Category: Communication

“I have a dream”.

The Golden Circle.

This, again, is not about our beloved animals; in other words, this is not about our dogs.

But it is about something of supreme importance: The role of innovation. That’s innovation in all aspects of our human lives. Think of it as a process of innovation.

There was the Diffusion of Innovation (DOI) Theory developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962. There is a comprehensive explanation of DOI here, from where I take the following diagram, but before explaining, from that same site, the meanings behind the definitions, I would like to emphasize one important point: “It works better with adoption of behaviors rather than cessation or prevention of behaviors.“.

So here is that diagram:

Distribution.png

Here are the meanings of those terms (my emboldening):

Adoption of a new idea, behavior, or product (i.e., “innovation”) does not happen simultaneously in a social system; rather it is a process whereby some people are more apt to adopt the innovation than others.

Researchers have found that people who adopt an innovation early have different characteristics than people who adopt an innovation later. When promoting an innovation to a target population, it is important to understand the characteristics of the target population that will help or hinder adoption of the innovation.

There are five established adopter categories, and while the majority of the general population tends to fall in the middle categories, it is still necessary to understand the characteristics of the target population. When promoting an innovation, there are different strategies used to appeal to the different adopter categories.

  1. Innovators – These are people who want to be the first to try the innovation. They are venturesome and interested in new ideas. These people are very willing to take risks, and are often the first to develop new ideas. Very little, if anything, needs to be done to appeal to this population.
  2. Early Adopters – These are people who represent opinion leaders. They enjoy leadership roles, and embrace change opportunities. They are already aware of the need to change and so are very comfortable adopting new ideas. Strategies to appeal to this population include how-to manuals and information sheets on implementation. They do not need information to convince them to change.
  3. Early Majority – These people are rarely leaders, but they do adopt new ideas before the average person. That said, they typically need to see evidence that the innovation works before they are willing to adopt it. Strategies to appeal to this population include success stories and evidence of the innovation’s effectiveness.
  4. Late Majority – These people are skeptical of change, and will only adopt an innovation after it has been tried by the majority. Strategies to appeal to this population include information on how many other people have tried the innovation and have adopted it successfully.
  5. Laggards – These people are bound by tradition and very conservative. They are very skeptical of change and are the hardest group to bring on board. Strategies to appeal to this population include statistics, fear appeals, and pressure from people in the other adopter groups.

Now there’s a TED Talk that I hadn’t seen, and yet nearly 51 million people had! It came to me as an email from TED and yesterday, while we were sitting up in bed  early in the morning, I watched it. It ‘spoke’ to me and I felt that I just had to share it with you.

Because so many of the problems that face our society today are global issues and if humans are to have a future on this planet then we need great leaders who will inspire us.

Now watch the following video, it’s just over 18 minutes long, but it says it all.

Continue reading ““I have a dream”.”

A story about a Corgi from Portland!

This is a gorgeous story about a Corgi.

There was a story in the Daily Dodo that is just lovely.

I wondered why the Corgi was named Potato but that’s another question!

Enjoy the story!

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Attention-Loving Corgi’s Sign Brings Happiness To Everyone On Her Block

“It’s pretty wholesome” ❤️️

By Lily Feinn
Published on 6/8/2020.

Potato the corgi never misses an opportunity to say hi to her neighbors. So when social distancing started in Portland, Oregon, Potato’s parents, Cee and Pan, knew their dog wouldn’t be getting the kind of attention she was used to.

Instagram/potato_corgo

“She loves everyone — any dog, any kid, any adult human, doesn’t matter,” Cee told The Dodo. “Even dogs who snarl at her she’s like, ‘It’s OK, I’ll check back in five minutes.’”

“She’s in a polyamorous relationship with all of the mail, UPS and FedEx delivery people but the UPS man is her primary partner,” Cee added. “If you’re having a picnic at the park she will invite herself to your blanket and join in on the gossip.”

Instagram/potato_corgo

Potato knows a number of tricks, including how to ring a bell when she wants to go outside to the yard and socialize with the passersby. Cee, who works from home running a web agency, is always there to keep an eye on Potato when she goes out. And they noticed right away how difficult it was for Potato when her friends started ignoring her.

“Potato takes her job of getting pats through the fence very seriously and honestly seemed depressed that people stopped saying hi to her when social distancing started,” Cee said. “People kept looking really guilty when we’d catch them patting Potato through the fence, or others would ask if they could still pat her.”

