The Desire to Belong

by Tamara Dost

We all want to fit in somewhere. Or at least have people we feel connected to. This desire is normal for humans; but is it also typical for “non-sapient” organisms? Or is this desire and longing not exclusive to humans to begin with?

In the novel Ghost Species, written by James Bradley, we encounter a girl, Eve, who falls under the category of “non-sapient”.  She is the result of a scientific experiment in which humans attempted to recreate Neanderthals with the help of ancient genetic material, trying to gain a new perspective. They expected this perspective to be the ultimate solution to avoiding or postponing the inevitable doomsday of the earth, but instead, Eve shows very common, social, and “sapient” characteristics, especially considering her desire to belong to the people around her.

At first, we notice that she has a strong bond with Kate, the woman who raises Eve like her own child and who is the central mother figure in Eve’s life. This connection and established sense of belonging can easily be explained since Kate is the first person Eve grows up with. Just like a little duckling feels a connection towards the first creature they encounter after hatching, young Eve loves and belongs to Kate. Is this so different from human children?

Apart from the connection to her mother, she also establishes a relationship with Sami, a human boy she encounters in different stages of her life. She already knows Sami from her early years, but when she meets him again as a teenager, we notice that her behavior towards him shifts. She wants to be close to him and wants to fit in – and maybe she also wants to experience something apart from the routines of her life – which leads to her going to a party. During the party, she shows many signs of emotions expected from a sapient; the desire for a deeper connection with another person (in this case, with Sami, since she decides to kiss him) – the anxiety of being  “different” – we’ve all been there at least once, right? – and the loss of reason and personal limits to become a part of the group, which in this case is the consumption of unknown substances or more precisely drugs. After the party and after the kiss, her anxiety intensifies, especially because she tells Sami about being a homo neanderthalensis; “Why did Sami leave? […] What if he found her hideous all along? […] She feels nauseous at the thought of her own body, its repulsiveness.” (Bradley 194).

If we look at those emotions as an example of Eve’s possible feelings and desires, it is easy to say that she is not as different from a sapient as the scientists thought. Her actions and choices are very similar to those of humans you can encounter in everyday life; maybe even your own.

It is also noticeable that affiliation and belonging are not limited to people – be it homo sapiens or homo neanderthalensis – but that instead those feelings or actions can be seen in animals’ behavior as well; just like the duckling mentioned above. Many animals live in a social context in which relationships and connections are necessary for survival (to a certain extent).

We don’t really know whether all feelings humans are capable of can be found in other organisms, but we know that there are overlapping concepts and perceptions of urges and desires; whether they are purely controlled by instinct or by something yet unknown will either be answerable in the future or forever remain a mystery; especially considering that we are not able to reconstruct and witness a homo neanderthalensis’ social ability.