By "the theological imagination of crows," I do not mean that crows conceive of a divine being enveloping the cosmos: a cosmic Crow. Instead, I mean that crows, like other living beings on Earth and potentially elsewhere in the universe, imagine possibilities for responding to the circumstances of their lives; and that in this very act of imagining possibilities, they experience a divine source of fresh possibilities, tailored to their particular situations, moment by moment. They experience what process theologians call "initial aims" to survive with satisfaction relative to the situation at hand. Moreover, by being open to these possibilities, their openness exemplifies a spiritual virtue crucial to survival: curiosity coupled with problem-solving. Curiosity is openness to the new, imbued with it a sense of adventure. If God is the Adventure of the universe as one, as process theologians suggest, then crows are co-adventurers. They, too, are made in God's image.
- Jay McDaniel
How Smart are Crows?
Crows as Elders and Totems
My favorite process theologians are crows. With their incessant curiosity and intelligence, they exemplify an openness to novelty which, from a process perspective, is central to to survival and enjoyment. Curiosity itself is a spiritual virtue. To be sure, curiosity alone is not the only spiritual virtue we need in our troubled time. We need love, wisdom, faith, forgiveness, service, and a sense of loyalty to life on Earth, to name a few. We need, as it were, moral virtues. But spiritual virtues include more than morality. They include attention, a sense of beauty, playfulness, wonder, zest for life, and curiosity. Crows are especially good at curiosity. They do not choose to be curious; they are born curious. The divine Eros of the universe finds its way into their hearts through their genes. The biological family to which they belong, Corvidae, has been around for 20 to 25 million years, much longer than we humans have been on earth. They, along with their kin the ravens, rooks, and magpies, are our elders.
To characterize crows as process theologians is not to say that they articulate the tenets of process theology through scholarly articles and books. If they communicate their theology at all in such ways, it is through their sounds and intelligent behavior. Their "theology" is expressed in the ways they live and interact with the world; it is an embodied theology. This is true, of course, of all animals and, indeed, of all sentient beings, encompassing living cells and microorganisms. One of the many needs in our time is for humans to take (or better remember) their place in the larger web of life and to humbly learn from kindred kin, the other animals and plants. Indigenous peoples have done this for millennia. It is modern humans, especially urban humans, who have so forgotten how to welcome other animals as mentors and elders.
The prominence of crows lies in their adept embodiment of the virtue of curiosity, serving as a poignant reminder of the vibrancy and potency of curiosity itself. Especially in education, the encouragement and cultivation of curiosity, understood as a spiritual gift in its own right, is important. Curiosity makes us happier, improves our relationships, can help us be more empathetic, improves achievement, and can improve our health and healthcare. It is sustenance for the soul, and crows have it in abundance.
Admittedly, there is a moral ambiguity. The curiosity of crows is rooted in their pursuit of food, necessitating the consumption of other living entities. They are omnivores, eating other animals as well as plants. Is this fact—that "life is robbery," as Whitehead says—ordained by Eros itself, or does it represent a tragic beauty intrinsic to the universe, a condition to which even God is subject? I do not know, and process theologians are unclear on the matter. What is unequivocal is the inspirational nature of the crows' curiosity—its inherent beauty and its role as a pivotal reminder that life on Earth is more than human life. We humans are part of a wider entirety, a web of life, where every creature has, in the words of process theologians, intrinsic value. Animals are subjects of their own lives, and not just objects for us.
In contemporary times, there is a palpable need for the emergence of myths among humans that foster and promote a more encompassing viewpoint. The traditions of totem from various cultures, where animals hold significant roles, are inspiring. We humans need a renewed, collective totem: something that reminds us that our family is more than our clan.
Some might propose Gaia itself as the prime totem. Or perhaps, even broader, the living universe. Possibly so. We need big ideas and images, big totems. Many process theologians like to talk about the universe as a whole as the primary context of our lives. It helps to have telescopes and microscopes, to remember that the universe includes the very large and also the very small.
However, within this broader, more inclusive totem, there is space for more specialized totems, such as crows, for instance. And these more specialized totems are themselves windows to the big totems. We can see the universe in and through the eyes of the crow.
