Big science news last moth. Big, Huge, Face Grazing news. Sit down, wash your face, get ready because this is about to happen to you. Last month a group of prominent scientists including cognitive scientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists, and computational neuroscientists signed an official declaration- in the presence of Steven Fucking Hawking no less- that states animals have… CONSCIOUS AWARENESS.
Right. That thing we all knew about our pets, science now knows too. This means, and I don’t say this lightly friends, that we, the amateurs, are smarter than Steven Fucking Hawking. Or at least quicker, and I don’t mean in a foot race… am I right? You are an animal for laughing at that.
So, back to Animals. Science has agreed… well, confirmed… let’s say decided that non-human mammals, birds and even cephalopod mollusks (that’s octopuses) have a degree of awareness of their own existence, surroundings, thoughts, dare we say feelings? From the manifesto: ”Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.”
Brooklyn street artist ROA and his bird
Having read precisely forty-seven pages of Temple Grandin’s (Claire Danes in a Mcdonald’s Wig) national best seller, Animals in Translation, and also having listened to Radio lab’s episode on Animals exactly twice I am extremely qualified to speak on the topic of the inner lives of animals. Plus I have a cat named Angelica Houston. With these qualifications tucked safely into the folds of my wallet where I keep the card I made that reads “GENEVIEVE JONES: ANIMAL EXPERT”, I feel confident in telling you that I find this new manifesto on animal consciousness to be… dangerous.
Sure, it is a huge step forward for activists, and well, just regular hearted people who are against testing on animals. And that is big. I am on that ship. It is a rather beautifully black and white issue now: Animals possess cognizance, therefore it is immoral to test lip-stick, lap-band-surgeries or, libido drugs on them. And now that Steven Fucking Hawking agrees with us, we have the ammunition to make people stop testing animals on a congressional level. Wonderful.
This is not my issue. My issue is that we as humans possessing this new confidence that animals are aware are going to begin to assume that animals are aware in the same ways that humans are aware. This is human nature. It is how we relate to one another. “Oh you lost your job promoting Cadillac at the mall, and now you’re worried about missing your credit card payment again? I totally get it. I was going to go to Lake Arrowhead next weekend but now I can’t because I have to shoot an episode of Rizzoli & Isles. Baharg! Life!” This is wrong guys. Temple Grandin told me so. She starts off the second chapter of her book with this gem of a sentence: “The problem with normal people is that they’re too cerebral.” How true! Instead of acknowledging that my cat, Angelica Houston, is aware but in her own mainly visual cat way, I immediately try to understand her in a verbal human way. I want to know the words that are going through her head. I want to identify her human feelings about me leaving town for three days. Hubris! By attempting to understand animals in my terms I have completely missed the point of the animal all together. Instead of letting the animal be what it is, I have created the animal in my own image- making it not the animal. Oh shit. We can apply this to humans too.
A Beached Whale in the Forest of Argentina by sculptor Adrian Villar Rojas
How’s that for some animal meditation?
My point is this: It is wonderful that science has come to a conclusion that will allow us to see animals as closer to equals. Because, dudes, they are. I am worried though, that people will interpret these new findings by anthropomorphizing animals and completely missing out on their actual beauty or squandering a chance at understanding or even helping them on a larger level.
“Both ethologists and behaviorists agree that practically the worst thing anyone could possibly do is anthropomorphize an animal… A story about a person who had a pet lion he was shipping on an airplane: Someone thought the lion might like to have a pillow for the trip, the same way people do, so they gave him one, and the lion ate it and died.” -T. Grandin.
That’s about as simple as it gets. Lions don’t want pillows, people do. Lions want hay.
On the other hand. If I had a beautiful birthday cake with 100 lit candles, do you know what I would wish on every single one? That the story from RadioLab of the guy who saves the whale from the crab traps and then the whale comes back and “thanks” every single member of the crew by touching them lightly on the chest including the boat was actually that. Human-like Gratitude. From an animal. Oh man, do I want that to be true. Listen to it. I totally bet you cry.