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"OH WATERS, TEEM WITH MEDICINE TO KEEP MY BODY SAFE FROM HARM, SO THAT I MAY LONG SEE THE SUN." - Rig Veda
Taede Smedes’ project concerns the debate on science and religion, more
specifically, modern physics and religion. Relevant questions are: what impact
modern physics could possibly have on religion? Is there something in religion
which modern physics can or could clarify? Is there some veil modern physics
could lift from the religious? Another question is whether modern physics could
serve as an explanatory model for some religious accounts, as a metaphor, or as
an ‘extension to our linguistic language’? According to Smedes, physical theories
have been used in order to achieve such aims and he analyzes some of these
approaches. He chose John Polkinghorne and Arthur Peacocke’s explanations of
how divine action can be understood.
uncertainties (chaos) imply ontological openness, making the world an
open system. Furthermore, since there are ontological holes at the micro level
of quantum mechanics as well as at the macro level of everyday experience, and
since chaotic systems never can be overcome but only slightly diminished, there
are genuine gaps in the texture of reality and these may allow God to act in the
world. Top-down divine action meets bottom-up natural processes.
"Uek has a problem. She can see a piece of food through a hole in a plastic box, but she cannot reach it. Fortunately, Uek is a New Caledonian crow, a bird that is both intelligent and adept with tools. She grabs a stick with her bill, pushes it forward through the hole and knocks the morsel onto a slope,. It rolls within her reach, and she tucks in.
Kermit has an even bigger problem. He’s faced with the same out-of-reach snack. He has the same stick and the same smarts. But Kermit is a kea, a green parrot with a sharp, curved beak. He can’t wield a stick with the same precision as Uek with her short, straight beak. So Kermit improvises. He picks the stick sideways in his beak and pushes one end through the hole. He holds it there with his foot, grabs the other end in his beak, and finally (and awkwardly) pushes it at the food. Eventually, he too gets a meal.
She presented five New Caledonian crows and six keas with the same set-up – a puzzle box with food, balanced on a central pole. If the birds could knock the food off the pole, it would roll down a sloped platform into their grasp. There were four ways of doing this: they could pull a string tied to the food; they could open a window and stick their head into the box; they could roll a marble down a chute to knock the food off; or, they could push the food off with a stick. Two of these solutions – the marble and the stick – involved tools, and the others didn’t.
Keas are notoriously inquisitive and attracted to new things. In its native New Zealand, it uses it beak to explore (and destroy) everything from nests to picnic baskets to windshield wipers. All of Auersperg’s keas immediately (and violently) explored all four openings in the box, pulling, tearing, scratching and probing at them. “They seemed to approach the apparatus in a playful, toddler-like manner,” she says. Most of them tried to overturn the box, which Auersperg had to nail to the floor. One of them, Luke, even broke the Plexiglas.
As a result of their gung-ho investigations, they picked up the four solutions to the puzzle far quicker than the crows did. After their first session, they had already discovered at least two or three, and when each one was blocked, they moved onto the next one with great speed.
In stark contrast to the keas, New Caledonian crows shirk from novelty. Rather than rushing in beaks first, they explored the box by sight before giving it some tentative pecks. One of them never even went near it. As such, it took them longer to pick up the different solutions.
But the crows had an edge – they’re natural tool users. In the wild, they manufacture their own tools to “fish” for insect grubs buried within decaying logs. In captivity, they’ve chosen the right tool for different jobs, combined different tools together, and improvised from unusual materials like wire hangers. Keas, however, aren’t natural tool users and their beaks are too curved to wield sticks with grace.
It’s not surprising then, that the crows were more adept than the keas at using the sticks to reach their food. All the crows managed it; of the keas, only Kermit did so with his complicated technique. The crows’ fondness for sticks didn’t always work to their favour. They would often try to poke the window with their sticks, while the keas soon learned to pull them open using handles. Even when Uek did lift the window, she still prodded at the food with her stick when she could have just stuck her head through.
In the meantime, these results clearly show that while both birds are capable of impressive feats of problem-solving, but react differently to the same task. They’re influenced by their anatomy: crows have straight bills but keas have curved ones. They’re influenced by their predispositions: keas like new things, crows shy away from them. They’re influenced by their environment: keas dig haphazardly for food, crows are used to precise prodding. An animal’s mental skills don’t evolve in a vacuum – they are tailored to that species’ body, lifestyle and environment.