Cognitive Research as Alchemy

“From his previous research, Dr. Hare has argued that dogs evolved their extraordinary social intelligence once their ancestors began lingering around early human settlements. As he and his wife, Vanessa Woods, explain in their new book, “The Genius of Dogs,” natural selection favored the dogs that did a better job of figuring out the intentions of humans.”

Abracadabra. Dogs figured it out. Never mind that domesticated dogs have been found buried with human beings long before humans were living in settlements. The question begs: if dogs are FIGURING OUT the intentions of humans, how can an “extraordinary social intelligence” be isolated to only one area of cognitive capacity? For example a savant is not figuring out whatever it is that they are particularly good at, they just know. It’s not possible to be able to figure out the intentions of another, to have a high intellectual capacity in this regard, and then not be able to figure out many things across the entire spectrum of problems to be solved. If social intelligence is a cognitive capacity, then dogs should test more intelligently than wolves on a broader basis, not less. Human beings who learn a language that doesn’t have the necessary words to articulate a theory of mind, do not develop a theory of mind for the behavior of others. They construct a narrative as a chronological history without invoking the intentions of the parties involved in the story.

Furthermore, if you believe in intention, then you have to believe in deception. If you believe in intentional altruism in animals, then you have to believe in murder.

“One hypothesis has already emerged from Dognition’s users, Dr. Hare said. A surprising link turned up between empathy in dogs and deception. The dogs that are most bonded to their owners turn out to be most likely to observe their owner in order to steal food. “I would not have thought to test for that relationship at Duke, but with Dognition we can see it,” said Dr. Hare.”

Empathy begets deception? Such self-defeating logic loops should serve as a red flag in the interpretation.

OR, one could study the actions of animals without projecting thoughts (such as intention) whatsoever.  In this light (behavior as a function of emotional attraction), an action one might at first think of as being deceptive, takes on a new meaning consistent with everything else the animal does.


Published April 23, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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6 responses to “Cognitive Research as Alchemy”

  1. Joanne Frame says:

    I’m reading a book on gestalt therapy at the moment, and as I use it to understand my behaviour I’m starting to wonder if the human’s use of intention (for themselves) is maybe missing the point. I think WE humans (ok I) are quite often being guided by something other than our intellect 🙂

  2. kbehan says:

    Yes, as soon as they leap to high cognition in their interpretations, they obliterate any chance of inquiry into other possibilities. And then as they pursue this self-fulfilling line of inquiry and run into its self-annihilating logic loops, they presume they’re going deeper into the animal mind. But they are merely adding more and more layers of complexity onto a personality theory, the assumption that animals perceive their “self” exactly as the human intellect does. They perceive incongruities as nuance instead of signposts that they’re headed in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, as detailed in previous posts, physicists are getting closer and closer to the nature of information and the animal mind. (Constructal Law, Perception Control Theory, Wolpert, Pensrose, Sheldrake, etc., etc..) “Nothing but the laws of nature are needed to explain intelligence.” (Wissner-Gross)

  3. karis says:

    “In this light (behavior as a function of emotional attraction), an action one might at first think of as being deceptive, takes on a new meaning consistent with everything else the animal does.”

    Having trouble picturing this explanation. Could you elaborate on this as it relates to Dr. Hare’s example of food stealing by dogs that are most bonded to their owners? What would be the meaning of food stealing as a function of emotional attraction?

  4. kbehan says:

    A dog that steals food is in need of the resulting struggle as this elicits an intense degree of attention (resistance) from its owner. (The objective of behavior is to overcome resistance.) In other words, the dog can’t connect directly, so it needs these conflicts to trigger its deeper reserves. At the same time, stealing the food stirs the anger in the owner (the equal/opposite of anger is guilt which is what motivated the owner to make bad house training choices in the first place). As a pup the dog stole the food out of an innocent impulse and by being given the opportunity, and then given the guilt in the owner the behavior evolved into a need as the pup’s emotional battery became formatted through experience. They then both need this conflict in order to make contact with each other.

  5. karis says:

    Thanks, that’s much clearer.

    Does it follow then that if the owner never felt guilty when the puppy did it, then the behavior wouldn’t get programmed and repeated later? And does avoiding feelings of guilt while raising a puppy help prevent later behavioral problems?

    On the flip side, if the owner simply accepted the stealing and didn’t get angry, then would the behavior stop? I know a dog that multiple times has stolen an entire roast, box of cookies, overturned trash can, etc. when the owner is away. The owner never scolds the dog and says something like”silly dog”. He explains that the dog always retreats to a back room and seems to “know” that he made a mistake when they return after one of these incidents. In this case the stealing doesn’t seem to elicit a conflict, though it brings attention. Is this dog feeling disconnected and using this behavior to connect?

  6. kbehan says:

    Emotion changes the way our intellect works, so it’s not that one chooses not to feel guilty in order to use the crate effectively, but rather, because they don’t have guilt, they are more attuned to the way the puppy’s mind works and don’t have any degree of conflict about using the crate until the pup has matured to the point when it’s old enough to have been patterned that food on the counter doesn’t strike it as food. But when someone’s guilt is triggered by their pup, then they are in conflict when the pup is crated, they identify with the pup as in “how would I feel if I was in that crate” and take its behavior and situation personally rather than developing a feeling for the nature of the pup and how its mind evolves over time so that they can patiently wait until the pup has matured enough to not view food on the counter as being food. They then make training decisions based on reason rather than the feeling for what the pup can handle at that point in its development.
    And the flip side example you give is an excellent thought experiment. I would suspect that such a person is internally fuming but they have numbed their mind to this, and the dog will keep pushing the envelope in order to gain contact with their core.

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