A Crow in the Eye

A group of crows was observed in Japan, one by one placing walnuts on a crosswalk where they were cracked open by passing cars.  Not anyplace on the street.  On the crosswalk.  And the crows waited at the curb for the crossing lights to change, lining up side-by-side with pedestrians.

A scientist who observed this scene suggested that some of the crows had seen a passing car crush walnuts which had fallen from branches above the street.

Would things be different if a crow had dropped a walnut to escape being hit by a car, and later returned to eat the meat of the crushed walnut off the asphalt?

Is there a difference between learning through observation and direct experience?  …And doesn’t observation have something to do with self-awareness?

While these two questions danced in my head, I remembered something.  One day, while walking through a park on the shore of a lake, I saw a large crow on the ground, busy with something.  The crow saw me, too.  I stopped walking, stood still, and watched.

The crow did a little wheeling turn, rocking side-to-side, from one foot to the other.  Its eye flashed.  (Sometimes, if I look a crow in the eye, I can see the eye dart and roll.  When this happens, the white of the crow’s eye is visible for an instant.)  Then the crow was still again.

I was impressed by the crow’s dance, and I wanted to stay.  Instead, out of a feeling of respect, I moved on.

As I walked, I remembered a conversation I’d had with Epson, who’d told me of a day when he’d stopped while walking through a field at dusk, when he’d spent minutes on end, staring into the eye of a raven perched on a low, heavy limb.  He became uncertain of his superior intelligence, and did not move from the spot on which he stood until the raven took flight.

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