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Under the Sun 2012 (revised & expanded)

# Under the Sun 2012 (revised & expanded)

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Essays on mystery, meaning, destiny and God.
Essays on mystery, meaning, destiny and God.

Published by: Mark Kristofferson on Feb 28, 2012

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01/13/2013

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A friend recently sent me a paper examining the
geometric skills of birds, which are such great
navigators. Basically, the researchers wondered
whether birds had high level geometry skills, the
kind that can handle an abstract geometric
concept like “midpoint”.
Now midpoint may not sound very abstract but
it is, because when we say that we will meet
someone at a midway point between, say, home
and the city or between two towns, we aren’t
specifying distance and compass bearings but
are speaking in a more conceptual way –
dividing a conceptual line. And I think also now
of the Midway Islands that are named because
they are halfway between North America and
Asia (or halfway between Greenwich and
Greenwich, being on the opposite side of the
world to it) where that decisive carrier battle
was fought in WW2. We might even meet
someone halfway in negotiations. It’s an
important and high level geometric concept.
Sure.
So the researchers decided to first try and teach a
bird to find food located between two stones
placed at various distances and then, secondly,

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to test them by seeing if they could find food
located at the midpoint of stones that were
placed differently to those used in training.
What they found was that a bird was fairly
successful if the test scenario was close to one of
the training scenarios, in respect of both distance
and direction, but that searching errors increased
if the stones were located at distances that were
significantly shorter than the shortest training
scenario, or longer than the longest one, or if the
orientation of the stones in the test was quite
different to that used in training, say East-West
rather than North South.
These results suggest that the bird concerned
hadn’t got the general idea of a midpoint at all
but was trying to match the test problem to the
nearest training scenario, which only worked
where there was some reasonable
correspondence between them. Practical but
limiting.
I must say that I was a bit disappointed in this
finding. But then, thinking more generally, I
began to see the lighter side of it, too. For when
the stones are moved, how often are we
confused?
That’s me, alright. Birdman.

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Destiny

Everyone is governed by cause and effect
but the wise are advised by it.

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