“Desires” – As one of Most Basic Differences of Human and Animal Mind:
Generally we consider animistic, or magical or other superstitious ideologies as baseless or irrational, but these are after all an important source of understanding the functionality and capabilities of human mind. Even these ‘irrational’ ideologies are the unique characteristics of human beings. Any other known life form doesn’t possess any form of superstition. Study of superstitions can give wonderful insight into our true nature or essence. Humans want to control the external world events but at the same time long for that they may not have to do any effort for the purpose. They tend to find easy solutions for every task. Mostly they perform those tasks in just daydreams. More ‘practical’ people take help of a magician. Wise people ask help from supernatural beings. Scientists insist that only materialistic causation principle is the solution for performing any task. But tasks before humans may not always be accomplished by the material causation principle. Humans want to defeat death, which causation principle may not allow. But religion offers its solution in the form of belief in after-life.
But all this apparent and observable human behavior is actually a clue, which can lead us towards finding the true human nature or essence. Some times we consider human desires as something negative. But this “desire” is one of the most basic differences between humans and other animals. Here term ‘desire’ doesn’t include instinct based bodily needs. Term ‘desire’ here stands for those ‘mental’ wishes of humans whereby they purposefully want to acquire those material or non-material things (such as skills, abilities, grace, beauty etc.), which they ‘observe’ in their environment and take notice that they themselves still do not possess those material/ non-material things. ‘Desires’ are therefore different from other instinctive bodily needs in that other body needs are independent of any kind of ‘observation’ and thus arise automatically because of natural instincts. We can feel hunger without having seen the food but we cannot get the ‘desire’ of acquiring latest fashion dresses until and unless we ‘observe’ or take notice of emergence of that new fashion. So ‘desires’ are actually those wants and wishes that cannot originate in complete absence of ‘observance’. This differentiation between desires and other body needs is important because those wants and wishes that originate only from observance, are found only in humans; though to relatively far less extent, can be found in certain monkeys and apes as well. In the article on “Animism and Mythology”, I have mentioned that humans possess two types of life. First one is their ‘physical’ life and the other one is their ‘mental’ life. ‘Desires’ are basically one of the most basic manifestations of human ‘mental’ life. Consider a child who does not own a bicycle. He ‘observes’ his friends or other age fellows who come and go, here and there on their own bicycles. In this way that child boy would develop a desire of having his own bicycle. Now consider a dog. It may ‘observe’ many people who travel on their own bicycles, bikes, cars and so on. But even after observing so many such things, a dog cannot be desirous of riding on car or bike etc. A dog can just be ‘trained’ to ride on bike or any other thing. By nature, a dog would be completely indifferent towards any such thing, which has nothing to do with its bodily instincts. It would become active, let’s say, only if it gets any odor coming from some food source etc. But it would never show any desire to ride on bike even if it happens to observe so many people riding on bikes. ‘Desires’ relate to ‘mental’ life of humans. Presence of ‘desires’ is a positive advancement in humans, which is missing in other animals. ‘Desire’ is not any bodily need but it is a ‘mental’ need. And every desire is an “ANALOGICAL INFERENCE” basically. Simple meaning of analogy is our tendency to think that two or more things, which are known to be ‘similar’ in some aspects, can be similar in some other aspects as well. Now I try to explain how a small boy’s desire of having a bicycle was an analogical inference. As the boy could see that he and his friends were ‘similar’ entities in many respects. But an aspect i.e. of having a bicycle was missing in him. This would be the simplest form of analogical inference whereby that boy would imagine himself of being ‘similar’ to his friends in the respect of having a bicycle also.
Most basic difference of human and animal mind is the ability of human mind of drawing analogical conclusions. All the animism and all types of magic are also one or the other “analogical inferences”, which an uneducated human mind like a small child or a primitive human can draw. When a magician digs in many needles in the statue of enemy, with the purpose to kill the enemy, he actually acts on an “analogical inference”. He thinks that real enemy and the statue of enemy are ‘similar’. So if the statue of enemy could be tortured by digging in needles etc., the real enemy, being a ‘similar’ entity, also would be tortured as a result. In my childhood, we had a Philips remote control television. My elders always hold that remote control and used to switch channels against my wish. My calculator was very ‘similar’ to that remote control. So I very sincerely and confidently used to press the buttons of calculator with the hope that I also could switch channels in that way. It never happened however. Similarly again in my early childhood, I happened to listen somewhere that there was a student in USA who while sleeping, used to keep his open book underneath his cushion. Next morning, as a result, he would automatically learn all the lessons. I also very sincerely did the same but … I could not learn the lesson in this way.
Anyways, I was discussing the most basic difference in human and animal mind. Human mind can draw analogical conclusions whereas animal mind cannot do it. Above given examples of magic and my own examples are stating somewhat complex form of analogical inferences. Animal mind, in no way, can reach to this much complexity. But in certain cases, animal mind does reach to the simplest form of analogical inferences. The simplest form of analogical inference is to just ‘copy’ or ‘imitate’ others. This ability exists in certain monkeys and apes.
