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At a certain point in my life--many years ago though I can't remember exactly when--I simply stopped using the word "should,'' except in the most limited context. Whenever I was tempted to start a sentence with "I should" or "you should", I stopped myself and thought: how do I know this? What am I trying to say here?

"Because logic, it seems, can take us only so far. "

I've always liked this sentence from Jean Liedloff in "The Continuum Concept":

"To make of the intellect a competent servant instead of an incompetent master . . ."

"The alternative is that objective moral values unconnected to biology do exist, but that they are not derived not from empirical observations. Instead, they are derived from a deep, intuitive insight into the nature and purpose of the universe and/or its Creator - a precious gift, a pearl beyond price, handed down to the rest of us by a small number of gifted spiritual teachers. Of course, this takes us into the realm of mysticism and revelation, a step which is understandably offputting to many moderns, and which gives rise to problems of its own." 

In particular, it gives rise to problems if you're resigned to the theory that the only source for those "deep intuitive insights" is, as you say, "a small number of gifted spiritual teachers." That leads to a situation in which you and I have to rely on an elite few for guidance, people who may or may not have our best interests at heart.

Besides, no guru can possibly know what's best for ME at this moment in my life.

The alternative is for each of us to maintain our own connection to Spirit. And folks have done that, through the millennia, in countless ways: meditation, sacred substances, ecstatic dancing, NDE's and other spontaneous mystical events, dreams, and so on. These avenues are open to everyone.

And the good news is that people seem to be taking these sorts of things more seriously these days.

Even though I believe very strongly in the mystical, I personally don't think we need to appeal to it to derive the "ought." And I don't think we need to go beyond logic, or even the facts, as long as we include the one, crucial fact: that consciousness, mind, whatever you want to call it, exists and has inherent significance and worth. I think having a mind brings with it the disclosure of the inherent value and importance of mind. And we then naturally generalize this to include other minds.

You can see this in more intelligent animals, who not only care about each other, but can often extend that caring beyond the boundaries of their species. I personally doubt they have any mystical intuitions. (I once read about a chimp who had been taught sign language and was asked the question about what becomes of you when you die. He said you don't exist anymore.) I think they just have minds, like us. Having minds, they innately know that their own existence, along with their happiness and pain, matters. And they then generalize that to other minds. The more mind you have, the more you automatically know that your mind matters and that other minds matter.

Once we include this one crucial fact, which I think is part of everyone's equipment, then I think the "ought" is perfectly logical; it's just an acknowledgment of the facts.

But just as obviously, once you leave out that fact, then the "ought" becomes an endless impenetrable mystery. But then, all you're doing is intellectually leaving out a fact that, on another level, you acknowledge all the time, along with dolphins, apes, dogs, parrots, and all kinds of other creatures, including your fellow humans.

Could I have a source for the chimp claim Robert?

Unfortunately, I can't give an exact source. I believe it was in National Geographic magazine in the 80's, in an article about teaching chimps sign language, one of the earlier such ones. However, I remember reading it very vividly. When they spoke of asking the chimp the question, my attention was completely grabbed, as I assumed an animal would have some kind of natural in-touch-ness with such truths. They weren't corrupted by human society, so they would still know those big truths. So when the chimp signed back that you're just dead, I was really struck, one of those things you never forget. In that same article, they noted how chimps called each other names with sign language, like "dirty toilet." I mention that not because it relates to my previous point, but only because that might help in an Internet search for the article, which I tried already, but will try again with the dirty toilet phrase.

Not sure, but it might have been an October 1978 issue on Koko the gorilla, not chimpanzee as I said.

I just found someone reporting about Koko being asked about death:

Koko enjoyed her new kitten, sniffing it and stroking it tenderly. She carried All Ball tucked against her upper leg and attempted to nurse it as if it were a baby gorilla. Koko was surprised to learn that kittens bite. When All Ball bit her on the finger, she made the signs for dirty and toilet, her usual expressions of disapproval. It wasn't long, though, before Koko was signing the cat to tickle her - one of the gorilla's favorite games. Koko seems to think that cats can do most things that she can do, said Penny.

