Our Connectedness With Other Living Things
A Fresh Look at Who and What We Are
By: J. Marlando
It seems that some scientists now believe the missing link that has been hiding out somewhere between chimps, government workers and you and me has been found. It is thought that a nearly complete fossilized skeleton belonging to an unknown human ancestor may well be the link between ape-men and Cro-Magnons who are our very ancient ancestors. Remembering that our genes are 99% the same as a chimpanzee’s so the link, if there is one, will be extremely subtle. We also have the very same genome as, say, a pig. (A genome is a complete set of genes for an organism).
And, all the genes for we humans and pigs, match up. Genes, however, perform differently in different organisms—the same genes that give the pig its pig-ness will construct differently in our bodies to give us our human-ness. Nevertheless, a lot of researchers are excited these days because *pigs can endure the same genetic diseases we do so this opens the doors to untold possibilities in the process of finding causes and cures for illnesses.
We are incidentally also related to the fungi and plants. But according to some researchers that relationship goes back millions of years. Be that as it may, we’ve all met with a few cabbage heads along our life’s journey so perhaps this explains why?
And speaking of cabbage heads, while we stay a jump or two ahead of animal intelligence, lots of animals are not really that far behind us. And anyway, it’s simply more complex being a human than it is to be, say, a mouse, horse or dog.
When it comes to intelligence though the dolphins most impress us—well, the bottlenose is second to us humans when it comes to brain size and body size. Many researchers agree that dolphins have a higher degree of intellect than primates of other species. Dr. Bernie Siegel reports that when researchers want to draw blood from a dolphin and that dolphin is not in the mood, he can simply stop the flow of blood from that spot. Humans practice yoga and meditate for years just to control their heart beats and brain waves.
Many researchers on the other hand believe that we overestimate the thinking ability of the dolphin. For example they say the dolphin absolutely lack the “repertoire” of approaching anything near language as we know it. Nevertheless, they have tremendous communication skills and anyway, why would they need to build a vocabulary that matches our own or even have the communicative skills that we have? We should all remember what John Wayne taught us—never complain and never explain. Maybe that’s good Dolphin sense too?
Ah yes, and one other thing when it comes to Dolphins—Dolphins it seems have select whistles and clicks for certain other dolphins, this suggests names and names suggest individual personalities.
But speaking of smarts, going back to the chimp for a moment: Chimpanzees use tools, will organize hunts and will respond violently when upset. And yet, tests show that these animals also possess empathy, altruism and self-awareness. Self-awareness is the classic signal to mind and consciousness! But remember that our DNA is only around 1.6 different than that of a chimp’s.
And finally chimps can talk. **That is quite a few chimps have been taught sign language well enough to actually put a few sentences together. One test of their ability to truly comprehend is that a teacher will put an apple amidst a bunch of other fruit, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes and more. The trainer will give the signal he wants an apple and sure enough, the chimps fulfills the request by choosing the right fruit.
But as far as thinking ability, even squirrels are smart in their squirrel domains. For example, they are smart enough to use complex deception. For example, California squirrels are known to cover their fur in the scent of a rattlesnake to “outfox” their predators.
I don’t recall exactly when but a few years ago I saw a documentary wherein a crow created tools out of twigs and pieces of wire and used them with intent. Intent takes away the old Descartes theory that animals neither think nor feel. The particular crow that I saw actually looked into a bottle of some kind with food at the bottom of it. The food was impossible for the crow to reach. And so, the crow finds a piece of wire then bends the end of it into a hook and fishes out the food. How impressive is that when it comes to tool making, contemplation and comprehension?
***Elephants in many ways remain most impressive of all. I have had the privilege of working with them in the past and what I think impressed me most was their apparent ability to empathize. Empathy indicates conscience and conscience is a symbol of subjective realization—something thought to belong only to humans for centuries.
Elephants are also ever as socially minded as we people—they have great social skills with other elephants and reveal feelings of caring, understanding tolerance and well, all the nice stuff that we humans so often neglect in our own actions. Empathy is not exclusive for humans and elephants though—it is well known that apes and dolphins have it too. In any case, remember the parable of the Good Samarian? Well, elephants are known to have enough empathy to actually help other species in trouble or in times of need. This is a lesson we people might learn from when it comes to abandoning the “us” and “them” view; you know that arrogant view that serves as the cornerstone for human aggression and making war and not love.
So what can we conclude from all this?
We are in a web of relationships with everything else including the animals, plants but beyond all else, with one another. While we see squirrels, elephants, mice, birds and reptiles in a kind of collective oneness, we see ourselves as uniquely individualist. But I am convinced that, just as the animals, we humans are all the same and our differences are only apparent. And I believe that if we could ask the dolphin or the eagle, the mouse or the elephant this, we would be told the same thing. We are after all in this world together, you and I with everyone else, each the very same but in different circumstances. When we grasp only this much we walk in peace and in harmony.
*What is interesting is that pigs are not only smart but clean: The problem is that pigs don’t have sweat glands and so they role in the mud simply to cool off.
**Suggested reading: Next to Kin * Roger Fouts *Marrow
***Suggested reading: When Elephants weep *Jeffrey Mousaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy * Delta