I have been expecting that “How Dogs Work” would spur a great debate throughout Dogdom. Yet the only discussion I’ve found is a review posted by Dr. Bekoff on his Psychology Today blog.
Beckoff challenges Coppinger and Feinstein’s thesis that play, specifically the play bow, represents a state of conflict, i.e. an emergent behavior resulting form two opposing motor patterns. I agree with Bekoff that the play bow is not a state of fundamental conflict with one part of the body wanting to go one way, while the other end of the body wants to go the other. In my view both ends of the body are performing a unitary function—albeit in complementary fashion that might strike one as contradictory—- in solving a problem in locomotion, i.e. having to cope with an Object-of-Resistance (O-R). But I don’t agree with the cognitive school that dog play demonstrates a comprehension of fairness, an egalitarian capacity to self-inhibit in deference to weaker partners, a theory of mind and the ability to restrain predatory reflexes out of a rudimentary moral ethic. This cognitive interpretation could likewise be applied to a cat retracting its claws and inhibiting its bite in order to toy with a mouse. But rather than finding a compassionate undertone to that kind of behavior, we think it rather cruel. In my view the play bow reflects something simpler, deeper and far more significant than the cognitive school accords it credit. What I mean is that the nature of play is indeed the underpinning of a social and a moral nature, but it isn’t cognitive. It involves the very architecture of the animal mind, the nature of the animal mind as a networked-intelligence.
Bekoff also posits that play involves an individual putting themselves into challenging positions as practice for the unexpected. It’s a means of cultivating emotional resilience. Perhaps he would categorize the cat and mouse routine under that category. I know the mainstream interpretation is that the cat is setting up situations for its young to practice and this carries over into other contexts. However in “Work” Coppinger offers the example of a sheep killing dog performing a play bow before a sheep that won’t run from the dog. My question to Bekoff in the comment section to his blog was therefore, what, according to the cognitive school, is going on there? Is the dog intending to play with the sheep? Were the sheep to run would the dog go on to make play—- or to make prey? Or is the dog self-handicapping out of a sense of fairness or perhaps to increase the level of difficulty so as to develop its emotional resilience?
Despite all the lofty research conducted by the most august institutions two questions are left hanging, what is going on inside the mind of a dog—can it really be human-like thoughts? And secondly, if the cognitive school is correct, what makes dogs so singular in their capacity to perform these skills and thus adapt to humanity, are dogs more cognitively or morally developed than other species? (And if dogs are capable of moral behavior, are they therefore capable of immoral behavior? In the cognitive approach it always seems to be a one way street, only good thoughts are being thought.)
In his blog post Dr. Bekoff referenced a book: ““Canine Play Behavior: The Science Of Dogs At Play” by Mechtild Käufer, as a definitive resource on the nature of play. So in the interest of making the NDT model more vivid by comparing it to the cognitive treatment of canine play, I’m going to go almost point by point through this book as opposed to offering a brief review limited to only the most salient points of distinction.
In his blog Dr. Bekoff subtitles his review —-> “Who’s Confused?” —— as a subtle dig to the clarity of Coppinger’s argument and to indicate that any confusion about play isn’t to be found in the cognitive camp. However Chapter One of “Science” begins:
“Let’s start with the bad news. There is no one definition of what play is. Although there has practically been an explosion in the number of research studies on play over recent years, no one can yet explain what the actual biological function of play is. No one has yet presented conclusive evidence of what advantages in terms of survival and reproduction play gives animals.”
This is precisely the point of “Work:” if there isn’t a definition, then there is confusion and this is why Coppinger and Feinstein finds more coherence with the notion of emergence. For example until science had a functional definition of electromagnetism, it was in a profound state of confusion about the nature of electromagnetism. From my vantage point of having studied behavior as a function of the immediate-moment, predicated on emotion as a “force” of attraction, dogs are able to adapt to human civilization not due to cognitive or moral capacity, but due to emotional capacity, the ability to project one’s Self into the widest range of stimuli, both animate and inanimate. This means that we will have to become quite specific about how the animal mind arrives at a sense of its Self; does it do so cognitively, or emotionally? What’s the difference between emotion and cognition?
Because behaviorism and ethology thinks of adaptiveness solely in terms of survival and reproductive success, it is thereby unable to come up with a functional definition of play, aggression, sexuality, or emotion and consciousness for that matter. The cognitive approach relies on neurology and requires the animal to have a cognitive comprehension of its Self. There is ME and then there is OTHER than ME concept of cognition. The ethological approach relies on neurology and requires emergence but that of course still leaves the question open and in fact unexamined as to what is going on inside the body and mind of the dog. Thus the cognitive school can’t interface with the ethological kind of analysis as articulated by Coppinger.
