More On The Play Bow

Contextual Analysis versus an Immediate-Moment Analysis of the Play Bow

The problem with the current consensus in behaviorism is that while the experts make very reasoned cases for a number of possible explanations for the various acts dogs perform during play, such as rolling over, bowing, grabbing and chasing, they haven’t been able to find a universal to play, which I argue is the same universal that is missing in any discussion of behavior. This omission occurs because the mainstream engages in contextual-analysis rather than immediate-moment analysis. The problem with the former is that it requires that human thoughts be inserted into the animal’s mind, the advantage to the latter is that it does not. An immediate-moment analysis focuses solely on what is observed. No human thoughts are attributed to the dog in interpreting his behavior.
Because contextual analysis cannot identify a universal principle, and because behavior does indeed have one (survival and reproductive interests are human rationales that will ultimately require putting thoughts into the dog’s mind) inevitably contextual analysis resorts to a catch-all category for those behaviors which fail to be categorized. For example, in behaviorism’s examination of aggression the catch-all bin is “idiopathic,” cause unknown. In behavioral discussions of play it’s “just-being-playful”, i.e., “just-for-the-fun-of-it.”

“Rolling over during play is often just playful.”
Stanley Coren

“Instead, rolling over during play is often just playful.”
Julie Hecht

“Animals may also play because it’s fun — for the hell of it, because it feels good — during which time they’re also benefiting from engaging in the activity itself.” 
Marc Bekoff

If something can be done out of context, just for its own sake, this obliterates contextual analysis as a viable method of interpretation. If rolling over during play is just being playful, then anything could be done in play, even acting dominant. “Sometimes intimidating a playmate out of their wits is just being playful.” ? ? Play for the “fun of it” could just as well be called idiopathic, and then perhaps idiopathic aggression is just for the fun of it as well. If an interpretation of a behavior depends on context, that requires putting human thoughts into a dog’s mind and this doesn’t bring us closer to answering the question, why is fun, fun? It’s self-recursive, fun-is-fun-because-it’s-just-for-fun.
In addition to contextual analysis, the consensus view also consults neuroscience to investigate why play is fun. And of course there are pleasurable neurochemical changes experienced during play which might at first seem to explain the fun in play. But we all recognize that there has to be something going on inside, there has to be an internal mechanics of some kind generating these affects; this has always been obvious but nevertheless good to know the nuts-and-bolts of the feel good states. However this still doesn’t address the question, why are these neurochemicals affiliated with play so that play feels good? What’s the point in playing? Neurochemicals may be the mechanics but they do not suffice as a reason.
Toward the Why of play, the experts talk about the evolutionary advantages to play, specifically that it builds up cognitive and social capacities for solving the problems of adult life. As Marc Bekoff writes:

“Based on an extensive review of available literature, my colleagues Marek Spinka, Ruth Newberry, and I proposed that play functions to increase the versatility of movements and the ability to recover from sudden shocks such as the loss of balance and falling over, and to enhance the ability of animals to cope emotionally with unexpected stressful situations. To obtain this “training for the unexpected” we suggested that animals actively seek and create unexpected situations in play and actively put themselves into disadvantageous positions and situations.”

