But even if spirituality exists in some animals, it’s surely very high up the evolutionary ladder where you find a recognizable form of it. All living creatures, which are themselves an evolutionary step up from plants – even to the nastiest microscopic ones like the AIDS virus – have some degree of awareness which may or may not be “consciousness” or even a kind of preconsciousness, or they could not survive as they do. But as for spirituality, it would be hard to find that in most of them, certainly not in a flea or lizard, even if you like lizards. So having assumed that all humans have spirituality but possibly in varying strengths, what of animals? Some of them, the ones closest to humans, seem to have some spirituality inside them. Think of the “soulful” the eyes of a dumb bovine milk cow; look into the soft wet eyes of a baby seal, don’t they look like there’s a spiritual soul inside?
Appearances are poor indicators, though. Despite their deep eyes, cows are extraordinarily stupid overall, they’re obviously conscious of and react to their surroundings, but it would be hard to find even a grain of true spirituality about them. Only in cartoons and digitally manipulated tv ads do cows show any intelligence, they are funny because they’re depicted as having human humor and intellect. Yet chimps, closest to us on the evolutionary scale, generally have rather beady-looking eyes, and yet when you catch a glimpse of intelligence in those beady eyes they also sometimes seem to hold a calculating quality which might presage a spiritual inner sense. Spirituality is clearly associated with the ability to think freely, although the most brilliant of geniuses aren’t necessarily the most spiritual of people, some of them seem to be.
But, if you have had a close pet dog or cat, consider for a moment whether you saw spirituality in them, particularly the ones that seem to have a genuine sense of humor in their play and interaction with us, our pets clearly have unique personalities, some show what appears to be embarrassment and joy and sorrow, and hardly anyone would dispute the extraordinary emotional connection some domesticated animals display, particularly with sick and emotionally disturbed and traumatized humans. Is that a kind of spirituality? And if so, did those domesticated animals develop or “catch” it from their human connection or do we merely confer that quality on them for our own needs and ends?
Pavlov the Russian scientist, was heavily influenced by Cartesian philosophy which held that animals aren’t even conscious. His theory simplified went something like this: Consciousness and the ability to think and thus to feel are a part of the soul which is given to humans by God, but not to animals. He therefore thought of dogs as mere creatures that did not even feel pain, he thought their yelps and barks when subjected to physical trauma as when tests were done in his laboratories were just built-in nerve reactions. The discovery for which he is most celebrated was accidental, that of the connection between salivating by the dogs and the bell that signaled his laboratory workers to feed the dogs. With his beliefs about the mental capacities of dogs, it must have been very difficult for him to accept that after a short while they were able to learn the connection between a ringing bell and the appearance of food soon after. So they salivated at the sound of the bell, even before the food was smelled or made its appearance.
Preconceptions and prejudice make it very difficult to see the truth. Rather like the pre-existing biases of religiously motivated scientists.