Whereas in an immediate-moment method of analysis, a given action is adaptive not because it results from some random variability in a trait that increases survival or reproductive success. Rather survival and reproductive success follow on the heels of the true metric of adaptiveness that I will be emphasizing in this post: the Drive-to-Move and the Joy of Moving Well. (The cognitive school’s interpretation of animal behavior would be akin to saying a business survives by generating some random degree of variability in its product line from which consumers can choose until the company hits on the right mix in their offerings to the public. This isn’t true in the evolution of a business any more than it could be true for the evolution of an organism. A business moves as fast as possible to give consumers what they want. It’s not a random process. The survival of the business and its brand value (replication) follow from moving well in regards to consumer demands. And the best way to move well? Networking that has an immediate-moment feedback component tuned to the consumer’s desires.
In evolution an action is adaptive if it is an efficient discharge of energy, i.e. force. The animal is able to move well. It’s the disposition of force that renders a behavior adaptive. If an animal moves as efficiently as possible toward what it wants, or as efficiently as possible away from what it fears, in other words if it can move well in any given circumstance, (specifically, executing its species’ locomotive rhythm as defined by the Constructal Law——“Design In Nature” by Adrian Bejan) then it is doing the best that can be done in any given situation. This is the essence of adaptiveness. Furthermore, all sub-movements are but modifications of this prime, master motor pattern because they immutably lead back to it, and are subsystems to the main system of moving well, and so seemingly unrelated movements lead back to the main channel like tributaries to a watershed’s central river. The disposition of FORCE—the degree to which it approximates the locomotive rhythm, is the gauge of an actions’ rein-FORCE-ment value, be it learning in the short term on the individual level, or in the selection of any given trait over the long term on a species’ level.
Physically, moving well results from flexing of the body in a wavelike manner. Moving well means making a wave with the body. Moving well, behaving adaptively, is wave making (as is prey-making, play-making and sex-making.) And again all sub-movements are derivative of the master wave since the body evolved in deference to the locomotive rhythm as per the Constructal Law. The animal mind always wants to return to this rhythm of movement just as a song returns to the melody that drives it refrain after refrain because this brings it to the highest form of adaptiveness, wave-coupling in order to render Free Energy.
Wave making emerges from laws of nature, i.e. the specifics as to how a body in motion responds to resistances in order to sustain forward motion. Moving well, which again did not evolve through a winnowing of a randomly generated variability in traits of movement by natural selection, increases an organisms chances of survival and reproduction. Wave-making (moving well) means coupling the wave-making muscles of the hind end with the wave-making muscles of the front end.
Meanwhile the cognitive approach is predicated on a set of related and completely untested assumptions. These are assumed as a self-evident given and then experiments are interpreted through this untested and unexamined bias. (1) The ASSUMPTION that an animal is a self-contained agency of intelligence. (2) The ASSUMPTION that intelligent and creative animal behavior is driven and guided by intention rather than attraction. (3) The ASSUMPTION that a dog sees its Self as separate from its surroundings. (It follows from these assumptions that genes are the basic unit of information, a view that Coppinger successfully challenges.) If one investigates dog behavior from this set of assumptions, not to mention the matrix of other assumptions that come along for the ride, then one will necessarily interpret play behavior through the cognitive lens. A clue that this interpretation is blinded by bias is that it does not lead to a functional definition.
On the other hand one could experiment with another set of assumptions and see where these lead. These related assumptions are: (1) The animal mind is network-enabled. (2) Behavior is a function of attraction. (3) A Sense-of-Self is a function of its surroundings. This will lead us to the animal mind as an auto-tuning/feedback dynamic, a notion that is completely consistent (and then some) not only with the growing understanding of intrinsic rules, accommodative processes and emergence, but additionally with the Constructal Law. This analysis reveals that a principle of conductivity, the basic current around which the entire network configures, is the most basic unit of information. No other analysis of behavior is capable of this which is why Constructal law is not discussed in behaviorism and Coppinger’s argument against high cognitive intelligence in play isn’t being discussed much either. We should also note that the easiest way for altruism, cooperation, loving relationships and morality to have evolved is through a definition of the Self as a network-enabling function of its surroundings. This model follows seamlessly from the laws of nature to the emergence of complex social structures and behavior. This model allows us to draw a line between emotion/feelings and rational thought, i.e. the capacity to compare one moment in time to another, one point-of-view to another.
