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How to tell if a Raven Lies
The path through the urban park dipped, drainage here is poor,&a puddle of ice crossed the way.  A raven had pecked holes in the ice and was sticking a piece of stale bread underneath.  Another spongy bit was already frozen solid.  I stopped and stood.  The raven flew to a close branch & watched me.  I stood there smiling at the raven.
I waited because I read a few months ago about a study that found ravens will move food caches when they are being observed by other birds.  This is believed to violate an important principle of the consciousness that is said to separate humans and animals: the theory of mind.  It seems as though the ravens believe that the other ravens watching them may steal their hidden food, so they deceive them by hiding the food, waiting for the other bird to leave and then moving it elsewhere.  If so, they know the other watching creature may have a mind as avaracious as theirs.  Consider that many of the corvids one might see simply sitting in trees, vocalising like superannuated lounge-singers, are waiting for another observing bird to head elsewhere.  That bird is waiting them out.  And you walk by smiling, wishing you could be like them with nothing really to do.
What does the raven think about me?  How much awareness can I attribute to the raven?  I grew up in a rural area with wild, tamed and domestic animals all about.  There are flashes of observable concsiousness in these creatures now and then & strange things to note in their interactions.  But the philosophy of all traditions seems to set up the animal as an unconscious being; it must be so.  A phil. prof. of mine always used the dog as the starting point (like the first ch. of Hegel's Phenomenology), a pure stimulus-response mechanism.  But anyone living with animals must know that this is quite simplistic.
The only philosopher I've read who confronts the problematic of anthropomorphism is the late Derrida.  He takes issue with Lacan over stimulus-response theories & Levnias in the referenced volume and the notion of the face.  He begins beautifully by talking about being naked in front of his cat and the twinge of embarrassment at its steady gaze. 
But he does not take the step back to the recognition of the divine, to where the face in Levinas philosophically yearns.  What do I see in the raven's eyes? 
Auden sang:

The steady eyes of the crow and the camera's candid eye
See as honestly as they know how, but they lie.

I'm not sure that _captures_ it.
Books Discussed
Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal

Hi Gregory,
Wanted to immediately reply as very much enjoyed reading your story.

First thing I'll say is that philosophy is really not where you want to go to think about the animal. There are some attempts in the latter parts of the 20th century to think about man and the animal, which you mention, but they are still so obsessed with differentiating us from them that I find it quite hilarious. Case in point is Heidegger's The fundamental concepts of Metaphysics, which has its interesting parts but its attempts at differentiating us from animals and rocks I found not too convincing lets say (pathetic would be another way of saying it).
You won't find in Kafka these kinds of attempts.

As you linked to a book entitled Zooanthologies I'll tell a story of mine in a zoo (the Frankfurt zoo). I'll mention I love zoos and try to visit the zoos of cities I visit.

I was walking in the zoo and came past the Ourang-Outang (or orangutan) cage when I noticed a fight and then the father caught and was raping the daughter and later continued with the mother. It was clearly rape and though I felt like calling the zoo keeper I doubted he'd do anything about it. I stayed and looked at what was going on and it was graphic but riveting as I never saw something like that before. Now the father clearly saw that I didn't like what he was doing, and then, in a gesture which shocked me, he put his hand on the glass in front of my eyes so as to say - don't look!
It wasn't by accident and his gesture was very clear. He was very aware of my gaze, and clearly felt a certain shame in what he was doing.

(To be totally truthfull, I do not completely remember whether it was the father, or the mother which put the hand so I won't look. It was one of them, but it has already been probably 10 years since then and my memory is less precise.)

In response to Arthur Mont
What a strange thing it is to insert a comment between two parts of a conversation. Nonetheless...
just was struck by the last parenthetical remark. It makes a difference, doesn't it? This reminds me of one of Freud's stories -- Dora, maybe? -- a case study of a girl and her uncle; and at the end of the entire study there's a footnote of Freud's to the effect that it was actually her father, not her uncle, but he has just now remembered and it's not worth going back and changing everything.
Shame or guilt or embarrassment (how to know which?) is one of the most interesting things to note in animals because it simply must imply self-consciousness.  When I was a child we had Australian shepherd mixes which we clipped in the summer.  They really did look quite naked afterwards, like the sheep with which they are engaged in an instinctual love/hate-triangle.  And for days, unlike sheep, they skulked around corners, legs crossed and tails between them.  They were so obviously embarrassed.
Interestingly, all three of these animals collies/aussies, higher primates and corvids score on intelligence tests up to the age of a human five-year old.
To cover the eyes of the observer of a rape must indicate a theory of mind.  To know that you are naked must indicate a degree of self-consciousness.  And yet the charge of 'anthropomorphism' comes down like an axe.

I agree that phenomenology is not the place to look for understanding here, and that is just the problem, isn't it?
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Latest Post: January 7, 2010 at 8:58 AM
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