Animal Perception and Understanding

Plutarch, The Cleverness of Animals Moralia 961 a-b

“And here is the argument of Strato the Natural Philosopher demonstrating that it is not possible to sense anything at all without the power of thought. It is true that we may travel over letters with our sight and words fall on our ears which escape us since we are paying attention to other things. But later the mind returns, changes, and pursues each of the details which were overlooked. And this is what the saying means “the mind sees and the mind hears, but the rest is deaf and blind.” And so experiences which impact the eyes or ears do not yield understanding unless thought is present.

This is why Kleomenes the king, when a performance was applauded at a symposium and he was asked whether it seemed fine to him, he said that others should think about it, since he was worrying about the Peloponnese. From this it is necessary that all creatures who have perception also have understanding, if we are able to perceive through understanding.”

Καίτοι Στράτωνός γε τοῦ φυσικοῦ λόγος ἐστὶν ἀποδεικνύων ὡς οὐδ᾿ αἰσθάνεσθαι τὸ παράπαν ἄνευ τοῦ νοεῖν ὑπάρχει· καὶ γὰρ γράμματα πολλάκις ἐπιπορευομένους τῇ ὄψει καὶ λόγοι προσπίπτοντες τῇ ἀκοῇ διαλανθάνουσιν ἡμᾶς καὶ διαφεύγουσι πρὸς ἑτέροις τὸν νοῦν ἔχοντας· εἶτ᾿ αὖθις ἐπανῆλθε καὶ μεταθεῖ καὶ διώκει τῶν προειμένων ἕκαστον ἀναλεγόμενος· ᾗ καὶ λέλεκται: “νοῦς ὁρῇ καὶ νοῦς ἀκούει, τἄλλα κωφὰ καὶ τυφλά”

ὡς τοῦ περὶ τὰ ὄμματα καὶ ὦτα πάθους, ἂν μὴ παρῇ τὸ φρονοῦν, αἴσθησιν οὐ ποιοῦντος. διὸ καὶ Κλεομένης ὁ βασιλεύς, παρὰ πότον εὐδοκιμοῦντος ἀκροάματος, ἐρωτηθεὶς εἰ μὴ φαίνεται σπουδαῖον, ἐκέλευσεν ἐκείνους σκοπεῖν, αὐτὸς3 γὰρ ἐν Πελοποννήσῳ τὸν νοῦν ἔχειν. ὅθεν ἀνάγκη πᾶσιν, οἷς τὸ αἰσθάνεσθαι, καὶ τὸ νοεῖν ὑπάρχειν, εἰ τῷ νοεῖν αἰσθάνεσθαι πεφύκαμεν

British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 47r

Saying the Words is Not Understanding

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 7.7-9

“Certainly those who are overcome by emotions are predisposed in this way. For their rages and desires for sex and other types of enticements obviously transform the body too and creates madness in some. Hence, we must call those who are like this the same as those who are uncontrolled.

For being about to speak words is not at all a sign of understanding. For people who are in these states of mind often recite proofs and the verses of Empedocles. But people who have just learned something will repeat the words when they don’t yet understand them. For knowledge needs to be integrated and this requires time. So, those who talk when they are uncontrolled must be considered as if they were actors reciting their lines.”

ἀλλὰ μὴν οὕτω διατίθενται οἱ ἐν τοῖς πάθεσιν ὄντες· θυμοὶ γὰρ καὶ ἐπιθυμίαι ἀφροδισίων καὶ ἔνια τῶν τοιούτων ἐπιδήλως καὶ τὸ σῶμα μεθιστᾶσιν, ἐνίοις δὲ καὶ μανίας ποιοῦσιν. δῆλον οὖν ὅτι ὁμοίως ἔχειν λεκτέον τοὺς ἀκρατεῖς τούτοις. τὸ δὲ λέγειν τοὺς λόγους τοὺς ἀπὸ τῆς ἐπιστήμης οὐδὲν σημεῖον· καὶ γὰρ οἱ ἐν τοῖς πάθεσι τούτοις ὄντες ἀποδείξεις καὶ ἔπη λέγουσιν Ἐμπεδοκλέους, καὶ οἱ πρῶτον μαθόντες συνείρουσι μὲν τοὺς λόγους, ἴσασι δ᾿ οὔπω· δεῖ γὰρ συμφυῆναι, τοῦτο δὲ χρόνου δεῖται· ὥστε καθάπερ τοὺς ὑποκρινομένους, οὕτως ὑποληπτέον λέγειν καὶ τοὺς ἀκρατευομένους.

