Who says chickens are stupid? Stupid people, I assume. While this research reported in Science News isn’t about chickens per se, it probably would apply to chickens. I mean how much smarter is a pigeon going to be than a chicken? (Google: Pigeons match monkeys in abstract counting skills.) How much true difference is there between so-called ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ intelligence? Chapter 20 hints, Normal people discern difference, I alone am subdued. Doesn’t discerning difference help satisfy our need to feel at the top of nature’s pecking order (1).
The irony here is that the further from the top we feel the more we need a story that tells us we are special (2). Just consider the name we’ve given ourselves — Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man”). Self-interest wrote this story. We have made ourselves judge and jury on what is good and beautiful, and we inherit just the opposite, as chapter 2 bluntly states, All under heaven realizing beauty as beauty, wickedness already. All realizing goodness as goodness, no goodness already. Oh my, what a complicated mess we make of simple natural life.
Why do we feel it so essential to be at the top of nature’s pecking order? What produces our species’ deep insecurity that drives our age-old illusions of superiority? While these myths are especially noticeable in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, I see human elitism implied in all other religious traditions as well, although perhaps less in Taoism for ‘obvious’ reasons. Chapter 34 throws cool water of our illusions of supremacy… Meritorious accomplishment yet anonymous, or chapter 78’s Of weakness and loss through death, superior to strength.
The principle cause here is the visceral sense of disconnection that our ability to think causes us. Chapter 71 pinpoints it: Realizing I don’t know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. The entire social, survival, competitive and cooperative instincts found in non-human animals easily transforms into a matter of free choice in the thinking we know of our imagination. In that fertile mental ground, we grow molehills into mountains.
One of the wisest moves I ever made was realizing that I was being a damn fool to judge humanity by its own human standards! It is a rigged, no win, paradigm in which we entrap ourselves as both judge and the judged. It appears science alone, in time, will finally release us from this trap… and only Taoism or something similar can help us avoid being trapped by science.
Here now are a few excerpts from Pigeons rival primates in number task…
Working Bird Pigeons rival rhesus monkeys at putting groups of shapes in numerical order. The birds also show the primate like quirk of taking longer and making more mistakes when clusters hold close to the same number of shapes.
Pigeons, who aren’t even distant uncles to a monkey, have matched primates in a test of learning an abstract numerical concept.
The results “suggest that despite completely different brain organization and hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary divergence, pigeons and monkeys solve this problem in a similar way,” says Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University, a coauthor of the original study of numerical order in monkeys.
Human kind may be pretty proud of its numerical prowess, but numbers — four succulent fruits versus eight, one lurking lion versus three — matter very much in animal life, too. Research is uncovering various kinds of number-related abilities in animals as diverse as the honeybee, mosquito fish, grey parrot, Plethodon salamanders and a water bird called a coot.
(1) Regarding any differences I see as bio-illusions (i.e., the bio-hoodwink) helps me keep perspective. In other words, perceptions of difference are relative, evolving over time to help animals deal with their environment. As such, perception’s primary role is to pull us into playing the game of life, not to inform us of any unbiased truth of life. Perceptions of similarity, the This is called profound sameness of chapter 56, strike much closer to the unbiased truth.
(2) I see this same ironic inversion in other animals as well. Meaning, animals (including us) counter-balance the insecurity felt within by putting on an outward show of strength — puff up and bluff. However, they don’t create narratives to support this drive. Essentially, our ‘story making’ is an emergent property of this fight-or-flight dynamic. Therefore, instead of judging a book by its cover, it helps to consider to what extent the inside is actually the opposite of the cover. The symptoms point of view can help guide insight.