In the absence of a distinction between emotion and instinct, feelings and thoughts, context analysis according to human rationales become paramount, as opposed to the explicative power of a principle of conductivity.
“For this reason, most definitions limit themselves to describing as precisely as possible what happens during play. In the absence of a functional definition, such a structural definition provides a useful rule of thumb for separating canine play from other activities such as stereotyped behaviors or ritualized aggression that, at first glance, appear to be similar.”
The above reflects the error of the bias for intentionality as explanation for purposive behavior. For example, if behaviorism were applied to a river way, it would divine different dynamics for the rapids, the pools, the shallows, the delta, even though all these features from the river’s headwaters to where it meets the sea are of course operating according to the same principle of conductivity. The principle of conductivity varies the river’s behavior, not the context of the surroundings. In fact geologically speaking, eventually the surroundings succumb and are shaped by this same principle of conductivity.
On the Nature of Emotion
As a basis for critiquing step-by-step the argument in “Science” I would first like to review the immediate-moment fundamentals of emotion (interestingly the nature of emotion also escapes a functional definition in the cognitive and ethological approach) so that we can have a functional definition of play already in hand as we proceed through the material.
The immediate-moment manner of analysis begins with an understanding of emotion as a monolithic (just as there aren’t many drives, or many gravities, there aren’t many emotions either), virtual force of attraction, universal to all animals because it derives from the laws of nature (which all animals are subject to and evolved in response to) and thus enables the evolution of a network since all animals at their core (beneath species-specific instincts) operate according to a common code.
Emotion = Motion
When stimulated an animal feels compelled to move. It MUST move. This is the most basic fact of emotion which is not been given its due influence due to the above set of assumptions. The cognitive approach immediately leaps to a cognitive interpretation to accord informational value to emotional states and so doesn’t approach emotion from this basic fact. So if an animal is restrained or constrained from movement, it experiences stress. (There’s one seeming exception when not physically moving feels like moving, as in collecting in order to accommodate objects of resistance into the locomotive rhythm, as for example the play bow.) And in order to move an animal must shift its weight. To shift its weight it subliminally references its body’s center-of-gravity relative to the force of acceleration it is experiencing, (the combined momenta of all moving objects in the frame of reference—-as an aside, something new, a sudden change in the perceptual field, even though it may be motionless, is nevertheless perceived as a moving object with its force of acceleration equivalent to the degree of mood displacement.)
Emotional momentum is the amount of physical momentum in the system in toto i.e. the movement of the subject plus the movement of the object of attraction, in other words, the amount of physical momentum that must run to terminus to return the frame of reference to a state of neutrality. For example, if one plays baseball and goes to field a ball to throw out the batter, one must automatically compute the total momenta in the frame of reference, the speed and direction of the ball, relative to their own speed and direction, with both held relative to the speed and direction of the base runner. The total momenta in the system is autonomically computed so the ball is caught and then thrown to the base ahead of the runner. This total value is emotional momentum, i.e. holding a feeling for all the elements in motion at the same time. This computation is predicated on the fielder’s subliminal reference on his own physical center-of-gravity as opposed to being derived from a mental capacity for abstraction and deduction, i.e. holding a theory-of-mind for the base runner.)
Because the Subjects’ sense of its center-of-gravity (p-cog) is constantly under the influence of the stimulus (until it is neutralized then it is constantly displacing the subject’s sense of its physical/emotional equilibrium) this means that the stimulus, the object of attraction, is being emotionally imported into the Subject’s very being, i.e. its sense of Self, via the Subject’s subliminal beam of reference on its c-o-g. The subliminal focus on the C-O-G puts the COGnitive into consciousness as a physical being cannot be aware of its own center mass unless acted upon by an external force (either by moving within a gravitational field or by being the object of a force) and all conscious awareness is predicated on the body’s position relative to its center of gravity which is also subsequently subject to the influence of emotional momentum. In other words, once accelerated, where the p-cog is GOING TO BE, a Forward Point, is far more important to the animal’s well-being than the point its body is actually occupying at that moment of acceleration. That forward point—- a potential point, an “absential”— is more essential to emotional equilibrium than an actual point. This Forward Point is the basis of Emotional Projection. And connecting the actual point with the potential point by way of a smooth wave function is how a stimulated Subject returns to a state of emotional neutrality.
Due to the equivalence between emotional and physical equilibrium, therefore an animal perceives an object-of-attraction as an extension of its Self, rather than as a separate entity relative to its Self. Any object of attraction contains a Forward Point that the Mind must occupy with the body. This is what I mean by a feedback loop with an auto-tuning component.
