Thoughts on the question: “do animals think?” – wordless and thought understanding

I got on a conversation the other day that got into some interesting things.  It started with the question: 

“Do animals think?” 

To begin with I should point out that to think would mean that they have words, sentences, and the subsequent result, ideas, which lead to thought.  I feel that animals do not have words.  I see no evidence to suggest this.  If they have no words then they have no ideas and no thought.  The answer, then, is that animals do not think.

But, yet, they relate with the world.  They react to it, they learn from it, they interact with it, and they use things of the world for their benefit.  This implies active involvement with the world.  By this I mean that they are not ‘machines of instinct’ reacting to the world in a predetermined way.  There is great variability in how they involve themselves with the world. 

Not only that, many animals display a distinct character or personality showing that there is much more to them than we think.  When they are hurt some will practically give out a cry.  If they are frightened some may give out a shreak.  Some can go through a depression or other mental states.  This behaviour describes a ‘someone’ that’s there, a being that see’s itself as there in the world and feels the fears and worries of the world.  This is not a ‘dumb animal’, but a being, a ‘someone’. 

But how does this ‘someone’ relates with the world? 

We tend to think that words, ideas, and concepts are so neat.  Some people consider it the ‘ultimate’.  But is it?  We, as human beings, have become so accustomed to thought that we think it is everything.  We have made a world based in thoughts and ideas.  This has been done with such force that we think thoughts and ideas are the world.  But we are mistaken.  There are more ways to relate to the world than thought. 

When you do something do you think about it?  Do you have to think of each step you take?  Do you think about each action you do?  Do you think about everything that you do?  If you slow down and watch you’ll find that thought, really, has little to do with a lot of your actions.  Things are “done”, decisions are “made”, acts are “performed”, all without thought or ideas.  It shows that there is more than thought and ideas.  It shows that there is a different way to understand things in life:  wordless understanding.

Typically, we tend to forget this, or disregard it, because of the power of thought in our life.  It tends to take a ‘back seat’ and slowly fades away through time, and soon we aren’t even aware of it anymore.  This shows the power of thought and ideas.  It also shows the illusion it causes by its power. 

I tend to feel that the ‘purest’ type of understanding is wordless understanding. 


Because wordless understanding came first.  From it sprouted words, thoughts, and ideas. 

Not only that, once we use words we actually degrade our understanding.  That may sound weird but its true.  With words things are as if ‘pigeon holed’ or given specific value.  When I say “the wood is brown” is that true?  Yes, abstractly.  But if you look at the wood you’ll see that it is more than brown.  There are different gradations of brown.  But is there a name for each gradation of brown?  The same goes with a spectrum of light.  Is every different shade given a name?  No.  We give things a name for simplicity and to keep it manageable:  “that’s blue, yellow, green”.  But, in reality, there are a million different gradations of blue, yellow, and green.  The process of keeping things simple and manageable is one of the powers of thought.  It makes the world something we can ‘understand’. 

But in so doing it tends to oversimplify the world.  This oversimplification is part of the degradation of thought.  When we ‘oversimpify’ in thought we as if “cut corners” and trim off stuff to achieve this.  This means that any thought, any idea, is ‘broken down’ in some way.

Now, because the oversimplification of thought breaks things down, and degrades it, it shows that the original form – wordless understanding – is more of a ‘pure’ understanding.  It is for this reason that I have always emphasized the need to develop our wordless understanding.  Not only that, it would suggest that animals, having wordless understanding, have a more ‘pure’ understanding of the world than we do.  In effect, they have better understandingOne could argue that this is why they don’t need machines and other things, like we do, to liveThey live in the world ‘purely’ with ‘pure’ understanding.

Wordless understanding and ‘thought understanding’ are two different different stances toward the world.  In fact, these two understandings are so different they create two different realities.  That is to say, wordless understanding is a whole other world compared to ‘thought understanding’.  They create whole different perspectives of life, of themselves, their stance in the world, and the ‘reality’ of living.  For someone who is rooted in ‘thought understanding’ it would appear that wordless understanding is like being on mars or living in a totally foreign culture.  No doubt it is the adoption of ‘thought’ understanding, and its power, that led to humanity behaving the way it does and creating a whole world of its own, a reality unlike any other ‘non thinking’ animal. 

These two realities means that seeking a wordless understanding is like developing two ‘selfs’:  one associated with wordless understanding, the other with ‘thought’ understanding.  This is one of the great dilemmas of learning wordless understanding.  It can cause great conflict in ones self as a result.  These understandings are so different that many people will never be able to understand the difference between the two. 

It also shows that there are different ways to relate with the world than we think.  Everything isn’t logic and ideas.  There are other ways to live, other realities, other ways to participate in the world. 

There is truth in this saying:  there is whole world out there that we have no “idea” of.

This entry was posted in Contemplation, monastacism, shamanism, spirituality, prayer, and such, Philosophy, Psychology and psychoanalysis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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