Stepping on the soft damp grass, I felt a blanket of warm feelings clothe my heart. I could see the river taking a gentle stroll, breathing in all the beauty along the way. As I was walking towards the river a piece of velvety music caught my attention. Oh wait, I was an animal I couldn’t do that, could I? I would see water, some stuff under my feet and if I hear some noise from within the woods I am not overjoyed I will be terrified for my life. That is what the life of an average animal in the wild would be.
The undying dissatisfaction that we humans are cursed with drives our imagination. We always wonder what it would’ve been, or could’ve been. Wondering what it would be like to be an animal is one such fascination. Let me tell you why it wouldn’t work. In this hypothetical situation, there are two choices in front of you: one, you become an animal and do not have the human brain, two, you have the human brain when you turn into an animal. I am going to paint a picture of what it would be like if you turned into an animal in both those scenarios. Let’s take, for example, a dog as our preferred animal.
Let’s take it that you are a dog now and do not have the human brain. So you are a dog both in body and mind. You would do things in and around the house of your owner do stuff you won’t remember the other day. Yes, you know who your owner is or where to do what and all those basic stuff. All your memory is limited to things and activities that do not include complex linguistic elements. You know what to do when you hear the word sit in your masters familiar sound. But if he tells you to take a seat to use some other phrase that has two meanings, you would have to make that confused face and just stare at your master till he specifies the command.
I remember a story my professor told us while giving a lecture on Derrida’s “Structure sign and play”. He had a dog who was as obedient as dogs could be. One day he had to be taken to the vet for a checkup of some sort. Since it was a huge dog he would only fit in the back of our professor’s van. The thing was that he wasn’t able to physically lift the dog into the van. So he commanded the dog to “get in”. Being the obedient dog that he is, he ran back towards the house and went in his kennel. The dog only had one meaning for that combination of sounds. It does not understand things contextually. So I guess you understand why being an animal and not having our cognitive ability would be a waste.
Moving on to the second option, where you have the human brain with the body of a dog. Right of the bat, think about how degrading it would be for your ego. Somebody always telling you what to do, that too in commands, feeding you the same food every meal. I don’t know many people who could take that for even an hour. Things aren’t much different even if you are a completely free dog with no master. You would be in the wild all alone. After the initial, short-lived hours of happiness, things would start to get grim. Your stomach doesn’t care if you have a human brain or not, it needs food. And where do you find food in the wild? You are a dog and you eat meat. You don't have a dog edition of McDonald’s at the end of every corner nor are they going to let you into the real ones. So you’ll have to hunt. Patiently wait for prey and when the opportunity strikes you’ll have to devour a poor creature like yourself, maybe even another much weaker dog, just for food. How many of you can handle that? I bet that most of reading this have, at one point or another, sympathised with the animals that were killed to make your sandwiches. Even if you were an animal that was herbivores, you’ll always have to be on guard to make sure that you don’t end up as somebody else’s lunch.
Being an animal doesn’t seem as fun as now, does it? It would feel good to be an animal when you are sitting on your couch sipping coffee. But the reality of it is much harsher. We, human beings, are also basically animals. We have evolved from primates over millions of years ago. What sets us apart from the current mindless definition of the term animal is our complex linguistic ability. The ability that enables us to think and reason. It is this capability that we got, thanks to evolution, that made us “civilized” and made the distinction between man and animal easier.