fbpx

Do Non-Human Animals Have Consciousness?

Do Non-Human Animals Have Consciousness?

Consciousness—Definitions

Do non-human animals have consciousness? Does this question belong to philosophy, ethology, neurobiology or physics?

Many philosophers distinguish between awareness and consciousness, awareness being a form of perception, and consciousness involving a special kind of self-awareness. Consciousness, in this view, requires a propositional awareness that it is I who am feeling or thinking. However, a dissociation between conscious and unconscious perception can occur in people with brain damage, who yet can make correct judgments even though they are not conscious of what they see.

The question of animal consciousness is indeed a difficult one. The spectrum of scientific opinion is vast. Some believe that consciousness does not occur in animals, and others maintain that most animals have consciousness. The difficulty of arriving at an acceptable and consensual definition of consciousness confounds the situation further.

To define consciousness in such a way that it only fits Homo sapiens sapiens seems to me too anthropocentric. To argue that if we have it, they can’t have it, is definitely committing the fallacy of anthropodimorphism, the opposite of anthropomorphism (Abrantes 2017).

Our tentative definition is: “Consciousness is the presence of mental images and their use by the organism to regulate its behavior. To be conscious is to be aware of what one is doing or plans to do. It is having a purpose and intention in one’s actions” (Abrantes 2012). This definition is quasi-identical to McFarland’s (1998).

Yet, we can imagine intentional behavior that does not involve consciousness. The standard examples of automatic, absent-minded activities, are walking and driving, where we solve relatively complex problems apparently without being conscious of (at least) some of the intentional states through which we must be passing.

“Another way to put the point is to note that intentionality alone is not sufficient for introspectibility, and so, insofar as introspectibility in the normal human case is a necessary condition for a state’s being conscious, intentionality is therefore also not sufficient for consciousness” (Rey 2008).

Another definition, proposed by Chandroo et al., is, ” Consciousness might be broadly described as an awareness of internal and external stimuli, having a sense of self and some understanding of ones place in the world” (Chandroo et al. 2004).

Damasio (2010) states that “[…] no one can prove satisfactorily that nonhuman, nonlanguage beings have consciousness, core or otherwise, although it is reasonable to triangulate the substantial evidence we have available and conclude that it is highly likely that they do.”

 

Private Experiences—Emotions

Emotion has subjective, physiological, and behavioral manifestations that are difficult to reconcile with each other. An emotion is a private experience. There is no way we can know the emotional experiences of another person. We tend to assume they are the same as ours, but we have no experimentally conclusive or logical way of verifying this.

In scientific terms, we cannot assume that animals have particular subjective feelings any more than we are entitled logically to make such assumptions about other people. In physiological terms, emotional states in humans are typically accompanied by autonomic changes, but these are not a reliable guide to identifying particular emotional states. Most animals, at least vertebrates, react to stressors in roughly the same way whether their emotional response is one of fear, of aggression or sexual nature.

Darwin (1872) postulated that facial expressions and other behavioral signs of emotion had evolved from protective responses and other utilitarian aspects of behavior. Darwin’s description was somehow anthropomorphic, which prompted psychologists to react. Lloyd Morgan (1882) advocated an approach devoid of speculation about the private thoughts and feelings of animals. The behaviorist attitude that the private mental experiences of animals cannot be the subject of scientific investigations dominated the first three-quarters of the 20th century.

The behaviorist position seems unassailable, but we can circumvent it in two ways. One argument (the logical one) is that although we cannot prove that animals have subjective experiences, it may be true nevertheless. No proof (yet discovered) does not conclusively imply non-existence. Another (the evolutionary probability argument) is to argue that it is unlikely, from an evolutionary stance, that there should be a marked discontinuity between humans and other animals in this respect. Therefore, if we accept the existence of subjective experiences in humans, then we are forced to admit that animals might have them as well.

 

Self-Awareness

Are animals aware of themselves in the sense that they know what posture they are adopting and what action they are taking? Sensory information from the joints and muscles is available to the brain, so it seems that animals should be aware of their behavior.

In an experiment, researchers trained rats to press one of four levers (Beninger et al. 1974). The rats learned to push a different bar, depending on whether they were grooming, walking, rearing up or remaining still when the buzzer sounded. In a sense, the rats must have been aware of their actions, which does not necessarily mean that they are conscious of them. They may be aware of their actions as they are aware of external stimuli.

 

The MSR (Mirror Self-Recognition) Test

Many animals respond to a mirror as if they saw another member of their species. Does that prove self-awareness? After many years of research, this remains a controversial question. There is evidence that chimpanzees and orangutans can recognize themselves in the mirror. Does the ability to respond to parts of one’s body seen in a mirror indicate self-awareness?

The questions are whether the MSR test is suitable for some species and whether it demonstrates self-awareness. Animals can be self-aware in ways the mirror test cannot measure, e.g., distinguishing between their own and others’ songs or scents (Bekoff 2002). Also, animals can pass the MSR, not necessarily having self-awareness (Cammaerts 2015). Very few species have passed the MSR test (Turner 2015).

The MSR test has limited value when we apply it to species that primarily use senses other than vision, as for example in dogs that mainly use olfaction and audition. Dogs do seem to discriminate their own odor from that of other dogs and to spend more time investigating their own modified odor ‘image,’ precisely as subjects who pass the MSR test do (Horowitz 2017).

A capacity for self-recognition in a mirror does not necessarily imply an awareness of one’s own psychological states and the understanding that others possess such states (Povinelli, 1998).

 

Imitation

Does the ability to imitate the actions of others indicate self-awareness? Imitations do not demonstrate the implication of mental states because of the extensive training involved in the experiments.

We take the ability to imitate as a sign of intelligence. Parrots, Psittaciformes, and mynah birds, Sturnidae, can reproduce human sounds with extraordinary fidelity. Are they particularly intelligent?

To be able to imitate, an animal must perceive the external auditory or visual example and match it with a set of motor instructions of its own. For example, a baby who imitates an adult waving must somehow associate the sight of the hand with his own motor instructions for waving. The baby does not need to be aware that he has a hand, it merely has to connect a particular perception with a specific set of motor commands. How that is done, it is a mystery, but the question of whether imitation necessarily involves self-awareness is debatable.

Even though deliberately copying behavior would be a strong argument for self-awareness, we cannot be sure all apparently imitative behavior is.

