Friday, July 08, 2011

Self Awareness

Biologists and sociologists always make a big deal about self-awareness and have tests set up to measure how aware an animal is of its own existence and whether or not it can gauge that it is responsible for certain actions. One test that gets a lot of publicity is one in which animals are shown a mirror and the humans interpreting whether or not the animal viewing itself can tell that it is seeing a reflection of itself.

Well, that is short-sighted and chauvinistic on the part of the folk who set up the tests.

The list of creatures that pass this test is very small. Some great apes and dolphins, and now, it seems, rhesus monkeys.

But I see animals acknowledging action and reaction. Animals which are not primates, are not cetaceans.

A couple of years ago on a trip to Manatee Springs State Park in Florida I watched a group of black buzzards land on a cypress limb overhanging the spring run. One of them walked out on the limb above the clear water and deftly plucked out a tuft of epiphytic ferns growing there. After he'd plucked them out he carefully dropped them into the center of the spring run. Why? He did this so that he could watch the ferns--which had now become a tiny raft--float away on the current. When the cleverly created boat had drifted away, the buzzard did it again, then a third time.

This buzzard was plucking off clumps of the ferns and dropping them into the spring below so that he could watch them float away. He was having fun.

Why did he do this?

My feeling is that he did it because he could. It was a game. It pleased him to pluck out the ferns and make the tufts into little boats that he could watch floating on the surface of the water. This displayed to me that this bird was aware pretty much completely of his surroundings and the pieces of it. He knew that he could wrench the ferns free. That they would fall into the stream. And that they would float away. Cause and effect.

I feel that many, many, many are the creatures on this globe that share this trait with us.

We should treat them with more respect and compassion.

Damn right I'm smart.

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