Are Dogs Smarter than Republicans? (We Know that Cats Are)

tumblr_mr9y4dKiqD1soxwgpo1_500In an editorial in today’s New York Times, Gregory Berns, professor of neuroeconomics at Emory University and the author of How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain, posits the intriguing theory that your poodle is probably smarter than Michele Bachmann.


Thor is definitely smarter than Crazee-eyes. He’s got a better press secretary too.

Here it is. As corrected by Penny and Tuppy. The boxer is no help.

@Benedick: I just read it, and I’m not sure why it makes me queasy. It’s one thing to think that animals are probably sentient, but when there is evidence that animals are sentient…

The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.

1. True.

2. Who is “we”?

3. Oh, are we granting childhood sentience, now?

Okay, the last one is a cheap shot. But this study is news only to people who have never lived with Critters. Any perceptive person with a cat or dog knows the score. Even my rat Desdemona had limited, yet perceptible, sentience.

How do we know this? Well, how do we know it of anybody? Since we lack Vulcan mind-melds, all our understanding of sentience — except our own — is through manifestation. And anybody who lacks this understanding is considered a psychopath.

Critter sentience is only an issue because of academic psychopaths Descartes and Skinner, whom we are free to ignore. Oh, and Genesis, if you want to go there.

I limit my proclamations to mammals, however, because that is the limit of my domestic experience, and birds (particularly Cockatiels) are known agents of the devil.

@nojo: Something about this article is different, though. I’m trying to put my finger on why I had a visceral response to reading confirmation of things I’d already experienced or intuited. I’m guessing the picture played a large part.

But personhood? Er. Some people treat their pets better than their children.

ETA: I just remembered something my mother told me sometime in the past five years. When I was six, I had a cockatiel, Sweets. My mother’s boyfriend used to stick lit cigarettes into her cage. She didn’t stop him.

@JNOV: I thought the breakthrough accomplishment was getting a dog to sit still for an MRI.

There are deep philosophical, religious, and scientific barriers in the West to accepting critters as sentient. Any objection is dismissed as naive anthropomorphism. (This isn’t helped by naive anthropormorphists…) But it wasn’t long ago that many people were also dismissed as lacking souls — which is really what we’re talking about here.

It shouldn’t be a shock that one mammalian brain operates much like another, allowing for make and model. But since we human critters have spent millennia telling ourselves we’re special, I guess there’s that. And hey, we are special! You don’t see dogs destroying the living habitat over the course of a few generations.

@nojo: As you say… the research catches up with what all of us already know. Descartes’s attitudes towards and experiments upon dogs are some of the most revolting accounts of brutality one can read. However, he did find a way to make scientific research thinkable.

This is why I don’t eat meat. And why I might stop eating fish again. I remember reading about an ichthyologist working in Florida describing groupers as being as playful as puppies. I have long believed that in 200 years – should anything still be around – commenters at FutureStinque/ will be all like ew! They like ate pigs and shit? That is like so ew. I know, I’m like OMG!

You know how we react to bear-bating (you know, google gives the spelling as ‘baiting’ but I don’t think that’s right and I canneh be fashed to crack the OED) and Republican primaries? I think that’s how they’ll react to the way we treat animals. (The pugs made me write that. They are hell-spawn.)

I can’t look at the innocence of my Rosie and not think there’s someone home. And no. I don’t think she’s a little girl in a fur coat. I think she’s a dog. For me that’s kind of the point. That we can enjoy a joke together. She’s been having growing pains (please. The dog has cost a fortune in vet bills) but tomorrow I can maybe take her up in the woods so she can eat something disgusting and vomit the rest of the day. Good times.

@JNOV: I don’t think ‘personhood’ is either/or. Like ‘American Exceptionalism’ we can claim it. We just can’t prove it.

@Benedick: What does being a person mean? I thought it meant being human. Is there a hierarchy in the natural world?

Why do some vegetarians eat seafood?

(It’s so weird to realize your mother is a sociopath. That was one huge trigger. Called a friend. Better now.)

@nojo: For sure about getting an unsedated dog to lie still for an MRI.

@JNOV: Being a person? I think means being aware of yourself and knowing that you are not a subset of another. Although I can see a time in the future when the intelligence of a shoal might be understood. If we can respect the hive we can respect the shoal, also the flock – starlings massing and wheeling for takeoff is an astounding sight when personhood seems to be the sum of all. The pugs often act as a pair but are quite distinct as to personality and character. The older pug has known unhappiness and is very intelligent, I think perhaps the most intelligent dog we’ve known. The younger pug looks up to her and is more vulnerable. Together they’re enchanting and I encourage all to have at least two of any animal. It’s less work and they’re so much happier.

Some vegetarians – ahem – eat fish because they are hypocrites. It was a deal I made with the hub over the ruins of a long-ago Thanksgiving dinner he’d prepared with a breast of Tofurkey and all the soy trimmings. My rule used to be anything without a face: clams, mussels. To my mind fish can be noble. Also delicious poached.

My mother was a sociopath? I didn’t know you’d met her.