Allelommetic behavior (synchronous behavior, mimetic behavior, imitative behavior, and social facilitation) may have evolved because a specific synchronization was advantageous. Sometimes, environmental cues initiate this behavioral synchrony (seen in dogs, horses, sheep, chicken, etc.) (Miller 1996, Stoye, S. et al. 2012).

Humans often find themselves assuming similar postures without being aware of that (not conscious of that). It may be the result of empathy, which may also have developed in some species because of the conferred benefits.

Does the brain potential associated with movement occur before or after we are aware of our movement intention? Do I think, “I’m going to move my finger” and then do it? Or does it happen the other way round: I move my finger, and then I’m aware of that? Does consciousness have a causal influence on movement decision? (Guggisberg et al. 2013).

 

Awareness of Others—Empathy

Empathy means some awareness of others as beings with feelings similar to our own. Some researchers argue that the evolution of close-knit societies made recognition of others, i.e., empathy, advantageous. Empathic behavior is subject to evolutionary laws as any other behavior.

Bischoff-Köhler (1990) investigated the onset of empathy in infants. The results showed that between 16 and 24 months of age, there was a transition from non-recognition to mirror recognition and a simultaneous transition from non-empathy to empathy. Moreover, these transitions occurred at the same age in a given child.

The nature of the phenomenon of empathy in animals is also a topic of investigation (Preston & de Waal 2002). Mice that observe a cagemate in pain are more sensitive to painful stimuli than mice that see an unfamiliar mouse similarly treated (Langford et al. 2006). Empathy can also be the best explanation for some elephant behavior (Byrne et al. 2008).

Finally, empathy does not need to be an all-or-nothing phenomenon (DeWall 1996). Neither does consciousness. As there are various degrees of empathy, there are possibly different levels of consciousness.

The concrete encounter of self and other fundamentally involves empathy, as a unique and irreducible kind of intentionality. Thus, empathy seems to be a precondition for consciousness (Thompson 2001).

However, self-awareness (consciousness) does not always require empathy. That means we can conclude that animals showing empathy must be self-aware. However, we cannot conclude that those who lack manifestations of empathy do not possess self-awareness.

 

Pain—Do Animals Have to be Conscious in Order to Suffer?

It is difficult to define and analyze pain as the interpretation of findings rest primarily on the behavioral criterion we use. A pure withdrawal reflex would probably not be a good indication of pain. Such reflexes are widespread in the animal kingdom, occur in very primitive animals, and are not always associated with any strong aversive.

The criterion of crying out in pain is not good either. While a dog or a monkey scream in pain when they are seriously injured (or even less seriously), an antelope torn to pieces by a predator remains relatively silent.

Do animals have to be conscious in order to suffer? When we are unconscious, we do not suffer pain or mental anguish because parts of our brain are deactivated. However, we do not know whether these parts are involved only in consciousness or also in other aspects of brain activity. Thus, we cannot say that because we do not experience pain when we are unconscious means that consciousness and suffering are intrinsically related. Perhaps whatever makes us unconscious also stops the pain, but the two are not causally connected.

The truth is that we have no conception of what the conscious experiences of animals might involve if they exist because we have no precise understanding of what consciousness is. Therefore, we can draw no conclusions about the relationship between consciousness and suffering in animals.

Amidst our ignorance, it would be wrong to assume that suffering in animals is confined to those that are intelligent, that use language or that show evidence of conscious experience.

Orch OR Consciousness

Orch-OR is fully compatible with the view that non-human animals possess consciousness to some degree or another. In fact, the opposite would be absurd (illustration from “Consciousness in the Universe: A Review of the ‘Orch OR’ Theory.” Physics of Life Reviews, 2014).

Consciousness as a Quantum State—Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR)

The Orch-OR model, based on quantum physics, suggests that consciousness originates from microtubules and actions inside neurons (Hameroff 1988, Hameroff and Penrose 2016).

Classic and quantum physics differ in their accounting of events. When I hit a pool ball, I use traditional physics (and geometry) to predict where it will be at any particular moment. I expect it to do so (assuming I hit it correctly). However, in quantum physics, such expectation is null and void. According to the (Copenhagen) interpretation of quantum mechanics, any movement is unknown until it is observed. That is not as weird as it might seem. Imagine, I close my eyes just before I hit the cue ball. While my eyes remain shut, the object ball is both pocketed and non-pocketed. It is first when I open them, that the ball is definitely in one place. Physicists refer to this observation, which determines what happened, as a wave collapsing into a single state.

In quantum systems, inside the neuron, Hameroff and Penrose argue that it is every single collapse of the wave function that returns a conscious moment. Their model met some criticism. Most scientists believe the brain is too warm and wet for quantum states to have any influence on neuronal activity because quantum coherence only seems possible in fairly shielded and cold environments. Biological processes, in general, seem too messy for quantum physics o thrive.

However, researchers have recently found that quantum effects are indeed significant for particular biological processes, like photosynthesis (Engel 2007, Brookes 2017). When a photon hits an electron in a leaf, the electron delivers it to another molecule (the reaction center), which converts light into chemical energy (and feeds the plant). The electron uses the quantum effect of superposition, where a particle can be in two places at once while testing various routes to the reaction center where the photosynthesis occurs. Then, it takes the most efficient one. Besides photosynthesis, olfaction may also be a product of quantum processes (Brookes 2017).

Another support for the idea that quantum physics are indeed possible in the inhospitable organic environment of the brain is via the Phosphorus molecule. The central idea is that the Phosphorous molecule in the brain with its nuclear spin can potentially act as a qubit (quantum bit) and promote quantum computation. This hypothesis circumvents the problem of quantum decoherence by proposing that the qubits remain stable, in spite of the higher temperature of the brain, by organizing themselves into a Phosphate ring (Fisher 2015).

The microtubules, essential in the Orch-OR model, may very well be the first cause of thought. The traditional view is that neurons fire when a channel within the cell membrane opens, flooding the neuron with positively charged ions. Once a determined threshold is reached, an electrical signal travels down the axon—the nerve fibers within the neuron—and the neuron fires. Axons connect neurons to other cells, and inside each axon are nanowires, including the microtubule. Bandyopadhyay found that he could apply a charge to the microtubule, causing activity to raise in the neuron. The nanowires fire thousands of times faster than the average activity in a neuron. The neuron, opposite prevailing scientific knowledge, wasn’t the first cause of the human thought process (Bandyopadhyay 2014).

