Rats giggle too
- Did you know that rats giggle if you tickle them and come back for more?
(There is a picture beside me of Sri Chinmoy with a little gray rodent
nuzzling his outstretched hand - I wonder if it is purring, inaudible
to the humans around it). In a video called, "Why Dogs Smile and
Chimpanzees Cry" by Sigourney Weaver and Carol L. Fleisher, I listened
to a rat giggle in frequnecies lowered (transduced) to the level where
human ears could perceive it, as it was tickled.
From the video cover:
"Does a dog smile? Does a chimpanzee cry? New technologies of brain
imaging coupled with observations of animals who are learning a human
language, finally offer a glimpse into the hearts and minds of our
fellow beings. Join scientists and documentary filmmakers as they
travel on an unprecedented journey into emotional realms that were
thought to be exclusively human."
The video touched me deeply. It is about emotions in animals. It
features views of our fellow creatures, mammals, by those who love and
are fascinated by them, creatures it turns out, who are not so
different from ourselves.
Part observation, part interpretation, I found it a melding of mind
and heart, science and spirit. Perhaps it means a little extra to me,
because earlier decades of my life were spent searching for truth
through science, geology, chemistry, biology, psychology and finally
in the study of physics. Finding myself teaching the stuff I
wondered, "What am I doing here? I haven't found what I was looking
for ". Gradually I abandoned this approach to truth, to look in an
apparently different way - through meditation and prayer. Now I turn
The video and the effort, creative forces and dreams behind it, are
the work of hearts, minds, bodies, passions and - are a study of
these. In animals, by humans. Who teaches whom, I wonder? I gained
insights into myself by watching it.
"There are many, many ways animals can help us in our evolution. ..."
I think about a post last year. A wise person, who
wise-cracks about giving all her `smarts' to her brother. (I strongly disagree.) She spoke about emotions in humans, emotions in
animals; of the jealousy of pets competing for their master's
affection (sound familiar?...); of the fondness between a young hippo and an old tortoise and the inspiration and hope humanity can gain from the example.
In the video I found more examples. Let me describe some scenes:
Perhaps some of you are familiar with Washoe and her family.
She is a chimpanzee raised for the study of the speech - the capacity
of language in animals, how humans may have developed it. A human
woman researcher-friend of Washoe and her family, took a leave to have
a child. She had a premature birth and lost her baby. When she
returned to visit Washoe after a few days break, Washoe first gave her
the cold shoulder. She had missed her friend. But when the human
woman signed that her baby was lost, Washoe at first was still. She
then made the sign for tears. Washoe had also lost an infant. When
the human made to go, Wasu made the sign for "don't go, hugs". (I
write from memory, and refer you to the video above for exact words.)
When Wasu and her family were prepared for a move to a new home with
the freedom of the outdoors, Wasu did not immediately go out. She
looked out, then before celebrating the joy and freedom of the new
environment, returned to the window, put her face up to the glass, as
much against the face of the human friend as was possible, and made
the sign for "Thank-you".
I saw wolves grieving for a lost pack mate - howling, not playing, no
`smiles' for weeks after his death.
I saw a `bold' meer-cat who watched over a meer-cat burrow taken over
by a fox bearing kits. Curious?, territorial?, interested in the
nursing kits and mother?... Whatever the reason, the meer-cat
community did not abandon him or her despite needing to move on, for
food, shelter and water in the harsh desert environment. A day spent
in watching, cost the meer-cat its life, but it did not die alone.
I watched an elephant baby trying to drink from a drying water hole,
fall into thick mud, held as if in quick sand, and its mother trumpet
for help, then kneel and try to get it out with her trunk while others
made a ramp for it to walk up once it was out, assist the mother with
lifting. After the baby was finally freed, coated in mud, its elders
came one by one, to touch it, to assure themselves that it was all
"There are some elephants I have seen whose souls are so fully evolved
that, when they take human incarnation, they will immediately far
surpass many human beings." - Sri Chinmoy
I listened to a biologist with an affinity toward dolphins (it reminds
me of the park worker with an affinity toward animals, a nonverbal
communication, working with the orphaned hippo), say that the longer
he was with a dolphin, the more its eye would become not a dolphin
eye, but an eye, like yours or mine.
Tears left my eyes, at the story of a dog who ran in front of a moving
truck on a dusty farm field to stop it from running over one of the
family children, who, unseen in the thick dust, lay ahead, his bicycle
stuck in a rut.
"...In my own case, my dog Kanu used to take my suffering. ..." - Sri
I heard of pets taking on the psychological difficulties of their
masters or having psychological difficulties of their own and recover
after taking the same antidepressants that humans take, perk up when
played with and challenged or working.
Grief, devotion, joy, play, loyalty, empathy, all this I witnessed in
this video in animals.
And what are considered divine qualities?
What is our "lower"self our animal self? Are these very same
qualities not considered divine qualities? Is there really a lower
self - or is this a game of superiority, inferiority sometimes played
by earth creatures, human or otherwise?
"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of
animals... For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world
older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete,
gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained,
living by voices we shall never hear. "
"They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other
nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow
prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."
-- Henry Beston
Each nation is a promise of God for God Himself. - Sri Chinmoy
8 May 2007