Soft/good/cat, said Koko.

One night All Ball escaped from the Gorilla Foundation and was accidentally killed by a car. When Koko was told about the accident, she at first acted as if she didn't hear or understand. Then a few minutes later she started to cry with high-pitched sobs. Sad/frown and Sleep/cat were her responses when the kitten was mentioned later. For nearly a week after the loss, Koko cried whenever the subject of cats came up.

The gorilla clearly missed her feline companion, but how much did she understand about what had happened? Fortunately, it was possible to ask Koko directly. Maureen Sheehan, a staff member at the Gorilla Foundation, interviewed Koko about her thoughts on death.

Where do gorillas go when they die? Maureen asked.

Koko replied, Comfortable/hole/bye [the sign for kissing a person good-bye].

When do gorillas die? she asked.

Koko replied with the signs Trouble/old.

How do gorillas feel when they die: happy, sad, afraid?

Sleep, answered Koko.

(This is excerpted from The Souls of Animals by Gary Kowalski.)

* * * *

I'm pretty sure that is what I read. Almost positive. The clear implication is that gorillas feel nothing when they die, not happy, not sad, not afraid. They are just unconscious.


To get back to my earlier point, notice how deeply Koko cares about the cat. That's not based on a mystical intuition about the cat's spiritual nature. It's based, I'd say, on a recognition that Koko's consciousness matters and that generalized to a recognition that the cat's consciousness matters, and so it matters that that consciousness has been snuffed out.

Robert, your point about consciousness having inherent worth is interesting. However, one can believe that one's own consciousness has inherent worth without extending that value to other people. Sociopaths think this way. The ancient Romans used to watch people being slaughtered in the arena for entertainment; evidently they didn't attach much value to the consciousness of the victims. The sorry history of mankind suggests to me that there's nothing automatic or even particularly easy about empathy.

I'm suspicious of the sign language experiments because I don't know how much the experimenters may have been "leading the witness" or overinterpreting the answers. But if Koko did mean to say death is like sleep, it doesn't prove she thought death equals nonexistence. After all, sleep includes dreams, and it's well established that the higher animals dream. And even among us humans, the afterlife is often compared to a dream state.

Also, the experimenter asked, "How do gorillas feel when they die: happy, sad, afraid?"

I would interpret this to mean, "How do they feel when they know they are dying?"

The answer, "Sleep," may simply suggest that, like most animals, they slip into death calmly and easily once it is inevitable. Or it may just mean that Koko didn't understand the question!

"notice how deeply Koko cares about the cat. That's not based on a mystical intuition about the cat's spiritual nature. It's based, I'd say, on a recognition that Koko's consciousness matters and that generalized to a recognition that the cat's consciousness matters, and so it matters that that consciousness has been snuffed out."

Robert, it sounds as if you're saying that Koko's relationship to the cat is based on an intellectual understanding or belief. But I think you may be anthropomorphizing. While human relationships are clearly influenced by concepts or beliefs, do you really think that's true for animals?

It seems to me that Koko quite simply LOVED the cat. And loving is vastly different from merely holding an idea about someone, or having an intellectual belief. It goes deeper than that.

Which brings us back to your earlier point about the importance of our acknowledging "one crucial fact." Wouldn't it be more to the point to say that we need to work on our capacity to love?

Please change my last sentence to read: Wouldn't it be more to the point to say that we need to be more loving to ourselves and others?

"Where do gorillas go when they die? Maureen asked.
Koko replied, Comfortable/hole/bye [the sign for kissing a person good-bye]."

If Koko knew that animals are buried, then "a comfortable hole" could certainly mean a grave. If he didn't, then for someone who doesn't have a word for tunnel, it might be a way to describe a tunnel experience.

Admittedly, that may be a stretch. I'd like to know whether he knew about burials.

In any case, "comfort" certainly doesn't mean non-existence, thought it could imply that.

