Norman Allan
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The Animal Mind

Leaving for London on the train, my last sight of my daughter, Jessi, by the stairs off the platform... I'd lost track of her for a moment and her waving caught my eye, caught my attention, "over here," hello. Visual analysis is keyed to notice movement. (see vision.)

In human conversation hands mark time, indicate emphasis or shape or relationship. Similarly the dog's tail catches attention with its happy "Hi there. What's up?"
The cat's tail, though, is tricky

On the train up to London, behind me so I never saw them, was a mother and child. The little girl talked of cuddles, which she rated better than kisses.

Rewards, the nice things in life, the desired thing, are what we animals seek: food, recognition and approval, entertainment and cuddles are the primary rewards. Actually, I too think cuddles are king. Failing cuddles, we want the next best thing, which might be football, music, or a beer. We pursue "reward", or avoid aversion ("punishments"). Rewards and punishments can be directly or indirectly linked to actions. If we need to pee, we are socialized to get up and seek the place to void. So a pet may want to go out; it may "want" you to open the door.

Our beagle, Rita, has a graded approach to the door. To solicit people to open the door first she may scratch at it, usually just once. Then she will murble at it, cooing like a dove. Then she will bark softly, "beuf". Then she may bark louder. However, when playing with a soccer ball she will bay at the ball as though it were prey (a loud unpleasant yowl). The other day our son, Matthew, was playing football with Rita for a long time. After the game Rita continued, as usual, to yowl importunately at the ball . So Johanna locked the ball in the tool shed. And Rita bayed at the door. The beagle wanted that the ball and appeared to "know" that it was behind the door. The dog would seem to have an internal representation of the world that includes things out of sight.

(Two weeks later she remembered the ball behind the door. This time she used her open the door repertoire of murbles, whimperings and barking.)

the beagle comes

My cat, Florian, used to watch from a window three stories up as I left the house to see which way I went, and then he'd be waiting for me hours later up the road one way or the other when I returned home. The cat seemed to have an internal map and places me, out of sight, in one direction or the other (up or down the road).

The execution of behaviour comes to involve plans (schemes), plans with goals (aims, desired outcomes, "intentions"?). Consider, for instance, my cat Florian's deciding where to wait for me. And the planning can then come to involve comparison of action and outcome with goals and this leads to modification of behaviour.

Rita is a lovely little beagle, but she is also quite pudgy, and she never runs after a small ball if another dog is going to beat her to it. Yesterday in the park we meet Tom, a bouncy greyhound, and Charlotte, a ball-obsessed Border collie. When Tom was bouncing the collie would not cross his path. So though Charlotte had made a start to chase the ball, and was much nearer than the beagle to the far thrown ball, Charlotte had stopped (intimidated by Tom's bouncy presence). The beagle observed. The beagle computed, "calculated". The beagle had the "insight", "I can get that ball", and off she ran passed Charlotte and Tom. She did this several times, in slightly different circumstances, as circumstance allowed, whenever she perceived that she could get there first. She didn't miss a trick.

Going down into the ravine this morning with the dogs, down the stairs of a wooden walkway, a squirrel came down the trunk of its tree to within inches of the causeway, just a couple of feet from the dogs. Obviously the squirrel could compute, could predict that the dogs were no threat to it. The dogs concurred. Though they are avid squirrel chasers, given a dogs chance, they ignored this cheeky fellow.

Rita often thinks slowly about things. She seems to ponder. I will call her and she will mull it over: should she stay in my good graces, or just how interesting is that scent, how accessible that picnic. I thought I'd demonstrate how the beagle deliberates to another dog-walker. I called to the beagle, off in the distance, expecting her to mull the situation over. Quick as a flash she rushed over to us (a strange dog-walker might very well have treats). When the preponderance of factors is weighed in a particular direction, a beagle can think/decide very quickly indeed.

So is this one of our behavioural parameters/dimensions: from ponder to impulse, to wait or go, to do? This is in the domain of "will". If we have an animal that is deciding, do we not have "will"?

the beagle goes

Where does the mind start? Mind being a mystery, what can we learn putting conscious thought aside and consider animals to be automata. We should look for the seeds of the mind back where organisms begin making decision.

