Man's love affair with animal oracles
HUMANS have, throughout history, treated animals in a peculiar manner. They have elevated some of the dumb creatures, which they otherwise cherish as delicacies, to oracles or even deities.
Using animals as fortune tellers is usually thought to be confined to the not-so-enlightened developing world. But, in reality, that practice is popular the world over, even in Western countries which have taken vast strides in science and technology.
No Fifa World Cup tournament is complete without psychic animals predicting winners.
Paul the Octopus in Germany, perhaps, became more popular than even the German national soccer team during the last Fifa World Cup tournament in 2010. All its predictions were accurate and it became quite a media sensation.
There were several animals which predicted the results of Euro 2012. Among them were a dragon fish, a pig, a ferret, an elephant and a sea lion.
It is said that people make many predictions subconsciously every day. A research team from the Washington University in 2011 revealed, as was reported in this newspaper, that the human brain is a surprisingly accurate fortune teller, but only when it came to mundane events.
However, we are not short of people who claim to be able to predict what will happen decades from now. Prominent among them are astrologers.
One of them - capable of influencing even vital government decisions, such as the timing of elections - was left with egg on his face recently, when he could not foresee a freak accident in which his vehicle suffered considerable damage. He also failed to predict a mega scandal which rocked an institution he was working for.
Such failures and wrong predictions notwithstanding, fortune telling has become a big industry. We are reminded of what Voltaire said of man's credulity: "Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy - the mad daughter of a wise mother; these two daughters have too long dominated the earth."
What man's dependence on animals to predict the future signifies is that his evolution over the millennia and modern science and technology have not helped him overcome the atavistic beliefs and fears he harboured as a troglodyte in prehistoric times.
He marvelled at feats that animals were capable of, such as flying and living underwater, which induced adoration and even made him practise zoolatry or the worship of animals.
The modern biped has acquired those skills, albeit with the aid of machines, and unravelled most of the mysteries of nature which puzzled him in times of yore. But he continues to be troubled by a gnawing sense of uncertainty about what the future holds for him.
He believes animals could give him clues to future occurrences, good or bad. Superstition is said to be the religion of the feeble mind.
Even the so-called enlightened humans hesitate to proceed if a black cat happens to cross their path. Groucho Marx, the master of one-liners, famously said that if a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the cat is going somewhere!
Modern sports competitions have given rise to a multi-trillion-dollar gambling industry. Gamblers thirst for tips which even come from animals - of all beings. They seem to prefer animal oracles to self-advertised human tipsters.
No soccer expert could predict the ignominious defeat (1-5) Spain, the defending champions, suffered at the hands of the Netherlands in Brazil on Friday. The Spaniards will take centuries to live down that crushing humiliation and forgive the Dutch, if at all.
It may be recalled that an irate German gambler who had bet on the losing side in a particular match in 2010 threatened to barbecue Paul, which predicted the outcome of that encounter accurately days in advance.
He thought the octopus oracle had demoralised his favourite team!
So, the Brazilian authorities had better take precautions lest their turtle oracle, Big Head, should be harmed.
Whether that reptile is capable of making accurate predictions, we really don't know, but its right to life must be safeguarded.