Whether we know it or not, we all develop highly complex theories for animal behavior, most especially dogs. Even someone who doesn’t own a dog and never even thinks about why animals do what they do: nonetheless develops a highly elaborate theory for their nature and for their evolution as well, and without even knowing it. Why? It’s the way the human mind is constructed as a default response to the “nature” of things because the human intellect is first and foremost concerned with fitting things into patterns. And the more familiar the pattern, the easier we think we can predict something’s behavior and therefore fits our parameters for being safe. Anytime we feel powerless, and this always boils down in our subconscious to having something to do with energy because on the deepest level we feel as if we are being acted upon by an external force, our instinctual intellect kicks in and adds another layer of evidence to the theory that is always under construction deep in our subconscious. And since animal behavior is an expression of energy, every time we observe or interact with an animal, another layer is added and the theory becomes more complex.
Why does a personality theory become more and more complex rather than becoming simpler?
There are only two ways to interpret the behavior of things, be it the movement of the planets in the sky, the chemical reactions of atoms and molecules, the rise and fall of mountains, or the doings of animals and human beings. Either we interpret complex behavior in terms of energy or in terms of thoughts. There is no alternative: either we have an energy theory that runs according to an immediate-moment energetic logic, or a “personality theory”: a-who-did-what-to-who-and-when interpretation of events. The human intellect is particularly prone to applying a personality theory incorrectly to an energy system because inter-personal relationships in social life is so vital to human survival. So a tornado wipes out an ancient village, and so out of the social/political reflex, the villagers try to deduce why some God is so mad at them. They then devise some kind of an offering or sacrifice to assuage HIM so that they can go back to life as usual. (Fortunately, learning to see dogs in a new way as creatures of the immediate moment that go by feel rather than by thoughts, is simultaneously learning to see-by-feel rather than by thoughts. We can’t think outside the box because thinking is the box.)
One can tell if they’ve incorrectly applied a personality theory to an energy system if they notice it is becoming more and more complex. This is because it’s generating self-defeating logic loops in order to paper over the many anomalies, paradoxes, incongruities and outright contradiction in terms it’s confronting because it’s not rooted in energy proper. For example, the theory that dogs are organized according to a dominance hierarchy based on rank, is immediately contradicted by the behavior of an “omega” with a bone in its mouth, growling and bristling at its supposed “leader” when this “alpha” type approaches it and then being able to keep it. The theory will necessarily become more and more complicated in order to hold itself together in the face of so many inconsistencies. (The theory of social structure based on control over access to resources is similarly afflicted with internal contradictions.)
Personality theories of animal behavior end up being based on certain core assumptions and since I talk to many people about the nature of behavior given my work as a dog trainer, it’s been my experience that these assumptions are universal, which makes sense to me since I believe they are based on an archetypal, instinctual response to nature that is hardwired into the makeup of the human intellect. Most importantly because these assumptions sneak in under our cognitive radar, they’ve never been consciously examined or tested before they were acquired. And even more amazingly, because these theories are instinctual protective devices arising from a sense of vulnerability, when we are presented with evidence which contradicts this unconscious bias, we will feel threatened as the subconscious intellect resists opening up to a new interpretation on which its very definition of security rests.
Some of these core assumptions are the following.
1) The instinct to survive is the strongest influence in the makeup of an organism.
2) The issues of survival and reproduction are problems to be solved in the evolution of organisms.
3) Survival and reproductive advantages are problems # 1 and problems #2 to be addressed in the evolution of organisms.
4) The matters of survival and reproduction are separate problems to be solved in the evolution of organisms.
5) Genes are indivisible units of hereditary. They are “atoms” of information.
6) Genes are the sole agency of an organism’s evolution.
7) The fundamental purpose of sexuality is reproduction.
8 ) The animal mind perceives the world as a random scattering of variables until these elements become linked together in the animal mind by a reason.
There are many related assumptions that flow from the above, but these are the basic ones that the instinctual intellect draws on to construct its theory on the nature of animals.
The objective of this article isn’t to examine these assumptions and their interrelatedness, I simply want to point out that these assumptions are embedded in our theories as a set, in other words, like a Trojan horse: we let one in and the rest deploy when we’re not looking and go on to multiply and generate subsets of assumptions as their logical extensions. They must do so because the above core assumptions are based on reasons, rather than on energy, and thus when a theory tries to explain a natural system by way of reason rather than by getting down to energy bedrock, it will always generate self-defeating logic loops and so in order to hold itself together it will require many more assumptions. For example, imagine having to interpret the workings of the cosmos if we had to reconcile the latest evidence from the Hubble telescope with the view that the earth is the center of the universe? What would we have to believe about supernovas or black holes to keep modern research in line with the old geocentric notion?
