my own cover page comment + following article excerpts
do give this a look – all saying where we sure live too
Sam Mowe’s interview with Carl Safina on his new book
Beyond Words: What Animals Think & Feel
lead article in
Sy Safransky’s Sun Magazine, August 2016
Signs of Intelligent Life
The idea persists: other living creatures are motivated solely by instinct not thoughts and feelings. You have to deeply deny the evidence to conclude that humans alone are conscious, feeling beings.
Do animals possess consciousness ? Many do. Bear in mind that the category “animals” includes everything from sponges to killer whales. I doubt that sponges are conscious, and I’m not sure about clams either, or jellyfish. We have a skeleton that is almost identical to that of our immediate mammal ancestors. Just because ours is slightly different, we wouldn’t say that we have a skeleton and primates don’t. That would be absurd. It’s the same with consciousness. A lot of philosophers, however, when they define consciousness, think only of human beings.
French philosopher René Descartes, considered the father of modern Western philosophy, believed the mind does not arise from matter but is an immaterial essence separate from the body -a soul. In his view, other animals don’t have souls, which makes it’s all right to do whatever we like to them.
We now understand that all creatures are related by evolution. We are one family. We have learned that an octopus’s ability to use tools is on par with an ape’s; that some birds can think through several steps of problem solving, even though their brains seem tiny relative to those of apes and humans. It has taken forty years for science to recognize the social relationships within groups of elephants or wolves or whales.
The differences between humans’ consciousness and that of other animals ? There are key similarities, and what differences exist are of degree, not of kind. Many animals have the same five senses, although some may have additional senses that we lack. Some migratory animals sense the magnetic field of the earth. And some animal senses are more highly developed than ours. Elephants and humans can both smell, but an elephant’s sense of smell is much more acute. Birds’ eyesight is much better than ours. Dogs’ hearing is much more sensitive. But we can all hear. We can all see. We can all smell. So it’s difference of degree rather than of kind.
( Duck waddling towards me after therapy exercise this morning seemed to say hello in his close by looks, even tho no food was offered. Sure seemed to answer my hello loud & clear. Hit me right then & there: so connected are we to these so-called advanced words of ours, probably we’re losing miles of hearing, smelling, seeing. Hell, how much is basic sensitivity ever worth in advanced human culture, so-called ? Yes, these cousins of ours no doubt connect to us this much more than do we to them. -me )
( ok, but Safina goes on . . . ) Our basic mental and emotional experiences, such as the fear response, might be similar to those of other animals, but humans are capable of more elaborate thoughts. Our language allows us to share those thoughts among individuals and across generations.
We have technological superiority over other animals, but much of that is rather recent development. For a long time the most complicated technology in human culture was a bow & arrow. When you look at cave paintings in Europe, you realize that there were human minds at work all those years ago, using very limited technology. So it’s not this recent technological explosion that makes us human.
And yes, there are other species that use language to communicate. Some dolphins seem to be able to convey complicated information to one another through an unknown method. You can give trained dolphins in captivity a command of “ Do something you’ve never been taught to do ”, and they will execute some intricate jump or spin or flip completely in sync with one another. No one understands how they’re sharing that idea. Also, until the last few decades, elephants’ ability to communicate with each other over distances of several miles seemed to be mental telepathy. We didn’t understand that their low frequency vocalizations could travel through the ground and be sensed through another elephant’s feet.
Language is more developed in human beings. But some animals can navigate for thousands of miles underwater and return to the river of their birth, or can fly ten thousand miles and return to a nest on an island that’s half a mile wide amid millions of square miles of ocean. That’s vastly superior to what we can do.
So then is any species not superior to another ? Superior in what way ? I wouldn’t say that humans are better than elephants, for example, or vice versa. But elephants do take a lot less of the world. They experience the world in a more peaceful way. In the twentieth century civilized people killed about 150 million other civilized people. That’s not a huge advance over living like an elephant.
One way to see the folly in ranking species is to start by trying to rank groups of humans. Are the rich better than the poor ? Are the literate better than the illiterate ? Are those of us in Western civilization better than uncontacted tribes in the Amazon ? When you ask these questions, you realize that it’s just not appropriate to place living creatures in a hierarchy. Instead we should ask how we can all live together. Formally registered aspirations & principles of life, liberty, happiness, equality & so on should apply more generally, not just how human beings should try to treat other humans, but how we should try to treat all species. Consider other species’ treatment of us; most other species are far ahead of humans in respect to these principles. We treat them far worse than they treat us.
Humans are the animal who embodies the most extremes. We can give ourselves credit for being the most technologically talented, the most compassionate, and the most creative, but we also must own that we’re the most destructive, the cruelest, and the most violent. We are all those things simultaneously. We’re the only creature capable of creating global problems, but there is little evidence that we have the collective will to solve the global problems that we create. We continue to fight and kill one another. And what do we fight and kill one another over ? Small differences – for being different races, for belonging to different religions, for belonging to different denominations.
The tendency among humans is for the strong to obliterate the weak. Humans have done this with weaker groups of humans ( eg, European colonialism ). Many human groups have hunted animals to extinction. Each year we kill for food billions of animals we raise as prisoners and whose lives are often more terrible than their even deaths. If you brutalize animals you are probably hardhearted toward humans too.
In no way are humans in the center of the story of life on earth. We’ve improved our own lot, but for many other species we’re a negative presence. Large animals in particular are at their lowest population levels in history because of our incredible destructiveness. We have a lot of work to do if we don’t want to bankrupt the planet and rob future generations, human and otherwise. Part of accomplishing this is having the humility to see that this is not our planet to destroy. The idea that the earth was created just for us engenders a dangerous sense of entitlement. We need to acknowledge the damage we are doing. Other species manage to exist for millions of years without causing mass extinctions.
The best strategy to minimize such harm would be to leave them enough room. After all, they were doing quite well here without us. Don’t get me wrong; I like civilization. But there are far too many of us. The planet’s just not big enough for this many people – and more – to all have what they want. And the best way of easing the population problem is to correct the biggest social injustice in the world – how women are treated. Countries with flat or declining population rates are those where women also have access to education, financial stability, and family planning technology.
In my lifetime, as the human population has doubled, African lion populations have declined by 75 percent. For large animals – and most birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes – population levels are at their lowest in millions of years because of habitat destruction and hunting. Many species are missing from huge swaths of their former range, which has been transformed by human settlement. Elephants have been pushed out of about 90 percent of their African range and are probably at 1 percent of their Roman-era population.
What feels most religious to me now is the sense of being connected to the rest of the world. We are all part of the family of life. We are able to sense tremendous beauty and to feel tremendous love. We can experience every moment as miraculous. That is, in fact, how I often feel. The religious feeling is the sense of being connected to something larger, more powerful, and mysterious in the world and beyond, something from the deep past that will continue into the far future. I get that from the living world.