We Are Animals
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Sometimes humans like to think of themselves as separate from animals. As if we are a superior species. But would any other species be as destructive to the planet -- and each other -- as we are? How "superior" is such self-destruction?
When humans see themselves as separate and superior, it results in treating animals as things, or property, or "lower" species. It allows them to ignore their feelings, needs, and desires, and to think nothing of taking away their freedom to thrive. If on the other hand, we view ourselves as just another species of animal, then the possibility that we may be willing to treat animals with more dignity and respect begins to be a reality.
In our modern world, we have become so separated from our "animal nature" that we feel empty, isolated, and separated from our deep primal nature. This leaves us feeling very trapped in our heads. The program that I created called The Act Resilient Method helps people to reconnect with their more primitive side, and we work with therapy animals to open hearts and help people reconnect with their gentle nature. Interacting with a therapy dog can help people find their smile.
Recent advances in science show us that humans have more in common with other animals than we ever imagined. For example, if you thought that you and elephants do not share much in common, consider as Carl Safina states, "Humans and elephants have nearly identical nervous and hormonal systems, senses, milk for our babies; we both show fear and aggression appropriate to the moment." Elephants show sophisticated emotional states such as empathy and they communicate in complex ways. They learn and acquire knowledge and understanding, make tools, and show a range of emotions, including grief, joy, anger, fear, and active memory of trauma. The matriarch, with her long-stored memory, has to make continual decisions based upon correctly interpreting the environment in order to plan and make decisions to safely lead the herd.
As Stanley Coren, noted expert on human-dog interaction and dogs’ brains, reports in his book How Dog s Think:
"Recent research has supported Darwin’s view by demonstrating similarities between the nervous system of dogs and humans. For instance, researchers have proven that the nerve cells in a dog’s brain work the same way as those in a human brain. The neurons that make up the human brain have the same chemical composition as the neurons in a dog’s brain, and the patterns of electrical activity are identical. The structure of a dog’s brain contains most of the same organs that are found in the human brain."
So as we gather more and more evidence for animal emotions, intelligence, cognition, and sentience, we open the door to consider perhaps we are not the only species that has the potential for Consciousness. In the words of the 2012 Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, "all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, have nervous systems capable of consciousness."
Did you know that octopuses have the same ability to use tools, and can solve problems as skillfully as most apes? Did you know that crows remember faces and can communicate to the other crows if a human is a friend or foe? Or that honeybee brains contain the same "thrill-seeker" hormone that in human brains drive some people to consistently seek novelty.
All kinds of bad things happen when humans see themselves as the "superior species." It leads to treating animals as if they are "sub-species." It justifies mistreatment in research labs, shelters, and homes. It allows us to treat them as property and ignore the fact that animals have complex emotional lives and experience grief, anxiety, anger, fear, loneliness, and trauma. They dream and have memories just as we do.
And as if this worldwide abuse wasn't bad enough -- it causes us to miss out on understanding the deep levels of intelligence that comes from their sophisticated sensory world. We need to connect to their vast intelligence! Many animals sense impending natural disasters sooner than our sophisticated equipment. Trained dogs can sniff cancer in breath and saliva samples with upwards of 90% accuracy. Trained dogs and pigeons can detect improvised exploding devices with greater accuracy than any technology. Can we afford to remain ignorant of their special intelligence?
As Jane Goodall says, "There is increasingly compelling evidence that we are not alone in the universe, not the only creatures with minds capable of solving problems, capable of love and hate, joy and sorrow, fear and despair. Certainly, we are not the only animals who experience pain and suffering. In other words, there is no sharp line between the human and the rest of the animal kingdom. It is a blurred line and becoming more so all the time."
What Bonobos, our closest genetic relatives with a 98% genetic match can teach us about what is possible about being a better human.
Perhaps the time has come to not only learn from animals but to see the unity of all life, rather than to separate ourselves as a species.
Biologist, Frans De Waal explores how humans are animals and how much we have in common.
Genie Joseph, PhD
The Animal Consciousness Institute
"Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect."
~ Chief Seattle
Genie Joseph, PhD
Director: Animal Consciousness Institute