Bird brains, intelligence overvalued

Grumpy Blue-faced Honeyeater - trapped in vegie garden_w
Grumpy Blue-faced Honeyeater – trapped in vegie garden

Bird brains, intelligence overvalued

Plato tells us that Homer was regarded as an authority for education, but poetry is no longer valued as, in Eric Havelock’s words: ‘a sort of encyclopaedia of ethics, politics, history, and technology which the effective citizen was required to learn as the core of his educational equipment.’

Dale Winton: In which country are the ruins of the ancient city of Troy? Is it (a) Tunisia, (b) Italy or (c) Turkey?
Contestant: I think this is when all those years doing A-level ancient history will start to pay off. [Pause] Well it’s not Turkey.

Anne Robinson: King Priam was associated with which besieged city?
Contestant: Newcastle.

Presenter: Which country is the film Troy set in?
Contestant: Mexico. [Is this a trick question?]

Am I laughing at the mystery of information or knowledge? We need information that has value, ‘natural information’ (Manuel Castells’ phrase), and avoid drowning in its stream by experiencing ‘information as reality’. We need wisdom more than intelligence, and Phronesis more than knowledge.

March 21

from the Art of Forgetting
‘War is cinema, and cinema is war’ Paul Virilio

If I was a soldier I would critique the strategies
If I was a politician I’d scour the latest opinion polls
If I was an Iraqi refugee I don’t know what I’d do.

Gardening Australia has been replaced by the war,
normal programming is a mystery.
I switch off before I learn anything, anything at all

walk into the garden, a swarm of leaves
pick up a book on the way
one I haven’t read for ever, Quasimodo

‘We shall rear tombs by the sea, on the torn fields,
but never one of the graves that mark heroes.
Death has played with us over and over:’

Sounds of bat on ball, kids screaming behind a wall.
I put down the book, there’s a leaflet on the table;

Better hospitals, more teachers, more police
on the beat. Masturbating cops, better children,
less lung cancer, liver failure and diabetes.

What of healthier reading – a grounding in Homer,
Lucretius and Virgil? I’ll chat more to May through the fence
to avoid Steiner’s paranoia – weeping the streets.

March 22

I read Nestor’s speech on Troy, ‘There all the best of us
then were slain; there lies warlike Ajax, there Achilles,
there Patroclus, god-like in counsel, and there lies my dear son . . ‘

The heroes, well loved by the gods, fall into that darkest night headfirst.
Death takes no prisoners, neither does Homer. The gods enjoy
the spectacular gladiators and tracer bullets ripping the night sky.

From the verandah watch with our neighbour, a massive cloud quarrel
and then stars emerging from under the magician’s coat.
Time to turn away inside, faithful to the hum of electricity.

Wyn’s back from collating squares for a quilt, the ‘Wild Susans’ gift
for Luce’s baby, the craft Victorian, its work extraordinary
even as Iraqi women are being discounted again.

I’ve voted early, the polling station’s quiet
the pencils’ still sharp, my mark so underwhelming
yet women died for it and men died for it.

I still don’t know how the war is going, work at the garden,
prune out-of-control ivy. It’s just another war,
the world’s had 300 odd since No2.

People will be dying quickly like Webern who stepped out for a smoke
and was shot by a US soldier three times in the stomach
or slowly, like Iraqi kids starved in their hundreds of thousands.

Or Pope, his spine and rib cage spongiform, caved in,
his kidneys failed, memory abandoned, like friends over the years.
His love still strong for Martha Blount (after mum died),

unconsummated. He wrote his last letter, ‘I love you
upon unalterable Principles, which make me feel my heart
the same to you as if I saw you every hour – adieu.’

Happiness in love is nothing to write about, not like
the wind blowing a ‘d’ across my beer bottle, not surprised
by such easy happiness, though I’ve no job, little money,

life is holding together like a unified theory of everything,
Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, elementary particles and
the expansion of the universe – just leaving out love and death,

or E. O. Wilson’s notion of Consilience – that diverse disciplines
can all be integrated if one can screw scientific Discovery
into humanistic Wisdom. It still leaves this war inexplicable.

