new dolphin exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

By Paul Lenda

There is a heightening level of awareness within the human race with regard to nature and all that it contains within it. Everything from the discoveries of the rudiments of language in monkeys, metacognition in dolphins, self-awareness of elephants, the ability for animals to tell “right” from “wrong”, to the creation and extension of bills of rights for animals and plants by countries such as Switzerland and Ecuador as well as the acknowledgment of dolphins as being non-human persons.

There’s a growing awareness within humanity that nature and its inhabitants are not as primitive and simple as we once believed them to be. With this growing awareness comes growing understanding of the unity that humanity has with the environment within which it exists. This sense of unity with nature is not something new and indeed has been the primary position of awareness for many societies in existence before their industrialisation.

In today’s post-modern societies, there is a resurgence of that connection with the biosphere and interconnected organisms that is the planet and all that exists within it’s domain. As more discoveries are made, greater awareness shines down on humanity’s collective consciousness and thereby, allowing us to evolve the transpersonal consciousness to a level where the ego is no longer the dominator of the Self.

Science can be a wonderful thing. It can prove without a doubt what may have been suggested in times past, but was not completely understood as being the absolute truth, which always left a bit of doubt or confusion. However, with continuous scientific discoveries occurring all the time, it is of great fortune that we are able to attain substantial data and knowledge concerning the environment and all that it encompasses.

With these new discoveries, it is becoming quite apparent that humans have mistakenly been ignorant and arrogant concerning the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms with respect to their levels of sophistication, evolution, consciousness, and awareness. If we were to start looking at the mineral kingdom, much can be seen from the recent discoveries made.

Of course, there has been such an influx of findings that they would be able to fill up an entire book. However, just a few will be looked at in this article in order to demonstrate the point at hand. All of the discoveries and findings mentioned have been announced publicly within the last few years.

Rocks have been looked at as generally non-living, inanimate, unconscious, and completely devoid of any lifelike characteristics, even though everything in nature possesses self-organisation. However, stunning new evidence shows that the incredible diversity of crystals and minerals after the rise of life on this planet and points to the reality that rocks, like plants and animals, have been evolving all this time, and we did not even realise it until now. This idea is being called “mineral evolution”, which is the concept that many of our planet’s rocks, minerals, and crystals are dynamic species which have emerged and transformed over time.

Of course, the evolution of the mineral kingdom is not exactly the same as the evolution of the plant and animal kingdoms, since minerals do not mutate, reproduce, or compete like other living organisms – to our knowledge. However, the vast variety and abundance of all the various minerals on earth have changed quite dramatically over the 4.5+ billion years of earth’s past. US geologist Robert Hazen who led the research team for this finding, said that “for at least 2.5 billion years, and possibly since the emergence of life, Earth’s mineralogy has evolved in parallel with biology.”

This should not be too big of a surprise to us however. It makes quite a bit of sense that evolution is all-encompassing …everything from our consciousness, to galaxies, to rocks. Everything is in a constant state of be-ing and become-ing and the condition of the various aspects of Reality being static does not find much evidence to support itself on. It looks more and more as if Reality is dynamic and extropic in nature.

Stepping out of the mineral kingdom, we make our way to the plant kingdom.

Although it has been known for quite some time that the rainforests of the world act as lungs for the planet, it has recently been discovered that they act as a heart as well. What this implies is that not only are rainforests giant carbon sinks of the planet (acting as lungs), but they may also be responsible for moving many of the weather patterns we see all around the globe (just as the physical heart moves blood throughout the entire body).

The new study researching this subject suggests that rainforests, such as the ones in Africa and South America, create winds that circulate water around the planet. It is known that more than half the rainfall in rainforests evaporates and recirculates, which then keeps the upper air moist. New findings show that rainforests are also moving the air around them, which also has the effect of moving the water around.

It turns out that as important as plants and trees are to the ensuring that there is enough clean oxygen for all sentient beings to thrive and survive on the planet, they are now acknowledged as being even more important, by affecting the very weather patterns of our biosphere.

Perhaps as a response to the various discoveries concerning the plant kingdom, there have been governments across the planet that have taken it upon themselves to become trailblazers in the area of plant and ecosystem rights. This higher awareness has been most recently demonstrated in the countries of Switzerland and Ecuador.

In the case of Switzerland, the Swiss Government’s Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology has come to the consensus that plants have rights, and that they have to be treated appropriately. Making our way to Ecuador, we can see that the country has changed its constitution to say that nature has “the right to the maintenance and regeneration of its vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.” The basis of these rights “change the status of ecosystems from being regarded as property under the law to being recognized as rights-bearing entities.”

