Vanity thought #878. What does the fox say?

That question might remain a mystery forever, it was just a bait, I actually wanted to talk about what cows think, a question that elicited a number of mind opening responses here.

Reading these immediately made me look for answers to “Do animals have souls” question as it’s understood in Christian tradition. I mean cows might be somewhat less intelligent and much slower than us but that can be said about a large proportion of human population, too? What’s the difference?

Bible based answers are confusing and, apparently, it all depends on what you mean by soul and what Bible itself means by soul in each particular passage. Strictly speaking, cows, as well as all other animals and plants, do not have souls that can go to heaven. They have souls that can do lots of other things instead. Still leaves a question of how some animals sneaked into some descriptions of heavenly life but that is a contradiction better left to Christian logicians.

One “scholar” with Ph.D approached the subject systematically and first thing he said is that animals are not persons. That might be correct in some narrow and legal definition of what a person is but animals most certainly have personalities. If we are talking about evidence from the movies than it was precisely the argument presented by Vincent Vega (John Travolta) in Pulp Fiction all those years ago. Dogs have personalities, therefore we (they) don’t eat them while pigs don’t have personalities, therefore pork.

Another definition of the soul is a “breather” – whatever possesses life and breathes. There’s a Hebrew word used in the Bible that means exactly this – nephesh hayyah. In this sense soul dies with death, animals have it, obviously, but it doesn’t go to heaven and it’s not eternal.

It’s this third definition of the soul, eternal thing that can go to eternal life in heaven, that in Christianity is ascribed only to humans but not toanimals and it’s the closest to our meaning of spirit soul, as opposed to “material” souls that only “breath”.

There’s no point in debunking this theory but there’s a lesson to be learned from reflecting on how Christians came to these absurd notions.

Krishna says that soul is achintya, inconceivable, and that there are people who even after learning all about it still don’t understand it. It’s perfectly natural to become confused about the nature of life and soul if one relies only on his own observations.

For example, it’s easy to understand why animals are not considered persons but not easy to understand why they can also have personalities. How can you have personality without having a persona? Trying to explain that seriously complicates the matter.

For centuries one common argument against animals having souls was their lack of intelligence but that doesn’t fly anymore in the face of “scientific” evidence. Chimpanzees have intelligence of five year old children, this has been objectively measured, can’t argue against that. Well, might not be exactly like children’s intelligence but at least comparable.

There was another study I read about recently, it was about cats and how they, unlike dogs, behave so independently. The starting idea was that cats simply don’t understand when they are being addressed by their owners but the study disproved that. They have managed to record subtle changes in cats brain activity, with CAT scans, I suppose, and they clearly saw that cats recognize the voices of their masters and the sound of their names, they just genuinely don’t care enough to respond. They quickly assess the importance of the situation and then go back to napping.

I bet exactly the same observations could have been made by measuring reactions of most men when being called to do the dishes. It registers, it processes, and the appropriate reaction is then chosen – ignore and pretend you didn’t hear anything.

The more we observe animal behavior, the less differences with humans we see. That is why the theory of evolution is so compelling – there’s obviously a common source for all forms of life and there’s nothing to suggest that one form of life is inherently different from all the others, as Bible argues in regard with humans.

We know that humans ARE different, that in the entire universe the human species is the only one where souls can develop spiritually, it’s the Goldilocks place – not too hot, not too cold, just right. Not too much pleasure, as in heaven where sadhana bhakti is much less attractive, not too much pain, as in hell where there’s too much suffering going on to concentrate on anything else.

Never mind the universe, among life forms on Earth humans are the only ones who have religions, and that’s what really separates us from them. This is why Christians insist on being special but even if we understand them in this regard – what if science discovers some religious traits in animal behavior, too? Monkeys of Ramayana or Gorilla Dvivida were capable of worshiping God, after all. There’s no reason to assume that this is impossible as a matter of principle.

We are unique in a sense that our bodies are more suitable but “more” here implies degrees of suitability, not absolute, binary values.

Oh, speaking of personas – didn’t the Indian government pass a law declaring dolphins as non-human persons? Bible might disagree but there must have been some solid arguments to warrant such a special treatment.

We can laugh at Christian misunderstanding of basic spiritual truths but why don’t we turn this around and ask ourselves – do we really understand ourselves as souls? Or do we treat ourselves as persons while every other living being we see as subhuman? The answer is obvious, that’s what subhuman means in the first place.

More importantly – do we ascribe spiritual values to our otherwise purely animalistic behavior, as I’ve been arguing for the past two days? We say that animal life is all about eating, sleeping, mating, and defending but do we look any further than that? There’s much more to being an animal. There are emotions, there are relationships, there are aspirations, there are desires, there is delayed gratification in expectation of bigger returns, there’s much learning, there’s mimicking of others, there’s social hierarchy, there’s value structure – when we think in terms of all those things, do we realize that we are still behaving like animals? So why do we treat those things as a matter of life and death? Not always but sometimes, when we get carried away.

Before this descends into another rant, here’s a possible answer to “What does the fox say” question. It’s in relation to a recently updated Firefox logo that was voted as the best re-branding effort of last year but to untrained eye looks exactly the same.

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