Humanity’s views on ‘desires’ have interesting history. Some Indian schools of thought particularly consider ‘desires’ as the source of all the human misery and unhappiness. Underlying idea is something like that humans are caught by miseries and unhappiness when they fail to fulfill their desires. So if they stop desiring anything then any question of failure in fulfilling the desires shall not arise and therefore humanity will be free of any misery or unhappiness.
As I stated previously that only humans can be desirous of anything. Those early Indian thinkers might have noticed this fact. In addition, they also might have noticed that many forms of miseries and unhappiness catch up only humans. They might have then rationalized the phenomenon of human misery by putting all the blame on human desires. They however included many forms of body needs also in the list of so-called ‘desires’. Jainism and Buddhism were the main representatives of this school of thought and both these religions originated in around 6th century B.C. By that time, Greek intellectuals still had not tried to determine the purpose of humans in Universe. Some traces are found in 5th century B.C however when some Greeks thought that ‘matter’ was the prison of ‘soul’ and the objective before humans was to get their soul freed of imprisonment of matter. So in this respect, Indian thought has important place in the history of humanity’s struggle for finding their objective in this world as they happened to be among the first people who tried to determine the objective before humans, which, according to them, was getting freedom from miseries which could be achieved through the control on desires.
But in the same period, Confucius, in China was telling his students that their objective was to become able to think over various practical matters of life RATIONALLY and should become able to express their opinions clearly and transparently.
Anyhow, ‘desire’ itself was not the source of human misery because the real source of human misery, under this line of thought, was the ‘failure’ of humans to fulfill their desires. Right strategy should have been to try to ‘control’ the rate of failure rather than to forbid the desires altogether.
What I think is that ‘desires’ are positive things. These are ‘desires’ which give us our most of the long-term objectives. ‘Desires’ make it possible that we try to improve our knowledge, abilities or skills over such long periods that may extend to decades. If we were limited to just bodily needs, then we would not be in need to make any ‘improvement’ in ourselves. Desires tell us two things. On the negative side, they tell us that we are lacking some important thing. On the positive side, they give us hope that we can remove that shortcoming in ourselves. Thus a movement towards better and higher levels becomes possible through the application of desires. I have described previously that all desires are basically ‘analogical inferences’ in nature. Analogical Inference works in a way that lets say I observe some entity, which is similar to me in some aspects. But I find that I am lacking some important characteristics, which exist in that other entity. If I imagine myself of possessing the same or similar characteristics, which I have observed in that other entity, it means that now I am ‘desirous’ of possessing those important characteristics. Its meaning is that if I do not observe any entity which is similar to me in any respect and possesses some important characteristics that I do not possess, I WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO FORM ANY DESIRE in this case. If humans would never had seen flying birds, if they never had realized that they themselves were lacking in an important characteristic of ‘flying’, which a similar entity to them i.e. birds did possess, THEN HUMANS COULD NOT BE DESIROUS of flying like birds.
If human mind works by making analogies, it means that mind does not work at its own. It cannot get the desire of flying like birds without having observed that birds can fly and realizing that humans cannot fly. But if humans can observe many different things in the environment, then they would definitely tend to form one or the other desires.
And I also think that to be desirous of something would be better than having fulfilled all the desires. Fulfillment of all the desires would eliminate all the charms of life. Secondly it is also not possible to acquire the state of complete ‘control’ on desires. Any attempt to ‘control’ desires would actually ‘magnify’ the desires. One important component of ‘desire’ is the feeling of ‘lacking’ something. Any attempt to control ‘desire’ will actually strengthen those feelings of ‘lacking’ something and desires shall be magnified in this way. Buddhists tried to ‘control’ their desires related to sex … that desire ultimately magnified and then manifested in the form of amazing art work of Agentta caves. Technically ‘sex’ was a bodily need instead of a ‘desire’. But since art work relates to ‘mental performance’, so here I have considered it as a form of ‘desire’.
Issue of ‘desires’ is related to the issue of ethics as well. The question can be if desires are good or bad? In case we find that we are lacking some better or superior characteristic, which other people do possess; and we get a desire of acquiring that superior or better quality – this type of desire would be ‘good’. But if we find that we are lacking in some inferior quality, which some other people do possess, and in this way we become desirous of acquiring that inferior quality – this type of desire would be ‘bad’. Better and superior qualities are those, which are beyond the scope of our presently held skills or abilities. Inferior qualities are those, which could be acquired just if we do not employ our presently held skills and abilities in the best possible way. Furthermore better qualities are those, which suits to the personality of person who is desirous of those qualities. Some qualities may be superior in fact but may not be ‘suitable’ to the personality of person. To wear a princess like dress would be a ‘suitable’ desire for a girl but not for a boy etc.
Issue of ethics also has relationship with just how we try to fulfill our desires. If we employ unethical or illegal means, we would be ethically bad in this case. We are ethically good if we fulfill all our body and mental needs under the supervisory control of our rationality and wisdom.
I have discussed some other aspects of differences of human and animal mind in my post on the topic of “Some Differences of Human & Animal Mind” as well.