Imagine Koko the gorilla were able to read print and was browsing the list of questions. She then
comes upon the present 'question'. She reads through it, curious to find out...what? Read through it
yourself. Or, not. If I had my preferences, I would not even bother to write it. You'll see why, I hope,
once you read it.
All that follows is a question, yet not a question. I prefer the latter: it is not a question, it is living. But,
some will want to answer it, so I write it. Perhaps it could be translated for a Koko. Perhaps a Koko
would want to answer it.
""I prefer traipsing in the woods to philosophy. Good stuff. Following wild rivers. Sleeping to the sound
of creeks. I love rivers. The clear ones. Sleeping high in the trees, or near the ground. All two minutes
of sleep I get each night, I enjoy. To watch the animals. One does not need to be rational. Not in the
"That is where God is.""
Humans are an anomaly. We know of none like us, in the concrete sense, although the SETI program
hopes. Only for want are we ever compelled to ask the 'big' questions (I speak for myself, anyway). I
don't think animals do. I wonder what we could ask Koko about that? Would she understand the
question? This would be worthwhile field work in philosophy. Ok, so I'll ask the question. Would Koko
understand that I have already asked it? Did you?
Are animals able to understand the idea of God?
Would Koko realize what it would mean to us if she understood?
It is not a question. At least not a pointed one. Not for me. But, answer it if you wish. Did I really have
to spell it out for you? No, it is not a question. Not at all. It is bigger than that. It's an answer.
What is the question, really? This, I think, Koko would understand.
You may not like my answer, especially when you read what I want to say first. Beware of shallow,
sentimental denials of what is extraordinary about humans in order to preach a 'back to nature'
doctrine that is altogether unsustainable — not just in terms of philosophy, but as a result of the
evolutionary passage. Note in particular that I said 'extraordinary' in place of the 'anomaly' of your
question. Humans are not removed from nature; we have simply been endowed with a power which
(on the whole) we do not understand, for which no user manual has been written, which in
consequence we tend to mismanage and for which philosophy tries, as best it can within its own
human limitations, to make amends.
In the last analysis, we are so much a part of nature that if we carry on as we have in (say) the last
200 years, the worst that will happen is the removal of homo sapiens from the scene: there are
anthropologists and evolutionists who promote the view that we represent an overspecialised branch
of the chimpanzee genus. It may be true. But that's no excuse to shut our eyes to the problems which
this overspecialisation creates for us. Consider that Koko herself is such an 'anomaly': she too, is far
too overdeveloped for her own good, too big, too cumbersome, too reliant on an exceptional and
probably short-lived congenial habitat (regarded on the geological time scale). Above all, she does
not have enough intelligence to defend herself against the dangers which threaten her survival if the
earth's climate or environment changes rapidly. As a species, apes are not much older than humans.
But I'm not going to overstate the case for 'brains'. After all, I've already put the 'contra' case, which is
of elementary simplicity. We either make the grade or we fail. Stuffing around with nuclear technology
and plundering the earth of its hoard of fossil fuel is a fine way of running the gauntlet. But this
problem is not cured by pretending that we have the option of dismantling civilisation and joining Koko
in her 'natural' estate. That is the way to accepting defeat, to pretending that we aren't what we are.
Since I can't go on to write a book about this, I'll put my case in a nutshell, which is: that the only way
for humans is to recognise (which we have not yet) that our intelligence is not merely a gift which
enables us to overcome the innumerable adversities and inconveniences which attend to creature
life, especially for creature as big as ourselves, but also confers on us the responsibilityto put those
achievements into the context of the evolutionary stream from which they emerged.
The theory of evolution has, to my mind, no other rationale. That's why I'm dismayed about the idiotic
tinkering with genes that is presently going on. Instead of spending huge sums on this and other
projects based on idle curiosity, we should be looking at ourselves as products of evolution and find
some way of organising our societies which is not destructive. But try selling this to industry,
commerce and military! This is where the problem lies. We are still, according to our instincts and
genetic inheritance, fundamentally arboreal simians — greedy, wasteful, aggressive, competitive,
dominated by our lusts. We have made very little effort to understand this very unambiguous legacy
from our physical past.
To return, however, to your initial statement. I recently read a book by Rudolf Pannwitz who wrote
something like: We keep asking the same questions of Nature: may its time to consider that the
answers have been given, moreover that they have always been the same. Maybe with our ingrained
prejudices, we simply have not listened properly, our own inner voice deafening the voice of Nature.
And so we keep going over the old ground, time and again. Unfortunately I don't know if the book has
been translated into English, but you can chase it up on your own. Its title in German is Der Aufbau
der Natur,which reads in English, "The Order (Structure/Architecture) of Nature". With some luck you
might find a congenial philosophy in there.