Animals: silent or screaming?

7 thoughts on “Animals: silent or screaming?”

  1. Dear Gerry,

    I don’t know who might have doubted animal consciousness at some point; I certainly haven’t but I also don’t think that is the point. The point at issue surely isn’t whether the animals are conscious but rather conscious of being so, in other words, self-aware. This seems to me to be closer to whatever it may be that separates US from THEM. Also, there seemed to be some blurred borderline between consciousness and rationality in there.

    In among the Roman references, I was surprised to see — in this context at least — that no mention was made of the Romans’ assumption of animal consciosuness, after a fashion traceable to the very term ‘animal’: it comes from ‘anima’ or ‘soul’ so, regardless of our personal spiritual/religious positioning, the Romans thought the animals were possessed of a soul and, in all likelihood, consciousness.

    I think you put your finger on the nub of it all when you underline that no charlie actually knows what consciousness is, to my mind, because any given individual has only his own consciousness to examine the matter: there would have to be some sort of ‘flash-access’ to a meta-consciousness to provide any description of what passes for ‘consciousnss’.

    I was surprised to see in the clip some super-heavies too who attributed ‘similar feelings’ to animals as would be attributed to humans under certain stimuli: how could they possibly claim validity for ‘similar’.

    I do remember my own ‘odd feelings’ when watching a TV programme years ago, made by an academic bird specialist who was researching swans: he made a swan-body headpiece with an inbuilt camera and small breating unit and swam underwater gently in among a flock of swans on a river, expressly to get closer observations than usual but also to ‘get into the swan world’. It was a tour de force: you (I anyway) could actually sense as he entered and dallied in the group how gradually, your ‘own’ senses were being encroached upon by the sense of ‘what it must be like to be a swan’, or at least ‘something else’. All tripe of course inasfar as you have only your own consciousness to detect an alien one: the only conclusion you can draw is that it is different in a way inaccessible to words but nevertheless exciting stuff.

    Keep Up The Good Work


    1. Thanks, John; several interesting points there. I liked your formulation ‘the point at issue surely isn’t whether the animals are conscious but rather conscious of being so’: that helps in tackling the thorny question of what consciousness actually is. It does seem as though we’ve come round in a huge circle – from ancient times when humans sensed that animals had a parallel, if not equal, state of consciousness, to the present with scientists asserting that animals share ‘similar feelings’ with humans. As you suggest, how can they know? In ancient times it was that unknowability of animals that humans respected.

  2. You will be familiar with this Gerry, perhaps, but its worth the link back to John Grays review of Mark Rowlands book ‘The Philosopher and the Wolf’ and its frankly terrifying conclusions as to our own nature and consciousness and that of animals consciousness (at least Brenins) and how we underestimate the forces that operate within them, both singularly and in their interconnection with each other and within the web of life. .

    Also, perhaps a familiar story and one that David Attenborough says set him off on his path as a young boy. Its a sad story, but one from which a man actually learned that the consciousness of animals, whether or not it exists or in what form, is one worth preserving and how he came down from his arrogant position to treasure that which he did not fully understand, but would endeavor to protect, regardless.

    Last year I had the good fortune to come into contact with a couple of wolves in the flesh at a wolf sanctuary on the Welsh Border. One, the male, Kgosi, 120 pounds of him, from which I was thankfully 2 feet the other side of a fence from him as he stalked up and down. His mate, Madadh, on two occasions I had the opportunity of meeting and feeding face to face, until Tony the owner sensed she had had enough of humans and was let loose. Was there evidence of a consciousness at work? I have no idea, Madadh did not say, though I suspect her indifference to me said it all.

    Perhaps we had better just assume that the creatures we share our existence with on this planet do indeed bear a soul and a conscience, otherwise history has already bore witness to what happens when we withdraw those allowances, which we may fully never understand and then a ‘thou’ becomes all to easily an ‘it’ and we excuse ourselves of our divinity and lose more and more species. If God is to exist at all, surely he lies in that which is ‘unavailable to the mortal man’. The mystery.

