"....The truth is out there."
-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Thursday, January 18, 2007
-- How Can It Be --
"Every ant knows the formula of its ant-hill; every bee knows the formula of its beehive. They know it in their own way, not in our way. Only humankind does not know its formula." -- Fyodor DostoyevskySometimes I wonder how it is that two groups of people can look at essentially the same body of evidence and arrive at such different conclusions. In the Ivory-billed Woodpecker arena we all have access to the same info yet some conclude that the species likely still survives, and others believe with near certitude that it has been extinct for 60 years (and a range of opinions in-betwixt). What is going on here?
Part of the explanation may lie in fundamentally different underlying views of the natural world (this won't apply to all in the debate, but possibly to some). Many people, consciously or not, see humans as the center of the natural world, the kingpin, the apex of creation and complexity, lone masters of Nature. All other lifeforms are, by comparison, little automatons, to be understood, categorized, quantified, and made predictable to the all-knowing human mind. For such folks, the Ivory-bill is just one of those many knowable, predictable, understandable simple forms. We comprehend it and its behavior, because that's what we do as humans, and because, afterall, it's just a 'dumb' creature. Tsk, tsk...
But living things ARE NOT billiard balls or planetary objects easily studied with precision as in physics. The variables involved in biology, are unimaginably complex, innumerable, resistent to precise study or control. They swirl with unseen connections and influences. Some of us thusly see humans, as but one thread in that overall web of life, no more or less central than any other (actually, if all humans perished tomorrow, the Earth would get along swimmingly well; if all bacteria died tomorrow life on this planet would largely perish --- which living form is really more important, or more central, biologically speaking?). All life is essentially inscrutible; an amoeba or a cicada may be as mysterious and complex, as any human out there; even knowing genetic codes does not get us very far, any more than knowing the alphabet and phonetics of a language yields much insight into the grammar, semantics, richness or complexity of that language. How much difference really would an extraterrestial being, a million years more advanced than us, see between humans and cicadas objectively observing both from afar?
So there is much too much I'm unwilling to presume to know, that others seem to presume they DO know, about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker to reach the conclusions they have reached. I DO know the bird's history is one of being written off prematurely time and time again, by those who thought they knew more than they did. Until you recognize the Ivory-bill (or any other creature), for the deeply complex form it is, it's easy to be deceived by one's own intellect into quick answers. "A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing," it is said, and also, "those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Of course, one of these times the pessimists are bound to be right, and the Ivory-bill really will be gone. I just don't see any sign we're there yet... and I'm looking at the same data they are, but, looking at it stripped of many of their ever-present human preconceptions.
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