Of Minds and Crows


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A fellow blogger and I had a little debate  about consciousness and awareness in non-human organisms. His view seems to be that humans are largely unique in their capabilities for awareness. My view is that humans clearly have unique talents and abilities, but those capabilities do not intrinsically provide us with greater consciousness or self-awareness. In other words, other organisms, take the crow for example, might be as conscious and self-aware as we are even they are not as intelligent as we are. This post is not so much about the debate on self-awareness as it is about crows.

As I am writing this, I can hear in my backyard a group of crows. After a little chatter, they begin to make the characteristic commotion I usually hear when a cat is making its way through the backyard. By the time I get to the window to check, however, the noise has quieted down and four crows are around a plate of dried cat food. I had put out the plate of cat food and some stale crackers earlier. The crows had been coming and going through the morning first hauling away the stale crackers to dip them in the bird baths. Some crows seem to gravitate more to the bread and crackers, others to the dried cat food. They usually eat in groups. The first crow to spot food will typically call others to join. I think this is partly altruism and partly a safety consideration. Eating in a group while on the ground provides a safety in numbers. More eyes, more ears to see and hear predators. Not uncommonly one of more crows will remain on a perch to be an additional lookout. A sudden noise such as opening the backdoor will make them retreat to the trees. Eventually for reasons of their own the crows of this morning depart with some food remaining.

I have been feeding and watching crows for a few years.
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Embrace of the Serpent

Embrace of the Serpent (El Abrazo del Serpiente) is a remarkable movie by Ciro Guerra about the Amazon. While it follows somewhat in the tradition of the movies by Werner Herzog (Aquirre, the Wrath of God and Fitcarraldo) it differs from them in one significant aspect: the viewpoint of the movie is that of the indigenous people. The movie is actually two stories forty years apart about the search for miraculous healing plant, yakruna. The stories are based on the journals of Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes and are connected by the character of Karamakate, a shaman and the last survivor of his people.

While the damage of colonialism and unfortunate results when Westerners meet natives pervade the story, the movie is about much more. Most of all it is about the power of dream.
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Childhood’s End

ChildhoodsEnd(1stEd)Childhood’s End, a 1953 novel by Arthur C. Clarke, is about human transformation. What may not be obvious is that the novel contains not one but two different transformations with two different causative agents. The first transformation is societal and caused by external and technological agents. It leads to utopia on Earth with some downsides. The second transformation is an evolutionary change driven by the internal dynamics of human biology. Its result is the extinction of Homo sapiens.

The novel raises questions about the malleability of the human species and our eventual fate.

Note: The SyFy channel has made a three part mini-series of the novel that will begin to show on December 14th. What follows will discuss the plot of the novel in broad outline while omitting many details.

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