Source 1: Abram, David. “The Discourse of the Birds.” Biosemiotics 3.3 (2010): 263-75. Web. 28 April 2016.
In “The Discourse of the Birds,” Abram examines bird intelligence and asserts that birds, and birdsong in particular, may inspire us to locate ourselves more deeply within nature, and apart from the technologies we have surrounded ourselves with. As Abram argues, technology mediates between our bodies and the earth, detaching us from nature, leading us to mistake “our distinctively human form of intelligence for intelligence itself” (2010:267). Animals, conversely, “think with the whole of their bodies” (267), with a kind of “distributed sentience,” or “intelligence in the limbs” (2010:268). Yet, as Abram states: “consciousness was gradually banished from the surrounding world and sequestered within our own single species” (2010:274).
Abram’s article bridges a scientific understanding of bird intelligence with a human-centred approach to birds. The author suggests that the perception of human intelligence, as superseding that of animals, occurred with the rising predominance of technology. Abrams’ thesis that a closer connection to the intelligence of birds can release us from our own limitations, “the bounds of our own speech” (2010:275), helps to provide a necessary link between cognitive semiotics and symbolic anthropology.
Source 2: Moreman, Christopher M. “On the Relationship between Birds and Spirits of the Dead.” Society & Animals 22.5 (2014): 481-502. Web. 28 April 2016.
Throughout many cultures across the world, birds are symbolically and spiritually representative of death — as omens, carriers, or embodiments, of the dead (Moreman 2014:482). Moreman states that the anthropomorphism of birds “recognizes that humans and animals participate in a common world of significations” (2014:497). Our perception of birds as symbolic of life and death is a projection of our desire for continued life, or fear of death (2014:498). For Moreman, the symbolic connection between birds and death signals humanity’s tendency to ignore, or deny, our own mortality.
In my search for an understanding of the contemporary relationship between crow and human, Moreman’s analysis of the symbolic associations and Jungian archetypes connecting birds with life and death provides a helpful argument for the value of our mythologizing and anthropomorphizing of birds in human culture.
Source 3: Sax, Boria. “Crow, Raven, and Other Corvids.” The Mythical Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Animals in World Myth, Legend, and Literature. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2001. ABC-CLIO eBook Collection. Web. 2 Mar 2016.
Boria Sax’s entry on corvids in The Mythical Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Animals in World Myth, Legend, and Literature provides a detailed overview of the various representations of crows, ravens, and rooks from ancient times to today. From the earliest times, crows have been perceived as highly intelligent, clever tricksters, or ominous messengers from the heavens. The ancient Greek author Aesop’s story of “The Crow and the Pitcher” continues to be among the most well-known fables, and is frequently cited in scientific studies that examine crow intelligence.
Boria Sax’s Mythical Zoo offers a comprehensive summary of the many historical and cultural manifestations of corvids, as depicted in legend and literature across the world. The nature of crow and raven, frequently represented as messenger, trickster, clever ally, or foe, provides two insights: (1) a strong association between the bird’s characteristics, as depicted in folklore, and as demonstrated in behavioural reality; and (2) evidence of a long-standing cultural and experiential relationship between corvids and humans over time.
Source 4: Taylor, Alex H. “Corvid Cognition.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science WIREs Cogn Sci 3 (2014): 361-72. Web. 28 April 2016.
Throughout many mythological stories, tales, and folklore, corvids are depicted as cunning tricksters, often with oracular powers. Indeed, the bird’s intelligence is perhaps best depicted in Aesop’s fable of “The Crow and the Pitcher,” which presents corvids as highly inventive creatures, capable of solving complex problems. As Taylor describes in “Corvid Cognition,” studies have confirmed that corvids’ foraging innovations and tool use are, in fact, highest of all birds (2014:361); indeed, the case of a New Caledonian crow bending a wire into a hook for tool-formation is a well-documented demonstration of their capacity for innovation (2014:366).
Incorporating an analysis of corvid intelligence into my study helps to explain the origin and veracity of such mythological stories as Aesop’s fable. By approaching corvid intelligence from a scientific perspective, Taylor integrates cultural elements from traditional folklore. This analysis provides the dual function of adding a scientific framework for inquiry, while providing veracity in mythology.