Do Animals Have Spiritual Experiences Like Us?
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the Kingdom Animalia or Metozoa. Their body plan eventually undergo fixed as they developed, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on their life.
With a few exceptions, most notably Sponges and Protozoa, animals have bodies differentiated into separate tissues. These include muscles, which are able to contract and control locomotion, and nerve tissues, which sends and process signals.
Animals, not just people, likely have spiritual experiences as analyzed by a prominent neurologist of the processes of spiritual sensation for over three decades. Research suggests that spiritual experiences originate deep within primitive areas of the human – areas shared by other animals with brain structures like our own.
In human, we know that if we disrupt the brain region where vision, sense of motion, orientation in the earth’s gravitational field, and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out of body experiences in human are likely caused by the brain’s arousal system which regulates different states of consciousness. There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat, or primate’s brain.
Since only human are capable of language that can communicate the richness of spiritual experiences, it is unlikely we will ever know with certainty what an animal subjectively experiences. Despite this limitation, it is still reasonable to conclude that since the most primitive areas of our brain happen to be spiritual, then we can expect that animals are also capable of spiritual experiences.
Neurological investigation into human spiritual experiences has made rapid progress in recent years. Researchers have linked profound spiritual phenomena with the deeper, more ancient areas of the brain that evolved before the cerebral cortex, which governs higher cognitive functions. In particular, the limbic system, which rests beneath the cortex and is in charge of most emotional responses, is strongly linked to religious experiences, especially mystical feelings of oneness and mystery. Being the product of pre-human and even pre-hominid evolution, the limbic system is shared with other animals, including dogs, cats, and most other animals kept as pets or on farms.
The balance of evidence, then, seems to be slowly swinging towards a commonality of spiritual experience among humans and animals. If Chimpanzees mourn the deaths of their family members and cats and dogs have the ability to experience grief and sadness, mystical oneness, perhaps the core religious phenomena is something deeper than mere cultural contrivances.
Perhaps, then, the most important question raised by the research into animal spirituality becomes: When a dog has a spiritual experience, does it know it’s having a spiritual experience? While we might not be able to ask a dog this question directly, we can at least assure that the line between humans and animals is thinner than we ever supposed.
For now, let’s keep the door open to the idea that animals can be spiritual beings and let’s consider the evidence for such a claim.