Taylor: Encountering things we cannot believe

Watching crows, I cannot believe that they do not have some form of telepathic communication.

The grapes were ready to pick in the vineyard on the hill above us. Perhaps that accounts for the great hover of crows collected on the telephone wires.

Yes, I know, the accepted term for such an avian assembly is “a murder of crows,” but I consider that a prejudiced description for some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet.

The crows were all lined up, all facing the same way. I counted over 70—totally covering the wires stretched between not just two but three telephone poles—when, without a sound, without a signal, without a single caw, they all took off at once into the vineyard.

I’ve read theories about why birds of a feather flock together, and why fish swim in dense schools. It’s an instinctive response, apparently, designed to confuse predators. But there were no predators hunting these crows. And when they took off, they de-flocked to different parts of the vineyard.

Watching them, I cannot believe that crows do not have some form of telepathic communication.

I’m sure several readers will immediately inform me about scientific research into crow communication. But whether crows do or do not communicate is not the point—the point is my inability to believe that their coherent behaviour results from chance or instinct.

As I walked on, I pondered how many other matters are defined for us by our inability, or our unwillingness, to believe something.

I read a book debunking climate change. The author was obviously intelligent and well read. He knew all the studies about global warming and its predicted effects. And over and over, he dismissed those conclusions as “unthinkable,” “unimaginable,” “impossible,” “beyond credulity…”

Once I identified this pattern, I could see that his objections to climate change had less to do with science than with his own inability to imagine those consequences.

I get invitations to attend “intelligent design” presentations. From what I can see, pure creationists believe that a deity—specifically, the Christian God—created the world, as is, 6,000 years ago. Intelligent design adherents accept that life may have taken eons to evolve, but insist that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

That quote comes from Wikipedia, which goes on: “Certain biological features are too complex and improbable to be the result of evolutionary processes, and [therefore] these features are evidence of design.”

In other words, they cannot believe that complex structures could evolve on their own. The similarities between an octopus’ eye and a human eye can’t be coincidence. They must have been planned, or at least tinkered with.

I suppose the religious authorities, 20 centuries ago, could not believe that a Galilean peasant might embody the nature of God. And 600 years earlier, the Hebrew people could not believe that Yahweh would let his/her chosen people be exiled to Babylon.

I wonder how many opportunities we have missed, and may continue to miss, because we can’t, or won’t, allow our minds to consider unfamiliar ideas.

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