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The 12 Days of Ecclesiastes: Chapter 3

3.18-21: 18 I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.” 19 For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. 20 All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. 21 Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?

Loose ends abound in this entry ... please forgive me. That's generally my style anyway, but if you don't like scatter-brained, you won't like this. Moving on, let's take a close look at verse 19; it mentions that the men and the beasts have the same breath. According to the Bible commentary in front of me, 'breath' as a Hebrew term might refer to spirit or wind, a symbol of life in either case. It's noteworthy that in verse 21 Qoheleth doesn't make a statement, but instead, asks a question. He doesn't claim certainty on the dynamics of animal consciousness, whether or not their essence is finite or infinite. This renders the following point: the way in which people understand the psychological state of entities other than themselves is important because it effects how they approach those other entities.

So, at this moment I am perching upon the idea that animals and humans have the same spirit, soul, essence, whatever you might like to call it. This is the essential characteristic of any aware being - the state of awareness by which we understand self and other. Why, then, are animals generally understood as being different than people? For as long as I can remember, I've always believed that many animals had an awareness that was at least similar to that of people. I've never maintained that they were mere automatons (with the exception of insects, perhaps). While I used to believe that the awareness between animals and people was essentially the same, in recent times I have changed my position. This was motivated by an idea from C. S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain": ...if you give such a creature two blows with a whip, there are, indeed, two pains: but there is no co-ordinating self which can recognise that 'I have had two pains'. A terrible truth about human pain is that one is often aware of it, but for animals, perhaps, they can have the experience without reflecting on what they are experiencing. A self-aware person does not know what that's like and maybe it's not even that bad, thus providing (potential) relief to any emotional difficulty one might have with respect to such a topic.

In a roundabout way, this general topic of life-force reminds me of Thomas Aquinas' "Definitions of Soul" where he writes: the proper notion of life is drawn from this: anything that can move itself ... and that is the soul, the act by which the body lives. Based on my interpretation, it seems that the soul in the physical world can be recognized as a part of individuals through their movement which occurs on behalf of their own volition. Not to be crude or morbid in the slightest, but this is very interesting if you compare this thought to a thought about death as it occurs in the physical world. When a person's body stops functioning beyond repair, an outsider sees the body void of movement, or perhaps even, according to my interpretation of Aquinas, void of soul. This seems to give reason to believe that the soul (the breath) has moved beyond the physical realm, for example, into a spiritual realm.