Phenomena, Comment and Notes

As scientists probe deeper into whether animals really have consciousness, peripheral questions arise. If they think, do we really want to know what they think . . . about us?

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"Ever so slowly, we walk farther up the stream, past the place where last summer the underwater animals had built a dam clear across a shallow part of the stream. It's not there now. Ice hangs down from the roots of trees that have blown over. In one place the stream pushes us into a grass road that smells of gasoline and oil; this is where the two-feet play on their noisy carts that are too small for them. We go about a mile and then come to where wire stretches across our path. There are only a couple of strands, and I go under them like they're not there and try to lure him farther up the stream. But Clumsy always turns around here. There's so much more stream to explore . . . I really don't get it.

"On the way back I try to lure him into going in another direction, but nothing doing. He just kind of slogs along. I hear one flier singing and another singing the same song right back at him. Another one flies down the stream, making a rattling sound. The big fliers that swam where the underwater animals do and honked at us all the time are gone. The big dark ones that just glide around all day are in the sky, though.

"Climbing back up the hill to where the log is under the wire fence, I hit pay dirt. A hot den entrance. I dig my fastest, but it's tough going, with all the roots and rocks. I keep pushing my head in the hole and sure enough, the scent gets hotter and hotter. But the digging gets tougher and tougher, and so I break off.

"Under and over the fence, through the naked trees and past the green ones, and then down the hill again. Clumsy takes his same path; I gallop up the ridge just for fun. I time it just right so when he gets to the creek I come racing out of nowhere and cross just in front of him. It takes him just as long to get back over. Through the gate and back to the house. We both head for the kitchen: it's time for a biscuit. Then I climb up on the couch for a quick nap, while he touches the magic box and sits down to watch the flickering images."

Now I'll cheerfully stipulate that Gizzie is faster, has a better sense of smell and seems immune to cold. I'll certainly bow to his night vision, which allows him to run across pastures on moonless nights while I stumble along. But does he really think of me as Old Clumsy? If I could find out, would I really want to know? The sensible thing, perhaps, is to let sleeping dogs lie.

By John P. Wiley Jr.


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