This seeing is critical. Humanity cannot subsist on love alone, crucial as it may be; we need novelty and a sense of kinship with other forms of life. One of the best ways to invite particularized totems is to include learning from animals in early childhood education. Not just learning about animals but learning from them. In the section below, I offer a sample lesson for first graders and how they might learn from crows.
- Jay McDaniel
Activity for First Graders: Crow Problem Solving
Students will observe the problem-solving skills of crows and then use their observations to solve problems of their own.
Short video clips showing crows solving problems (e.g., using cars to crack nuts or using hooks to get food).
Craft materials: paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, and any available recyclable materials.
Small objects (toys or blocks).
Begin by watching a short video of crows solving problems and discuss what they observed.
Ask open-ended questions like, "What did you notice about how the crow solved the problem?" to encourage discussion.
Talk about how crows use their surroundings and available materials to solve problems and find food.
Relate the discussion to how humans solve problems, using tools and thinking creatively.
Creating Crow-Inspired Solutions:
Present the students with a “problem” they have to solve. For example, retrieving a small object from a distance without leaving their seats.
Encourage the students to use the available craft materials to create a tool or device to solve the problem, just like the crows did.
Once the students have created their solutions, have a discussion about the different approaches they took.
Ask questions like, "How did you decide to use your materials?" and "Was your first idea the one that worked, or did you have to try something else?"
Connecting to Everyday Life:
Conclude by discussing how thinking creatively and solving problems are important in everyday life.
Ask students to share a problem they solved recently and discuss how they felt when they found the solution.
Students could draw pictures of crows solving problems or create stories about crows going on adventures and solving problems along the way.
The class could read a book about crows or other animals that are known for their problem-solving skills and discuss them.
This exercise not only helps in understanding the intelligent behavior of crows but also develops problem-solving, creativity, and reflective thinking skills in children, in addition to integrating learning with nature and animals.
- developed by Open AI
Sounds of Crows
God and Crows
Today we need myths to live by: collective stories that inspire us to live lightly on the earth, gently with one another, with a sense of kinship with other creatures: crows, for example. We need big totems (the living universe) and specialized totems (crow myths).
While some may perceive crows as mere "objects" or machines, devoid of interiority, subjective aims, creativity, and a range of emotions such as fear, anger, enjoyment, and surprise, process theologians differ. They propose that a form of interiority or subjective immediacy is in all living beings and every entity within the universe. In a process context. subjective immediacy includes subjective aims, emotions, purposes, and memories of the past, along with a sense of future possibilities, openness to novelty, and decision-making capacity. Individual crows are subjects of their lives and not just objects for others.
Process theologians also propose that the living spirit of God is inherent in every creature, serving as an inwardly felt lure, among other roles. This divine presence inspires beings to live with satisfaction in relation to their circumstances, enjoying the harmony and intensity attainable within their environments. God is, they say, "the initial phase of the subjective aim" of each and every sentient being, crows included.
This initial aim is both constant and changing. It is always for the maximum satisfaction relative to the situation at hand, but as the situation changes, so the exact content of the aim changes. God adjusts to each new situation, along with the crow.
Additionally, God's own life is shaped by the crows experience. In process theology God is not only a luring presence in the world (and rest of the universe) but also a living receptacle for everything that happens. Following Whitehead, process theologians speak of this as the "consequent nature of God" because it emerges as a consequence of worldly events. It is God as an inclusively sentient being, enveloping the entire universe, that feels the feelings of each and every creature, crows included. sharing in its experience. The creature at issue becomes part of God's life in this way; God is many as well as one. God is crow.
One value of recognizing this, for human beings, is to realize that while human beings are important to God, they are not all that is important to God and they are not the "center" of the universe. They are small but included in part of a larger family of life, a family of concrescing subjects.
Of course what is said here can be said of any and every creature anywhere in the world or in the universe. All living beings are part of God's life, and life is everywhere. The body of God is filled with hills, rivers, stars, molecules, quarks, galaxies, people, penguins, black holes, and...crows.
- Jay McDaniel
Tool use: Crows have been observed using a variety of tools to solve problems and obtain food. For example, they have been seen using sticks to fish for termites, and using rocks to crack open nuts.
