Posted by: David | December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Let’s see if I can tie this stuff together … I’ve been yammering about this book I’ve been reading for like two months now, right? What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, of Whole Earth Catalog, WIRED, and other ‘fames’. The book has been slow going for me, because it’s dense with INFORMATION. Charts, graphs, weighty ideas, etc. My attention span is more fleeting than ever. But there have been plenty of accessible ideas scattered throughout, and I am nothing if not a fan of technology. Now I’m in the home stretch. Book is due Monday.

So in the concluding pages of What Technology Wants, the author touches on the concept of sentience. Sentience, simply put, is a reflected form of perception. There is an implicit self-awareness. An amoeba can perceive a food particle and move to consume it, but we don’t like to think of a single-celled organism as sentient. Some folks don’t like to think of any organisms other than humans as sentient, but the animal kingdom is full of examples of creatures who perceive beyond their immediate needs and surroundings, who plan for the upcoming season. And like this African honeyguide bird, some even seek the assistance of other creatures in their survival endeavor.

Something about this particular example really got my attention. Finding the old video footage with Sir David Attenborough on YouTube was a bonus. Love that guy! Apparently these birds also get honey badgers to help them with raiding the beehives. Think about this for a second. The birds hang out, knowing where the beehives are, waiting for a helper-critter with hands or claws to appear, then they make a ruckus: “Yo! Hey! Buddy- wanna get some honey? Follow ME!” The honeyguide bird is sentient. It knows where the beehives are, and conspires to invade them, with assistance from other species. Isn’t that cool? There’s a continuum of sentience.

Here’s hoping that 2011 brings a honeyguide bird your way! Keep your eyes open, follow it, and watch out for the bees!

Happy New Year!


  1. Wow, how cool is that? Thanks for posting the video, Dave. I’m a total nerd when it comes to animal sentience, especially relationships/bonds shared between distinct species that you’d think wouldn’t interact whatsoever.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but this is one of my favorite videos- By the end of it I was lying in the fetal position, bawling my eyes out.

    The only other time I cried like that was when I saw “Untamed Heart”. (But really, who wouldn’t? I mean c’mon, Christian Slater had a BABOON HEART!)

    I hope you and your family have a wonderful New Year, Dave!

    Glad you liked it bschooled. Glad to know you’re a total nerd, blessed with a wicked sense of humor too!

    I love that elephant dog video too! It’s pretty amazing how much interaction happens between differing species on this amazing planet.

    Missed that Christian Slater movie, but I’ll definitely add it to my list of Movies Featuring Characters With Transplanted Monkey Organs. It’s a pretty short list at this time. 😀

  2. And don’t forget to leave some honey for your hummingbird guide. I loved that part.

    Here’s hoping that you and your lovely, expanding family have a 2011 full of very good things.

    Yeah I liked that too. Attenborough was a little twitchy though, huh? All them bees!

    May 2011 bring good things your way too Moonbeam! Thanks for being such a great online pal!

  3. Nature never ceases to amaze me. I’ve been watching ‘Planet Earth’ (on DVD loan from my Dad), and am in complete awe at how every aspect of our environment was designed. One of my favorites is the bird that keeps his space clean and puffs himself out to lure a mate.

    Here’s to eyes wide open in 2011!

    I know what you mean. That Planet Earth series was great. The ‘Life’ one was good too. How about that bird that collects blue stuff to decorate it’s nest? (Hmm, my wife does that too.) The bowerbird.

  4. What a boring world this would be if humans were the only sentient beings!

    Happy New Year, Dave, to you and yours.

    Thank you Pied, how true! We homo sapiens can be awful snobs sometimes, eh?

  5. Happy New Year!

    Thanks unusual! You too. Thank goodness this first decade of the second millennium is over. Now let’s get this apocalypse over with.

  6. Wow, you guys have the coolest animals!

    On an unrelated tangent: I have a biologist friend who’s main goal in life is to marry David Attenborough. She’s a little weird.

    Hey Leaf, that honeyguide bird is native to Africa, not where I live, but thanks for your comment. Attenborough‘s native to England. He’s 84 now. Your weird friend has good taste, and according to Wikipedia, he seems not to have remarried since his wife of 47 years passed on in 1997.

  7. Love that video. I don’t need anyone to tell me that birds are sentient… my rosella makes sure I’m reminded he’s the boss every day

    Glad you did nursemyra. Brings a whole new meaning to ‘birdbrain’, don’t it?

  8. Time to write a new post! Get at it!

    MY but we’re bossy! Next you’ll be shushing me, saying ‘…THIS IS A LIBRARY!’

    • Naw. You may type as loudly as you like. I won’t hear you. Well, that and this is NOT a library. ’tis a blog! Sheesh. Think you’d know the difference being a geek and all. Oops. Did I really type that?

      Yes. You typed that. And it’s true. I am a geek. All is forgiven.

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