Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Silence of Animals

In his new book, The Silence of Animals, the philosopher John Gray explores why humans continue to use myth to give purpose to their lives. He sees humans as incapable of moving beyond their primordial, animalistic, selfish instincts, particularly when factors beyond their control make them fearful. There is supposed to be a kind of essence to humanity, in which humans want to shape their own lives.You begin to see that when life becomes unsettled, when there are dangers, especially that people cannot understand. It’s then that humans tend to look at solutions to these problems that typically involve restricting freedoms. In other words: when life gets rough, the need for freedom, or the impulse for freedom, which is real — it’s part of the human constitution you might say— tends very commonly to be eclipsed by other needs. Well knowledge is important. But I’m not sure if finding a true meaning is. Even Epicurus said: When we exist death is not, and when death exists we are not. What he means is, we have a different sense of time which is non-existent in other animals. If we have the idea of our mortality then we see our lives in a different way because we think we see them as a single coherent story. What distinguishes humans from animals is precisely this need to tell stories. Silence for other animals means rest. Humans are the only animals that flee internal noise. Humans, throughout pre-history, have engaged in all sorts of meditation, either to shift the way they perceive the world, or to produce in themselves, some state of silence, from which something else will come.

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