Two occurrences this past week caused me to reflect on the evolution of reasoning.
Event 1: the ‘Yoda Mask’ – incipient reasoning via syllogism
Each Monday and Tuesday during the school term, I collect the eldest of my three nephews from pre-school and drive him home. Our conversations in my sister’s mid-size sports utility usually turn to what sort of game/fun/activity will take place once we get home. The last few Mondays I’ve been dragooned into making him a mask of one or another of the characters from Star Wars – the classic Star Wars, not the CultMarx-friendly, Frankfurt-School-approved remake that appeared earlier this year. So we’ve had a stormtrooper mask, an R2-D2 mask, and this week’s mask was that of Yoda.
Possibly because it was organic, whereas the others are machine-tooled, simple-coloured plastic and metal, the Yoda mask was more difficult to create. However, I managed to produce something that looked vaguely Yoda-like and coloured yucky-green, and all that was left to do was for my nephew to apply his brown texta to colouring the inside of Yoda’s ears.
During the mask-making, we’d conducted something of a superficial conversation about who in Star Wars was a good guy and who was a bad guy. I thought we’d settled that Yoda was a good guy and Darth Vader was one of the baddies. However, while colouring in Yoda’s right ear, my nephew remarked (something along the lines of):
He’s a bad guy because he has brown colour on him.
I quickly, almost instinctively corrected him by pointing to the picture of Darth on his school backpack and saying: ‘But Darth Vader has no brown in him, and he’s the biggest baddie of them all’.
Afterwards, with Yoda’s mask completed and me back in my flat, I reflected that my nephew had begun the process of learning to reason. For whatever reason, he had posited a connection between the colour of Yoda’s ears and the nature of his character. The essence of his thinking could be laid out in a syllogism:
Star Wars characters who are baddies have brown colour on them.
Yoda has brown colouring on him.
Therefore, Yoda is a baddie.
with my correction pointing out that his first proposition was not universally true.
My four-year-old nephew appears to have begun the process of reasoning from propositions to conclusions. Fascinating.
Event 2: the ‘larcenous moggie’ – primitive instrumental rationality
Making headlines this week was Kiwi moggie Brigit, whose claim to fame is a collection of men’s underwear and socks stolen (presumably) from neighbours’ clotheslines.
Brigit had started off stealing anything male, but has lately refined her snow-dropping to men’s smalls.
Odd behaviour is more usual than unusual among cats. They tend to have unique personalities which they express in idiosyncratic behaviour. But this behaviour can usually be somehow tied to evolutionary advantage – sitting in high places so as to get a view of the surrounds, laying in the sun or near a heater to gain cheap warmth, etc. For all my experience with them, I’ve never encountered, in anything except a human, such purposeful behaviour towards what appears to be a frivolous end.
Brigit appears to have reached a conclusion, somehow, that there is some value or benefit in collecting these items of clothing. It may have something to do with an attraction to the residual testosterone attaching to the men’s clothing. But, regardless of the reason, Brigit has a need, is going about satisfying that need, and has refined her behaviour so that she can meet it in the most efficient way possible.
Suggesting that animals have not only the ‘hard wired’ behaviours which we know they display, but maybe also the ability to apply their minds to work efficiently beyond matters of purely evolutionary importance – viz, sex, hunting and fighting – to matters of idiosyncratic interest.