Smart thinking – something else to learn from our dogs?

Because some of the things we humans do are insanely stupid!

Here’s a picture of Oliver taken yesterday afternoon.

Becoming a dear, smart dog. (And those eyes!)
Becoming a dear, smart dog. (And those eyes!)

A few days ago, I was sitting in our living room on one of our settees (more or less where Oliver was sitting when the photograph above was taken) with my knees up against a low coffee table; the table separates our two settees.

On the settee to my left lay Cleo and on the floor across my feet slept Hazel.

It was clear that Oliver wanted to join me on the settee but couldn’t work out if there was room.  I shifted about two feet to my left leaving an Oliver-sized gap to my right. However, Oliver couldn’t come past my knees, from left to right as it were, because of Hazel. He very quickly worked out to run around behind the settee and jump up into the space I had newly created to my right.

Don’t worry if I lost you!

The point I am making is that Oliver, who has grown into the most delightful young adult dog, with a gorgeous temperament, demonstrates daily a keen intelligence and a nose for working things out quickly.

All of which is a preamble for me wondering if among the list of qualities that we humans should learn from dogs we should add intelligence.

For there’s been a few items around the ‘blogosphere’ that have highlighted how silly we can be.

Take this item that recently was featured on Grist.

Walmart’s new green product label is the most misleading yet.

A giant, 150-foot roll of bubble wrap may not be your idea of an environmentally friendly product, but over at this one-pound ball of plastic now boasts a special “Sustainability Leaders” badge. It’s one of more than 3,000 products tagged with this new green label, which Walmart executives unveiled last week, together with a web portal where shoppers can find these items.

Dozens of news accounts hailed the giant retailer’s move as a significant step toward clearing up the confusion and misleading information that often greet consumers trying to make ecologically responsible choices. “The world’s largest retailer took a major and important step toward helping all of us shop more smartly,” declared corporate sustainability consultant Andrew Winston in Harvard Business Review. Triple Pundit concurred: “It’s about to get a lot easier for shoppers to make the responsible choice.”

Actually, a green-minded online shopper is likely to find Walmart’s new badge confusing, murky, and downright misleading. I searched the bubble wrap’s product page high and low for its secret sauce, the invisible feature that makes it a smarter choice amid the many seemingly less harmful packing options available, but found no explanation.

It turns out that the key to this mystery lies in a remarkable disclaimer tucked into the middle of the home page of Walmart’s sustainability shopping portal: “The Sustainability Leaders badge does not make representations about the environmental or social impact of an individual product.” (my emphasis)

You can read the full item here, and you should! It’s unbelievably stupid, apart from being highly misleading, to my mind because when the word gets around it will damage the trust that all retailers need from their customers. And don’t even bring up the notion of integrity!

Then over on George Monbiot’s blogsite, there is a recent essay about the UN and progress on climate change. Here’s how it starts (and I’m republishing it in full tomorrow):

Applauding Themselves to Death

If you visit the website of the UN body that oversees the world’s climate negotiations, you will find dozens of pictures, taken across 20 years, of people clapping. These photos should be of interest to anthropologists and psychologists. For they show hundreds of intelligent, educated, well-paid and elegantly-dressed people wasting their lives.

The celebratory nature of the images testifies to the world of make-believe these people inhabit. They are surrounded by objectives, principles, commitments, instruments and protocols, which create a reassuring phantasm of progress while the ship on which they travel slowly founders. Leafing through these photos, I imagine I can almost hear what the delegates are saying through their expensive dentistry. “Darling you’ve re-arranged the deckchairs beautifully. It’s a breakthrough! We’ll have to invent a mechanism for holding them in place, as the deck has developed a bit of a tilt, but we’ll do that at the next conference.”

Humans have the potential to be incredibly smart thinkers, and down the ages there have been many such thinkers.


Over on the Patrice Ayme blogsite there have been a couple of recent essays that highlight examples of both stupid thinking and the rewards that flow from smart thinking. In one essay, Added Value in the XXI Century, Patrice writes:


Why did the West become so superior? Or China, for that matter?

Technology. Superior technology. Coming from superior thinking. Both the Greeks and the Chinese had colossal contempt for barbarians. (In both cases it went so far that the Greeks lost everything, and the Chinese came very close to annihilation).

Around the year 1000 CE, the Vietnamese (it seems) invented new cultivars of rice, which could produce an entire crop, twice a year. The population of East Asia exploded accordingly.

A bit earlier, the Franks had invented new cultivars of beans. The Frankish Tenth Century was full of beans. Beans are nutritious, with high protein.

Homo is scientific and technological. Thus, two million years ago, pelt covered (tech!) Homo Ergaster lived in Georgia’s Little Caucasus, a pretty cold place in winter. And the population was highly varied genetically (showing tech and travel already dominated).


Here is the very latest. Flour was found in England, in archeological layers as old as 10,000 years before present. It was pure flour: there were no husks associated. The milling had been done, far away. How far? Well the cultivation of wheat spread to Western Europe millennia later. The flour had been traded, and brought over thousands of miles. Most certainly by boat. Celtic civilization, which would rise 5,000 years later, was expert at oceanic travel.

What’s the broad picture? Not just that prehistoric Englishmen loved their flat bread, no doubt a delicacy. Advanced technology has permeated Europe for much longer than is still understood now by most historians. Remember that the iceman who died in a glacier, 5,000 years ago, was not just tattooed, and had fetched in the lowlands a bow made of special wood. More telling: he carried antibiotics.

Then in a subsequent essay, What Is It To Think Correctly?, Patrice opens, thus:

What Is It To Think Correctly?

Some say that correct thinking has to do with avoiding “logical fallacies”. That is, of course, silly. Imagine a pilot in a plane. Suppose she avoids all logical fallacies. Where does the plane go? Nowhere. Thinking correctly is more than avoiding logical “fallacies”.

One needs more than logic, to proceed: one needs e-motion, or motivation (both express the fact that they are whatever gets people to get into action; the semantics recognizes that logic without emotion goes nowhere).

There is another, related, fallacy in thinking that correct thinking is all about avoiding “logical fallacies”.

I don’t have the answers to the conundrum of stupid thinking a la Walmart and the United Nations (not an exclusive list; by far) but I do believe that the only way for humanity to overcome what looks like a very dangerous era ahead is through smarter thinking!

Oh, nearly forgot.

Oliver will be happy to run classes on smart thinking!

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