Humans and the Animal Kingdom – An Emotional Kinship
Animals are all part of the animal kingdom. That’s why it’s called the animal kingdom. We are kin (etymology).
There is much in common, despite the differences. Just as there are differences in human races and individuals, there are many commonalities as well.
I’m going to provide some information about characteristics and components that animals share in common, relating to parental care and nurturing, as well as emotion, feeling and consciousness.
Nurturing and Care
Animals across the kingdom exhibit degrees of parental care. Whether a reptile or a mammal, we all have hormones that drive and motivate us to act, such as the act of mating. In mammals we have oxytocin that controls much of mating, sexual urges, as well as nurture, while in reptiles the precursor is vasotocin that drives sexual urges, and they have no oxytocin.
Turtle Maternal Duty
Many processes and cycles are driven by hormones. Periods of maternal care vary among many animals. For a turtle, they can wander back to a beach, lay eggs, cover them, and having her maternal instincts fulfilled, wanders back into the sea on another long journey.
Mammals evolved oxytocin and and argine-vasopressin (AVP) which is important to social behavior, sexual motivation and pair bonding. These two mammalian neurochemicals differ from the reptilian vasotocin by one amino acid alone. Oxytocin prompts female receptivity in mammals, and also prepares the mother’s brain for nurturance and care of the offspring.
At the end of pregnancy, oxytocin kicks up to an apex several hours after birth. For rats, mothers build nests for their young during this time. Estrogen also peaks, progestrone falls, and prolactin rises. Damage to areas of the brain that have oxytocin receptors, such as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) which has the largest proliferation of receptors, will severely impair the maternal behavior of a mammal. This can be adjusted with injections of neurochemicals, such as ocytocin or prolactin.
Much of what makes us care about our offspring comes from a boost of neurochemicals to get to attachment and identification to take care of the young in the long term. Like I said, animals vary in natal care. Even in humans, after the neurochemical drug effects wares off, it can be a lot for some mothers, and they can get depressed, lose interest in the child and being a mother, and in some cases, leading to murdering the newborn child, like in some cases of postpartum depression.
But, if the mother learns a pattern of nurturing behavior, this pattern will imprint into memory and become a habit. Maternal and nurturing behavior will continue if it’s learned. Brain damage to the areas for nurturing and care after learning to nurture has been done, does not weaken maternal behavior, as demonstrated in experiments with rats.
Scientists can inject chemicals into rats and produce care for infants that are not theirs, that they would have otherwise kill if they didn’t have those neurochemicals. Sex for males creates the care towards offspring. In females, it’s pregnancy. Either way, they can inject the chemicals to stimulate care and nurturing behavior, and once the care is developed, it stays with no need for more chemical stimulation.
Oxitocin triggers the care for infants, and the care remains for life. For males, it’s sex that will trigger care for infants. There probably is other care, but this is about infant care. For humans, we can care for others not based on sex or having children, since we have higher abstraction and giving meaning, purpose, value, and weight to things through higher level judgments.
I have previously covered the etymology to kin, kind, kingdom and care in a post called:
Please, do go read it if this topic interests you.
Emotions in Animals
The emotional world of humans is something more powerful than in other animals, because of the degree of consciousness power we have. Our emotions can drive us to act in beautiful ways and create in the ideal of good, or in horrible ways an create or do things that are evil. The degree to which we recognize emotions within humanity doesn’t mean we have to deny emotions in nonhuman animals.
Emotions are not simply feelings. Emotions are our thoughts and the meaning, salience, value, weight and importance we place on objects, events or phenomena that affect us in varying degrees. Emotions are expressed as feeling, after there is an initial thought processing.
We receive information from our environment, and then process that information with a valence and valuation of positive/negative, desirable/undesirable, good/bad, etc. This is the meaning we individually attribute to all our personal experience. This meaning and emotion to feel for something, drives us to do something, whether it’s actually good or bad, right or wrong, etc., is another issue.
Whether it’s delayed through conscious awareness and reflection, or whether it’s subconsciously or unconsciously automatic, the emotional meaning we give to what happens in our lives is a result of some form of consciousness processing, voluntarily or not.
Feeling something can be distinguished as a physically involuntary stimulus, or a psychologically involuntary or voluntary stimulus. The latter psychological dimension is where the emotional aspect of feeling comes from, while the regular feelings, such as a part of our body getting hurt, are the former physical pain that doesn’t require the psychological dimensions to give it meaning.
Triune Brain Model
This can be mirrored to the base-brain R-Complex and midbrain mammalian limbic system. Some feelings are from a more basic biological-nature automated functionality, the R-Complex, while other’s are emotionally complex involving higher order brain functions from the limbic system. I have talked about brain functionality before: The Brain and Consciousness, The Trinity of Consciousness.
Nonhuman animals are animals, like human animals are animals.
Animals feel, therefore they (we) think. Animals think, feel and act. Animals can make choices, or demonstrate indecisiveness at times. Animals have a consciousness. Animals can trip out on LSD.
While animals don’t have all the same components, animals contain parts of a what we consider a “neocortical structure”, even if its only a few neurons. Mammals have a neocortex, while reptiles have a dorsal cortex. The reptile brain is small, thin and composed of a single layer of neurons, while the neocortex is thick and has six layers. The neocortex varies in size and the number of functional areas (frontal, parietal, occipital, etc.).
Not all animals have the same arrangement, coordination or organization of parts, but we all have the same basic parts for functionality: like brains, eyes, mouths, blood, and then it varies more with some who have bones and others that don’t, etc.
I will end with a statement from Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist and psychobiologist, and his video at Ted Talks:
“We are brothers and sisters, under the skin, with all the other animals, which provides us with a special responsibility for how we treat them in this world of ours.”
The science of emotions: Jaak Panksepp at TEDxRainier
This is also one of his books on this subject of animal affective cognition (emotion):