Friday, June 2, 2017
--- Why I talk to "animals" ---
People may think I'm crazy, greeting all the dogs on my hikes with "Hey guy!" and carrying on my one-sided conversations with them. But there is method to my madness.
If you want a good read into the mind of the nonhuman, I suspect that you couldn't do much better than to get Temple Grandin's and Catherine Johnson's Animals in Translation. Ms. Grandin writes from a personal perspective since, she says, there are many similarities between the way a person with autism thinks and the way a nonhuman animal thinks. And she is autistic.
I also suspect that there are things that she gets wrong because, despite the similarities she sees, nonhuman animals are not autistic humans (and I will emphasize that she expresses the same in the book, so I am not contradicting her.). But it seems to me that she gets a lot of things right.
Pet owners and animal trainers are aware, have always been aware, of how stupid the Cartesian idea that nonhumans are only automatons, is. Beside that, I almost respect the Skinnerian idea that humans are also automatons. At least Skinner recognized that like implies like. If what nonhumans are doing things that look like what humans do (e.g., think), then it make more sense to posit, at least unless it has been shown to be otherwise, that they are, at least, quite similar. If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck....
Regardless of what a dog thinks I'm doing when I give out a hearty, "Hey, guy!", it at least registers in it's doggy brain that I'm not aggressive and that I'm not afraid of it. There are several dogs in the neighborhood that sounds like, if they ever were to get out of their enclosure, they could do some real hurt to whoever is available. I hope it's someone like me because, at least I will be starting at a point of recognized equanimity.
I had a friend many years ago who trained his chows (in my memory, there were four) to attack on command and he wanted to demonstrate their training to me so he asked me to stand at a point in his yard and he let the dogs out of their enclosure and then he said, "Get him!".
I don't know what he planned to do to keep them from "getting me," but it was a non-issue.
They advanced on me, snarling and snapping, and I stared at them and growled. They stopped in a line and continued snarling and snapping, but they came no closer. My friend was furious and rushed them back into their fenced yard.
I think that people die in encounters with vicious dogs because the situation is so seemingly alien. Dogs are short and furry and their passion looks almost demonic. People don't seem to realize that, yes, they can fight back. They might get bit, but dogs don't enjoy being battered in the face any more than anyone else. They don't enjoy being kicked or punched in the kidneys. They're not the automatons that Descartes said they were.