If you dissect a duck, where do you find its quack? What a query, why even ask that? Nevertheless, the bit about the duck and its quack arose somewhere amidst the fascinating weeds of the AU course The Business of Emotions. Years later, that line surfaces now and then when I ponder matters epistemic: how we know what we know and how we choose to approach a topic. So much of common sense hinges on faith that physical reality can explain reality as a whole, and yet it’s our minds, our quacks if you will, that truly characterize our being as humans.
With enough critical thinking even the time-honoured duck test, where if something waddles and quacks like a duck then that’s gotta be what it is, falls into a state of dissolution, if not disrepute. Common sense hinges on social context more than one might think; for instance, I once owned a lovely family of Muscovy ducks who, instead of quacking, make a rasping sort of sound – the better to avoid attracting a puma’s attention in their homeland of Belize. But even a duck proper, so to speak, resists simple understanding. No dissection uncovers the process by which a duck makes its classic noise, for instance. It’s like how no brain surgeon can address our sense of self-esteem. Metaphysical reality is a thing immeasurable by sensory methods or even the wittiest of AI chatbots.
All the causative organs in the tissues of a duck’s birdie larynx can’t quite account for the cacophony they can create. Try quacking for yourself, the combination of events necessary is quixotic to say the least. (No really, give yourself a moment to emit a good quack!)
Anyway, even in the playtime of life, no list of goals and principles can summarize what makes each of us who we are. Crucially, we can incorrectly think we know something because it seems self-evident. And, as the old saying goes, an unexamined life is not worth living. Thinking creatively begins, then, with remembering that knowledge as we know it begins and ends in the deepest recesses of our minds. Pondering and reflecting isn’t only the outcome of evidence, it’s what gets us on a path of inquiry in the first place. While asking where-from a quack sound emanates we may as well be wondering where is the you that makes you the unique student you are? Framing our thoughts are the assumptions about what matters and how to address it.
In the philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn stated that the best breakthroughs stem from a particularly oppositional approach. These thinkers who question methods and ideas, no matter how prevalent and common they seem, lead to cultural revolutions in how science and knowledge are done. To Kuhn these people are of a type “little committed by prior practice to the traditional rules of normal science, and are particularly likely to see that those rules no longer define a playable game and to conceive another set that can replace them” (Khun, 2023).To them the question may not be whether a duck is present but whether a duck is what we ought to focus on in that moment, no matter how much quacking it does. Maybe it’s a duckstraction!
But let’s quacktrack a bit.
Any object or idea can lead us to magical places if we alter our perspective. A dalliance with a duck, or specifically the idea of a duck, might reveal the charm of thinking in new ways. Ineffably charismatic with its phonetic certainty and cadence, the quacking of a duck normally carries lighthearted implications. As that quack echoes through the caverns of our mental realm it can remind us to lighten up about whatever realities are impinging on our life realms.
Here, once again, prevailing wisdom states that a duck’s quack does not carry an echo. Spooooky! Only when researchers took the time to studiously amplify a quack over a cliff was it proven that the “sound produced is rather sinister” (Radford, 2023) and indeed does echo. Clearly, testing any hypothesis can yield a whole flock of new beliefs.