Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sharing A Vision

What we gain vicariously from the keen vision of an eagle or the ultrasonic sight of a bat is but a glimpse of our world through the superior senses of other animals. Our surroundings become something more when we take the time and have the imagination to see our environment through their eyes. From mimicking the ultraviolet landscape that a honeybee sees, we know that a field of flowers presents a much larger and more dynamic color spectrum than the one we see.

Creatures like our pet dogs can smell a world that reveals the past in dropped spores and a present more aromatically vibrant and enlightening than the one we can detect. Even the air around us becomes more extraordinary when we look at it from the miniatures’ viewpoint. For a fly, our atmosphere it is more viscous than the one we know. It is like an ocean of water where the mosquitoes and bees above us swim more than fly. Speaking of the ocean, a whale more massive than any dinosaur that ever lived is an agile acrobat and sender of distant messages we cannot hear.

Truly, there is a lot more going on than we ever expected. Once we understand and appreciate the full dimension of our environment from our fellow creatures’ vantage point, we realize that we are handicapped without animals—all of them.

It is not that we have not appreciated them. We have long used animals to carry our burdens, feed and clothe us. They have become our tools and inspired our art. They have accompanied us into battle and shared the casualties. Medicines from them, like the anticoagulants in snake poison, relieve our pain. Experimentation on our fellow creatures reveals the dangers of drugs or the usefulness of our cosmetics before we endanger ourselves.

Our pets give us comfort and share our lives. Zoos offer us entertainment and awe. Many of our machines, airplanes, and submarines for example, were modeled after observing the natural exploits of animals. In short, there is no limit to the ways we have used and abused animals to bolster our way of living. However, what we have failed to grasp is that exploitation does not quite cover our relationship to animals.

Our destinies are more deeply linked than we have ever imagined. Not merely are our lives something less (perhaps, if you are religious, our souls more empty) by the horrendous devastation we have caused in the animal kingdom, but each time we extinct an animal species (the educated guess for loss of plants and animals species is about thirty thousand per year) we are less able to monitor our world. Without the heightened senses of our fellow creatures, we become duller to the warning signals in our environment and have less time to adjust to their consequences.

Animals, all of them in every corner of our planet, are telling us that we have only a partial view of reality, a limited spectrum of input that mostly blinds us to our surroundings. Without the omnipresence of all creatures, worms and bacteria in the ground, microscopic organisms in the seas, or viruses jumping from creature to creature, we have not a clue as how our planet is working as a whole unit. Our senses—short-sighted eyes, pitiable hearing, and a lousy sense of smell by comparison with other creatures—were good enough when our ancestors were swinging from the trees. That is because we had not yet disrupted the natural order of things.

We are now, two hundred years into the Industrial Revolution, quite oblivious to a great deal of critical information in our environment—not only because of the relative poor quality of our senses. The extreme myopia of our attitudes towards animals is a far more insidious defect. Our lack of insight is the problem. When something triggers the loss of an entire species in a short amount of time (two species of vultures in India as I write are dropping from the sky without a clue), it should tell us how quickly a minor variation in the environment can change things radically—for vultures, in a society that does not eat cows, are a necessity.

Our best chance for a sustainable existence is that before we eliminate any more animal species, we should do what we do most excellent—amalgamate and communicate. An ability we have, perhaps our greatest, is to share experiences and learn from others. Being able to understand and empathize, not only with our own kind, but also with other beings, offers us our greatest potential to grow as a species. If, instead of exploiting other species on this planet, we began assimilating their abilities and appreciating the role other beings play in our environment, we could vastly increase our chances of survival.

Almost all other animals have had a lot more experience at survival than we have. We are only five million years old; frogs existed before the dinosaurs. It is by our observations of our fellow creature and research of them in situ (not torn from their environment and condemned to a zoo) that we are able to get a hint of a far brighter and richer environment than the short-term obsessive vista we presently live in.

If we are willing to embrace all the senses and talents of all the other animals on our planet, we might be able to find our way back to a mode of living that works in the long term. The model of the canary in the coalmine is an insufficient paradigm for our relationship to animals because it assumes that we will have time to bolt when our fellow creatures drop.

Our chance for a sustainable existence is that before we eliminate any more animal species, we should do what we do best—amalgamate and communicate. An ability we have, perhaps our greatest, is to share experiences and learn from others. Being able to understand and empathize, not only with our own kind, but also with other beings, offers us our greatest potential to grow as a species.

If, instead of exploiting other species on this planet, we began assimilating their abilities and appreciating the role other beings play in our environment, we could vastly increase our chances of survival. Almost all other animals have had a lot more experience at survival than we have. We are only five million years old; frogs existed before the dinosaurs. It is by our observations of our fellow creature and research of them in situ (not torn from their environment and condemned to a zoo) that we are able to get a hint of a far brighter and richer environment than our short-term obsessive vista we presently live in.

If we are willing to embrace all the senses and talents of all the other animals on our planet, we might be able to find our way back to a mode of living that works. The model of the canary in the coalmine is an insufficient paradigm for our relationship to animals because it assumes that we will have time to bolt when our fellow creatures drop.

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