According to the Penrose–Hameroff model, consciousness results from discrete physical events; such events have always existed in the universe as non-cognitive, proto-conscious events. Biology evolved a mechanism to orchestrate such events and to pair them to neuronal activity, resulting in meaningful, cognitive, conscious moments of quantum state reduction. In the Orch OR theory, these conscious events are terminations of quantum computations in brain microtubules reduced by objective reduction (OR), and having experiential qualities. In this view, consciousness is an intrinsic feature of the action of the universe (Hameroff 1998, Hameroff & Penrose 2016).

Darwin’s theory of natural selection suggests that life evolved by natural selection in incremental steps and random mutations. Therefore, we would not expect the substantial level of coherence across the brain that would be necessary for the non-computable Orch OR of conscious human understanding to appear any other way. More primitive (less elaborated) forms must have preceded it, shown variation, and been subject to natural selection. Thus, proto-conscious Orch OR states might have energed step by step in the course of evolution.

Orch-OR is fully compatible with the view that non-human animals possess consciousness to some degree or another. In fact, the opposite would be absurd.

Quantum Consciousness Abrantes Billiards

When I hit the cue ball, I use traditional physics (and geometry) to predict where it will be at any particular moment. I expect it to do so (assuming I hit it correctly). However, according to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, any movement is unknown until it is observed. Imagine, I close my eyes just before I hit the cue ball. While my eyes (and my opponent’s, Michael McManus, in this case) remain shut, the object ball is pocketed and non-pocketed at once. It is first when we open our eyes, that the object ball is definitely pocketed.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

Publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals, reads:

“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates” (Low, Philip, et al. 2012).

The essential point in this declaration is that concurrent studies arrived at the conclusion that human and some non-human animals share the neurological substrates that we consider indispensable to generate consciousness. That may indeed be helpful in our quest for non-animal consciousness.

Otherwise, the document (as other similar ones) is more a political statement than scientific proof. The fact that it is signed by many (argumentum ad populum) prominent (argumentum ad verecundiam) persons does not add anything to the truth or falsity of its statement about consciousness (Copi 2014). Were the opinion of many the truth, the earth would be flat, after having been created in seven days (Genesis 1 and 2). Were the opinion of prominent persons the truth, DNA would have three intertwined strands (Linus Pauling), and life could originate from inanimate matter (Aristotle); and the Spiroptera carcinoma would (falsely) cause cancer (for which, in 1926, Johannes Fibiger won the Nobel Prize in Medicine).

 

Final Note

Human consciousness is by definition subjective and private. We access it through verbal, non-verbal, and instrumental records. Animals do not have language (as we define it), but we can still study their consciousness via behavioral investigations, as we do in preverbal infants. Like humans, animals display different behaviors depending on levels of consciousness. During sleep or anesthesia, no individual—unconscious or have low levels of consciousness—independently of species, can process information (not the full range, at least). On the other hand, behavioral and neurobiological data lead us to the conclusion that animals can express some forms of what we call a higher level of consciousness.

The subject of non-human animal consciousness is relevant to many topics, e.g., ethics and theory of mind. Some scientists and philosophers believe that the foundations have been set for addressing (at least) some of the questions about animal consciousness in an empirically way. Some remain skeptical, maintaining that subjective phenomena are beyond the reach of scientific research. The arguments on both sides are many, and the jury is still out.

 

Conclusion

As a sort of conclusion, it is the view of this author that we have two main unsolved problems related to consciousness: (1) to formulate a conclusive and clear operational definition, and (2) to devise a valid verification method for single species.

As such, at this moment, the most prudent statement seems to be that animals (humans included) show varying degrees of consciousness depending on species. It appears beyond any reasonable doubt that some have it and, therefore, (1) if some have it, others (high) probably have it, too, albeit differently—and (2) that some have it, doesn’t necessarily imply all have it—unless, of course, Hameroff and Penrose are right.

Thank you to John Larsen and Parichart Thongparkdee Abrantes for the exciting exchange of ideas we have had while I wrote this article.

References

Abrantes, R. 2012. Ethology—The Study of Animal behavior in the Natural Environment. Wakan Tanka Pub. Online flipping-page book.
Abrantes, R. 2017. Do Animals Have Feelings? Ethology Institute Website. 

Bandyopadhyay, A. 2014. Evidence of massive global synchronization and the consciousness. Physics of Life Reviews.
Bekoff, M. (2002). Animal reflections. Nature. 419 (6904): 255. doi:10.1038/419255a.
Bekoff, M. and Sherman, P.W. 2004.Reflections on animal selves. TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution Vol.19 No.4 April 2004.

Beninger et al. 1974. The ability of rats to discriminate their own behaviours. Canadian Journal of Psychology (Revue Canadienne de Psychologie) 28(1):79-91 DOI: 10.1037/h0081979
Bischof-Köhler, D. (2012). Empathy and Self-Recognition in Phylogenetic and Ontogenetic Perspective. Emotion Review, 4(1), 40–48.
Brown 2015. Brown, C., 2015. Fish intelligence, sentience and ethics. Animal Cognition, 18(1): 1-17.
Brookes, J.C. 2017. Quantum effects in biology: golden rule in enzymes, olfaction, photosynthesis and magnetodetection. Proc Math Phys Eng Sci. 2017 May; 473(2201): 20160822. doi: 10.1098/rspa.2016.0822.
Byrne, R. W., et al. (2008). Do Elephants Show Empathy? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15(10–11), 204–225.

Cammaerts, M-C, and Cammaerts, R. 2015. Are ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) capable of self recognition? (PDF). Journal of Science. 5(7): 521–532.
Chandroo et al. 2004 Chandroo, K.P.; Yue, S.; Moccia, R.D. 2004. An evaluation of current perspectives on consciousness and pain in fishes. Fish and Fisheries, 5(4): 281-295.
Clayton, D.A. 1978. Socially facilitated behavior. Quarterly Review of Biology, 53: 373-392.
Collin, A. and Trestman, M. 2017. Animal Consciousness. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
Copi, I. 2014. Introduction to Logic. Pearson Education Limited. ISBN 10: 1-292-02482-8.

