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“Desires” – As one of Most Basic Differences of Human and Animal Mind:

Posted by Magellanic Cloud on December 26, 2006

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“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.


Posted in -Home-, Animism and Mythology, Emotions, Human Mind Vs Animal Mind, Philosophy, Philosophy Background, Philosophy in Pakistan, Theory of Knowledge | 4 Comments »

Animism and Mythology

Posted by Magellanic Cloud on August 19, 2006

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Animism and Mythology

Humans happen to have two different types of life. First one is their ‘physical’ life. Humans are not unique in this world in having this form of life. Obviously, other animals also possess this type of life. The real distinction or uniqueness of humans in this world is due to their having a second form of life also, which is their ‘mental’ life. Human needs are not restricted to just food, clothing, housing etc. These needs relate only to the ‘physical’ life aspect of them. Due to having the ‘mental’ life, humans also are in NEED to get ‘theoretical explanations’ of whatever they observe in their surrounding environment. Thus humans had always been in such needs as to get some theoretical understanding of their environment, their own selves, about the world, about universe, about their own relationship with the universe, about their own purpose or role in this universe, about the role of universe for them and so on, throughout the time when they first might had started their ‘conscious’ life in this world.

Presently, humans possess mainly two types of ‘theoretical understandings’ of above-mentioned things which are (i) Divine told Explanations and; (ii) Human self made Explanations.

In this way, the God Almighty Himself tells the theoretical knowledge of true religion to humanity whereas rest of the theoretical knowledge is man made.

Humans always want to get some theoretical ‘explanation’ of whatever phenomena they observe because they are RATIONAL beings in character and essence. It should be considered that as opposite to the Existentialist’s opinion, human ‘essence’ really comes first, due to which they feel the need of getting ‘theoretical explanations’ of observed phenomena. It is also due to having this ‘essence’ that they want to make ‘choices’. Coming back to the point, humans can ‘explain’ the things only on the basis of (i) whatever information (may be even incomplete or incorrect) they already possess and; (ii) what ‘approach’ they follow in the process of making interpretations of already possessed information. I shall explain this point later on.

Thus humans, due to their particular essence, always tend to explain not only the material world which they observe, they also tend to explain their own feelings, emotions, thinking, imaginations, dreams and so on. Here, we can refer to the material world as ‘external world’ and those feelings, emotions etc. as ‘internal world’.

I already stated that humans can explain the things only on the basis of whatever information they already posses and by following some approach for the interpretation of that already possessed information. In Anthropology, these ‘approaches’ are generally classified as:

1- Animism
2- Mythology
3- Religion
4- Philosophy
5- Science


This happened to be the earliest form of approach of looking at various matters when humans still were in their early stages of conscious life. They might have found themselves in material environment and they might have developed some incorrect explanations using whatever limited information they possessed in those days. They also might have encountered with such quite strange things as although they used to sleep, let’s say in caves, but during sleep time, i.e. in dreams, they could find themselves in jungles, they could see and meet their dead relatives and so on. To form somewhat explanation about material things might not have posed much problem to them. But the matter that they used to sleep in cave and in this way could wonder about in jungles and could meet their dead relatives, must have been much difficult for them to properly explain. Keeping in view the type of information, which they possessed in those early days, they might have reached such type of ‘rational’ resolution that they assumed the presence of ‘something’ inside the human body. So they might have explained this complicated matter in a way that they thought that ‘something’ could separate from the body during sleep and could come back when awakened. In addition to this, those early humans might have noticed that their life was dependent upon breathing. They might have noticed that when this chain of breath stops, human dies. So they would have reconciled this chain of breath with that ‘something’ which could leave their body during sleep and could come back when awakened and they would have called it the ‘Spirit’. That ‘spirit’ finally became a real object for them.

It is also important to consider that to properly distinguish between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ world might have been near to impossible for those early humans just because due to the much limited information which they possessed in those days. Even today wild uncivilized tribesmen and children make no difference between their ‘internal’ and ‘external’ world. Children sincerely think that external world events are dependents on their own thinking and emotions and so they sincerely think that their own thoughts and feelings can affect the physical world. When some event does not occur as per their emotional feelings, they cry and weep. Children also tend to think that toys are alive just like them. So they clothe them and ‘marry’ them. In the same way ancient humans had been considering lifeless objects as conscious in the same manner as they themselves were. So they sincerely thought that all those lifeless objects also ‘feel’, or that they also had ‘emotions’. Those ancient humans could not differentiate between external, internal, objective and/ or psychological factors or things.

These type of objective situations resulted in the emergence of Animism, which is a belief on ‘spirits’; that other lifeless objects also possess ‘spirits’ and that external world events occur as per the will of those ‘spirits’ etc.

This Animism was the first ever attempt of human kind to get themselves ‘theoretically’ and ‘emotionally’ relate to the Universe and this belief have had an everlasting impact on all the coming times.

A complete uneducated human mind, just like that of a small child, tends to believe that external world events are dependents on one’s own feelings and emotions. It is interesting to point out that throughout early history to even the present modern times, humans always have tried to ‘control’ the external world events using their own emotions and feelings.

