Non-human animals
Posted: 28 April 2005 06:15 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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The subject of non-human animals has entered several threads in this forum lately.  Recently, Dave (tyhts) suggested a discussion of animal communication theory in this science forum.  I originally dismissed this idea because I'm neither a scientist nor an animal behaviorist.  I also try to post thoughts/ideas that are relevant to this forum, and didn't feel animal behavior was pertinent to the "End of Faith". Now, I have reconsidered that viewpoint. 

I believe many questions of animal intelligence, communication, morality, even intuition and similar attributes are somewhat reflected in the science vs faith issues.  Charles Darwin's studies of animals led us to our exploration of the evolution of mankind.  Today, the issues of evolution vs religion center almost solely around the human animal.  Creationists seldom argue the evolutionary path of our co-inhabitors of the planet; it is usually a non-issue and easily dismissed as insignificant compared to the heresy of the human animal.  Obviously, they simply cannot and will not comprehend the obvious fact that man is an animal.  Their dogmatic view prevents millions of people from using their innate abilities to observe, think, and appreciate the true complexity of our biological environment.  I believe a good percentage of moderate christians or the "spiritual but not religious" group believe in the existence of a god because of their observance and appreciation of nature.  Because of their idea that there must be a "creator", they choose to believe in a christian god as a default belief system.  But this category of believers don't necessarily believe in the creation myth or even necessarily in the Bible.  They believe simply as a result of the religious conditioning of the society they live in.  These non-fundamental believers are a source of change in some of the religious tone of this country.  We can contribute to that change by using any educational means available to debunk the ideology of the creation myth.  Toward this end, perhaps all of us need to reassess our thinking concerning biological diversity. 

It is my opinion that the christian dogma of creation stating that god created animals under the dominion of man has overly narrowed our thinking for a few thousand years.  Even those of us who reject creationism still tend to subconsciously buy into the idea of superior man and the servitude of animals.  Why should we?  Many, if not all, pre-christian and heathen cultures had a great respect for animals as equal or even superior inhabitants of the earth.  Most ancient cultures worshipped different animals as dieties.  Those cultures had a more primal relationship with nature and it's inhabitants than we do today.  Perhaps they had an understanding and acceptance that we have been deprived of through our own primative mythology of superiority and dominion of the earth. 

When I read comments concerning animals, I tend to be a little puzzled that most people seem to consider ideas of animal cognizance as novel, unusual, or extraordinary.  They always seem to question the possibilities, and are both intrigued and confused at the possible implications.  Why should we consider non-human animals to be so different from human ones?  After all, if we accept the theory of evolution, we must realize that we are created from the same substance.  If we have the same origin, then the building blocks of our brains are the same material aren't they?  Evolution, and particularly our development of language, has afforded our brains the opportunity to develop the complexity we now accept as human.  That development we certainly consider superior, but is it basically different, except in complexity?  And another point… considering the fact that non-human animals have had a longer evolutionary history, what abilities might they have achieved that we human animals have not?  I'm thinking of those areas of natural instinct and greater sensory abilities, as well as scientific conjecture of the possibility of animal telepathy.  While lacking in some of our brain abilities, they might just excel us in others.  That is certainly the case with many of their superior abilities of sight, smell, hearing, etc.  Until science has definitive answers, we shouldn't judge animal cognizant abilities by human standards.

Most pet owners are very aware of animal intelligence, though I believe most still have a tendency to under rate the extent of their abilities.  If we expect animals to be dumb, or just cute-smart, we give them little opportunity to prove otherwise.  Animal behaviorists who invest time and training with animals continue to achieve remarkable results.  In the interest of brevity, I won't comment on those references in this post. 

Here is one reference posted by Dragon in another thread that I thought especially interesting:
"Nonhuman Animals and the Moral Sense"
http://www.mprsnd.org/essays/so001.htm

I think it's time we gave our non-human animal counterparts a little more consideration and respect.  What do you think?

Maggie

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Posted: 30 April 2005 12:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I think it’s time we gave our non-human animal counterparts a little more consideration and respect.  What do you think?

