Superphysics Superphysics
Section 5

The Animal Powers and the Need for Each of Them

by Avicenna
7 minutes  • 1445 words
Table of contents

Every animal is sentient.

It moves itself at will, in some sort of motion.

Every animal moves itself in some sort of motion at will, and hence it is sentient; since sensation in what does not move itself at will is wasted and useless, and the lack of it in what does move itself at will is harmful; whereas Nature, owing to that much of Divine Providence as has been joined to her, gives nothing whatever that is either wasted or harmful, nor witholds either the necessary or the useful.

Perhaps some one may speak out here and object to us that shellfish are of such as feel (are sentient) and yet do not move themselves at will.

This objection, however, will speedily vanish on experiment; for shellfish, although they do not move themselves from their places in a sort of organic (mechanical) locomotion at will, yet they do more or less shrink themselves up and spread out inside of their shells, as I have witnessed with mine own eyes on having tried the experiment more than once, in that I turned the shell over onto its back, so that its position for drawing nourishment became separated from the ground; whereupon it ceased not to struggle until it had again stood in a position that made it easy for it to draw in nourishment from the muddy bottom.

Divine Wisdom has decreed that an animal moving itself at will shall be composed of the 4 elements, and as such animal would not be secure against the evils of mishaps in its successive change of places during locomotion, it has been fitted out with the touching power (sense of touch), so as to flee through it from unfit places, and seek those that are fit.

Whereas any such animal’s constitution (make-up) cannot get on without the getting of nourishment; and as its gaining its food is a sort of free will effort; and as some articles of food suit it, and others do not,—it has been fitted out with the tasting power (sense of taste). These two powers (senses) are both useful and necessary in life: the rest are useful, not necessary.

Next after the Tasting, in degree of utmost need for it, comes the Smelling Sense, since odors will point the animal towards suitable articles of nourishment, with a strong indication; nor will the animal be at all able to get on[Pg 45] without nourishment, neither will its nourishment be got by it save through self-help.

So Divine Providence has deemed fit to impart the smelling power unto most animals. The next after the smelling power in usefulness is the Seeing Power: the How and Why of its usefulness, as to the animal, which moves itself at will, is that whereas its betaking itself to certain spots, such as fire-hearths, and away from certain spots, such as mountain peaks and seashores, is such as will lead to its hurt, therefore Divine Providence has deemed fit to impart the seeing power unto most animals.

The next after the seeing power in usefulness is the Hearing Power. The How and Why of its usefulness is that things harmful and things useful may often be recognized as such, through it, by the peculiarity of their sounds and voices; so Divine Providence has deemed fit to impart the hearing power unto most animals. Moreover, the use made of this power by the rational (speaking) species of the animal genus almost surpasses the three [—is of all three nearly the highest]. This then is an outline of the How and Why of the uses of the Five Outward (External) Senses.

Trustworthy arrival at a knowledge of the mutually suitable and the mutually repellent will come about only through test (experiment, experience), Divine Providence has deemed fit to impart the peculiar participating property (or sense)—I mean the picturing power—unto living beings (animals), in order that they shall through it preserve the forms of things perceived by the senses; and to impart the remembering preserving power, in order that they shall through it preserve the meanings (significances) conceived out of things perceived by the senses; and to impart the imaginative power in order that they shall through it fit up (restore) what shall be wiped out from the memory by a sort of motion;

To impart the conjecturing (surmising) power in order that they shall through it fix upon the sound (true) and the weak (false) of what the imagination extracts, namely to fix upon the true and false thereof with more or less presumption of certainty, until they [the living beings] shall review it in the mind.

As for the How and Why of need for the moving power, it is that whereas the position of the animal is not the same as the position of the plant in its adaptation for attracting such foods as are useful and pushing off such as are harmful and incompatible, but on the contrary as this is brought about for the animal through a sort of earning by self-help, it needs a moving power for the purpose of drawing to itself the useful and driving away the harmful.

Wherefore all the powers of the animal are either perceiving or motion-promoting. The motion-promoting is the yearning (desiderative, longing, craving) power: it is either[Pg 47] urging on to the search after a chosen object of animal good, and then it is the lusting power; or else it is urging on to the warding off of an object of animal dislike, and then it is the hating power (angry power).

The perceiving power too is either outward (apparent), such as the five senses; or else inward (internal, hidden), such as the picturing, the imaginative, the conjecturing, and the remembering power.

Furthermore, the motion-promoting power does not cause to move save on a peremptory bidding from the conjecturing, through the agency (means) [or by the employment] of the imaginative. Also, the motion-promoting power, in animals other than the speaking (or rational) species, is the aim and end;

and this is so, because the motion-causing power is not imparted unto them in order that they shall through it direct aright the workings of sensation and imagination so as to adapt these workings to the attainment of their own good, but on the contrary the power of sensation and of imagination are imparted to the non-speaking irrational animals solely in order to direct aright through them the workings of motion, and to adapt these workings to the good of the animals.

Whereas, the speaking rational species of living beings is on the reverse wise; because unto it was imparted the motion-causing power wholly and solely in order that through[Pg 48] this power it shall be fitted to set aright the speaking self, i.e., the rational intelligent soul, not the other way about.

Thus then, the motion-promoting power in the irrational animal is, as it were, the prince commander that is served; the five senses, the spies that are sent forth;

the perceptive power, the post-master of the prince commander unto whom the spies return; the imagining power, the foot-messenger going to and fro between the post[H][12] and the post-master; the conjecturing power, the prince’s adjutant minister; the remembering power, the closet of state papers.

As for the starry firmament and plants, the feeling power and the imagining power have not been imparted unto them, even though each one of them has a soul and though it has life: the firmament has not these powers, because of its loftiness; plants have them not, because of their abasement in comparison to it.


[H]or wazir, minister.

In treating of the animal powers, he treats first of the fives senses, and then of the animal Powers. These latter he gives in this section three times, and each time varies the order somewhat, thus:—

1st. Order of mention: participating, picturing remembering, preserving imaginative, restoring conjecturing, surmising moving

2nd. Order of mention:

picturing, participating imaginative conjecturing, surmising remembering 3d Order of mention, in the final Allegorical Summing Up: motion-promoting feeling, sentient, 5 outward senses perceptive imagining conjecturing remembering.

[12]Moreover, the Text seems in Doctor Landauer’s opinion to need an emendation, in this Allegory, which is furnished by the Latin Translation preserved in Florence. According to the text, we get a wholly superfluous intermediary notion, to wit the Post, which disturbs the parallel and similitude of the allegory. Instead of barîd, we should read wazîr = Latin, inter vicarium principis. If this is done, the whole passage becomes clearer, and hangs together better. Yet, for all this, the barîd was in those days a highly important branch of the government service: witness, the office of câheb-ul-barîd.

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