Animals and Time

Do animals have an experience of time similar to humans? I believe so.

I propose that each life, whether human or animal, experiences time and the passage of time, hence history, individually, uniquely.

It is difficult for a human to know his/her own self much less another. The way we try to know another is through empathy based on our own experiences and feelings in time. Science attempts to provide an objective approach to knowing self, other humans, and humans in general.

But how can we know what other animals experience and feel? Is there a way to empathize with animals based on experience? We can try, but a difficulty will be the animal experience of time, the passage of time, which will be different from humans. Humans try to objectify time so that they can make sense of their own passing, but to try to do this with other creatures? How do other creatures experience time, hence their own sense of history? Are nonhuman creatures able to know how time is experienced by others of their own species?

Since different creatures experience time differently and have different lifespans this will shape how they consider themselves and others. Humans know approximately how long they might live and base decisions on this knowledge. Do other animals?
I have often thought that humans have a superiority to other animals because they have knowledge of time, they can anticipate the future, even to death. If an animal does not have a set perspective on time they will have a different experience of life, living for the moment rather than the past or future.

But perhaps I am wrong.

My pup Buzzy wakes me up every day when the sun rises. He anticipates the morning, and breakfast, and somehow or another, without using a clock or alarm, wakes up precisely on time. My four pups are constantly anticipating just about everything I do. Is this just the ability to discern my habits, or do they have a sense of time? And, if they have such a sense of time, perhaps they keep track of past and future–in other words, perhaps they have their own sense of history.

Much of the human concern with time is the worry over the future, aging, and death. We all know that death awaits, and we often think about the time we have left. How do we know that other animals, even the lowest creatures, don’t have this awareness? Perhaps they are anticipating their demise, fearing death, as much as we are. If so, then what does this mean for the food industry, for the wanton disregard for life displayed by humans in so many ways, such that we have a sense that if other animal life is unimportant to us, then we take away that life.

Many theologians stress how the human experience of time involves the process of discovery of self, of sin, and the yearning for redemption, conversion, and salvation. These religious experiences occur in time. If other animals experience time, do they also have similar spiritual experiences? Are we really so sure what the answer is?

Different animals have different lifespans. My pups will not live as long as I will. So I am on my fourth generation of pups in my life. I might even have a fifth generation. Marcus Aurelius in Meditations argues that duration is less important than experience of life. This is difficult to swallow, when we humans know that we have an average lifespan in the 70s. But think of all of the creatures that exist, many of which might have lifespans of just a few months. Is their experience of life, since shorter than the human lifespan, less significant, less important? Perhaps animals, living in conformity to the natural way, have a more enjoyable, even more profound experience of life than we humans, preoccupied with building, changing, creating, doing–money, power, luxury, and excess.

The more I study and think about animals, the less I am certain of the human assumption that we are in control of all other forms of life. I wonder: perhaps, to God, all forms of life are equal: all lives matter.

About theamericanplutarch

Writer, thinker, historian.
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