Agreed. Here’s a bit more on chimps and their intelligence.

http://www.janegoodall.org/chimp_central/

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Posted: 30 April 2005 05:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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We have come a long way in overthrowing the idea that humans are superior to other animals and that we were “given dominion over them,” but we still have a very long way to go before we even attempt to consider other creatures as our equals (or superiors).  We tend to imagine that becasue we have mathematics and science (and god??) that we have achieved something better or superior, but that kind of thinking is as much in error as was Hitler’s idea that the Aryans were superior - it’s nonsense. 

A duck, for example, is perfectly suited to its environment without needing mathematics or science or a deity. What need would it have of those sorts of concepts when it has really got all the intelligence it needs to live to perfection the kind of life it requires (until some person shoots it down or drains its swamp - or nature does its bit to shorten its existence). Now chimps and other primates have fairly complex languages and they may even have some rudimentary basics in math and science.  Dolphins and whales also have very complex languages, but we don’t know what they are saying.  Why would a dolphin need calculus or the periodic table?  They are physically suited to their environment in a much more superior way than humans are to theirs - they don’t need those other concepts in order to thrive, so what are they saying to one another?  HUman beings require the science and the math in order to survive and yet look at how incompetent we are in our relationships with the earth and with other creatures.  We are really a pathetic lot when compared to the perfection (in evolutionary terms) of the dolphin, the chimp, the duck or practically any other being on this planet.

It is extremely self-centered to compare our technologies with the technologies of the hummingbird or the ant and conclude that we are superior.  When we look at the needs of each creature and to what extent they have evolved special abilities to best sustain themselves in that environment we will see quite clearly that on such a scale of measure we humans are very near the bottom of the “superiority” list.  (Perhaps our overwhelming need for religious belief in this stage of our development puts us right smack at the bottom?)

Bob

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Posted: 30 April 2005 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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CanZen, you have made your point very eloquently.  It reminds me of a favorite author, Henry Beston.  Here is his idea very similar to yours:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
- Henry Beston

CanZen said:

(Perhaps our overwhelming need for religious belief in this stage of our development puts us right smack at the bottom?)

Good point, Bob.  Our religious beliefs seem to demand an ignorance and obedience that would be unacceptable in any other part of civilized life.  It seems logical that these beliefs disconnect us as much as anything else from the natural world in which we live.

As our ability for self sustainment of both ourselves and our environment becomes more and more critical, isn’t it imperative that we not dismiss all those naturally evolved technologies around us?  There is simply too much to learn of abilities superior to our own, to allow us the arrogance of superiority based on mythological beliefs. 

Thanks much for your thoughts.

Maggie

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Posted: 30 April 2005 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Fencesitter,

Thanks for the Jane Goodall link.  I especially enjoyed the observations of Bill Wallauer, Gombe videographer, on the rain dances and waterfall displays.  That would be an interesting and contemplative way to spend a few hours.

For anyone who may not have checked that link, I would like to share Jane Goodall’s thought:

How should we relate to beings who look into mirrors and see themselves as individuals, who mourn companions and may die of grief, who have a consciousness of ‘self?’ Don’t they deserve to be treated with the same sort of consideration we accord to other highly sensitive beings: ourselves?- Dr. Jane Goodall

Maggie

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Posted: 30 April 2005 11:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Maggie quoted:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals.

Makes me think that the mysticism Sam refers to in his book might be better understood by observing and studying animal interactions as they seem to naturally ‘go with the flow’ of life rather than try to harness and control the natural world like we do. 

I appreciate Bob’s call for humility and respect when it comes to animals in general and Fencesitter’s reference to the intelligence of chimpanzees. 

Speaking of chimps and as coincidence would have it ...  my sister-in-law built a chimp sanctuary in 1997 as her midlife crisis. ( Fauna Foundation )  She built a mini jail complete with playrooms and an outside fenced-in play area here on the South Shore of Montreal.  She’s made it her life’s work to provide a comfortable and stimulating environment for retired research and entertainment chimps.

I haven’t involved myself in her cause for the simple reason that my kids are my priority.  Besides a visit now and then with my kids for the Roots & Shoots days or to bring our used toys, I don’t get out there much.  I would love to have the time to just go and sit and observe them, but the time just isn’t there right now.  The few times I have gone, I have felt really small in their company.  Their displays of kindness to eachother mean that much more when you’ve witnessed their brute strength.  They are very powerful.