"How do gorillas feel when they die: happy, sad, afraid?
Sleep, answered Koko."

Michael makes an important point that, given the ability to dream, which animals clearly have, sleep is a pretty lively experience, and the time of the day when (it would seem) we're most likely to leave our bodies and visit the spiritual world.

Is it likely that an animal would associate sleep with non-existence? Is it likely that an animal can even imagine non-existence? I think the likely answer to both is "no".

Of course, Koko did NOT choose the word "happy", the word that all of us NDE freaks would have loved to hear.

But is it possible that for animals, dying is less ecstatic than for humans? Animals have (perhaps) less emotional baggage to leave behind, and therefore, they may experience a less startling contrast between the Earth environment and the spiritual world.

Wouldn't we love to know!

For whatever it's worth, I take back what I said about how an animal might regard sleep. It seems to me that it may well associate sleep with a lack of awareness. I mean, dreaming is only PART of the sleep experience, and (at least for me) not the most characteristic part.

At least, that's how I think about sleep when I'm awake.

There's a bit of cosmic humor, here, no? Here we are gathered at the foot of Koko the gorilla, waiting for the final word on whether or not there's life after death.

Yes, it's come to this.

OK, this is not good. I'm having trouble getting to work today. I find the idea of asking an animal about death really intriguing. (Does anyone know if Koko has written any books?)

"How do gorillas feel when they die: happy, sad, afraid?

Sleep, answered Koko."

Here's another take on this.

Maybe gorillas are aware that they have two aspects—the physical (gorilla) and the spirit, which is NOT a gorilla. This is not an intellectual concept, you understand, but a knowing that goes deeper, in much the same way that a gorilla knows that it is separate from its child or spouse.

And the fact that animals often seem to face death with such equanimity, tends to support that view, I think.

In that case, if you asked Koko what happens to the gorilla when it dies, the answer is simple--"Oh--you mean my physical self? It goes to sleep, it loses awareness, it is no more."

Koko would assume, you see, that you and I know that the physical body is quite separate from the soul that animates it. So he naturally thinks that you're talking about a gorilla, a body, a physical thing.

As to Koko's consciousness? Well, you haven't asked him about that. You've asked about his physical self.

This may be hard for us to relate to, because we find it so difficult to separate the person from the consciousness. If you ask me what happens to a human being when it dies, I automatically assume that you're asking about my consciousness, my inner life.

But maybe animals experience reality quite differently.

And then again, maybe I'm trying too hard to fit this interview with a gorilla into the survivalist viewpoint. What do you all think?

Does this mean that all moral values are based on personal subjective preferences and, possibly, a few biological drives? That's the position taken by most contemporary secular humanists.

It is interesting that the "is/ought" philosophical conundrum seems to lead
toward evolutionary psychology. The modern intelligentsia attempt to explain away genuine human compassionate acts, altruism and love in general as evolved behavior tending to enhance reproductive fitness - in other words the popular "evolutionary psychology". This is the notion that all human emotions and moral decisions are somehow "instinctual" or genetically based, and is just the tip of an iceberg in modern scientific materialist thought. This point of view has become the accepted paradigm and espoused by "evolutionary psychologists" and philosophers like E. O. Wilson and Michael Ruse, who being dedicated Darwinists believe that Darwinian evolutionary principles can be used to explain everything including all ethics, morality, compassion and altruism. They say these human qualities and characteristics evolved because they somehow conferred an advantage in terms of survival and reproduction. Two general ways are theorized that altruism offers reproductive advantages: (1) even though it may require sacrificing oneself, it may allow blood relatives to survive and therefore promoting one's genes; (2) reciprocal exchange - "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

Unfortunately, a lot of research has shown what seem to be the beginnings of morality in the behavior or higher mammals like apes and chimpanzees, and is used to bolster these theories about human morality originated. This seems to be a major problem with notions of the inherent spiritual nature of human beings.

