Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Another Bobcat Story

Our good neighbor, the one who calls us when she sees a bobcat, called us on Friday to ask how our "cat energy" was. She wanted to know if we had seen any bobcats lately. We hadn't since February. She hadn't either. She asked if we wanted to borrow her jade Mayan jaguar carving to put in our south-facing window. She said the first time she had put it in her window her husband spotted a bobcat in their yard a few days later. That was before we had even moved here. I told her I'd be happy to put one of her spirit charms in our window. Why not? It's an innocent flirtation, right? I'd love to see another bobcat. So, I put the jade carving in the window on Friday at sunset.
The bobcat showed up Sunday evening.
I have to admit I just don't do magical thinking. You probably already know this about me, if you read this blog at all. I just don't think things happen for a reason, or that everything works out the way it's meant to. That just doesn't make any sense to me. If everything happens the way it is supposed to, why pay attention to anything at all? I also stay away from Post hoc ergo propter hoc -- "after this, therefore because of this" thinking--which is often shortened to simply post hoc, or "If, then therefore, because."

Post hoc is a logical fallacy which assumes or asserts that if one event happens after another, then the first must be the cause of the second. It is a particularly tempting error because temporal sequence is integral to causality — it is true that a cause always happens before its effect. The fallacy lies in coming to a conclusion based only on the order of events, which is not an accurate indicator. That is to say, it is not always true that the first event caused the second event.
The bobcat climbed through an opening that is 6 x 4 inches.
I put a jade Mayan jaguar carving in the window on Friday. On Sunday a bobcat walked through our yard. Magical thinking often connects two things that have no actual or logical connection. For example, if a person sees a coin on the ground and picks it up, and later receives good news, that person may become convinced that finding the coin resulted in the good news, even though it was a mere coincidence. An entertaining demonstration of logical fallacy once appeared in an episode of The Simpsons (Season 7, "Much Apu About Nothing"). The city had just spent millions of dollars creating a highly sophisticated "Bear Patrol" in response to the sighting of a single bear the week before.

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The "Bear Patrol" is working like a charm!
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: [uncomprehendingly] Thanks, honey.
Lisa: By your logic, I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Hmm. How does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work; it's just a stupid rock!
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: (pause) Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

dpr measured exactly where the back of the bobcat meets the fence. It's 15 inches.
By Homer Simpson's logic I should claim that a Mayan carving brought a bobcat to our yard. Sunday evening, I was sitting on the couch sending an email to a dear friend when a movement in the yard caught my eye. There was an animal just beyond our sliding glass door, between the berry patch and flower beds, crossing the yard toward the guest house. I couldn't really see what it was, because it was moving quickly. I called out to dpr, "Hey, R, there's an animal in the yard," and I ran for the camera. The critter really didn't look big enough to be a bobcat. I actually thought it was a large jack rabbit, but it was a beautiful, little bobcat. It was moving very fast, but I was able to photograph it (*albeit slightly out of focus) as it approached the fence, where it slipped through the rabbit-proof field fencing like it wasn't even there. The entire event took less than 10 seconds. But, like an earthquake, which may only shake for a few seconds, it left quite an impression.

I called the neighbor to tell her about the bobcat sighting. What else could I do? I know I was adding weight to logical fallacy for her, but I had no choice. It happened. Do I now believe in the power of Mayan jaguar carvings? Of course not. I feel awe-- in watching a shy predator move through the trees, in hearing the call of two eagles during their mating season, in finding a hummingbird at the backdoor waiting for its feeder to be filled. Do I believe these things happen for me specifically--that if I ask nicely, if I put magic in my windows, if I pray chant or cry out the universe will reward me? Nope. I don't. That's why it's awesome that the bobcat walked through our yard. Because it did, and we saw it.

(Definitions of post hoc ergo propter hoc, logical fallacy, magical thinking are from Wikipedia.)

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