About two years ago my wife and I were watching some dumb T.V. show about cute cats. On that show some cat behavioral “expert” person said that when cats greet themselves they wink at each other.
Whether this is ture or not is unknown to me. I’ve tried Googling the topic several times only to be confronted with all kinds of pet websites. It turns out there’s a gazillion websites that talk about cats and dogs like they know what they’re talking about even though they often contradict themselves.
If there’s been any definitive scientific study about cats that wink at each other I have been unable to find it.
Then one day our cat, Midnight, jumped up on my lap. At the time he was a 10 year old cat who’d lived with us since he was abandoned by some railway tracks in Missouri. My daughter, Leanna, fed him with a baby bottle even before his eyes were open. Fast forward a decade and this cat was mischievous and smart. He knew how to close doors to keep other cats out of a room and open cabinets in the bathroom and kitchen to hide inside.
One day we found him with his head stuck in a gourd on top of the refrigerator. (He had eaten a hole into the gourd and got stuck.)
Midnight’s eyes were large and probing. As he sat on my lap that day, he purred and looked me straight in the eye.
Then I did it. I tested the theory. I sought the answer to the question.
I winked at the cat.
He looked puzzled and looked deeply into my eyes. He did not wink back. Aha, I thought. No truth to that tall tale.
I winked again. No sense in doing something just once. You’ve got to test it repeatedly.
Slowly and deliberately, quite to my surprise, Midnight winked back!
I thought, okay, the cat just winked. It could have been a coincidence. I winked a third time, and he winked back again.
This began a ritual that lasted two years until the day he died. He would jump on my lap, I’d wink, and he’d wink back, night after night. Sometimes he would wink first and wait for me to respond. Kind of weird, huh.
It seemed to me a special bond between us – something shared between man and animal – a human and an animal communicating on some kind of almost spiritual plane.
Then one day a couple of weeks ago, when he was 12, Midnight was hit by a car in the back alley. My neighbor found him and said he was dead. They had placed him in a cardboard box. He was still warm, but he was gone. I had to drive him to the pound to dispose his body.
This brings me to the question at hand: Do animals have souls?
My cat had life. He was playful. He could look you straight in the eye and wink at you. He could close doors and open cabinets. He was a living, breathing creature, albeit with a slightly more muddled brain than most – but not all – of us.
Obviously, animals don’t know about the sun, the moon, the stars or the universe. They don’t know about molecules or layers of the atmosphere or geostationary satellites. They can’t read or write. They lack the ability to comprehend much about life. They don’t seem to have much in the way of self introspection.
Their brains are muddled.
What I mean by muddled is that it appears the animals are conscious but their brains don’t work like ours. This can happen to you as well. You could have a stroke or get Alzheimer’s. You would still be you, but you wouldn’t be able to think clearly because your brain is muddled.
Perhaps this is what it’s like to be an animal – to have a muddled brain.
Animals are, nonetheless, conscious and react with people and their environment in differing ways. Some can look you in the eye and understand something about you or wink back at you. Far from inanimate, some chimpanzees can communicate with humans by talking in sign language with a learned human vocabulary.
That cat was my buddy. He was my friend and he thought of me as his friend. He was a well meaning, mentally challenged individual with a muddled, but perfectly normal cat brain. The mental capacity of his little brain prohibited him from advanced learning or communication, but still there was something there – the ghost in the machine.
The argument that animals have no souls I find dubious, as if the soul were a “thing” separate from the self that some creatures possess and some don’t. Some believe we can sell the soul to the devil, as if it were something we could sell to another. We can give away somehow. Once we do that, these people say, we have no soul anymore. We become soul-less.
In my thinking, the soul is the “us” that makes us “us,” the being inside the body, the consciousness of an entity. It occurs to me that I am conscious, my wife is conscious and our animals are conscious – some more, some less. To claim animals have no souls due to some religious doctrine does not ring true to my ears.
As to what makes us conscious, what is consciousness itself, that is yet another discussion, but as to whether animals have a soul or not seems to me to be no more than ridiculous speculation. The word “soul” is an antiquated, unscientific word. What do we mean by soul, that some living creatures can have one and other living creatures do not?
Animals have consciousness. We have consciousness.
Animals have four legs. A table has four legs. The animal is living, the table is inanimate. Inanimate has no consciousness – it is soul-less. Animate is something altogether different.
Or so I think.