Merle came by this morning. We threw out some extra peanuts for him. He’s pretty easy to spot, the way he hops around, his messed-up leg at a terrible angle, and his missing tail feathers are his signature. But the great thing about Merle is, you don’t have to feel sorry for Merle. He’s a tough bastard. For that reason we’ve named him after the Walking Dead character.
Anyway, Merle’s visit incited an interesting conversation: How much is he aware of his leg? Does he ever have moments thinking, “this would be easier if I had two legs”, or “back when I had two legs I could do …”
Does he feel something like regret? “Man, if I hadn’t messed up my leg I could …” Or is regret one of those higher level emotions? It’s so elusive, even with people. It seems like you’ve got your base level emotions, and then more complicated variations of them, and then more that double back on themselves, referential emotions.
When Merle looks at other crows, is he aware of the difference, two legs vs. one? Does he wonder why he doesn’t have a mate? And if he does wonder this, is he able to correlate not having a mate with his physical impairment? Or is he purely in the moment, only with a distant feeling of loss that he can’t really recall?
It seems that self-consciousness on that level would be another higher level brain function, one that would not necessarily have developed (nor would it really have a reason for developing) in a creature living a more “raw” existence of survival. One cannot spend too much thought on regret or comparative me-me-me-me psychodrama when one needs to find food every day, eat and not be eaten, mate and reproduce.
But certainly animals have more complex emotions than people give them credit for, so even if they aren’t on that same emotional/communicative level with humans, how close do they come to that emotional line?
I’m sure I’ll think more on this later.