Damasio, A.R. 2010. Self comes to mind: constructing the conscious brain (PDF). New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. ISBN-10: 150124695X

Darwin, C. 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: J. Murray.
Darwin, C. 1871). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. London; Princeton, NJ: J. Murray ; Princeton University Press, 1981.
Darwin, C. 1872. The expression of the emotions in man and animals. London; Oxford: J. Murray ; Oxford University Press, 1998.
Dawkins, M.S., 1998. Through our eyes only? The search for animal consciousness. Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN-10: 0198503202
Dawkins, M. S. 2012. Animal Suffering: The Science of Animal Welfare. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9400959052, 9789400959057.
Dennett, D. C. (1969). Content and Consciousness—An Analysis of Mental Phenomena. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN: 9780710065124
Dennett, D.C. 1991. Consciousness Explained (PDF). New York: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 1991. 511 p.
Dennett, D.C. 1995. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea—Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0-684-80290-2. http://www.inf.fu-berlin.de/lehre/pmo/eng/Dennett-Darwin%27sDangerousIdea.pdf.

Engel, G.S. et al. 2007. Evidence for wavelike energy transfer through quantum coherence in photosynthetic systems. Nature volume 446, pages 782–786 (12 April 2007).

Fisher, M. P.A. 2015. Quantum cognition: The possibility of processing with nuclear spins in the brain. Annals of Physics 362 (2015) 593–602.

Gallego, M.B. 2011. The bohm-penrose-hameroff model for consciousness and free will theoretical foundations and empirical evidences. Pensamiento 67 (254):661-674
Gallup, G. G. Jr. 1970. Chimpanzees: Self-Recognition (PDF). Science, 167 (3914), 86-87.
Gallup, G. G. Jr. 1982. Self‐awareness and the emergence of mind in primates. American Journal of Primatology, 2(3), 237–248.
Guggisberg et al. 2013. Timing and awareness of movement decisions: does consciousness really come too late? Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:385.

Hameroff, S.R. 1998. Quantum computation in brain microtubules? The Penrose–Hameroff ‘Orch OR’ model of consciousness. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A (1998) 356, 1869–1896
Hameroff, S.R. and Penrose, R. 2016. Consciousness in the Universe: An Updated Review of the “ORCH OR” Theory. In Biophysics of Consciousness: A Foundational Approach by R. R. Poznanski, J. A. Tuszynski and T. E. Feinberg. World Scientific, Singapore. (pp 520-630).
Horowitz, A. 2017. Smelling themselves: Dogs investigate their own odours longer when modified in an “olfactory mirror” test. Behavioural Processes. 143C: 17–24. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2017.08.001. PMID 28797909.
Hume, D. 1888. A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge (PDF). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780198245889.
Huxley, T. H. 1874. On the hypothesis that animals are automata, and its history. Fortnightly Review, 95, 555-580.

James, W. 1879. Are we automata? Mind, 4, 1–22. Online.

Langford, D. et al. 2006. Social Modulation of Pain as Evidence for Empathy in Mice. Science 312(5782):1967-70. DOI: 10.1126/science.1128322.
Libet B., Gleason C. A., Wright E. W., Pearl D. K. 1983. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act. Brain 106, 623–642 10.
Low, Philip et al. 2012. The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness Publicly proclaimed in Cambridge, UK, on July 7, 2012, at the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals.

Nagel, T. 1979. Mortal questions. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press (1613). ASIN: B074RB5VTD.

Neindre, P. et al. 2017. Animal consciousness. European Food Safety Authority. 2017, 165 p.

McFarland, D. 1998. Animal Behaviour: Psychobiology, Ethology and Evolution. Benjamin Cummings; 3 ed. ISBN-10: 0582327326.
Morgan, C. L. 1882. Animal intelligence. Nature, 26, 523-524.
Miller, R.M. 1996. Allelomimetic behavior. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 16(7): 282–284.

Povinelli, D.J. 1998. Can animals empathize? Maybe not. Scientific American, pp. 67–75.
Preston, S. and de Waal F.B.M. 2002. Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases. Behav. and Brain Science (2002) 25, 1–72.

Rey, G. 2008. Even Higher-Order) Intentionality Without Consciousness. Revue internationale de philosophie 2008/1 (n° 243), pages 51 à 78. 

Stoye, S. et al. 2012. Synchronized lying in cattle in relation to time of day. Livestock Science. 149(1–2): 70–73.

Thompson, E. 2001. Empathy and Consciousness(PDF). Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, No. 5–7, 2001, pp. 1–32
Turner, R. 2015, 10 Animals with Self Awareness. Retrieved 23 November 2015.

de Waal, F. (1996), Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zahavi, D. (2011). Empathy and direct social perception. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 3, 541–558.

Featured Course of the Week

Animal Welfare Animal welfare is an objective science studying the needs of animals, an interaction between natural science, ethics, and law. This course is a must for everyone working with animals. Learn how to assess your pet's quality of life.

Featured Price: € 98.00 € 49.00

Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. It is fundamental knowledge for the dedicated student of animal behavior as well as for any competent animal trainer. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.

EthologyCourse

Is Your Body Language Helping or Confusing Your Animal?

By Jennifer Cattet Ph.D. To read this article, please click here.

This article is selected and posted by our Tutor Team.  Jennifer Cattet, the author, is not a tutor at Ethology Institute.

 

Jennifer Cattet, Ph.D., has been training dogs professionally since 1984. Her career as a dog trainer started with traditional training techniques, which were the only methods available at the time. Frustrated and concerned with the effects such methods had on some of the dogs and on their relationship with their owners, she went back to college and studied Psychology and Ethology (animal behavior) at the University of Geneva, Switzerland (she spent most of her early years in France). After her bachelor’s degree, she worked as the Assistant Professor in the Ethology Department and completed her studies with a doctorate on spatial navigation in dogs.

Jennifer Cattet (Body Language)

Featured Course of the Week

Animal Welfare Animal welfare is an objective science studying the needs of animals, an interaction between natural science, ethics, and law. This course is a must for everyone working with animals. Learn how to assess your pet's quality of life.

Featured Price: € 98.00 € 49.00

“Creation,” the Movie About Charles Darwin—too Controversial for Religious USA?

(originally published September 12, 2012)

 

Creation opened the Toronto Film Festival 2009 and had British premiere on September 25. The movie relies on the book “Annie’s Box—Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Evolution,” first edition from 2001, written by Randal Keynes, a great-great-grandson of Darwin.