 

Image result for medieval manuscript talking animals
Image from here

Always Think about Death: Seneca is the Worst Pen-pal

Seneca, Moral Epistle 30.17-18

“If we want to clarify the causes of our fear, we will discover that some are there and others only seem to exist. We do not fear death, but the thought of death. For we are always distant by some degree from death. Thus, if death must be feared, it should always be feared. For what portion of our time is free from death?

But I ought to fear that you fear the length of this letter more than death. So, I will bring it to an end. Nevertheless, think about death always so that you may not fear it. Farewell.

Si distinguere voluerimus causas metus nostri, inveniemus alias esse, alias videri. Non mortem timemus, sed cogitationem mortis. Ab ipsa enim semper tantundem absumus. Ita si timenda mors est, semper timenda est. Quod enim morti tempus exemptum est?

Sed vereri debeo, ne tam longas epistulas peius quam mortem oderis. Itaque finem faciam. Tu tamen mortem ut numquam timeas, semper cogita. Vale.

 

Seneca, Moral Epistle 65

“Let us be brave in adverse fortune. Let us not fear injury, wounds, chains, or poverty. What is death? It is either the end or a transformation. I do not fear ending, it is the same as never having begun. Nor do I fear transformation, because I will not ever be as constrained as I am now. Farewell.”

Fortes simus adversus fortuita. Non contremescamus iniurias, non vulnera, non vincula, non egestatem. Mors quid est? Aut finis aut transitus. Nec desinere timeo, idem est enim, quod non coepisse, nec transire, quia nusquam tam anguste ero. Vale.

Image result for Ancient Roman Memento Mori

Seneca, Moral Epistles 115.5-6

“But if you are wise, measure all things by the human condition. Control both how you delight and how you fear. It is, indeed, worth much to delight in nothing too long so that you might not fear for too long. But why do I narrowly define this ill? There is nothing which you should think must be feared. All these things which trouble us, which keep us worried, they are empty. No one of us has sounded out what is true, but instead we entrust fear to one another. No one of us has dared to address what really bothers us, to recognize the nature and the good of fear. For this reason what is false and empty still have credence, because they are not countered. Let us consider it worthwhile to train our eyes on this: how brief, how uncertain, how anodyne are the things we fear.”

Sed si sapis, omnia humana condicione metire; simul et quod gaudes et quod times, contrahe. Est autem tanti nihil diu gaudere, ne quid diu timeas. Sed quare istuc malum adstringo? Non est quod quicquam timendum putes. Vana sunt ista, quae nos movent, quae attonitos habent. Nemo nostrum quid veri esset, excussit, sed metum alter alteri tradidit; nemo ausus est ad id, quo perturbabatur, accedere et naturam ac bonum timoris sui nosse. Itaque res falsa et inanis habet adhuc fidem, quia non coarguitur. Tanti putemus oculos intendere; iam apparebit, quam brevia, quam incerta, quam tuta timeantur.

Seneca goes on to cite a little bit of the following passage from Lucretius. Here’s more.