An unsedated MRI? But dogs are the most reasonable of creatures once they understand the rules. They invent games, learn where they live, bite the hot plumber’s ass, adopt you as their own, and do their best to teach you how to be human.

@JNOV: No, really:

With the help of my friend Mark Spivak, a dog trainer, we started teaching Callie to go into an M.R.I. simulator that I built in my living room. She learned to walk up steps into a tube, place her head in a custom-fitted chin rest, and hold rock-still for periods of up to 30 seconds. Oh, and she had to learn to wear earmuffs to protect her sensitive hearing from the 95 decibels of noise the scanner makes.

Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn.

Now, what were we saying about sentience?

That caught my attention because it demonstrated the point before they even flipped the switch. The MRI is good in itself as basic research, but it’s not needed to prove anything.

Besides, as the story was very careful to note, the leap from neural phenomena to emotional state is vast, and easily confused. Scientifically, you can’t say anything more about humans than you can about dogs: This happened when that happened. We can say what a brain is in the physical world. We still don’t know where the mind fits.

@nojo: Here, kitty kitty kitty.

In my estimation there is no ‘mind’. We can talk and sing in a more complex manner than our fellow creatures but that doesn’t make what we do when we buy a Slurpee at the 7/11 intrinsically different from eating goose shit on the lawn. What we call mind is our own self-perception made manifest by grammar: first through gesture, then by song, then by musical theatre, then by the New York Times. Mind is not absolute. It’s on a sliding scale.

P.S. Legendary Broadway choreographer Agnes DeMille began a TV tribute by stating that Man is the only animal who dances. A statement so utterly ridiculous one could only pity her because it made me think she’d never had a cat or dog or pig or cow or goat in her life. Only gay men. All animals dance given the opportunity. What we do when we dance is a lot like what they do and for the same reasons. Difference is that we have a choreographers’ union.

@Benedick: You’ve just basically summarized Julian Jaynes, who got me into this mess. He was the John the Baptist to my Wittgenstein.

But yes: There’s no there there. “Mind” is a myth, which is why any attempt to map it to the brain is doomed to failure. Try as we might to escape it, we’re forever stuck in the world.

@Dodgerblue: Darling, we all blame Descartes.

I am firmly of the belief that grammar is everything. It was our need to order the impulses firing in our brains that led to speech, law, art, and Two and a Half Men. Which in turn led to more impulses and greater complexity.

I believe that song came before speech, and the theatre before religion. I also believe that for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows. I have absolutely nothing on which to base these beliefs which is always the sure way to know when a thing is true.

The mention of American Exceptionalism got me thinking about an incident that happened last week. A woman was waiting for one of the bathrooms at the theater, which one must climb two steps to get to. The steps are at an angle to each other, as if they were pulled from a very wide spiral staircase. She apparently took a step back, and tumbled down the steps. No permanent damage.

As she left, she told me that she wasn’t going to sue, but that we should have a sign there warning of the slightly odd steps, because someone else probably would.

In the entire time I’ve spent at the theater, which probably works out to about 15 hours per week on average since mid 2009, no one except this woman has ever fallen down those stairs. I’ve never heard of anyone falling down the stairs when I wasn’t there. As far as I know, those steps have been like that for the last 30+ years. Yet this woman was pretty insistent that we needed to put up a warning sign.

Is this a manifestation of American Exceptionalism? It happened to me, so therefore other people will have this problem. Or was that just an embarrassed person covering their lapse of attention by suggesting we’ll eventually be sued for having weirdly constructed stairs?

@IanJ: No, it’s a manifestation of American Lawyers. The theater would be wise to post a “Watch Your Step” sign, because somebody’s gonna collect on it sooner or later.

@IanJ: I would reckon it’s the latter, hurt pride. No one likes to fall on their ass in public. Unless they get an exit round. I also think she’s right. Now that someone has discovered how to fall down those stairs it’s inevitable others will follow and it pays to be prudent. Think of it as putting down glow-tape for the actors. You look at a set and can’t figure out how anyone could possibly fall off it but then at the tech they want glow-tape everywhere. Since that’s the only way to get them to shut up you do it.

@Benedick: glow-tape everywhere

I’ve been to that rave.

My first encounter with this was thirty years ago, when I was flipping pizzas. The bathrooms used cloth-towel rolls, and one day somebody installed metal plates beneath the dispensers — with a slot to thread the towel-loop through.

The purpose of the slot was to keep the towel-loop at a consistent twelve inches or so. But the real purpose was printed on the metal plates: TO PREVENT CHILDREN FROM HANGING THEMSELVES, or some such.

Now in the decades of cloth-towel rolls in restaurant bathrooms, how many kids had died because the towel loop was too long? Just one, I guessed — and the parents cashed in. Safety was beside the point. The metal plate was there to fend off the lawyers.

Well, I already knew it was a manifestation of litigious culture. That was an implicit assumption in the story. I just thought it was interesting to think of in the context of exceptionalism, and in a wider context than who’s going to sue whom.

@IanJ: American Exceptionalism is more like “We won’t die like everybody else, we’ll live forever.” We’re the pinnacle of Creation, and we don’t have to follow the rules.