Creation has been sold in almost every country around the world. However, US distributors purposefully passed on the film, which they expected to prove hugely controversial in a country where only 39% of Americans accept the theory of evolution (according to a Gallup poll conducted in February 2012). Finally, the movie was released in the USA on January 22, 2010.

The creationists’ attacks on Darwin and evolution are unscientific and irrational, using tricks to stir strong emotions up and numb reason (with very few exceptions). Movieguide.org, an influential site, which reviews films from a Christian perspective, described Darwin as the father of eugenics and denounced him as “[…] a racist, a bigot and a 1800s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder.” His “half-baked theory” directly influenced Adolf Hitler and led to “atrocities, crimes against humanity, cloning and genetic engineering,” the site stated. The movie has sparked fierce debate on US Christian websites, with a typical comment dismissing evolution as “[…] a silly theory with a serious lack of evidence to support it despite over a century of trying.”

Jeremy Thomas, the Oscar-winning producer of Creation, said he was astonished that such attitudes exist 150 years after On The Origin of Species was published.

For the full article on the Telegraph.co.uk, by Anita Singh, Showbusiness Editor, September 11, 2009, please click here.

 

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea*

*This is the title of a book by Daniel Dennett from 1995, a book this author recommends to all who want to know the full extent of Darwin’s magnificent idea.

 

 

Acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, or just evolution, is remarkably low in the USA as various polls and statistics have shown. Please, see statistics below from the New York Times here, Science 11 August 2006, Vol 313, here, and the National Geographic, here.

 

 

A recent study commissioned by the British Council reveals interesting facts (see the full spreadsheet). The study asked samples of a population of 10 countries different questions about Darwin and evolution. From among the many answers, the two below are maybe particularly interesting: as to whether people had heard of Darwin and they agreed we had scientific evidence supporting evolution.

The first column indicates the answers ‘No’ to ‘Have you heard of Darwin?’ The second column indicates the answers ‘No’ to ‘Do we have scientific evidence for evolution?’ All columns show percentages of the asked population.

 

Steve Kramer analyzed the full results for statistical significances (click here).

That 28% of the Spanish and 16% of the USA populations had not heard of Darwin is staggering. On the other side, it may surprise westerners that 90% of the Chinese and 93% of the Russians had heard of Darwin. 24% of the USA citizens deny the massive amount of scientific evidence in favor of evolution gathered throughout the last 150 years. This figure is impressive because since only 39% of all the USA population accepts evolution, this means that there are many who take the evidence for evolution as valid and yet refuse to accept it—an apparent contradiction and proof of irrational behavior for if A => B and B => C, then A => C.

Only 5% of the Chinese and 2% of the Indians disputed the scientific evidence. As to South Africa and Egypt, the figures may reflect these countries’ enormous social and economic struggle and, therefore, insufficient school and information systems—they have more pressing issues at hand than thinking of Darwin or evolution—which is not the case in the rich Western countries. However, among the South Africans that know about Darwin and evolution, only 4% dispute the scientific evidence.

It may appear surprising for westerners, not proficient in Asian culture, that Chinese and Indians seem to accept evolution much better than many westerners, even though Darwin was a western born and educated scientist. His theory of evolution by means of natural selection is a typical western idea, maybe the most brilliant product of western scientific thought.

 

The Asian Acceptance of Evolution

The Asian acceptance of evolution becomes less surprising, though, when we realize that most arguments against evolution are religious. Christianity and Islam are the religions with the highest numbers of followers, and both have a god creator and omnipotent.

Asia has Hinduism and Buddhism, and none of them precludes the notion of evolution, nor conflicts with it. In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is no god creator. In this sense, regarding Hinduism and Buddhism as religions might even be misleading. Both are more philosophies of life, a list of codes of conduct, help to self-help, than real religions based on faith alone rather than arguments of reason. Therefore, Buddhists and Hindus are more liable to welcome a sound explanation of the origins of life and evolution, when offered one, than Christians and Islamists. Western mainstream ideology and traditions are to a great extent based on matters of belief, religious oppression, faith rather than fact. That may seem paradoxical since most of the great scientific discoveries happened in the western world.

Hinduism is a way of living according to the understanding of the principles of Vedas and Upanishads. Veda is revealed knowledge, just as the knowledge of gravity was revealed to Newton. Hinduism is the world’s oldest ‘religion’. It has no single founder; it is a mixture of various traditions, practices, and lineages.

Buddhism, the largest ideology in Asia, derives from Hinduism and began with Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) who told people to assume responsibility for their lives, to search the end of suffering by modifying their lifestyle and seeking knowledge. He led by example, as human as anyone else. He gave people choices, a manual to self-help, the four noble truths and the eightfold path, all making perfect sense, no mysteries, no secrets, no threats, no holy wars.

 

Western Religion and Evolution

The Western World had an excellent chance to emulate Buddha, when Jesus of Nazareth came around some 500 years later, but didn’t. It could have given people a manual to self-help, like Buddhism’s. Instead, it made Jesus the son of God, the creator, the omnipotent, and omnipresent. The ensuing fanaticism and the church did not inspire people to seek their own fortunes by actively improving their lifestyle and searching for results. It took their responsibilities away, put all the burden on the shoulders of Jesus of Nazareth, declared him the savior of humanity, God himself (according to the Bible). Then, it created a lot of mysterious occurrences like the descent into hell and resurrection. It scared people senseless and exercised coercion—like the infamous Inquisition and the Crusades (holy wars)—declared the holiness of the church, and told the followers, “believe, repent and leave the rest to us” (or otherwise you’ll burn in hell—if we don’t burn you on Earth).

It took many years for westerners to liberate themselves from the iron hand of the church and some did it better than others for various reasons. While Europe managed that to an extent, the USA still finds it disturbing. Still, religion alone does not explain why USAnians more than Europeans find it difficult to accept evolution. Many religious Europeans reconcile their faith with evolution (and so do some USAnians). The explanation lies rather in the way USA politicians have used, and use, religion to achieve their goals. “Believe (in us) and leave the rest to us” suits them perfectly well.

 

Evolution in the USA

The USA is a country of strong emotions, of great economic and political manipulation and clever demagogues. It is maybe fitting, not by accident, that, in the USA, Darwin is also often misquoted and the “survival of the fittest” becomes “the survival of the strongest.” USA fundamentalism differs from mainstream Protestantism in both the USA and Europe. The biblical fundamentalism in the United States considers Genesis, as a true and accurate account of the creation, superseding any scientific evidence.

