I often wonder… Are we the only sentient beings on the planet? I am not speaking of some as yet undiscovered missing link or a being that is so intelligent that it has avoided detection, but rather, have we underestimated the intelligence of other life forms? Fish, for example. Of course, they are not very intelligent by our standards. They do not have, as far as we know, any sort of language to frame or file thoughts with and no means of exchanging ideas. They probably don’t have any ideas. However, we know they have a brain, we know they process information, but do they think? Can they enjoy life? Is there more? Do fish frolic?
I know, I know. It’s finally happened. I’ve completely lost touch with reality. Do fish think? What kind of a question is that? Who cares? That’s a better question! Maybe. Allow me to put some context around this question because, like most of my writing, I am working from a slightly different angle. And yes, I may have lost touch with reality, but I’ll be right back!
Recently I used this space to write about the frogs that have taken up residency in my decorative pond just outside my front door. I told of the marvel of their curious appearance as tadpoles, the disappointment of their disappearance and the elation of their return in the form of frogs. And the croaking! My next frog blog (not my term, give credit where it’s due, thanks Dad!) described the great circle of life and how it had manifested in the neighborhood cat. The cat had established itself in its proper place a few notches higher than the frogs on the food chain.
And today? The frogs have persevered, but are nothing more than co-stars, extras really. Today I introduce not only the fish, but also the tarantula (Webster) and the crickets. Webster came with a cage and is my middle son’s; no, she does not freak me out. She can be handled (I don’t) and only eats live food – crickets. She’ll eat as many as one per day, but can go weeks without. When it has been what I feel is a long enough famine for poor ole Webster, I’ll go to the local PetSmart and buy ten large crickets. They keep them in the fish area…
Stay with me…
While waiting for my $0.15 crickets, I browsed the fish in the tanks. There were salt water, fresh water, tropical, bottom feeders, eels, very expensive and very cheap. The very cheapest were “feeder” gold fish. They are the proverbial “little fish” that the proverbial “big fish” eat. Similar in purpose to the crickets, they just serve a different environment. And at $0.29 each, they’re considerably more expensive. There were literally hundreds of them in a pretty good size tank separated into thirds with different size fish in each part.
They didn’t look happy, although I'm sure they didn’t know it. How could they – they’re fish? At the same time, the wheels started turning and on a whim, I bought ten of them. Now I had $2.90 worth of gold fish in a little plastic bag, right next to $1.50 worth of crickets. Their fates, however, may not be the same. No, I don’t think they knew it.
Ok, ok - the point. When I put the fish in the pond, they seemed to be absolutely jubilant. I’m sure if they had legs, they’d be jumping for joy! At first it must’ve seemed to them like they were going from out of the frying pan and into the fire. But from the fire? Straight to gold fish Heaven. They were darting about, getting their feet wet, as it were! Compared to their most recent two homes, my pond must be like Buckingham Palace.
Are they happier? God only knows. If they are happier, do they know it? I say it doesn’t matter. I think that anything living can experience peace and that it can be experienced in the absence of chaos and uncertainty. Knowing peace and knowing what peace is are not the same. And it could be that the fish, although on the same level as the frogs in regards to the food chain, may not be smart enough to avoid the cat, thus fulfilling they're original purpose. I think, however, they are happier in the meantime.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not – repeat not - one that believes because animals have feelings they should be spared the cruelties of the world. Some animals were put here to eat others. As the masters of our environment, we have been able to civilize much of the brutality of the natural world. And we have taken it to new levels of disgust as well. I am not advocating for “special” treatment towards animals. I would, however, like to finish this mini-editorial with some consciousness raising in that it serves no purpose to be inhumane – whatever that definition is to you.
We seem to believe that happiness is a continuum – that our present state can only be measured by comparison. I too work within this paradigm, but I wonder whether it is necessary. Can I truly experience peace, happiness or contentment without anything else present to measure it with? Do I need past experience to qualify my present? Can there be a state of peace in which one just is and without what one is not? Do fish frolic?