Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What is it like to be a degu?

I have lived with four pet rats and four degus. I share my home currently with three female octodon degus; Iina, Shimsa, and Friday. While getting them food today, I was thinking about the funniest and the most mysterious things about them.
Their quicksilverly and very social nature is fun to observe. I think they have run around the world quite a few times by now in their running wheel. It looks hilarious if they all jam themselves into it at the same time. The range of sounds they can make is amazing. The way they sleep upon each other in one big breathing pile makes me smile. But when it comes to the most funniest things they have done, I remember particularly well how they once fiercely protested against playing Devo’s Big mess. It must have been due to the electronic sounds of the song. I think the girls like ambient in its various forms the best. If you are interested in some great degu video -and audio files, click here.
No matter how much I have observed degu behaviour and tried to understand it, much of it continues to be a mystery to me. Among the most fascinating areas in this is their vocal repertoire. I have learned to “talk” to them a bit and to understand their “talk” to me and to each other a bit, but that’s naturally all very rudimentary. One of the most mysterious cases I have witnessed about them deals with Belle’s, Iina’s sisters, death. I found one morning that Belle had passed away during the night. The vet thought it might have been due to a heart problem. Iina needed to spend some weeks alone before Shimsa and Friday became part of the family. For some reason Iina spent lots of that time on the same spot where Belle had died. It made me wonder the reason for this. What went in this degu’s cognition back then? I have guesses, but no answers. The most mysterious thing about my little friends is the way they experience existence. I have only a vague idea what is it like to be a degu.
I wish I could tell to my furry four-legged friends how much they contribute to my happiness on a daily basis. I have learned things from them and they continue to inspire my interest in animal consciousness (Finns out there might be interested in my Finnish study about Dr. Thomas Nagel’s classic essay What is it like to be a Bat?). It might be that in some non-verbal ways I have managed to communicate something about that wish to them in their terms.
What are the most funniest and mysterious things about your pets? Do you think it is possible to have an idea what is it like to be them?
We have much to learn from the beasts - Dracula

10 Comments:

Blogger Ensio Kataja said...

When I come to your place soon, I will tell you some very hilarious and yes, even mysterious stories about my dogs and their whereabouts. It seems we have pondered similar questions.

Interesting, by the way, that you dealt with cognition here today. Tomorrow I will publish in my blog PYHÄ a text dealing with Huginn and Muninn...

10:37 am  
Anonymous Petri said...

One thing I've noticed is that no animal is like the stereotype we have learned. My cats are just NOT cats if you take the usual expectation. And all the three I have are completely individual, utterly different.

But one thing is for sure, they are FAR MORE CONSCIOUS than men. They are far more consistent, far more present, far more true to their principles than any man I've ever met (and by principles I here mean that they NEVER hurt people, for example, unless given a very clear cut offense against the principles they obviously hold).

I like animals. They put to shame my feeble, whimsical consciousness any day.

Of course, I can do many things animals can't, but I can't be as conscious, sensitive and aware as they are.

4:51 pm  
Anonymous heli said...

I got to observe owls at a close distance some summers ago, and got to hold an owl fledgling in my hands. I had a sensation of the strangeness of their consciousness, in relation to mine. There we were, individuals of two different species, with hardly any means for communication (and most likely, no spesific desire for it from their part). I was left wondering if my existence and consciousness felt as alien to them, as theirs did to me.

Intriguing.

11:52 pm  
Blogger Akenanubis said...

Greetings ....
You say you wish you could let your small friends know your feelings for them, I suspect they know. They are after all so much more sensitive than we are most of the time.
My girl cat, Weegie, a Cornish Rex, is half the time an evil demon with so many wonderful games to play with me that even I don't get bored. And then she is the other half of the time just a a sweet and affectionate ball of warmth that curls up in my lap. When I hold her and she is purring, I can feel our energy exchange. She is very small and has a long grey rat tail covered with grey fuzz.

5:29 am  
Blogger Akenanubis said...

Greetings ...

you say ...

"I wish I could tell to my furry four-legged friends how much they contribute to my happiness on a daily basis."

I suspect your little friends know very well what they mean to you. Animals are far more sensitive than we are most of the time. Smarter too, because they know their survival depends upon it, and we sometimes forget.

Aaron Vlek

5:49 am  
Anonymous James said...

I recently had the sad experience of having my feline friend Mr. Crowley put down. He developed cancer and it had to be done. Present was the local Shelter's director. He had placed this particular cat in five or six different foster homes. All of which he was lethargic,despondent and did not fare well. In our home this fellow commented he had never seen this being as active and playful in his five years of dealing with him. Mr. Crowley was the one of the most astute individuals I have ever met and our short but very active relationship was amazing. It is an honor to care for these beings, Cat, Degu or Dog... all are far more than they have made out be in the world of men, and Dracula was spot on. We have much to learn from Beasts.They know what you feel and they do respond to it. Mr.C I will never forget you.

James Kirby

9:48 am  
Anonymous Korpinsilmä said...

A weird event related to animal
consciousness:

In Japan, at the outskirts of
Tokyo, a huge praying mantis
once flew out of nowhere and
landed on the pavement near
me. I went closer to examine that
mysterious creature, and although
I've had strange moments with
animals before, this was the first
time with an insect. The creature
turned to face me with it's odd
eyes, and seemed to be staring
directly into my eyes (big green
eyes, with small black pupils).
We both were immobile for quite a
long time...

11:44 am  
Blogger Tapio Kotkavuori said...

Dear all,

thank you for your thoughts.

Vlek - I agree, animals are far more sensitive than we are most of the time. I think that in some non-verbal ways I am able to communicate them certain things I want to, but what remains a mystery is what goes in the minds of those animals? How they experience things - what things are like for them?

It is easy to see how people often project their own type of thinking in explaining the behaviour of other animals. Anthropomorphism is sometimes easy to point out, sometimes not. Philosophy of mind/consciousness is a good example of the latter.

We do not need to visit Area 51 in hopes of finding aliens :-)

Arkte!

12:05 pm  
Blogger Tapio Kotkavuori said...

Korpinsilmä - thanks for your post. What did you experience during those moments?

Your experience reminded me of few times I met a huge raven at Wild Care's center in CA. As you know, raven's are very intelligent and their vocal repertoire is interesting. It was magical to be "face to face" with such an impressive bird and eventually to "speak" a bit with each other.

What did I experience? At the most magical of those moments I had with that raven - I experienced something very alien. A link on the level of two minds. That bird very strongly seemed to have what is referred to in philosophy of mind as "second level consciousness" (generally, an ability to "think what one is thinking" - not just to react 1:1 to stimulus, but to have ability to reflect on things within and without before acting).

Remember raven's of Odhin? In the case not, check out Ensio Kataja's recent blog-entry:

http://ensiokataja.blogspot.com/2006/03/huginn-and-muninn.html

12:32 pm  
Blogger Akenanubis said...

I raise a glass to you James Kirby for your loss, and to Mr. C may his memory become immortal. Cats are amazing animals with profound spirits. But even among their nation, heros arise.

Aaron Vlek

1:14 am  

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