Instagram/potato_corgo

To put an end to the confusion, they decided to make a little sign letting everyone know that it was still OK to give Potato the pets she craved, along with a few facts about her. “She’d bark at people she knew who normally would pat her when they’d walk by without saying hi,” Cee said. “So we wanted to make it known that it was consensual for us to take that slight risk of exposure.”

They laminated the sign and tacked it above Potato’s favorite spot on the fence. Potato was instantly happier.

Instagram/potato_corgo

The sign reads: “This is Potato! She’s friendly and yes you can pet her, even now with the virus. She also loves every dog so feel free to intro your dog!”

The sign has done more than cheer up Potato — it’s helped to connect Cee and Pan with neighbors they hadn’t met before. “People approach us more if we’re in the yard, or they send us little notes on [Potato’s] Instagram account,” Cee said. “There’s also an older neighbor lady who specifically comes by every single day to give her treats. It’s pretty wholesome.”

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That’s a really great good-news story!

Picture Parade Three Hundred and Forty-Two

More of my fiddling!

I am trying out a new photo editing software program called DxO PhotoLab.

It’s powerful and full of features that I am still nowhere used to. But I am taking a shine to it.

But here are a few of my photographs for you to look at.

First, a shot taken yesterday, at the moment of Solstice here in Merlin – 14:43 PDT

Days At Home

Low scattered cloud highlights the newly arrive sun.

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Another day and another sunrise.

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The same sunrise albeit a few minutes later.

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I feed the wild deer every morning. A few of them will come really close to me.

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This is a regular stag visitor! I feed them COB: Corn; Oats; Barley.

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Another sunrise.

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The last new moon. Amazed at the crispness of the photograph for it was handheld.

All photographs taken with my Nikon D750.

Once again, dogs and humans!

Serendipity, or just coincidence?

Yesterday, (it was actually the 22nd February, 2014!) I published a post and called it Dogs and wolves – fascinating research. Then blow me down in yesterday’s online BBC News, there was an article headlined: Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses This is how it opened.

Dogs’ brain scans reveal vocal responses

By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC World Service

Pet dogs took part in the MRI scanning study.
Pet dogs took part in the MRI scanning study.

Devoted dog owners often claim that their pets understand them. A new study suggests they could be right.

By placing dogs in an MRI scanner, researchers from Hungary found that the canine brain reacts to voices in the same way that the human brain does.

Emotionally charged sounds, such as crying or laughter, also prompted similar responses, perhaps explaining why dogs are attuned to human emotions.

The work is published in the journal Current Biology.

Lead author Attila Andics, from the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said: “We think dogs and humans have a very similar mechanism to process emotional information.”

Eleven pet dogs took part in the study; training them took some time.

Going across to that Current Biology link, one reads:

Summary

During the approximately 18–32 thousand years of domestication [1], dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment [2]. Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species [3], although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90–100 million years ago [4]. In this first comparative neuroimaging study of a nonprimate and a primate species, we made use of this special combination of shared environment and evolutionary distance. We presented dogs and humans with the same set of vocal and nonvocal stimuli to search for functionally analogous voice-sensitive cortical regions. We demonstrate that voice areas exist in dogs and that they show a similar pattern to anterior temporal voice areas in humans. Our findings also reveal that sensitivity to vocal emotional valence cues engages similarly located nonprimary auditory regions in dogs and humans. Although parallel evolution cannot be excluded, our findings suggest that voice areas may have a more ancient evolutionary origin than previously known.

Back to the BBC news item.

The canine brain reacted to voices in the same way that the human brain does.
The canine brain reacted to voices in the same way that the human brain does.

“There were 12 sessions of preparatory training, then seven sessions in the scanner room, then these dogs were able to lie motionless for as long as eight minutes. Once they were trained, they were so happy, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”

For comparison, the team looked at the brains of 22 human volunteers in the same MRI scanners.

The scientists played the people and pooches 200 different sounds, ranging from environmental noises, such as car sounds and whistles, to human sounds (but not words) and dog vocalisations.

The researchers found that a similar region – the temporal pole, which is the most anterior part of the temporal lobe – was activated when both the animals and people heard human voices.

“We do know there are voice areas in humans, areas that respond more strongly to human sounds that any other types of sounds,” Dr Andics explained.

