Why “Making Sense of the Nonsense” Doesn’t Make Sense

It’s my premise that whenever one tries to explain a natural system (such as the animal mind) with a personality theory (the animal as a self-contained entity of intelligence) one will always generate self-defeating logic loops and this will require more and more complex rationales to keep these self-annihilating principles from running into each other. Meanwhile the emerging discipline of emergence theory that demonstrates how highly organized collective activity can arise from autonomous non-directed, interactions, i.e. bubbling-up from below, is a mathematical description of behavior as an energy system (after all, an algorithm isn’t running inside the animal’s mind, rather it’s feeling something) and as such is bringing many of these problems into focus. Today we find proponents of the dominance theory trying to substantiate how a trickle down hierarchy can result from a bubble-up dynamic. But as mentioned these rationales will always contain an inherent contradiction and will also contradict other attempts to solve the same problem which they shouldn’t because they are based on the same organizing principle, i.e. that behavior is an attempt to maximize gene propagation. These various attempts tack an energy rationale onto a trickle-down theory as opposed to building a model on principles of energy from the ground up. It reminds me of Microsoft in the nineties issuing innumerable software patches when subprograms were interfering with each other.

One of these attempts is articulated by Dr. Abrantes with the notion of a fluid kind of status that can shift from moment to moment based on what kind of resource is in play. If the resource or context is different, then there can be a different “leader” or superior in that specific instance. Abrantes postulates that this fluid kind of dominance and submission evolved as a means of regulating competition over resources so that violence, which is a needless expenditure of energy, can be averted.

Abrantes: “Dominance and submission are beautiful mechanisms from an evolutionary point of view. They are what enable (social) animals to live together, to survive until they reproduce and pass their (dominant and submissive) genes to the next generation. Without these mechanisms, we wouldn’t have social animals like humans, chimpanzees, wolves and dogs among many others.”

“If an animal resolves all inter-group conflicts with aggressive and fearful behavior, it will be exhausted when subsequently compelled to go and find food, a mating partner, a safe place to rest or take care of its progeny (all decreasing the chances for its survival as well as that of its genes). Thus, the alien and mate strategy originated and evolved. It is impossible to fight everybody all of the time, so a mate is confronted using energy-saving procedures.”

So the concept of energy efficiency is added to the evolutionary logic of gene propagation. Those genes that waste energy won’t successfully replicate when up against other genes that are more efficient at husbanding energy. However this attempt to add an energy dynamic onto gene behavior immediately runs into another energetic interpretation by Dr. Bruening who writes on Psychology Today blog.

LGB: “ Animals grab food when they can. An animal that doesn’t grab will go hungry, and the weaker he is, the more others will grab from him. His ability to escape from predators and compete for mates will decline if he doesn’t grab what he can. You are descended from individuals who did what it took to keep their DNA alive. Yes, animals cooperate some of the time, but only as needed to meet their survival needs.”

“Mammals assert dominance even when no food or mate is at stake. It’s as if they invest today’s extra energy in establishing rank so they will have what they need tomorrow. Of course they don’t do this consciously. Each individual simply seeks rewards and avoids pain. Status hierarchies emerge in almost every mammalian herd or pack or troop. The new science of “emergence” shows how complex systems emerge from simple individual choices without design or intent.”

I believe Dr. Bruening holds the more defensible position because it’s getting closer to a basic organizing role that energy plays in the animal mind, specifically, the overwhelming power that potential energy exerts over the animal motivation. One can never know when or where the next source of energy is going to occur and so having to establish rank each and every time is itself a laborious waste of energy. A leader of an army doesn’t want situational dominance, neither does an athlete in a sports competition. The animal mind prefers assigned seating. For example, I like to know before I get to a concert, airport, or football game that I already have access to the resource based on the ticket in my pocket. We’re all motivated by potential energy rather than actual energy and so our social structures should be in conformance to this predicate rather than, for example, efficiency.

However even in Dr. Breuning’s model the problem remains, how to account for variability and the fact that the weaker dog in a so-called dominance hierarchy 99.99% of the time gets to keep the bone it has in its jaws. So far mainstream biology can only invoke a complex psychology, the notion of a mindless instinct is simply too static to accommodate the complexity and flexibility of what we observe animals to be doing.

Published March 1, 2012 by Kevin Behan
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