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.
Mental walkies with Lola,