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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Bethany Castiller and her family went to a local rescue to adopt a dog, Mako immediately made it very clear that he would be the one going home with them.
“We joke that we didn’t really pick him, he picked us,” Castiller told The Dodo. “When we went to the rescue shelter he had his back against the cage so we started petting him and he looked over his shoulder and gave direct eye contact and we just fell in love with the little guy.”
The family had been hoping to adopt a dog who would get along with their cats at home, Pecan and Gizmo. The shelter assured them that Mako got along with cats really well — and they quickly realized it was probably because Mako totally thinks he’s a cat.
Though they can’t know for sure, everyone thinks that Mako was probably raised with cats, because all of his favorite things to do are classic cat activities. He doesn’t bark, he loves cat treats and he absolutely adores sitting on top of counters and cabinets, just like his cat siblings do.
When they first caught Mako climbing on top of tables and counters, his family thought it was a little weird — but quickly accepted that that’s just who Mako is, and that they’d basically adopted another cat instead of a dog.
“We went online and found a dog toy that looks like a cat one so we go to the backyard and he chases and jumps after it like the cats,” Castiller said. “He also likes to lay on the tables with my cats and look out the window at the birds with them. When he sees one of my cats lay on their backs for a tummy rub he comes over and does the same thing!”
Mako is obsessed with his cat siblings and loves hanging out with them every chance he gets, and his family can’t help but laugh whenever they come into the room and find Mako on top of something right alongside the cats, just one of the gang.
“Whenever Mako sees the boys on the counters or cabinets he hops up to join them,” Castiller said. “He really just wants to be around the cats all the time. If he is not in the room with one of us humans, he’s with the cats.”
Mako is definitely a little different and will always be way more into cat activities than typical dog ones — and his family wouldn’t have him any other way.
So, what to make of this! Seriously, it goes to show how at one level we really don’t have a clue as to what a dog is thinking of. Yet they are still our very best of companions and the fact that many of you will read this and enjoy it just proves my case.
Now for something completely different.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) held its first annual Capture the Dark photography competition during May 2020. The goal was to portray the meaning of the night for people around the world. Participants were invited to submit images in five categories: Connecting to the Dark, International Dark Sky Places, Impact of Light Pollution, Bright Side of Lighting, and Youth. In two weeks, IDA received nearly 450 submissions from people around the world. An international panel of judges made the final selections. The winning entries in each category are on this page.
I’m not going to show you all the winning entries; you can go onto the website if you wish to see them. But what I am going to share is the winning entry.
Dogs’ noses just got a bit more amazing. Not only are they up to 100 million times more sensitive than ours, they can sense weak thermal radiation—the body heat of mammalian prey, a new study reveals. The find helps explain how canines with impaired sight, hearing, or smell can still hunt successfully.
“It’s a fascinating discovery,” says Marc Bekoff, an ethologist, expert on canine sniffing, and professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who was not involved in the study. “[It] provides yet another window into the sensory worlds of dogs’ highly evolved cold noses.”
The ability to sense weak, radiating heat is known in only a handful of animals: black fire beetles, certain snakes, and one species of mammal, the common vampire bat, all of which use it to hunt prey.
Most mammals have naked, smooth skin on the tips of their noses around the nostrils, an area called the rhinarium. But dogs’ rhinaria are moist, colder than the ambient temperature, and richly endowed with nerves—all of which suggests an ability to detect not just smell, but heat.
To test the idea, researchers at Lund University and Eötvös Loránd University trained three pet dogs to choose between a warm (31°C) and an ambient-temperature object, each placed 1.6 meters away. The dogs weren’t able to see or smell the difference between these objects. (Scientists could only detect the difference by touching the surfaces.) After training, the dogs were tested on their skill in double-blind experiments; all three successfully detected the objects emitting weak thermal radiation, the scientists reveal today in Scientific Reports.
Next, the researchers scanned the brains of 13 pet dogs of various breeds in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner while presenting the pooches with objects emitting neutral or weak thermal radiation. The left somatosensory cortex in dogs’ brains, which delivers inputs from the nose, was more responsive to the warm thermal stimulus than to the neutral one. The scientists identified a cluster of 14 voxels (3D pixels) in this region of the dogs’ left hemispheres, but didn’t find any such clusters in the right, and none in any part of the dogs’ brains in response to the neutral stimulus.
Together, the two experiments show that dogs, like vampire bats, can sense weak hot spots and that a specific region of their brains is activated by this infrared radiation, the scientists say. They suspect dogs inherited the ability from their ancestor, the gray wolf, who may use it to sniff out warm bodies during a hunt.
“The study is consistent with other research that describes the combined dog nose and brain as a sophisticated platform for processing a broad range of signals,” says Gary Settles, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, who has studied dogs’ sniffing abilities. He doubts, however, “that the dog rhinarium can distinguish patterns of hot and cold objects at a distance,” suggesting dogs’ thermal detection skills may not be useful for long distance hunting. “[T]hat needs further study.”
If nothing else, the work suggests the extraordinary skills of the sled dog Buck, who tracked prey “not by sight or sound or smell, but by some other and subtler sense” in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, aren’t completely fictional after all.
