Do Dogs Have a Sense of Fairness?

A recent experiment involving dogs “giving paw” has been hailed as demonstrating that dogs are endowed with an innate sense of fairness. NPR summed up the results on its website as quoted below:

Any theory for the behavior of things, whether we’re talking about the behavior of chemicals, planets, the stock market or dogs, can be said to be of two types: either said system under study functions as a result of energy or as a function of thoughts. Furthermore, one can tell when they’ve incorrectly applied a thought-centric theory to an energy system because this will ultimately lead them into a self-defeating logic loop. For example, over the last forty years the science of behaviorism has been educating the dog owning public that when a dog slinks away from an owner about to go inside and discover a pile of you-know-what or a room strewn with ripped-up garbage; that the dog isn’t exhibiting guilt or shame for what it has done. The dog is simply afraid and is displaying “submission” (in the eyes of a behaviorist) to avoid pain. In one experiment, garbage was dumped in plain view of such a dog and it ran away and cowered in a corner. But now with the above interpretation of the “give-paw” experiment, we’re being presented with the annihilating premise that a dog can become resentful. But if a dog can experience resentment due to an inequity that has been done to it, why can’t it experience guilt by virtue of an inequity it’s done to another? Both guilt and resentment are logical consequences of the capacity to be able to entertain other points-of-view and the capacity to understand a state of relative inequity. In fact resentment might be the more subtle and complex of the two. So if dogs can entertain resentment, then forty years of behaviorism must be thrown out the window because the two premises cannot exist side by side. Such an internal contradiction should alert us that we’re dealing with a thought-centric approach incorrectly applied to an energy system.

Quantum physics has a lot to teach us about the nature of experiments. It reveals that every experiment has a built in expectation that inescapably skews the results that can be obtained. In the famous “two slit” experiment which attempted to determine if light is a particle or a wave, the very act of observation caused energy to conform to an inherent and unavoidable expectation imposed on the system.

Expectations arise from assumptions and the assumption embedded in the “two-dog” experiment is that we are dealing with two dogs as separate and self-contained entities of intelligence, two individuated minds, two distinct agencies of consciousness with each dog capable of analyzing what’s happening to itself relative to other points-of-view as well as in terms of a chain of events occurring over a period of time. Sparky is supposedly able to compare one moment in time to another moment in time, and its point-of-view relative to another point-of-view and thus ask itself; why does Fido get food while I do not? The answer: “Because that’s not fair.” And so because of such thoughts Sparky refuses to give paw.

On the other hand if one were able to interpret this experiment in terms of an underlying energetic logic rather than a thought-centric model such assumptions can be set aside and I believe the experiment reveals not only the exact opposite of the conclusion drawn by scientists and commentators, but something far more profound.

After I became intrigued with the experiment and as I went about doing other things, I began to search my mind for the necessary key to decode the energetic logic in play. At one point I happened to look out a window and my eye was drawn to a frozen tee shirt hanging stiff on a clothesline. I immediately felt a chill, in particular around the back of my neck. This reminded me of my concept of physical memory as the basis of a networked-consciousness and from this principle the experiment immediately made sense.

In animal consciousness there is the movement of energy and there is resistance to the movement of energy. The former is emotion and the latter is internalized as unresolved emotion, otherwise known as stress. Emotion always moves toward a “want,” and stress despite all the pejorative meanings and associations attached to it, nevertheless is nothing more than a physical memory held in the body of a “want” left undone, an internalized cellular record of a “want” that failed to reach a state of total consummation. Since resistance to the expression of emotion is virtually inescapable (except in dreams), all emotional experience generates unresolved emotion and thereby leaves a trace (if not a huge dose) of physical memory in an individual’s body.

Physical memory as a data bank of emotional experience is different from mental memory because no matter the specifics of how it was acquired, it exists within as a net sum total charge. And as a monolithic composite of all experience it exerts universal effects on every species of animal. In other words, 200,000 volts of built up physical memory is 200,000 volts no matter the particulars of how it was acquired, quite like how Warren Buffet and Madonna can sit down and compare their respective net worth apples to apples even though one sings and dances on stage in seductive costume while the other sits in board rooms wearing coat and tie, or how a heavy and a skinny kid can get on a seesaw and easily reconcile their weights by virtue of where they sit on the beam. Furthermore, just as everyone in an economy accumulates a net worth that moderates their economic behavior, all animals carry unresolved emotion as a lump-sum aggregate that then moderates their behavior. This will prove to be an accurate means of apprehending other points-of-view, even though an animal doesn’t have the slightest capacity to be aware of other points-of-view, because all animals share unresolved emotion in common and because unresolved emotion affects all animals the same way. Thus, animals can interrelate by virtue of how unresolved emotion makes them feel just as everyone in an economy can exchange goods and services by virtue of how they feel about money and debt.