In contrast, mainstream Protestants in Europe (and in the USA), as well as the Catholic Church are more contemporary in the sense that they keep pace, until a certain degree, with the evolution of the world and scientific discoveries. They consider Genesis as a metaphor and are more likely to reconcile their faith with the work of Darwin and other scientists. Furthermore, evolution has been politicized in the USA in a manner never seen in Europe or anywhere else. The conservative wing of the Republican Party has adopted creationism as a part of their program to consolidate their support. In the 1990s, the Republican plans in seven states included explicit demands for the teaching of creation science (see 1 and 2). There are Christian political parties in Europe, but none, at least major party, uses opposition to evolution as a part of its political program.

Creation (the title is somehow unfortunate, and I’m sure Darwin would find it too pretentious) will stir up some (evolutive) discussions. We have had them in Europe (we still have them), and we grew fitter, I believe. What (most) Europeans don’t accept any longer is, “believe and leave the rest to us.” It will happen one day in the USA as well—it’s only a question of time.

Oppression, censorship, conformism, in their many facets, are not evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS), not in the Christian world, not in the Islamic world, not in any world. Variation leads to ESS and has proved it again and again. Evolution is in no rush, time works for it, and its algorithm is relentless.

Learn more in our course Evolution. Evolution is the process of change in all forms of life over generations; behavior is as a tool in the struggle for survival and reproduction. This is an indispensable course to understand how behavior originates, develops and evolves. Evolutionary biologist Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. This is a free course. Start today.

EvolutionCourse-1024x538

Everything We Do Has Consequences

Everything We Do Has Consequences

Everything we do has consequences, some trivial, other more serious. A good rule is to ask the three following questions:
1. What do I give my animal and what do I take? (What does my animal give me and what does it take?)
2. What am I teaching the animal?
3. How does my animal (probably) interpret my behavior?

The relationship you have to your animal is the relationship you have created. It’s as simple as that, and it is your responsibility to build a relationship that will serve all parties best. Ignorance is no excuse. If you don’t know how to do it, take your time and learn.

Dog owners create the majority of the problem behavior of their dogs for they reinforce those behaviors never giving it a thought. Owners cause excessive barking, home alone problems, and even many biting cases, fear, and phobias. They didn’t think of the consequences of their behavior when responding to their dogs’ behavior. The same applies to all other animals we keep as companion animals. It’s easier to see it in dogs because we live with them in our homes. We share a significant part of our daily lives with them, and they adopt many of our bad habits.

Everything we do has consequences. That should be no surprise for anyone. I’m sure our ancestors knew it very well. Back then, second chances were rarely an option. We should recognize it as well, but since we live highly protected lives in the western world, we tend to forget that indeed everything we do has consequences. We pass this indifference of ours to our companion animals, and the result in the long term is the emergence of maybe unsolvable but avoidable issues.

Featured Course of the Week

Animal Welfare Animal welfare is an objective science studying the needs of animals, an interaction between natural science, ethics, and law. This course is a must for everyone working with animals. Learn how to assess your pet's quality of life.

Featured Price: € 98.00 € 49.00

Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

ATMWCourse

“Please” in Animal Language

Please In Animal Language

Saying ‘please’ to your animal can make the whole difference between success and failure. The question is, how do we say that in animal language?

Simplicity is a virtue in life as well as in science and communication. We should always keep that in mind as our animal training gets going.

We can argue for using the dog’s name because it is the simplest signal for us; consequently, we should give the dog a simple and short name. “Adventurous Beautiful Sunset Over the Hills” is undoubtedly a poetic name with its grace if you are inclined to this kind of verse. It looks good in a pedigree but far too complicated for any practical use. It is harder to remember, than a nickname like ‘Bongo,’ it takes longer to pronounce, and it is more difficult to perceive in less than favorable environments. Human nicknames exist for the same reason.

The simplicity of signals is a principle that we should always remember when we plan the training of an animal. All signals should have simple forms, no matter whether they are acoustic, visual or tactile.

Imagine that we are in the same room and consider the following example. I tell you, “please, come here.” The objective of my signal is to have you to move to where I am. ‘Come’ means, “move or travel toward or into a place thought of as near or familiar to the speaker,” or in simpler words, “move to me.”
The addition of ‘here’ is superfluous. ‘Here’ is where I am. If I did not want you to come to where I am, I would not say, ‘come,’ I would say ‘go.’
‘Please’ is in a sense also superfluous. It does not add anything to the behavior you must perform. We use it as a matter of convention because we somehow lost some of our ability to communicate by other than verbal signals. I say, ‘please’ to set you in the right emotional frame of mind to comply with my signal, but I could do that as well without using it. If I said to you, ‘come’ with a smile in my face, a twinkle in my eye and a gentle tone in my voice, I would achieve the same and maybe even better.

“Please” in animal language is not a question of words.

Even though it seems undoubtedly easier, if arguably poorer, to use common words to elicit emotions in our human interactions, it is impossible to accomplish the same when communicating with an animal. There is no way we can explain to an animal what we want to achieve with ‘please.’

Featured Course of the Week

Animal Welfare Animal welfare is an objective science studying the needs of animals, an interaction between natural science, ethics, and law. This course is a must for everyone working with animals. Learn how to assess your pet's quality of life.

Featured Price: € 98.00 € 49.00

When communicating with an animal, we are better off by just using ‘come’ instead of “please, come here.” It is simpler and conveys to the animal all it needs to know. We can also choose to use ‘here.’ It has the same qualities and none of the mentioned disadvantages. The emotional function of ‘please’ in animal language is better substituted by friendly body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, which are easily detectable by a social animal. ‘Please’ might also influence your state of mind—you are friendlier when you say ‘please’ than when you do not—but here you must compromise with the animal’s innate characteristics. It is easier for the animal to understand a bodily or tonal ‘please’ than a verbal.

Finally, there are situations when we do not need to use ‘please’ and others where we achieve better our goal without it; the same goes for our communication with animals. Sometimes, we will need to use a more assertive body language, facial expression, and tonal voice to achieve our objective; and yet other times we need to be very assertive.