Lucretius 2.53-61

“But what if we see that these things are ridiculous and contemptible,
that, in truth, man’s fear and lurking anxiety
do not shudder at the sound of arms or fierce weapons
or when they bravely move among kings and the world’s rulers
if they do not revere the shine of gold or
turn at the bright shine of purple fabrics—
why do you doubt that real power is wholly the province of reason
especially when life labors completely in the shadows?
For just as children tremble at anything and
jump at dark shadows, so we remain afraid in the light
of things which should not be feared any more
than boys grow pale at shadows in imagining future dangers.
We must therefore dispel the mind’s fear and shadows
Not with a ray of sunshine or the clear shafts of day
But through nature’s clear vision and reason.”

quod si ridicula haec ludibriaque esse videmus,
re veraque metus hominum curaeque sequaces
nec metuunt sonitus armorum nec fera tela
audacterque inter reges rerumque potentis 50
versantur neque fulgorem reverentur ab auro
nec clarum vestis splendorem purpureai,
quid dubitas quin omnis sit haec rationis potestas,
omnis cum in tenebris praesertim vita laboret?
nam vel uti pueri trepidant atque omnia caecis 55
in tenebris metuunt, sic nos in luce timemus
inter dum, nihilo quae sunt metuenda magis quam
quae pueri in tenebris pavitant finguntque futura.
hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
non radii solis neque lucida tela diei 60
discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.

 Reading this passage made me think of the “Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear” which shows up early in Herbert’s Dune (and yes, there was a time I had this memorized as a child):

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain

 

Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

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Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.

Lucretius, Nothing Is Knowable, and More (De Rerum Natura, 4.469-477)

“In addition, if anyone thinks nothing can be known, he does not know
whether or not it can be once he confesses that he knows nothing.
Therefore, I decline to argue a case against a man
who has assigned his head to his own footsteps.
Nevertheless, should I concede that he knows at least that,
I would still ask him this: since he saw nothing true in the material world before
how could he know what there is to know or to not know in turn
or what provided him with a difference between true and false
and what matter distinguished the uncertain from the sure?”

Denique nil sciri siquis putat, id quoque nescit
an sciri possit, quoniam nil scire fatetur.
hunc igitur contra minuam contendere causam,
qui capite ipse suo in statuit vestigia sese.
et tamen hoc quoque uti concedam scire, at id ipsum
quaeram, cum in rebus veri nil viderit ante,
unde sciat quid sit scire et nescire vicissim,
notitiam veri quae res falsique crearit
et dubium certo quae res differre probarit.

Augustine, Confessions 1.8: On Learning how Things have Names

“Was it really this man—me—who jumped from infancy and moved to childhood? Or was it more that childhood entered me and replaced infancy? Infancy didn’t depart—where would it go? But still, it was not there anymore. For I was no longer an infant who could not speak but I was a boy who spoke. I remember this and sometime later I understood where I learned to speak. My elders were not teaching me, offering me words in some established curriculum as they would later with reading, but I, with the mind you gave me, my God, I wanted to make clear the feelings of my heart with all types of groaning and sounds and mad moving of the limbs, so that my will would be obeyed; when I did not prevail over all the things which I wanted from everyone, I picked at it with my memory. Whenever anyone called something something and when they moved toward a thing in response to that word a second time, I observed it and I understood that the thing was named by them—when they made that sound they meant to indicate it.”

nonne ab infantia huc pergens veni in pueritiam? vel potius ipsa in me venit et successit infantiae? nec discessit illa: quo enim abiit? et tamen iam non erat. non enim eram infans qui non farer, sed iam puer loquens eram. et memini hoc, et unde loqui didiceram post adverti. non enim docebant me maiores homines, praebentes mihi verba certo aliquo ordine doctrinae sicut paulo post litteras, sed ego ipse mente quam dedisti mihi, deus meus, cum gemitibus et vocibus variis et variis membrorum motibus edere vellem sensa cordis mei, ut voluntati pareretur, nec valerem quae volebam omnia nec quibus volebam omnibus, prensabam memoria. cum ipsi appellabant rem aliquam et cum secundum eam vocem corpus ad aliquid movebant, videbam et tenebam hoc ab eis vocari rem illam quod sonabant cum eam vellent ostendere.

The Full Latin Text