Animals: Tradition - Philosophy


Charles A. Hatfield (with my boy, Quigley)

I dedicate this article to our friend, Linda, and to her best friend, Bo. Bo is no longer with us, but I suspect that the profound love that Linda and her beloved Bo shared in this life will bind their spirits together, always.


It’s a recurring theme in books, movies and at least one television series – a wonderful fantasy frequently enjoyed by dog lovers, involving the silly notion that their beloved pets have souls that somehow find their way into an everlasting heaven. It’s a heartwarming thought, to be sure – after all, what serious dog lover wouldn’t take pleasure in imagining their best friend romping through vast green Elysian meadows bathed in the comforting glow of an everlasting, divine light? Can’t you just see it? Fido dancing about with his celestial canine companions, freed from the dark abyss of death, freed from pain and hunger, freed from all that might harm him, freed to forever roam and explore a doggy-version of heavenly paradise – never to be sad, never to be lonely, to relish always his memories of his life on Earth, to cherish always his thoughts of his time with you, his best friend, forevermore. Ah, what a delightful pipe dream! Too bad it’s not true. It’s not true, right?

We live in the most fascinating of ages, my friend, where advances in technology and science are beginning to open doors into a realm that was once the exclusive province of mysticism, philosophy and religion. New discoveries about the nature of reality and the complexity of the universe are compelling many of our most brilliant scientists to shed their lab coats and to don the mantle of philosophers. Credible scientists, often at the peril of their own reputations, have begun taking serious looks at the age-old questions that have perplexed philosophers and guided the “faithful” throughout history. As you read these words, serious scientific inquiries are being made into every aspect of the supernatural, from near-death experiences, to the possibility of an afterlife, to the existence and even the possible location of heaven. Scientific discovery has made it inevitable that topics once considered to be no more than mere superstition by the intellectual elites of the scientific community would be pushed to the forefront of scientific inquiry. The nexus that has begun to form between empirical science and the matters of spirit now requires the scientific community to examine in earnest what it once considered nothing more than “mumbo-jumbo.” As a result, researchers in virtually every scientific discipline have begun stepping up to take hard looks at what “believers” have been extolling for millennia.

Okay, what does all of this have to do with dogs going to heaven? If we want to seriously address the likelihood of your dog, or any pet for that matter, having an eternal soul that transcends to a plain of existence beyond death, then a logical conclusion can only be drawn after a methodic, objective evaluation of the evidence, pro and con. You may be of the opinion that the ancient notions of “soul” and “afterlife” cannot be substantiated by empirical data and must be accepted or rejected on the basis of faith alone. However, actual evidence, indeed “scientific” evidence, has been coming to light that supports the argument that there might be more to the silly notion of dogs going to heaven than you might suspect. Therefore, I’m asking you to set aside any bias you may have and to maintain an open mind as we explore the possibility that your relationship with your best friend may not end at death. Travel with me, as we first address the evidence for the existence of heaven, itself.

Is there a heaven? A plain of existence where spirits take up residence beyond physical reality? You may be a little surprised to learn that physicists have inadvertently been flirting with the possibility of a realm of existence beyond our reality for over a hundred years. The flirtation began in the early twentieth century when revelations about the way atomic and subatomic particles interact led to the creation of a new branch of physics called quantum mechanics. As physicists who studied quantum mechanics learned more about the laws and principles that govern matter on the subatomic level, the more they realized that those laws and principles were contradictory to the laws of physics that govern the movements of very large objects, such as planets and stars. A search was launched to find an overarching theory that could explain how the laws of quantum mechanics and the laws of general relativity (the movements of stars and planets) could coexist in the same universe. The new theory, nicknamed the theory of everything, was a problem which eluded and frustrated the most brilliant minds in physics until a group of theoretical physicists came up with a concept they termed string theory. Without getting too deeply involved with the theory, suffice it to say that in mathematical terms it perfectly explains how the laws governing the very small and the very large can coexist in the universe. The theory is only important to us, however, because the theory states that in order for the universe to function as it does requires that there be at least eleven dimensions. We know that we exist in only four dimensions, which means the other seven must be somewhere beyond our reality. Where might these other dimensions exist? Ask a physicist and he or she will tell you that they are possibly as close as an atom’s distance away from your nose, in a realm which is all around us, but in a place into which we cannot enter or see. Physicists know that such a realm must be very close at hand because they routinely observe subatomic particles passing out of and back into our reality. If these particles can so quickly pop out of and back into existence, then they must be spending some time in a place other than the here and now, yet somewhere very close. Could this place be heaven? Or at least what we might perceive as heaven?

