The Sparrow and the Crow

"A young sparrow is hatched into a noisy world where it selectively learns the songs typically only his father or neighbors sing. The young hear and memorize these songs and practice them by comparing what they hear to what they remember during a sensitive hearing period. A full formed "crystallized" song emerges the following breeding season and remains fixed for life in most songbird species. Some birds, like crows, ravens, magpies, catbirds, and mockingbirds add to their collection of songs and modify them throughout their lives. They do not have a fixed critical learning period but continue to soak up new sounds from their environment, remember them and reproduce them. But the ways in which birds learn new sounds—whether they be sounds of crickets, screams of hawks, or mutterings of people—involve the same neural pathways."
Gifts of the Crows, John Marzluff and Tony Angell, p53.

On first reading this I was struck by how closely this experience of a sparrow follows that of a typical child. The sparrow child takes it for granted that the adult is chirping correctly. When I was growing up I listened to Mom and Dad and most of the time I did or believed what they said to me, just out of instinct. After all, what did I know? Some religious leaders like to think that if  they can have a child for the first years of life they will be able to indoctrinate the child so as he or she will never stray from the chosen path. Like the young sparrow, if the child stops learning or if the child never listens to other sources, he or she will turn out pretty much like the parents. Thus Protestant following parents for the most part raise Protestant following children, and the same for kids of Muslims, Mormons, and so on. But some kids are less like sparrows and more like crows. They keep on learning and listening to other sources of sounds and information. I was like the crows, I kept learning.

But here is where I think I started out being different from the crows. Crows learn new sounds and use them as necessary, with no conflict. I, however, learned new information that contradicted what I had been taught by my parents, so there was a pause before I could just proceed to act and think as necessary. Was it true that Earth was less then 10,000 years old and that fossils were placed in the strata by God (for some unknown reason)? I was learning in Geology 101 at Portland State College that the earth was over 4 billion years old. Evolution was making more sense than the creation stories I had been told. I was hearing other sounds and using information out of step with what I had learned while a "sparrow" and my "crow" self moved away from the limitations of the early sounds.

It wasn't that my parents didn't have a good go at me. All I remember is church, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Adam and Eve, the Earth made in seven days and everything in the Bible being God's literal word. Heaven and Hell existed someplace, for sure. After all, my folks were missionaries telling this stuff to Chinese people, to friends and neighbors full bore with no let up. Or this was my impression at least. I memorized Bible verses for prizes. I got up and sang Chinese versions of Christian songs when my folks went on fund raising tours. Well, not just me singing, I had a brother and two sisters to join in. "We four" were part of a dog and pony show for a time as my folks went around the Northwest telling of their missionary experience. Was I brainwashed? Depends on what you mean, but I knew nothing else and trusted that my parents were honest and true and knew of what they spoke.

I was a sparrow for a long time. Even after I started hearing other sounds and even after my crow-like nature began listening to sounds from beyond the nest, I remained a victim of early trust and indoctrination. 

To be continued....