by Todd F. Eklof

It was about twenty years ago when astronomers began noticing various objects in space aren’t behaving themselves. That is, they don’t seem to be obeying the laws of physics. Because of these laws, governing gravitational pull and separation, physicists are able to determine precisely how much matter must exist to hold a galaxy together. The only problem is, in practically all systems, their figures don’t add up. When they actually observe these galaxies they can’t find most of the matter their calculations say should be there. These ubiquitous discrepancies seem to leave us with two possibilities, either the universe contains a lot more matter than can be observed, “dark matter,” as it is referred to, or our understanding of the laws of physics is incorrect. In either case, it would seem, their is much more to knowing how the universe works than meets the eye.

If we head the other direction, from the farthest reaches of space into the infinite depth of our own molecular makeup, we are presented with a similar scientific conundrum. Ever since the 1950’s, with the discovery of DNA, scientists have been working to understand the laws governing genetics. In this quest, which has in recent years led to the mapping of the entire human genome, many geneticists have classified 98 percent of our DNA as junk. This junk DNA doesn’t produce the proteins that are considered essential in programming our cellular makeup. But in a recent article in Scientific America on the subject, John Mattick, director of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland, has stated, “what was damned as junk because it was not understood may, in fact, turn our to be the very basis of human complexity.”1 In this article, entitled The Unseen Genome: Gems among the Junk, we learn of entire litters of mice that have died after having their useless junk DNA tampered with, and of cellular programming that occurs without proteins.

As fascinating as these problems are, the point here is rather obvious, considering 95 percent of the universe is comprised of dark matter and 98 percent of our DNA is classified as junk because we don’t understand its function, there is much about the universe, both on the macrocosmic and microcosmic level, that we don’t comprehend. Yet most of the time we go about our lives as if our understanding of the world is nearly complete, as if their is little more to it than our redundant thoughts and behavior permit. It’s as if we’re in a dark room with a narrow beam of light. Whatever we shine the light on we take as reality, but the rest of it, lying out there in the darkness, either doesn’t exist or serves no purpose. Every now and then we hear something in the darkness, some faint sound, a distant echo suggesting there might actually be something else out there, something more to the universe than our narrow vision allows, but we have learned to distrust, even to fear, the mysterious sounds emanating from the darkness, and easily dismiss those who do listen as crackpots and charlatans, when, like DNA and dark matter, most of reality likely exists in the shadows of what we don’t understand.

Our narrow beam of light, for example, indicates human beings are the most advanced beings that have ever lived. Our large cerebral cortex makes us much more intelligent than any other creature on earth. In many cases, the other beings we share the earth with are little more than biological automatons, governed, not by thought, but by pure instinct, entirely incapable of reasoning or understanding. Our paradigm suggests genuine intelligence originates and ends with human beings.

More often than not, however, is seems our superior intelligence has merely made us better at killing each other and destroying our environment than any of the dumb animals we share the planet with. Indeed, if we turn off our light for a few moments and stop ignoring the voices in the darkness, begin taking seriously the things we can’t explain, we might begin to appreciate our world in a broader light.

Once such voice is calling to us from a far away zoo in Warwickshire, England. It’s the voice of a female bonobo, a pygmy chimpanzee, who seems to be delighting in poking zoo visitors with a bamboo stick she’s managed to obtain. Fortunately one of her keepers, Betty Walsh, has brought a bag containing four cakes to work with her. Betty had planned to share the cakes with here colleagues at tea time, but decides to attempt trading one of the cakes for the stick. But when the bonobo saw that she had four cakes, the “dumb animal,” broke the stick into four pieces in order to get all of them. “It was more than clever,” Betty recounted, “She worked it out in a split second.”2

This is just one of the incredible stories biologist Rupert Sheldrake tells in his book, Dogs that Know When Their Owners are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals. In his research, Sheldrake discovered many cat owners complain that their pets manage to disappear whenever their scheduled for a veterinary appointment. As one person explained, “The cat always knows hours ahead of time when I’m going to take him to the vet, long before I actually fetch his basket from the attic. I try to act as natural as possible so he won’t notice, but he can always see through me at any time and will yowl to go out.”3 To better understand just how widespread this phenomenon is, Sheldrake and his team once surveyed all the veterinary clinics listed in the North London Yellow Pages. It turned out that 64 of the 65 clinics they called reported frequent appointment cancellations for this very reason.