“The location (of the activity) in the dog brain is very similar to where we found it in the human brain. The fact that we found these areas exist at all in the dog brain at all is a surprise – it is the first time we have seen this in a non-primate.”

Emotional sounds, such as crying and laughter also had a similar pattern of activity, with an area near the primary auditory cortex lighting up in dogs and humans.

Likewise, emotionally charged dog vocalisations – such as whimpering or angry barking – also caused a similar reaction in all volunteers,

Dr Andics said: “We know very well that dogs are very good at tuning into the feelings of their owners, and we know a good dog owner can detect emotional changes in his dog – but we now begin to understand why this can be.”

However, while the dogs responded to the human voice, their reactions were far stronger when it came to canine sounds.

They also seemed less able to distinguish between environmental sounds and vocal noises compared with humans.

About half of the whole auditory cortex lit up in dogs when listening to these noises, compared with 3% of the same area in humans.

Commenting on the research, Prof Sophie Scott, from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said: “Finding something like this in a primate brain isn’t too surprising – but it is quite something to demonstrate it in dogs.

“Dogs are a very interesting animal to look at – we have selected for a lot of traits in dogs that have made them very amenable to humans. Some studies have show they understand a lot of words and they understand intentionality – pointing.”

But she added: “It would be interesting to see the animal’s response to words rather than just sounds. When we cry and laugh, they are much more like animal calls and this might be causing this response.

For the full report, as it was posted on the BBC website, click here.

Plus, do watch this five-minute video abstract.

Published on Feb 20, 2014

The video presents the first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal. Scientists at MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary found that dogs and humans use similar neural mechanisms to process social information in voices. The fact that dogs can be trained to lie motionless during fMRI tests opens up the space for a new branch of comparative neuroscience.

Paper in Current Biology: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014….

Group home page: http://mta-etologia.elte.hu/

The first study to compare brain function between humans and any non-primate animal shows that dogs have dedicated voice areas in their brains just as people do. Dog brains, like those of people, are also sensitive to acoustic cues of emotion, according to a study in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

The findings suggest that voice areas evolved at least 100 million years ago, the age of the last common ancestor of humans and dogs, the researchers say. It also offers new insight into humans’ unique connection with our best friends in the animal kingdom, perhaps explaining how our two species have lived and worked together so effectively for tens of thousands of years.

“Our findings suggest that dogs and humans not only share a similar social environment, but they also use similar brain mechanisms to process social information,” said Atilla Andics of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary. “This may help the successfulness of vocal communication between the two species.”

Andics and his colleagues trained eleven dogs to lay motionless in an fMRI brain scanner. That made it possible to run the very same neuroimaging experiment on dog and human participants — something that had never been done before. They captured both dogs’ and humans’ brain activities while they listened to dog and human sounds, ranging from whining or crying to playful barking or laughing.

The images show that dog and human brains include voice areas in similar locations. Not surprisingly, the voice area of dogs responds more strongly to other dogs, while that of humans responds more strongly to other humans. The researchers also noted striking similarities in the ways the dog and human brain processes emotionally loaded sounds. In both species, an area near the primary auditory cortex lit up more with happy sounds than unhappy ones. Andics said they were most struck by the common response to emotion across species.

There were some differences too: in dogs, 48 percent of all sound-sensitive brain regions respond more strongly to sounds other than voices. That’s in contrast to humans, in which only three percent of sound-sensitive brain regions show greater response to non-vocal versus vocal sounds.

The study is the first step to understanding how it is that dogs can be so remarkably good at tuning into the feelings of their human owners. “This method offers a totally new way of looking at neural processing in dogs,” Andics said. “At last we begin to understand how our best friend is looking at us and navigating in our social environment.”

Although this is the second time this has been shown it is so remarkable, and there may well be many who have not seen it!

Off line for maybe a few days

My iMac needs an upgrade!

I have been having some tiny problems mainly with the Apple Photos app and the good folks over at Ugly Hedgehog were incredibly helpful. This led to me taking my machine into Dick Webster Computers here in Grants Pass for a potential upgrade.

So I am going to republish some earlier posts for the next two days, which I hope will be long enough to come to a conclusion about whether this machine may be upgraded or whether I am looking at a new iMac.

Footnote:

I called in to Dick Webster, a good, local computer repair shop, earlier today. Took my iMac with me.