What’s essential to understand about physical memory is that it is only accessible via the enteric nervous system (centered in the gut) and not by the central nervous system headquartered in the brain. This means that an individual doesn’t have volition over, or autonomous access to, the physical memory contained within their body, rather it takes an external trigger to activate physical memory and bring it up to the surface of awareness. (For example, we’re unaware of our physical center-of-gravity until it’s displaced by external physical influences and likewise we’re unaware of our “emotional center-of-gravity” this is the core of physical memory, located deep in the gut/loin region and which likewise can only be displaced by external emotional influences.)

Another important distinction is that mental memory is remembered whereas physical memory is relived. In other words, it wasn’t that I imagined how cold I would feel if that frozen sheet of cotton were touching my bare skin, rather, arising from the deepest depths of my animal consciousness I actually felt chilled and uncomfortable, first on the back of my neck, from where the feeling then radiated down my back until it finally grabbed me on the front of my chest just as if I had pulled the frozen tee shirt over my head and onto my upper body. Interestingly I wouldn’t have felt as cold if I was looking at a frozen flannel shirt on the line (or a blanket versus a sheet) whereas an undershirt far more vividly evoked my physical memory (feeling) of something cold on bare skin since of course a tee shirt is worn under a shirt. So a dog can be aware of the past, but paradoxically, only in terms of the immediate-moment. In short, while a dog can’t remember, a dog can never forget.

This brings us to the key to the experiment. When physical memory is triggered by external events, the higher faculties of the central nervous system conform to its parameters thereby distorting a dog’s perception of its reality. Under its influence, the brain organizes all sensory input so that the resulting perception of the individuals’ surroundings fits an underlying template by which the past is superimposed onto the present. This subordination of the brain to the gut (where the emotional center-of-gravity is housed) heightens an animal’s capacity to see prey from the least amount of visual cues and it also heightens an animal’s tendency to see predators that aren’t there either. (Nevertheless, being right only one out of a hundred or even a thousand times is adaptive because it ensures survival.) Vision is the sense easiest to trick, whereas smell is the hardest because it completely bypasses the higher centers of the brain. As my father used to say, “Dogs only trust their nose.” A particularly good example of physical memory having priority over direct sensory input is when a dog that is accustomed to guests arriving at a side door, races there even when it sees and hears someone at the front door ringing the bell or knocking. The dog will zoom to the wrong door time after time until the feeling collapses as a result of nothing tangible happening to it at the side door.

So a dog doesn’t experience the world directly. Instead, first its physical memory is triggered and then it perceives its surroundings according to how unresolved emotion makes it feel in that moment. When something enters the dogs’ field of awareness the dog doesn’t directly see, touch, taste or smell the thing and then interpret it according to some mental or instinctual rationale. Rather, an external stimulus triggers a dog’s physical memory, which next elicits a feeling (all true feelings arise from physical memory) and then the dog sees, touches, tastes or smells something in terms of this uprising of memory. First the dog feels, and then it hears, sees, touches or tastes that which is before it.

This means that a dog doesn’t have to experience something directly to have vividly experienced it, because its faculty of apprehending reality is an indirect experience anyway. (As a matter of fact: it’s only because animal consciousness is organized with physical memory as a filter on reality that it’s even possible to condition an animal to perform a behavior in the first place.) A dog can’t tell the difference between projecting into something and having a vicarious indirect experience, versus experiencing something directly, just as a very young child can’t distinguish between something vividly imagined versus something real.

Therefore when Sparky sees Fido being given a treat when it is not being given one, it’s not that Sparky comes to comprehend a state of inequity and so refuses to give paw. Instead, the emotional context of the moment triggers in Sparky the physical memory of being offered a treat but then denied it, just as when an inconsiderate person teases the family pet with a cookie. Sparky isn’t seeing Fido as separate from itself and getting something that he isn’t. Instead, Sparky has “projected” his emotional center-of-gravity into Fido and is feeling just as if he is Fido. (I believe this is the reason the brain has “mirror neurons” so as to implement this projection phenomenon by which the Big-Brain-in-the-head is subordinated to the little-brain-in-the-gut thereby facilitating vicarious experience via activation of physical memory. Also, research on people has shown that it is remarkably easy to induce an “out of body” perception even toward something being done to a fake rubber arm the person misconstrues as being attached to their body. For the most part humans, given our highly developed intellects and its ability to entertain a notion of time, have to be induced, whereas animals always perceive their situation this way by projecting out of their body whenever they’re attracted to something.)

