The Unsure Unknown Scientist

I’m the object of a regular beat-down on the site of the Unknown Scientist and I return to these “discussions” because they so clearly demonstrate the internal contradict at the heart of modern Behaviorism. {Of course these are the same theocrats who criticized me in the seventies, eighties and nineties when I argued that wolves and dogs don’t form dominance hierarchies of social rank, that emotion and feelings are the key to the animal mind and are phenomena of consciousness distinct from instinct and thoughts, that social structure in canines is an emergent self-organizing phenomenon, that a genetic makeup is not the key to aggression-(an understanding that presaged epigenetics–and which in my view will next lead to sub-genetics, more on this later)—who condemned in the most histrionic of terms my position that neutering was deleterious to a dog’s physical and social constitution (So who’s crying now? Tragically the millions of owners whose dogs died unnecessarily from cancers or were put down for behavioral disorders because they followed consensus science rather than logical reasoning, i.e. whole = health), for arguing that cooperation rather than competition is the driving force of evolution, for presaging the existence of mirror neurons with the recognition of a motion transfer through emotional processes that piggyback on the motor systems of locomotion, and currently these days are apoplectic about my use of the term energy in explaining the complex behavior of animals, and which is now being confirmed by the Constructal Law as well as other advances that physics has recently contributed to our understanding of animal cognition.}

What’s compelling about an energy theory is that it never contradicts itself. Through my website, articles and books I have generated millions of words and to date no one has found an internal inconsistency. This isn’t actually remarkable because for example, if one doesn’t know that electricity and magnetism are part of the same phenomenon, they would end up with contradictory notions and with an infinite lexicon that would be needed to describe each effect; whereas when one does grasp electromagnetism as a single force then a multitude of effects fit neatly into an overarching model. It cannot be otherwise. (This doesn’t mean the subject has been exhausted, just that the foundation for future inquiry is sound.) Likewise when it comes to the behavior of canines if one doesn’t know that hunting and social behavior are different aspects of the same phenomenon, they will be contradicting themselves as they explicate and they will be forced to take pride in the fact that they have no model for what they’re observing and find solace in their capacity to create a never ending glossary of terms for each effect. For example see the discussion on Patricia McConnell’s blog as author and readers collectively struggle to apprehend the nature of “territorial aggression.”

In NDT by comparison there is no such thing as territoriality. There is merely a place wherein a dog feels safe enough to express what it otherwise holds back. So wolves feel safe on familiar ground and defend it against alien wolves, however they aren’t cogitating to the effect that “This land is mine and not yours.” This does indeed promote spacing between organisms but it’s in service to a deeper dynamic that is best articulated by the Constructal law rather than putting human rationales in the minds of animals. Interestingly in her comment, Patricia McConnell suggests such an interpretation but the idea cannot develop further in the absence of a supporting logic. Without a model predicated on principles of energy, nothing makes sense. First one must shift their assumption from animal behavior as a function of intention, to animal behavior as a function of attraction.

(BTW, the US misconstrues my critiques of the credentialed experts of modern dogdom as attacks. An attack is what I’m subjected to. I’m merely pointing out substantive inconsistencies, self-defeating logic loops and thus asking questions from the vantage point of assuming behavior to be a function of attraction and having played this out to its logical extensions.) I also need to point out that it’s not incumbent upon me to offer a model before I am allowed to critique existing theories. This is a meaningless rhetorical argument because for example an amateur astronomer can point out irregularities in distant stars without having to posit the existence of black holes as the cause of their mysterious movements. It’s not incumbent on me to have answers (although I do offer them), rather it’s incumbent on modern behaviorism to be logical.

For example, let us contrast the US article below on wolves and hunting

with a rebuttal Marc Bekoff made to a comment I made on his Psychology Today blog;

and which the US embeds in the link below which brought it back to my attention.

I would like to add that even though Bekoff characterized my views against the notion of dominance in animals as pseudoscience, nevertheless he’s willing to engage on a substantive basis and examples a scholarly manner of dealing with those who differ with him. This is the mark of a true critical thinker.

