I think Roger Abrantes is the best expositor of the new version of dominance, and so I’ve focused on his writings in a number of articles in order to draw contrast with the model I’m promulgating. Recently a reader brought my book to his attention on his Dog Star Daily blog and so in the absence of a discussion, which I would like to have, and in light of the remarks he has made, my response follows below.
From Dog Star Daily:
Roger Abrantes: “Emotions, Behan’s favorite elements to explain behavior, are difficult to deal with because we cannot objectively observe, register, describe or measure them. Your guess is as good as mine and they both can be terribly wrong. This doesn’t mean we should discard emotions and the like, only that we should handle them with extreme care.”
“We must distinguish between what we reasonably can claim to know and what we presume or assume. I’m not advocating an ultra-extremist scientific approach trashing all that can’t be proved without further consideration, but I cannot endorse either wild guesses and fairy tales that will open for all possible political and religious manipulation. It’s all a question of balance, as I see it.”
So is Abrantes’ admonition reasonable and conservative? What constitutes a wild guess or fairy tale?
One thing we all agree on given the evidence as well as personal experience, is that animals experience emotion. There isn’t human emotion versus animal emotion any more than there is human versus animal gravity. But if this is true, then it can’t be prudent to advance the theory that dogs organize in a dominance hierarchy in order to ensure access to resources and for the proliferation of genes, without first situating emotion into a model alongside instinct, feelings and thought. We can’t say on the one hand that we don’t know the role emotion plays in social behavior, but we do know the role dominance plays. The two statements are contradictory. By even the most conservative and/or clinical metrics emotion is a pretty big deal in the life of an animal. Therefore if one doesn’t know the former, one cannot state the latter. Holding a theory of behavior while at the same time not having a full fledged model for emotion, is like having a theory for how a plane flies without quite understanding why there is lift under the wings; or promulgating a theory for the behavior of electrons while setting aside the phenomenon of magnetism. One isn’t handling the subject of emotion with care if it is being excised from its rightful place in the discussion.
Furthermore leaving emotion in abeyance is not neutral. Many preconceived and biased notions about emotion are left free to run wild. Unexamined and untested assumptions end up manipulating an interpretation of the evidence into a “personality theory.” See link below:
Personality theories become the stuff of dogma. Dogma becomes theology.
Until a model for emotion is proposed, all one can reasonably say is that nothing definitive can be said. There might be dominance, there might not be. Order might actually be the effect of emotional affect. Without a model for emotion, we are just guessing.
So then is there an accurate tool for carefully assessing emotion? I argue there is: just as the bodies of animals and humans are equally subject to gravity, the minds of animals and human beings are equally subject to emotion. Paradoxically as it might first appear, our most subjective sense of experience can become our most objective tool of inquiry, if that is, we learn to separate what we think from what we feel, to parse apart the influence of instinct from the influence of emotion. And the best way to learn this is by not projecting thoughts onto the minds of dogs. It’s an immediate-moment manner of analysis; an exercise in logic, not soothsaying.
An immediate-moment inquiry reveals that emotion is a universal, undifferentiated, “force” of attraction, an understanding that can thereby render precise distinctions between thoughts, instincts and feelings. Mainstream behaviorism in contrast takes everything going on within the body/mind and lumps it together as one thing, and then labels it depending on context. It comes up with “dominance,” “submission,” “territoriality,” “herding instinct,” “learning-by-association,” all of which are intention laden. Modern behaviorism relies on a psychology to hold it all together in the face of the inevitable inconsistencies, anomalies and outright contradictions. However once emotion comes into view as a monolithic “force” of attraction, instincts, feelings and thoughts stand in relief against this background. Sexuality, personality, learning, play, evolution, begin to unfold as logical extensions of emotion-as-energy within a multi-tiered flow system, nature evolving as a whole, rather than a jumble of disconnected parts colliding randomly and sorting themselves out according to human reason (such as survival, territoriality, reproductive privileges, access to resources, dominance, submission, etc., etc.). The laws of nature around which the physical movement of all objects is organized, turn out to be the same principles around which the emotional movement of all beings are organized. Nothing could be more logical and more consistent with Darwin’s theory of evolution by way of common descent. Since all forms of life have a common ancestor, it stands to reason there should be a common operating system to all forms of consciousness. I propose emotion is the physical embodiment of the laws of nature which then serves as the operating system of the animal mind.
The immediate-moment method of analysis is a system of logic that yields a way of seeing and interpreting the evidence. It is not conjecture or even subjective. It doesn’t matter what I think about the evidence, simply whether or not any and all behavior can logically fit into one model. I believe the immediate-moment approach is intellectually more rigorous and logically consistent than current biological theory.
And the track record of the immediate-moment method of analysis? It presaged emergence theory, epigenetics (as in the interplay between emotion and stress—i.e. unresolved emotion—computes for genetic variability and distributes genes and makes the environment and social context a player in genetic expression) and is consistent with Control theory and now the Constructal law, a recently discovered first principle of physics (“Design In Nature” by Adrian Bejan) to which even the behavior of animals must subscribe. The arbitrary line between biology and physics has been erased. Modern behaviorism is inconsistent with the Constructal law because it argues that social order is the result of the drive to replicate genes. Whereas thirty-plus years ago the immediate-moment analysis of behavior perceived that the flow of emotion-as-energy is the source of social order with genes being its manner of transmission through time.
Postulating that emotion is a universal, monolithic “force” of attraction does not answer every question about the animal mind any more than understanding gravity as a universal, monolithic “force” of attraction answers every question about the universe. It merely opens the door to a deeper level of investigation.