When I was a zebra, I saw the world through zebra eyes. My mind was a zebra mind; my sensations and body were zebra. I even nuzzled with a good zebra friend. Transcendent mental states like my zebra can be induced in any number of ways, including by fasting or meditating. My visions came to me during relaxation periods after strenuous yoga sessions. I’ve levitated, floated in the air, and become fog and water. These states are far more intense than dreams or daydreams. They are spiritual. My spirit thus leaves my body behind on occasion, but can the same be said for my dog? Do animals have these experiences?
Of course they do. Not exactly like mine, of course, but of the same kind. Ethereal mental states aren’t magical. They are produced in areas of the brain that are shared by all mammals. These neural pathways normally bring sensory input, memories, and emotions together into a firm sense of time and place. But with slight alteration, spirits run free. For people, we know that electrical stimulation of the limbic system can trigger out-of-body hallucinations, as surgical patients can attest. The sensations would be just as real for my dog, even though she wouldn’t talk about it-and I hope she never has to endure the brain surgery involved. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish have functionally similar neural circuitry, so the roots of mysticism go way back in time. Spirituality, then, has evolved, and we share it with other animals.
I’ve made a distinction here between spiritual states of mind and religion, leaving that discussion to Sam Harris. And I leave it to you to answer this related question: Do animals have souls? What are your thoughts?