Do you believe in fairies? Do you believe in Richard Dawkins? Or is he just a creature dreamed up by a wicked school master to make sure you stay at your desk and concentrate of differential calculus rather than daydreaming?
He’s stirred up quite a few comments, pretty well all of them unfavourable. This might be because they were made by writers and perhaps writers know the power and value of daydreaming. One blog did stand out for me, it was at http://kmlockwood.com/all-fuss-and-fairytales/ and I have to thank K.M.Lockwood for doing the hard work and finding the picture below. For me this sums up what a real scientist, a great scientist, thought about fairytales.
But as often happens, two trains of thought came together. On Tuesday our current working dog, young Sal, got her first real go at working cattle on her own, without quad bikes or other people to fret about. I discovered that she has the same cattle technique as old Jess had. When moving cattle, first go to the front end, snap at their nose to tell them that you’re the boss and expect action. I think of it as the ‘Granny Weatherwax’ school of management which boils down to ‘If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing’. (For those of you who don’t know Granny Weatherwax; read Wyrd Sisters, http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0552134600/ )
Anyway yesterday Sal was working with me, moving some sheep. She did that OK and then heard the quad bike. She spotted that the quad bike was also moving sheep pretty effectively and she immediately ignored the sheep and started herding the quad bike, just to make sure that it kept working and didn’t slouch off or stop for some reason.
Now way back, I’d be still at school, we were haytiming and the baler broke a shear bolt. Not an uncommon thing to happen. But everything stops; my father and my uncle unjam the baler and put in a new shear bolt. During this process, old Ben, our working dog at the time, sat and observed. (Working Border Collies don’t merely watch; that is a merely passive activity, they Observe because they somehow give the impression that they’re valued participants in the activity which wouldn’t go well without their input.)
Finally, everything fixed, my father started the tractor, and as it moved off old Ben darted in to give the baler wheels a nip, just to get it going and make sure it keep working.
Now I’m second to none in my appreciation of the Border Collie. They regularly give the impression of absolute certainty. They know, to the very core of their being, that they are the professionals, and I’m just some ape descendant with an opposed thumb who thinks he knows something about moving livestock. There are times when I’m vaguely honoured that I’m considered worthy to discuss policy with.
But even Border Collies have their limits. There are things which are beyond their comprehension; things that they don’t really understand. They cope with them; they just treat them as sheep.
I think this is perhaps a metaphor that Richard Dawkins ought to meditate on at some point.