Animals: Our Window To Other Worlds
Posted: Aug 26, 2014
By Christine Townend
Professor Gregory Berns, a neurologist, in his book, How Dogs Love Us, asked the question: "Does my dog love me in the way that I love him, or is his affection generated simply because I feed and care for him?"
Berns trained his dog to lie still in an MRI brain scanner. When the dog smelled his smell, the part of the brain rich in dopamine receptors-the one associated with positive thinking and feelings-lit up.
If you're a dog owner, maybe a submerged knowledge sometimes makes you think: "Bowser knew I was about to take him for a walk, even before I put on my boots." Is this telepathy? It seems that animals know so much about us, sometimes more than what we know about ourselves.
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake thinks so. In his book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, Sheldrake explains how he carried out scientific experiments in which dogs anticipated their owners' returns, even though the returns were random. Other household members, who had no idea when the owners would return, gave no clues to the pets.
"All three types of perceptiveness - telepathy, the sense of direction and premonitions - seem better developed in non-human species such as dogs than they are in people, " he writes.
Recently, an interesting story was circulated over the Internet. After Lawrence Anthony, an author and a rescuer of many elephants all over the globe, died in March 2012, two days later herds of wild elephants began to show up outside his home.
Thirty-one elephants had walked for days to reach his house, yet these elephants had not visited for well over three years. The only conclusion that his wife could reach was that the elephants were paying their last respects to Anthony - that somehow they knew, without ever being told, that he had died.
Animal Empathy Evokes Serenity
The Cambridge Declaration, signed by an impressive list of neuroscientists and neurobiologists, stated that humans are just one of and not so different from many animals, especially in terms of emotions and consciousness. I was already convinced of this fact, having lived in close proximity to animals for years.
I was the managing trustee of an animal shelter in India for 17 years, and during that time, founded two other Indian animal shelters in the foothills of the Eastern
Himalayas. My husband and I lived in the grounds of the shelter in Jaipur, surrounded by animals -camels, cattle, buffaloes, horses, donkeys, ponies, dogs, cats, birds, and, sometimes, even a visiting elephant.
Among the animals we had at the shelter, one I frequently remember was a foal called Basanti. Born of an old crippled mare, she had been abandoned on the road, and was rescued by the shelter. In the grounds of the shelter also lived a rescued carthorse, Badal (which means "cloud" in Hindi).
Badal was stabled at the back of the shelter where he lived alone, because he was a stallion, and I took him out riding most mornings. Basanti, who wandered free in the shelter, which had grounds of about one hectare, often visited Badal, and they touched noses through the gate.
When Basanti was over two years old, we gave her to the milkman, because we knew he would treat her kindly and her life would be more fulfilling. A friend of mine, a skilled horseman, adopted Badal and took him away on one long ride from Jaipur to Manali. I was happy that Badal could have this experience, rather than being stabled most of the day.
One day, over a year later, I looked out of our small cottage window and was surprised to see Basanti thundering down the drive, coming to a rearing stop right outside Badal's gate. She stood there, desolate and perplexed, her head hanging. She had escaped from the milkman and traveled over five kilometers so that she could see her dear friend Badal again, but who was now in the distant Himalayas.
Another instance I remember is the time I was standing watching a herd of elephants swimming in Sri Lanka. Suddenly, they started bellowing and trumpeting. Alarmed, I asked the keeper why they were making so much noise. "One of their herd went away eighteen months ago, " he said. "They're expressing delight at her return."
The English poet W. H. Davies, in his famous poem, Leisure, asked: "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? No time to stand beneath the boughs, and stare as long as sheep and cows?"
Animals spend a lot of time standing and staring, and this is one of their inherent qualities that perhaps we as humans could also practice gainfully - just to allow ourselves some serenity in our stressful lives.
Whenever I was stressed, I went and sat in the cowshed, among the cattle with their magnificent horns, huge black eyes, and swishing tails. It has been found that when cattle are chewing the cud, they release endorphins - those opiate-like substances that cause a feeling of well-being. Somehow, those cows transmitted this sense of calm -even euphoria - to me. Light is substance, we are told; so just like light, was their own serenity being conveyed to me through an unseen electromagnetic field?
