Back in 1974 Thomas Nagel published the now-famous paper What is it like to be a bat? It was an examination of the mind-body problem. Part of Nagel’s argument includes the notion that we can never really know what it’s like to be a bat. As W.G. Sebald said, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”
But in What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience (2017) neuroscientist Gregory Berns disagrees. In his opinion Nagel got it wrong. The Sebald Gap closes from both ends. Firstly because animal minds aren’t really that different from ours. Secondly because we can extrapolate our experiences to those of dogs, dolphins, or bats.
I think he has a point, but I also think he’s misreading Nagel a little.
And congrats to the First Dogs (elect), Very Good Boys Champ and Major.
How great to have four-legged furry friends back in the White House! (I’ve long thought a love of dogs and a good character are correlated. Guess which POTUS hates dogs.)
Stay with dogs, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.
I recently read Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel (2013) by Virginia Morell, correspondent for Science and contributor to National Geographic, Smithsonian, and other publications. She’s author of several books including Wildlife Wars (2001), which she co-authored with Richard Leakey.
Morell takes us on a tour of current research into the minds of animals, starting with ants and working up through various species to our primate relatives. Dear to my heart, she reserves the last chapter for our best friends, dogs.
I found it a wonderful exploration with some real eye-openers.
Father’s Day, 1994
This post rises from deep in my Drafts Folder. I started it back in 2012 as a followup to the Sad Day; Perfect Day post. That one recalls a special 1994 memory about Samantha, my dog (who died a little before her time, in 2004). The second post would catalog various memories highlighting how much fun we had and how much she meant to me.
Two years later I did post a version of that eulogy: Dog Tales: Games. That post was actually the second beat to a post the day before, Sam’s Final Walk, which described the disposition of her ashes.
For Father’s Day, I thought it appropriate to post once more…
Recently I read Dog is Love, Why and How Your Dog Loves You (2019), by Clive D.L. Wynne, an animal behavior scientist who specializes in dogs. Despite the loaded word “love” in the title, this is a science book about a search for hard evidence.
Dr. Wynne is a psychology professor at Arizona State University and director of their Canine Science Collaboratory. He’s written several other books about animal cognition: The Mental Lives of Animals (2001), Do Animals Think (2004), Evolution, Behavior and Cognition (2013).
The book is the story of Wynne’s search for exactly what it is that makes dogs special and how they got that way.
They say you’re supposed to let sleeping dogs lie. Personally, I’ve always thought a sleeping dog was pretty honest — I’m not exactly even sure how anyone could lie in their sleep. Tell fibs in your dreams? (Some old sayings just don’t make any sense.) I don’t think we should let anyone get away with lying, sleeping or otherwise (especially Presidents).
I do think there is something extra sweet about a sleeping dog. Maybe it’s a matter of the trust they’re showing — how they feel safe with you. Next to you, they can relax and fall into a deep snoring sleep. Dogs can have concerns about being left home alone, and if they are in your lap they know right where you are.
In any case, from the terminally cute file…
Time for another Friday News Dump! The good news is that these are about quite recent news articles that caught my eye. (The bad news is that I might dump some older ones on you if there’s room.)
Usually I present them, more-or-less, in order of their interest to me… and apparently to my readers, since the comments seem to always involve the first article. So this time I’m going to save the meatier one (in my eyes) for last hoping the others get some interest.
So the lineup is: Dog brains, static electricity, quantum DNA, and free will.
I’ve been dog-sitting my pal, Bentley, the last few days, and when we began our early morning walk today, she was checking out an interesting hole in the ground. She’s noticed it before, sniffed at it, and then moved on, so I assumed it was just a hole in the ground worthy of smelling.
But today, suddenly she reacted — pawing at the air in front of her. Because bees! Or rather, yellow-jacket wasps, which nest in holes in the ground. Small ones, but equipped with stingers nevertheless. I whipped my hat off and started trying to clear the air (there were only three or so that I saw, not a swarm), swatted one off her side, and then we high-tailed it across the street as fast as we could run.
As we walked away, I noticed that my left hand hurt: one of them got me!
You may remember my pal, Bentley, the APBT:
All tuckered out after a three-mile walk!
Last week the little dickens ate three-quarters of a cotton dish towel, which freaked her mom (and me) out.
I’ve been mostly off-line for the last two weeks, because I’ve been dog-sitting my friend’s American Pit Bull Terrier, Bentley, which has been so much fun that I’ve just let it consume me. I’ve never had a chance to get to know a Pit Bull, so about all I’ve done is hang out with Bentley!
It’s a lot like when the grandparents (grandpa, in this case) sit the kids while the parents go on a long vacation. The two-edged sword is that, while the parents know the kids are safe and secure, they also know they’re gonna get spoiled all to hell and gone.
Or in this case, dog-gone spoiled by a loving grandpa who is a sucker for that ‘starving dog’ look. (Those hungry brown eyes; who could say no?)