Yes play increases cognitive development and emotional resiliency but this can’t be a complete explanation. For one thing, dogs play more than any other species, even as aged adults, and yet they are hardly the most cognitively developed species. Why would so much energy be invested in an activity that has a hard cognitive ceiling beyond which the dog is not going to be able to go? Being playful certainly speaks to a high quotient for adaptability, however the dynamic of adaptability is not likely a cognitive capacity. Secondly, were this to provide a complete explanation there wouldn’t be any need for a catchall category. Thirdly, because emotion is preverbal, contextual analysis would need to avoid human thoughts to explain a play bow, as when it postulates in the mind of the bower: “I am inviting you to play with me, my intentions are playful and so you can relax about my actions even if they appear aggressive.” Human words couldn’t possibly articulate what’s going on inside the dog’s mind however that’s exactly what contextual analysis must always resort to.
Finally, the contextual approach to play, and the fact that we also must weave neurochemicals into our understanding of play since they are part of the mechanical means of implementation, ends up conflicting with the role neurochemistry is said to play in social dominance systems. If in play animals seek to place themselves into “disadvantageous positions and situations,” in other words they are seeking out the bad emotional affects affiliated with unpleasant neurochemicals, why is this same individual said to avoid at all costs these same neurochemicals when it comes to fitting in socially. In discussions of social hierarchies we are told that animals strive to avoid the bad neurochemicals at all costs by seeking at all times to stay in the feel good zone by acquiring social status and/or control over access to resources. The loss of status means less food, less reproductive success, more bad neurochemically charged emotional affects. So if the drive for status revolves around attaining good emotional affects, how could an individual be driven to seek out negative emotional affects in contravention to that which is said to organize social structure? It’s an abrupt U-Turn in logic, sheer intellectual expediency in order to deal with the problem at hand irrespective of how it contravenes what’s going on in another domain of behavior. The neurochemical logic of play contradicts the neurochemical logic of social life. One rationale is being stacked on and beside others and the internal contradictions between them aren’t being noted.
Bekoff is however pointing to some elements of a model; specifically; “versatility of movements”— and — “recover from sudden shocks such as the loss of balance.” I want to point out here the immutable linkage between balance and movement, an individual can’t be versatile in movement without the capacity to maintain balance. Balance and movement are inseparable, they are the most basic, autonomic level of responses relative to the most basic problems of movement such as dealing with resistance and being acted upon by outside forces. Balance and movement will prove promising seeds of a full blown model when seen through the lens of the immediate-moment.
But to build this model we first have to cast neurochemicals in their proper role as mere mechanics, rather than as source, and then this also means not turning to context to accord meaning (which then necessitates the injection of human thoughts which routes us recursively back to intentional states). I suspect that when in a “disadvantageous position” the so called negative neurochemicals are experienced as pleasurable. This isn’t due to context but due to a principle of conductivity. Anything that’s functional to moving well is pleasurable, and what we perceive of as a “disadvantaged” position will prove to be a part of the experience of conductivity as well. To jump a bit ahead, what we call disadvantaged is a complementary phase of a locomotive wave with one interactant in its movement, manner and deportment mirroring the counterbalancing interactant in its particular phase of movement. The interactant in the so-called “disadvantaged” position, is in reality absorbing the “emotional momentum” of the other interactant. I will concentrate on this in greater detail in a subsequent post on the play bow.
Whenever an animal is stimulated for any reason, be it due to a shift in external conditions or internal state of being, it wants to move. The universal motive underlying all behavior is the urge for movement.

