Non-human subjectivity

Because we are all human, we share a certain kind of subjectivity. All of you reading this are processing your thoughts through the use of a human brain, which is our shared heritage after millions of years of evolution.

We know that there are non-human sentient creatures out there. For example, an octopus is highly intelligent, but in a way that is vastly different from us.

In the first chapter of T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, Merlyn teaches valuable lessons to young Wart by magically turning him into various species of animal.The boy comes away from these experiences with a profoundly expanded view of reality, which will help him to rule wisely when he eventually grows up to become King Arthur.

As I think on this, I find myself wondering, what is the shared subjectivity between one octopus and another, or — a bit nearer to home — between two cats, or two hawks or badgers? Two intelligent beings that have the same biological brain structure will have an intuitive understanding of each others’ view of the universe around them.

We literally cannot comprehend the world as it is comprehended by a dog, or a cat, or a horse, or a badger, or an octopus. Yet we know, intellectually, that there is a shared understanding between all the members of any intelligent species.

I wonder whether we ever could get a non-trivial insight into the world-view of another species. And if we could ever do that, would we come away with new kinds of wisdom?

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