The Birds

One of the far from unpleasant side-effects of the lockdown here in Maynooth is that you notice the birds much more.

For one thing the marked decrease in traffic means that birdsong a lot more audible, which is very pleasant; for another, some otherwise rather shy species are to be seen out and about. I saw (and heard) one of these critters fo on Maynooth Campus yesterday when I went for my daily constitutional:

It’s a song thrush. I’ve never seen one on the campus before. I’ve also seen various colourful finches from time to time.

The resident bird population of Maynooth University campus is dominated by various members of the crow family: Jackaws, Rooks, Hooded Crows, Magpies, etc. They’re still around but they live mainly by scavenging and there are far fewer people around leaving far less stuff to scavenge, they seem to be roaming farther afield. Yesterday, however, I noticed that a couple of Magpies swooped on the cat’s dish after he’d finished his lunch to see if there was anything left to eat. They must be hungry.

Outside my flat there’s a group of tall trees. Yesterday afternoon I watched from a window for a full twenty minutes as a rather large and clumsy Rook tried to balance precariously on a long slender twig right at the top. Why it didn’t perch on one of the thicker branches lower down instead, I don’t know.

It struck me as an excellent metaphor, but I’m not sure for what.

8 Responses to “The Birds”

  1. Phillip Helbig Says:

    Innocent light-minded men,
    who think that astronomy
    can be learnt by looking at the stars
    without knowledge of mathematics
    will, in the next life, be birds

    Plato, Timaeus

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Nope, that’s Bertrand Russell’s summary, exactly as written in his History of Western Philosophy (except that the penultimate word is ‘become’). Here is an English translation of the relevant lines of Plato’s Timaeus:

      the race of birds was created out of innocent light-minded men, who, although their minds were directed toward heaven, imagined, in their simplicity, that the clearest demonstration of the things above was to be obtained by sight…

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        OK, I’ll inform Rien van de Weijgaert. 🙂

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        You might inform him what Plato says just before that about women, too (also summarised by Russell).

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        Russell notes both that it is difficult to know what to take seriously and that it should be studied because it has been influential.

        I think that there is a vicious-circle problem here. Many people still study Freud, though most of his stuff has been shown to be wrong. From the point of view of history of science, sure, study Freud, but should a modern student of psychology, say, need to learn any more about Freud than, say, an astronomy student needs to know about astrology? But since everyone continues to study him, he is in some sense influential, so people continue to study him.

        More generally, only those Ancient Greek philosophers can be studied whose works survive. In some cases, it’s just luck whose survived and whose didn’t, but some might have been victims of rival philosophers who helped their arguments along by destroying the works of others.

        That is one reason why I dropped out of the Great Books programme at St. John’s College. (Another was that someone was paying a huge amount of money for me to study with what was supposed to be the top intellectuals of the country, but I found them immature compared to many people whom I had just met by chance in Germany, so I decided to return to Germany, where I eventually studied physics and astronomy at the University of Hamburg.)

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Amazing what bollocks greats like Plato were prone to talk at times!

        My favourite classicist of the 20th century, Gilbert Highet, was once asked what was the best piece of advice he received early in his career. “Verify your references”, he replied.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:


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