And even when an animal doesn’t feel safe enough to move, nevertheless it still wants to move. Movement and emotion are synonymous. And when things are moving well, one feels good.
Thought experiment; in the dead of winter you’re heading to the airport to jet away to a tropical resort. (Sounds pretty good to a New Englander about now) You’ve allowed for plenty of time and as you hit the highway there’s nothing but open road ahead. Neurochemical status? Great. But halfway there as you merge onto the next interstate you come bumper-to-bumper with a river of red lights stretching endlessly to the far horizon. Mired in an interminable crawl, the allotted window of time begins to close. Neurochemical status now? Not so great. So which comes first, which is instrumental, neurochemicals or the feeling of movement? Which is more explicative: context or conductivity?
Being able to move as fast and as efficiently as possible toward something one wants, or as fast and as efficiently as possible away from something one fears, is the optimal course of action in any given situation. Therefore the mechanics of moving well, a principle of conductivity wherein internal energies are smoothly and efficiently transmitted to the surroundings, be this covering physical ground, manipulating objects or interacting with other sentient beings, serves as an internal metric of well-being. This is even true for the highly developed human intellect. Such expressions as: “I feel things aren’t moving fast enough” —- “I feel that things are in motion.” —— “I feel in the flow.”—— are intuitive recognitions that the bodily mechanics of smooth motion is the metric to which the mind resonates, it is mapped onto intellectual pursuits that don’t even engage the physical body. Even then the physical mechanics of movement serves as a template by which to gage higher forms of mental activity, and this is also why body language is intrinsic to verbal discourse.
The contextual mode of analysis pays lip service to the notion of energy as when Abrantes argues that dominance and submission evolved because it is more efficient to ritualize the resolution of disputes over resources this way rather than waste energy in countless physical skirmishes and/or fights. But this analysis fails to ask the obvious, what does being efficient FEEL like?
The mechanics of smooth, efficient movement and the capacities that extend from there, i.e. the projection, absorption and leveraging of force, is defined by an animal’s anatomy and this evolves according to its species-specific locomotive rhythm (see p.86 of “Design In Nature” by Adrian Bejan). The locomotive rhythm is the optimal resolution of the resistances an organism encounters as it moves. This optimal rhythm, a wave action, determines the size and anatomical arrangement of bones, muscles, and organs because these objects must have a weight, shape, size and internal placement that conforms to the locomotive rhythm as a prime “design” criteria. Additionally the locomotive rhythm is the underpinning of an animal’s sense of emotional well being since moving fast and efficiently toward what one desires, or away from what one fears, is the optimal course of action in any given situation. Emotion and motion are inextricably linked by way of the locomotive rhythm. Transmitting internal energies effectively and efficiently so as to move, manipulate objects or deal with other sentient beings, is what feels good.
The locomotive rhythm is a wave of motion generated by sequential contractions of large muscle groups, the propulsive power of the hindquarters surging through to the forequarters and then transmitted to the neck and jaws———Throughput——this wave is a throughput of force mirrored by the rhythmic mechanics of breathing. This synchronized pulse of anatomical and muscular action creates a wave that the body then rides, literally. This is the physical basis for an emotional sense of movement. In other words, being efficient and socially adaptive FEELS like a wave of motion and is the standard against which all experiences are assayed as a function of their conductivity. The locomotive rhythm is at the heart of emotional experience, a template against which everything that reaches the animal mind is measured. (To be explored later, the mental process of objectification, the manner by which data is construed by the mind to take shape as a form, will also prove to be a function of the locomotive rhythm.)

“Waves are said to be an energy transport phenomenon. As a disturbance moves through a medium from one particle to its adjacent particle, energy is being transported from one end of the medium to the other.”

The locomotive wave is composed of two phases, the projection phase when force is projected ahead of the body, and the collecting phase when the body gathers itself over this forward point to which its physical momentum has committed the body to reach. Once projected forward, collecting has to follow or the rhythm collapses in a heap.

