Brutus, Gus, a Slime Mold and Me

Bruts head shot at beachIMG_0781

The Western mind draws a sharp boundary between humans and the rest of the world….for the Western mind, it is hard to recognize mind in animals, whereas for the Japanese mind, it is hard not to do so.~~Semiotician Yoshimi Kawade, written in 1998

That quote gets me to thinking…

Brutus, the lab mix that I often dog sit, sends me love with a look. He and I look directly, usually silently, into each other’s eyes each time we want to tell each other something. It’s simple. Direct. Clear. A type of mind reading. I’ve learned from dogs and cats how much can be said by the eyes.

With Brutus and Gus, the tiger-striped cat, words are seldom necessary even though I use them out of habit. Brutus and Gus hear me make sounds. Brutus looks at me patiently until I make myself clear.; Gus is less patient and will walk off unless I add a treat to the sounds.

I think, that people need dogs and cats for more than the unconditional love (well, conditioned as for Gus the cat)—we get sick and tired of talking.

Or we can’t stop talking around people and can only be quiet with our pets. Words are hard to come by. The right ones. Words can be so difficult to find. Those we speak are often the ones we repeat out of habit; they aren’t the words available, or even appropriate often, in the present moment, if we took the time to notice those.

People don’t listen for the most part. Dogs listen. They learn the meaning of words.directed to them. When I say “car” or “beach”  or “cookies” to Brutus, he comes to a happy attention. Have we learned any language from other animals in the same way?

Our words come from minds filled with past and future, so how accurate are they? How wise? Meanwhile, my stock and trade is, ironically, words; I’m a writer and a teacher. However, I’ve been investigating the mind in the way of the as a Buddha and I am starting to see its limitations.

Intelligence in Nature, An Inquiry into Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby,  an anthropologist, is filled with words for 243 pages. Since they are written instead of spoken, they have been carefully chosen and re-thought many times; writing can be a more clearway to use words than speaking. Narby writes about the intelligence he and other scientists, have discovered in creatures great and minuscule (like nematodes). “A slime mold,” he writes,” in a maze has the capacity to apprehend its situation and act on its knowledge.” He makes the point that there are more forms of intelligence than we ever dreamed of. A Western mind has to overcome hundreds of years of the myth of human intellectual superiority.

Recently I read in Narby’s book that “Information of one kind or another is consistently circulating in nature, in particular in the form of biochemical molecules. The world is streaming with signs. Not so long ago, some people considered the use of signs a specifically human trait.”

All this is to say, that I am searching as I write: what is nature telling me? What is it I am missing? Can I become better at reading the signs life is posting? We’ll see…

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