Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Consciousness in animals

(August 21)
Zack tells a story that grabbed me:
Hello Jeanette,
Highland cattle evolved naturally in the rugged highlands of Scotland, with minimal interference from humans affecting the breed. I grew up with Holstein and Hereford cattle and think the Highland cattle are more intelligent and more intuitive. They seem to sense things.

I've allowed my Highland cattle to live in a herd, not separating the calves from their mothers and allowing the mothers to wean them in their natural cycle. I don't castrate the young males, and I cull the young bulls, selling them as grass-fed beef.

Cattle are a "herd" species. There's an alpha female who watches over the herd.
I've observed interesting behavior, such as a bull licking and grooming his young calves (1 to 4 months); the distress sounds of a calf when it feels threatened and all the cows rush to its rescue; the courtship (an hour or so) between a bull and cow at breeding time; how young calves frolic and play together; how bulls, (when they're not competing for dominance when a cow is in heat) will groom each other; how the animals retain some family ties—offspring of one cow will stay together when eating at a haypile. I mention these things as evidence that these animals bond as a herd.

I have my animals killed on my farm, to avoid the trauma to the animal of having him transported to a slaughter house. My neighbor is a licensed meat processor, and has his meat shop a couple hundred feet from my pasture property line. He can come on my farm, kill the animal and transport it to his shop where he processes it.

The last time this happened, the young bull was shot and immediately bled by having his throat cut. The other cattle ran away. After a skid-loader removed the carcass, the cattle returned to the kill site and formed a circle around the area where his blood soaked the ground. Some had their heads down, some raised their heads. They made noises I had never heard them make before, noises full of sorrow. A friend who was helping me fix fences said it was "freaky.”

I can't help but believe that these animals had bonded with each other and, because of this bond, mourned the death of one of their members.
Who can doubt it? Later he told me another story. He had two dogs who were great buddies together. One died and his living buddy grieved in obvious ways. He wanted to sleep in the house instead of his usual place outside. During the night—every hour—he laid his head on Zack’s bed and mournfully whimpered and whined until Zack woke up and comforted him.

Seeing emotional and, yes, spiritual life in animals expands ME spiritually. I see it as evidence that animals have consciousness much greater than religious teaching accorded them decades ago. We were told that humans (books said “man”) were the only ones who can laugh, play, communicate, and feel. It’s nonsense, of course.

The spiritual master in Seth Speaks tells us that rocks and stones and mountains and earth form an interlocking psychic web of minute consciousnesses that we cannot perceive. Spiritual reality—consciousness—underlies and motivates and impels all reality. It actually creates all reality. The Creator is Consciousness.

Going off on a side-road, the impulse that led people to imagine animals as utterly different and inferior also drives anti-Muslim rhetoric now dominating American media. Deplorably, we try to feel good about ourselves by feeling superior to THE OTHER and we find ways to suspect, fear, and hate others.

September 8.
Yesterday MPR’s Midmorning presented a fascinating study of language and intelligence in bonobos, the apes with societies most like humans, even including political conflicts. Kerri Miller interviewed the author of the novel, The Ape House, along with a primatologist who works with bonobos at Great Ape Trust, an Iowa research center. There scientists are studying how apes acquire and understand language.

The two guests said the ape named Kanzi stands out—“He’s a rock star and he knows it.” He’s the first of his species to acquire language as children do, by being exposed to it. He’s also the first to demonstrate competence in understanding spoken English and in producing novel sentences that go far beyond human prompts for specific answers. Kanzi even seems capable of deception or trickery

I was stirred by the information on Kanzi’s self-awareness. He wants people to recognize his stardom; he swaggers; he has a big ego; and he knows when he’s being filmed or photographed. Working with a photographer for Time magazine, he posed as directed.

Mid-morning, as MPR fans know, invites listeners to ask questions. I asked them to comment on my observation that this enters the field of spirituality if we understand spiritual reality to be consciousness or mind or ideas—thinking. I even suggested we could use the word “soul” for apes, although it would offend some Christian fundamentalists. Both scientist and author agreed with everything I’d said and elaborated on it.

Their whole captivating conversation is HERE. It provides commentary on and expansion of Zack’s amazing story about his grieving Highland cattle, which also provokes re-examination of our former assumptions. Responding to that post, my writer friend Marilyn emailed:
When my friend went through her divorce, her husband left her unexpectedly one day. My friend was distraught, cried daily, felt alone and incomplete. Her husband took along one of the family dogs. The other dog, the older one, stayed with my friend. Two days after he left, my friend's dog began to have seizures. This continued for about a month.

The vet didn't find anything wrong with the dog but suggested putting her down as she was quite old. Then my friend said that, as she healed, the dog stopped having seizures. The dog, she feels, went through the separation and divorce with her. She, too, missed the husband—and the other dog. They had been companions for five years. The "old" dog lived another 18 months. Animals do have feelings and personalities.
It seems clear the grieving dog was responding to her master's grief as much as missing her companion. This suggests compassion and a high degree of consciousness.

NOTA BENE: I do not say animals HAVE souls, although I have used that phrase in emails. We humans don’t have souls; they’re not separate baggage. Our souls are who we are, our essential identity. All outer reality expresses inner reality. Consciousness, the spiritual reality behind/underneath physical reality, directs everything. Hmm. I myself am still absorbing this.

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