Are we really top dog in a life process that’s millions of years older than we are? Do we really think that we’re smarter? Wiser? More aware? What sets us apart? Why do we believe that something does? Why do we feel that we are different? As long as we can remember thinking…thinking? Is that it?
I do believe that we are different but not necessarily better or superior. As a species, we have a dimension giving us a specific distinction in the animal kingdom, to which we most certainly do belong, but with what we consider additional survival skills. The added dimension is not thinking or thought. Thinking and thought are a function of the additional dimension. That dimension is an awareness of the passage of time. I do believe that other mammals, maybe other genera also, have recognition of the passage of time but because they don’t have language skills that are as specifically separative or discriminatory as Homo sapiens, their perception is perhaps more rudimentary than ours. Granted, a newborn Homo sapien may not have the survival skills as broadly developed at birth as other mammals might, however, I do believe that as we begin our life our ability to sense physically and psychically is comparable to other mammals. Please note that when I say psychically, I’m merely referring to the ability to sense difference in the movement of energy. As we become “humanized,” those abilities slowly become trained out of us, pushed into the background of our awareness and eventually regress into what we call our unconscious. We do have senses that are inherent in the rest of the animal kingdom; it’s just that they are currently dormant. Let’s look at what gives us our ability to perceive time.
At the risk of trying to define time, let’s just say that it is our perception of movement through space. We do know that when we are totally involved in what we’re doing, we don’t notice the passage of time. If we think about a time when we’re so involved in a project and when we came to check the time, we’re very often surprised how time seems to have passed so quickly. Conversely, when we’re anticipating or waiting for an event or occurrence, time feels as if it slows down to the point where it feels like it’s almost standing still. To wit, when we’re children, we’re always anticipating something. We feel like we’re doing nothing but waiting. Time “moves” slowly. When we’re older, we’re no longer anticipating as many things as we were when we were children and time seems to fly by. So, I think that you can see that how quickly time moves is a function of our perception and where we put our attention. The more we anticipate, the slower it appears to move. The more engrossed we become in what we’re doing, the faster it moves.
Now let’s look at how we perceive the passage of time. Its root lies in our ability to develop language and discriminatory or separative skills. Our mind is effective through its ability to be able to separate the timing of our experiences from each other. When we first learn to separate we give birth to the mind through the distinction between what feels good and what does not. How do we do this? As we develop language, we attach different learned words to experiences that feel good and pleasurable and others to those that don’t. We then we hold them attached to those specific experiences, in our mind in what we call our memory. Each stored experience becomes a combined snapshot of the experience, the feeling that arose with it and our pleasure assessment. The order of storage tells us what came before and what came after. This establishes our first recognition of the passage of time; our perception of the past.
Because our mind can use our learned language to tell the difference between what came before and what came after, we are able to use this same ability to create a linear construct of events that project into the future for a possible order of events to be anticipated or waited for. This eventually becomes combined with what we want or don’t want. This establishes our second recognition of the passage of time; our perception of a possible future.
When events are in the process of occurring and before they are compared to what has already occurred or to what projection might occur and we are having the experience, we perceive the present. This establishes our third recognition of the passage of time: our perception of the present or being in the moment.
Back to the animal kingdom and the potential for Homo sapiens to possess a mind and the ability to separate past, present and future. Now, it is assumed that the rest of the animal kingdom supposedly, may have a mind but not the refined ability to develop as sophisticated a language and thought process as humans, we believe that this leaves them unable to create a more perceivable distinction in the passage of time.
Initially, we may see this as an advantage over other mammals in that it implies that our ability to think through our defensive and survival capabilities may appear to be a lot more sophisticated and effective. But in the same way that we have the ability to perceive the passage of time, we also have the potential to get lost or locked in the different dimensions of time. That is, unlike other mammals, we can get “stuck” in the past or the future to the detriment of our present and future well-being and enjoyment. Since other mammals have virtually no,or limited,perception of past or future, their attention remains primarily in the moment. Not necessarily so for Homo sapiens. What appears to be the mammalian kingdom’s ability to “remember” experiences is primarily a function of conditioning, not necessarily memory. Memory requires a mental structure of comparison in order to exist and progress. Even if other mammals do possess a rudimentary capacity, it is nowhere nearly developed as well as Homo sapiens. Due to this, most humans suffer from severe personification when it comes to perceiving what animals might exhibit in their behavior, especially, our pets.
