Thursday, October 22, 2009

A philosophical conundrum about a horse

While I was writing Part 2 of My little drama queen's dramatic tail* a whole new post started writing itself in my head.

*Everyone knows I'm deliberately using the wrong tail/tale, right? Because it's a tale about my horse, an animal with a tail? I hope so. I'm being cute, not an idiot.

Writing Part 2 really got me thinking though: can a horse just have "the blues"? For no reason? I even posted a question on "A philosophical question about horse depression." Now you know where I came up with the title of this post.

A couple of people on Horse Channel responded, but the answers were less than satisfactory to me. They all wanted the answer to Gazelle's alleged depression to have a concrete reason behind it (an infection, perhaps). But that just didn't seem right to me . . . it wasn't It. Inexplicably, something wasn't right.

And I started thinking about people, and myself, and I think I found my answer.

Sometimes I have the blues. For no apparent reason, I feel down in the dumps. I'm not sick. Nothing happened. I'm just . . . not in the mood. Not myself. Don't feel like doing anything, or if I do, what I have to do doesn't match up with what I want to do, and that dichotomy adds an element of frustration into the stew. The stew that is just me stewing about nothing.

Sometimes it's hormonal, I'll admit. In fact, it's probabably hormonal more often than I'd like to admit. But sometimes, it isn't. Sometimes it's something else, but the something is nothing. Nothing because, just as inexplicably, I'll just all of a sudden snap out of it, without ever knowing what caused it in the first place.


Well, if I could answer that, I'd probably have a lot more money in my bank account than I do. But here's what I know: if I can't explain it for myself, why on earth would I be able to explain the inner workings of my horse's brain? Sure, a person can jump on the "I'm an anthropomorphist" boat just as easily as a person can jump off that same boat. But either way, whether you believe or don't believe that a horse can feel "happy" or "jealous" or "melodramatic" or any number of humanoid emotions, the fact is: none of us know for sure. The anthropomorphism argument is just that: an argument. A neverending dispute that will never to be resolved beyond a shadow of a doubt. Never.

So there really is nothing stopping me from coming up with a theory. And as a person who has known this creature for over 18 years, I'd say I'm the ONLY person qualified to present a theory regarding her behavior. The non-anthropomorphics out there can like it or lump it.

My first part of the theory is: what is required to feel an emotion? My answer is: intelligence. To test the theory, my mind wonders: do all humans feel emotions, regardless of their intelligence level? Which is to say, are there humans that do not feel emotions due to a lack of intelligence? People with disabilities, very young, very old . . . of course they all feel emotions. Duh! The only humans I can think of that (probably) don't feel emotions are those in a persistent vegetative state due to brain loss.

Even an infant feels emotion, but . . . not the more complex emotions. Not sure where the line between simple and complex is, so I'm going to blow past that, but I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that a human infant does not feel something like, say, jealousy. Jealousy is a pretty complex emotion. So, when is a human being capable of feeling it? I don't know that either, so again, blowing right past the definitive line. I'd say a 2 years old is another safe guess as to when children are aware enough of the people in their lives that they can experience jealousy when someone pays too much attention to someone else.

Therefore, if a human with any amount of brain function can indisputably feel emotion, and a human being over 2 years of age can feel complex emotions, then all I have to do is prove (to myself) that my horse has the intelligence level of a human being that is 2 years old.

That is a difficult undertaking. As far as I can tell, there is no special number that has been collectively accepted as the number that equates human age to a horse's intelligence.

So I'm going to use my own scale based on my own logic. Try and dispute that!

Dolphins are supposedly equivalent to a 7 year old human, isn't that right? Isn't that common knowledge? Where did I get that--a Snapple cap? I don't know. Oh well. My opinion, based on a total of zero scientific studies and backed up by positively no famous scientists, is that horses are in the range of a 3 or 4 year old human being.

Try and tell me that a 3 or 4 year old human doesn't feel emotion! That a 3 year old doesn't get fed up with being Mommy's Little Helper.

I have come to this conclusion that Gazelle has at least the intelligence capacity of a 3 or 4 year old child because my horse will:

1) Assess and react to my emotions (a child much younger than 3 can do that . . . babies will smile in response to a smile from their parents).
  • Example 1: If I am afraid, she will also be afraid (shivering, cowering, spooky). If I get a grip on myself and control my own fear, hers fearful behavior ceases.
  • Example 2: If she misbehaves and gets "yelled at," she will act contrite (i.e., submissive, when you say jump she says, "How high?").
  • Example 3: If I'm happy/excited, she will prance and dance in response.
2) Feel other complex emotions.
  • Example 1: Jealousy. If I'm paying attention to another horse, she butts in and tries to steal the attention.
  • Example 2: Melodrama. Just look at the expression on her face when she "accidentally" steps on you because she's blind in one eye. She acts like it was your fault for getting in her way. She flaunts her disability and shouts at you, "I only have one eye!"
  • Example 3: Mischievousness. Sometimes she spooks "just for fun," but not because she's afraid. If you reprimand her and tell her to "get back to work," and she does so immediately. Which means she wasn't afraid of it in the first place.
But can a 3 or 4 year old human have the blues for no reason? Well, why not? Unfortunately, the symptoms of melancholy that a child would display (same as an adult: lack of interest, unmotivated, down in the dumps) would most likely be misconstrued by their parent. The parent would take them to the doctor, complaining "They're just not right. Something is wrong." And the doctor would find nothing, and the blues would run their course, and the kid would snap out of it, and never say to their parent, "I just didn't feel like it. I don't know why." And no one would ever know exactly what happened. I wonder how many times that happens?

Therefore, based on my non-existent research which has been backed up by absolutely no one, plus an abundance of observation that can be corroborated by no one, I am able to conclude with absolute certainty that Gazelle most assuredly does possess the intelligence required to feel an emotion such as the blues.

She does, and she did, and now she doesn't.

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