They told me that that particular iMac cannot have the RAM upgraded to 16GB but they could install a SSD. However, they looked up the Apple Photos app and said there were a number of complaints from others that it was freezing.

I was told to save my money, the iMac was perfectly good and to choose a photo editing application that supplied my needs.

My only outstanding query is whether all the relevant software programs, i.e. the photo editing apps, will run without any bother on 8GB.

Dog & Cat food recall

A food recall that came in yesterday!

We haven’t had a recall for some time but here’s one from Health Canada.

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Carnivora Dog and Cat Food Recall

June 15, 2020 — Health Canada is recalling Carnivora Fresh Frozen Patties for Dogs and Cats due to a possible contamination with E. coli O157.

E. coli O157 is a particularly dangerous strain of bacteria that can cause serious and life-threatening illness in both pets and humans after eating or handling the affected food.

What’s Recalled?

The recall includes 6 varieties of Carnivora brand raw pet food.

Approximately 1,803 packages of the affected products were sold nationwide in Canada between January 13, 2020 and June, 2020.

As of June 12, four cases of illness related to the recalled product have been reported.

About E. Coli Bacteria

E. coli O157 is a bacteria that can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening illness.

Some people infected with E. coli O157 do not get sick at all, though they can still spread the infection to others.

Common symptoms observed after infection include nausea, vomiting, headache, mild fever, severe stomach cramps, and watery or bloody diarrhea.

Most symptoms end within five to ten days.

Pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications and might need hospitalization.

There is no real treatment for E. coli infections, other than monitoring the illness, providing comfort, and preventing dehydration.

People should contact their health care provider if symptoms persist or worsen with time.

What to Do?

Health Canada advises consumers to stop using any of the affected pet food products and contact the retailer where it was purchased from for a full exchange or refund.

U.S. citizens can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in your area.

Or go to the FDA’s “Report a Pet Food Complaint” page.

Canadians can report any health or safety incidents related to the use of this product by filling out the Consumer Product Incident Report Form.

Get Lifesaving Recall Alerts by Email

Get free dog and cat food recall alerts sent to you by email. Subscribe to The Dog Food Advisor’s emergency recall notification system.

There’s no cost. No spam. Cancel any time.

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There you are good people. I trust none of you is affected.

Sheena!

Sheena’s visit was a great success.

As you know, we had Renate come round Sunday morning together with Sheena to get to know our dogs.

It all went extremely well and we ended up taking Sheena indoors, together with Renate, and we sat and chatted for quite some time.

Here are a few photos of the occasion.

Here Sheena is getting to know the inside of our home, looked on by Cleo, Pedi, Sweeny and Ruby.

Settling in quickly with Pedi taking an interest in Sheena.

Sheena giving Renate a loving look!

So Renate is coming back this Friday, the 12th June, to bring Sheena to us and we will be seven!

Please help Sheena!

I am simply posting this plea from Maria.

This email came in on the 4th June.

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Sheena

Foster needed for a Senior dog

Hi there,

As you may know, I run a rescue for pets of the homeless. Sheena had lived most of her life on the streets. For the last 4 years or so, she has been in either our house or with a foster.

Her current foster is moving out of the country and I need a new home for Sheena. My Shepard started attacking her out of the blue. 4 times over 8 months, so for safety reasons, I rehomed Sheena.

Our rescue, Tail Waggers Rescue, a non-profit, provides all food and needs for Sheena. We pay her veterinary expenses as well. She is on the cancer diet.

She is extremely sweet, about 13 years old, and is /has fighting cancer. We had the tumors removed a few months ago. She weighs approx 55 lbs. She is short-haired.

She is dog friendly, with dogs of all sizes. I am unsure about cats.
She is not used to being around children so a home with little kids would not be preferred. A quieter home is ideal.

She also does not like people who are intoxicated. She does lay on the furniture, after all, she is a Queen. She is mostly an indoor dog. She is house trained. She will run to the door to let the person know she is there. She is not a huge barker. She loves going on car rides and insists on the front seat.

If you have room in your home and heart, and a fenced yard, and are willing to put her meals together to the menu of the cancer diet, (I help you with this) please let me know. An application and home check are required.

We will supply all her food, bed, dining table, bowls, leashes. You may need to drive her to her vet from time to time in Phoenix.

She is NOT leashed trained but loves to go on walks.

Pictures of Sheena are below.

Please contact me at the store if you are interested in meeting Sheena and being her long term foster.

