Matters of Perspective

on February 3, 2010 in Fiction

“You see?” the first man said, pointing over the railing of the boat at a pair of otters. “The otters use rocks to crack the shell. If that’s not tool use…”

“Perhaps to a layperson,” his companion said. “I’m not convinced that ‘tool use’ is as simple as all that. The rock is something in their environment that they make use of… but then, so are the shellfish. We may as well label eating as ‘tool use’ since it involves making use of an object. If otters could be observed shaping the rocks, fashioning something from them…”

“So, then, when a bird strips the bark off a twig before using it to dig insects out of…”

“Well, now you’re just being ridiculous.”

“How am I being ridiculous?” the first man asked. “It fits the definition you just gave.”

“Birds and twigs… instinctive behavior!”

“Who says tool use can’t be instinctive?”

“If we’re talking about tool use as a meaningful signifier of intelligence…”

“That’s such a slippery term.”

The floating otters watched the boat drifting slowly out of sight, listening to the babel of increasingly agitated sound coming from the cute, clownish creatures who stood on the floating hulk. They almost sounded intelligent.

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2 Responses to “Matters of Perspective”

  1. LOL! Kind of has a Gary Larsonesque feel.

  2. Prosthetic Conscience says:

    “It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.”
    - Douglas Adams, obviously.

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