Imagine then if we are just as mistakenly “thought-centric” today in our behavioral models as the old view of the heavens was mistakenly geocentric. What would we have to believe about the nature of animals if we believed that thinking were the source of intelligent behavior and adaptability?
First, we would have to believe all of the above, and then secondly it would follow that there would have to be such a thing as a “bad energy” so as to account for bad behavior, in other words, energy not controlled by reasonable thoughts. This is why our instinctual intellect prompts us to say in response to experiencing energy that makes us feel powerless: “This weather (snow, rain, heat, mud, etc.) is unbelievable.” I say this to my neighbor after a heavy snow fall and yet I well know that a mere 10,000 years ago there was a two mile thick sheet of ice over the very spot on which I’m standing. One would think that until we get at least to thirty days and thirty nights we wouldn’t think any given rainy period is particularly extreme. But we do because deep down we’re thinking the “Weather Being” is acting irrationally and we’re beseeching HIM/HER to be more reasonable.
Furthermore, a personality theory causes us to believe that there are such things as negative emotions to account for certain self-destructive and irrational actions. We might even believe that sexual energy, in particular male sexual energy, can run contrary to “good” social energy and that neutering promotes sociability in male dogs. We would also have to think that there is such a thing as random, or neutral energy, without any inherent organizing principles within it so that when we see order it must have been imposed on the system from without, as in a pack leader in command of a pack.
My main point here is that none of the core assumptions listed at the outset have ever been held up to critical examination to see if they do indeed make sense. Instead, our interpretation of nature has been factored out in terms of these assumptions so that they have multiplied themselves into a vast number of corollaries as our instinctual intellect constructs our theory from what appears to be self-evident and fundamental principles of nature. Therefore if the fundamental purpose of sexuality is reproduction, with genes being the prime units of hereditary and the prime agency of evolution, then of course it seems axiomatic and self-evident that male dogs will be driven to compete with other male dogs for breeding privileges as a fundamental feature of their sexual nature. This will then seem to make it logical to presume that neutering male dogs will reduce social aggression. Whereas on this website we are looking at dogs anew and as part of how energy works in nature and so therefore we must be prepared to challenge every dogma in dogdom which is the most highly developed personality theory in modern thought.
My premise is that the instinctual intellect always works according to a personality theory whereas the conscious intellect (i.e. the “emotional mind” guided by feelings and then at the highest levels of elaboration can then be coupled to thoughts) is capable of entertaining an energy theory.
So even though a behaviorist might talk in terms of instincts and genes, if they aren’t talking about an immediate-moment physical dynamic shaping behavior in real time, as for example when chemists talk of molecular behavior by as a function of electrons, neutrons and protons, or when geologists talk of mountains rising and falling in terms of plate tectonics, wind and rain erosion, by definition such a behaviorist is operating from the instinctual minds’ default setting, a personality theory. A “personhood” is a self-contained intelligence that responds relative to other points-of-view and relative to time. A person is driven by intention.
In regards to animal behavior one can tell when they’re using a personality rather than an energy theory if when observing animals one sees isolated beings acting and reacting relative to each other, or if behavior is being evaluated relative to the passage of time. Since such notable scientists as Charles Darwin and B.F. Skinner were not articulating an immediate-moment dynamic, then by definition they were interpreting animal behavior and evolution according to a personality theory. The only means they had to account for either adaptability or learning in real time was thinking. They do not offer any other possibility.
Of course B.F. Skinner would say in protest: “Whoa, I specifically said I am not considering what’s going on inside that ‘little black box.’ I’m putting my human and intellectual values aside and rigorously considering only the external behavior of the animal when I construct my theory.” But even that disclaimer proves my point. When I give a talk to psychology students at my local high school, at some point I ask a student to point to where on my drawing of a dog on the whiteboard they assume this little black box is located. They all point to the brain. In a personality theory, the mind and the brain are synonymous because the brain thinks thoughts and it is a self-contained faculty of intelligence. It computes behavior relative to the behavior of other beings and relative to the passage of time. Of course behaviorists say and believe that they don’t think dogs are persons, if however they are studying neurons, neurology and genes as the fundamental substrate of consciousness, then they are indeed constructing a personality theory. They are indeed studying individual organisms as self-contained entities of intelligence, and as such, as beings acting relative to each other and relative to time.
