I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
The arrogance of the human mind never ceases to amaze, and one assertion that's always bothered me is the one that states we're the only animal on the planet that can reason, feel emotion, and communicate complex concepts. My cats talks to me all the time, and it's my fault and not hers I can't understand her; I have no doubt she understands me:
April 26, 2006
Although linguists have argued that certain patterns of language organization are the exclusive province of humans -- perhaps the only uniquely human component of language -- researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of California San Diego have discovered the same capacity to recognize such patterns and distinguish between them in Sturnus vulgaris, the common European starling.
In the April 27, 2006, issue of Nature, the researchers show that these starlings -- long known as virtuoso songbirds and expert mimics -- can be trained to reliably discriminate between two different patterns of organizing the sounds they use to communicate.
This probably doesn't sound so monumental to you, but it's pretty important and will screw with a whole lot of folks across linguistics/language theory departments around the world. Assuming someone tells them about it, that is. That humanities/science wall can be pretty tough for some to scale...
Anyway, I've been immersed in nature for the last few weeks and I'm rereading this again so I'm in that kind of mood, yet I can't help but feel a little Nelson Muntz here. It's a simple genealogy to me: Human religions posit human superiority over all dominion. Human sciences are infused with the result of thousands of years of religious influence on pedagogy and education, and incorporate that assumption/bias into their own theories. Thus, science is "surprised" to discover things like planets in other galaxies, talking birds and dolphins, and natural chemical cycles which prevent or counter disease in way that totally kicks ass, and which we can't yet reproduce.
It's about going along with nature, not hacking it and vivisecting it and torturing it and burning it away until you learn all its secrets.
I left the sciences after a lowly BS, mainly because I don't have the patience for lab work. But more than once, I felt like there were barriers to investigation that had nothing to do with lack of funds or clean beakers. Similarly, I feel that often, people don't pay enough to the advances that are made in science, because they don't believe such lessons "apply" in the world of the human wissenschaften.
Anyway, it's good to see science taking another step towards the recognition that animals, just like us, are "thinking" beings who deserve our respect and neighborly care. Hat tip to Phila for making me want to write this post.