As I shared in my last blog post, I spend a lot of time these days thinking about, talking about and writing about animals as mentors.
My favorite subject is parrots, of course, but I am an animal lover by nature. Come to think of it, I am a nature lover by nature and always have been.
Some – okay most – alright maybe all – of the fondest memories I have from my younger years include parakeets, nature walks, zoo visits, beach days and summer retreats to a family friend’s log cabin in the woods.
I feel more myself when I am in nature. I am less self-aware and more simply aware. I cease to worry that the eyes of others are upon me because my own eyes are so full with all the wonder and variety they are taking in. I feel more acceptance and less judgment, more respecting and also more respected.
While we’re on the subject, recently a group of scientists got together and declared that “nonhuman beings are conscious.”
I felt quite proud that for once I had figured something out before all the smart scientists. 🙂
It is great that they figured this out, but truthfully, anyone who keeps company with animal companions already knows this. Animals feel grief, joy, love, hate, fear, anger, loneliness, longing. They feel their own versions of these feelings – they experience consciousness in their own unique way – but the experience itself is shared between human and nonhuman beings alike.
We can never know exactly what life is like as a parrot or a dog or a dolphin any more than those beings can know exactly what life is like as you or me.
But the essentials of what makes life itself “life” – these things we all share.
In the same way that I miss my parrot when I am not in his presence, Pearl misses me when I am gone. He demonstrates this by calling desperately for me the moment I leave his sight (even if I have not closed the front door yet) and resuming shrieking the moment he hears my car tires crunching up the driveway again. I carry a phone full of parrot videos and pictures (that I am happy to display to anyone I meet whether they ask to see them or not). When we are separated for longer periods of time (like anything over 30 minutes) I take out my phone and scroll through our memories to feel better.
My parents experience the same thing with their brown standard dachshund, J.P. Morgan. And while Morgan displays equal levels of enthusiasm for the sight of his parents and his food dish, my folks are convinced they are slightly higher up on his preferences list.
Of course the scientists’ reasoning is, well, scientific. Science is the language researchers use to convey their insights to one another and the world, so their declaration on animal consciousness is full of musings on the presence or absence of something called a “neocortex,” a number of references to “affective states” and “neurophysiological substrates” and four thoroughly researched bullet points detailing (among other factors) how their observations may change in the presence of hallucinogens and REM sleep (as a sidenote, I suspect if these folks were observing me instead of my nonhuman counterparts, my behavior and awareness of consciousness might also change markedly if hallucinogens or snoring were introduced).
But I’ll take it any way I can get it. I suspect my fellow animal lovers and advocates feel the same.
Today’s Takeway: The scientists’ announcement is quite new and fresh – it was made just a year ago in the presence of luminary scientist Stephen Hawking. Perhaps some folks are still digesting the information, while other folks (like, for instance, me) accepted it instantly. What is your take on nonhuman animals and consciousness? If you have pets and you asked them about the topic, what do you think their response might be?
Parrot image available from Shutterstock.