Here's me having just chased some ducks along the canal in Saltaire:
Looks fun, doesn’t it? Fun for me, anyway. I’m not so sure about the ducks: they swim away quacking, so maybe they don’t like it as much. Sometimes one of my humans worries about this. One day she mentioned this worry to another dog-walker, who said, ‘It’s not like it’s doing the ducks any real harm, it doesn’t physically hurt them’ and they both agreed. But I wonder if this is the wrong way of looking at things. Why doesn’t it ‘physically’ hurt the ducks if it makes them frightened? The fear involves (physical) adrenaline and causes them (physically) to fly away.
I think part of the problem here is that humans tend to separate everything into ‘mental’ and ‘physical’. The human philosopher Rene Descartes argued reality is actually like this. Although my humans say they don’t believe this, one of them has a shower gel bottle that says that it’s ‘good for your body and mind’, and the other one said of me ‘she has the body of an adult dog but the mind of a puppy’.
I’ve been thinking about how wrong-headed that separation between mind and body is. When I think about bones (which is supposedly ‘mental’), physical things happen in my brain. If I hurt my paw (which gets classed as ‘physical’), I definitely experience suffering or mental displeasure as part and parcel of the pain. So the mental and physical can’t be that separate.
I’ve recently been doing some research into what gets called ‘embodied cognition’, which is influenced by the human philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Among other things, it suggests that actually we develop the kind of intelligence we develop precisely because of the sorts of bodies we have. If I had opposable thumbs but couldn’t run very fast or smell very well, would I think more like you humans? I think it’s telling that our metaphors often seem to reflect our bodily engagement with the world – so people will often talk about ‘growing apart’ from a friend, or ‘getting side-tracked’ from a task.
You can read more about embodied cognition here.
I like humans but they are strange. One of the strange things humans do is take pictures of me. The male human does funny things with these photos using things called 'filters'. Sometimes this makes everything look black and white, like this:
I do not mind this, because I think that black and white are the best colours.
But thinking about this I started wondering: what if a very clever puppy grew up in a house where everything was black and white, like in the human photos? This puppy is so clever that it learns all the facts about other colours (for example red, the colour of one of my coats). It comes to know about light, and about how dogs' eyes receive light and how dogs' brains process the information they get from the eyes.
One day this very clever puppy is allowed out of the house. It is a lucky puppy because the first thing it sees is me walking down the street in my nice red coat. Remember that the puppy knows all the facts about the colour red, but this is the first time the puppy has seen the colour. I asked myself, does the puppy learn something new?
I enjoyed thinking about this, although I was annoyed when I learned that a human philosopher had stolen my idea.
Here's a picture of me with my humans. They were being silly, so I was trying to look dignified:
Suppose you asked me how many things there are in this photo. I would woof at you and give you one of my stares, because that would be a silly question. How many whats? There are two humans, three mammals, one pair of glasses, two hats, one dog, and thousands of gorgeous black and white hairs. Sadly there are no sticks (the number of sticks is zero). A thing is something you can count, and every thing is some sort of thing (dog, human etc.).
If I told you all the things there were in the universe would I have told you about everything that exists? Are things all there is? The human philosopher Quine seems to have thought so. And I agreed with him until the other day.
One of my humans was letting me outside for my morning wee, when a strange sight greeted my eyes:
The human told me that this white stuff was snow. I barked at it and then I ate some. Snow is not a thing. I cannot count snow (I can count snowflakes whilst they're falling, but that's different). If you say "there's some snow outside", and I barked "how many?" it wouldn't make sense. But if you told me that there were some squirrels outside, I could bark "how many?" (although I wouldn't do that, I'd run out and try to catch the squirrels). Squirrels are things, snow is a stuff. Stuffs are blobby and can't be counted - like snow, water, and oil. My favourite stuff is Horlicks, which I like as my bedtime drink.
I lie on a bed, trying out a new sleeping position. By my front left paw is my favourite toy: my aged, trusty ball. In fact, this is more than just a toy: it came with me from the rescue centre, and is also a companion and comfort in times of woe. It smells good.
Yet an itchy thought plays on my mind. Is my ball still a ball at all? It’s been punctured so many times that it’s now far from spherical. Maybe that’s ok: American footballs aren’t spherical, and they’re still balls. But, unlike an American football, my ball no longer bounces. Maybe that’s ok too: snooker and golf balls don’t bounce much but, again, we’re happy with them being balls. But while an American ball bounces and a golf ball is spherical, mine is neither of these things – in fact it lacks most of the things that other balls have.
I ask my friend Ludwig the lion what he thinks. ‘Well’, he says, ‘Maybe having a particular thing or set of things a ball needs to have to be a ball is the wrong way of looking at it. Take families: some people in a family have the family long nose, some the blue eyes, some the waggly ears, and some a mixture of those. Maybe no one person has all those features, and maybe not one of those features is shared by all of them – but they might have some overlapping features so we can say they have a “family resemblance”’.
Hm, I think, maybe. That explains why an American football and a golf ball are balls: one of them has the family ‘nose’ (being spherical) and one of them the ‘waggly ears’ (having a good bounce), while other kinds of ball might have both of those things. But what about my ball? It seems to share no ball ‘family resemblances’. So is it a ball at all?
I muse on the matter as I drift in and out of sleep, affectionately dreaming of my ‘ball’.
I like meeting other dogs. It's an excellent opportunity to share my thoughts about the nature of reality, and to show that I am better at running than them. Here's a dog which I met earlier this month.
I had a lot in common with this dog. Not only are we both dogs and both philosophers, we also liked sticks. And we both had some black hairs (the big dog was covered in them, I only have a few, on my spots).
Exactly the same is true of my friend Roxy, who I've been spending Christmas with.
All this meeting dogs with whom I have a lot in common has got me thinking. When two things (whether they are dogs, humans, sticks, or squirrels) have something in common do they literally have something in common? Is there such a thing as doginess that the big dog, Roxy, and me have in common? Or is this just a loose way of speaking, perhaps saying that you humans use the same word 'dog' of all of us? Is there no more to be said than that Lola is a dog, Roxy is a dog and the big dog is a dog? Or does doginess exist, but only because human beings have categorised us in a particular way?
I enjoyed thinking about this and was excited to learn that humans had thought about this stuff before. For now, though, I've had enough of thinking about doginess and I think I'll focus instead on the tastiness of my dinner.
It’s a fine muddy winter's day, full of good smells, and I’m out for an early morning walk with one of my humans. She throws a stick for me. As I run for it, it hits the ground and breaks in to two. I pause. Which is now the stick that was thrown? One is slightly longer than the other. Does having ‘more’ of the original stick give it a better claim to being that stick? But it’s only slightly longer, and the other contender has the more distinctive feature of the original – a bit where the stick branches into two. So, which IS the original stick: the one that is closer in size, or the one that has the original stick’s main distinctive feature? Or are both the original stick? Or even neither - are there now two sticks, newly brought into existence?
I ponder for a moment, then find a more satisfying stick to sink my teeth into.
Mental walkies with Lola,