17 September 2007

Alex

Alex The Gray Parrot's passing is causing much more media stir than I thought it would, including this sappy piece about his soul in the Week In Review. I have two things to say about this.

A friend of mine who, granted, is a known exaggerator (that's a disclaimer), says he used to work with Alex in his lab. And that they were trying hard to teach him the "Ch" sound, which he found difficult, and to do so they were feeding him Cheerios. The routine, he says, went something like this:

"Alex, what's this?"
"Cheery"
"Good!" And then he got a Cheerio.

Dr. Pepperberg found out what Cheerios are made of and, disgusted, went to the food co-op and bought a box of all-natural cheerios. The result:

"Alex, what's this?"
"Cheery"
"Good!"
Alex took the all-natural cereal in his mouth, chewed on it, and said, "Wood!"

Much of the coverage in the Times of Alex's passing was basically about his existential problem--did he understand death and have a mind. But he has the most to teach us about our existential problem. To stubbornly assert that Alex is that soul-fully different from us in the face of so much You Tube evidence to the contrary does set us apart from the world we live in. How this does anything but heighten our own mortal anxiety is kind of beyond me.

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