A biologist would also take issue with me by saying they don’t believe genes have any intention and that evolution isn’t moving in any particular direction. But they’re still building the same personality theory because what do they think genes build but the brain? So all research into behavior, evolution and the mind is geared toward the brain because in a personality theory the brain is considered to be synonymous with the mind. And in a personality theory the mind is about thoughts which is why shifting the “reason” onto the behavior of a gene (as in replication for the sake of replication) is really only an intellectual slight of hand. Genes are still behaving according to a reason, i.e. replication for the sake of replication, and so we end up with an evolutionary psychology, rather than a physics of evolution, i.e. evolution based on the laws of nature.
Another way of illuminating the degree to which modern science is “thought-centric” is simply by noting that as things now stand, if an organism isn’t thinking, then science is compelled to say it must be mindless, driven by instincts, habits, or conditioned responses. While at first this sounds scientific, it’s merely transferring a psychology of the individual (person) to a psychology of the gene. For example, the notion of a dominance instinct sounds scientific, but it really is an oxymoron because again it is based on reason rather than on some law of nature. In the final analysis it ends up meaning that an individual animal is thinking about dominance, a so-called instinct. But if an animal is thinking about an instinct, then the behavior is not truly an instinct, rather it’s a thought mixed with an instinct, and thus, an oxymoron with one part in direct contradiction of the other part. And why then can’t the thought ever override the instinct?
It’s hard to break out of a personality theory since it’s constructed unconsciously according to an instinctual process by which the very mental mind is constructed, and when evidence comes along that doesn’t fit whatever model the personality theory is operating from, (such models are classical and operant conditioning to account for learning, and dominance and submission to account for social organization) such evidence is actively resisted by the unconscious intellect. No matter what evidence contrary to the model comes forward, intellectual curiosity isn’t aroused to challenge the model because the biologist and behaviorist, unlike physicists, aren’t working within an energy theory. Whereas in direct contrast to biology, because physics is indeed a true energy theory we can rest assured that if but one apple were to ever float skyward from its bough rather than fall to the ground, a physicist would immediately question the prevailing model of gravity no matter how well or how long it may have served humanity’s technological progress. In fact a recent observation that the ends of galaxy spirals are spinning out of sync with the portions of the arms closer to the center, is currently causing a vigorous debate in modern cosmology with some scientists arguing for a new understanding of gravity.
And so we find that in modern behaviorism and evolutionary psychology, male dogs are considered more likely to be dominant and hence aggressive than female dogs, but the fact that all female dogs “dominate” the male dogs they live with, (not to mention little dogs over big dogs, or the household cat lording it over the household dog) fails to register in a behaviorist’s mind as an anomaly and prompt him to call into question the prevailing dominance model that tries to explain social behavior in canines. Instead, some new rule of personality (little dogs have a “Napoleon complex” apparently. “Little dogs don’t know they’re little, ha, ha.”) will be concocted to account for such an incongruity. And because the anomalies, contradictions, inconsistencies and paradoxes are innumerable modern behaviorism is becoming hopelessly complex, (try keeping track of the hopelessly convoluted argument in “The Red Queen”) in stark contrast with physical, energy theories that get simpler as the understanding of the natural system being studied deepens. E=MC2 is a spectacularly concise statement of an amazingly profound and infinitely complex relationship between energy and matter. (A good illustration of how modern Darwinian logic generates convoluted arguments about sexual energy can be found in Jared Diamond’s book, “Why Sex Is Fun.” Diamond concludes that sex is fun because elderly women of early tribes were generally the repositories of tribal lore and folk wisdom: information that in times of disease or famine might mean the difference between the life or death of the village. Menopause is an adaptive feature so that sex became detached from the procreative function and an evolutionary benefit in its own right. This is instinctual intellectualism run amok. I don’t know about you, but somehow the notion that grandmothers are the reason sex is fun doesn’t quite feel satisfying to me.)
