Friday, June 10, 2016

Ghost Dove

This is a cross-post with Adult Onset Atheist

I saw a bird carcass today that stared at me with a haunting hollow gaze that followed me as I walked past it. It was so disconcerting that I retraced my couple-few steps to see if it was paralyzed or dazed. It lay on its back with unruffled feathers and the legs pulled in slightly. I imagined it sat like one of Audubon’s recently killed specimens; waiting patiently to become the animated subject of one of his paintings.

As I looked down at the bird its gaze was deeper than I imagined a bird’s could be. I imagine birds, especially doves like this bird, having the flighty stare of the eponymous “bird-brained”. The gaze was deep and black. It was several seconds of staring, and perhaps a shift in my shadow that let a little more light fall on the carcass, before I noticed a bit of skull in the stare. The bird’s head had been hollowed out, presumably by insects overnight, and the complicating stare was only shadow.

I believe the bird’s death progressed thusly: first the bird was flooded with the emotions and pain associated with the insult that killed it, then, as the support systems went offline, the brain ceased to provide an adequate mechanism to coordinate thoughts and everything was dumped as a jumble of unfiltered perception, then the brain turned off and there were no more thoughts. Later the brain would be eaten by insects. I bet the insects bored their way into the fatty neural tissue through the delicately soft and wet eyes.

“The eyes are a doorway to the soul” –unknown

There is a line of classical belief that takes the knowledge that the brain is the thinking organ of the body and uses faulty logic to suggest that those creatures which eat the brain gain some of the thoughts of the creature that used that brain while alive. There should be some pupating maggot meditating on the fact that the sunflower seeds in Hickman Canyon are particularly tasty this year. Another is probably just reliving the question: “Will this red tailed hawk be my friend if I say hello?”

Although it is somewhat humorous to imagine some carrion-feeding insect reliving the last bad decision of this bird it requires too many peculiar leaps of irrationality to make that something that is believable. The implications are interesting. Imagine a dermestidae beetle, which ingested the last fateful decision of the dove, being eaten by another bird; would this confer selective advantage to the new possessor of this dead dove’s wisdom? Could wisdom and knowledge be calculated by caloric content?

We impart meaning and substance to the fate of our most precious organs, but the more incredible implications of that become awkward to process. This is one of the things that faith is used for; to stifle questions about the implications of what is believed. I think it is better to just not believe. Just because it is fun to imagine fantastical possibilities does not mean we have to also believe in them. Belief is so cumbersome that it prevents imagining the complete vibrant spectrum of fantastical impossibilities.

I had seen the bird staring at me. I imagined that it was lying paralyzed beside the road; only able to plead its case with the look in its eyes. I had wondered, for a few brief seconds, if it thought I was a predator or instead a creature that would save it from being easy unmoving prey for a predator. I imagined all of these thoughts, most of which were probably too complex for a live dove’s brain, occurring just behind that hollow stare.