“Natural selection favored the dogs that did a better job of figuring out the intentions of humans.”
We run across this kind of statement all the time in the discussion on dogs. It’s supposed to serve as a powerful locomotive hauling a long logic train up Argument mountain, but it always stops me dead in the tracks because it’s also running as the caboose:
Which proto-dogs were able to figure out the intentions of humans and become domesticated? The ones who were slightly better than the others at figuring out the intentions of humans.
We are jumped straightaway to a foregone conclusion that proximity to humans is the definitive factor in the domestication of the dog, and yes doggone it, dogs think just like we think.
“Natural selection favored the dogs……………………..”
is like saying steel becomes magnetized by being placed besides a magnet. Yes, proximity is relevant, but we observe that when other items are placed near magnets they don’t become magnetized. So something deep within the makeup of steel, and which precedes by eons being placed near a magnet is the true operative principle; i.e. the re-alignment of the atoms in its lattice structure so that their respective electromagnetic charges end up accumulating rather than neutralizing each other. Once we understand this, the proximity factor becomes rather trivial. So what is it about the nature of proto-dog that drew them to humans and allowed them and humans to cross the species divide? What kind of powerful emotional “magnet” might have caused them to align with each other, deep, deep down internally, on a preverbal, non-rational, non-cognitive level of mind millions and millions of years older than any influence man has brought to bear over the mere thousands of years our two species have been in contact, and how might this deep, deep emotional dynamic be related to dogs orienting toward the human gaze and synchronizing with human moods and physical mannerisms? I suggest this question will prove to be the little engine that can. On the other hand, once we hook our train to the mighty Neo-Darwinian locomotive, our destination automatically becomes Theory of Mind. There’s no other station on the Abracadabra line.