Conservation Conversations & Quandaries: “Parrots, the Universe and Everything” (3/4)

In the spirit of Roderick Haig-Brown, I’m inspired to share a few comments on conservation from Douglas Adams.

Part the Third, in which the dolphins disappear.

Douglas Adams gave a great talk about conservation entitled “Parrots, the Universe and Everything.” The transcript is well worth a read, so I leave you with the link and three of my favo(u)rite bits as teasers:

“So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly, then?” I asked.

He blinked at me as if I were stupid.

“Well what do you think you do?” he said. “You die of course. That’s what deadly means.”


When I say there is no mystery it is rather as if you imagine taking a detective from the 19th century, teaming him up with a detective from the late 20th century, and giving them this problem to work on: that a suspect in a crime was seen one day to be walking down the street in the middle of London, and the next day was seen somewhere out in the desert in the middle of New Mexico. Now the 19th century detective will say, “Well, I haven’t the faintest idea. I mean it must be some species of magic has happened.” And he would have no idea about how to begin to solve what has happened here. For the 20th century detective, now he may never know whether the guy went on British Airways or United or American or where he hired his car from, or all that kind of stuff, he may never find those details, but there wont be any fundamental mystery about what has happened.

So for us there is no longer a fundamental mystery about life. It is all the process of extraordinary eruptions of information. And is information that gives us this fantastically rich complex world in which we live. But at the same time that we’ve discovered that, we are destroying it at a rate that has no precedent in history, unless you go back to the point that we’re hit by an asteroid.


Now, we always ask ourselves “why” because we look for intention around us, because we always do something with intention. You know, we boil an egg in order to eat it. So, we look at the rocks and we look at the trees, and we wonder what intention is here, even though it doesn’t have intention. So we think, what did this person who made this world intend it for. And this is the point where you think, “Well, it fits me very well. You know, the caves and the forests, and the stream, and the mammoths. He must have made it for me! I mean, there’s no other conclusion you can come to.”

And it’s rather like a puddle waking up one morning […]. A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks, “This is a very interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact, it fits me so neatly, I mean, really precise, isn’t it? It must have been made to have me in it!” And the sun rises, and he’s continuing to narrate the story about this hole being made to have him in it. And the sun rises, and gradually the puddle is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking, and by the time the puddle ceases to exist, it’s still thinking, it’s still trapped in this idea, that the hole was there for it. And if we think that the world is here for us, we will continue to destroy it in the way that we’ve been destroying it, because we think we can do no harm.

Do have a read! It’s longer than your average internet claptrap, but well worth it, I assure you.

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