Even the most primitive plants and animals show "tropisms" (orientations) footnote. Tropisms involve "decision": to approach or to avoid. Decision-making moves animals out of the mud and into (the rarefied) dimensions of information. This information may well be the seedbed of the mind.

As animals become more sophisticated they develop internal representations of the world (for instance, a visual representation of the worlds) to refine their orientation and decision making. Consider a frog. A frog needs to discriminate between food (flies), other frogs as potential mates or competitors, and predators. With the fly it needs to see it, "know" where it is and orientate to it, and "decide" when to strike. The visual field becomes an elaborate internal representation of the world.

We saw above several examples of "internal representations of the world", hypothetical representations: the ball behind the door ("I want to play"), the master up the road ("I'll go and meet him.")

In my thoughts, my experience, I am an ongoing story that began in the dims of time (first memories) and continuous in the moment. The duration of the moment, the length of "now" is relative (to the minds perceiving). And the story is the thing. The author, Kenneth Patcham, has a neat concept in his fantasy worlds… that in the world of the mind "narritium" (the weight of the narrative interest) is a powerful element. Our attention is with the narrative (the story we are telling ourselves).

For humans, the mind (existence) is very much like a story. Mind for a dog is a much much simpler story. My thoughts are like the unfolding of a story. They have that sort of timing. The human 'I' is happening with the tempo of my thoughts (experience, consciousness, mind), which is sometimes quite quick, but more often closer to the pace of conversation. (I am this interactive story that am experiencing.)

Some of this story encompasses words, verbal thoughts, as might be a voice. Here in the garden, me and the dogs, in part I am a syntax, innate and cultured - thoughts, things (symbols that stand for things and…) concepts, relationships, actions and events, my thoughts, my doings, are shaped by, and shape, my praxis. My praxis is a culturally determined process. It is what I am doing. This may be a tautological statement, but it is a totaling determining factor. The Buddha said that we are our thoughts. Our thoughts are one aspect, one category of our doings, and beyond that, our thoughts, in large part, pertain to our doings.

Here in the downtown of this city I have found a secluded spot, a small ravine with stream, a moment from the path, where I can sit by the gurgling water without a sound from the town. And here I sit with the dogs and write, "Once we see how complex the world of a dog can be and how conscious and aware he, it, is in its responses, we have to start thinking back to it from a human perspective. From the canine perspective we are just sitting around by this stream with these insects. Better is walking and seeing the sights."

Doggy jokes and "got you"s:
Trying to stare down Lucky.

Puppies like to eat cat pooh. People don't appreciate this and try to correct this behaviour.

Once, in high spirits, when our Australian Cattle Dog, Lucky, was a puppy, he snapped in my face. In response I sat in front of him and tried to "stare him down". After half a minute, forty seconds, he had a thought. He got up, went over to the cat litter box and came trotting back with some cat pooh, That is a "got you" dog joke.

(No! I got this quite wrong! The cat pooh was much prized. I "won" the stare down. Lucky submitted and brought me a valued present!)

Rita's Christmas rouse may have unfolded rather then been planned - she barked from the bedroom "come get this ball from under the furniture for me" and as soon as I came she bolted to the table and snuffled some of my dinner - this may have unfolded rather than been planned, but her "suckers to the garden" seems to have been a scheme.
   There was some special treat, like kielbasa
, in the kitchen - though I think it was now in the fridge. Rita went to the back hall and barked at the door. I went to the back door. Lucky followed. Strangely, Rita wasn't right at the door as usual. She was in the middle of the small hallway. I opened the door. Lucky rushed out. Rita turned round and trotted to the fridge.

So where is the mind? We have this creature experiencing, what? the world, as a dog or a man. I see the world and give it meaning. With my eyes open there is the world surrounding me, a room, a garden, and I also think, I tell a story, or listen to a story. And my "mind", my consciousness is (all) this experience.

The mind is that which watches and decides.

