In this article Dr. Coren talks about an experiment wherein one dog watches another dog solve a problem and the observing dog copies the problem-solving dogs’ successful actions if as Dr. Coren puts it, the problem solving dog has a high social rank. Dr. Coren interprets this experiment as verification that whatever we human thinkers-on-dogs might think about canine social life, dogs themselves believe in a dominance hierarchy. It’s an interesting experiment and Dr. Coren makes a compelling argument from his way of looking at things. But then again so do some readers who take issue with his conclusions in the comments section. So one cadre of eminent scientists talk about the reality of social dominance, while another group say there’s no such thing, and both make eminently reasonable arguments, what are we mere laymen to think? George Carlin to the rescue.
Great comics touch on great truths and in one of Carlin’s bits he makes an observation that speaks to a definitive principle of learning which we can use to make better sense of this experiment. Have you ever noticed that if a driver passes you at an excessive rate of speed, you call them “crazy.” Whereas if someone is driving too slow you call them “an idiot.” Actually, not just an idiot, but a STUPID idiot. What does this universal manner of speaking of our fellow drivers, arising as it does from our intuitive understanding of intelligence, reveal about the nature of intelligence? It reveals that we are aware that learning is not fundamentally a mental capacity of problem solving, it is not a function of rational decision making but rather deep, deep down, learning is a function of emotional conductivity. We call someone crazy when we sense that there is more energy in their system than can be conducted and indeed un-channelled energy is extremely dangerous. One would have to be crazy to jump into a raging river. And then at the other end of the spectrum if someone is unable to conduct a normal flow of energy, they are incompetent and unqualified. Not because they aren’t good at problem solving, how could we possibly know that? But rather the energy of the car isn’t being conducted smoothly, input isn’t becoming output in a straight line, something must be sluggish or kinked in the throughput.
Advertisers hire celebrities to hawk their wares, not because we the consumer believe they have high social rank, or because we believe they have intelligently solved the problem that particular product they want us to buy claims to redress, we’re attracted to what they say and what they do because celebrities conduct a lot of emotional energy and we are subconsciously drawn to the flow of emotion they represent. There is an innate impulse to align and synchronize with celebrities because the path they’re on constitutes the most emotional flow and like all emotional beings we are drawn to flow like bugs to a light. Flow is the universal principle of consciousness and therefore of learning as well.
Flow is the best explanation for canine social life. There is no dominance hierarchy but there is an Alpha-to-Beta-to-Zeta range of personalities as a function of flow. In this way a group acts as a coordinated unit polarizing around the flow channel the Alpha inscribes. In such a flow configuration the Alpha figure conducts the most emotion and the Betas, Omegas and Zetas are drawn to the current the Alpha defines since this path conducts the most energy. (The Moose is the only channel that can conduct more and this polarized configuration of Alpha/Beta/Zeta is how the Moose is brought to ground.) Emotional polarization is not a function of rank, which is why the one school of scientific thought can reasonably argue that there’s no such thing as dominance. But neither is it a function of intellectual context, which is why the dominance school can reasonably argue that a dominance instinct can be found in animal behavior. So in this experiment it’s not that the observing dogs are intellectually or egotistically rejecting the solutions of a low flow Zeta when such an individual successfully solves the problem, but rather they are emotionally polarized to do the opposite since a low flow pathway is “stupid,” so to speak. And it’s not even accurate to say they are imitating the action of an Alpha, otherwise they WOULD be able to copy a Zeta getting to the food. So if we really want to understand why dogs do what they do, we must always turn to the nature of flow rather than our mental constructs of nature and our intellectual approach to intelligence. And when it comes to flow, Carlin really gets dogs.