Sparky, unlike Fido that is getting the treat, is being teased (virtually) and this feels “bad” because when a dog is attracted to something but then that thing is denied, (nothing tangible arrives in the gut or happens to the body to turn off the vibration of attraction) eventually the dog experiences this as a collapse of a feeling. The more excitement Sparky has for a treat that is not realized the more intense the feeling of collapse thereby triggering an even deeper physical memory and this can be of a physical scolding or even a memory of pain; even though in this instance nothing bad is actually being done to Sparky. This collapse; and all affiliated physical memories attached to such a collapse and thereby summoned to the surface, is then reflected in Sparky’s body language and facial expressions, and which can easily be misinterpreted as guilt, resentment, jealousy, spite, and for that matter, dominance and submission. Simultaneously Sparky will search for the source of the denial (just like a bee after its nest has been disturbed) and literally see in the nearest or most demonstrative researcher the form of whoever has corrected it from its past. Sparky will quit giving paw because it feels just as if it is being corrected or scolded by the researcher for giving paw.

So Sparky doesn’t comprehend that Fido is getting a treat while it isn’t as if we are dealing with two separate minds. Due to the universal effects of physical memory, when only one piece of food is in the mix there is but one “group mind” composed of Sparky and Fido. Sparky has emotionally projected its “self” (due to the involuntary physical and neurological affects of physical memory being activated) into Fido, and then it feels a collapse when food is not forthcoming.

Revealingly in another part of the experiment when Sparky is given an inferior treat relative to what Fido is getting, he continues to give paw. By virtue of wanting the bread Sparky remains rooted into its most immediate frame of reference and so doesn’t project into Fido and the more savory reward it’s getting. As long as Sparky feels attracted to the bread it will not project into the other dog’s domain and then indirectly experience the collapse of emotion via its physical memory bank. An ape or a chimp on the other hand, which has been shown to evaluate the quality of a treat it’s given relative to another ape’s morsel, may very well be able to infer a slight. But precisely because apes and chimps weight thinking and instincts over feeling is why their sense-of-self is far more self-contained than dogs so that they can override the universal effects of physical memory. Going more by thoughts and instincts confines every primate other than man to being niche players in the evolutionary scheme of things rather than being fully network enabled as are man and dogs. (Another way of saying this is that man’s primate first cousins tend to respond instinctually to the physiological affects of physical memory because of their highly developed brains.) Whereas dogs go more by feel, less by instinct and not at all by thoughts and so only the dog is capable of adapting itself to every aspect of human existence. (This begs the question as to why humans with our big brains are nevertheless able to choose to go by feel, rather than by instinct or by thought, and this is a topic I will take up in a later discussion. It turns out that dogs have much to teach us about the nature of choice and free will as well.)

As I alluded to earlier, interpreting the results of this experiment is quite akin to the quantum dilemma of trying to test whether light is a particle or a wave. If one expects to find its particle nature, such is seemingly confirmed. But if the expectation isn’t built in, it acts as a wave. Sometimes Sparky acts as a particle of consciousness, as if he has a self-contained mind, as for example when it has the bread before it and so it doesn’t project into Fido. But then when there’s only one object of attraction in play between two dogs, there is but one group mind expressing itself via complementary states with Fido as the “up” quark and Sparky the “down” quark just like the superposition wave function of an electron that goes through both slits in a quantum experiment until the moment the experimenter decides to observe it. Physical memory “emotionally ionizes” each dog’s central nervous system so that by each dog will experience the same moment differently, and yet not at random. Rather they end up becoming equal and opposites as complementary “poles” of a networked-intelligence, a group mind. Likewise, their physical bodies will be characterized by corresponding states of energy. Sparky’s “depressed” energy isn’t due to a “reason” (such as resentment), rather it complements Fido’s excited energy. The two dogs are functioning as a wave. This is highly adaptive because it means that as a team they will be driven to respond to change in a coordinated, synchronized manner.

In “The Expression of the Emotions in Animals and Man” Darwin actually describes this phenomenon through an anecdote about his own dog and terms it the “principle of antithesis.” Unfortunately Darwin doesn’t see it as having any evolutionary significance. However in my reading of nature and animal behavior I believe the “principle of complementary traits” is how animals evolve. The great irony is that while stress is an energetic compilation of the past it simultaneously can serve as an emotional counterbalance with others and thus be a source of new information in the present.

Perhaps this might suggest to the reader how physical memory, because 1) it causes universal physical affects, 2) it serves as a filter on experience, and 3) it means that direct and vicarious experiences are equivalent so that dog A can feel just as if it is dog B, would prove to be the most logical platform for the high social traits such as altruism, cooperation and devotion to have evolved upon. I’m arguing that in contrast, saying that dogs entertain a concept of fairness is a step backward in our understanding of why-dogs-do-what-they-do.

Published June 1, 2009 by Kevin Behan

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