The Spirituality of Animals
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The Spirituality of Animals
Comments by Barry Muhl - 10 Jan 2007

Hey there. I have some comments on the "Spirituality of Animals" article. In general I agree with the spirit of the posting, but some parts don't ring true with me.

Gorillas and Chimps have also been observed in captivity and in the wild to practice deception, and what we consider "cruelty" is found in a number of predatory species, including those most closely related to us.

"Now, if an animal’s mate dies, or its young are eaten by a predator, or if it loses a limb, it responds precisely in a way which probably about one billion spiritual seekers world-wide aspire to(!) When was the last time you saw an animal beating itself up over a mistake, blame others for its own misfortunes, commit suicide or for that matter, when was the last time your cat become addicted to rare Peruvian cat grass because of an inferiority complex?"

Animals are just as subject to neurosis and psychosis as we are. Especially pets and other domesticated animals, who due to their human settings tend to lack some of the "natural support" mechanisms that might otherwise see them through. I had one male cat whose frustrations at no longer being allowed outside resulted in him licking the fur clean off one of his wrists in a nice little armband pattern. It's well-known that there are dogs who destroy household furnishings when their owners are absent.

I also always take issue with expressions such as "more evolved" which are, in a truly evolutionary context, entirely meaningless. "More evolved" is a somewhat fallacious way of referring to what would be better termed "better adapted to a specific environment". Some concerns, such as spirituality and intelligence, aren't particularly niche-oriented, and therefore don't quantify well on that scale.

"Physically – this is the easiest to quantify. Even the fastest man in the world is slow compared to most animals. Comparatively, humans are neither very strong nor particularly good climbers, swimmers etc."

That's kind of a fallacy, IMO. Humans are primitive, like most primates, and this means we lack specializations to specific environments. Nonetheless we're much better swimmers and runners than many mammals, including most of our nearest kin. Recent evolutionary theory posits that the ape-to-human shift is in general outline the story of one higher primate's adaptation to long-range running. Pound for pound, humans are capable of outrunning almost all other mammals except for a select few which are highly specialized for running. (And I'm not talking about speed per se, but mostly endurance, or at least a compromise between speed and endurance; lots of cats run very fast, but not for very long.) We're better climbers than most mammals too, and we swim better than any other ape. It's our very primitivity that gives us the ability to partake of so many niches, albeit none with the tightly-coupled nature of some highly-specialized animals.

"Emotionally – as shown in the above example an acute observation of animal behaviour (anyone can do this) shows that animals have their emotions under far better control than most humans."

I think that's a prejudice on your part, actually. I've seen ordinary domestic dogs and cats go on temper tantrums that were quite astounding in intensity. Cats in particular can hold a grudge and lash out for some time after the actual offense. A recent documentary on a young leopard in Africa depicted her mother as essentially losing it after the youngster's failure to capture a warthog resulted in them both having to go hungry.

"But all this supposed cruel and bloodthirsty behaviour, when not distorted by our superstitions, serves a very good purpose in the scheme of life and, upon closer examination, is not cruel at all."

That's a true statement. Unfortunately many people don't realize it also applies to humanity. It's easy to decry our tendency toward violence and deception, but they're part of our nature, and IMO not something that we have much call to attach value judgements to.

One study that I wish I could dig up quickly showed, back in the mid-90s, that animals, at least domestic pets, appear to have some sort of psychic link with their owners. The study demonstrated that animals left alone in their owner's home would generally begin to prepare for their owners' return from work, or wherever, about the time the owner left on the return trip--no matter what time of day that trip began, or how that time deviated from the norm. In other words, there was little correlation between the behavior and the expected time of return, and a strong correlation between the behavior and the actual time of return.

I think this speaks to the spiritual capacity of humans as well as other animals.

By and large, it's a good article.

Keep up the good work!

Berry Muhl

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