I didn’t attend either the conference linked below or log onto its streamed content
Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science (SPARCS).
but Eric Brad wrote a good overview of his experiences there–
Since I’m familiar with the work of the various speakers I feel qualified to make the following comments. From my point of view the take away (from Eric’s article) is that attendees heard what they expected to hear, dogs think just like us and a dog’s capacity to adapt to humans is a function of high order cognition, such as a theory-of-mind (ToM). But here’s what was not taken into consideration.
- (1) The oldest relationship between living organisms is prey relative to predator. The selective pressures of predation have been shaping behavior many, many millions of years before there was sexual reproduction and male/female—parent/offspring–and peer-to-peer social relationships. Well before there were sexual strategies, reproductive strategies, parenting strategies or social strategies, there were prey-making and avoidance of being-made-prey-upon strategies. And the two overriding variables that comprise the basis of these complementary strategies are position and momentum. This means that the laws of motion are the fundamental selective pressure on the evolution of organisms.
- (2) Given that the central tenet of modern biology and behaviorism is evolution by way of common descent, logically speaking the oldest relationship between organisms should serve as a platform on which all subsequent relationships such as male/female—parent/offspring and peer-to-peer sociability have evolved.
- (3) Emotion, involving the oldest structures in the brain, would be the most logical mechanism for mediating the prey and predator dynamic. Pankseep has established that emotion is pre-verbal and predates rational cognitive facility by many, many millions of years and is universal to all species. In other words, emotion predates the vast diversification that characterizes the panoply of life we observe today. Therefore, emotion would be fundamentally concerned with the two variables that are the basis of the basic strategy guiding the evolution of all living organisms, position and momentum. Emotion would be governed by laws of motion. Any psychological treatment of emotion that doesn’t articulate its core dynamic and relies on a time-centric analysis, would be misleading by its very terminology.
- (4) The emotional dynamic that equips an organism with the motive and means of catching something as a meal, as well as not being caught as something else’s meal, would be evident in the sexual and social relations of all species. We should expect to see animals playing through the making-prey and avoiding-being-preyed-upon role playing rituals, with intramural friction over resources and sexual copulation following this template as well. All interpersonal interactions could be shown to subscribe to the laws of motion as the template for any given emotional experience.
- (5) In the Prey-Predator dynamic, success for a predator represents positioning and configuring its body around a point where the prey’s physical center-of-gravity IS GOING TO BE. Meanwhile the prey must position and configure its body around a point where the predator’s center-of-gravity IS NOT GOING TO BE. This faculty of emotionally projecting onto an immaterial point as a manifestation of a future potentiality is the essence of survival and adaptability. In other words an immaterial point and a non-corporeal potential is the defining variables of the oldest relationship between living organisms and thus by definition will never be uncovered by a materialist, reductionist approach that deconstructs an organism gene-by-gene, neuron-by-neuron and cell-by-cell. The capacity of an animal to divine the momentum and trajectory of another individual does not require a theory-of-mind cognitive module that then ascribes relative intentional states as the basis for subsequent actions. That fails to logically follow from a theory of evolution by way of common descent.
- (6) The capacity of emotional projection to apprehend this immaterial point that factors out the future behavior of other beings is a function of physics (gravity and the laws of motion) and would be implanted in an animal’s mind by way of an embodied cognition rather than through the powers of rational deduction because it is many millions of years older than higher orders of consciousness. Mirror neurons are a likely candidate for enabling this transfer of momentum and position from one individual to another. Dogs, being more adept at emotional projection than other species are thereby able to adapt to man’s potentialities. Emotional projection would be the most likely source of canine cognitive intelligence rather than a capacity for theory-of-mind. A gazelle need not entertain a ToM for a cheetah in order to divine its point of view, i.e. to feel where it is projecting its p-cog forward in time and space. Neither would a dog to divine its owner is coming home or going on a trip, etc., etc..
- (7) Physicists with robotics have mimicked complex social behavior utilizing very simple rules of physics and without invoking any cognitive faculty. Some of these demonstrations of swarming have involved no central processor whatsoever. In one example using minimal software to enable learning, the “organisms” perceive and respond through Control theory, not Operant Conditioning. None of these mechanical fabrications of coherent social behavior utilize a ToM-like computational model.
- (8) Since the prey-predator dynamic is the platform for cognitive development, the most basic form of animal communication occurs through shifts in body weight and the intensity of physical movements. These factors are the most reliable indicator of where an individual’s physical center-of-gravity is going to be and when, and this is the basis of eye contact and comprehending the emotional value of a directed gaze. Vocalizations elaborate upon this platform and convey analogous content.
While I understand the reasoning of the high-cognition ToM folks and why it enjoys a ready appeal, adherents of the ToM approach mistakenly think they are positively arguing for the humane treatment of animals because they believe they are demonstrating that intelligence wise, animals are more human-like than has previously been thought. But even were this true, it would still be the weakest argument for the humane treatment of animals. We should treat animals humanely simply as an expression of our own humanity and which itself has evolved from our primal animal faculty, emotional projection. In other words, animals reflect our nature. Whereas attributing high order cognition as a basis for humane treatment is a back-handed compliment. It’s really saying that because animals think more like us than we thought, this is why they deserve to be treated humanely. Whereas my argument is that because we are more like animals than we thought, we should treat them humanely even were animals to lack any human attributes whatsoever, just as we should have reverence for the earth simply for the sake of being a good steward. Humanity, it’s in our nature, and it’s the law.
(Example below of prey-predator module evolving into sexual module)