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!