February 2019
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Can Animals Understand Symbolism?

The animal world which evolved from our common ancestor back in the dawn (can’t say it myth) of creation, branches off when human communication took that profound step from mere survival to symbolism and representative thought. The strange and frightening world was tamed by making it something humans can relate human to. Myths are not true or false. It’s the difference between data and lore.

I know that the moon is an inorganic, hunk of space dust but it still looks like a man’s face.  My advanced intellect can accept both at once without conflicting neurons going into a convulsive overload. If I had to choose one to believe, since I’m not an astrophysicist, I would go with the man in the moon. I’ve actually seen him.

All humans are by their innate nature prone to create some understandable order from disorder- this human tendency is called simulacra. This means, we humans, yearn to see something familiar in everything around us. Who hasn’t seen faces in rocks and trees or billowing creatures in cloud formations?

I was lucky enough to view the natural rock formation in New Hampshire dubbed The Old Man in the Mountain before it slipped away into a pile of ordinary rubble. He was an extremely awe-evoking phenomenon. As we drove along the winding highway gazing up at the endless, unchanging bank of looming, vertical granite, I always feared I would miss seeing him. That he would be too subtle to make out his features. Then suddenly, you rounded that corner and looked back at the mountain and to my utter amazement, every time, the granite suddenly twisted into an unmistakable profile. Half a mile back…nothing. Half a mile forward…again nothing. You had to stand at just the right angle and distance to see him. He was not subtle! The rocks could be nothing but a giant’s face.

There are many websites devoted to examples of simulacra. Who could ever forget the face of the Madonna on that grilled cheese sandwich? People have traveled for hundreds of miles to witness an oil slick on a window that seems to be a miracle.

Humans have always loved to fashion recognizable some-things out of something else. In prehistoric times a piece of cast off, unusually shaped bone, is deliberately saved for later and chipped and fashioned by idle hands to make it in to a figure. Maybe to the primitive artist the bone looks a bit like a fish so he chips here and there at it to make the image more recognizable. Does he think it becomes a real fish? I’m betting no.  It is never meant to replace or displace the actual elemental subject.

I just watched a news clip about a guy who has discovered deliberately created almost, subliminal, animals in the painted brush strokes of De Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I smiled indulgently and thought “Well sure . You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear. “ The Rockman- Harry Nilsson The point.


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