Regards,

Maria Modica
Lulu’s Pet Store

Sheena

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Lulu’s Pet Store is located here in Merlin.

The website is here!

It is getting very good reviews and they can ship products to those that can’t make it to the store. And I have no direct interest in Maria’s business.

Other inhabited worlds, and the implications of finding one.

This is profoundly important.

Well it is to me and Jean and, I suspect, it will be to many other people.

I am an atheist. So is Jean. We have been all our lives. I think that many of you who follow this blog know that. The love that we have for our dogs, and all our animals, plus the beauty that is all around us in nature is enough. (Now I am not naive enough to realise that there are many, literally millions, that don’t have the same fortune in their lives.)

The Conversation recently republished an essay by David Weintraub that was first published in 2014. It is at the core of our existence and I am delighted to have the permission to republish it for you.

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Is your religion ready to meet ET

By
 Professor of Astronomy, Vanderbilt University

November 5th, 2014

Square away your personal philosophy now; proof of life beyond earth is coming. Stargazing image via http://www.shutterstock.com

How will humankind react after astronomers hand over rock-solid scientific evidence for the existence of life beyond the Earth? No more speculating. No more wondering. The moment scientists announce this discovery, everything will change. Not least of all, our philosophies and religions will need to incorporate the new information.

Searching for signs of life

Astronomers have now identified thousands of planets in orbit around other stars. At the current rate of discovery, millions more will be found this century.

Having already found the physical planets, astronomers are now searching for our biological neighbors. Over the next fifty years, they will begin the tantalizing, detailed study of millions of planets, looking for evidence of the presence of life on or below the surfaces or in the atmospheres of those planets.

And it’s very likely that astronomers will find it. Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans surveyed believe that aliens have already visited Earth, the first evidence of life beyond our planet probably won’t be radio signals, little green men or flying saucers. Instead, a 21st century Galileo, using an enormous, 50-meter-diameter telescope, will collect light from the atmospheres of distant planets, looking for the signatures of biologically significant molecules.

Astronomers filter that light from far away through spectrometers – high-tech prisms that tease the light apart into its many distinct wavelengths. They’re looking for the telltale fingerprints of molecules that would not exist in abundance in these atmospheres in the absence of living things. The spectroscopic data will tell whether a planet’s environment has been altered in ways that point to biological processes at work.

What is our place in the universe? Woman image via http://www.shutterstock.com

If we aren’t alone, who are we?

With the discovery in a distant planet’s light spectrum of a chemical that could only be produced by living creatures, humankind will have the opportunity to read a new page in the book of knowledge. We will no longer be speculating about whether other beings exist in the universe. We will know that we not alone.

An affirmative answer to the question “Does life exist anywhere else in the universe beyond Earth?” would raise immediate and profoundly important cosmotheological questions about our place in the universe. If extraterrestrial others exist, then my religion and my religious beliefs and practices might not be universal. If my religion is not universally applicable to all extraterrestrial others, perhaps my religion need not be offered to, let alone forced on, all terrestrial others. Ultimately, we might learn some important lessons applicable here at home just from considering the possibility of life beyond our planet.

In my book, I investigated the sacred writings of the world’s most widely practiced religions, asking what each religion has to say about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of life on Earth, and how, or if, a particular religion would work on other planets in distant parts of the universe.

Extrasolar sinners?

Let’s examine a seemingly simple yet exceedingly complex theological question: could extraterrestrials be Christians? If Jesus died in order to redeem humanity from the state of sin into which humans are born, does the death and resurrection of Jesus, on Earth, also redeem other sentient beings from a similar state of sin? If so, why are the extraterrestrials sinful? Is sin built into the very fabric of the space and time of the universe? Or can life exist in parts of the universe without being in a state of sin and therefore without the need of redemption and thus without the need for Christianity? Many different solutions to these puzzles involving Christian theology have been put forward. None of them yet satisfy all Christians.

Mormon worlds

Mormon scripture clearly teaches that other inhabited worlds exist and that “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (Doctrines and Covenants 76:24). The Earth, however, is a favored world in Mormonism, because Jesus, as understood by Mormons, lived and was resurrected only on Earth. In addition, Mormon so-called intelligences can only achieve their own spiritual goals during their lives on Earth, not during lifetimes on other worlds. Thus, for Mormons, the Earth might not be the physical center of the universe but it is the most favored place in the universe. Such a view implies that all other worlds are, somehow, lesser worlds than Earth.