The alternative is that objective moral values unconnected to biology do exist, but that they are not derived not from empirical observations. Instead, they are derived from a deep, intuitive insight into the nature and purpose of the universe and/or its Creator - a precious gift, a pearl beyond price, handed down to the rest of us by a small number of gifted spiritual teachers. Of course, this takes us into the realm of mysticism and revelation, a step which is understandably offputting to many moderns, and which gives rise to problems of its own. 

A great statement of what this issue seems to force in the way of apparently contradictory belief structures. Evolutionary psychology is hopefully a sadly impoverished and fundamentally misguided view of fundamental aspects of human existence. It of course assumes the prevailing reductionist materialist model of brain/mind held by mainstream neuroscience. This kind of model is invalid because of the mountain of empirical evidence of psychical research and anomalous human experience. Whatever the nature of consciousness, it is ultimately not (just) the body and brain.

And people do in fact perform countless acts of kindness and compassion that can't be rationalized in term of reproductive advantage in spreading their genes. Concerning as an example directly counteradaptive human compassion, consider the Holocaust rescuers. To quote an eloquent source who says it better than I could,

"They are those who, at great personal risk, helped members of persecuted groups, primarily Jews, during the Holocaust in defiance of Third Reich policy. They were ordinary people who became extraordinary people because they acted in accordance with their own belief systems while living in an immoral society. Thousands survived the Holocaust because of the daring of these rescuers. Although in total their number is statistically small, rescuers were all colossal people."

Prominent examples are Oskar Schindler and Chiune Sugihara.

Rescuers possessed an inner core of unshakable values and beliefs that enabled them to take a stand against the horrific injustices Hitler perpetrated during his twelve years in power. To contend that these people were merely carrying out an evolutionary program is ultimately insulting to their heroism and incredibly cynical.

Michael, I completely agree that one can fail to extend the intuition of the inherent worth of consciousness to others. However, it seems to me that that supports my basic point, because when they don't extend that to others, their sense of "ought" doesn't really take into account the needs of others, only their own needs.

And Bruce, I think that the gorilla's concepts and beliefs definitely influenced her feelings about the cat. I think there's evidence of that right in the story. She didn't see the cat dead. She was simply told the cat had died. So she was given a belief in the cat's death, and that was enough to have her cry whenever the cat was mentioned. So there we have a belief having clearly a profound effect on her.

For myself, in contrast to where I was when the article came out in 1978, I would be floored if the gorilla had some mystical knowledge about the gorilla afterlife. I guess anything is possible, but that strikes me as one those very unlikely things.

For a smart and entertaining rebuttal of evolutionary psychology, or at least its more extravagant claims, see Darwinian Fairytales, by David Stove.

"She was simply told the cat had died. So she was given a belief in the cat's death, and that was enough to have her cry whenever the cat was mentioned. So there we have a belief having clearly a profound effect on her."

An intellectual belief as opposed to a more genuine knowing? That's an interesting point, but it seems to me that for an animal who has come to trust human beings as Koko did, being informed by a human friend about a death is as good as seeing it for yourself.

If your wife told you about the death of a mutual friend, would you then say that you had "a belief" about that death? Or simply that you KNEW of it?

Morality from the spiritualist standpoint is more attributed to the innate desire not to fracture the whole. We're all interconnected, and harming another is akin to harming yourself, especially if you feel that person's pain.

Morality is obvious. I don't understand why it's a philosophical debate, or why Ayn Rand'ists, humanists, determinists, etc. try to either downplay it, or place it into some easy to digest soundbite.

Great post, Michael. Thanks for your blog.

"There's a bit of cosmic humor, here, no? Here we are gathered at the foot of Koko the gorilla, waiting for the final word on whether or not there's life after death.

Yes, it's come to this"


Bruce, hillarious.

Anyway, I'm so confused, I can't even comment.

Maybe someone can channel Koko and get the answer! Unfortunately, that answer would most likely be, "Koko want banana."

"Bruce, hilarious."

