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Animals Got a Tsunami Warning. Why Didn’t Humans?

Reading about the aftermath of the tsunami in south Asia, I’m struck by one story now making the rounds. As rescuers began assessing the damage, they reported that, remarkably (and true to legend), the wildlife populations of the region sensed the danger ahead and for the most part successfully fled to safety. Despite what scientists believe is a human’s capacity to pick up some of these same early warning signals, we unfortunately can’t figure out what we’re sensing. None of this is hard science either way, but the emerging stories are compelling.

Now, gods of metaphor, please forgive what I am about to write, but I just can’t shake the feeling that there is a critical lesson here that extends beyond natural disasters. It goes something like this: Tuning in to the world around us, and understanding our own, natural reaction to it, may be one of the most valuable skills we can learn. It’s the kind of thing Malcolm Gladwell gets at in his new book, Blink. Listening is great. But unless you figure out, like these animals, how to react properly to what you’re sensing, it’s all just white noise. So how do you learn to pick up on and, more importantly, to trust your natural instincts?

FCS