Ask someone who believes in heaven where they think heaven is physically located and generally the response will be eyes upturned and a finger pointed at the sky. Such a response isn’t surprising since we are typically told from early childhood that God lives “up” in heaven and the devil dwells in the bowels of the Earth “below.” However, while we can’t say definitively that the devil does not dwell in the Earth’s molten core, we have looked very, very deep into the cosmos and we have yet to spot any winged cherubs lounging on billowy clouds. If heaven is indeed somewhere above us in the cosmos, it’s got to be way, way the heck out there! Therefore, when you consider what science has thus far revealed about the likelihood of another world beyond our senses, what would seem more likely to you? A place that we might call heaven, which is physically situated somewhere in deep space and a gazillion light years from Earth, or a place that we might call heaven that exists as a realm invisible to our senses, but situated so close to us as to be staring us right in the face?

Granted, as enticing as newly developing evidence may be, science has still not definitively demonstrated that another reality beyond our own does indeed exist. What if, however, science someday progresses beyond the limits of our current insight and finds the proof that a realm beyond our universe does exist? Would that fact alone support the notion that we (and our pets) have souls that survive death and simply slide through the membrane of our reality into another place?

Probably not. Unless, we can come to fully understand the full nature of that other place, its ultimate structure and purpose, we will likely need independent proof that the soul exists and is capable of surviving death. Again, to that end, physics is giving us some interesting hints. Physics teaches us that the universe is made up of energy in various forms. Many of us were taught in school that the universe was made up of energy and matter. We now know that matter is really nothing more than “congealed” energy - energy that manifests itself in the form of subatomic particles held together by the four known “forces” in the universe (gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force and the strong nuclear force). Without the four known forces holding things together, all matter (including us) would simply fly apart and become pure energy. Okay, I know what you’re thinking…you didn’t start reading these ramblings because you were looking for a physics lesson, so let me cut to the quick: all “information” in the universe, all the data that describes what things are and how things work, is also energy. Therefore, just as physics teaches us that all the energy in the universe is conserved and can never be destroyed, all the information in the universe, which is also a form of energy, can never be lost and will endure always. When you think about it, what is our “soul” but the sum total of information about us that gives us each our unique identity? According to one of the most basic tenets of physics, you and I are essentially information about who we are, a form of information that is energy, and a form of energy that cannot be destroyed. Therefore, has physics proven that our identity, or essence, continues to exist after we die? Moreover, if consciousness equals identity, and if identity is information, and if information is energy, and if energy cannot be destroyed, wouldn’t it stand to reason that any other living creature that is conscious also has an “essence” that somehow survives death? Certainly, dogs are conscious, thoughtful, self-aware creatures, as are all the highly-developed species in this world. Therefore, do we humans and our pets share a common destiny? Do our identities all survive death, simply because we are conscious?

There have been many interesting theories related to the continuation of consciousness (or what believers would term the soul) after death, but perhaps one of the most interesting was contributed through a collaborative effort of two prominent researchers, Sir Roger Penrose, a theoretical physicist, and Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist. Physicists know that the universe is constructed of an infinite amount of interrelated information that exists at the quantum (subatomic) level and that by having access to this information, one can access the entire web of reality. In their research, Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff became highly interested in something called microtubules, which are extremely tiny tubes located in our brains. These tubes are so small (some are no larger than two billionths of a meter in diameter) that they can only be seen with something called an atomic force microscope. Penrose and Hameroff were attracted to these tiny tubes because they are so narrow in diameter that their contents must necessarily be quantum, or subatomic, in scale. This is important because Penrose and Hameroff were looking for the source of human consciousness and needed to explain how our thoughts can cause separate regions in the hemispheres of our brain to light up with electrical activity simultaneously when we have a thought. Science teaches us that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), including electrical impulses traveling through the neurons of our brains. Therefore, for different areas of our brain to light up at precisely the same time during a thought, something other than the basic laws of the universe (as we know them) must be at play. Science has confirmed that information can somehow be transmitted from one quantum object to another quantum object faster than the speed of light. No one knows as of yet how this happens, but this phenomenon has actually been duplicated by scientists over distances greater than a hundred kilometers.

Furthermore, based on their observations, scientists postulate that quantum information can be transmitted instantly between particles over distances that are so vast that they are measured in light years. In other words, information can be shared instantly between subatomic particles over a distance that would require years for light to travel. Knowing this, Penrose and Hameroff concluded that human consciousness is the manifestation of quantum particles in the brain instantaneously passing information back and forth across the space of the brain.

To understand what they’re suggesting, picture some type of “force field” bubbling with information being transmitted instantly in and around the brain, resulting in the creation of conscious thought. Could this activity be the manifestation of the human soul? That possibility occurred to Hameroff, who has suggested that since the universe is composed of quantum information, and since human consciousness also appears to consist of quantum information, then consciousness must be an integral component of the universe and therefore must continue to exist after the physical body dies…or dare I say, gives up the ghost?

