Towards an Animal Tracker’s Celebration of Mystery

For a Tracker, no answers exist. Only questions, suspicions, hypotheses, patterns, tendencies.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. – Einstein

To see a barefoot track upon the earth, does not mean the maker didn’t wear shoes. What if they had cut the bottoms out?

To see seven black crows in a row does not mean all crows wear black. To see an eighth appearing white does not mean some crows don’t have black feathers. What if the “white crow” fell victim to a sack of flour?

At best, a Tracker can say about a barefoot track: “this suggests an unshod human foot.” Yet like the invisible man, until each surface of the foot receives coverage, below and above, back to front, side to side, pressing into a medium that will hold an image, one must hold open many possibilities, while choosing the likeliest one as a working hypothesis. And even then…

Consider the hoax of Bigfoot tracks. Wooden stamps disguised as bare feet. Does a Tracker seem foolish if she refuses to make assumptions about any track, not just those that seemed an unusual fit for what one usually sees?

We can never quite completely trust our senses, yet these same senses encourage us towards exploring certain possibilities. One cannot state for certain that a groundhog made a particular track, even when you catch the groundhog, cook it, eat it, and lie satisfied with your hands on your belly. At least you can contemplate the mystery with a greasy smile and a nap.

Results encourage us towards particular ends, towards particular behaviors, towards particular models of reality. But results can change, patterns can shift, models can (and do!) become obsolete.

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. -Einstein

What if we judged our models and actions according to their utility in influencing our lives in a beautiful and expansive way, rather than on abstract notions of “truth” which will never replace actual phenomena, and more likely find themselves replaced by the evolving evidence? A Tracker judges how they model the physics of tracking by the tendency of that model to appear to predict future events, and to describe unseen animals. All with the original goal of full bellies and clothed backs.

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods. -Einstein

When a Tracker hears about the struggle between Creationism and Evolutionary Theory, a smile appears on his lips…perhaps Creationists have perceived well that Evolutionary Theory, in the popular mind, feeds a belief, not a curiosity. Perhaps the satisfaction that some scientists and most modern folks have with Evolutionary Theory belies a willingness to accept it fully on faith, without examing the evidence. Even with a full examination of the supporting evidence, could we honestly say “it is true?”. Evolutionary Theory may indeed constitute a modern creation myth, competing with the Christian one, if instead of an excellent explanation of the evidence, we consider it “the last word or nearly the last word” on how life has appeared the way we see today. Our culture’s hunger for Truth may constitute the final trick we play on ourselves, the final blindfold we just won’t take off.

Science never pursues the illusory aim of making its answers final, or even probable. Its advance is, rather, towards the infinite yet attainable aim of ever discovering new, deeper, and more general problems, and of subjecting its ever tentative answers to ever renewed and ever more rigorous tests. – Sir Karl Popper

All models are wrong. Some are useful. – George Box

Written by Willem