Why did the chicken cross the road?

About a month ago, this rooster appeared in our estate. When I first noticed him, he was happily pecking away in the grass, upsetting the Mynas. Nobody I know knows where he came from, or whom he belongs to. But he looks healthy and he’s not at all bothered by people, so he’s likely to have had some human association. And he obviously misses his ladies; For the first few days, we would hear him crow a few times early in the morning, and that was it. But soon he started calling during the day as well, and by now it seems that all he does is strutting around the estate all day and shouting himself hoarse. But I shouldn’t make too many assumptions here – I learnt that when I saw him crossing the road the first time. I was amused that he used the pedestrian crossing, holding up quite a bit of traffic while taking his time to strut across. I tried to explain away that apparently intelligent behaviour by assuming that he used the pedestrian crossing – which is on top of a road hump – to avoid having to jump down the curb and up again on the other side. However, the next time I saw him crossing the road just a few meters away from the pedestrian crossing. So now, with more than one observation, it seems that the initial amazing behaviour was just a fluke. (But of course I still only have two observations; not enough to draw any conclusions at all.)

Similarly, I shouldn’t assume that our resident cockerel is lonely just because he keeps calling and surveying the neighbourhood. I don’t even know if any hens would actually respond to his cock-a-doo-dooing, which, as far as I’m aware, is a territorial call and hence primarily aimed at other roosters.

We all do this all too often: make assumptions based on one or two observations, and draw conclusions from limited information. It’s only natural, since we have to make decisions based on limited information all the time, and we would be completely dysfunctional if we let lack of data paralyse us. But we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are making assumptions, and that what we usually believe to be solid facts – anything from why the chicken used the pedestrian crossing to the number of planets in the solar system – is only valid till further notice.

By Andy

Andy is an artist, researcher, communicator and discovery facilitator.

2 replies on “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Yes, I agree that confidence in our conclusions should be proportional to the strength of the data. However I think that facts are overrated in the public perception of science – what is more important is the theoretical framework that the facts help to build, and the testable predictions that the theory generates. A robust theory can produce many useful and dependable applications.

These allow us to make the best of what we currently know, despite the limited information.

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