I weep for our country.
We are either part of this biosphere or we are not.
I’m listening to a very interesting audio book How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow. It’s a popular science book, meaning it’s a science book for the masses not that it’s a science book that is popular. It’s the usual compendium of science tidbits, study summaries, and other interesting stuff.
For example. There was a man who suffered a stroke. The stroke destroyed a specific part of his brain that interprets what the eyes see. He was not just effectively blind but truly blind – no light/dark comprehension, no shape recognition, total darkness as far as he could perceive. But your eyes don’t just connect to this one brain region. They also connect to an older part of the brain that we are not consciously aware of. (Ugh, prepositions have always been my bane.)
When asked to identify two different shapes, say a circle and a square, his success rate was 50%, the same as flipping a coin and what the researchers expected. But when he was asked to identify emotions in photographs – that he couldn’t consciously realize he was seeing even – he was correct 60% of the time. Statistically very significant.
He was also able to navigate a cluttered hall without his cane. Not by feeling his way through but just by walking. Something in his brain that was still wired to his eyes directed him around obstacles. When the researchers asked him how he did it he couldn’t tell them.
Some of the information is rote: Women dress sexier when they are ovulating, the Pepsi paradox (branding affects taste results), a slight touch during conversation improves outcome, stuff like that. One thing that I found fascinating and can’t quite get out of my head is his tangential example of Theory of Mind. I don’t know who originated it or even if I quite understand it yet but it goes something like this:
I think I want a banana.
I think that you want my banana.
I think that you think that I want a banana.
I think that you think that I think you want my banana.
I think that you think that I think that you think that I want a banana.
I think that you think that I think that you think that I think that you want my banana.
Theory of Mind is the ability to ascribe mental states to oneself and others. It’s the recognition that “I think” but also that “you think” and that I can think about you thinking AND that I can think about you thinking about me thinking, and so on. Supposedly, we (humans) are able to do this to six degrees while other vertebrates can do it to two or three degrees. I kinda lose track around the Kevin Bacon level. (See what I did there?)
Of course my description is just a really sketchy sketch of a complicated thing. Theory of Mind also encompasses emotions, what drives decisions and actions, beliefs, and false beliefs. And more of course.
Honestly, I think the Matrix would be easier.
Some things I don’t like to leave to chance so I called some slaughter services for the pigs, just to see how far in advance I need to make an appointment. D-day won’t be until the last of April or first of May but it’s never too soon to prepare ya know.
I went ahead and asked some questions and found out that neither one will scald a hog instead of skinning. Very disappointing.
I guess we’ll just have to deal.
This whole pitch black by 5pm just IS NOT WORKING FOR ME!!! Hahaha.
I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of farming and to realize that while I can do things out of season it’s MUCH easier to do them in season.
So educationally frustrating!
What a time we have had since I last posted. We made a whirlwind trip home to Texas and Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. Normally I wouldn’t consider eight days a whirlwind trip but we get home so rarely that we always try to cram a years worth of visits into one trip. Between friends and family we wound up putting 1200 miles on the rental car. That’s just “visiting” miles, we flew from Seattle to Dallas. I don’t regret a single one! 🙂
It was a little tough coming back to the overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest even though I love the green. I was born and raised in wide open spaces and sometimes I need to be able to see farther than a thousand feet. I remember as a kid standing on my aunt’s back porch in the Oklahoma Panhandle and seeing the grain elevators at Hardesty eleven miles away. Sometimes I need that distance to feel like I can breathe freely.
We are very lucky to have places to go and a place to come back to and friends that watch out for us. My coworker who lives a couple of miles down the road took care of our little farm while we were gone. We came back to a peaceful resumption of chores and whatnot.
We bred the rabbits the weekend before we left so we’ll be building nest boxes in the very near future. The pigs are growing like mad. I’m supposed to call the butcher in January to make them an appointment in April or May… probably April. And today I culled our first hen.
It was interesting doing that totally alone. I didn’t realize until I was finished that anytime I’ve cleaned fish or butchered a chicken or anything along those lines it was always with someone else. Plus, it’s been so long that it might as well have been the first time. It wasn’t a bad or emotional thing just different. And I have to admit that I’m kinda proud that I just did it cause it needed to be done.
Anyway, enough. I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate it. If you don’t, I hope you had a happy Thursday.
Let me preface this by saying that all I have is questions, no answers.
