Chapter 2: If We Could Talk to Animals
What is the communication style you use with your dog? Do you implore him to come to you, while he refuses, continuing to run down the street after a neighborhood squirrel? When your dog steals your favorite slipper, do you talk baby talk to him to try to get it back? Do you scream at the top of your lungs for your dog to get off the furniture, while he just sits there, staring at you as if you're crazy? If any of these sounds like you, I know you're aware that the techniques you're using aren't working. You understand that you can't "reason" with a dog, but you simply don't know any other way to communicate with him. I'm here to tell you that there's a much better way.
Remember the story of Dr. Dolittle, the man who was able to speak and understand the language of any animal he happened to meet? From the Hugh Lofting books to the 1928 silent film, to the thirties radio series, to the 1967 movie musical and seventies cartoons, to the blockbuster Eddie Murphy comedies, this wonderful tale and its main character have appealed to children and adults generation after generation. Just think of the countless worlds that would be unlocked if we saw things as animals see them. Imagine looking down at the earth through the eyes of a soaring bird, moving through life in three dimensions like a whale, or "seeing" the world through sound waves, the way bats do. Who hasn't dreamed of such thrilling possibilities? The attraction of the Dr. Dolittle story is that it brings animals to life, in big-screen living color.
What would you say if I told you that Doctor Dolittle's secret was more than just creative fiction?
Perhaps you're imagining this secret from a human perspective.
You're wondering if I'm telling you that there's a verbal way to talk to your dog, perhaps with the use of a phrase book that translates your language into his. What would his language look like, sound like, you wonder? Would it include the words sit, stay, come, and heel? Would you have to shout the translations, or could you whisper them? Would you have to learn how to whimper and bark? Sniff your pet's behind? And how would your dog answer you back? How would you translate what he was saying? As you can see, creating a dog-to-human phrase book--the way, say, an English-to-Spanish phrase book is created--would be a very complicated effort indeed.
Wouldn't it be simpler if there was a universal language that every species could understand? "Impossible," you say. "Even human beings don't all speak the same language!" True, but that hasn't kept people from trying to find a common language for centuries. In the ancient world, all the higher-class, educated people learned Greek. That way, they could all read and understand the most important documents. In the Christian era, anybody who was anybody knew how to read and write Latin.
Today, English is at the top of the language food chain. I learned this the hard way when I first arrived in America fourteen years ago. Believe me, if you're not born speaking it, English is a monster of a language to learn from scratch--yet everyone from the Chinese to the Russians now accept it as the international language of business. Humans have sought other ways to breach the language barrier. No matter what language you speak, if you're blind, you can use Braille. If you're deaf, you can understand any other deaf person using International Sign Language. Mathematics and computer languages cross many linguistic borders and allow humans of different tongues to...