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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2430

Aesopica to Bridge the Gap between Fiction and Science

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The Crow and the pitcherThe fans of Aesop, the legendary story teller, were elated this week with a news item published in the journal, Current Biology: the story about the Crow and Pitcher – one of a vast collection known as Aesopica - that stimulated the imagination of millions of children all over the world, is not just a figment of imagination on the part of the legend, after all; Cambridge scientists have found out – through laborious experiments, of course – that the birds of the crow family are capable of problems solving, indeed.

The guinea pigs of the crow family used in the experiment just did what exactly outlined in the story: they used pebbles to bring the water level up inside a pitcher, when it was maintained at a relatively low level so that the birds could not reach it; the scientists say that, the birds in question did not mess the process up – a pretty meticulous feat performed by the birds.

At the beginning of the experiment, the crow was provided with a pitcher, half-filled with water. The bird seemed to be doing a quick scan from the top to bottom to make a snap decision; it didn’t fool itself by pursuing the impossible while resigning to accept the inevitable. During the second phase, it was provided with a heap of relatively heavy pebbles and the birds seemed to have been struck by a brainwave; it started putting the pebbles – one at a time – into the pitcher until the water level was reached the correct mark and then put its beak into it to reach the goal – a delicacy, a dead worm in this case, that floated on the surface of water. The attempts by the bird were not part of a process of trial and error; the bird seemed to have determined the exact number of pebbles needed at the very outset and reached its goal in triumph.

Aesop’s fables have been entertaining generations of kids and adults alike for ages. How he came up with these ideas is as mysterious as the man himself; although he used to live in Greece for some time during his life time, he was said to be of slave stock. Therefore, the possibility of having any formal education to read, let alone to write stories, is very minimal, the fact immediately makes us wonder how he achieved this feat in history, something his fortunate contemporaries couldn’t even dream of.

Very often, a moral could be taught in a simple manner by making a juvenile audience listen to one of Aesopica rather than quoting a complex religious text. The involvement of animals makes the process more natural and instinctive, especially as far as children are concerned.

Aesop’s fables have stood the test of time and will keep entertaining kids for many more generations to come, as they are simple, powerful and capable of keeping the audience in suspension. A slave who used to live around 500 BC without the luxury of education may not have produced this collection by thinking very hard, especially when the tormentor’s whip was ever ready to strike as soon as the slightest human mistake were to make during routine work. Therefore, the role played by the finite human intellect can easily be ruled out.

Aesop may have been a lucky one – a blessed one – to draw inspiration from the atmosphere to provide the world with a fabulous collection of stories. In this regard, he has come very close to the leading figures of established religion, most of whom did possess neither any formal education qualification nor privileged background to be venerated in life. However, they and the humble Aesop have one thing in common: the achievement of incredible things after their death.

We habitually borrow phrases from Aesopica without giving him due credit for it; lion’s share, crying wolf and sour grapes would not be in circulation, if the legend did not come up with these amazing tales.

If Cambridge scientists extend the success of the tale of the Crow and the Pitcher to the rest of the stories and if they turn out to be true, Aesopica has the potential to be become a pragmatic religious text. The fans of Aesop will not find it difficult to kneel down before the Ethiopean slave in veneration in the event of the legend reaching that moral goal post.

- Asian Tribune -

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