Play behavior: Crows are very playful birds. They have been observed engaging in a variety of playful behaviors, such as sliding down snow-covered roofs, tossing objects back and forth, and chasing each other. Playful behavior is often seen as a sign of intelligence, as it requires creativity and problem-solving skills.
Spatial reasoning: Crows have excellent spatial reasoning skills. They are able to remember the location of food sources and other important landmarks. They are also able to plan routes and navigate through complex environments.
Problem-solving: Crows are excellent problem-solvers. They have been observed using a variety of strategies to solve problems and obtain food. For example, they have been seen using sticks to reach food that is out of reach, and they have been seen using rocks to break open containers to get at the food inside.
Social learning: Crows are able to learn from each other. They have been observed watching each other and imitating each other's behavior. This allows them to learn new skills and strategies without having to learn them on their own.
- Open AI
Haida Myth: Raven the Trickster The Haida people of the Pacific Northwest Coast hold a prominent myth featuring the Raven as a trickster figure. In one story, Raven steals light from a powerful chief to bestow it upon the world, granting humans daylight.
Tlingit Myth: Raven and the First Men The Tlingit people, also hailing from the Pacific Northwest Coast, have a Raven creation myth that parallels the Haida’s. In this version, Raven discovers the first humans in a clamshell and coaxes them out to inhabit the Earth.
Navajo Myth: Raven-Crow Marriage A Navajo story tells of Crow and Raven as once close companions whose relationship broke down over disagreements. They part ways, explaining why crows and ravens are never seen together.
Ojibwa Myth: Crow Steals Fire In Ojibwa tales, the crow is a keeper of sacred law and a bringer of daylight to humanity. The crow steals fire from the spirits to gift to the people, playing a pivotal role in human evolution.
Lakota Myth: Crow as a Guardian To the Lakota, the crow is a guardian of the Sacred Pipe, a spiritually significant object. Crows are believed to offer visionary experiences connecting the physical and spiritual realms.
Apache Myth: Crow’s Creation Apache tales narrate the crow’s creation by the Coyote. Originally white, the crow turned black due to its misdeeds.
Where do these myths come from? From a process perspective, the causes are multiple. To be sure, they arise from human imagination, collective unconscious, and evolutionary necessities. Myths are shaped by, and responsive to, environmental conditions. But they also arise out of our interactions, observations, and inspirations from other animals, including crows. Our crow myths come, at least in part, from crows.
Greater Good Magazine: Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, University of California, Berkeley
"1. Curiosity helps us survive. The urge to explore and seek novelty helps us remain vigilant and gain knowledge about our constantly changing environment, which may be why our brains evolved to release dopamine and other feel-good chemicals when we encounter new things. 2. Curious people are happier. Research has shown curiosity to be associated with higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being. Of course, it may be, at least partially, that people who are already happier tend to be more curious, but since novelty makes us feel good (see above), it seems likely that it goes the other direction as well. 3. Curiosity boosts achievement. Studies reveal that curiosity leads to more enjoyment and participation in school and higher academic achievement, as well as greater learning, engagement, and performance at work. It may seem like common sense, but when we are more curious about and interested in what we are doing, it’s easier to get involved, put effort in, and do well. 4. Curiosity can expand our empathy. When we are curious about others and talk to people outside our usual social circle, we become better able to understand those with lives, experiences, and worldviews different than our own. Next time you have the chance to talk with a stranger, especially someone who may be quite dissimilar to you, try engaging with them on a personal level (respectfully, of course) and showing them that you are interested in what they have to say. 5. Curiosity helps strengthen relationships.One study asked strangers to pose and answer personal questions, a process scientists call “reciprocal self-disclosure.” They found that people were rated as warmer and more attractive if they showed real curiosity in the exchange (while other variables like the person’s social anxiety and their levels of positive and negative emotions did not affect the partner’s feelings of attraction and closeness). This implies that demonstrating curiosity towards someone is a great way to build your closeness with them. 6. Curiosity improves healthcare.Research suggests that when doctors are genuinely curious about their patients’ perspectives, both doctors and patients report less anger and frustration and make better decisions, ultimately increasing the effectiveness of treatment."