WHY BIRDS LEAVE THE NEST WHEN THEY DO
A phoebe built a nest on top of the level part of an S-section of a downspout on my daughter’s house. The bird had to fly over the deck in order to arrive at the nest so that anyone on the deck had full view of the nest and the bird’s mothering. She has raised two broods since early spring, the last of her babies having decided to face the world while my daughter and I were having dinner on the deck on the last day of June.
Prior to leaving the nest, the last and number six of the fledglings sat rigidly upright in the nest looking in the direction his five siblings had flown one by one earlier in the day. While we ate I would cast a glance at the bird wondering what he was thinking. There he was alone: no sign of his mother or father about or of any of his brothers and sisters to cheer him on or to congratulate him on graduation day. No one to say: “Go ahead, Junior, spring off and try your wings. They will work.”
Junior obviously was not so sure; for he sat without motion for nearly an hour staring straight ahead and contemplating the big moment and, no doubt, pondering whether or not when he did spring off his wings would work. I was so empathetic that I felt a little of that uneasiness and flutter in the midsection that I have felt just before making a talk before my peers or approaching with a gift the love of my life.
While I was taking a mouthful of ham-and-cheese quiche, he left the nest. I missed seeing his flight into the future, nor did I hear it. But my daughter heard it and said to me, “The bird is gone; I just heard it fly away.” I was disappointed. I wanted to see the big moment. But a few minutes later my daughter pointed to the porch roof some ten yards away and there was the newcomer to the world ruffling his feathers and stretching his wings. Just as I focused on him, he lifted off into flight with professional poise and ease and disappeared into the trees.
Later while we were walking, my daughter asked me, “ Daddy, what tells a bird it’s time to leave the nest?” Good question, the answer to which would probably not only inform her what tells a bird its time to fly but what tells all species, including homo sapiens, when its time to do most things. For lack of a better answer, I said that it was like a clock on a washer. The clock is pre-set and as it clicks off minutes, it initiates certain cycles of the washer until the clothes are washed, rinsed and partially dried and then its goes off.
So it is with a bird. Nature pre-sets the bird’s clock at conception and when the clock comes to the time to leave the nest the bird leaves the nest; when the clock says catch flies it catches flies; when its say go south or north off it goes; when it say mate it mates; says lay eggs it lays eggs, sits on them, feeds the babes and starts the cycle all over again. And at the time of death, it dies.
When a man sees a sexy woman he doesn’t say to himself she is a sexy woman so I am going to will to desire her. He sees her and desires her. A pregnant woman doesn’t say it’s time to give birth so I’ll give birth. Nature pre-sets the clock that says it is time. A boy of eight doesn’t say he is ready to be a man and then comes puberty. He must wait until nature’s clock ticks the time. Then, he grows hair above his lip, his shoulders broaden, etc. And little girls become women whether they wish to or not and the time of the change is not their choice.
Nature’s genome is the washer’s clock. Humans are pre-set at conception. One scientist went so far as to say that conception was like the click of a camera, the resulting photo or new being would be at those moments determined with the exception of touching up of the picture and of nurturing of the new being. The more scientists learn about the human genome and the signals emitted by genes the more they lean to nature instead of nurture as the predominant factor in what a person becomes.
In biology I learned that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny; that is the development of the individual from egg to adult is a repeat of the evolutionary development of the species in which eons of evolution are repeated in the womb, knowledge of which awakened within me no end of speculations. Not only is this true physically, I deduced, but it is true psychologically. For instance, we know that individuals reach intellectual maturity in the teens just as the species reached its intellectual maturity when the brain evolved to its maximum. Thus, by induction, noting the conversions of libertines to contrite Christians between the ages of thirty and fifty, I speculated that humans’ moral IQ matured in the evolutionary progression after sexual and intellectual maturity and last among human psychological characteristics. Thus, I dubbed the progression Cell to Saint.
Anatomy is destiny, someone observed. Watching people all my life has convinced me that there is truth in it. There is no amount of nurture that would have morphed the nature of Mike Tyson into a librarian or Marilyn Monroe into a home ec. teacher. The future roles in society of the high school quarterback and the shapeliest cheerleader are predictable.
Spinoza, a Jew who decided to dedicate his life to the study of man and nature, concluded among other concepts that man’s belief that he has a free will is an illusion. It all had a start, says Spinoza, and from that start it was, and is, all cause and effect, ad infinitum. No decision is free. Every decision is weighted with the whole history of life. Every decision, just as the Phoebe’s to fly, had its origin in nature’s pre-set clock.
Man watches other species and notes they are programmed. That they have built in them clocks that signal when they are to mate, fly south, sing their territorial songs, and come together in defense against common enemies. He laughs at the notion that he too is programmed; for he has this grand presumption that he is god-like and that he has been created in the image of God.
Thus, I watch the Phoebes as a God watches us and see that they do as their pre-set clock dictates; I study the accounts of the reading of the genome and perceive that nature has over millions of years programmed man; I see that a human’s physique determines somewhat his or her destiny; I study in biology that the individual’s development repeats the evolution of the species; and I read Spinoza to learn that he concluded that man is no more free to will his destiny than is the Phoebe.
Recently I read that studies have shown that man and woman are not hard-wired to react the same to stress: studies that conclude that man’s tendency under stress to fight or flight is not woman’s reaction. Hers is to tend and befriend. It seems that under stress the body pumps a great many hormones into our system, including oxytocin, a hormone promoting calm and an inclination toward social interaction. It is secreted in both sexes, but in males under stress testosterone suppresses oxytocin and the tendency to tend and befriend, while in the females estrogen encourages higher levels of oxytocin and induces females to reach out to others for friendship and to support members of the family rather than to fight or to flight.
Surely, the evidence is mounting that what we are and what we do and when we do it are predetermined and that man like a bird has a clock or genome that is set at birth and as it clicks the hours, days and years man reacts to its dictates, believing that his reactions are willed freely.
If Spinoza is right and free will is an illusion or even if there is the possibility that he was right, then, man should consider the premise and the adjustments in morals and laws mandated by it. If one presumes free will as an illusion, he can with a little imagination and cogitation conjure up the enormity of injustice and unfairness perpetrated by man upon man on the holy premise of accountability.
From man’s vantage point it is clear to him that a bird leaves the nest when the clock ticks leave; from a god’s view of man, it is probably clear to her that what a man does next is written on the wall of the future before he does it.