There are scheduled public tours if anybody ever makes it up or over to this neck of the woods ...  Or if you have any questions you’d like me to run by Gloria, just let me know smile

Susan

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Posted: 30 April 2005 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Maggie and Susan, you have both touched on something that might be worth further investigation, namely, that “spirituality” truly comes to life in us when we have a relationship with other earthly creatures.  I think especially when we are in contact with wild animals in their natural habitat, something “religious” happens inside of us.  It’s also true when we meet with creatures in captivity, like the chimps at the Fauna Foundation or the orca at Stanley Park Aquarium.  Something awesome is stirred in our hearts in those moments, and I think we could almost start a new religion based on our respect, understanding and appreciation of the lives of our fellow earth dwellers.

Two years ago a pair of whooping cranes decided to make the field across from my farm their home for a two week layover enroute to Northern Alberta.  I watched them with binoculars from my window many times and even ventured to within a few hundered meters of them to get some photos.  It was totally exhilarating and I was really moved into a better dimension of being while in their presence.  So maybe the true spirituality is not to be found solely through meditation or contemplation, but can be awakened in us when we come to appreciate the beauty, elegance, power and brilliance of all those incredible beings with whom we share this planet.  And wouldn’t it be ironic that the finest religious expereinces would come from our humility in direct contact with the creatures that we once thought we were superior to and that we had engrained our superiority as the very basis of our theistic religious beliefs.

Thanks to you both for clearing a place for a better view of things.

Bob

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Posted: 30 April 2005 06:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Oh, one more thing, this book was suggested in “Other Reading” by tyhts (Dave) and here’s a link to her site. Her new book is called “Animals in Translation.”

  <http//www.grandin.com/inc/animals.in.translation.html>

Bob

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Posted: 01 May 2005 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Rasmussen:

Makes me think that the mysticism Sam refers to in his book might be better understood by observing and studying animal interactions as they seem to naturally ‘go with the flow’ of life rather than try to harness and control the natural world like we do.

Mystics explain that all of us are mystics, but we sense it to varying degrees. There’s a kind of mindlessness in an animal’s actions that allows it to seem to ‘flow’ with the forces of nature.  It seems we can duplicate that only when we forget our sense of self and allow ourselves to be a part of nature rather than in it.

CanZen:

I think we could almost start a new religion based on our respect, understanding and appreciation of the lives of our fellow earth dwellers.

We would not need a new religion, Bob.  This view is found in Native American spirituality as well as ancient Celtic beliefs.  As a matter of fact, I read somewhere that the Celts were the European equivalent of the American Indians.  In another time, perhaps you would have been a Druid or a native Shaman.  Here is a quote I found from a fellow Canadian of yours:
 
If you talk to the animals
they will talk with you
and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them
you will not know them,
and what you do not know
you will fear.
What one fears
one destroys.    -Chief Dan George

Now that we’ve diverted this thread from science to spirituality and poetry, I hope to return to more scientific issues in my next post.  (Which will be when I have a little more time.) 

Maggie

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Posted: 01 May 2005 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Of course you’re correct Peregrine - it would be like a return to an old religion, but certainly a more authentic one.  I’m not sure if we’ve really veered off the science path and into spriituality because oddly enough the sprituality we are “reclaiming” here is really based on science - of the Jane Goodall variety.  The awe she feels and the humility she experiences does not diminish her pursuit of scientific understanding, but underscores it with a true kind of spiritual awareness.  She has certainly managed to inspire the awakening of a beautiful world for many of us.

ps. to Rasmussen - I like your quote at the bottom of your posts - “The Discoverers” is one book I really treasure, however the author’s name is spelled Daniel J. Boorstin (in case someone wanted to google him for more information.)

Bob

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Posted: 08 May 2005 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Canzen wrote:

ps. to Rasmussen - I like your quote at the bottom of your posts - “The Discoverers” is one book I really treasure, however the author’s name is spelled Daniel J. Boorstin (in case someone wanted to google him for more information.)

Thanks for the correction to my tag line, Bob.  To be honest, I found the quote through a google search for one of my events and had no clue where it came from.  The fact that I had his name misspelled and didn’t know it was from a book just goes to prove the whole quote, don’t you think?  More proof that I’m working with a mere ‘illusion of knowledge’ here.  Reminds me of one of university writing courses where the only word I misspelled in a 5,000-word essay was “illiterate” ... 

Now I’m curious about this book “The Discoverers” and will find a copy to read.

Thanks again,
Susan

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