The idea of plants having a degree of consciousness is very well documented, so it is not unreasonable for a government to come up with such a conclusion in respect to the plant kingdom. However, the perceptions of humans are not always quick to shift and change. It is demonstrations such as these which show that there is indeed a higher awareness being experienced by humanity with relation to its biosphere neighbours.

Emerging out of the plant kingdom and into the animal kingdom, a myriad of recent discoveries exemplify humanity’s growing awareness of the sophistication and higher level of be-ing that animals exist at. The latest and most well-known finding is concerning dolphins. Dolphins have been perceived as being very intelligent beings for at least several thousand years. In ancient Greece, it was punishable by death to kill or harm a dolphin.

Much mythology revolves around dolphins. However, concerning the scientific data being research and analysed, it has been found without doubt that human language and dolphin movement patterns show similarities in brevity. The law of brevity in human language, according to which the most frequently-used words tend to be the shortest, extends to dolphins, as well as other animal species. The way in which this is observed was that when dolphins move on the surface of the water, they tend to make the simplest movements, in the same way that humans tend to use words comprised of less letters when they are speaking or writing.

Perhaps it is discoveries such as these and others that are altering the positions of awareness that humanity has concerning dolphins to the point where they are being described by scientists as being non-human persons and as a result, should be treated as such. Dolphins are recognised as being the most intelligent beings on our planet, after humans. The signs are numerous, such as the anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence, studies showing that dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self, and an ability to think about the future. Dolphins are also cultural animals, which means that new types of behaviour can quickly be picked up between one dolphin and another.

More stunning research has discovered that dolphins, as well as other animals such as macaque monkeys, have been shown to have conscious metacognition. There is a growing amount of evidence that animals share functional parallels with human conscious metacognition. Metacognition is essentially the ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind, and although once considered solely the domain of humans, is now seen as evident in some animals as well.

J. David Smith, Ph.D., a comparative psychologist who conducted the study, concluded that “metacognition rivals language and tool use in its potential to establish important continuities or discontinuities between human and animal minds.”

Metacognition aside, animals are also now known to possess self-awareness. First seen in gorillas and then later in elephants and dolphins, self-awareness is no longer solely recognised as being the domain of the human being. When most animals see themselves in a mirror, they will interpret what they see as another animal, possibly a threat, and may attack the image, or be scared away. But after awhile, the animals habituate and ignore the reflected image entirely. (An animal that is self-aware will recognise the image as its own reflection, which is something that requires a degree of abstract thought and cognitive association.)

As fascinating as these things may be, new research has discovered that several species of animals, such as monkeys, wolves, coyotes, elephants, chimpanzees, rodents, bats, and whales, have a sense of what is called ‘morality’, in that they are able to subjectively tell ‘right’ from ‘wrong’.

In a series of studies scientists have found that monkeys and apes can make judgements about fairness, offer altruistic help and empathise when a fellow animal is ill or in difficulties. The existence of a conscience is also apparent, and remembering obligations also exists. Even when there is no obvious reward for an altruistic action, chimpanzees were still observed as willing to help others.

The conclusion of this observation led to the statement by one of the researchers that “chimpanzees spontaneously help both humans and each other in carefully controlled tests.”

Perhaps the most interest point in this discovery is that everything else being equal, animals such as chimpanzees prefer to reward a companion along with themselves, rather than just themselves alone. The act of giving by the monkeys is self-rewarding and can be said as being a demonstration of the interconnected consciousness of monkeys, just as humans, within their interconnected transpersonal consciousness, will experience the same effect. As the old adage goes, what you do to another, you do to/for yourself.

The one final demonstration in this article of this elevated level of consciousness and be-ing that other aspects of nature have is that of language among animals. It has recently been found that the rudiments of language exist among monkeys. Certain monkeys that have been studied have been seen to combine the same calls in different ways, using rules of grammar that turn sound into language. Alban Lemasson, a primatologist at the University of Rennes in France, has stated that “this is the first evidence we have in animal communication that they can combine, in a semantic way, different calls to create a new message.”

As it stands, humans can no longer be considered the sole users of language in the sophisticated manner in which we use it. Although nowhere as complex as the syntax of human beings, animal communication is more advanced and complex than we have ever previously been aware of.

All these discoveries have occurred within a few years and are demonstrative of the incredibly accelerated rise in awareness that humanity is experiencing with respect to the level of consciousness of various aspects of nature, as well as how primitive nature and all the various aspects of it, seemed to be in times past. There is an awakening to a more intelligent nature than previously was acknowledged. This is a step towards a new age in which humans and the rest of nature will hopefully have a more symbiotic and unifying relationship with the environment, and more respect will be given to it. Baby steps, for sure, but baby steps