Blossom’s Dance, Cognitive Science, and Being in the World

Blossom is a little cockatiel who flew down and landed on the roof of the car on night when my wife and I were going out to dinner. Even for a home where animals are not only part of the family, but also tend to flock to the yard in large numbers, this was unusual. What was stranger is that when I put out my finger, the little fellow stepped onto it quite nonchalantly, and has been living happily with us while we’ve been searching for her owners.

I have not had a bird since I was a child, so living with Blossom (we had called her Buddy until a bit of web research suggested the name might not fit) has been something of an adventure. Perhaps what has been most interesting to me is learning that Blossom not only likes music, but also likes to dance to it. I first noticed this when she started bouncing her head to a Mozart piano sonata on the stereo one afternoon. I soon learned that she also enjoys standing on my knee and dancing when I’m practicing the guitar.

Blossom’s Dance

Over the course of these few weeks, I’ve noticed that she sometimes bobs her head to recorded music, frequently does so when there is live music, and never bobs when music is absent, so I have become convinced that the two are connected. Blossom, it would seem, likes to dance.

So, what does this have to do with Cognitive Science? 

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Jed Clampett, Taoist Master

Saturday evening, my wife Merry and I were getting ready to go to a retirement celebration for our friend, Shelly.

I had finished dressing, except for my black slacks. Because we have several cats, and because cat hair has an almost supernatural ability to find and cling to black wool pants, I usually wait to put on my dress slacks until we’re ready to go out. So, I was sitting on the cedar chest near my wife’s dressing table in my new, orange gingham shirt and underwear, watching her apply her makeup, and trying to gauge the right moment to take my vulnerable black slacks out of the closet when the thought came to me.

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Odysseus’ Bow and the tools that reveal our character

Greek bowl showing Odysseus killing the suitors

One of my favorite scenes in the Odyssey occurs in the moments before Odysseus slaughters the suitors who have overrun his palace, consumed his wealth, and bedeviled his wife and son. It is a moment of stillness when the King takes his bow into his hands, a bow that the suitors had tried and failed to string, a bow he and he alone is able to string, to draw, and to shoot.

Over the years, I have often thought of this scene and my own relation to certain possessions: the guitars I have owned for decades, the woodworking tools I inherited from my father, the chef’s knives that were my first purchase when I set up my first kitchen – tools I believe I hold with a relationship as unique, as personal, as intimate as the relationship between Odysseus and his bow.

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