September 12, 2011

Evil wood spirits

Evolutionary psychology is a disciple that has taken off in recent years (although some Republican presidential candidates may not have gotten the memo). It basically examines how natural selection has shaped human beliefs and behaviors.

An example of this is the idea that people are hardwired to look for agency in the world. Agency in this sense means intelligence and purpose. We tend to see the world as inhabited by beings more or less like ourselves, i.e. with intentions, thoughts and feelings. This belief was adaptive in the sense that false positives (thinking there is a tiger when there is no tiger) are safer than false negatives (thinking there is no tiger when there is).

In a word, we are all animists by nature. Who, after all, hasn't spoken to their car or some other inanimate object at one time or another?

El Cabrero is as devout an animist as his hunter gatherer ancestors. My agency detector has been particularly active lately in trying to reduce a disorderly wood pile into nice, wood stove sized pieces to burn this winter.

The woodpile has been there a while and all the easy pieces have long since been split. The ones that remain are tough and knotty. Some indeed seem to be imbued with a preternatural obstinacy and malevolence as they resist the splitting maul and all that a wedge and a sledgehammer can throw at it. Such a trait might be commendable in a living tree but seems highly inappropriate in a piece of dead wood.

In the case of some particularly stubborn pieces, it gets personal. I have probably expended more calories on a few of them lately than they will put out this winter. After a while, it's less about heat than vengeance. When at last I stand victorious over the shattered foe, I exult over the remains like some kind of atavistic troglodyte, saying, in effect, "Take that, ************!"

A rational animal indeed...

NOTE...El Cabrero is on the road and too lazy or busy to hunt up links.

No comments: