Monday, September 17, 2018


What better demonstration of conatus, the will to live, then when you try to kill an insect. It's generally assumed that insects don’t think (though it might not be surprising to find out that some enterprising neuroscientist has endeavored to place ants, roaches and water bugs in miniature FMRIs). However, if you’ve ever pulled your shoulder in swatting a fly or injured your hand in trying to snuff out a termite, you'll feel the power of conatus, a term that appears prominently in the work of Spinoza and other philosophers. How can a creature run when it doesn’t experience the emotion of fear? When a dog barks at you, even when its tethered by a leash, you instinctually avoid its path, but that's because a complex series of events takes place, some of which occur in the conscious mind and some in the pre-cortical limbic areas where emotion resides. It's here, in the realm of emotion, that men have something in common with animals. No matter how small the brain of the creature, they will run from giants, just like the Lilliputians were frightened by Gulliver. A larger threatening being is a big dark cloud that unites humanity with the animal world. This irrational and inexplicable desire to go on living, what George Bernard Shaw termed “the life force” is one illustration of the wholeness and interconnectedness of all forms of organic life. It’s always tempting to hold to the notion that consciousness makes all the difference, particularly when you’re about to devour a so-called lower form, but if cats and mice could verbalize their feelings in a focus group, wouldn’t it be likely that they would both share some scary stories?

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