I’m looking forward to the possibility of a “blog-a-log” that might develop between Lee Kelley and Dr. John Bradshaw at Psychology Today. Especially since these questions of why animals do what they do I believe help illustrate the distinction between attraction and intention.
I also look forward to reading Bradshaw’s new book, in particular to see how my theory fares against what I’m sure will be a state-of-the-art synthesis of the latest evidence. (Perhaps this book might be the first grist for a “Book of the Month.”) But for now I’d like to put my two cents in on the question he raises in his blog as to why domestic cats raise their tails in an encounter whereas wild cats do not (a comparative distinction I was not aware of).
My theory is that the domestication process is a subset of evolution, it’s not something man does to animals, rather, man merely speeds up the underlying core processes. In other words, there isn’t natural versus artificial selection process because the domestication of any given species is predicated on a natural template. (For example a chemist might concoct a new and exotic compound never found in nature but it will still be predicated on the laws of nature that govern chemistry.) This is consistent with the fact that we just can’t domesticate any animal, and we’ll never be able to develop a domestic cat as multipurpose or morphologically diverse as the domestic dog. Because of this, the specific ancestral relationship between wolf and domestic dog isn’t the central question, the main point is what do dogs and wolves reveal about the core evolutionary process of natural selection.
First and foremost the domestication of any given species is to increase its emotional capacity,either by amplifying a species preyful aspect (fertility and meat production of herd animals) and/or predatory aspect (as in the aggressiveness and emotional persistence of dogs). When one aspect is increased through selective breeding, inadvertently so too is the other aspect so that the specie’s genome can remain in balance. This is because in my view the body/mind is first and foremost an emotional battery so that if one polarity is amplified, so too is the other as an unintended consequence. (For example, as police service was selected for in German shepherds, so too was shyness and at a far higher proportion so that we get far more shyness than service when the opposite should be the case since only boldness is being selected for.) Thus domestic cows render more milk and meat , grow faster and are more fertile than their wild ancestors and will freely breed in captivity, with the domestic bull ending up far more aggressive as well. This phenomenon can be somewhat be encompassed with the notion of neotony (the retention of infantile traits into adulthood, note however that when an animal is selected to be cute, it’s really due to an amplification of its preyful aspect) but as I argue in “Your Dog Is Your Mirror;” neotony and sexuality are intimately intertwined as but elaborations of the underlying emotional battery. In other words if the physical/neurological circuitry related to hunger can find focus on the form of a thing, which is the essence of what a puppy is and why they are so social, this is a state of sexual attraction (hunger for form) as a higher level of elaboration upon that platform. (It’s not coincidental that the words carnivore and carnal are just as inextricably intertwined as the predator/prey modality is with sexuality.) And since the fundamental function of sexuality is to render the phenomenon of sensuality far more than it is about reproduction, this means that the greater the emotional capacity that’s selected for by amplifying the preyful or predatory aspect, the more attracted and less fearful of human beings that is also being selected for. Thus, the cattle rancher can safely tend his herd and the “Running of the Bulls” will never lose its adrenaline rush for the runners.
The capacity to perceive the predatory aspect in conjunction with the preyful aspect, allows emotion as a force of attraction to find coherent expression through adaptive behavior. So a domestic cat raises its tail as it approaches another cat or a human being for the same reason a white tail deer raises its tail when it sees the wolf, as a state of sexual attraction that is preliminary to a potential sensual, tactile pleasure. The cat feels good by being in the presence of another by way of the tacticle sensual pleasure the physical contact engenders. In the case of the deer, the emotional state of attraction is going to collapse, unless it is in rut, because the emotional capacity of the deer is far less than the cat. The deer looking at the wolf is going to have to get its ya-yas out by running.