Adventures in Ethics and Science

Of all the Looney Tunes characters, I was never a fan of the Roadrunner. (I liked Wile E. Coyote well enough, and wish him well in his lawsuit against the Acme Company.) However, there was one Roadrunner cartoon where the focus pulls back from the eternal struggle between coyote and prospective dinner and shifts instead to two little cartoon kids watching the Roadrunner on their TV. If I recall correctly, at least one of these kids expresses a less-than-favorable opinion of the Roadrunner. And, one of the kids (might be the same one) mentions that he wants to be a psychoanimalist when he grows up.

It should come as no surprise that the Free-Ride offspring are already running around practicing psychonanimalysis (psychoanimalism?) — without a license.

Younger offspring: We were playing bucking bronco, and I was the horse.

Dr. Free-Ride: Yes?

Younger offspring: And [the grandparent who lurks but seldom comments] couldn’t get on my back, because that would crush me. So he put the cat on my back.

Dr. Free-Ride: I see. What happened next?

Younger offspring: Well, then I bucked and the cat jumped off my back.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, do you think the cat enjoyed this experience?

Younger offspring: Yes! She ran away, but she had fun.

Dr. Free-Ride: So you’ve decided it makes sense in the cat psyche that running away is a sign of having fun?

Younger offspring: She always comes back.

* * * * *
While walking to school one day:

Elder offspring: (whistling) I think this sounds like the song of a sparrow.

Dr. Free-Ride: What kind of sparrow song do you suppose it is? Or are you just saying something in sparrow-speak without having any idea what you’re saying?

Elder offspring: I think it’s a mating call.

Dr. Free-Ride: Oh really? Have you given any thought to what will happen if you’re actually right and a sparrow actually hears that mating call and shows up looking to mate?

Elder offspring: I could tell the sparrow, “Your date is dead.”

Dr. Free-Ride: That would be really sad. You hear a mating call, fly over to meet the bird, then find out the bird you’ve flown to meet is dead?

Elder offspring: Well, I could tell the sparrow, “Your date is shy, and flew away just before you got here. But you’ll find your date soon.”

Dr. Free-Ride: I suppose that’s a little less sad. I wonder whether it’s maladaptive for birds to be shy. What if another sparrow who’s ready to mate zips in before the shy one finds its courage?

Younger offspring: But [Elder offspring] isn’t even a sparrow, so whistling a sparrow mating song is kind of lying to the sparrows who hear it.

Dr. Free-Ride: I’m guessing that sparrows would see it that way.

Elder offspring: Well, we don’t even know if there are sparrows nearby to hear it, or even if I have the tune right.

Dr. Free-Ride: I imagine that bird songs might be very precise to avoid sparrows getting confused by the songs from other birds — or the whistling of human children.

Younger offspring: But if your song really is a sparrow mating song, it could make a sparrow mad that you did it, because you’re not a sparrow.

Elder offspring: OK, maybe I’ll just listen to bird songs and I’ll whistle them inside where birds won’t get confused.

Younger offspring: But not when I’m trying to sleep, or I’ll get confused and think there’s a bird in the house.

Comments

  1. #1 Susan B.
    March 28, 2008

    I remember that cartoon! The kids asked why Wile E. Coyote kept chasing the Roadrunner, and he pulled down a chart explaining how all the different parts taste.

  2. #2 etbnc
    March 28, 2008

    I’d say this is another winner in the Friday sprog series.

    As I recall from watching Looney Tunes when I was a sprog, the comic moment is heightened by the kid’s Steven Wrightish, totally dry and deadpan delivery, and by his pronunciation of the P’s. Even now I have trouble pronouncing puh-sychoanimalist correctly.

    I never realized that might also have something to do with my attempts to communicate with the barred owls that hunt around my house. The first time I tried to call to one, it responded. Perhaps I accidentally said something useful in Owl. (e.g. “Your date is not dead.”) In more recent attempts, the owls have totally ignored me. From this I conclude my puh-sychoanimalist abilities have atrophied.

    As always, thanks for sharing this.

  3. #3 Bee
    March 28, 2008

    “She always comes back.”

    Smart child – will certainly make a good psychoanimalist.

    Etbnc, no, they just now know that you are a very ugly owl-date, what with the lack of good feather cover and that icky smooshy beak. ;-D

  4. #4 Scotty B
    March 29, 2008

    The bird calling thing made me think of this scene from an episode from Family Guy.

    http://ktla.trb.com/entertainment/syn/familyguy/ktla-vide-fg-meg-bird,0,3691157.htmlstory

  5. #5 Alan Kellogg
    March 29, 2008

    Younger Sprog,

    The cat comes back because she trusts you. As far as she knows, you’re mommy. Mommy doesn’t hurt her babies and is always there with hugs and licking and fingers to play with. Though human cat mommies use their hands instead of their tongues to lick cats.

    It takes a lot to get a cat to distrust you, and I hope your cat never does. Bucking the cat off your back is cruel, and the cat hates it. She comes back to you not because she enjoys being bucked off, but because he likes being with you and likes being petted and fussed over by you. When you’re nice to here it makes her feel safe. Like when you mommy cuddles you, that makes you feel safe.

    So, no more bucking off the cat. Cats like you more when you don’t scare them.

  6. #6 Eric
    April 13, 2008

    The relevant roadrunner episode can be found here if you’re interested. I remembered the pa-psychiatrist line, but had forgotten “pa-psychoanimalist”.

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