Okay, I know your head is spinning, you’re ready to give up trying to understand what I’m trying to tell you, and you’re thinking that a nice nap sounds pretty good about now, but bear with me a little longer. Let’s step away from physics for a moment and consider a topic with which you may be more familiar: psychics. Specifically, psychics who claim to be able to talk to dead people. Sure, you and I know that some, if not all, psychics who claim to channel our dead relatives are frauds, magicians and/or con-artists, but what if at least a few might actually be legitimate? What if you could shuffle three or four self-proclaimed psychics into a laboratory and test their psychic abilities using strict scientific method? Would you believe the results?

In his book, The Afterlife Experiments, Professor Gary Schwartz describes in detail how he and his colleagues at the University of Arizona conducted a series of experiments with five prominent mediums under strict laboratory conditions to determine if they were truly capable of communicating with the dead. An exhaustive series of tests were conducted, including double-blind experiments in which the investigators, subjects and mediums had no knowledge of one another until after the experiments had been completed. On average, the mediums scored between eighty and ninety-five percent accuracy in information provided during the readings, which is an accuracy rate so high as to make it virtually impossible for so much correct information to be provided by chance. In an effort to determine how his mediums were acquiring so much correct information about the test subjects and their dead relatives, Dr. Schwartz went so far as to wire both the mediums and the subjects to EEG machines to determine if somehow the mediums could read the minds of others. This didn’t prove plausible, however, since not only could the researchers find no correlations in the brainwave patterns of “reader” and “readee,” in many cases, the mediums provided information that their subjects were unaware of until the information was later verified after the completion of the readings. The researchers also invited professional skeptics and magicians into the laboratory to observe the experiments, to see if these “experts” could detect any method that the mediums were using to glean information from their subjects that the researchers were somehow missing. After observing several readings, the experts could offer no clue as to how the psychics could do what they were doing. No one could. After completing their extremely rigorous course of scientific inquiry, Professor Schwartz and his colleagues were not prepared to declare definitively that the psychics they tested were indeed talking to the dead, but did conclude that information was being communicated via some form “paranormal” means that would require further study.

I mention The Afterlife Experiments because a recurring theme that kept popping up during the readings was the repeated claim that the dead were reunited with their favorite pets in the afterlife. Dogs, cats, birds, each pet was described by species, sometimes by breed, and often by name. Each time a pet was mentioned during a reading, it was verified that the deceased did indeed have that pet in life and that the pet was indeed also deceased. This raises an interesting question: if the souls of the deceased and the souls of their beloved pets truly are reunited after death, how do these wandering spirits find each other? If there is a heaven, it’s got to be quite expansive, and full of the departed souls of all those who have come and gone from this Earth. Without something akin to a homing device, how would any dead pet find its way back to its master? Here again, science may be giving us clues about how such a reunion might be possible.

Rupert Sheldrake is an English biochemist and plant physiologist, who has been fascinated for many years with the uncanny way that some organisms seem to be able to communicate with one another almost instantaneously often across great distances. Everyone is familiar with the way a school of fish will change direction as a single unit, as though each fish knows at what instant and in which direction the school is suppose to turn. Such occurrences are common in nature and such occurrences seem inexplicable. Dr. Sheldrake, however, has studied this phenomenon in detail and has developed a theory involving what he calls “morphic fields.”

According to Dr. Sheldrake, there exists in nature telepathic bonds between members of a species, or even between members of different species, which can be deformed and stretched great distances without breaking. His theory states that any organism involved in a morphic bonding has intuitive knowledge of the location and condition of any other organism with which it is bonded. Interestingly, related to this, Dr. Sheldrake has conducted a number of experiments in which he has demonstrated that pets seem to have an uncanny ability to tell when their masters are returning home. Moreover, his experiments have demonstrated pets seemingly become aware that their masters are returning home at the very moment that their master makes the conscious decision to return home. As crazy as it may seem, others have duplicated Dr. Sheldrake’s experiments and have confirmed that some pets appear to be able to literally read their master’s mind! Dr. Sheldrake has concluded that there exists in nature a yet unidentified mechanism by which organisms that become deeply bonded have a link between them that cannot be broken, regardless of distance. Physicist, however, disagree with Dr. Sheldrake- they believe that the mechanism has already been identified.

Remember when I told you earlier about how quantum objects can exchange information over vast distances in an instant?