@Dodgerblue: Don’t put Descartes before the horse.

Yes, it’s a very old pun, but it fits this thread.

@Walking Still: Will you marry me? I’ll ditch what’s-his-name. I never liked him.

I’ve always thought that American Exceptionalism is like Minty Fresh: a way to sell toothpaste.

So rarely I dip my toe in the stanque, but I do so after having read this. Exceptional? Not in the least. Smarter than a dog? Hardly.

I also read a delightful interview with Justice Scalia, fan of Seinfeld and Duck Dynasty, believer in the Devil.

Did I miss anything else?

I’m afraid to admit I was reminded of the old Beware of Dog sign to which was added:
. . . and the cat is not trustworthy either.

@Beggars Biscuit: Did I miss anything else? Same old same old.

You know how you keep telling yourself it can’t get any worse? And then it does?

@Benedick: I remember saying in the Eighties that this country would have to be driven off a cliff before we come to our senses.

And here we are.

@Beggars Biscuit: dumFux Nooz told the RepubliKKKans to shut down the gummit ’cause Osama was gonna allow The Poors to buy their own rapaciously inflated private health insurance, and they did since they never understood why the country elected a terrist preznit anyway. And then the braying hordes of Ku Klux Kristians lost their minds when the Sue-preem Court ordered all Americans to have MANdatory steamy gay shower seXXX while high on merryjuana. The end.

TJ/ We received our Please Don’t Turn off the Heat letters yesterday. Our last paychecks come tomorrow. I’ll send a smoke signal if my internet is gone.

Yesterday we came in to see if we were on the excepted or non-excepted list. I wasn’t on any list, and I thought I’d been fired. We’ve had verbal notice of who’s working and who’s not since last week, but this was the official part. Non-excepted employees signed forms and went home. Excepted employees (I’m one) signed forms and are now trying to meet a ridiculous monthly goal, higher than last month’s, minus 75-100 people.

A lot of us who are now having our asses kicked are bitching about the free vacation the non-excepted folks are getting. “It’s not fair — they are getting a free vacation!” To which I respond, “It’s not fair, but just because something isn’t fair doesn’t mean that it isn’t right. They’d be working if they could. They should be paid, because this disaster isn’t their fault.”

Every morning, we receive emails detailing how many cases we completed the day before, how many cases we have to complete by the end of the month, how many working days are in the month, how any cases we have to complete by the end of the day, how WE CAN DO IT because we’ve done such AWESOME things before… These emails don’t help, but they induce some people to slow down and surf the internet.

If we have a doctor appointment, we have to go into unpaid leave status, and when we come back, we have to sign the furlough form again.

We’re not working the holiday, but we won’t be paid. No supplies are being ordered, but blood can replace ink. We’re good on the pen front. If we run out of paper, we can press our own. I have no idea if we have money for postage. Our IT personnel have been furloughed.

The beatings will continue until moral improves.

@JNOV: Ugh. Hang in there, sister, and keep us posted on how you’re doing.

@JNOV: Reading your comment so early in the morning got me fired up to post for the first time in weeks.

@Tommmcatt Can’t Believe He Ate The Whole Thing: Drinkers aren’t quitters. There’s always room for another martini. You just need to want it badly enough.

@JNOV: How would you feel about tofu?

Thanks! I like firm tofu in a box, not that crap floating in water. Please no tofu hotdogs or bacon or none of that tofu masquerading as junk food. I also like olives and artichokes. :-)

(Seriously thinking about doing the vegetarian thing again. Seriously.)

I do hate that waterlogged tofu in the flimsy container. That smoked stuff is kinda crap. Seaweed is good. Nayonaise is of the devil.

@JNOV: The trick to tofu products, in my opinion, is to use them so you can’t taste them. They’re just a presence.

@JNOV and Benedick: I got some tasty fried tofu last night at the Thai place near the hotel I’m at for work. That might be the secret to tofu — eat it when you’re starving, and throw it in a deep fryer and serve with peanut and sriracha sauce. Basically it becomes a delivery device for the condiments and fried crispy goodness.

@JNOV: Thanks! I like firm tofu in a box.. See Actress, Said to Butler

@Benedick: They’re just a presence. Tofu doesn’t really have any natural flavor; even base level soy is pretty bland until you do something with it. The point is, I think, to have a meat-less protein. As SanFranLefty points out, however, that jello-like lump of veggie goodness sure soaks up the flavonoids.

@JNOV: Dja like miso soup? Watery broth, a soggy lump of tofu and a couple of flakes of seaweed, but it almost always is freaking awesome.

@flypaper: LOVE miso soup!

@flypaper: Nice. Where the hell have you been?

@SanFranLefty: My fried tofu is crap.

@Benedick: Yeah. My biggest soy intake was chocolate Soy Dream. I love that stuff. Silk, not so much, but the vanilla was kinda okay in coffee. But chocolate Soy Dream… They stopped selling it where I lived in PA. I just used the Taste the Dream store locator, and it looks like they sell it here in Bumblefuck Methville.

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