[lit-ideas] Re: Every dogma has its day

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2011 10:16:40 +0100 (BST)

JLS' mistaking 'Cox' for 'Fox', and his subsequent flagrant riffing on it, is 
noted: thankfully we were not discussing genitalia and he was not making the 
reverse mistake.

--- On Wed, 13/7/11, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> How did she do that?  By walking along toward the
> brush and looking up at
> me, urging me to go down there with her, but I said, "No,
> don't give me a
> bad time.  Come up here with us."  And after a
> few moments she did.  I don't
> use any obedience methods I've ever heard of.  We just
> hike along, quite
> sure that putting one foot in front of the other is exactly
> what our
> forebears did for about 188,000 years.

This chimes with excerpts from the Guardian review, with its implications for 
understanding dog dispositions:-
"It is now known that wolves the direct ancestors of dogs actually live 
in harmonious family groups. Packs are not dominated by "alpha wolves", 
but are fundamentally cooperative." The author of the book is clear that 
certain schools of thought on disciplining dogs, based on 'showing them who is 
boss', are misconceived, and even cruel and joyless. 

The exact character of the research intrigues. In The Sunday Times review of 
"In Defence Of Dogs", the reviewer refers to some research this way:
"Why do guide dogs look forlornly at their empty bowls, when their owners can't 
see them do it? Because they don't understand that their owners are blind..." 
This is plausible - that a dog with sight will not understand the idea of a 
sightless human; though hardly conclusive - Mike Geary may look forlornly at 
beautiful women without therefore expecting any positive response from them, to 
take an analogy. The reviewer continues " - and this is because no dog is 
really aware that its owner has a mind or senses at all. (Bradshaw admits that 
this notion will "seem like heresy to the majority of dog owners"), but it's 
well established by experiment." Well, what experiment? This very broad 
assertion, that dogs lack awareness of other minds [even their own minds?] and 
others having senses, how is that shown by experiment? It would seem to me to 
need an array of careful experiments to make this very broad assertion 
'empirical', as it does not follow from the
 mere fact that even guide dogs do not understand human blindness. (Children 
need 'blindness' explained to them; but not because they have no awareness of 
other minds or others' senses - rather because they assume others will have 
senses like them).

ST review: "The perennial issue of leg-mounting is dealt with adroitly. Dogs do 
it not because they are sex-crazed, Bradshaw explains (although 
self-stimulation may provide the initial motivation), but because it elicits an 
embarrassed response from their owners - it provides attention, which is a 
reward." From late childhood I recall a party at a cousin's house. While the 
adults (to our amusement) acted as if they did not notice (so there was no 
"embarrassed response"), a dog there kept jumping up on an attractive young 
girl, putting its paws on her shoulders so it could balance upright: sexual or 
not, it was sporting a very visible erection. Perhaps this was just a display 
of excitement, but the excitement seemed quite particular to her in this case.

ST review: "Dogs definitely suffer anxiety, but they do not experience the 
range of emotions we ascribe to them. Take the "guilty" dog who has torn up the 
curtains - and some 70% of owners believe their dogs experience guilt. Close 
observation shows that dogs only perform the "guilty" behaviours after their 
owners have reacted to their misdeed, and they're really expressing anxiety or 
attempting to soften anger - by, for instance, rolling over, looking miserable 
or raising a guilty paw." Possible, even plausible: but how is it shown?

In the 'Literary Review' review, a relevant experiment is described:- owners 
leave a food treat in a bowl with 'clear instructions' to the dog not to eat 
it, and when the owners return the treat has gone and they admonish the dog. 
Unknown to the owners, in some of these cases the dog has not eaten the treat 
which instead has been removed by the experimenters so as to look like it has 
been eaten: but these innocent dogs, when admonished, exhibit the same "guilty" 
behaviours as those who did eat the treat. The conclusion is that it is anxiety 
at being admonished that provokes "guilty" behaviours to soften anger - hence 
"the guiltiest-looking dogs are those that are regularly physically punished" - 
it is not actual 'guilt' at wrong-doing that underpins these "guilty" 
behaviours. This is plausible enough but would involve an array of experiments 
to be satisfactorily demonstrated: the single experiment mentioned is 
compatible with the view that dogs do
 experience guilt but that innocent dogs will simulate "guilty" behaviour as 
they have no way of protesting their innocence and "guilty" behaviour remains 
their adaptive strategy for dealing with a telling-off, even one that is 

Btw, even the content of this post goes beyond 'signalling', into making claims 
that involve descriptive truth and argumentative validity: as such, it refutes 
the Gricean view that language is limited to its signalling function.

In the Geary's dog-house

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