Sunday, 12 May 2013

Alex and me

I read this lovely, meaningful excerpt from 'Alex and me' by Irene M. Pappenberg, which I felt keen to share on these pages...Alex was her Gray Parrot with which Pappenberg carried out research into animal sentience, communication and thought.

'Exactly how scientists came to espouse ideas about animal minds that were so at odds with what non scientists would call common sense is fascinating and instructive.

It bears exploring because it tells us a lot about ourselves as a species. Humans have always tried to make sense of the world and their place in it. Foraging people, living in close harmony with nature and her rythmns, see themselves as closely connected to other living things in their worlds.

They see themselves as an integral part of the whole of nature. We see this expressed in the mythologies and folk tales of Australian Aborigines and Native Americans, for instance....

Aristotle, in the fourth century B.C.E, constructed a view of the natural world that is, in its essence, still with us. He ordered all living and non living things on a ladder of perceived importance based on mind.

Humans were at the top, below the gods, a place earned by our great intellect. On lower and lower rungs were the lesser creatures, and finally the plants; lowest of all was the mineral world.

The Judeo-Christian tradition enthusiastically adopted Aristotle's blueprint, in which humans were given dominion over all living things and the earth. This description of nature became known as the Great Chain of Being. Humans were not only different from all of God's other creatures, but also distinctly superior.

The most important lesson that Alex taught us concerns the place of Homo Sapiens in nature. The revolution in animal cognition of which Alex was an important part teaches us that humans are not unique, as we long believed.

We are not superior to all other beings in nature. The idea of humans' separateness from the rest of nature is no longer tenable. Alex taught us that we are a part of nature, not apart from nature.

That 'separateness' notion was a dangerous illusion that gave us permission to exploit every aspect of the natural world - animal, plant, mineral - without consequences. We are now facing those consequences: poverty, starvation, and climate change for example.

My philosophy of life is based in an appreciation of the holistic nature of the world. Who knows what other amazing things we might have seen through our window into Alex's mind had he stayed?

In any case, he did leave me this great gift of what was once known and embraced but was lost: the oneness of nature and our part in it.'

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