Aristotle thought humans have hands because humans are intelligent animals, rather than the possession of hands caused intelligence. His teleology and notion of final cause evolved into the scholastic ‘argument from design’, long before notions of adaptation and evolution appeared. Herder thought feeling (Gefühl) was the medium of thought, which he compared to the sense of touch. Whereas sight apprehends things at a distance, the haptic is an immediate experience of reality, apperceived as a power reacting against an individual’s own energy – from this insight, Herder introduced the notion of agency. The flexibility of the human hand affords choice in how it handles the world. Andy Clark’s view of scaffolding shows how the flexibility of the human hand affords choice in how it handles the world. Raymond Tallis states: ‘The hand becomes a tool; the body becomes an instrument; and we emerge as true agents.’ Agency assumes responsibility:

‘The gesturing of our hands is a techne, a skill, an articulatory capacity; it can also be poiesis, poeticising, bring what we touch and handle into the beauty and unconcealment of truth… But to speak of capacity, of skill, is to acknowledge the possibility of development and to assume some responsibility for this process.’ David Michael Levin

Rather than using experimental methodologies from the natural sciences, Rom Harré thinks human life is best understood as produced through discourses of the whole body/subject, hands, feet and brain. The phenomenology of action does not require representation. Merleau Ponty points out that, ‘A movement is learned when the body has understood it, that is, when it has incorporated it into its ‘world’, and to move one’s body is to aim at things through it; it is to allow oneself to respond to their call, which is made upon it independently of any representation.’

In his major work, The Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty emphasised embodiment in the world, without explaining embodiment. Merleau-Ponty argued that bodies understand their worlds pre-symbolically and act, not through a Cartesian mind, but emerge through the body’s connections with the world at hand in lived experience. He adopted the notion of ‘cenesthesia’ (the body’s experiential awareness of itself as a schema of sensations, muscles, limbs and organs) that leads to a reciprocal relationship of body’s posture and movement in the dimensions of the external environment. The Australian philosopher Elizabeth Grosz comments, ‘Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of the flesh as an inherent intertwining of subject and world founds a new ontology, one which supercedes the ontological distinction between the animate and the inanimate, between the animal and the human, scientist and object of investigation.’

Kooka on deck

Kookaburras are intelligent, but corvids the most intelligent of birds. Crows rely on causal reasoning to solve puzzles and in many situations their reasoning is comparable to that of five to seven year old children. The poor old Blue-faced Honeyeater took nearly 24 hours to find its way out, despite all our attempts. Even a Pheasant Coucal took an hour. But birds are the only surviving dinosaurs, so all of them have a lot going for them.

Predatory aggression and rage aggression are two types of aggression, located in different parts of a mammal’s head, namely the predatory and affective types: ‘Humans have a tendency to mix up these two states, because the outcome is the same: a smaller, weaker animal ends up dead. But predatory aggression and rage aggression couldn’t be more different for the aggressor.’ Temple Grandin, Thinking the Way Animals Do.

‘War as a solution, with its pathology, creates a madness of irrationality and paranoia, in which the worst aspects of human behaviour are stimulated. Such fights for survival stimulate the kind of aggression that magnifies hatred and perpetuates the most destructive aspects of mankind.’ Gabrielle Rifkind and Giandomenico Picco, The Fog of Peace: The Human Face of Conflict Resolution, March 2014

‘There are now over 130,000 dead, over 6.5 million displaced, and 2 million refugees. Western governments always demanded Assad to go, and from a human rights perspective this may have seemed correct; but what’s morally right doesn’t necessarily save lives. What would have been perhaps more sagacious is for governments not to take sides at the beginning, but instead to put all their efforts into creating a ceasefire and stopping the flow of weapons.’ Gabrielle Rifkind, interview with Joana Cook, Managing Editor, Strife, March 25, 2014.

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