image-17

Both phases are characterized with all four feet off the ground, the body suspended in mid-air, literally taking flight for a beat of the heart. These two phases weld two separate points of Space together into the rhythm of the heart, a beat of Time, one wave. Since the locomotive rhythm is synonymous with emotion, therefore emotion is experienced as a wave of motion moving through the body in concordance with the act of running, the mechanics of breathing, the beats of the heart. If an animal can run toward what it wants, and if it can run away from what it fears, then it is at an optimal state of well being given the particular conductivity of a given situation.
Meanwhile, the current consensus on animal cognition focuses on states of intention and this is what leads it to a total concentration on neurology and neurochemistry, human rationales for survival and replication, and thereby completely misses how the body and its highly evolved anatomy is the true metric of experience and the basis for how the animal mind constructs its view of reality and adapts to the forces that act on it, and with which it must generate in order to act on its surroundings in a coherent manner.
What would prove to be a better strategy for gaging one’s survival or reproductive chances, trying to divine the intentional states of others, or the capacity to sense the capacities of others? We should sleep better at night knowing that our military prepares contingency plans not based on what they think the intentions of other military powers might be, but on what they believe about their capacities. The capacity to project force begets opportunities and finding oneself in an opportune position that one has the capacity to exploit can change an intention in an instant. Therefore it’s not logical that a dog would read body language such as play bows in terms of intentional states because they are so mercurial. Animals couldn’t possibly have evolved to care much about their own intentions or by trying to divine the intentions of others. It only cares about capacity. A gazelle wouldn’t live long if it wandered close to a resting cheetah relying on its reading of its intentions in that situation. All an animal need care about is how fast, how far and with how much force another being can project force its way. This value becomes embedded in its individual memory and ultimately within its genetic memory. If one walks through the wild no animals will venture close because of the human capacity to project force, whatever intentions one may hold are irrelevant even though we’d all delight in a lovely songbird alighting on our finger.
Note that the flight distances of animals relative to human beings have changed in response to the capacity of humans to project force via the evolution of human weaponry. When I used to hunt deer with my father in Maine, on our way into camp on the Sunday before hunting season we’d see deer browsing in the vast blueberry fields that adjoined the camp road before it disappeared into the forest. That sight always stirred me for the prospects of the hunt to come. But then Monday morning when hunting season began, a deer was never to be seen in the open during the day again. Two solid weeks of cruising the woods rarely produced a sighting of a deer, only their sign. The deer had adapted to our seasonal capacity to project force via a high powered rifle. Another experiment I once conducted when I was a teenager was to try to carry a rifle near a “murder” of crows who always gathered around the compost pile my father had behind the barn. When I went to dump manure from the stalls with the inevitable scraps of hay seeds, grain as well as stuff from my mothers’ kitchen, the crows would noisily clammer and hawk around the trees overhead. But when I carried a rifle in my free hand, and even when I later tucked it out of sight under my coat, they would be long gone as soon as I made my approach. That was my introduction to how sensitive the animal mind is to another’s capacity to project force.
Were one tasked to build a robot, the first order of business would be imbuing it with the capacity to project force, to absorb force, and if one were really good at building a robot, to couple its force with an amplifying force so that it could project, absorb and leverage even more force. Every posture, facial expression, and physical action, as well as internal biochemistry, is the language of an individual’s capacity to project, leverage, absorb and couple to force.
Behavior is a transfer of force, and in the case of play, a refined coupling of force. The FORCE that a reinFORCEMENT exerts on behavior, is due to the degree of FORCE that a particular behavior transfers. The mechanics of this transfer is a wave action. Play, among many other kinds of behavior, finds its reinforcement value because it represents an amplification of force. The evolutionary advantage? This increases the capacity to project, absorb and leverage even more force.
It is inarguable that evolution proceeds according to capacity because the movement of physical forces is the very basis of the natural environment to which an animal must adapt. Therefore projecting, absorbing and leveraging force in a conductive medium feels good because this is how nature itself evolves. This is why play is fun. Neurochemistry follows.

In the next article on the play bow we will consider how if the bow isn’t an invitation that can be articulated by way of human thoughts, then how does the bow posture draw another dog in? And for what reason is the play bower manifesting the display. In other words, why does it function like an invitation?

Published February 27, 2015 by Kevin Behan
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18 responses to “More On The Play Bow”

  1. Skeptik says:

    Human words couldn’t possibly articulate what’s going on inside the dog’s mind however that’s exactly what contextual analysis must always resort to.
    So which human word would you use to possibly articulate what’s going on inside the human mind?

    And can you give a definition of “human thoughts” and how they are different from non-human thoughts?

  2. Kevin Behan says:

    The words you’ve used in your comment are an example of human thoughts. My definition of human thoughts are mental representations that compare one point-of-view relative to another, one moment in time relative to another. You’re comparing your point of view to mine, and one moment in time relative to another, the moment that you will receive a reply to your comment, hence a future moment is implicit in your question. So a dog supposedly inviting another dog to play if the play bow is to be interpreted as an invitation, is therefore comparing the present moment without play, with a future moment that would contain play. Additionally he is comparing his point of view of being in a playful state, to another point of view that is not in a playful state and then hoping (as opposed to being in a state of not hoping, which must also be occurring to him if dogs sometimes don’t accept his invitations) to induce the other dog to join him in that future moment that contains play. Also the challenge for behaviorism is to show a logical progression from proto expression to full blown expression. But all we have so far is it being attributed to being an evolutionary advantage and so be it. Yes of course it is an advantage, but so what? It could still be an advantage without it being an invitation. Where’s the model? Without a convincing or even logical model I remain skeptikal.

  3. Kevin Behan says:

    Another point is how does lowering the head and raising the rump constitute an invitation? Why would that induce a dog that wasn’t in a playful mood, to change his mind and begin to play? Behaviorism just makes declarative statements saying that it is a signal of playful intent, but they never explain how that should be construed by others as such.

  4. Skeptik says:

    [quote]The words you’ve used in your comment are an example of human thoughts. [/quote]
    No. The words are the product of a human thinking. Do you have a real example of human thought that contrasts with non-human thought?