    New research has shown that our own human hearts appear to have 10 000 neurons which connect to the brain and indeed the brain and heart work together in a kind of marriage, but that the heart has a capacity to somehow be conscious of its environment and react accordingly. That ‘gut feeling’ is not to be ignored, but yet that which it ‘feels’ we cannot put it into words, but further we act on it rather than in a rational manner. Perhaps investigations will see that animals too have similar but more complex systems than we know. Beautiful and sad conclusion to this programme on YouTube which illustrates a language not yet understood rationally, but which poets, mystics and shamans wrote about for hundreds of years.

    The American writer and broadcaster Bill Moyers received the Global Environment Citizen Award from the Harvard Medical School, Centre for Health and the Global Environment in December 2004. Meryl Streep, a member of the Center Board, presented the award in recognition of Moyers’ reporting on the environment.

    In his acceptance speech, Moyers said:

    ‘We do know what we are doing. We are stealing [our children’s] future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world. And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don’t care? …Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?… What has happened to our moral imagination?

    On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: “How do you see the world?”
    And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: “I see it feelingly.”
    I see it feelingly.

    Why don’t we feel the world enough to save it—for our kin to come? We must match the science of human health to the science of the heart, the capacity to see and feel and then to act as if the future depended on us. Believe me, it does.’

    Maybe as some suggest ‘consciousness’ comes about when we each discover language and not before. We cannot possibly know the language of animals, we may get insights here and there and even manage a communication across the divide between our species, just as they could never understand Stephen Kings theory that reading his book is telepathy.

    In Stephen Kings book ‘On Writing’, which is part memoir, part master class, about half way in, he heads a chapter, ‘What writing is’ and he describes a table covered with a red cloth and on it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, (that’s the rabbits, not the carrots) clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.
    Do you see it?
    Well there you go, now we’re doing it. I’ve just transmitted that picture, however odd it may be, from me to you. Wherever and whenever you are, either the other side of the world lounging on a beach or sitting in the smallest room in the house in the same street as me and whether you are reading this five hours or five years from when my fingers hit the keys, you have received my thoughts and transported them into your own mind and you now understand what I understand and you see what I see. As King says, your picture may vary somewhat from mine, but essentially you have it.
    It is nothing less than telepathy. As King says, “It’s no mythy-mountain shit; (it’s) real telepathy. I’m not going to belabour the point, but before we go any further you have to understand that I’m not trying to be cute; there is a point to be made.”

    1. A great deal to absorb here, Les. Thanks for reminding me of ‘The Philosopher and the Wolf’. I only wrote about it a year ago, but already the drift of passing time had obscured it from view. John Gray’s review, apart from being perceptive, is interesting because it clearly prefigures ideas he develops in The Silence of Animals. As I watched the heart vs mind documentary I realised that I had seen that, too, some time ago. On one level it’s a beautiful film about one man’s search for meaning after experiencing pain and loss. I must admit, though, I found the examination of the science of the heart made me even more confused about not just the heart//brain relationship, but the brain/mind one, too. In the end, I thought, the presenter is still talking about the heart in the metaphorical sense that poets do, and maybe (I don’t know) placing too much weight on the significance of the science. But, relevant to this post, is his remark towards the end that what really distinguishes us a species is our ability to ‘feel someone else’s pain and feel compassion for the other’. This might be regarded as a key element of what we call consciousness. But I gather that there have been several experiments which suggest that other animal species possess this ability, too.

  3. Years ago I inherited some animals from my partner’s grandmother. They included 2 Chinese geese (old partners), a previously wild duck, an old sheep(ewe) and some chickens.

    One day the old gander stood against the fence under the persimmon tree and began to call out with long, loud sounds. All the animals gathered around him and just stood watching him. Not long after he died and none of the animals (with the exception of the chickens) ate for three days. I have always remembered this, as he was the oldest one of them all, and it seemed to me that they understood his imminent death and mourned his passing.

    It reinforced to me my belief in universal consciousness, and in animal consciousness and communication between different species. He was the oldest and seemingly the most revered. I wish I could have understood the message he was conveying. Animals are capable of showing as much compassion as human in my opinion and frequently conduct themselves with more dignity.

    1. Thanks, Kate, for reading and re-blogging. That is a moving and lovely story; I’ve heard others like it from time to time. See also the end of my reply to Les, above.

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