Philosophers have said that mind is primary - cogito ergo sum. Mind is what there is: and I experiencing a story. Some of that experience is a visual representation of the world. Some of it is a body. Some of it is our interactions with the world, our social interactions with the world. My story is in large part shaped by my social interactions and by my doings. My mind in great part shaped by culture: it is highly culturally determined.

All these things (the visual field, a kinesthetic and an active body, social parameters) all these things may be in my awareness. I may conjure scenarios with myself, conversing. I might "see" myself in these scenarios, create a sort of program/picture of my reading this to you and you saying, "But where is the mind?" (If you have any comments or questions, please ask. If this essay turns into a Socratic dialogue it will begin to have a chance of going somewhere meaningful.)

Where is the mind? Deists might say "In God." God created the mind of man in His image, His pattern, His substance. And where is that? Well, I am here. How do I connect to an ubermind? If we could look at this from God on down that would answer our questions. But we must look at the problem from the mud on up. The organism with its tropisms makes decisions. Soon it is hurtling through the landscape (if it is a mammal, or flying through if it is a bird) and making plans.

An animal starts to make plans. These "plans" are ideas. These schema are the bricks (one of the bricks) that are the units of consciousness. These plans, when executed, feed forward to entwine with our doings. Somewhere between the planning and the doing might be will. Between the planning and the doing is intention (decisions!) and impulse (voluntary action).
     In a social animal, of course, this consciousness (planning, doing, being), these plans, happenings, things, are largely social. Many ideas have a social context.
     Plans are items of process. They may be (modulated/altered) experiences (memories of experience). A mind may make plans. I notice that there is a better way of doing this (whatever). I change my plan. I may think, there must be a better plan.

So we have an internal representation of the world, we have prospective actions in this world (plans), and judgment.

The visual apparatus of mammals is sophisticated. As uncovered and described by Hubel and Weisel in the mid-20th century (see "vision" in neural nets in "Pattern and Resonance...") the first four neural connections work with an analysis of stimulus contrast as small circular contrast-surround fields. The fifth level neurons make an analysis of edges. The sixth level neurons are begin the analysis of movement, and all of this serial analysis takes place over time.

We know from our internal analysis of our own experience that minds exist as a sliding, flowing, experience with a duration of some fractions of a second. Indeed, my experience of these sentences, writing them or reading them, takes place over several seconds. Actually, it is more in listening to words, to sentences, that we have a clear experience of the temporal duration of "thought". A thought extends over time.

The baby chick as it walks around twittering and peeping is giving a constant reportage on the world. This social communication helps coordinate the brood in finding food or fleeing from the geese. When the chick approaches something with interest its twitter is an ascending note. When it meets a mildly aversive situation causing some agitation its peeps a descending tone. These expressions are controlled by a phase relationship between two motor functions. Approach and aversion at some levels (certainly as motor output programs) are represented as phase relations between oscillating systems. (See "the chirping of a chick" in neural nets.)

Verbal thought have a linearity in them.

Verbal thought are certainly suffused with "meaning". Where does "meaning" come from? From consequence? From the "qualities" of sensory experience?

Things in the world, the external and the animals internal representation of them, take on a "meaning" for animals in terms of relationship and action: something to eat, to chase, to flee.

In the internal representation of the world we might/must imagine that there is something that functions akin to symbolism. For a dog, a "cat" in any aspect (close and large or far and small, face on or sideways, crouching, running, arched and spitting), a cat is a "cat" and the dog responds to the category. Not to the particular image, though context is important. A running cat we will (probably) chase.

On this morning's walk Rita watched a crouched cat we had passed. Lucky missed it. "Cat," I said. "You missed the cat," and the dog turned and searched a moment till he spotted it. When on a lead, a cat is something the dogs simply observe. As we drive along, at other times, I may tell Lucky that there is a "dog", and he will look for it with some excitement.