In the first link about hunting the US happily offers a mathematical explanation for the complex hunting style of wolves and does so with two hopes in mind. One, in the hopes of refuting a dominance hierarchy as a trickle-down leader barking-out-commands-to-followers kind of phenomenon (something I refuted in “NDT” in 1992, a period in which David Mech for example was still writing about a trickle-down dominance hierarchy). His second hope is that this refutes the notion that hunting is the basis of canine sociability, which is indeed a core principle of NDT (and which is currently being confirmed by the latest science on the domestication of dogs).

Note that in modern behaviorism’s most recent definition of a dominance hierarchy as emerging from a raft of contested resources, which Bekoff positions as rigid science, the notion, while still about dominance, is not portrayed as an inborn impulse but rather as the result of a specific interaction between two individuals so that in the overall a network of various dominance/submissive relationships sort out in regards to a range of resources. In this view Dominance is something that emerges from an interaction and so that it is supposedly a flexible, plastic resolution. The net result being that access to these various resources is moderated efficiently in a way that minimizes violence.

Curiously however, in the Psychology Today article cited by Bekoff by Dario Maestripieri, Ph.D to substantiate his position, Maestripieri writes:

“Two individuals in a relationship establish dominance with each other so that every time a disagreement arises, there is no need for fighting or negotiation. The outcome is always known in advance because it’s always the same: the dominant individual gets what he wants and the subordinate doesn’t.”

Maestripieri’s approach doesn’t strike me as being particularly flexible and certainly doesn’t square with the common household situation wherein one dog is “dominant” over one resource but then “submissive” to his housemate over another, and not because one individual happened to become stronger over an interim so that their roles reversed. My point is that dominance is a human thought, there’s no way to get around this and the only plasticity here is that its meaning is being contorted from one application to the next in order to suit the parameters. It is being used to be all things to all people which is the problem when intention is substituted for attraction.

To digress for a moment, Bekoff took me to task about my use of the term variability. I used it in order to make the point that dominance can’t be both an instinct and an intention and that therefore modern behaviorism was being guilty of inserting a human psychology into the animal mind in order to make their interpretations work, as for example when Maestripieri writes:

“All that is needed when a disagreement occurs is some communication between the dominant and the subordinate: the dominant says to the subordinate “We are doing this My Way” with a threatening look and tone of voice; and the subordinate smiles submissively and says “Okay!” There is no risk of injury, and no waste of time or energy or cognitive or emotional resources. The relationship is stable and predictable, which is good for mental health, and both partners can accomplish whatever joint goals they have.”

This is a human, intellectual kind of cogitation, or does the author mean some other kind of mental activity is going on, and if so, what is it?

Bekoff writes to critique my point about variability:

“Let me make one comment about one of the comments posted to Mr. Kelley’s essay. Kevin Behan wrote, “The current science says dominance is variable according to a number of factors, and that it is also instinctive and unconscious. But then one will not be able to enunciate this factor of variability without projecting human thoughts and rationales into the minds of the animals, which immediately contradicts the notion of instinct. Which is it, instinct or psychology? If instinct, how then is it variable?” (my emphasis)”

“In any basic ethology course or Animal Behavior 101 students learn that dominance is not “instinctive and unconscious.” And, students also learn that just because a specific pattern of behavior is instinctive this does not mean it cannot be modified due to individual experience. These sorts of individual tweaks lead to variability.”

As an example of this kind of variability Bekoff cites the study below:

Hailman, Jack P.

Scientific American, Vol 221(6), Dec 1969, 98-106. doi: 10.1038/scientificamerican1269-98

“Investigated the hypothesis that “stereotyped behavior patterns of animals also require subtle forms of experience for development.” The feeding behavior of laughing and herring sea gull chicks was studied in both a natural and laboratory environment. Results show that the newborn chick reveals a poorly coordinated peck, motivated by hunger and elicited by the stimulus properties of shape and movement from a parent or sibling. The chick’s aim and depth perception improves steadily through practice in pecking. Also, the chick’s begging and feeding pecks become differentiated as it learns to rotate its head when begging from the parent. It is concluded that “behavioral development is a mosaic created by continuing interaction of the developing organism and its environment.” (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)”

