed in varying proximity to each other.  These “beads,” bit by bit, eventually took flight and joined a selected group of passing flyers as they left the area to begin the day’s business.
  • EVENING.  This was almost an exact reversal of the morning start-up.  One by one, flocks of varying sizes returned to the same area swirling, diving, coasting a-wing as though in play.  On the power lines, a few birds began perching, typically with a large separation between them.  Early arrivals settled on a spot that was equidistant from bird-left and bird-right.  As more birds settled in, I began to see little groups separated by gaps.  Groups of birds would take off as one, join a passing group of flyers and wing off to sleeping quarters.

But there is more to this ordered disorder than meets the  eye.  After more and more flocks arrive, the beads are closer packed on the power line, with two, three and four or more parked side by side.  An arrival might fly up to one bead excitedly and the two might carry the flitting above the rest spot, then both settle down side by side.  New arrivals seem to do a fly by of all the parked beads then either move on to another area or settle in with or near previous arrivals.  But, the process is not always peaceful.  Sometimes a new arrival drops in close to a bead only to have the original arrival jump him and run him off.  Toward night fall, pretty much all the flyers have settled in — peaceably — on the power lines and are pretty much packed shoulder to shoulder with a gap in the string here and there.  Then, segments of the string take off as one and move on to the various bedrooms.  In the morning, from bedroom to assembly area, this same process is repeated with departure to foraging areas the goal.

Within this observed process, I see the SELF, NEAR-SELF awareness playing out.  The variable spacing between the beads is directly related to the relationship of one bead to another:  the shorter the distance, the closer the relationship.  This explains the ejection of an arrival by a sitting bead.  The assault says:

  • I don’t know you that well.  GET LOST!
  • I’m sorry, but that seat is taken.  GET LOST!

The swirling, chattering fly bys are a sorting out process.  I surmise that the sleeping group has a different composition than the foraging group.  In the morning, the sleeping group hits the assembly area and looks for those it prefers to hang with during the day.  In the evening, the various foraging groups meet at the assembly area and begin locating the members of their  sleeping group.  My guess is that the sleeping group is close kin to each other.  Like humans, there is a domestic life and a separate work life.

And all that chatter is excited TALKING, not just generalized, instinctive noise.

 

_________________________________________

*LIARS = Learned Individual Ascribing Refinement to Self

**The Great Learned = that association of self-proclaimed experts, as in “See my sheepskin from the University of Great Humans?”  (UGH for short)

***Author Richard Dawkins.  And, all I have read of the book is the title.

 

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The Best Part of Waking Up

Posted on May 11, 2014. Filed under: Animals, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

…is not having to actually get up.

Post No. 1 in a series of articles I callTales from my darkest ‘ell

I called it ‘ell.  It was not particularly descriptive of my work environment, but, the private joke kinda’ lightened my mood.  I’ve worked the night shift in a number of different capacities and locations over the past couple decades, and yes, doing unnatural things before daylight (such as being awake and up before sunrise) sets up a tiring tedium.  After a while, you start looking for ways to stay alert and interested in the moment.

Actually, the workplace really was ell — that was the shape of the building.  Outside, a concrete apron and a roof overhang of 8 feet formed the inside of the ell, bordering the main parking lot on two sides.  A picnic table, nestled in the 90 degree corner, constituted the break area.  It was here, often alone, that I got a glimpse of the night world outside normal human sleep time.

The small collection of white dots at the edge of the apron was indicative of an often used roosting spot above.  Yet, all I could see above it was a small electric junction box with a 4″ long conduit protruding from it; since it was flush against the wall, it could not be a roost.  I started to routinely check the area for any birds, finally noting a single little sparrow flitting around under the awning near sunset.

On a midnight break, I finally had my answer to the poop-a-dot question.  Directly above the drop zone, in the angle formed by the little junction box and along the groove formed by the round conduit extension and the wall, the little sparrow had wedged itself for an undisturbed night’s sleep.

In all the months I worked there, I never saw the sparrow tuck itself in for the night.  It always waited until I was not watching before it would trundle off to its little hidey.  Even without that self-awareness mirror, it is evident the bird was acutely aware of itself and that it needed to be careful to protect itself.

Just before sunrise, the air above and around my little bit of ell would come alive with various birds, including hordes of sparrows, chattering and flitting.  All these guys must have read the little adage about the early bird and the worm.  Much to my delight, I learned that humans are not the only recalcitrant risers before sunrise.

Between the break table and the wall at the inside of the ell, there was a space of about 3 feet.  I was sitting on that end, facing outward into the parking lot.  I noticed a small object coming right toward me on a steadily descending glide path.  Any second now, I expected the sparrow to hit the brakes after seeing me and redirect its path elsewhere.  It did not, continuing to a smooth landing on the sidewalk between the table and wall.  Then — not giving me the least bit of consideration — fast walked to the inside angle of the ell.  Once there, facing the wall, it tucked its head under a wing and settled in, oblivious to my perilous proximity.  Apparently, morning came a lot sooner for this tiny creature than it had been prepared for.

My third ell-ish encounter was similar to that, without the smooth landing.  I was standing at the edge of the concrete apron, sort of hanging 10, awaiting the dawn.  Again, there is the approaching silhouette of an early riser, but, it leveled out at about 30 inches above the pavement and slowly glided past me well within arm’s reach.  My first thought was, “this little guy is going to make a quick stop just before the wall and snatch a bug off the brick,” a trick I had seen grackles do.  But, no air brakes were deployed.  The little critter went head first into the wall, and dropped in a heap onto the sidewalk.

This was not the first time I had seen birds crash like that, but, usually, it happens against glass barriers.  It is frequently a fatal error.  But, this little fella got to its feet in a few seconds, shook its head a few times, and started walking back toward the edge of the apron.  Obviously dazed, it struck a pose that mimicked mine, toes teasing the edge of the curb, and facing the parking lot.  About the only difference between us were our head heights (5.5 feet vs. 2.5 inches) above sea level, and the fact that I had not just bashed my head into that brick wall.  I was hanging 10, it was hanging 6.  Sans the brick wall, I knew this little guy would never be caught dead standing a mere 18 inches from me.  So, I started talking to it, like we were long-time buds just shootin’ the early morning breeze.  I could tell it heard my droning voice since it kept looking toward me.  I don’t think we got more than a minute of quality time together, ’cause it finally figured out this was not Kansas anymore, and took off like demons were after it.  I had to wait for the bell at shift’s end before I could flee my demons.

Enthusiasts of the whole “natural order” hypothesis proclaim that Nature — indeed, all of Existence — is a precision machine that moves its various components in a grand procession of order across the Cosmos.  I think I speak for a large number of smaller components in this “precision machine” when I say, “It just ain’t so!” 

That NOCTURNAL > DIURNAL transition switch has a definite herky-jerky characteristic to it, and needs a little work.  Until it is ironed out, we unfortunate and disenfranchised membership of “the perfect order” will continue to rely on the snooze-button, un-cut coffee (more than 4 cups a day) and banging of heads against walls just to get clear of sunrise.

 

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