Beauty Over Books?!
Hi book friends! The beautiful weather of the last few days found me outside instead of reading and writing, so I didn't get a post together for last week. There weren't many book stories and what few there were can be shared this coming Friday (I'll definitely have the winners of the Pulitzer Prize to highlight as they're being announced today!).
In lieu of that, I do want to share something that I found to be fascinating--and I only found it thanks to reading. I love that. Reading something fictional and some tidbit of nonfiction pops up or a writer mentions a real quote from another book or story and I immediately get on the Google machine to look it up. With the craziness of today's online world, it's nice to take some time to learn something new...and if a book or story is the means through which that happens? All the better.
The story I want to talk about today is Alex the parrot. An African grey parrot that was studied for almost 30 years by Irene Pepperberg. I mentioned him a while ago as the narrator of the phenomenal short story I read earlier this year called "The Great Silence" by Ted Chiang. Here's what I wrote about it:
The narrator is an African parrot. The format of this story is a “letter” the parrot is leaving for humans. The parrot wants to know why humans are building the Arecibo observatory to try and communicate with extraterrestrial life, when they can just talk to parrots, animals which are also vocal learners (can learn to make new sounds after hearing them or, in other words, use the breath in their lungs to give thoughts physical form). The parrot seems resigned to extinction, brought on by human behavior. He’s not mad; he knows they just weren’t paying attention. The parrot goes on to talk about the Fermi Paradox or The Great Silence. The Fermi Paradox is the idea that Earth seems like the only place where there is intelligent life. Is that the truth or do other intelligent species tend to conceal themselves for fear of being targeted by another species? Is that why the universe is so quiet...why there is The Great Silence?
This all sounds very sci-fi and technical, but truly this story is a joy. It takes real things (Arecibo, Fermi Paradox, a parrot named Alex that was studied by Irene Pepperberg) and creates a fictional letter from a parrot with legitimate queries. It all seems extremely plausible...why do we not treat parrots as capable of actual thought behind their speech instead of as just human mimickers? Why, if he wasn’t of similar intelligence as humans, were Alex’s last words to Irene before unexpectedly dying, “You be good. I love you.” It’s all fascinating and plausible and creative and inventive and it makes for a fabulous short story.
Here's the link to it:
Reading this story made me curious about this particular parrot. I found two books about him...one that Irene Pepperberg wrote about her work with him and a children's book that tells the story. I've ordered both and can't wait to read them.
There are also many (many) books on Enrico Fermi, the Italian physicist and creator of the world's first nuclear reactor who asked casually during a lunchtime conversation in 1950, "Where is everybody?" This thought grew into the Fermi Paradox mentioned above. Why hasn't Earth been visited or probed by other intelligent life in the universe? Why are they staying away? Is it truly because they are fearful of being conquered by another species? Or, are they unable to figure out how to do it, like us? It's a fascinating concept to think about.
Lastly there's the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The world's second largest radio telescope, this telescope is operated by the University of Central Florida and is used to conduct experiments related to radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy. In layman's terms, if someone wanted to "listen" to radio waves in space and see if they could hear a message from extra-terrestrials, they'd probably want to use this guy.
With just one short story, I've now learned about three things I didn't know before. As Ferris said, life moves pretty fast and if we don't take the time to stop and learn something new, we can miss a lot. Now's the perfect time to read and if, while you're reading, you come across something you don't know about, look it up. It's a great way to not only grow in knowledge but also expand your worldview by hearing about new perspectives and seeing the world through someone else's eyes.
I'll be back on Friday!
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”