    [QUOTE]My definition of human thoughts are mental representations that compare one point-of-view relative to another, one moment in time relative to another. [/quote]This is one of those logic loops you like to project on people. It’s a circular definition because you proclaim, but have never shown that animals can’t do this.

    So the original questions remain 1)So which human word would you use to possibly articulate what’s going on inside the human mind? 2)And can you give a definition of “human thoughts” and how they are different from non-human thoughts?.

    Maybe when you finally find a definition you can proceed further.

  5. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Kevin, please explain immediate moment phenomenon and point of view. Thanks.

  6. Kevin Behan says:

    I’ve been quite prolific on the definition, but to repeat: comparing two moments, or two points of view, i.e. Time-centric, i.e. seeing ones’ Self in relief against the surroundings. Here’s a short catalogue of human thoughts that dogs don’t cogitate over, hate, like, comparative, territorial, possessive, anticipation, dominance, submissive, respect, jealousy, guilt, what if?…, what then?…; and so on. And in point of fact, it’s incumbent on behaviorism to demonstrate that animals entertain human thoughts, not me. My role is to be skeptical. Believe me, promulgating the dog’s point of view is a burden. It would be much easier to take the blue pill. So if you would like to put me out of your misery, supply a canine thought that is not a human thought.

  7. Kevin Behan says:

    The immediate-moment manner of analysis considers what one’s perspective would be were there no sense of Time, in other words, if one perceived as if a moment was forever. This way of seeing reveals a system logic based on principles of energy (electromagnetism, thermodynamics, laws of motion, gravity), the same forces that compose the natural world to which an animal must adapt. So behavior is studied only in terms of what is observed and with the starting point being attraction rather than intention. Attraction is purposive because it renders complexity. The many functioning as one so as to persist. Through this lens, every facet of behavior fits into a whole, personality, temperament, sexuality, Drive, breed traits, litter differentiation, hunting, social structure, etc., etc..

  8. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Kevin, sorry about you having to repeat yourself. I study your work daily, yet I get mixed up. It’s not you – it’s me. I wish I had paid more attention in science/physics class in high school. Maybe I’m trying too hard to understand and creating a block. I’ll have to ease off and just let it flow naturally.

  9. Kevin Behan says:

    Don’t worry about it. Your questions are valued. What I’m saying is so simple it’s actually hard to grasp. It’s an inside-out perspective (feelings of attraction Will things to be) rather than an outside-in (chronological narrative) perspective which is how our intellectual mind operates.

  10. Skip Skipper says:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150226-dogs-memories-animals-chimpanzees-science-mind-psychology/

    Article in National Geographic says “Dogs memory last less than 2 minutes, Chimps less than 25 seconds”.

    Also
    “Animals may have specialized memory systems hardwired to remember certain “biologically relevant information” (such as where to find food), the study authors proposed”

    Johan Lind, an ethologist at the Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University, Sweden

  11. Skeptik says:

    Back to the your logic loops. I’ll try to get a straight answer one last time. Comparing two moments is not a human thought – btw you haven’t proven animals can’t do this – at best all you can say it is an ability of the human mind but not a human thought.

    Your short list of HUMAN WORDS doesn’t prove anything.

    And since you are the only one who uses “human thoughts” in your argument, it is incumbent on you to give a proper definition of what those thoughts are as compared to inhuman thoughts.

    1)So which human WORD would you use to possibly articulate what’s going on inside the human mind? 2) and can you give a definition of “human thoughts” and how they are different from non-human thoughts?

  12. Kevin Behan says:

    Each of the following words is in reference to something else, hence it is time-centric, relativistic, i.e. a human thought. He, she, male, female, mom, dad, us, them, you, me, to be, not to be, not, un, negate, affirm, sister, brother, uncle, cousin, government, anarchy, freedom, slavery, skepticism, faith, inside, outside, math, railroad cars, verbs.
    Given this time-centric mental capacity one could make a string of relativistic thoughts that are embodied in words and say something like: “I am Inviting You to Play with Me by My raising My rump in the air and lowering my head.” That’s a string of human thoughts. Words evolved to articulate human thoughts. It’s incumbent on science to prove that animals think like that, not me. For example it’s not incumbent for me to prove there isn’t sentient life on the Sun. It’s not logical that there is, so science would have to prove that there is before it arrives at the conclusion. I’m all for science trying to explore the question, but it has prematurely leapt to that conclusion not only before exhausting the alternative (immediate-moment analysis) but without even attempting it.

