5.16.2002

"I will teach you differences," is the line Wittgenstein thought best captured the tenor of the Philosophical Investigations. You pick this up at the very beginning of your meditation on animal communication. We anthropomorphize when we try to show the similarities between humans and, say, higher primates. But the differences -- even the genetic differences -- are significant. The human experience of the world led to language as an adaptive tactic. Other animals certainly communicate -- warn others, stake out territory, cry in pain -- but the medium of communication would be accurately described in adaptive terms other than language. We are homo symbolicus . This is our distinctive feature. We have not conquered nature per se; we have conquered our symbolic version of nature. Pessimistic ecologists will be more than happy to tell you that our mastery over nature is as illusory as our ability to stand outside of nature. In the near future, nature will show us who the master really is.

Despite differences, understanding across species is possible. I could tell that Angel had been struck by previous owners. A dog's behavior is as readable as the behavior of a fellow human (and this is not to say that misunderstandings or misinterpretations occur). You symbolize humanity for Angel. Despite your gentleness, Angel should be very afraid.

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