Now since all chicks end up refining their pecks the same way so that one chick ends up pecking in a manner that is virtually indistinguishable from another, just as all cats end up refining the stalking of a mouse the same way, and then can modify their style when stalking a bird as opposed to a mouse, I daresay the perfecting of the peck isn’t the kind of variability to which I was referring. In the Dominance-as-Controlling-Access-to-Resources iteration of modern behaviorism, we’re talking about something far more complex than individual tweaks, or randomly generated behaviors finding reinforcement. Whereas I’m talking about a variability that must encompass context, situational awareness, tactical considerations and long term strategic interests. By variability I’m also meaning the comparative differences between canines and other species which even though they have the same identical concerns about access to resources as do canines, yet they don’t exhibit the same plastic social nature. A chick perfecting a peck does not address the questions that fall under the umbrella term of variability.

At any rate, let us look at where the new logic of dominance as a hierarchy-that-emerges-over-contested-resources is leading us. If the social hierarchy results from a number of interactions that occur over a range of resources, and if the number one resource, one which in fact makes the complex lifestyle of wolves possible, is a large dangerous prey animal, then it follows that the structure that emerges from the interactions over lesser resources, derives from the structure that emerges from the greatest resource, the large, dangerous prey animal. The lesser relationships over the lesser resources will by logical extension have to be subordinate to the greater relationship, singular, that emerges from the greatest resource, not the other way around. And if dominance exists because it is a cost effective way of resolving conflicts and this is something that has built up over many generations, then mainstream behaviorism is unknowingly substantiating the principle argument of NDT that the hunt and the pack are not separate phenomena, and that the special group dynamic in the hunt begets the social machinations of the pack would be the most plausible source of the behavioral plasticity of the modern domesticated dog. A group of wolves working together so as to gain access to a resource not available through singular action is the most efficient and safest way for wolves to hunt as a team and in my view it therefore informs them how to live as a pack since a standard of energy efficiency is the key to social behavior, even according to the current argument of modern behaviorism in favor of its most recent iteration of a dominance hierarchy. It is illogical that the group dynamic in the hunt and the social structure of the pack are separate phenomena if the social life is the result of interactions over resources, and the greatest resource is a large dangerous prey animal. As Maestripieri writes in the article Bekoff cites: the point of a relationship is so that….  “both partners can accomplish whatever joint goals they have.” The joint goal of a wolf pack is to bring down a large, dangerous prey animal. In other words what’s going on in the pack, currently being interpreted as competition over resources then to be resolved via a dominance and submissive interpersonal relationship, is completely in error and can more accurately be viewed as derivative of how individuals relate as a group when trying to bring down a combative and powerful prey target.

Note that a standard of energy efficiency is invoked as a starting point for the evolution of an organism, with tiny variations accruing in a genome over many generations sandwiched between a bookend standard of energy efficiency that is then evoked as a final justification for whatever complex behaviors are exhibited. But for everything that is going on in the middle, the steps from B to Y, a standard of energy efficiency is missing in action.

On the other hand, in order to fill in the missing steps of B-to-Y, we could ask how does an animal recognize that what it is doing is efficient or not? In other words, what is an animal feeling?

Modern behaviorism doesn’t ask that question, rather, by abandoning the energy-efficient standard it instead leaps to the question, what is an animal thinking? This leads it to high cognition and ToM in order to account for behavior that exhibits an intelligent plasticity to context. So the mainstream purports that one can’t know what’s going on within an animals’ mind, even though all mammals have the same emotional systems that are pre-verbal and hence pre-ToM, and yet at the same time claims authoritatively that science can know that an animal is thinking about comparing its status to others and can be calculating its chances of gaining access to a resource in the face of tactical and strategic considerations.

By comparison in my study of dogsI’ve been asking what does an animal feel when an animal is doing something efficiently. And let me assure the reader that this is an answerable question because we humans feel the same way too. And let me also assure the reader that it’s an infinitely rewarding question. (This approach of regarding feelings as more instrumental than thinking reminds me of the obstacles Luca Turin ran into when he tried to communicate his new theory of smell to his fellow scientists. He couldn’t get them to actually smell his samples and use their own noses to apprehend what he was talking about. Likewise we are free to assume attraction over intention and see what this renders.)

