They live closer to the bone


In common parlance, the word ‘soul’ pops up everywhere…Soul music gets us swaying. We want our lover, body and soul. In each case, ‘soul’ connotes deep feeling and core values…Today, studies increasingly show that many non-human beings feel. Elephants appear to feel grief, while dolphins and whales express joy, or something much like it. Parrots can become cranky, pigs and cows terrified, chickens saddened, monkeys seemingly embarrassed. Experiments have shown that rats become agitated when seeing surgery performed on other rats and that, when presented with a trapped lab-mate and a piece of chocolate, they will free their caged brethren before eating. […]

One might even argue that other creatures are more cognisant of feelings than humans are, because they possess a primary form of consciousness: they are aware of themselves and their environment but are less burdened by complexities such as reflection and rumination that typify human consciousness. They live closer to the bone, so to speak. Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep (1995), has remarked that animals possess feelings of ‘undiluted purity and clarity’ compared to the ‘seeming opacity and inaccessibility of human feelings.’[…]

Extraordinary examples of ensoulment among non-human animals abound. Ethologist Adriaan Kortlandt once observed a wild chimp in the Congo ‘gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors’, forsaking his evening meal in the process. Elsewhere, African elephants belonging to the same family or group will greet one another after a separation with a loud chorus of rumbles and roars as they rush together, flapping their ears and spinning in circles. […]

A particularly striking case of animal gratitude occurred in 2005 off the California coast, where a female humpback whale was found entangled in nylon ropes used by fishermen. As recounted by Frans de Waal in The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society (2009): ‘The ropes were digging into the blubber, leaving cuts. The only way to free the whale was to dive under the surface to cut away the ropes.’ The divers spent an hour at the task, an especially risky one given the sheer strength of the animal’s tail. ‘The most remarkable part came when the whale realised it was free. Instead of leaving the scene, she hung around. The huge animal swam in a large circle, carefully approaching every diver separately. She nuzzled one, then moved on to the next, until she had touched them all.’ […]

In the end, soul may be a profound matter of fellow feeling. The stronger the capability of a given species for fellow feeling, the more that species can be said to exhibit soulfulness. To view things in this way offers another important step in humanity’s progression towards understanding its place in creation – and to appreciate the inheritance we hold in common with other sentient beings on this increasingly small, restive, and fragile planet.

~ Michael Jawer, Do only humans have souls, or do animals possess them too? | Aeon Ideas

Photo: Humpback whale bubbles by Scott Portelli (via lovely seas)


  1. So we don’t really engage in anthropomorphic projections…they really get it – arguably better than we do….makes one think twice about what one eats..

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The description of the female humpback’s actions is so moving. And WMS, they get it, there’s no doubt in my mind…


  3. P.S. This post reminded me of a video I just watched yesterday. DK, I believe you’ve posted something about this relationship in the past, but I hadn’t seen this ‘how they met’ clip before….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The word touch.
    Egg-shell fragility with absolute strength.
    Not to be torn asunder nor dismissed.
    Sometimes…we forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tears of agreement and love for our earthly community.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Land mammals appreciate kindness, so why not sea mammals. It’s just that we understand so little about them; that’s why it amazes us to see these human-like responses.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Feelings of Undiluted purity and clarity…
    Very few humans achieve and sustain that I believe. One can spot a human like this easily because they stand out, and are rare.
    Again, makes me wonder who’s higher up the evolutionary ladder.
    We, humans, are easily polluted.

    In general, odd or unlikely animal friendships and emotional behaviour is on the rise. We are being taught a lesson. But, who’s paying attention?
    Most humans are too busy to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We, humans, are easily polluted. So true. I think his analysis here captures it: “One might even argue that other creatures are more cognisant of feelings than humans are, because they possess a primary form of consciousness: they are aware of themselves and their environment but are less burdened by complexities such as reflection and rumination that typify human consciousness. They live closer to the bone, so to speak”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. how beautiful and yes, if only we could cut out all of the ‘outside noise’ of our lives and just listen to our hearts and souls.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Of COURSE non-human beings feel! I see it all the time. Just this weekend, several instances – on the hills across the street, I saw two mama cows mooing over and over until their babies came running down from the top of the hill…and on those same hills, I witnessed a mama cow walking with her little one behind her, always looking over her shoulder to make sure the little one was not far behind. And in the evening, I will many times see birds perched on the branches of the trees outside facing the sunset, taking in the warmth and the beauty. Of course non-human beings feel, and most likely more than humans feel overall. Humans find it so easy to destroy and to take advantage of their fellow beings on this planet. We are not the gentler species by a long stretch.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Inspiring post. Kind of makes me want to cry! I’m going to read the book you noted, “When Elephants Weep”. Do you know of any others like it?

    Liked by 1 person

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