Bahá’í without bias

Members of the Bahá’í Faith have a view of the universe that has no bias for or against the Earth as a special place or for against humans as a special sentient species. The principles of the Bahá’í Faith – unifying society, abandoning prejudice, equalizing opportunities for all people, eliminating poverty – are about humans on Earth. The Bahá’í faithful would expect any creatures anywhere in the universe to worship the same God as do humans, but to do so according to their own, world-specific ways.

Light years from Mecca

The pillars of the faith for Muslims require the faithful to pray five times every day while facing Mecca. Because determining the direction of Mecca correctly could be extremely difficult on a quickly spinning planet millions of light years from Earth, practicing the same faith on another world might not make any sense. Yet the words of the Qu’ran tell us that “Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth do prostrate themselves to Allah” (13:15). Can terrestrial Muslims accept that the prophetically revealed religion of Muhammad is intended only for humans on earth and that other worlds would have their own prophets?

Astronomers as paradigm-shatterers

Philosophers and scientists have forced worldviews to adapt in the past.

At certain moments throughout history, astronomers’ discoveries have exerted an outsized influence on human culture. Ancient Greek astronomers unflattened the Earth – though many then chose to forget this knowledge. Renaissance scholars Copernicus and Galileo put the Earth in motion around the Sun and moved humans away from the center of the universe. In the 20th century, Edwin Hubble eliminated the very idea that the universe has any center at all. He demonstrated that what the universe has is a beginning in time and that, bizarrely, the universe, the very fabric of three-dimensional space, is expanding.

Clearly, when astronomers offer the world bold new ideas, they don’t mess around. Another such paradigm-shattering new idea may be in the light arriving at our telescopes now.

No matter which (a)theistic background informs your theology, you may have to wrestle with the data astronomers will be bringing to houses of worship in the very near future. You will need to ask: Is my God the God of the entire universe? Is my religion a terrestrial or a universal religion? As people work to reconcile the discovery of extrasolar life with their theological and philosophical worldviews, adapting to the news of life beyond Earth will be discomfiting and perhaps even disruptive.

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Now I don’t really want to open up the subject of religion but I will say that WikiPedia have a great entry about the subject. My own view is that a few hundred years ago, when life was a lot more mysterious and uncertain, believing in life after death made some sense.

But we know a lot better now despite death still being a certainty.

Brandy!

Dogs don’t need religion!

And what about mathematics?

Yet another revelation!

Fairly soon after publishing my post about music and the dog world I came across another article on dogs, and other animals, having a sense of numbers.

Now this post which was originally published by The Conversation is intricate in it’s deliberations but it is still clear. Try the article yourself.

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Animals that can do math understand more language than we think

May 28, 2020

By Erik Nelson, Phd Student, Philosophy, Dalhousie University

It is often thought that humans are different from other animals in some fundamental way that makes us unique, or even more advanced than other species. These claims of human superiority are sometimes used to justify the ways we treat other animals, in the home, the lab or the factory farm.

So, what is it that makes us so different from other animals? Many philosophers, both past and present, have pointed to our linguistic abilities. These philosophers argue that language not only allows us to communicate with each other, but also makes our mental lives more sophisticated than those that lack language. Some philosophers have gone so far as to argue that creatures that lack a language are not capable of being rational, making inferences, grasping concepts or even having beliefs or thoughts.

An illustration of a sulky chimpanzee from Charles Darwin’s 1872 book, ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.’ (Wellcome Collection)

Even if we are willing to accept these claims, what should we think of animals who are capable of speech? Many types of birds, most famously parrots, are able to make noises that at least sound linguistic, and gorillas and chimpanzees have been taught to communicate using sign language. Do these vocalizations or communications indicate that, like humans, these animals are also capable of sophisticated mental processes?

The philosophy of animal language

Philosophers have generally answered this question by denying that talking parrots and signing gorillas are demonstrating anything more than clever mimicry. Robert Brandom, a philosopher at the University of Pittsburgh, has argued that if a parrot says “red” when shown red objects and “blue” when presented with blue ones, it has not actually demonstrated that it understands the meaning of those words. According to Brandom — and many other philosophers — understanding the meaning of a word requires understanding both the meaning of many other words and the connections that exist between those words.