In the first linked article by the US, we find that the simulation of a wolf hunt is predicated on two simple rules of maintaining a set distance between prey and fellow wolves. Let me translate. This means that if each wolf feels a certain degree of attraction between a wolf and its prey, and a certain degree of attraction between a wolf and its fellow wolf, it will be positioned to participate intelligently in a hunt composed of many moving parts working under all kinds of situational contingencies. In 1992 in “NDT” I precisely articulated this emotional “rheostat.” It is the urge to bite relative to a degree of inhibition. Today I use the terms hunger relative to balance, i.e. arousal relative to sensitivity. Again, and of course unknowingly, the US is confirming a central tenet of NDT in the hopes of refuting NDT and this is what happens when one is afflicted with self-contradicting logic loops flowing from the assumption of behavior as a function of intention. This is what would happen for example if one didn’t understand that electricity and magnetism are part of the same phenomenon.

And yet the US recommends Marc Bekoff’s synthesis of the evidence as an effective rebuttal to my argument, and whereina recent post by Bekoff posts explores the nature of how dogs play.

Wolves often play before they leave for a hunt. And in mainstream behaviorism the play of canine young is seen as being in practice for the hunt. However as we saw in the link posted above the US has established that hunting is predicated on some simple rules of attraction. The US states: “Seemingly complex group behavior can often result from simple rules repeated across a number of individuals. There is a tendency to think that some of these highly coordinated manoeuvres must occur under the direction of a leader shouting orders that everyone obeys. The truth is that more often than we imagine the group behavior is just the result of a bunch of individuals each following some basic rules; when this is iterated dozens or even thousands of times the results are amazing. One cannot help but to notice the similarities between the two rules for hunting prey-chasing wolves and the 3 rules that result in flocking behavior. In both cases, group behavior is the result of multiple individuals applying the same simple rules. The group behavior emerges without any planning and without any special knowledge from any individual.”

So a correct link has been made by the US between canine hunting and flocking/social behavior to simple predicates of energy, and yet contradictorily the US is comfortable with the Bekoff interpretation of play. In other words, and this is the great incongruity on the so called science of dog behavior website, is that when wolves interrelate in terms of their greatest resource, nothing complex to be found there, but when they interact in play or over lesser resources, a vast human psychology is invoked which is even complete with a moral dimension and a comprehension of fairness.

The mistake that was made in the sixties and seventies by mainstream behaviorism was assuming that hunting in wolves was complex. (I remember giving a talk in 1992 about how the ways of dogs had evolved from the way wolves hunt as a group, there was not a widespread understanding of self-organizing systems in animal behavior then. After my talk a man came up to me and declared that wolves plan their hunts. I asked, “When do they do that?”) However the equally erroneous mistake currently being made is that social behavior is complex. When dogs “compete” over resources or when they play, we aren’t observing individual tweaks within a mental state of situational awareness; rather we’re observing a universal process wherein two or more individuals differentiate according to a principle of thermodynamics, i.e.the establishment of the direction by which the energy of emotional momentum is going to flow. This is a template available to all animals, but because of its evolution as a group hunter, the dog has the highest emotional capacity and is thus able to map this primordial template of emotion moving from the predator pole to the prey pole onto a seemingly complex situation wherein other species have to go by instinct.

I would also like to add that energetically speaking, if efficiency is going to be our ultimate standard, we should note that the only thing that can hold back a primal impulse is another primal impulse. Dogs play by chasing and biting. The predatory motor actions of the stalk, pounce, strike, bring-to-ground and most especially, the bite; are how dogs play. These reflexes by which a predator violently dispatches its quarry constitute the mechanics of play. Chasing without hamstringing, gripping without penetrating, wrestling to the ground without drawing blood, in other words the capacity to restrain the most primal and powerful impulses activated in play is the key to play. Something equally primal would therefore be the most logical candidate for impulse control because only a primal impulse can restrain another primal impulse without rendering a state of conflict.Two complementary primal impulses in perfect counterbalance renders a sense of flow and this is the feeling of efficiency. In a subsequent article I will explore how this feeling of flow is experienced by both the “dominant” and the “submissive.”

