Friday, May 9, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven? *

Al Hochrein photograph

 Part Thirteen: Do Animals Have Emotions and Thoughts Analogous to Humans?

We learned in the previous two blog articles that mental states in humans originate in our minds—the immaterial dimension of our being—not from the physical matter of our brains. While in our physical bodies, our minds are “housed” within our brains, and our brains are the vehicles through which our thoughts are expressed. But the brain and mind are not the same thing. The brain decays at death, but the mind lives on in our souls.

In this and the next blog article, I’ll demonstrate that many animals have certain cognitive abilities and emotions that closely parallel similar characteristics in humans. If such mental states in people originate in their minds, it’s perfectly legitimate to conclude that such traits in animals would likewise originate in their minds. Moreover, since in humans the mind is the essential faculty of our souls, it can further be concluded that animals must also have souls (as I demonstrated in parts 7-9).

Now, we must keep this in perspective. Regardless of the degree of their complexity, mental activities in animals are far less sophisticated and intensely experienced than they are in humans. Nor does the fact that some animals have mental faculties analogous to humans elevate their value in the created order to that of people—not my mind, not in most peoples mind, and certainly not in God’s mind.

Space in these short articles does not allow me to give examples of the following human-like emotions and thoughts displayed in animals. But let me assure readers that I’ve researched this topic thoroughly and examined numerous sources that document what I’m going to share. For readers who are interested seeing examples of animal displaying these characteristics, there are three books in particular that I can recommend. Two of them are by one of the world’s leading authorities on animal behavior, Marc Bekoff: Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues and The Emotional Lives of Animals. For current studies on dogs—probably the most  frequently studied domesticated animal in behavioral research (other than experiments on rodents)—read Inside of a Dog; What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by psychologist and animal behaviorist, Alexandra Horowitz.

Then and Now
Prior to the 19th century, most scientists assumed that nature was a vast organic machine operating according to immutable natural laws. Animals were regarded as little more than biological machines. Rene Descartes and other 17th century philosophers and scientists even believed that animals do not feel pain. This resulted in the cruel practice of vivisection, where experiments and surgery were performed on live animals without anesthesia.

Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone ever believing that animals don’t feel pain or experience other emotions. During the last century, an enormous amount of data has been accumulated on animal behavior. It’s widely recognized today that animals not only feel pain and retain memories of it, but they also engage in thought-driven behaviors and experience real emotions. As Professor Bekoff put it:

 New studies are producing information that shows just how fascinating and complex animal behavior can be. Animals who seem incapable of much thought have been shown to have remarkable cognitive skills. . . . Many individual . . .  animals show distinct personalities and idiosyncratic quirks, just as humans do. There are extroverts, introverts, agreeable individuals, and neurotic animals. . .  There is now mounting evidence that joy, love, grief, jealousy, and embarrassment, for example, are all experienced by individuals of many species. (The Emotional Lives of Animals, p.xx, 10).

So it turns out that what many pet owners intuitively knew all along is true—animals can have real emotions, and their behaviors are often deliberate, flexible, and not motivated by just instinct. Below I’ll point out some of the most obvious and well-attested emotions displayed in many animals, and next week we’ll look at some of the cognitive  (thought-driven) behaviors observed in many species of animals. In both cases, you will see that many of these mental attributes parallel similar thoughts and emotions in humans.

Emotions and Feelings

What kinds of human-like emotions and feelings do animals experience? Most of the same kinds that humans experience: altruism, devotion, loyalty, grief, loneliness, sadness, compassion, empathy, joy, pleasure, play, affection, and, yes, even love. Now, when it comes to fully understanding what these human-like emotions mean to animals, we must be careful not to be guilty of exaggerated anthropomorphism. Animal emotions cannot be thought of as being directly equivalent to similar human emotions. If a dog or elephant expresses love or joy, it will be dog-love and dog-joy and elephant-love and elephant-joy, not human-like love and joy.  Animal emotions can only be expressed within the mental capabilities and physical makeup of the animal. But that they are not human-like in intensity or complexity does not mean they do not exist. The same is also true of animal cognition—learning, memory, communication, and (for some animals) self-awareness. We’ll examine these mental attributes in next week’s article.
*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website:

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