By design the instinctual intellect is not curious about what is really going on because any and all instincts, including the instinctually driven intellect, is rooted in a sensation of fear. So when the evidence doesn’t fit a personality theory, a state of curiosity isn’t relentlessly pursued because the instinctual basis on which the mind’s sense of security rests is being challenged: and this distorts or terminates a spirit of inquiry. The number one function of the instinctual intellect is security rather than growth, stasis rather than change. The instinctual mind is predicated on balance, and so resists shifts in understanding or apprehension because understanding and apprehension isn’t what it’s really about. Its mission is to fit “change” into familiar frames of reference.
Finally, the instinctual mind is highly threatened by energy theories of behavior because the energy that is really being dealt with when it comes to the nature of animals is emotion. And since every species of animal corresponds to a specific human feeling, whenever we see an animal, most especially an animal transmitting a lot of energy, we feel something (whether we are aware of it or not) deep within our emotional dynamic and the instinctual intellect needs to instantly categorize this feeling in terms of a personality theory with which it is comfortable. (Note that we use the word “wild” and “crazy” interchangeably when describing animated or excited behavior.) Emotion is animal energy and so what we think about animals is not really about the evidence before us on animals, but rather what we think about emotion. For example, we think a dog can “turn” on its master which is parallel with the belief that emotion can be self-destructive. If we think animals are unpredictable, we likewise think emotion is impulsive and irrational. The instinctual intellect’s basic sense of security is always at stake whenever it comes to a feeling. Evidence will either be tuned out, or instantly enfolded into a new corollary of the personality theory. For example, when the most revealing clues about dog behavior are encountered, the instinctual response is to see them as comical, rather than illustrative of some deeper mechanism. Thus the theory gets more complex rather than simplified because rather than struggle to find a whole and consistent framework for the evidence, which would mean putting all the evidence into a fluid mix until a clear picture emerges, the reflexive bias of the instinctual mind will be to generate more and more complex concepts as fast as possible in order to keep the evidence contained within the familiar model. So if an owner has a female dog “dominating” their male dog, they will come up with reasons for the particulars of their relationship rather than rethinking their approach to understanding behavior, or they may simply ascribe it to their female dog’s “bitchy” personality. And even though every female dog “dominates” every male dog it lives with behaviorism doesn’t question the dogma of dominance that maintains that male energy is dominating by its nature.
Evolutionary biology is “thought-centric” because it seeks reasons as to why some genes flourish while others go extinct, rather than seeing genes as an expression of natural laws, and as subordinate to these laws. The closest biology can get to a natural law is when they can reduce the likelihood of a behavior to a mathematical formula as in what percentage of genes will predictably be perpetuated in any particular breeding strategy. These mathematical approximations are where Neo-Darwinian logic draws its rational sustenance, as they seem to make verifiable predictions. Matt Ridley’s “The Red Queen” offers many compelling examples wherein he argues that sexuality evolved as a constantly shifting strategy as in a chess game between parasites and their hosts.
However these mathematical correlations only come close with the most primitive organisms. As we get to more complex organisms such as dogs and man, they start to run into self-defeating logic loops, the inevitable fate of any personality theory. For example, if sexuality evolved as a way of protecting hosts from parasitic infection, why then have dogs evolved to be so successful, and so enamored of eating you-know-what, the number one way by which dogs become infested with parasites? The trait is so disgusting that many cultures consider dogs to be unclean pariahs. Interestingly as my website hopes to make clear, dogs are the most sexual animals on earth in equal proportion to their propensity for ingesting the unmentionable.
We might recall that Newtonian mechanics is a perfectly good model for calculating the orbit of planets and the trajectories of cannon balls, objects that are relatively large and that travel relatively slow. For many centuries Newtonian mechanics seemed to account for all phenomena and this led to the heady idea that if the momentum and position of every particle in the universe could be known, then the future could be predicted. Change adhered to an orderly mathematical formulation. However as we now know, as objects get smaller and as their speed increases, then a quantum mechanics of subatomic behavior completely obliterates the classical mechanical view of nature. We wouldn’t have cell phones or GPS technology if the universe worked according to Newton. (And no doubt Newton as a pure scientist would have been the first to question classical mechanics in light of what quantum mechanics reveals of nature.)
