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Speaks with the Fishes

Sunday, February 7, 2010


It occurs to me that I have spent a lot of time in this life in communication with fish. Sometimes the fish are not actually present for our dialogues -- their possible presence is all that is required.

One of my (human) correspondents has suggested " It's time to seek out other company." I see his point, of course, but, unlike many human conversationalists, fish have taught me a great deal about humility and patience. And about the nature of communication.

When one sends any kind of message to another, the key thing to remember is that it's all about the receiver of the message. It doesn't matter what the message is, or how elegantly it is presented, if the receiver doesn't get it or understand its contents.

If your correspondent is a fish, the message must be delivered in such a way that the fish knows it has received a message (that is, it helps if the message is delivered to a place that actually contains a fish). The rock upon which one stands may be a convenient place for casting, but that doesn't guarantee that there are fish nearby. The message itself must make sense to the fish (it could be no more than "this looks like it might be food," or "this is a really annoying thing, right in my face, that would be best to drive away").

The important thing for the philosopher to realize (and here, the term is used in the ancient sense of "natural philosopher" or, in modern terms, "scientist") is that one's efforts -- or "hooks" -- are pointless if not tailored to the style of the fish.

The philosopher's conundrum, naturally, is that one can never be certain of the fish's current state of mind. Sometimes, the fish might not even be home when the message arrives. That's where humility and patience come into play.

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