Website owner:  James Miller

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Faculties of the mind -- man and animals

 Elementary mental experiences.  In early childhood I remember 
   being attuned to odors, sounds, sights, tastes and touch -- 
   those impressions coming to us from our five senses.  The odor 
   in the air of burning leaves or smoke from a chimney, the scent 
   of lilac in the air, the odor of food coming from a house, etc.  
   Visual impressions -- a lonely street, people in a crowded 
   room, a snowy landscape.  Visual impressions stamped in our 
   mind.  Sound impressions -- music, tunes, songs.  In early 
   youth the world is one of feeling, color, sensation, impression 
   and atmosphere.  Everything has an atmosphere, an ambience, 
   associated with it.  Life is all feeling, color, ambience and     
   atmosphere (as opposed to being centered around fact, logic and 
   reason).  All this comes naturally, with no effort.  Our mind 
   picks up these things.  They represent mental experiences 
   deriving from the elementary faculty of the mind for picking 
   these sensations up.  Other things that come naturally are the 
   various emotional feelings: feelings of anger, aversion, 
   hatred, affection, envy, jealousy, hope, desire, fear, 
   frustration, etc.  All of these are elementary mental 
   experiences that come naturally, requiring no effort.  They are 
   elementary phenomena of the mind deriving from the faculty of 
   the mind for experiencing emotion.  A young child who is 
   perhaps not even able yet to talk is aware of what is going on 
   around him as experienced through his five senses -- and he 
   experiences various emotions.  Animals, probably all living 
   creatures, probably experience all these elementary phenomena.  
   They sense what is occurring about them in their environment 
   with their five senses -- sense odors, sounds, etc. -- and 
   experience such emotional feelings as anger, fear, desire, 
   affection, jealousy, frustration, hatred, etc..  Dogs, for 
   example, will demonstrate all these feelings.  In these 
   elementary mental experiences humans have a common link with 
   all life.  This commonality between man and other creatures 
   provides him with the ability to empathize with other life, to 
   understand their feelings.  One thing all life shares is the 
   desire to live, a fear of dying, a natural inclination to 
   preserve one's life.  All creatures will attempt to escape 
   being killed -- they will flee or fight. 

 Memory.  The mind of man has other abilities.  One is memory.  
   We remember experiences, scenes, sounds, smells, tastes, etc.  
   Animals also exhibit the ability to remember things.  Dogs 
   remember.  Elephants remember.  Probably all creatures have the 
   power of memory. 

   Considering all this commonality between man and the other 
   creatures of earth, how is man different from other creatures?  
   Well, one thing man can do that other creatures can't do is 
   communicate with one another through the mechanism of 
   speech, employing words consisting of various combinations of 
   sounds to represent abstract ideas.  Even the most primitive 
   and isolated tribes of people have learned to communicate with 
   one another through the mechanism of speech.  Perhaps because 
   man's vocal organ is capable of creating a greater variety of 
   sounds than other creatures, he has been able to do this.  This 
   ability to communicate with sounds representing ideas has 
   enabled him to build up a stock of abstract ideas and concepts 
   over time that he uses to think and communicate with. Then, in 
   addition to this, man has also invented a way to communicate 
   with other men through the the written word, using written 
   symbols to represent abstract ideas.  Thus, unlike the animals, 
   man has become able to communicate and think using sounds or 
   written symbols to represent abstract ideas.  Unlike the 
   animals, man has become able to operate with abstract ideas 
   and concepts.  This ability has given him the power to think, 
   reason, question, understand, invent and discover.  By 
   recording his ever increasing knowledge and understanding in 
   books and teaching it to youth in schools he has been able to 
   develop all the technology and wonders of modern times. 

   Experiencing feelings, sensations, etc. such as come from our 
   five senses does not involve any learning or effort.  Nor do
   emotional feelings such as anger, desire, fear, etc.  However, 
   the ability to speak, to communicate with words, involves 
   learning.  It is a difficult, complicated process involving 
   time and effort.  It involves somehow discovering, discerning 
   or realizing the meaning of words when you can't go to a 
   dictionary because you cannot yet read.  It involves guessing 
   meanings from use and context.  It comes slowly, for some of us 
   at least.  I remember, when I was young, perhaps five or six 
   years old, wondering how long it was going to take me to learn 
   the meaning of all those big words adults use.  I was lost, not 
   understanding half of what they said, half of the time.  They 
   were always talking way over my head.  I couldn't yet read and 
   just had to guess and wonder at what those big words meant.  I 
   could experience the sights and sounds and smells of life and 
   daydream and wonder and live in my own world but couldn't 
   understand the bigger world.  I was shut out by lack of 
   vocabulary, inability to understand what people were saying.  
   When I started school at the age of six I had a terrible time 
   for the first couple of years.  I couldn't learn to read.  It 
   didn't make any sense to me.  It was hard.  I struggled hard 
   and just couldn't do it.  I probably didn't learn all the 
   bigger words and have a good vocabulary until I was nine or 
   ten.  I don't think I learned the meaning of most of the bigger 
   and harder words until I learned to read and started reading a 
   lot.  The difficulty of learning to speak a language can be 
   appreciated by one who tries to learn a foreign language.  For 
   some reason a young child will pick up a foreign language very 
   quickly but when one gets older it becomes a lot more 
   difficult.  I am not at all good at learning languages.  It is 
   the hardest thing to do that I know of (hardest thing for me).   

   Thus the faculty of speech, that faculty that separates us 
   from other creatures, is not an easy one to acquire.

   Dec 2008

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