Thursday, October 14, 2004

on Consciousness (part II)

Over the last several months I've been settling down into my new suburban lifestyle. My wife and I rent a house with a huge backyard and a tight cluster of trees in one corner. It's heaven. I've seen and heard some amazing things concerning the natural wildlife in my backyard: highways of ants, "fighting" butterflies, arguing cats, dogs barking codes to each other at night... the list goes on and on.

One afternoon I was studying on my back porch (area) and found a little black spider wandering across the seat of a chair next to me. With my finger I made a poking motion towards it, and it ducked behind the edge of the seat. A few seconds later, it peeked out, waited, and then climbed back onto the seat. I promptly poked at it again. It responded by ducking back behind the edge of the seat. We did this one more time, before it finally determined that I wasn't a threat and descended down to the surface of my porch.

My porch consists of a slab of millions of tiny pebbles in concrete. Once the spider dropped onto the porch, it hopped, pebble by pebble, towards the side gate of my back yard which opens between two brick walls. I watched the tiny black spider island hop between flat surfaced pebbles, avoiding the uneven or sharp edged pebbles. If it came to a large area of exposed concrete, it would walk across, and then mount another flat pebble and continue along it's hopping way.

During this time, I caught a brief flash of motion between the black metal of the gate and the brick surface of the wall. I watched closely, but saw nothing more.

Finally, the spider reached the side gate. It crawled onto the smooth concrete surface of the gate threshold, and skittered through the middle. Then, out of nowhere, a chameleon stood in the spider's place, and the spider was no where to be seen.

The cameleon paused, froozen in an attentive stance. The edge of its tongue slid out from between its lips, and then promptly slid back in. As quickly at it arrived, the chameleon jumped onto the far brick wall and scurried away.

That's life for ya!

Recently, my wife and I went to the Austin zoo. I had to go to observe primate behavior for my anthopology class. My prof instructed us that the primates don't like eye contact, so in order to observe as objectively as possible, refrain from eye contact disturbance.

I knew what she meant, and it's true, even for us humans. Ever try looking a complete stranger in the eye nonestop? Neither have I, but I digress.

After completing my assignment I wandered around the primate cages to observe all the exibits. My wife and I made our way to a cage of Capuchins monkeys. I approached them with some hardcare eye contact, and I got an interesting response from one individual. She (he) held my gaze. She didn't look away, or loose interest. She held my eye contact. Then, she started lightly tapping her chest. For fun, I imitated her jesture. She continued holding my eye contact and tapped her chest again. I repeated. She tilted her head sideways, and I mirrored her. For the next several minutes I mirrored her every action, and she was transfixed by what I was doing. I could see her mumbling under her breathe in her Capuchin language. Her two other Capuchin neighbors ignored my wife and I, but this one had establish cognitive contact with us, and it knew it. My wife tapped her head, and briefly, the Capuchin imitated her. The whole time this communication was going on, I kept wondering, "what does this poor little thing think about us?"

Eventually, my wife and I left. As we were backing away from our curious Capuchin, two ladies approached the same cage. One of them noticed that the Capuchin was watching us, and made a comment that it wanted our water bottle.

No, it was so much more than that.

Consciousness is still a mystery to us humans, at least for those who care to look. I think we can find degrees of consciousness in all forms of life, and I think it's important to recognize this because it puts us in our place.

Life is precious. We shouldn't take it for granted.


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