All kidding aside, j9, I'm disappointed that there's not more research being done along the lines of what was happening with that gorilla. Clearly, a genuine dialog was taking place between him and his trainers, as evidenced by (among other things) the fact that merely telling him of his friend's death was enough to make him sad.

I mean, those people were having real conversations with a member of another species--what's more intriguing or newsworthy than that!

And yes, I think it's quite possible--even likely--that we really can gain metaphysical insights from animals. We tend to deny their spirituality, but I can't help but think that (as I detailed two comments ago) that animals are in more direct, and constant, contact with the spiritual world than we are.

Who knows--I could be way off base, but I do think it's an avenue worth exploring.

Then again, maybe we should just leave those animals alone. I wonder whether a gorilla who goes through the kind of training Koko must have, is living a very satisfying, or gorilla-like life. Another question to ponder!

"Maybe someone can channel Koko and get the answer! Unfortunately, that answer would most likely be, 'Koko want banana. ' "

What do you mean "unfortunately"? Think how much a statement like that would teach us about the afterlife!

"I prefer not to get wet" can easily be considered a health requirement, and health a universal value rather than a preference. There, solved it for ya.

Morality from the spiritualist standpoint is more attributed to the innate desire not to fracture the whole. We're all interconnected, and harming another is akin to harming yourself, especially if you feel that person's pain."

Morality doesn't have to be obvious,even from a spiritualist standpoint.The reason for this is because it can be pretty relative and good and bad don't nessecarily exist.

Perception is the keyword here.
Do unto others are you want them to do unto you right?Not so much when someone wants to both do something "bad" and receive it.

Morality in life and the afterlife is based on cause and effect,whatever you do comes back to you albeit sometimes in a different form.Supposedly you learn from this what not to do through hardship.

Though I don't believe in Good/Bad I still think all actions have their duality.

Light for love and spiritual growth,darkness for the opposite.

Each action/thought supposedly falls into one category,the trick is figuring out which one falls where.This is harder then it seems when you put perception(and what people want) into the mix instead of a fundamental universal law.

"Morality from the spiritualist standpoint is more attributed to the innate desire not to fracture the whole . . . Morality doesn't have to be obvious,even from a spiritualist standpoint.The reason for this is because it can be pretty relative and good and bad don't necessarily exist."

Bryan, I like what you're saying. It reminds me of a passage from Grof that I quoted here a few weeks ago. (Not to imply that you picked it up from that.)

For context, the passage began like this:

"The divine does not create something outside of itself, but rather by subdivisions and transformations within the field of its own being."

And here's the part that seems to echo your thoughts:

"The various manifestations of evil are expressions of the energy that makes the split-off units of consciousness feel separate from each other. Since the divine play is unimaginable without individual protagonists, the existence of evil is absolutely essential."

So Grof rounds out your scheme by adding that, in contrast to what you call an "innate desire not to fracture the whole, " there's also a purposeful splitting of it, because that's what keeps the "divine play" rolling along.

Are you comfortable with this?

I don't know if anyone has seen this yet, but Jime Sayaka on his Subversive Thinking blog has posted his own thoughts on Michael's post here. They are quite long and I haven't gotten through them all yet, but I did want to alert you all to it. Here's the URL:

http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com/2011/05/michael-prescott-on-humes-is-ought.html

@Bruce,

Cyrus was the one that posted that part.I just tried to quote it for my post.
Didn't quote it as well as it should have been so my bad for the mix up.

Michael Prescott,

maybe the problem is is that, even scientists, we're still stuck on the whole "there is a point of view out there that is the perfect point of view where I am not involved with it." Which doesn't seem to exist anywhere but in our own personal
wishes.

A leftover from supernatural monotheism, perhaps? Where only that which exists independently of us is more real or important than anything made by us?


Perhaps we should start phasing out the terms "Objective" and "Subjective", because the Objective doesn't really seem to exist, everything involves us in some way?


I don't know. I've been going on a riff lately that religion 'solves' the 'ought from is' dilemma. That science discovers the 'is' and religion does the 'oughts'?

Hmm :)

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