Dogs are in the news again. For their incredible noses; this time we are learning how they track heat.
I can’t remember how long ago it was that I came across Alexandra Horowitz but the name stuck. For Alexandra is an author of many titles although many of them are about dogs.
But here’s a quote from someone who reviewed her book, On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation.
“Horowitz writes like a poet, thinks like a scientist, and ventures like an explorer. Her book will have you looking in a new way at the world around you, and make you glad you did.” – Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin
If you haven’t already read some of her books then don’t delay!
Now I want to introduce a different side of Alexandra. That of her being a broadcaster, for want of a better description.
This is not a short video, it is 49 minutes long. But that’s a reason to sit down and thoroughly immerse oneself in her talk.
It is introduced thus:
To a dog, there is no such thing as “fresh air.” Every breath is full of information—in fact, what every dog knows about the world comes mostly through their nose. Dogs, when trained, can identify drugs of every type, underwater cadavers, cancer, illicit cell phones in prison, bed bugs, smuggled shark fins, dry rot, land-mines, termites, invasive knapweed, underground truffles, and dairy cows in estrous. But they also know about the upcoming weather, earthquakes before they happen, how “afternoon” smells, what you had for breakfast, and whether a cat touched your leg yesterday. And of course, they sniff their way home and know the distinctive odor of each spot of sidewalk as you travel there.
Alexandra Horowitz is a research scientist in the field of dog cognition and the New York Times bestselling author of “Inside of a Dog”. Her new book “BEING A DOG: Following the Dog into a World of Smell” explores in even greater depth what dogs know, delving into all of these remarkable abilities and revealing a whole world of experiences we miss every day. Alexandra visited Google Seattle to share her research and open eyes (and noses!) of pet parents everywhere.
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
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.
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.
During the approximately 18–32 thousand years of domestication , dogs and humans have shared a similar social environment . Dog and human vocalizations are thus familiar and relevant to both species , although they belong to evolutionarily distant taxa, as their lineages split approximately 90–100 million years ago . 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.
“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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Now this is a story about a specific event, taking Sadie to the vet. But there’s a more fundamental theme to this post and that is the role of music in our lives and in the lives of our dogs.
Dog Is Terrified Of Vet — Until He Decides To Sing To Her
From the Daily Dodo, May 22nd, 2020
Sadie was rescued from a local shelter when she was around a year old, and when she joined her family, she was quick to let them know that she was always down to have fun.
“Her personality is SO sassy and playful,” Kaeley Simek, Sadie’s mom, told The Dodo. “Ever since we gave her her first toy, she loves to play as often as she can. She is very high-energy and pretty much up for anything.”
While Sadie is usually the life of the party, the one thing that doesn’t make her smile is having to go to the vet.
“Sadie was not scared of vets when first rescuing her, but once she realized that she always goes there to get shots or if she has pain, she quickly learned it is not a fun place to be,” Simek said.
Sadie didn’t have great vet experiences when she was first rescued, and after that, she was absolutely terrified every time she realized that’s where she was headed. Her mom desperately wanted to find a vet who would understand Sadie’s anxiety and try to work with her to overcome it — and that’s when they met Dr. Noah.
“We started going to Dr. Noah of Dr. Noah’s Ark in Shorewood, [Wisconsin], in September of 2019,” Simek said. “After the bad experiences, I researched heavily a vet who would take time to understand and accept scared/reactive dogs. He was very highly rated and I also saw many reviews that [said] he doesn’t wear the ‘white coat’ at appointments, which can be a huge trigger for dogs.”
At their first visit, Simek explained Sadie’s anxieties to Dr. Noah, and it wasn’t hard to see how scared she was. That’s when Simek learned that Dr. Noah’s secret trick was singing to his patients.
In order to try and calm them down and make them feel more comfortable, Dr. Noah serenades the dogs who are scared or nervous — and most of the time, it totally works.
“The first time we went to him, he sang to her and she ended up on the floor kissing him and he was able to give the two shots she needed,” Simek said. “He has sang to her ever since.”
Dr. Noah understands that going to the vet can be overwhelming for some pets, so he does his best to create a positive experience for them the best way he knows how — through music.
“He heavily believes that music can completely change the mood,” Simek said.
For Sadie, it’s definitely been working. Even though she’s still scared when she first gets there, she definitely trusts Dr. Noah more than any other vet she’s been to, and with his help and his music she’s slowly learning that the vet isn’t actually so scary after all.
“She still has a lot of fear about the vet but he takes the time to sit down with her and we go for happy vet visits weekly so she can have positive associations,” Simek said. “He has the biggest heart out of any vet I’ve ever seen.”
It’s very clear, from this story and many others including our personal experience of dogs, that dogs’ emotional responses are advanced and in many ways their emotions are familiar to us humans.
I’m going to include two videos.
The first is from 2012 and is a very short extract from the BBC Horizon video: Can dogs sense emotion?
And the second is a longer video but still only 18 minutes.
That second video shows the remarkable qualities of the dog and the similarities between the dog’s brain and the human brain!