We must assess any particular situation and decide how to modulate our signals. There are two elements in a signal: (1) the factual, which is an operant controlled by the consequences and (2) the emotional, which is the respondent and which the signal itself elicits. It is our job to control both so that we achieve the desired goal, and there is no magical formula to do so.

The factual part of it is clear. We only have to know the science behind it and comply with its rules. It is the part you can learn in the course “Animal Training My Way–Merging Ethology and Behaviorism.” The emotional part, which deals with empathy, is a difficult one. Either you have it, or you don’t. You may acquire it through experience, or you may not, and no one can help you with that.

This article is an excerpt from Roger Abrantes’ book, “Animal Training My Way—Merging Ethology and Behaviorism,” included in the course “Ethology and Behaviorism.

Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

ATMWCourse

A relationship is a natural thing

Relationship Child Dog (ChildDogPuddle-600x326.png)

Do you think they fight about what positive and negative reinforcers or punishers are? Do you think they waste precious time arguing about dominance and submission? Do you think they care about collars, leashes, harnesses, target sticks, clickers, kongs—or looking fashionable?

As I have said oftentimes, a relationship is a natural thing. Plagued by the sins of the past, the madness of the present, obsessive with political correctness, inebriated by the gizmos of the cybernetic revolution and brainwashed by consumerism, we have forgotten how to create a genuine relationship. If we wish peace and harmony, it is imperative that we regain this lost ability of ours. These two in the movie can teach us all a priceless lesson—if we just care to pause for a moment, watch them, and listen to their silent message.

Evolutionarily Stable Strategies and Behavior

Evolutionarily Stable Strategies and Behavior (DovesAndHawks).

Evolutionary biologists imagine a time before a particular trait existed. Then, they postulate that a rare gene arises in an individual and ask what circumstances would favor the spread of that gene throughout the population. If natural selection favors the gene, then the individuals with the genotypes incorporating that particular gene will have increased fitness. A gene must compete with other genes in the gene pool and resist any invasion from mutants,to become established in a population’s gene pool.

In considering evolutionary strategies that influence behavior, we visualize a situation in which changes in genotype lead to changes in behavior. By ‘the gene for sibling care,’ we mean that genetic differences exist in the population such that some individuals aid their siblings while others do not. Similarly, by ‘dove strategy,’ we mean that animals exist in the population that do not engage in fights and that they pass this trait from one generation to the next.

At first sight, it might seem that the most successful evolutionary strategy will invariably spread throughout the population and, eventually, will supplant all others. While this does occur, it is far from always being so. Sometimes, there is no single dominant strategy. Competing strategies may be interdependent in that the success of one depends upon the existence of the other and the frequency with which the population adopts the other. For example, the strategy of mimicry has no value if the warning strategy of the model is not efficient.

Game theory belongs to mathematics and economics, and it studies situations where players choose different actions in an attempt to maximize their returns. It is a good model for evolutionary biologists to approach situations in which various decision makers interact. The payoffs in biological simulations correspond to fitness—comparable to money in economics. Simulations focus on achieving a balance that would be maintained by evolutionary strategies. The Evolutionarily Stable Strategy (ESS), introduced by John Maynard Smith in 1973 (and published in 1982), is the most well known of these strategies. Maynard Smith used the hawk-dove simulation to analyze fighting and territorial behavior. Together with Harper in 2003, he employed an ESS to explain the emergence of animal communication.

Featured Course of the Week

Animal Welfare Animal welfare is an objective science studying the needs of animals, an interaction between natural science, ethics, and law. This course is a must for everyone working with animals. Learn how to assess your pet's quality of life.

Featured Price: € 98.00 € 49.00

An evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) is a strategy that no other feasible alternative can better, given that sufficient members of the population adopt it. The best strategy for an individual depends upon the strategy or strategies which other members of the same population adopt. Since the same applies to all individuals in that particular population, a mutant gene cannot invade an  ESS successfully.

The traditional way to illustrate this problem is the simulation of the encounter between two strategies, the hawk and the dove. When a hawk meets a hawk, it wins on half of the occasions, and it loses and suffers an injury on the other half. Hawks always beat doves. Doves always retreat against hawks. Whenever a dove meets another dove, there is always a display, and it wins on half of the occasions. Under these rules, populations of only hawks or doves are no ESS because a hawk can invade a population made up entirely of doves and a dove can invade a population of hawks only. Both would have an advantage and would spread in the population. A hawk in a population of doves would win all contests, and a dove in a population of hawks would never get injured because it wouldn’t fight.

However, it is possible for a mixture of hawks and doves to provide a stable situation when their numbers reach a certain proportion of the total population. For example, with payoffs as winner +50, injury -100, loser 0, display -10, a population consisting of hawks and doves (or individuals adopting hawk and dove strategies) is an ESS whenever 58,3% of the population are hawks and 41,7% doves; or when all individuals behave at random as hawks in 58,3 % of the encounters and doves in 41,7%. The percentages, or point of equilibrium, depend on costs and benefits (or the pay-off, which is equal to benefits minus costs).

Evolutionarily stable strategies are not artificial constructs. They exist in nature. The Oryx, Oryx gazella, have sharp pointed horns, which they never use in contests with rivals and only in defense against predators. They play the dove strategy. Up to 10% per year of Musk Ox, Ovibos moschatus, adult males die as a result of injuries sustained while fighting over females. They play the hawk strategy.

An ESS is a modified form of a Nash equilibrium. In most simple games, the ESSes and Nash equilibria coincide perfectly, but some games may have Nash equilibria that are not ESSes. Furthermore, even if a game has pure strategy Nash equilibria, it might be that none of those pure strategies are ESSes. We can prove both Nash equilibria and ESS mathematically (see references).

Peer-to-peer file sharing is a good example of an ESS in our modern society. BitTorrent peers use Tit for Tat strategy to optimize their download speed. Cooperation is achieved when upload bandwidth is exchanged for download bandwidth.

Evolutionary biology and sociobiology attempt to explain animal behavior and social structures (humans included), mainly in terms of evolutionarily stable strategies.

References

Featured image: The traditional way to illustrate Evolutionarily Stable Strategies is the simulation of the encounter between two strategies, the hawk and the dove.

Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. It is fundamental knowledge for the dedicated student of animal behavior as well as for any competent animal trainer. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.

EthologyCourse

Are You Teaching Your Pet Superstitious Behavior?

