Something really remarkable happened here on Monday. Nothing huge, but one of those little mysteries that keep coming back to nibble at the edges of your attention, making you wonder if you know anything about anything.
It started with Facebook. Our town’s mayor, who is a bit of a philosopher, posted a picture of a bird at his feeder. He said he was told that Baltimore orioles like oranges, so he had put one out. And two days later, he said, an oriole appeared in his yard for the first time in years. Sure enough, that was a picture of an oriole.
Inspired by the mayor, I put out a couple of oranges at our feeder right after I saw his post.
Understand, we live two miles apart. He’s in the village, I’m out in the countryside.
Within two hours, an oriole eating those oranges. No lie. I took pictures to prove it.
I haven’t seen an oriole in years. We’ve got bluebirds, finches, sparrows, cardinals, even a towhee, and all the usual chickadees and titmice. Now we have an oriole.
How did an oriole figure out that Franklin’s mayor had put oranges out in his back yard? And how did that bird, or another one, perhaps, find mine that same day?
“Panpsychism,” said the mayor. “Alfred North Whitehead.”
As usual when the mayor goes deep, I had to look the word up.
Panpsychism, I now know, is the belief that everything, no matter how small, has a mind. It’s a fundamental aspect of nature. Everything has consciousness – trees, rocks, microbes, and, most definitely, birds.
It’s one of the oldest of psychological doctrines. It’s different from animism, which is a spiritual concept.
How did the oriole or orioles find us?
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.