About animals and memory

It is even easier to fall into the error of ascribing memory to animals than it is to ascribe consciousness to plants. It is very natural to think of memory when a dog recognizes its master whom he has not seen perhaps for a long time. Yet, in reality, this recognition does not rest upon memory, but upon something quite different. The dog feels a certain attraction to its master. This attraction proceeds from the master’s personality. This personality causes pleasure in the dog when the master is in its presence, and every time the master’s presence reoccurs, it causes a renewal of this pleasure. Memory, however, is only present when a being not only feels with its experiences in the present, but when it retains also those of the past. One might acknowledge this and still fall into the error of thinking that the dog has memory. For it might be said that the dog mourns when its master leaves it, therefore it has retained a memory of him. That also is an incorrect conclusion. Through sharing the master’s life, his presence becomes a need to the dog and it, therefore, experiences his absence in the same way that it experiences hunger. Whoever does not make these distinctions, will not arrive at clarity concerning the true relationships of life.

Out of certain prejudices, one might object to this exposition by maintaining that it cannot be known whether or not there exists in the animal anything similar to human memory. Such an objection, however, is the result of untrained observation. Anyone who can observe quite factually how the animal behaves in the complex of its experiences notices the difference between its behavior and that of the human being, and he realizes that the animal’s behavior corresponds to the non-existence of memory.

Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 13 – OCCULT SCIENCE – II. The Essential Nature of Mankind

Translated by Maud and Henry B. Monges and revised for this edition by Lisa D. Monges.