Of Sparrows and Spiders

| July 15 2012
Christopher Cook

If you are expecting politics (this site’s usual fare), you will find this post rather discursive. It’s about sparrows, spiders, and self-determination…

A dear old friend of mine, with whom I have been enjoying philosophical discourse since we met years ago at the Univerity of St. Andrews, said this to me in the course of a conversation a few months ago:

In fact, it seems to me in some obscure way, from my previous obsession with philosophy of mind, freedom and consciousness are facets of the same reality, or even deeper, freedom IS existence, that there is no being wholly devoid of interiority and at least a vanishing degree of self-determination. The complexity of the human system raises that self-determination into prominence and incalculably enriches it and enlarges its scope.

We don’t have the kind of time we used to to engage in such discussions, but we do still have them occasionally, usually drawn out over a long time via email. This discussion was, in part, on the subject of freedom, natural rights, and society, and thus is at least generally in the wheelhouse of this site and my writing. It touched on other elements, including theology, the ichneumon wasp, and many other subjects, as our discussions are wont to do.

My reply to his comment above, though, might be of interest. Indeed, it is not political, so its appeal may be even more broad:

Two days ago, when I was mowing the lawn, I was suddenly attacked by two sparrows. They swooped and flapped and made a lot of noise. When I moved out of range, they starting attacking the lawnmower. It was a male and female, and it’s spring, so I immediately started looking around for whatever baby they must be protecting. Sure enough, there she was on the patio. She had flight feathers, but she was still pretty fluffy. She was just sitting there by the door, looking kind of confused.

So I moved the lawnmower to the far side of the lawn and mowed over there for a while. Then I came back and checked, and the baby was gone. Upon examination, I saw her and the daddy-bird about ten feet further down the patio. The daddy was leading her to safety. He would hop a few inches, then turn around and coax the baby to do the same. He’d kind of nudge and peck at her and she’d hop a bit more. (By this point, I have gotten [my wife] to come out and watch too.)

At some point, the baby ended up perched atop a stick we have for our little fire pit, and she wouldn’t move. Daddy kept hopping and then returning and coaxing, but she wouldn’t move. The mama bird was watching all of this from the fence behind us, and when baby stopped moving, she swooped in to add her coaxing to daddy’s. She was even more assertive about it than daddy was, pecking the baby gently right on the top of its head. Suddenly, the baby took the hint and they all flew together into a nearby bush. The baby’s flight was somewhat clumsier than her parents’ but she got off the ground and did it. It was all very cute and rather touching.

So, apropos of your comment, it certainly seemed like these little guys had plenty of self-determination. Yes, maybe they’ve just got tiny little sparrow brains, and they’re just running their sparrow programing, but they definitely seemed like they had plenty of interiority.

Then, there’s also the spider that lives in my office. At first I was going to get rid of him/her/it/whatever, but then I figured that he’s off in a corner, he’s not bothering anybody, and maybe he’s eating unwanted insects. I check on him every once in a while (he’s grown a lot since I first noticed him), and I’ve noticed that his meal of choice is other spiders of the same species. I was going to name him Arthur (he is an arthropod, right?), but then I decided that’s no name for a cannibal. Gross! If he’s got self-determination, eating other members of his own species is a very poor way to use it, don’t you think?

I offer this to you for no other reason than I thought it an interesting story. If it causes you to wonder about self-determination and degrees of freedom and interiority, great! But first and foremost, I just think the birds were cute.

0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest