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Live as If You Were to Die Tomorrow—Learn as If You Were to Live Forever

Today, I’d like to dedicate my blog to our students—and to all students all over the world.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever,” as Mahatma Gandhi once said.

Gandhi might not have said it exactly this way, but the idea is the same. Rajmohan Gandhi (in “The good boatman: a portrait of Gandhi” from 1995) explains his grandfather’s view as “[…] a man should live thinking he might die tomorrow but learn as if he would live forever.” Incidentally, Rajmohan Gandhi is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with whom we have had an excellent student exchange at the beginning of the years 2000.

We find the same idea in “Etymologiae” by Isidore of Seville, who lived much earlier (560 – 436): “Study as if you were to live forever. Live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

A variation of the same message (in “Hadith”) is attributed to Muhammad: “Live for your afterlife as if you will die tomorrow, and live for this life as if you will live forever.”

Some researchers attribute this quote to Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536). “[…] live as if you are to die tomorrow, study as if you were to live forever.”

Our students have been wonderfully diligent. I’m glad to see the number of taken courses increasing daily. It shows that “knowledge to everyone everywhere” is indeed the way to go.

Keep up the good work. Don’t postpone learning, my friends, do it rather today than tomorrow, for even the littlest of matters you learn adds to our collective knowledge. It may seem to you, at times, like no more than a tiny little drop—but then, even the great oceans are made of many tiny little drops, aren’t they?

Featured image: Even the great oceans are made of many tiny little drops (photo by Nick Grabowski).

Recipe for answering questions

Today, my friends, I would like to give you the recipe I use to answer your questions. Feel free to use it as you please.

When you ask about a well-researched topic, it’s easy. I check the relevant literature, weight arguments, come up with a conclusion and answer you.

On the other hand, when you ask about a subject-matter not so extensively studied, I have to think more carefully. Your question may be difficult to answer for different reasons. Maybe it depends too much on unclear definitions. Perhaps, a plausible answer builds upon how we measure evidence. Sometimes, your question is too broad.

Whenever I face questions like those, I stick to my home-made recipe, the one I give you here, one inspired to me by the great masters.

Composing my answer, I have to be overly prudent, for disagreement and controversy befall so readily—the nemesis of the writer sitting on my shoulder—no matter which words one chooses, someone can and will misinterpret them.

Finally, allow me to remind you, we do not always have bullet-proof explanations to everything, in which case suspending judgment seems to me the wisest approach.

Then again, we don’t need to have all the answers, to be able to contemplate life with wonder and to enjoy it fully.

Do We Understand Behavior?

Behavior is like the spectrum of light (behaviorspectrum)

Do we understand behavior? The conundrum of the behavioral sciences is that they are not exact sciences in the same sense as physics or mathematics. Behavior is like the spectrum of light: it is as difficult to say when yellow turns into orange as when one behavior turns into another. It is a continuum of quantity, perceptible throughout its duration, describable only when quantity turns into quality.

Friendly, insecure, pacifying, submissive, and fearful behaviors are a continuum of quantity, as are content, self-confident, assertive, dominant, and aggressive behaviors. The distinction between any two behaviors is a matter of function; the borderline separating one category from the next is a matter of observational skill, contextual parameters, and convention; the way we understand it all is a matter of definition.

Our brain wants to tidy up its stored information in small boxes, but once in a while, I like to turn them upside down. It’s good mental exercise, I find, and it helps me keep a good sense of perspectives.

Featured image: Behavior is like the spectrum of light. It is a continuum of quantity, perceptible throughout its duration, describable only when quantity turns into quality (© Illustration by Roger Abrantes with drawings from Alice Rasmussen).

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.

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Can Two Training Methods Be Equally Good?

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I receive many emails with questions about animal behavior. Most of them involve practical issues, but, now and then, someone poses a more complex question. Here is my answer to one of the latter, one I’d like to share with you because it deals with important issues for our understanding of animal behavior and training.

 

Dear ….,

Thanks for your comment, which gives me the opportunity to clarify a few issues. By no means, I see animals as biological robots or do I regard the Skinnerian approach as the truth, the only truth and nothing but the truth, quite the contrary (please, consider the following passages from “Mission SMAF—Bringing Scientific Precision Into Animal Training”).

“In fact, I suspect that [communication] even involves more than what science can describe with the intrinsic limitations of its key concepts and methods, no matter how stringent they are.”

“It seems to me, therefore, that our goal must not be to oppress or suppress emotions, but rather control them and use them advantageously. Emotional arousal proves to be necessary to learn and the right amount of emotional arousal even shows to increase the efficiency of learning processes.” (A very non-Skinnerian statement, I would say).

As to my own method to analyze learning processes in artificial set-ups (like in animal training), I write: “In a crude sense, SMAF is an oversimplification of complex processes […] certainly not an attempt to reduce complex mechanisms to a few formulas. In the end, [its] value depends solely on its successful application to solving practical problems; beyond that it has no value.”

Operant conditioning (when we use it correctly) is an efficient model of behavior for animal training because we control the conditionals to a certain extent (as Pavlov explains in its original writings, not the subsequent translations). Whilst operant conditioning is adequate to analyze behavior at a particular level, beyond that it is too crude a tool. To do that, we need evolutionary models and concepts like variation, selection, adaptation, fitness, function, evolutionary strategies, ESS (evolutionarily stable strategies), cost and benefit, etc. Thus, my approach to behavior is based on evolutionary biology and philosophically sound argumentation.

Greetings,

RAA

 

The core of the argument is reductionism, the view that we can reduce complex processes to the sum of its simpler parts. In a sense, all science is reductionistic. We attempt to explain complex processes with a few notions well organized in little boxes. That is a process that seems to suit our human brain particularly well.

However, we must bear in mind that our interpretations, independently of how good they are, are just our pictures of an elusive reality. They suit our particular umwelten but definitely not all. They explain parts of it from particular angles so we can make sense of it. Newton and Einstein, the classical example, are (probably) both right, only explaining reality at two different levels.

There’s nothing wrong about being a reductionist if only we do not get greedy and attempt to explain far too much with far too little as in, “That’s it, this is the way things are. Period.” Simplifying gets us often to the point, which complicating and oversimplifying, both have missed.

In animal training, one theory or one method can be as good as another depending on its foundations, approaches, what it attempts to explain and what practical purposes it intends to serve. If both are based on reliable evidence, use well-defined terms, and are logically sound, there’s little to choose between one or the other.

If only animal trainers would understand that, I believe we would forgo many senseless disputes.

Then again, we can brag about being the most emotional creatures on this big blue marble of ours, can’t we?

“Life of Pi” — Read the Book, Watch the Movie

LifeOfPiMovie

I read Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” many years ago. I took the book to bed, my intention being to read 10-12 pages before falling asleep. This was one of the few books I’ve read from one end to the other in one go. I went to sleep at five in the morning.

The other day, I revisited “Life of Pi,” not the book from 2001, but the movie from 2012 directed by Ang Lee with screenplay by David Magee.

The movie gets my five stars. It’s a near perfect screenplay adaptation of a book. It misses a bit of the first part of the book that would be too cumbersome to render in pictures anyway, but it presents the second part magnificently. It’s a beautiful 3D movie, a thrilling adventure, an experience for afterthought—you can take it as you wish.

“Life of Pi,” book and movie, is not intrusive, does not force you to think or accept anything in particular. It leaves you with your freedom to draw your conclusions, or ask your questions, as the case may be.

Take a break, read the book and savor it. Yann Martel succeeded in writing a book that you want to read word by word, not by paragraphs.

The following quotations indicate “Part.Chapter.Paragraph.”

“Just beyond the ticket booth Father had painted on a wall in bright red letters the question: DO YOU KNOW WHICH IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL IN THE ZOO? An arrow pointed to a small curtain. There were so many eager, curious hands that pulled at the curtain that we had to replace it regularly. Behind it was a mirror.” (1.8.4)

The most dangerous animal in the zoo is the human being maybe because of the relationship of danger with unpredictable evil.

“Rank determines whom it can associate with and how; where and when it can eat; where it can rest; where it can drink; and so on. Until it knows its rank for certain, the animal lives a life of unbearable anarchy. It remains nervous, jumpy, dangerous. Luckily for the circus trainer, decisions about social rank among higher animals are not always based on brute force.” (1.13.3)

Here, Pi is (between lines) talking more about human relationships than human-animal relationships, one suspects. He’s also thinking about how to train Richard Parker.  Throughout his misery, Pi comes to see cleverness and willpower as two remarkable human skills, but the question is, do not these skills also bring about evil?

“There are many examples of animals coming to surprising living arrangements. All are instances of that animal equivalent of anthropomorphism: zoomorphism, where an animal takes a human being, or another animal, to be one of its kind.” (1.32.1)

Zoomorphism (in a way, the opposite of anthropomorphism) means that animals treat another species (almost) like their own. Our dogs are great zoomorphists.  This is more philosophical that it may seem and definitely more obscure in the movie than in the book, which, as I’ve mentioned, is more elaborated in its first pre-boat part. One suspects that Pi is talking about his own struggle: Pi the Hindu, Pi the Muslim, and Pi the Christian all in one and the same Pi, not only tolerating one another but living in harmony.

I leave you with one last quote without any comment. Read the book, watch the movie.

“I had to tame him. It was at that moment that I realized this necessity. It was not a question of him or me, but of him and me.” (2.57.8)

As always, I wish you a great day.

Time for Those You Love

My blog, today, is short, just to share with you some questions that appear to me the more pertinent, the older I get.

We spend one third of our lives turning in our sleep, one third dwelling on the past, and one third worrying about the future. Think about it: you are probably worrying right now about something that you can’t do anything about or that you can resolve in due time, crying about something that can’t cry back.

Life is a countdown, every moment counts, don’t waste it. Take time off and spend it with those you love—no worries, no schedules, no deadlines. All the rest can wait, the world will continue spinning round and the sun will rise again, I assure you. Do it now, for time is what you never have enough of when you realize how much you have wasted.

And so, as ways to setting a good example, I took a day off and went sailing with my wife Parichart, my sister Nor and my son Daniel. It wasn’t really planned. It was more a “let’s go and sail.” We grabbed some supplies and to the sea we went—and we spent a delightful day as four spoiled and naughty kids cutting class and giggling the day away—and that, my friends, it what life is all about.


Featured image: Time is what we never have enough of when we realize how much we have wasted (Picture by Elias Vidal).

I’m Alive and I Have Only One Option

It dawned on me the other day at sea, one of those days with scattered clouds on the horizon and a fair wind barely sufficient to keep the boat sailing. Simplicity, that’s what it makes it so soothing and scaringly beautiful. The sea invites you to dream, but does not make promises, it is what it is, no more and no less, be wise and it will reward you, be foolish and it will punish you.

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 all so simple. The sea has this power, I discovered—the pertinent appears suddenly as frivolous, and the complex reveals itself in all its simple parts.

I felt absolutely ecstatic like something major was happening, and yet there was nothing particularly noticeable. As far as the eye could see, the world was an endless blue, only slightly interrupted by a thin line, far, far away. Sea and sky, a few clouds on the horizon, the sun to the west, no birds, no fish, no sounds bar the slight, rhythmic splashes of the boat gracefully cutting thru the water, almost as silently as the flight of the owl.

Simplicity—I guess, is what fascinates me most in Darwin’s brilliant concept, evolution by means of natural selection. The algorithm the survival of the fittestis the simplest idea one can conceive, and yet so powerful that it cuts thru everything our understanding touches.

I come to think of the principle of simplicity as a good old friend, standing by me as long as I remember. From my young student days to the times of book writing or when on practical commissions, my friend Simplicity has been there, unobtrusively muttering, “seek the simple…”

The principle of simplicity, as such, was first propounded by the English philosopher, William of Occam (1300-1349). We know it also as Occam’s Razor: “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem,” which is Latin for “Entities should not be multiplied more than necessary,” or “If two assumptions seem to be equally valid, the simpler one should be preferred.”

Simple is beautiful and simpler is beautifuller—and the sea has this influence on you. Thus, I took the liberty to apply the principle of simplicity to the definition of the principle—and the three following corollaries emerged.

Thus, my principle of simplicity reads:

If you have more than one option, choose the simplest.

  • First corollary: “If you have only one option, you don’t have a problem; don’t waste your time complaining, just take it and keep smiling!”
  • Second corollary: “If you don’t like to have only one option, work to create more; then you’ll have the problem of choosing one.”
  • Third corollary: “If you don’t like to have a problem, don’t create options.” Return, then, to the first corollary, don’t complain and keep smiling!

And so it is that I keep sailing this immense sea of blue, my heart beating for every, ever-so-slight splash of the hull in the water. I am but a ripple in the vast ocean. I’m alive. I’m alive and I have only one option, to enjoy life fully—and I wouldn’t want it any differently.

Featured image: A few clouds on the horizon and a fair wind, barely enough to keep the boat sailing.

Life Is a Rainbow

In our times, I’d call it the Facebook fallacy. It’s a false dilemma. We tend to classify everything promptly as ‘like,’ ‘don’t like.’ Peculiar habit this one for it limits us tremendously. We consort with the ‘like,’ inebriating us with its shallow compliment; and repudiate the ‘don’t,’ rejecting its challenge, missing the boat that for once might have taken us to undiscovered shores.

Facebook makes us believe that everything must either be liked or not liked (or rather ignored). This is an informal fallacy, an error in reasoning that does not originate in improper logical form. Arguments committing informal fallacies may be formally valid, yet fallacious.

The real name for my Facebook fallacy is the false dichotomy, but it is also known as the false dilemma, black-and/or-white thinking, the either-or fallacy, the fallacy of false choice, the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses, the fallacy of the false alternative or the fallacy of the excluded middle. It is an informal fallacy in which we only consider limited alternatives when there is at least one additional option.

The options we consider or give as a choice to our opponent may be two extremes or completely different alternatives. We can also have a false trilemma (if we reduce the options to three, instead of two).

A false dilemma can be constructed intentionally when we attempt to force a choice. The fallacy can also happen by accidental omission of alternatives or by ignorance. In situations where we are emotionally involved, it is not rare that we only see two (or a few) options to solve a problem when there are several.

As it is, life is not black and white, neither are your options in the vast majority of the situations when you feel cornered.

Life is a rainbow!

Why Do We Keep Pets?

Why Do We Keep Pets? Every-New-Day

We all keep pets (dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, parrots, etc…) because it pleases us. We feel good about having pets. One way or another, pet ownership satisfies some need of ours. There’s nothing wrong with that, in principle. All harmonious relationships are “give and take.” If we give in the same measure as we take, everyone should be happy. Species do not matter, in this context. Nature gives us many examples of animals of different species forming harmonious relationships with benefits for all parties.

That being the case, it seems to me, each of us (pet owners) should ask, “what do I give back to my pet?”

I’m not thinking about a place to sleep, food and medical care. Those are the self-evident duties most (if not all) pet owners do observe. I’m thinking about allowing our pets to be the animals they were (and are) before they became our pets.

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

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with our selfish motives for pet ownership, but we may have a problem if we don’t realize it, or deny it. Then, we may fall into a series of pseudo-explanations, inadequate interpretations, and knee-jerk solutions—and that’s abuse in my book.

I have a deep respect for all life independently of species and race. It appears to me that the pet/owner relationship, in this one aspect, should not be much different from any other relationship, be it with a spouse, a lover, a friend, a parent, a child. We should be content with what they can give us and not ask for what they can’t give. We should grant them plenty of room to be themselves. And, we should never take any relationship for granted. Every new day should be one more day we should feel privileged to share with that particular living being—independently of species.

Think about it. Am I wrong?

Have a fabulous day!

Featured image: Every new day is one more day we are privileged to share with any particular living being—independently of species.

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

The Single Most Damaging Belief of Ours

Damaging belief (WolfMuzzleGrab)

The single most damaging belief of ours is that everything is one-sidedly good or bad, right or wrong.

Good or bad, right or wrong depend on the conditions. A strategy is only good at a certain time, under particular circumstances. Behavior is dynamic and changeable. An individual displays one behavior at one given moment and another a while later. It is the ability to adopt the most beneficial strategy in the prevailing conditions that ultimately sorts the fittest from the less fit—moral strategies included—and decides whose genes will prevail in the next generation; and which memes will play the following round.

Opposing strategies, e.g. honest/dishonest, dominant/submissive, aggressive/fearful, hold one another at bay (in all groups, including humans). Whether it pays off to play one role or the other is ultimately a function of costs and benefits and the number of individuals adopting each particular strategy.

Featured image: The single most damaging belief of ours is that everything is one-sidedly good or bad, right or wrong. (Photo by Monty Sloan).

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.

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