A short while ago I was looking at the dog book, at the Blue Heelers, Queensland Heelers, Australian Cattle Dogs. Lucky was sitting on the sofa by my side. I showed him the book. "Dog," I said. Lucky darted his nose to the picture on the right, then the left one, sniffing,

and looked way. The image (which he could see!) didn't smell like a dog. I had spoken incorrectly. I was mistaken. It was not a dog. (Images are not objects with which an animal can interact, and are therefore of no relevance. Dogs and cats can see the three dimensional objects in the mirror, but so what? They learn to ignore them. Dogs can see the image on a page, but if it doesn't move, wag its tail and bark… (It looks like a dog, but it ain't. Ignore it.) Television sometimes intriguing, but ultimately non-interactive, which doesn't stop the beagle running to the door and barking when she hears a dog on the tube.

Steve Grand thinks that it is the link between action and consequence (reward/punishment) that gives rise to "meaning". Ken Wilbur throws more light on the meaning of "meaning" in his discussion of intelligibilia, as he call the objects of the rational mind in contradistinction to sensibilia, the objects of sensual perception, when he tell us that intelligibilia have intentionality, value, and/or meaning; and that meaning derives from the fact that a symbol points to, or represents, some other object or act (footnote 2) . It is value (rather than meaning) that is rooted in drive, appetite and aversion.

Social responses. Other animals in a social group may be objects to nurture or solicit parenting from, they may be allies (for grooming etc.) [experienced as comforting] or competitors [experienced as threatening]. An animal has to be able to switch into appropriate modes of behaviours. The mother cat purrs when she is in a mothering mode. The dog wags its tail to signal to others, but also to prime itself, to set (and so in a sense to help establish) as well as to signal its mode. (Then is the experience of mode mood?)

I was imagining a quick evolutionary progression from amoeba with its tropism, through flatworms with their elementary learning, to frogs which I can still almost conceive of in terms of computer-like-response, to dogs with their incredible agility and their social essence. So much feeling/affect would seem to germinate in this social context (socialization lends such sophistication to the mix). And from this flowed the thought that much of mind is in the unfolding of behaviours - in the experience of them: the animal does something in a "manner" (playfully, for instance) and its experience is textured by this behaviour, this manner.

So we experience social interaction, items of cultural repetition, common events to which we might give cliché responses, and so we live, experience, scenes in a life, bits of a story. These are our thought, in part, descriptions of events and their abstractions.

We are our experiences. Our sensory inputs give texture to our thoughts.

Whence comes quality? Start with sensations and feelings. Hotness-coldness. Touch, pressure, pinch, pains, aching, stabbing, Qualities, perception of qualities, in their multiplicity, may provide much of the qualitive "space" of experience. And this diversity of sensory categories/parameters creates a multidimensional "space" of "qualities".
    With emotional qualities some part of the quality is in body feeling…

Why is red sensed as "redness"? What is redness, blueness? I was just reading, in Edmonds and Eidinow's "Wittgenstein's Poker" p. 47, "In Principia Ethica, Moore argues that the 'good' in ethics is essentially indefinable - rather like the colour yellow. 'Good is good,' he wrote, 'and that is the end of the matter.'
    Quality is somewhat similar. 'Cold' is the feeling of cold. 'Red' is the quality of red.

Many primary feelings may elaborate around the continuum/parameter "approach avoid"
We approach with joy, feeling affection or love the (approached) thing
We avoid with fear, feeling pain, nastiness, not niceness.

A social animal's activity has a social dimension and these are, or these embrace, these colour, many of the animal's affects. Approach pairs with liking, feeling affection, though approach can be cautious, suspicious, hostile or defensive. As primitive, as basic, is fear (and, of course, this is pre-social - it goes right back to our first approach/avoid). Fear links to escape, an intense avoidance. Approach peaks in love, so when the New Agers say there is fear and there is love, they may indeed be pointing to the basic behavioural dichotomy, approach/avoid, pleasure/pain, love/fear.

Approach (a behaviour) we may imagine is motivated by "feelings" (internal experiences) of interest and desire. Now, these are postulates that we observe in ourselves. So we observe in ourselves that approach is linked with affection, niceness, joy, love.) Affection, an emotion, or mode or mood, can set off a style of relating, and its manifestation/actualization - the puppy tumbling - its unfolding is coloured, flavoured, by that mode, unfolds in that flavour, contributes to the "quality" of the experience and is, in part, its flavour and "meaning".

