Thursday, March 09, 2006

Busy Line

In the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia late in 2004, rescue workers were struck by the relatively small numbers of wild animals and birds that had died in the disaster compared to the large loss of human life.

There were reports of a herd of domestic cattle that suddenly went charging up a hill just before the tsunami struck, and the people who chased after the cattle trying to bring them back were also spared from the disaster.

Scientists wonder as they always do in such situations how do animals receive such premonitions of impending danger, and how come we don’t? I believe it is not so much that the call doesn’t come in, but that when it does the line is busy.

What sets us apart from animals is not the size of our brain or the fact we have opposing thumbs, but language. Knowledge and ideas can be easily passed from one person to another via speech, books and now the Internet.

Animals feel the same basic emotions we do; fear, anger, joy and grief, but they cannot communicate their feelings though language as we do. This blessing bestowed on humankind is also, in many ways, a curse.

Our thoughts are recorded in words and become memories. They get played over and over our minds like old TV re-runs; mindless chatter that often serves no purpose. So when the call comes in to get out of Dodge because the earth is about to open and swallow you up; the line is busy. If only we could install call waiting.

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