By now, it has been scientifically established that animals share many of the emotions that were previously thought to belong to humans only.
Crossing the Species Barrier
We know now from the increasing investigations on animal behavior that animals have language, they show emotions, they reason, and perhaps most importantly, they are aware of themselves as subjects which take and respond to experiences - they are sentient as my examples show.
In our garden lives a colony of Blue Mountain skinks. One of them in particular, whom I could identify by his large body size and a wound on his side, taught me to befriend him. Frequently, when I went into the garden during the summer (he hibernated in winter), he would come near, and look up at me expectantly.
I took the hint, and started to feed him with pieces of cheese, egg, and meat. Soon, he became so friendly that he would take the food directly from my finger. Eventually, our friendship became so close that whenever I went onto the back verandah he would crawl up my leg, just gazing up at me, not because he needed food, but, I believe, because he enjoyed hanging out with me.
And, oh yes, there was the frog - I rescued him as a tadpole when the puddle on the road started to dry up. He had bright zig-zag markings on his back, even as a tadpole. When he grew tiny legs, I released him into the pond near the bush down by the back of our garden, at least forty meters away from the house.
One day, months later, I stepped out onto the back verandah and there was "my" frog, now large and healthy, sitting calmly near the door. We had never before seen a frog on the verandah, and never have since. Had he come to say "thank you"? I'll never know, just like I'll never be able to explain why the lizard enjoyed my company, either. These incidents made me wonder all the more: "What is this mysterious bond that draws humans close to animals, if we are receptive to them?"
Okay, so we know now that there is social engagement between humans and non-humans, and that numerous studies have shown that animals exhibit not only empathy but also altruism, even at a cost to the individual animal practicing the altruism.
For example, studies show that dogs often adopt and rear orphaned cats and other animals. Mongooses help elderly, sick, and injured animals, and the African buffalo will attempt to rescue one of their herd if they are attacked by lions. Some birds even protect the nests of birds unknown to them. The list is long.
The tendency of science to deny the "mystical, " shared by humans and non-humans, is now being challenged by many researchers. Rupert Sheldrake has used the word "morphogenetic field" to describe what Christians call a soul.
There is a whole field of science now dedicated to discovering what constitutes consciousness, and no one has as yet been able to define it satisfactorily. Perhaps this morphogenetic field - the possible operator of the brain - is more developed in humans, where the frontal lobe is larger. But, if Darwin believed that emotions evolved along with other genetic adaptations, is it not likely that this morphogenetic field is also present in animals?
In a paper, Are Animals Autistic Savants, the authors conclude that it is likely that animals "have privileged access to lower level sensory information before it is packaged into concepts"- in other words, access to areas of the mind that are below or above or outside the conscious level, operate before the reasoning part of the mind kicks in. Animals may indeed repress activity of the left, reasoning hemisphere of the brain, to encourage use of the right side of the brain, believed to be more intuitive.
After 40 years work with horses, Henry Blake published his 1975 book Talking with Horses. In the book, he describes how he communicated telepathically with horses, and was able to verify it. He "saw" visual images that his horses were transmitting.
I don't want to romanticize animals, to turn them into fluffy and cute images only appropriate for Hallmark greeting cards. Instead, I ask you to consider their powers and abilities with renewed respect. Don't shut the door on the possibility of their - and our - unrecognized supernatural abilities.
When an entire flock of birds turns at the same moment, perhaps there is some invisible electrical energy to which each of those brains has access, indeed, which influences and operates those brains. I believe that the human flock can learn from such natural phenomena.
About the Author
Christine Townend is a writer, artist and animal activist living in Australia.
Townend was a bored stay-at-home mother with two young boys, uncertain what to do with her life, when at the age of 32 she decided to dedicate her life to animal welfare.
After a two-month sojourn to India in 1975, she began to campaign against cruelty to animals. Townend is now one of the world's best-known animal rights activists. In 1976, she founded Animal Liberation in Australia, which exposes and fights mistreatment of all animals, whether in the wild, as pets in the home, or livestock in farm factories.
Her biography, Christine's Ark (2006) was written by journalist John Little and details how her profound love of animals was a catalyst for her remarkable and continuing spiritual journey.
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