My father has a real farm, 300+ acres, cows, big tractors, and lots of haying equipment. It’s not at all like my dinky 10 acres, two pigs, chickens, and bees. On this real farm he has a barn with stacks of feed. Stacks of feed always equals lots of mice. So my dad always has barn cats. Their population waxes and wanes in direct proportion to the hunting adeptness of the local coyote population. This is unremarkable.
One day though, my dad went out to feed his feline warriors after an especially fecund period and found every single kitten dead, not eaten, just dead, and a new tomcat on the premises. What happened to the old tomcat we never knew. He was either killed or exiled by the new tom, or became coyote food.
What we did know was that the new tom, however he came to be cock of the walk, had killed all those kittens. That’s what happens when a new feline male takes over a pride with young. The death of the kittens causes the females to come back into estrus and the new tom gets to pass on his DNA. This is unremarkable in the natural world as well.
Fast forward to my Introduction to Moral Philosophy class. That class, of course, just happened to include a section on Utilitarianism which of course led to an exploration of Peter Singer and his animal liberation movement and his self-made “speciesism”. Suddenly, the cat that was so unremarkable made me question everything I was being taught.
It is no understatement that a major reason Peter Singer is so important is because he is so divisive and provocative. If he weren’t, he would probably exist in obscurity like the other 99.9% of current philosophers. But the fact is he is well known. His arguments often seem to make sense despite his monstrous conclusions and millions of people around the world are forming their ethical frame on his ideas. Another fact is that being exposed to him has caused me to constantly reexamine my relationship to, well, I was going to say the natural world but that’s just the world.
Back to the cat.
We define morality as knowing the difference between right action and wrong action. We define ethics as a system of moral principles. A moral agent has the power to cause intentional harm to another. A subject of moral worth is anything that can be harmed.
I began to question, was the tomcat a moral agent?(I think not.) Or was he just a cat?(I think so.) If he was just a cat then does that mean that morality does not apply to him? If he is just a cat and we can’t hold him to the same moral standards as ourselves then doesn’t that make morality a purely human concept? If I see a cat bring a mouse to its injured mate and I call it kindness then don’t I also have to call the killing of these kittens murder? If I am not allowed to anthropomorphize one shouldn’t I also not anthropomorphize the other?
I seriously think these are important questions because if it does turn out that morality (knowing right action from wrong action vs. instinct or natural behavior) is purely human (even if it grew out of our evolutionary path) then it affects the way we apply it to the world outside our species. I’m not talking about whether we eat meat or not, or if factory farming is ethical. I’m talking about the view we have of our actual planet and ecology.
Michael Pollan in his article “An Animal’s Place” quotes Peter Singer thusly, “It must be admitted,” Singer writes, “that the existence of carnivorous animals does pose one problem for the ethics of Animal Liberation, and that is whether we should do anything about it.” And Matthew Scully as saying predation is “the intrinsic evil in nature’s design . . . among the hardest of all things to fathom.”
I would posit that Mr. Singer and Mr. Scully have decided that morality is innate and universal. I would also posit that pursuing action to support their decision would lead to catastrophic consequences not just for us but for all life on this planet.
Anyway, it’s almost 10 o’clock and I have to work tomorrow so I’ll sign off now. I truly look forward to your thoughts!
Do morality and ethics exist independent of humankind like, say, gravity?
So… eventually Don is going to forbid me to surf the Internet.
I saw a picture of a pig tractor and thought, “We could do that!” – so many of our projects begin that way.
Here’s the link to the original post. I think it’s a book advert or something, and be warned, the text does not match the picture. But that was okay with me because I find a picture so much easier to work from.
It just so happened that on the same day that I saw this I also saw a Craigslist ad for weaner pigs at about half the usual cost! Sometimes you just can’t fight the universe.
That same evening found me in the barn sorting through more of the woodlot wood. That place is turning out to be a real blessing… or maybe an enabler? Depends on which of us you ask I guess.
It took us about 3 days of afternoons and one Saturday morning to complete. It would’ve gone quicker but I have to stop and ruminate on each step. “Is that where that should go? Maybe over here would be better” and so on.
Eventually we wound up with a moveable pen with an attached DIY self-feeder and water trough. It all moves. There are eyebolts on each end that we attach a chain to and pull with the tractor.
I have a video of us moving it out to the pasture but I can’t seem to get it uploaded to YouTube. Bummer. We finished the tractor on Saturday morning and by 1 o’clock that afternoon we had these guys in it. Our little farm now has bees, chickens, rabbits, and pigs. Remember how I said I needed to plan better? Yeah, that’s not working out so well. Hahaha!
Hope your October went well.
I’m hoping this means we’ve discovered our pot of gold.