DogBarking2

Superstitious behavior is behavior we erroneously associate with particular results. Animals create superstitions as we do. If by accident, a particular stimulus and consequence occur a number of times temporarily close to one another, we tend to believe that the former caused the latter. Both reinforcing and inhibiting consequences may create superstitious behavior. In the first case, we do something because we believe it will increase the odds of achieving the desired result (we do it for good luck). In the second case, we do not do something because we do not want something else to happen (it gives bad luck).

In 1948, B.F. Skinner recorded the superstitious behavior of pigeons making turns in their cages and swinging their heads in a pendulum motion. The pigeons displayed these behaviors attempting to get the food dispensers to release food. They believed their actions were connected with the release of food, which was not true because the dispensers were automatically programmed to dispense food at set intervals.

DogBarksAtDoor

Some cases of CHAP (Canine Home Alone Problems) could be superstitious behavior. The dog believes that if it barks long enough at the door, someone will open it because it has happened before. Many CHAP cases are not even remotely connected with anxiety as the dog owners erroneously presume.

Superstitious behavior is extremely resistant to extinction. Skinner found out that some pigeons would display the same behavior up to 10,000 times without reinforcement. Displaying a behavior expecting a reinforcer, and receiving none, increases persistence. It’s like we (as well as other animals) feel that if we continue long enough the reinforcement will follow sooner or later.

As always, being an evolutionary biologist, the first question that comes to my mind is, “what conditions would favor the propagation of superstitious behavior?” Making correct associations between events confers a substantial advantage in the struggle for survival. That is what understanding (or adapting to) one’s environment means. The benefits of getting one association right outweigh the costs of making several wrong associations, so much that natural selection favors those who tend to make associations rather than those who do not—and that’s why superstitious behavior is highly resilient to extinction.

Featured image: Warning: superstitious behavior is easy to create and extremely difficult to extinguish.

The Function of Champing Behavior

The Function of Champing Behavior

Champing (or chomping) is a noisy chewing motion, despite there being nothing to chew. This behavior is associated with friendliness, pacifying of an opponent, insecurity, or submission, depending on degree and context.

There is a pacifying element in all forms of champing. Pacifying behavior (Latin pacificare, from pax = peace and facere, facio = to make) is all behavior with the function of decreasing or suppressing an opponent’s aggressive or dominant behavior or restoring a state of tranquility. Licking, nose poking, muzzle nudging, pawing, yawning, and twisting are common pacifying behaviors that dogs offer one another and us.

Champing is a behavior widely used by canines in situations ranging from mild unease to more severe concern.

Champing is one of the first sounds that puppies hear—their sibling’s suckling. It is, therefore, a sound associated with satisfaction. Redirection of the champing behavior assumes later a pacifying function—attempting to turn an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one. Initially, the pups connect camping with the appeasement of hunger.

JaneGoodallAndChimp1-768x516

Jane Goodall used to break a branch and pretend to chomp on it to pacify chimpanzees showing some unease (photo by Derek Bryceson/National Geographic Creative).

Champing is a straightforward and efficient way to show friendliness towards a dog. Curiously, this behavior appears to have a relaxing effect on most mammals. Newborn mammals suckle and connect sucking sounds (chomping) with pleasant and desirable consequences. Jane Goodall points out that she used to break a twig and pretend to champ it to pacify chimpanzees showing some unease. I often use chomping when in the presence of dogs and horses showing some degree of distress.

Featured image: Champing behavior has a pacifying function—attempting to turn an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one.

Featured Course of the Week

Animal Welfare Animal welfare is an objective science studying the needs of animals, an interaction between natural science, ethics, and law. This course is a must for everyone working with animals. Learn how to assess your pet's quality of life.

Featured Price: € 98.00 € 49.00

Learn more in our course Ethology. Ethology studies the behavior of animals in their natural environment. This is a fundamental course for the serious student of animal behavior as well as animal trainers. Roger Abrantes wrote the textbook included in the online course as a beautiful flip page book. Learn ethology from a leading ethologist.

EthologyCourse

The Ocean Accepts no Sham

SailboatInStorm

The ocean accepts no sham” is a maritime saying. The sea is shockingly honest and uncompromising. Excuses, rationalizing, compassion, self-pity, ignorance, political correctness, yapping, and baloney cannot get you out of trouble on the big blue.

In our wealthy and spoiled societies of today, we get away with shallowness, fanaticism, hooliganism and, not least, tremendous uncritical thinking. Not so at sea.

RAA-At-The-Helm

You can’t hide at sea. You’ll meet yourself whether you want it or not, the only viable strategy being honesty and integrity. It’s that simple!

From the sea, all you get is the truth, the only truth and nothing but the truth—independently of what that might be. You can change the name of the facts with which your sensitivities can’t deal, but a storm will still hit you with the same fierce force; and the mighty winds will still tear apart your sails—no matter what you call it. Politics, demagogy, propaganda, marketing, and hidden agendas leave the sea imperturbable. No wealth can buy it. It deals with the poor and the rich equally. No status will influence it. Kings and commoners receive equal treatment.

What you believe or don’t, be it gods or mermaids, has no effect. Knowledge does.
Your “likes” and “dislikes” mean nothing; taking as it is, does.
No spoiled children and cry-babies accepted either; toughen up is.
You don’t take care of your boat; she lets you down.
You don’t like punishment; think and don’t make mistakes.
You don’t read the winds, currents, and tides correctly; you pay for it.
You are reckless; you pay double.
You grow over-confident; you pay thrice.
You try to control the sea; you’re a fool.
It is as simple as that.

The sea shows us the essence of life, clear as crystal, as obviously as the blue sky lights up after the early-morning fog.

The sea ignores crying, moaning, nagging, whining, bitching, boasting, and con-artists equally. It demands honesty, adaptation, skill, patience, and humility, loads of it.

By the same token, once you realize in your mind and heart that you are but a little ripple in the immense ocean, just one amongst numerous, and act as such, the sea rewards you handsomely with a generous portion of tranquillity in your mind and contentment in your heart.

Then, and only then, will you be able to see the storm in the eye with no fears, to have the courage of facing yourself with no qualms; and to raise your head and smile to the thousands of stars far above and beyond.

And so, once more, I weigh anchor,
And to the sea, I fare.
“All I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.”*

* John Masefield in “Sea Fever.