  13. Skeptik says:

    Thanks for wasting MY time with a long screed that says nothing.

    Do you know writing something doesn’t make it so?

    You first have to prove words are time-centric and relativistic. Then you have to prove animals other than humans can’t do this. PROCLAIMING IT is not enough.

    In the end you could not answer two basic questions and I no longer care to read your next post as you dodge and run-around avoiding giving a real answer.

  14. Kevin Behan says:

    I think this is the first series of comments from you that I have not had to edit for the gratuitous ad hominem. So thanks for not wasting our time on that. This has proved to be a productive exchange as it demonstrates how weak contextual analysis is when confronted with immediate-moment analysis. Any reasonable person can see the relativity (i.e. human thought as in comparing one moment in time, or one point-of-view with another) imbued in virtually every word, and certainly every concept that we use to express ourselves. However for those who might wonder what words can be used without invoking Time-centric notions, this would be terms of energy and flow. So if we were to observe a deer confronted by a wolf, it would be time-centric to say the deer feels threatened as this would be a complex abstraction. In effect the deer is saying “I think YOU could hurt ME in the FUTURE and so I will run away to increase the distance between ME and YOU so that I will THEN be safe. On the other hand it would not be Time-centric to say the deer feels unbalanced by being the object-of-attention and then seeks more stabler ground. This is a principle of conductivity, not context.

  15. Willem says:

    Kevin,

    I’m also struggling to understand your language, but I’m optimistic I’m making progress. For me, it’s quite clear what you’re doing – you’re applying the complexity sciences (constructal law) to animal behavior. I’m not involved with dog training, but as an animal tracker I have been struggling to approach animal behavior from a more fundamental perspective. There is a lot of human-projection on animals even in the wild that is very difficult to sort through. So it’s terribly refreshing to read your work (which, though perhaps not politically sensitive, is not all that controversial – I’m not sure what Skeptik’s crusade to not understand you is all about).

    One thing I wish I understood better – you often mention the notions of the negative and the positive, and attraction and repulsion. I’ve noticed that when I lie on my belly, looking at a track, passersby at the park come over and disturb my thinking regularly. Yet when I’m walking they don’t have even a smile for me. Connecting this to your work I think I’m realizing that my negative, prone, prey-like behavior is attracting the positive curiosity of one animal for another, correct? Is this a good way of thinking of it?

  16. b... says:

    I’m not sure I understand the neurochemical behavioral model. Is the contention that neurochemicals just fire spontaneously in response to external stimuli? This doesn’t sound scientific. For one, some sort of analysis or comparison against memory must be occurring between the input at the sensory receptors and the resulting endocrine response in the HPA axis in fight-flight for it to have any efficacy, right? Otherwise behavior would seemingly be random. So how does behaviorism explain that mechanism? Is it some mysterious black box or just conveniently ignored?

  17. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes I would interpret it exactly that way. When you are prone, your “negative” (eyes), which is what grants access to your positive, (body) is small, literally, and therefore more accessible and so people feel safe to approach you and investigate what you’re investigating. They feel a positive pull to your “negative” attention and would feel freer to address you. But when you’re upright then all the social conventions are in effect and they need more explicit permission to feel that the access channel is open, and so they walk on by. Eye contact can be stressful in upright mode (negative-to-negative) and so we tune out others and move along in a bubble.

  18. Kevin Behan says:

    I believe they would say we are endowed with this neurochemical/hormonal tool kit in our emotional makeup that orients us in certain ways to certain stimuli/contexts so that our chances for survival and reproductive opportunities are maximized and we don’t have to figure out these basic strategies on our own. These autonomic responses can be modified by the higher capacities of cognition, but it requires strengthening of these capacities so that we’re not always running on autopilot and thus can employ memory to compare and contrast so as to respond rather than react.

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