As Animals, We Lack Common Sense

From “Princess Mononoke” by Studio Ghibli

When we negate our own senses, we are saying, “I am not truly human.” When we embrace them, we are saying, “ I am just like you.”

For many years I thought that overcoming our base senses is what characterized the life of a sage. From Zen Buddhism to Stoicism, I was innately attracted to philosophies of life that insist that there is more to life than this physical world.

Even in poetry and art and music I sought out that which transcended our mortal coil. Both religion and science can be a vehicle that transports us from the realm of the mortal to the immortal.

But in the end we are animals. Like all other mammal brains, we share a limbic system that allows us to feel, to have sensation, and to interact with the world in similar ways. We treasure our friends, family, and community. Our main focus is on raising our families, and protecting them from harm.

We think we are vastly different, but we are not.

Our prefontal cortex allows us to have metacognition, or the ability to think about thinking. We can think in complex ways about the past and the future, as well as having spacial cognition that includes the galaxy and our own souls. But these ideas exist in the mind, and in the mind of most mammals, only the present reality is relevant.

We think that we have moved past these base needs, but they are still there. Our modern lives lack real meaning, and our only stimulation comes from the flickering of dead screens. It is no wonder that we search endlessly for a raison d’etre. Our modern lives literally dump us without context into a world that lacks natural structure and imposes manmade metacognitive dissonance.

But the nice thing is that we can always come back into the self by simply recognizing the humanity of our fellow humans. We can recognize the struggles of our fellow animals, and began to develop our awareness of the circle of life and death by understanding that the world is more complex than the storybooks and movies illustrate. It is a wildly convoluted complex planet and universe out there, and we, with our complex cortexs, want to impose order and linearity onto the chaos that we perceive.

And that is why my brain wants to simplify, even though it isn’t simple. There is no one god, nor is there a heaven or hell. There is something far more beautiful and amazing: The Universe. Our solar system. Our planet. Infinity. Dark Matter. The Sun. Our partners, our friends, and our children.

And yet it isn’t chaos, it is the most beautiful of natural order, if we can open up our perception to include it all. And the only way we can open up our perception is to open up our senses, to welcome our animal selves back into our lives, instead of desperately trying to shove them into a dark closet to suffocate and die

Our animal self is who we are first and foremost. That part of us won’t go away.

There is a misconception of what an “animal self” is, or in other words, our older cognitive apparatus, including our limbic system. These are the most ancient parts of our brain, what we share with all other mammals and perhaps, within those neurological patterns, all other animals.

Those parts can induce the “fight and flight” response, yes, and rage and violence to protect one’s body and property, but they are also the home of our deep sense of connection to one another, to our partners, and to our families.

An animal isn’t a procreating and pooping automaton, it is a highly complex metaorganism that depends on endless interactions with it’s environment, and all other animals and plants in it’s immediate vicinity. All other animals are as complex and mysterious as we are, and yet we believe we are the only highly advanced species on the planet, namely because we know how to commit mass murder easily.

This of course is not a sign of vast intelligence, but more so a sign of intense and willful ignorance. Simply because we are clever enough to create gunpowder and split the atom doesn’t make us wiser then all the dolphins and whales and wolves and elephants in the world. We have much to learn from them on how to become better people, on how to create thriving societies, on how to treat each other on a day to day basis.

No, we have more to learn from animals than they will ever need to learn from us. And the beginning step is to realize that we are one of them, and in many ways we lack their common sense.

Words are Code - "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." - Rumi