giovedì, maggio 07, 2009

Magpies are more self-aware than your toddler

I've always had some problems with the idea of deciding whether or not an animal is self aware based on its performance on the mirror test, where you get some schmutz on its face, give it a mirror, and see if it uses its reflection to get the schmutz off. Can't an animal be self-aware and just not get mirrors? Or can't an animal be self-aware at rest but have such aggressive or sexual tendencies that any opportunity to get self-aware with a mirror will be lost in a sudden orgy of attack or attempt to fuck a sudden apparition of its own species?

What is self-awareness, anyways? Is it really something so limited that we can deduce whether a creature has it or not by if it appreciates being able to see itself in a mirror as an opportunity to groom? We're getting onto weirdo and swampy relativistic grounds here, where words start to lose all meaning, but isn't there something almost uselessly anthropomorphic about the idea of self-awareness if you can encapsulate it in 'knows how to use mirrors to get schmutz off their face'?

All that having been said - magpies passed the test. Suck it up, my fellow humans, we're not so freaking special. 300 million years of seperate evolution and their brains have turned out in an utterly different way from ours, the other great apes, elephants, dolphins - from all the other animals who pass the mirror test - yet here they are flapping around and eating shit off the streets and being self-aware, by our rather strange and subjective measure.

And fucking adorable, I might add. I love magpies. They've got the cutest binomial name ever: pica pica. In Australia, they have a sort of bird called a magpie, but it's artamid, not corvid - a strange and magical subgroup of passerine birds that are something like corvids, but are only found in the bit of the world in Australia and around it, where they reckon the corvids came from once upon a time . . . And the Australian one has a very beautiful singing voice, very bizarre and shockingly bitonal and clear, instead of the skwawkiness of the European magpie. And its black and white markings are sort of opposite to the European magpie's. And it attacks people. It's weird. Europeans are weird, with their bizarro grasping after similarities in foreign lands, like with the turdus migratorius (phhhhhhht!) of North America getting the same name as the round, tiny erithacus rubecula just because they both have reddish tummies, sing pretty and herald springtime.

When we extinguish ourselves, birds are so taking over. It'll be a new age of the dinosaurs. And who doesn't like dinosaurs? Fuckin' no one.

7 commenti:

Baywatch ha detto...

its one thing after another isn't it? everyone of these behaviors that we've declared to be uniquely human eventually turns out not to be limited to us. when I was a kid it was tools. we use tools, they don't. then it was emotions. we have emotions, they don't. last year's news was that dogs understand justice (ntm that angry rock throwing monkey). rats can be tickled into laughter. in many ways we're still the same humans-in-denial who didn't want to believe they could be related to apes. i was gonna say don't get me started but it's too late.

guilty noodles ha detto...

don't we have a lead with our opposable thumb? i suppose with the standard stupid americans, we're kind of asking for our species to die.

Dread Pirate Jessica ha detto...

It's just too embarassing to admit that what makes us special in the animal kingdom is that we excel above all others at hoarding things - objects and ideas - with sometimes marvellous and sometimes horrible results.

As a distinguishing feature its attractions are limited - it's embarassing because if we acknowledge it as our distinguishing feature, we also have to acknowledge that as awesome as all the art and philosophy and whatnot that trait has given us, it also bears the seeds to our likely destruction, and of our comparative INFERIORITY as a species, if you measure success by survivability, which does tend to be the most objective way I can think of to measure success . . .

We haven't been around very long, and I don't know how much longer we'll be around - even when I'm at my most positive, I doubt we're fucking crocodiles or coelecanths or something.

And Americans are just like everybody else, Guilty Noodles - just luckier, per capita. Europeans and Japs and Australians and everybody with a bit of money is just as stupid in their own special ways, and everybody else prays to get to be that stupid some day. It's just that Americans are fattest, so the world notices more.

Dale ha detto...

Mirrors scare me but only when I'm standing in front of one. I'm very self aware! Not so scary? That movie with Keifer Sutherland standing in front of a bunch of them. Lame but I watched it anyway.

Dread Pirate Jessica ha detto...

Looking at Kiefer Sutherland makes me want to punch Kiefer Sutherland.

Baywatch ha detto...

hey, didn't he just get arrested? whoops. I lapsed into celeb gossip.

Dread Pirate Jessica ha detto...

Nobody's complaining!