Most of us are aware of the mysterious homing ability found in many animals, and we’ve all heard the incredible stories of dogs and cats that make their way home after traveling long distances. Like the story of a collie named Bobby, lost in Indiana while his family was moving across country to their new home in Oregon. A year later the dog show up at their new home after traversing more than 2000 miles. Since Bobby had never been to the home in Oregon before, it’s difficult to comprehend how he knew which route to take. Some might explain it as the dog’s ability to pick of the scent of his owners, but following the scent of their rubber tires for 2000 miles seems remarkable, even for the sharpest of bloodhounds. Nor can scent explain the case of Troubles, a scout dog that had been taken by helicopter to a Vietnam war zone with his handler, William Richardson. When Richardson was wounded and airlifted to safety, Troubles got left behind. Three weeks later, the tired and starving dog show up at headquarters ten miles away. He wouldn’t let anyone get near him but searched the tents until he found Richardson’s belongings, then curled up and went to sleep.4 Since Richardson had been airlifted away, there was no scent on the ground for Troubles to follow.

Nowadays, more and more animals are also being used to warn epileptics in advance of a seizure so they can lay down and prepare themselves. Chad, a Golden Retriever who won the 1997 British Therapy Dog of the Year Award, for example, actually goes to the mother of a young boy who suffers from the condition and warns her when he is about to have a seizure. Another person, who has as many as twelve seizures a week was unable to leave her home until she got her helper dog. “He can sense, up to fifty minutes before, that I am going to have an attack and taps me twice with his paw, giving me time to get somewhere safe.” She explains, “He can also press a button on my phone and bark when it is answered, to get help, and, if he thinks I’m going to have an attack while I’m in the bath, he’ll pull the plug out.”5 Other animals have also proven capable of predicting seizures, even something as unlikely as a pet rabbit.

Many of these stories seem to indicate the possibility that animals may have telepathic powers, that they are somehow connected with people and places they bond with through some force transcending the limitations of their bodies. This seems to be the only way to explain the result of one laboratory experiment involving some chicks that had bonded with a small robot that randomly moved about. The chicks followed the robot around the room as if it were their mother. The robot was then placed in a room with an empty cage and researchers were able to trace its random movements across the floor. As expected the robot ended up eventually moving all over the room. When the day old imprinted chicks were placed in the cage, however, something extraordinary happened. The tracings show that the robot stayed mostly near the cage, and never ventured to the farther half of the room at all. The same researchers also placed a group of non-imprinted chicks in a dark room with the robot after putting a lighted candle on it. These chicks were also able to somehow keep the robot near them during the day so they could receive more light.6

So how is it possible for day old chicks to remote control a robot, for rabbits to predict epileptic seizures, or for a dog to travel 2000 miles to a home it has never been before? Could these examples point to an intelligence beyond the confines of our skulls? Could it be that intelligence is something that transcends both mind and body, and exists out there somewhere, in the ether, in the darkness, just waiting for us to tap into it like our animal companions? Perhaps there is in reality only one universal Mind and to tap into it we must first go out of our minds. As the physicist Erwin Schrodinger once said, “Mind is by its very nature a singular tantum. I should say: the overall number of minds is just one.”7 Schrodinger went on to conclude that it is meaningless to “divide or multiply consciousness” because, “In all the world, there is no kind of framework with which we can find consciousness in the plural.”8 Perhaps this is similar to what Einstein meant when he remarked, “I feel such a sense of solidarity with all living things that it does not matter to me where the individual begins and ends.”9