Let’s look a little more closely at Homo sapien's potential for getting lost or locked into the past or the future. Because the human mind can construct and project an anticipated future, our attention doesn’t always remain in the moment. If we’re crossing the street while our attention is focused on fantasizing about desired or fearful circumstances occurring in our home or careers, we might not be paying attention to the bus careening down the street aimed in our direction. In this, our focus on the future can have lethal consequences. If we’re on a date with someone whom we find extremely attractive while thinking about how we were cheated on in a past relationship, we may miss a wonderful opportunity to create a new future and a much more rewarding experience through obsessing over our past.
Let’s take a look at another possible misconceptions we may have about ourselves and other mammals; fear. A human’s fear is almost entirely wrapped up in the potential of “what if” or what might occur and is future oriented. Our imagination is our most influential component in the way we perceive and deal with fear. Why? Because with our ability to perceive and create a charged imagination about the future and its possible outcomes, we often paralyze ourselves with fear over making the “wrong” move or taking the “wrong” action through imagining the devastating scenarios that might occur. But if other mammals don’t have the same potential to fabricate a possible future, how does fear register with them? Since they exist mostly in the moment, we believe that fear is essentially a function of instinct and conditioning. It’s not fear as we would define it. They don’t define it. They have no language to separate it out from other feelings. They simply feel it. A rabbit’s tendency to remain motionless or move like a bullet is not the result of their looking for or expecting the hawk to swoop down and attack. It is simply an innate instinctual vigilance that has been conditioned and inbred into their genetic makeup over thousands of generations of repeated experience and evolution. They live in the moment. It has become an integral part of their perceptual and instinctual repertoire. It seems that Homo sapiens have essentially lost access to the awareness of those abilities through being conditioned to mentally focus on only the past and the future. Yet, it still remains buried under tons of mentally judged memories and experiences. We know this because as we consciously make an effort to re-tune ourselves to nature and our natural surroundings, some of those “senses” slowly begin to reemerge.
But there is another ability that many of us humans agree is innate within our makeup; intuition. Since what our culture generally accepts as being true is that which has the potential to be physically verified (agreed upon by others), only a portion of our population actually accepts the validity of its existence. Since most of western humanity is in agreement with being or feeling superior to the animal kingdom, I believe that it is very unlikely that there are many people that even consider that animals may also possess intuition and that it is not merely a function of repeated and evolutionary physical experience and conditioning that eventually translates into becoming a genetic progeny in their DNA.
For the majority of us who believe that we are more than just our physical existence we can easily consider that we must exist in a somewhat different state of being before we either acquire, enter or construct the current physical bodies we reside in now. It is my belief that our mode of movement before we incarnated existed within the fields of feelings and intuition, neither of which requires mental functioning or time to operate. This is also why they are so difficult to explain or describe to another. They are also the fields in which our deepest dreams occur. To wit, how many times have you attempted to explain a dream in earthly language only to get lost in the confusing time and overlay of events and people? The more “awake” you become, the more elusive the dream becomes. Feelings and intuition do not follow a linear path. They are simply innate, timeless and occur involuntarily. It’s also important to note that we retain them both through our incarnation. These fields are where empathy originates from. Yet, our “civilized” training has had the effect of eclipsing them with linearity and the time constraints of our mental functioning within the physical world. We know animals have feelings. Who’s to say they don’t also have intuition? What may even seem more curious to consider is that they also dream. Have you watched your dog’s feet and REM (rapid eye movement) when they’re sleeping? This would explain many of our experiences with them that we’ve been puzzled by in trying to explain while having been unable to trace the “answers” through physical instincts and genetics.
So, back to our original question. Are we really superior to animals? I think not since we generally possess the same characteristics, especially, as with mammals. But we have and added dimension, time, which brings with it its tool to track and record it…our mind and the development of thought and language. This inclusion is usually what most people, claiming to be superior, use to set themselves above animals. However, there are many things that we appear to be unable to do based on the submerging of our instincts, feelings and intuition in deference to our use of the intellect. But our use of the intellect presents its own problems in that we more often than not allow ourselves to become trapped in our future “what ifs” and in our regrets or obsessions over our past “performance” and the resulting judgments by our peer group, families and authorities. We often miss being in the moment when it counts. So, who’s to say who is superior? I think that determination depends on what kind of standard we’re using to compare. I think that once we evolve enough to maintain a balance between past, present and future and eliminate enough of our fear of loss of control to allow our feelings and intuition to re-emerge and integrate with our eventually to be refined mental faculties, perhaps then we might be able to state that we have an added skill and dimension that adds a wholeness or unity to the pairing of our energetic and our physical existence. But to be superior? I think not. That’s a judgmental compensation applied by someone who feels himself to be “less than” others of his own species. Right now animals, especially mammals, might be “one up” on us in that they are not saddled with getting caught in the past or future and seem to be very content operating in the here and now. In that, they bring us tremendous peace with our tuning into being in the moment with them.