Sunday, May 31, 2020

To Be a Bird

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

One of the first who asked questions about animal consciousness was philosopher Thomas Nagel. That paper, What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, was published in 1974 in The Philosophical Review. Much has happened since then to understand animal consciousness since then and I'm not going to review it. 

You can find reviews, papers, current ideas as well as videos on the Web although I will direct you to this video 7 m 43 s), the Proclamation of the Cambridge Declaration of Human Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals made on July 7, 2012 at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference, Churchill College, Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Historic Proclamation of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Human non-Human Animals at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference, Churchill College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, July 7, 2012

David Allen Sibley, the great painter of field guides, has a new book with the same title: What's It Like to be A Bird? that reminded me of Nagel's philosophical question. He meets this question in terms of research in evolutionary biology and behavior. Field biologists and laboratory experimenters have learned through clever experiments that birds reason their way through problems. They have emotional lives, too.

Barbara King, who reports for NPR has written a review in which she notes that "Sibley's main aim is to ignite appreciation of the varied North American birds we may encounter in out backyards and nearby parks."

Along the way Sibley loads the book with facts and Kingsolver includes several including this on the color blue in birds:no blue pigment exists in birds, the color is the result of feather structure. If you ar interested in how birds make colorful feathers, including with pigments and by structural features the territory is covered in Bird Academy.

And Sibley emphasizes"an engaged approach to bird-watching: 'You will learn faster if you can be an active observer--draw sketches, take notes, write poetry, or take photos. All of these things make you look a little more carefully and a little longer."  As Yogi Berra famously said "You can observe a lot by just watching."

To be in nature is to take time to linger and look which adds immeasurably to the act of appreciation.

PS--I've not read the book but look forward to reading it. I often read reviews before I read a book. It helps me make the decision to read or not and often adds context that I find useful.

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