When a small child sincerely believes that certain event must happen according to his/ her own emotional desire, it is just the case of ‘innocence’ of that small child. There is another interesting common notion of ‘children’s world’ (There is a Children’s digest also with this title — I used to study it in my childhood). What is this ‘children’s world’? How it is different from the ‘real world’? This ‘children’s world’ actually is a way in which a child identifies the relationship between his/ her ‘internal’ and ‘external’ world. For a child, the external world is filled by his/ her own emotional objects such as fairies, Ghosts, kind prince and princesses and so on. Similarly, for a child, the external world events must depend on his/ her owns emotional (innocent) feelings. For example, in my childhood, as I can remember even now, I used to think, “Kal school se chutti ho gi – just because I wanted this” (tomorrow shall be holiday, just because I wanted so!).

This ‘children’s world’ approach should be differentiated with the ‘realistic’ approach, where a ‘realist’ person clearly identifies the difference between internal and external world and he/ she knows that events of external world are dependent on rigid and constant laws of nature i.e. physical world and are not dependent on his/ her own thoughts or ideas. Here this thing must be kept in mind that ideas do have impact on external world but only in a realist sense. For example a person first conceives the idea of doing some business. Then he realistically translates that idea into reality thus affecting the events of external world.

Children of our era normally come out of the ‘children’s world’ not just because they grow up. They come out of the ‘children’s world’ due to the fact that they have been provided with sufficient education and they also have got the experience of living in a realistic society. If a child is not given proper education or if he does not get the experience of living in a realistic society, he/ she will continue living in that ‘children’s world’ throughout his/ her life. HE/ SHE CANNOT BECOME ‘REALISTIC’ BY HIM/ HERSELF.

Now consider those ancient humans who were in the initial stages of self-consciousness. They just like a child believed that entire world was filled up by their own emotional object, which was ‘spirit’. And what they could understand of external world events was just that those events must be dependent on their own emotional feelings. When a small child tries to ‘control’ the external world events by just his/ her emotional desires, we call it ‘innocent’ behavior. But when grown up people develop some formal method using which they suppose themselves able to control the external world events as per their own emotional desires, we call this ‘strategy’ as ‘magic’ (or witchcraft). These formal methods are of course various ‘jantar mantar’ or other methods. I try to explain this ‘magical’ approach by differentiating it with the ‘realistic’ approach. Suppose a ‘realistic’ person wants to kill his enemy. What he shall do? Most direct method would be to get a gun, then to go to that enemy and then to shoot him with that gun. Enemy shall die in this way. What a magician would do? A real prevalent practice for doing this task is something like that the magician makes a small statue of the enemy. Then he would dig in many needles in the body of statue. In this way magician supposes that real enemy shall die. Although it is quite un-realistic way of killing the enemy i.e. by just using a formal method to effectively utilize the ‘powers’ of one’s own emotional desires but even in this case, if enemy happens to be a superstitious person and if he also has been informed in some indirect way that magician has done this sort of thing with his statue, that enemy can really die in this case. He would die just because of psychological reason and not because of any real effectiveness of that magical method.

As I already mentioned that throughout from the early history to the modern times, humans always have tried to control the flow of external world events using the ‘powers’ of their own emotional desires. So this ‘magic’ is still prevalent but mostly in the vast lower strata of about every present day human society. This ‘magic’ seems to be more ancient than Animism itself. People had been trying to control the external world events by using their own emotional desires without using any formal method i.e. just likes an innocent child. But with the emergence of Animism, role of ‘spirits’ also entered into this magic. Magic took another shape. Now spirits were classified into two categories i.e. (i) evil spirits and; (ii) good spirits. Now the role of magician was to call for ‘evil spirits’ for such purposes as to destroy the enemies and to call for ‘good spirits’ with the purpose to provide help to the friends. This magic however had a great role in the evolvement of present day’s sciences. Both magic and science have similar purpose i.e. to control the flow of external world events in the desired way. The only difference is that magic offers such methods for this purpose, which now have been proved to be wrong whereas science offers realistic methods for this purpose. Emergence of modern science however would have been quite impossible if humans would never had tried to control external world events using the incorrect method of magic. Actually it happened to be the many failures of magical method, which led the clever people to try to find some realistic methods for the purpose. And remember that these realistic methods are now known as ‘science’.


I have discussed Animism in detail because this Animism happened to be the primary basis of most of the ancient mythology. It is clear that for the ancient humans, the entire world was filled by their own emotional object i.e. ‘spirit’. With the passage of time, as a result of many social interactions, many ‘stories’ about those ‘spirits’ emerged. Some of the spirits were appointed as chiefs of rest of spirits. Later on those chiefs became the gods and goddesses. Those stories were aimed at the satisfaction of HUMAN NEED OF GETTING THEORETICAL EXPLANATIONS about the formation and structure of universe. These stories, which are now known as ‘myths’ or ‘mythology’ described, in interesting way, the role of various gods and goddesses in the formation and daily functioning of the universe. Those ancient humans kept blind faith in those myths and they could not doubt in the truth of those stories.

Posted in -Home-, Animism and Mythology, Human Mind Vs Animal Mind, Philosophy, Philosophy Background, Philosophy in Pakistan, Philosophy of Science | 9 Comments »