Imagine that you bring your toddler niece to a petting zoo for the first time, and ask her if she is able to point to the rabbits. If she successfully does, this might seem like a good indication that she understands what a rabbit is. However, you now ask her to point to the animals. If she points to some rocks on the ground instead of pointing to the rabbits or the goats, does she actually understand what the word “rabbit” means? Understanding “rabbit” involves understanding “animal,” as well as the connection between these two things.

So if a parrot is able to tell us the colour of different objects, that does not necessarily show that the parrot understands the meanings of those words. To do that, a parrot would need to demonstrate that it also understands that red and blue fall underneath the category of colour, or that if something is red all over, it cannot, at the same time, be blue all over.

What sort of behaviour would demonstrate that a parrot or a chimpanzee did understand the words it was using? As a philosopher who focuses on the study of animal cognition, I examine both empirical and theoretical work to answer these types of questions.

In recent research, I argue that testing an animal’s arithmetical capabilities can provide insight into just how much they are capable of understanding. In order to see why, we need to take a brief detour through the philosophy of mathematics.

Counting animals

In the late 1800s, the German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege tried to demonstrate that arithmetic is an objective science. Many philosophers and mathematicians at the time thought that arithmetic was merely an artifact of human psychology. Frege worried that such an understanding would make arithmetic entirely subjective, placing it on no firmer ground than the latest fashion trends.

In The Foundations of Arithmetic, Frege begins by logically analyzing what sorts of things numbers are. He thinks that the key to this investigation is figuring out what it takes to answer the question “how many?”

If I hand you a deck of cards and ask, “How many?” without specifying what I want counted, it would be difficult to even figure out what sort of answer I am looking for. Am I asking you how many decks of cards, how many cards all together, how many suits or any of the other number of ways of dividing up the deck? If I ask, “How many suits?” and you respond “four,” you are demonstrating not just that you can count, but that you understand what suits are.

Frege thought that the application of number labels depends on being able to grasp the connection between what is being counted and how many of them there are. Replying “four” to the question “How many?” might seem like a disconnected act, like parrots merely calling red objects “red.” However, it is more like your niece pointing to the rabbits while also understanding that rabbits are animals. So, if animals are able to reliably respond correctly to the question “How many?” this demonstrates that they understand the connection between the numerical amount and the objects they are being asked about.

Animal mathematical literacy

One example of non-human animals demonstrating a wide range of arithmetical capabilities is the work that Irene Pepperberg did with African grey parrots, most famously her subjects Alex and Griffin.

In order to test Alex’s arithmetic capabilities, Pepperberg would show him a set of objects on a tray, and would ask, “How many?” for each of the objects. For example, she would show him a tray with differently shaped objects on it and ask, “How many four-corner?” (Alex’s word for squares.) Alex was able to reliably provide the answer for amounts up to six.

Alex was also able to provide the name for the object if asked to look for a number of those objects. For example, if a tray had different quantities of coloured objects on it including five red objects, and Alex was asked, “What colour is five?” Alex was able to correctly respond by saying “red.”

Pepperberg’s investigations into the ability to learn and understand basic arithmetic provide examples that show that Alex was able to do more than simply mimic human sounds. Providing the right word when asked, “How many?” required him to understand the connections between the numerical amount and the objects being asked about.

Animal mathematical skills

While Pepperberg’s results are impressive, they are far from unique. Numerical abilities have been identified in many different species, most prominently chimpanzees. Some of these capabilities demonstrate that the animals understand the underlying connections between different words and labels. They are therefore doing something more than just mimicking the sounds and actions of the humans around them.

Animals that can do basic arithmetic show us that some really are capable of understanding the terms they use and the connections between them. However, it is still an open question whether their understanding of these connections is a result of learning linguistic expressions, or if their linguistic expressions simply help demonstrate underlying capabilities.

Either way, claims that humans are uniquely able to understand the meanings of words are a bit worse for wear.

ooOOoo

There’s little that I can add to the excellent summary in that penultimate paragraph;

Animals that can do basic arithmetic show us that some really are capable of understanding the terms they use and the connections between them. However, it is still an open question whether their understanding of these connections is a result of learning linguistic expressions, or if their linguistic expressions simply help demonstrate underlying capabilities.

but one thing is becoming clearer and clearer: dogs and other animals are a whole lot smarter than many (most?) of us think. Primarily on the back of research into the nature of our creatures and especially those creatures that are very close to us.