A new scientific paper in Primates, summarized by NPR’s Barbara King,1 ventures into the terra incognita of animal consciousness. We are grateful to her since it saves me from shelling out forty bucks to download the pdf.2
Central to the paper is the observation of a male marmoset, a New World monkey, comforting his mate after she fell to the ground, fatally injuring her head. Since the appellations F1B and M1B are so impersonal, I’ll call ’em Henry and Mabel. Henry and Mabel have eight kids, currently caring for two babies, when Mabel stumbled out of her tree.
There’s video, illustrating the first few lines of a greater picture that animals are alien intelligences, rather than simple meat machines existing for the sole purpose of image macros on reddit. Researchers Bezerra, Keasey, Schiel, and da Silva Souto conclude:
The data provide an interesting insight into compassionate caretaking behaviours in New World primates as well as the pair-bond systems of common marmosets. These are rare observations, and thus their detailed descriptions are essential if we are to create a comparative and enhanced understanding of human and nonhuman primate thanatology.
This video shows Mabel’s last few minutes. If you’re a sensitive type, don’t watch.
Here’s a tissue, I’m sorry you had to watch that, but remember she was with loved ones.
Bringing me to a big question. Do animals have near death, or end of life, experiences?
Working observationally, Mabel’s suffering a seizure. In Mabel’s remaining moments, she suffers an episode, visually similar to reflex anoxic seizures (RAS). Compare with this poor kid. Spoiler: He’s okay.
These RAS are, usually, caused by a bump on the head. An episode can be triggered by a variety of stimuli, like pain, emotion, or seeing blood, precipitating brief cardiac arrest. While visually similar, there’s some superficial inquiry into parallels between near-death experiences and RAS, most notably by Dr. Susan Blackmore. She argues anoxia, a lack of oxygen, can trigger random firings of neurons, giving rise to hallucinations. With the confluence of seizures, and brief cardiac arrest, there’s an intriguing, if tenuous, correlation if one references The Lancet paper Near-Death Experiences in Cardiac Arrest Survivors.34
Couple that with news from 2013 showing brains of dying rats might show the mechanism behind near death experiences (NDEs)5. Jimo Borjigin at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor observed continued and heightened brain activity during the first stages of cardiac arrest. Also quoted in the article is NDE researcher Dr. Sam Parnia stating, “We have no evidence at all that the rats had any near-death experiences or whether animals can have any such type of experience”.
Dr. Parnia is right. We lack animal NDE survivor accounts like the ones pervading human culture. While there have been advances regarding interspecies communication, like the development of a tool to translate dolphin into English6, and the capacity in elephants to distinguish humans by age, appearance, and language7, we’re still a long way off from hearing Marley relate how Garfield was beckoning him to heaven but didn’t want to go because that cat was shady in life, always getting him into trouble.
These kinds of accounts are notable, and I cite Greg Taylor’s opus Stop Worrying! There Probably Is An Afterlife.
Modern researchers of the near-death experience have said a similar thing that it is only through hearing the direct testimony of the witness that one truly feels the convincing nature of such cases.
“Such cases”, being NDEs. But in that absence, researchers could draw upon Peak In Darien events. For those of you keeping score, Peak In Darien is when people see the dead who are not known to have died.8 Less reliable, but no less compelling, are evidence of animal ghosts,9 and visions of deceased pets during NDEs.10
What do you think? Do so-called ‘dumb’ animals have glimpses of the afterlife, experiencing the same phenomenon as humans? I look forward to the discusson on Facebook, at Twitter, or in the comments below.
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