In conclusion, the higher the emotional capacity of an individual (and this varies from species to species, from individual to individual, and even from context to context, the unifying feature however is always a principle of emotional conductivity) the more readily it can apply a simple template to what might at first appear to our human rational faculties to be complex. Therefore before one ascribes complex psychological motives and a moral dimension to dogs at play and their infinite capacity to adapt to others, we should first begin with the notion of emotion as an energy of attraction and follow this out as far as it can take us. This line of inquiry should be explored before we leap to higher cognitive or moral explanations, especially because the mechanics of impulse control are undoubtedly the key to how a moral code evolved in the first place.

Hunting as a group is simple, so is social behavior. It’s incongruent that the social friction to be observed over lesser resources would be due to a dynamic distinct and apart from the capacity to cooperate over the greatest resource. A “science based exploration of dogs” couldn’t be more wrong by being fundamentally in conflict about the social nature of canines. It’s no intellectual virtue to be unsure about that.

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Published July 23, 2014 by Kevin Behan
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6 responses to “The Unsure Unknown Scientist”

  1. b... says:

    Thank you for pointing out one of the most obvious contradictions that is impossible to gloss over — how can the same camp that says we can’t know what an animal is thinking then also purport to know the psychological rationale that an animal is employing in choosing its behavior. Do we know what they’re thinking or not? How can it be both? This requires no science at all, just a very elementary understanding of logic, or what one might call ‘common sense’.

  2. b... says:

    This is a great recap. Of course those who stand to learn the most from it will dismiss it at blasphemy. When an argument boils down to “we know it’s so because that’s what we learned in ‘Our Theory 101′”, it’s a pretty good indication that we’ve moved away from science and into theology.

    The McConnell blogs and extensive comments are pretty telling (this one in particular, I think: There seems to be a community joy in fractioning behavior into minute motivations and positing theories. Everyone gets to feel like they might be a little bit right because we can’t know what’s *really* going on. Exposing what’s behind the curtain (a fairly straightforward thermodynamic principle) is a bit like turning on the lights in a haunted house or revealing the mechanics of a magic trick.

    I think the shifting counterargument you’ve faced over the decades is just an elaboration of that. Once the reveal becomes accepted widely, the crowd will move on a new complexity to fixate on so that they can continue to wallow in its wonders. This isn’t a scientific phenomenon, it’s a sociological one.

  3. John Cassidy says:

    That’s such a good article Kevin , very insightful and thought provoking,

    I wouldn’t pay much heed to the US , since he/she shot themselves in the foot with that wolf hunting theory article they posted, I feel the U S is probably your biggest fan only he/she doesn’t know it yet

  4. John Cassidy says:

    Would the capacity in the canine to be Social rather than efficient energeticly wise not prevent the escalation of roughhouse play turning violent ,

    Would socialibility not then be a valid primal anchor in arresting other canine impulses

    pup can’t modify play early on but as they become more social find restraint in their actions

  5. Kevin Behan says:

    The way I’m reading your comment it seems as if being social is in opposition to being efficient although I don’t think that may be your meaning. That said, if a system gets too efficient (think American car manufacturers in the eighties using same parts through all brands which caused the consumer to lose an ability to identify with a given model) then it can “depolarize” and lose the capacity to make energy, so sociability is a constant tension between the homogenizing effects of too much efficiency, and the individual’s sense of autonomy which keeps the system polarized. This for example is the positive effect that ego can have, and why animals are invested with a sense-of-self. This is also why I believe indigenous and ancient cultures added a flaw or asymmetry to their art because they understood a perfect state was dead-as-a-doornail. At any rate, moving the body efficiently is the internal metric of emotional well-being and a state of alignment and synchronization with others gratifies both this internal metric as well as the sense of self feeling empowered, so both polarization and efficiency are finding their right place in the resulting system. In my model sociability results from an auto-tuning/feedback loop wherein the output (projection of force) and input (collection/absorption of force) phases of the locomotive rhythm achieve equal expression in terms of an external stimulus. So it’s the collecting phase which can neutralize the projection phase allowing for complete impulse control and without putting the individual into a state of conflict. This treatment squares very nicely with the Constructal law wherein the placement of organs and their sizes are subordinate to that organisms optimal locomotive rhythm. It is not a stretch to conclude that if size and placement of organs depends on locomotive rhythm, then behavior and mental processes would have to as well.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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