In this world view, beyond the detached, mechanistic, schizophrenic vision provided by our narrow beam of light, there is only one mind, a singularity of intelligence, beyond time and space, beyond beginning and end, in which all creatures are capable of sharing. And lest we mistakenly limit this to just animals, we should also consider the intelligence of plants, that, through co-evolution with animals, have developed colorful flowers, pleasant fragrances, savory tastes and consciousness expanding compounds in order to communicate their presence to us. In a recent and fascinating interview, Dr. Yoshiuki Miwa, a robotics expert studying the bio-information systems of plants in order to make more life like robots, has concluded, “From a macroscopic viewpoint, a forest as a whole forms a brain.”10 Dr. Miwa came to recognize the intelligence in Forests by inserting electrodes into trees in order to detect subtle changes in them, similar to monitoring electrocardiograms and brain waves. “I have the feeling that a forest itself has a network, similar to that found in a brain,” he concludes, but “Through what kind of medium is such grouping being carried out? And through that medium, what kind of information relating to the life activities of trees is being shared?”11 Miwa’s research indicates the medium through which plants and trees share intelligence involves electrical fields. If this is the case, perhaps this is the same kind of invisible energy that mediates all intelligence, from the inexplicable homing and precognitive abilities of some animals, to the ability of chicks to remote control a robot.

I’d like to conclude by asking you to consider another voice calling to us from the mysterious darkness, the voice of Eliot Cowan, a shaman who has created a healing system he calls plant spirit medicine. Cowan claims he has no especially mystical abilities and grew up in an average middle class household, a child allergic to pollen and prone to staying indoors. While studying anthropology in college, however, he developed the urge to learn more about the world in which he lived. So he left school and moved to a farm in Vermont where he began learning about and experimenting with plan medicines. One day, needing fence posts, he wondered into a cedar grove with a saw and machete, instead of a noisy gas-fueled chainsaw. Before tearing into the trees, however, he asked himself, “If I were growing here in this bog, how would I want it to be done?”12 He decided that he would select a trunk from each clump of trees that was crowding the others, cut it, removes its limbs, then pile the brush atop the stump so as not to harm the other trees and clutter the meadow with brush piles. “I will leave the grove healthier and more beautiful than when I found it.”13 Cowan’s approach took much longer than it should have, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Nearly twenty years later, while on a shamanic journey to the Sierra foothills of Northern California, Cowan had a dream in which he encountered a female spirit who told him she was the mother of all the creatures in the forest. “The cedars are pleased with you,” she told him, “and we’ll help you because of your kindness to us long ago.”

Cowan was confused and asked, “What kindness?”

“It was my cousin,” the spirit replied, “the northern white cedar, don’t you recall?”14 That’s when, for the first time, Cowan remembered his forgotten experience in the grove 18 years earlier. Since then Cowan has come to conclude that in many cases we don’t even need to ingest plants to be healed and enlightened by them, we simply need to be close to them. “I think it’s important for people to know,” he says, “and to be able to experience that every plant is a miracle, magic. And if you approach it right, every plant is psychoactive. Spirit isn’t limited by molecules.”15

Science tells us the Universe if full of mostly stuff we can’t see, dark matter, and our bodies are made of mostly stuff we don’t understand, junk DNA. But our lack of experience or understanding doesn’t mean these aren’t real or serve no purpose. As Einstein said, “Out yonder there is a huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking.”16 Perhaps the peculiar intelligence expressed by plants and animals is accessible to us mere humans too, if we stop focusing so hard on our narrow vision of reality, close our eyes, and listen.
1 Gibbs, W. Wayt, The Unseen Genome: Gems Among the Junk, Scientific America, November 2003, p.53.
2 Sheldrake, Rupert, Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And other Unexplained Powers of Animals, Three Rivers Press, New York, NY, 1999, p.131.
3 Ibid., p.121.
4 Ibid., p.173.
5 Ibid., p.235.
6 Ibid. p.271ff.
7 Schrodinger, Erwin, What is Life? And Mind and Matter, Cambridge University Press, London, 1969, p.145.
8 Schrodinger, Erwin, My View of the World, Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge, CT, 1983, p.31ff. (original English translated Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964).
9 Born, Max, The Born-Einstein Letters, Walker, New York, NY, 1971, p.151.
11 Ibid.
12 Hammond, Holly, Plant Spirit Medicine, Yoga Journal, Issue 131, December 1996, p.79.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid., p.80.
15 Ibid., p.82.
16 Schilpp, Paul A., ed., Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Open Court Publishing, La Salle, IL, 1949, p.5.