Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Reflections on the Brutal Murder of Small Rodents

For quite some time now, there have been a good number of mice living in this house. As with almost everything, I am extremely tolerant of the mild annoyances mice present. I am slightly surprised whenever I see one scurry across the floor and I generally attempt to guide it away from myself and the wires attached to my various electronic devices. I was mildly annoyed upon discovering that they had eaten most of my packets of chicken soup, but I can hardly blame the mice for obeying their instincts and soup is not exactly expensive or difficult to replace.

The only thing these mice have done to particularly annoy me is to chew loudly on something in my room while I try to get to sleep. In these circumstances I usually attempt to scare them out of the room, but for amazingly this rarely seems to work. I have grown accustomed to whispering to them when I hear them, often referring affectionately to an individual mouse as "you stupid little shitling" and musing on how, if the mouse were to encounter my foot, I might sustain a mild injury easily remedied by a bandage and a rabies vaccine, they would have every bone in their tiny body broken and be splattered into a bloody pulp. Of course, this is not something I would ever deliberately do.

Chances are, I would not have actually taken the initiative to get any traps until they chewed up something I consider valuable, and perhaps not even then. Of course, I am not the only one who lives in this house, and one of my housemates indulges in screaming fits whenever she sees one of these mice. She decided, after a failed attempt at poisoning, to get some mouse traps from the landlord and she set them up today. Of five traps the landlord gave us, she set up three and then returned to her parents' house for reading week. Within hours, two of the traps had killed mice, and I haven't been able to find the third. I then set up the remaining two, one of which has also already killed a mouse. Chances are, I will have to ask the landlord for more traps tomorrow.

These are the standard mouse-traps you see everywhere and, ironically, they seem to me to be more humane than the "humane" traps my parents used when I was younger.

The first kid of "humane" mousetrap was a sort of cage designed to trap the mouse inside when it tried to eat the cheese so that it could then be released outside alive and healthy. From what I remember, these traps didn't really work at all. Either the trigger wasn't sensitive enough or the mice never entered the trap to begin with.

The second kind of "humane" mousetrap I only saw my parents use once because of its effect. It was a small tray of strongly adhesive material designed to stick to the mouse's feet when it went after the peanut in the middle of the tray. This adhesive would not kill the mouse, and it was designed to lose its adhesive properties when soaked in luke-warm water. The idea was that you would take the trapped mouse outside, pour some luke-warm water over it and the mouse would scurry away. Unfortunately, that's not what happened. It being winter, my parents took the trapped mouse outside and poured the warm water into the tray. The mouse struggled, but couldn't get free. They continued to bring more warm water attempting to keep the water's temperature from dropping and to allow the tray to de-adhere, but the mouse continued to remain fixed to the tray. Eventually the mouse froze to death, still struggling to get free.

These standard mousetraps are designed to break the mouse's neck when they go after the cheese. Earlier today I saw one activate - it was very fast. The mouse twitched for a few seconds (which was painful to watch), but it died fairly quickly. All in all, I'd say a quick broken neck is more humane than hours of torture followed by freezing to death.

So yes, friends, I am now a mammal-murderer. However, seeing as I don't actually have a moral difficulty with killing small rodents, why have I been going on for so long about this experience? Essentially, I am going over this because I thought I would not participate in this particular endeavour, but I wound up taking part despite my finding it aesthetically displeasing. I suppose I don't know myself quite as well as I thought.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Skepticism and the Obvious

Once we thought it obvious that the universe was infinite. After all, how else could it be? If the universe is finite, then that means we'll eventually hit a wall traveling in some direction, but whatever is past that wall must still be part of the universe, right?
Relativity turned that idea on its head. Now we are fairly certain that the universe is, in fact, finite in diameter but without any boundaries.

Once we thought that time could not have a beginning or an end, after all what would that even mean? From relativity again we learn that in all likelihood time is finite in a similar manner to space.

Once we thought it was trivial that a thing is either here or not, but quantum mechanics tossed that idea in the trash. When not being observed, a thing can be in a superposition of "here" and "not here" - not merely that we don't know, but that neither intuitive possibility captures the fact of the matter.

What is the lesson from all this?

The more obvious a proposition is, the more thorough you must be in proving its validity - never accept "how else could it be?" as an argument.
If presented with a list of possibilities, always question the exhaustiveness of that list.