Mais depuis qu’on entrevoit la nature, que les anciens ne voyaient point du tout; depuis qu’on s’est aperçu que tout est organisé, que tout a son germe; depuis qu’on a bien su qu’un champignon est l’ouvrage d’une sagesse infinie aussi bien que tous les mondes; alors ceux qui pensent ont adoré, là où leurs devanciers avaient blasphémé. Les physiciens sont devenus les hérauts de la Providence: un catéchiste annonce Dieu à des enfants, et un Newton le démontre aux sages. – Voltaire
“Since we have examined nature, which the ancients didn’t see at all; since we have perceived that everything is organized, that everything has its seed; since we have discovered that the mushroom is as much the work of an infinite intelligence as worlds are; since then those who think have adored, there where their predecessors blasphemed. The physicians have become the messengers of providence; while it is the catechist who tells children about God, it is a Newton who demonstrates him to the wise.”
Two stories in the NYT today demonstrate both the civilized delights of the wise who, as Voltaire says, see that Nature to which the ancients were blind, and the return to barbarism so characteristic of Bush America.
The delightful story is about birds. As a part time birder, I’ve always found the very fact that there are these creatures flying around, uttering their incomprehensible notes on parking lot mornings while humans flow unheeding around them, to be fascinating. I have a friend who finds birds frankly sinister, and can’t understand the fascinations of bird watching. There are birds that I intensely dislike – in particular, I have a small horror of the boat-tail grackle (Cassidix mexicanus) which fills the trees on the U.T. campus and leaves a lovely swampy smell around those areas where they are encamped, the rich miasma arising from their copious collective excreta. It is a pushy bird, and its harsh call does emphatically not recall the notes of the skylark:
“That from heaven or near it/
Pourest thy full heart/
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.”
Researchers are putting in question just the assumption that that art is unpremeditated.
“The clash of simple brain and complex behavior has led some neuroscientists to create a new map of the avian brain.
Today, in the journal Nature Neuroscience Reviews, an international group of avian experts is issuing what amounts to a manifesto. Nearly everything written in anatomy textbooks about the brains of birds is wrong, they say. The avian brain is as complex, flexible and inventive as any mammalian brain, they argue, and it is time to adopt a more accurate nomenclature that reflects a new understanding of the anatomies of bird and mammal brains.
"Names have a powerful influence on the experiments we do and the way we think," said Dr. Erich D. Jarvis, a neuroscientist at Duke University and a leader of the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium. "Old terminology has hindered scientific progress."
The consortium of 29 scientists from six countries met for seven years to develop new, more accurate names for structures in both avian and mammalian brains. For example, the bird's seat of intelligence or its higher brain is now termed the pallium.”
LI, taking a break from Adorno, Iraq, Iran and politics, urges our readers to check out the article.
And then read the article about the leaving all children behind act – not enacted by Congress, but encouraged by the party of bigotry (in the Voltarian sense – the willful adherence to ignorance) and tenderly nursed by the equally ignorant symbol mongers in the press and the think tanks. I’m talking about the lack of education in science – and, specifically, the lack of education about evolution.
“In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.
Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.
"The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.
Dr. Frandsen, former chairman of the committee on science and public policy of the Alabama Academy of Science, said in an interview that this fear made it impossible to say precisely how many teachers avoid the topic.”
Of course, Alabama has always been a pit of ignorance. Scientists may have found the seat of intelligence in birds, but they are still looking for it in the average Alabaman. However, there is no reason that the curse of the parents should be borne by the child. I wonder if those studies that Bush touted in his press conference a week ago that showed how important it is for children to be raised by “normal” couples – not those nasty ‘same sex’ types – I wonder if they questioned the kids on what they learn in school? And whether they are spoon fed superstitious nonsense by their lovin’ parents? In Alabama, at least, there is prima facie evidence that heterosexual parents are actively cretinizing their offspring. Where’s the outrage? Where are the courts? Surely we need to get these poor kids into good homes, same sex homes, where they can be encouraged to read a little Darwin every once in a while?