The goal now becomes to tune the O-R to the locomotive rhythm. In other words, to accelerate it and get it to conform to a pure wave form. This is performed through Newton’s 3rd Law of motion, i.e. projecting some degree of energy (muzzling, pawing, humping, grabbing, etc.), and then absorbing the energy projected by the Object when it responds. If Output can be equalized to Input, i.e. Projecting equalized by Collecting, then the O-R is perceived of as being of the Self. This is why play is a mirroring process, it’s a constant manifestation of the 3rd law of motion so as to compute a wave. If the Subject can get the Object to fully convert the force of acceleration into a smooth wave function (the locomotive rhythm as the tuning component of the emotional dynamic) through syncopating its actions with the Subjects’ actions, then we enter a new domain of apprehension. The Subject feels as if it can WILL the Object to move, just as it can WILL its own limbs to move in order to run. This is why dogs play. They FEEL their partner is a physical extension of their own body. It has absolutely nothing to do with Theory of Mind. In fact that idea completely obliterates the magic of what is really transpiring. Each self-limits in order to conform the input to the wave form and hence maintain the feeling of flow. (This is what is so limiting about the cognitive approach, it’s trying to reduce the melting of personal boundaries back to a unitary Self as a function of neurons and neurotransmitters.) The dog feels its Self as an extension of what it’s attracted to, one mirrors the other. The question of this merger revolving on doing to share a common emotional center-of-gravity, revolving around a midpoint.
It’s not that there is a selective advantage to play, that this or that skill set or neurological state is enhanced, rather, it is the expression of the most basic unit of information, the network, that makes it adaptive. Play is the expression of an already adaptive nature. It’s like walking into Starbucks and ones’ smartphone automatically accesses and syncs up with the shop’s WiFi network. It’s just what a smartphone does as a reflection of its networked nature.
PLAY IS THE MANIFESTATION OF THE ANIMAL MIND AS AN AUTO-TUNING/FEEDBACK DYNAMIC. THE OBJECT BEING PERCEIVED AS AN EXTENSION OF THE SUBJECTS’ VERY BODY. This is especially pleasurable because it takes an external trigger to access physical memory and so play is an interaction wherein the interactants don’t have to hold back and can express stress through a pure wave motion, in other words, to return stress to an expression of flow. This is a much cleaner explanation for the phenomenon of play than either the cognitive or the ethological approach and furthermore it specifically addresses what’s singular about dogs, i.e. dogs can map their locomotive rhythm onto complex objects of resistance and in contexts of a high rate of change (accelerants) that overwhelm other species of animals who revert to instinctive reflexes to cope with an overwhelming rate of change, BECAUSE DOGS CAN PROJECT A FEELING FOR THEIR P-COG ONTO OBJECTS-OF-RESISTANCE under the broadest range of circumstances,this also accounts for why dogs are so sensual, social and AGGRESSIVE. These are not separate systems as in detached from the main system even though they may be serviced by different neurological structures. That would be like saying the Wabash river isn’t related to the Mississippi River because it doesn’t drain directly into the Mississippi and occupies a different space on a map.
Once the play mood is established, the goal now becomes to DRIVE the system, to increase the intensity of the wave form, to collectively amplify the expression of force into that wave form that subject and object compose so that this heightening of the wave can conduct the full measure of energy available to the individual, i.e. to release and resolve each individual’s stores of unresolved emotion (stored forces of acceleration ever experienced) held in the body/mind which also serves as an emotional battery. If at any given point, the intensity of this escalation proves too much for any given individual’s emotional capacity, then it must reacquire a feeling of emotional equilibrium by timing out, smelling the other interactant, shaking it off, or deflecting its attention onto another path of resistance (pick up a stick, look off to the horizon). Often we see a dog eschewing syncopated action and begin to zoom-zoom when it approaches its break down threshold (also fights can erupt at this point) and then it becomes the Chasee. This often leads it to find a safe spot as manifestation of a Forward Point, and now this then can serve as an emotional midpoint around which the group begins to reorganize and re-integrate this individual into syncopated wave making.
Being able to integrate the highest levels of intensity into the playful mind, means that a dog can remain soft and we would observe an enhancement of certain neurological systems and hormone dynamics, but again the point of play isn’t to enhance these structures per se, otherwise many more species of animals would be as adept at play as dogs. The enhancement of these systems is a manifestation of an underlying emotional dynamic, not the other way around, just as a river is constantly improving its bed by complying with a principle of conductivity.