BITE-SIZE PHILOSOPHY (45) — Have you ever seen animals “coming up with new ideas”?

Rev José Mario O Mandía

Nature is wonderful. Nature is fascinating. Just watch birds build nests, or ants making anthills, or bees constructing beehives.

But have you ever wondered why birds don’t ever design new kinds of nests, why ants don’t ever think of new forms of anthills, why bees don’t ever conceive new structures for beehives? In the animal kingdom, only man is capable of designing a place where he can live. Also, even if two people may live in two flats which are very similar in shape and size and volume, yet they will decorate their flats differently!

Have you ever imagined birds coming together and deciding to elect their own president, monkeys coming in groups and demonstrating to fight for democracy?

Have you ever seen chickens setting up school for their chicks? Have you ever seen dogs organizing concerts, ever seen eagles coming up with new flying tricks and formations, cats trying to invent new ways of catching mice?

Have you ever seen animals “coming up with new ideas”?

As human beings, we know that we are in some ways similar to the animals. One of these similarities is that we are able to sense and observe things around us. We have passions as well–we get angry or happy or sad or afraid or hopeful. But there seems to be something in man which differentiates him greatly from beasts.

The way we know is a superior kind of knowing. From the things that we learn, we are able to apply our experience and our knowledge to other situations which are different from the situation in which we learned them. We are not only able to make sounds about how we feel (as the animals do), but are able to communicate ideas to others, and hence, are able to cooperate and interact with them. We can plan for our future, see the relations between different experiences and ideas, come up with specific projects starting from abstract concepts. We are able to reflect on the things we know, assess and evaluate them.

Man seems to have powers which are higher than the sensory powers that animals have. While the senses only tell us about the observable characteristics of specific things, we can ask the question “What?” This question, innocent as it may seem, leads us to know more about something or someone over and above that thing’s physical traits. And this question cannot be answered by the senses.

Our ability to grasp the essence of things around us makes it possible for us to understand their use. Have you thought, for example, what a wonderful thing it is to see that the silicon used in computer chips have come from sand? In the beginning, we thought that sand was good to have on the beach, and it was also good for building houses. But later on, through scientific and technological research, we have come to know better its nature or essence, and realized that it can be of great service to man.

Language also tells us that we have this higher ability of knowing when we say, for instance, “I think that…,” or “I believe that….,” or “Yes, I understand what you mean,” or “Did you know…?” When we ask someone to explain something to us, it shows that we have an intellect that can reach into the essence of things. (The word “intellect” comes from Latin: intus, which means “into” and legere, “to read” — therefore it literally means “to read into” something, to see into something.)

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