Let’s face it: Africa can be hot and resources such as water scarce. Animals are going to utilize any advantage they have to stay alive. Flying elephants possess an advantage over lions and tigers and other African wildlife in that they can span great distances over relatively short periods of time, taking them to new sources of food and water with less competition than they would receive further south. Which of course begs the question: what type of migratory patterns can we be expected to see?
Current research has yielded some very interesting results, namely that flying elephants, or Loxodonta Africana volatilis, is quite the traveller. Originating in the great plains of Africa, L.A. volatilis has been spotted by locals as far north as Turkey and as far west as the east coast of South America, where it is said to be found enjoying local flora and fauna and found bathing in local lakes and rivers. However, what we don’t quite understand is what drives L.A. volatilis west or north. Is it based on pack affiliation, possibly driven by local predators, or is it purely instinctive?
In order to answer questions surrounding migration patterns, it has been suggested that individual animals be tracked by way of GPS devices or other types of technology, but the concern is that the elephants would somehow interfere with the devices, rendering them useless. Locals could also be asked to identify various members, but to date there has not been a consistent description which would allow researchers to accurately identify specific members of the groups. Since these elephants fly, footprints are not possible, so traditional tracking methods will also fail. To date, any attempt to actually observe migratory patterns of L.A. volatilis have failed, resulting in long debates as to how these magnificent creatures actually live and behave, and more often than not resulting in massive disagreements over their migratory patterns, some arguing for northern migration and others for westward movements, while some arguing for both and others for none. Perhaps this elusive creature will simply remain elusive?
So, if you’re actually still reading this, it means one of a few things. Either you’re really, really interested in knowing what I have to say, or you’re really interested in knowing whether or not we have a resolution to this scientific endeavor, or you’re insane. In any case, thanks for sticking with it.
In the above little craziness, one thing never really came up: how do we know that flying elephants exist, let alone what their migratory patterns may be. The point being, of course, that we’ve made an ontological assumption without supporting evidence: we’ve claimed, albeit somewhat implicitly, that flying elephants exist; further, based upon this ontological assumption, we’ve opted to discuss ways to examine the migratory patterns of a flying elephant. Ontology argues what exists and what does not exist, and further argues how we can categorize these extant entities. Ontological arguments, in some vain, can argue that if a noun exists, what it describes also exists. Beware those pixies!
Epistemology, or how we know what we know, has not been established; how do we know there are flying elephants? How is this knowledge obtained, how do we know it is true? We’ve not handled the very basic question as to the existence of flying elephants, so why would we be discussing how they migrate?
This is one of those times when we’ve made false assumptions; religion does this constantly with Yahweh or Allah or Vishnu as their flying elephant. Why discuss how your god of choice helps you, saves you, wants you to live, etc, without first establishing that the deity even exists? It’s pointless, it’s arguing on unproven assumptions; your ontological position is flawed.
I recently had a similar issue at work whereby we were discussing ways to improve our program; the problem is that we’ve assumed that we know our users, which hasn’t been demonstrated…at all. So why should we work on improving the program for the users when we haven’t demonstrated that we understand them? Our flying elephant is our understanding of our users; we’ve not demonstrated either one of them, so why discuss?
The scientific method relies on empiricism, or the gathering and measuring of evidence; this is the epistemology, or rather this is how we know what we know: because we have evidence. We only make one real assumption, that we CAN obtain/measure evidence. It works pretty well actually.
So for us at work, the solution is simply to ask our users some questions so that we can better understand them. Surveys done properly can yield a lot of information, from which one could infer ways to improve our program.
But instead, we’d rather fight about whether are elephents fly west or north and simply assume that they actually exist.