Behaviorists are mechanists when they search for intention in an animal’s behavior or its genes because this prevents them for searching for the energetic principles that in my view are in fact organizing the individuals in the immediate-moment and then dictating what happens to genes. In other words, once an energy shift or balance attains critical mass, genes then lock this in. A mechanistic view depends on material organs of intelligence, such as a brain or a gene. The behaviorist says he isn’t thinking about thinking, but then what does he study? Neurons, gray matter the neurology of the brain. And when a mechanist sees an animal acting intelligently, as in tool making for example, he reflexively thinks that it must be thinking. Stanley Coren in his book “The Intelligence of Dogs” claims that dogs differ by degree, not in kind, from man in terms of being able to think. And this is what all modern behaviorism maintains because were we to draw a cartoon balloon over the head of an animal “defending its territory,” given our current models what else could go in there but a thought? I suspect that when even the most clinical and hard-minded behaviorist sees his dog get excited with the jingling of the car keys, can’t resist saying, “My dog thinks he’s going for a car ride.” Upon reflection he probably would then say, “My dog associates the jingling of car keys with a car ride.” But then, has he really said anything? Hasn’t he simply substituted a new class of reasons for the dog’s excitement? For example, if I say my car starts because it associates starting with the turning of a key, have I really said anything? The question remains, what’s going on inside the car? And if one day the car should fail to start when I turn the key, then hadn’t I’d better open the hood and start considering the natural laws by which a car engine starts?
The critical problem with a mechanistic view of behavior (which all personality theories must be given that they’re based on thoughts and genes) is that we suspend our search for an immediate-moment energetic dynamic operating in real time. When it comes to animal behavior and its evolution, and with its fixation on a time-deferred selection process of random mutations meeting future environmental exigencies, we are forced to accept a model without any precedent in nature. “Abracadabra, let there be traits, Abracadabra, let there be variability between these traits, Abracadabra: let there be thoughts to explain learning in real time.” These are fantastic assumptions that have been accepted without critical examination.
So I propose a distinction between personifying a dog, the default theory of the human intellect, and projecting emotion onto a dog, an energy theory of behavior. Personification is the projection of thoughts, intention, values, and concepts onto animals, for example, such notions as jealously, spite, dominance, submission, territoriality, possessiveness, morality, even survival, and most especially, thinking. When we see intelligent behavior, reflexively we think it is a function of thinking, and since a person is capable of thinking, when we say an animal is smart, we’re really saying it is a person. In this instance the charge of anthropomorphism is warranted because the interpretation of the animal acting intelligently as a function of a thought process is incorrect. (My definition of a thought is any concept that entertains one being relative to another, or one moment relative to another in time. In fact, these are both the same thing.)
Personification is an involuntary instinctual response (and one that evokes the intellect’s rational machinery) to strong emotions. It kicks in anytime an overwhelming force kicks in, for example when falling, literally, or for example when “falling” into an emotional relationship. Whenever the intellectual mind senses powerlessness, it gets busy making up reasons so that it can stay safe by encapsulating the feeling within a familiar frame of reference in order to stay in control of the experience. Another way of saying this: is that the personality theory is the reflex response of the intellect when the rate of change being experienced is too high for the nervous system to process; and the nervous system is quite limited in this regard. The evolutionary precedent for this trait: can be found in an animal’s instinctual process of “attribution” of a sudden change in its environment to a predator. For example, when we see a dog unnerved by a statue of a dog, the dog cautiously approaches with a focus on the eye (or predatory, “negative” aspect) of the statue. That’s the instinctual process of attribution, and I will also add, it’s not thinking.
An energy theory on the other hand, is an immediate-moment dynamic wherein a behavior is evaluated in terms of an energy transfer from one variable to another, and according to precise protocols and laws that can become evident once the notion of personality and thought-centric elements are stripped away from any chain of events. So when I speak of an energy theory for a dog’s actions, I am not saying that dogs aren’t creatively adaptive and are not in possession of a free will. I am not saying that dogs are machines. Quite to the contrary, the energy model I’m proposing will prove to be the only one in the marketplace that doesn’t treat the dog as either an instinctual automaton or a learning machine. I’m saying that the source of their creative adaptability is not intellectual and neither is it genetic. In fact, the behavioral plasticity and thus adaptability of dogs is precisely because they are endowed with a capacity that can overrule genetic influences. In other words, I’m saying that dogs go by feel, not by reason because emotion works according to natural law. Dogs (as do all animals) project emotion onto objects of attraction and then “feel” how to connect with the object of their attraction. The information that’s required to complete the connection is already contained within emotion as energy: and it is felt in the heart rather than in the brain. In fact, the brain can’t feel a thing.
Originally posted Friday March 30, 2007 on an older Natural Dog Training Blog