A Haunting

December 14th, 2013, 4pm

Informed by my education and reading, I have abandoned the fallacy of the so-called “Great Chain of Being.” Humans, for all our uniqueness and impact, do not command over all the other lifeforms on this planet a hierarchically-derived position, divine or otherwise. There are spectrums of capability and characteristics between all the forms, overlapping in jumbles, resulting in something that is much more horizontal than vertical: thicket more than tree.

So when I saw the lizard in my bathroom I decided to let it be. I certainly wasn’t going to kill it, and the other option was to carry it outside, where it was cold and I wondered what beasts might prey on it as soon as I shut the door to my apartment. With our interactions limited and non-threatening (at least to me) there seemed no urgency to take any particular steps other than to avoid stepping on it.

On the day I took this picture the lizard was standing there and only shuffling around if I drew near. I took a few pictures with my iPhone and then urged the creature to a corner, away from where I wanted to stand.

The next day it was where I had left it, and it was dead.

Maybe it starved after wandering into my bathroom. Maybe I accidentally stepped on it in the dark late one night when I made use of the facility. Whatever the cause, I probably should have carried it outside when I first saw it. I simply have no idea. I have no idea what lizards need, how to care for them. I feel terrible. I feel terrible because I have been thinking about human relationships, among ourselves and with other lifeforms and technology, especially emerging intelligences like Siri, Google Now, and Watson.

We know through scientific research that animals think, feel pain and emotion, have consciousness, are intelligent, and suffer. What we choose to do with these recent insights will indicate whether or not we are a truly compassionate and empathetic species. Our choices will also determine how we interact with technologies that will one day surpass us in all the ways we think we are so uniquely human. I have chosen to begin regarding other creatures and emerging technologies as potential friends, entities to be viewed as our equals even when they are not equal to us in specific measurements.

Yet having made that choice, the lizard still died. The lizard’s death indicated to me that I have no idea how to be a friend to these equals. I don’t know enough to know what the best courses of action are. How much study would it require to learn to take care of all the possible creatures that might enter my house? There is a mousetrap under my bathroom sink placed by management after I found droppings amongst the items I was storing there. If a mouse is caught, I will be complicit in its murder. Yet how do I respond otherwise? It is probably safest for my health if not all vermin (such a biased word) that arrive to try to live within my residence are allowed to stay.

How much more complex will the situation be when our Technological Children arrive, rapidly matching our intelligences and emotions and then exceeding them? What should the relationship be: master and servant, parent and child, friends, aliens? When I am the lizard, trying to survive, what should I expect of that shape standing high above me, scaring me, not understanding exactly what I need?

The lizard, now dead, is haunting me.

Cassie, abn, David Wade and Héctor said thanks.

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