Thursday, April 26, 2012

Brain Endowments and the Interpretation of Natural Signs

We have known for some time that bits of evidence function as signs, or clues. (Sherlock Holmes knew this.) But we do not have a good sense of what it is in us or in the cosmos that enables us to take little bits of evidence and extract from them, possibilities, conjectures, and, even, conclusions (inferences) that reach far beyond the evidence that seems to inspire or provoke them. Now we may have some further support for a conjecture about part of the answer. The source of that support? Pigeons.

Birds are excellent navigators. Indeed, they are phenomenal navigators. But scientists have not been able to explain very well how birds, with their teeny-weeny brains, manage their navigational feats of derring-do. It has been suspected that the answer lies in the ability of birds to detect earth's magnetic fields. But no one has been able to demonstrate the part of the anatomy of birds that enables them to detect and interpret magnetic fields. Until now. See James Gorman, Study Sheds Light on How Pigeons Navigate by Magnetic Field NYTimes (April 26, 2012). It appears that there are "cells in a pigeon’s brain that record detailed information on the earth’s magnetic field." Id.

Stunning. So is there also reason to believe that human brains are also soft-wired with devices that facilitate the interpretation of tiny "evidentiary clues," sensory signals, or "natural signs"? It must be so, yes? The conscious mind -- explicit human thought -- is not by itself capable of extracting all the things (some of them "true," or, in any event, indicative or suggestive of true propositions) that human beings, like pigeons, manage to extract from the environment.

This may not be "intelligent design." But it is, in a way, a kind of harmony of the spheres, a harmony between the internal mechanisms of organisms -- such as pigeons and human beings -- and their "environment" (the cosmos). The only really peculiar thing about the human animal is that it is able, sometimes, to also deploy conscious thought -- explicit ratiocination -- to interpret eeny-weeny signs, or hints(?), in its environment.

Or so I speculate.

The mighty pigeon...


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