Well, this phenomenon occurs when two objects have become bonded in some fashion, a process that physicists refer to as quantum entanglement. Scientists have demonstrated that once two objects become entangled, if one of the objects becomes modified (as by changing its spin or polarity), the other object is affected, as well. This happens instantaneously at any distance, no matter how great. Physicists refer to this weird occurrence as quantum nonlocality. What makes this occurrence particularly weird is that it happens faster than the speed of light and as we have already discussed, nothing in the known universe can happen faster than the speed of light. That means that however the information is communicated from the one object to the other, it is happening outside space and time, somewhere beyond our reality. If we assume that the phenomenon that Dr. Sheldrake refers to as a “morphic field” is essentially the same phenomenon that the physicists refer to as “quantum nonlocality,” then it is reasonable to assume that not only very small objects are capable of nonlocality, but so too are larger objects, such as humans and their pets. This could explain how the spirits of the deceased and the pets to which they were deeply bonded might find each other once more beyond the grave. Such a theory would also be compatible with reports given by those people who claim that they were reunited with deceased loved ones during near-death experiences.

So what are we to take away from what science has to tell us about the prospect of dogs going to heaven? We know that for the laws of the universe to function as they do, another place beyond our reality must exist. We also know that what science might define as our identity and what religion might define as our soul is essentially information about us that theoretically cannot be destroyed and must therefore exist in some fashion after physical death. We know that the use of scientific method has demonstrated that at least some professional psychics can indeed glean information from a source beyond our understanding, and that this source has provided evidence that the spirits of the deceased can be reunited with the spirits of their dead pets. Finally, we know that science has revealed a phenomenon, whether it be called quantum nonlocality or morphic field, which works outside of time and space, and which could be the mechanism by which deeply bonded souls might be reunited in the hereafter. This is what science has to tell us, at least for the time being.

In 1947, archaeologists excavating a temple complex in ancient Sumer discovered a large cemetery site. When they began opening the graves, they discovered the remains of people who lived 6,000 years ago. In each tomb they found pottery, personal belongings and desiccated fragments of food suggesting sustenance for a journey to the afterlife. In many of the tombs, the scientists found the skeletons of dogs laid across the chests of their masters with meat bones placed near their mouths. In one particularly poignant scene, a small boy lay alone in his grave with his dog. A small bone had been placed near the dog’s mouth as a snack. Obviously, these people loved their dogs – they loved their dogs enough to want them to be at their side in the afterlife. Was it just wishful thinking, or did these ancient people know something about the nature of things that we have long forgotten? Did they intuitively sense the existence of a bond between themselves and their pets that could not be broken in spite of death? Intuition is a funny thing; most of us intuitively know right from wrong and good from evil, and many of us intuitively sense the presence of something in the universe much greater than ourselves: a universal intelligence, an order to things. But what is intuition? Is it a hunch, a guess, our imagination? Is it real? Dr. Darold A. Treffert is considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on Savant Syndrome, and has spent his life trying to figure out how autistic, severely brain damaged individuals are capable of displaying incredible abilities to perform music, create works of art, calculate numbers, and memorize virtually anything and everything, without the benefit of any training and seemingly without any intellectual wherewithal. After a lifetime of study, Dr. Treffert has concluded that Savants are capable of their amazing feats as a result of inherited memories encoded in our genes, which have been passed down from generation to generation. In other words, Dr. Treffert believes that Savants know what they could not possibly know because the knowledge was previously learned by their ancestors and passed on to them in their genetic code. As “out there” as Dr. Treffert’s theory may seem, it has been widely accepted by the community of researchers who study savant abilities. If his theory is accurate and we simply know things because that knowledge is innate within us, is this “knowing” tantamount to intuition? If so, did those ancient Sumerians, who so loved their pets, somehow share a primordial knowledge about the spirits of their dead dogs accompanying them into the afterlife? Maybe you know the answer to that question….intuitively.

One final thing: Michael Newton is a counseling psychologist and master hypnotherapist, who claims that he has stumbled on to a technique for guiding his patients into a “superconscious” state of awareness, during which they can recount details of their existence between lives. In his book, Journey of Souls, Dr. Newton presents the first-hand accounts of twenty-nine of his patients, whose responses he tape recorded while they were under hypnosis. During one of those accounts, one of his patients, a woman, described something that piqued my interest: she described dying at the end of her previous life and being met by loved ones…you know the story, it’s nothing new.

However, she mentioned how utterly overjoyed she was to be greeted by her father, who she loved immensely, but added that after a brief reunion, her spirit and the spirit of her father went their separate ways. When Dr. Newton asked if she wasn’t saddened by such a brief reunion with her beloved father, the patient explained that once two spirits become bonded together, they are bonded forever, and that all she need do is simply “think” about her father and she would be together with him in an instant. Is this then the answer? Are science, intuition, and faith all guiding us to a common, ultimate truth?

Perhaps science will never prove that dogs do go to heaven, but if profound love is the glue that bonds our soul with those we cherish, and if dogs do indeed go to heaven, perhaps your best friend won’t be romping through vast green Elysian meadows in the hereafter with his canine companions after all – perhaps he’ll be romping with you.

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