Could we construct a computer program that could accomplish all these functions? Probably. And would that computer be "experiencing"… would it have conscious experience? Possibly not. Steve Grand points out that animals compute with analog networks rather then linear serial binary process. (What is the space in which computers compute? Cyberwhat?)

One of the things that we do with our nervous systems is to bring separate things together and on the other hand, to differentiate, and to contrast. Contrast-surround fields that we alludes to earlier are a basic organizational tool of the nervous system. The ganglion cells of the retina is turned 'on' by stimulation of the sensory cells in the middle of its receptive field (increases its rate of firing) and is turned off (decreases impulse rate) by stimulation of the periphery of its field. The ganglion cell is analysing what is happening in an extended area.

Bringing things together, this does not exist in space-time. It is a function of information processors, and a function of mind.

I recall, in 1966, looking through young acid eyes across Palmeria Square at the Regency Terrace and noting that the walls were not "cream", but rather a quilt-work of pastel shades - greens, blues, pinks, yellows - which to my sober "eyes" were a quasi-homogeneous cream wall. So now I look at the desk before me and, in a sense, I don't really see the different colours. I see the "grain". I see "wood". We integrate. Make symbols to stand between our experience and the world. I see a "table" and "chairs" along with the geometrical construct. In seeing the construct "table", or "chair", I am lumping those bits of the visual field into a "construct", and I differentiate that construct from its surround. My experience is afloat in all these levels.

Integration over space (time) bringing things together to create "constructs". This bringing things together is an interesting thing… Again, these constructs exists in the realms of information processing and not in the physicist's material world.

As explained in "neural nets", there is a resonance phenomenon going on in the nerve and tissue matrices. In the sequential analysis, say, of the visual field, we have slightly varying rendition of the visual world in the sequential levels of processing, iterations sliding down time. Likewise with kinesthetic sensory input and motor output we have overlapping slightly different images of the body. These iteration will be resonating one with the others. I often think that if mind resides anywhere in the mechanics of the thing it might be in the resonance amongst neural matrices as they permutate experience. But where is that resonance? is it in an actual space-time or is it more (not actually) holographic, but what and where is the resonance?

The world we experience is not the outer natural world, the actual world, "reality". Indeed my experience is not even the original information of perception, but a refined interpretive representation. Where is this world that we experience? In the brain? Perhaps in part, and there, in the brain it exists as process, as process stretch out over time (see neural nets).

There is a wonderful description of the emergence of mind in Steve Grand's "Creation: life and how to make it". Grand
believes that our ability to reason consciously is grounded in our ability to build mental models of the world, predictive models which originally dealt with "body movement and simple sensory hypotheses (such as the automatic ability to 'fill in' the missing details from a partially obscured image of a face) ... [and that] similarly, our emotions are products of the basic drive mechanisms that evolved to control behaviour."  So an action may be based on a prediction of what might happen next, plus an emotional response. It involves visual pattern recognition, memory (which again links to emotion), while, further, " ... planning and navigation circuits assembled a plan of action, and their motor sequencing system carried it out. No single part of their brains did the thinking - it was an emergent consequence of the interaction between all these parts."   (pp. 170-171)     (for the full quote click here)

Eventually animals become sophisticated enough to plan deceptions. A television program on Chimps showed a mother and her juvenile son in the clearing cracking nuts. The juvenile had the best hammer. The mother chimp interrupted her nut cracking and started to solicit grooming from her son, but as soon as he responded to her signals and came over to groom her, she ran over and grabbed the temporarily abandoned hammer.
    (Note that this nut cracking is a cultural behaviour. Only bands in some geographical locations show this behaviour and with them it become quite elaborate sophisticated. They have anvil stones and hammer stones and they will bring these anvils and hammers to the clearing, to the nut tree, from some distance. At some remote location they may come across a stone and the chimp might "think", "This would/might make a good hammer," and pick it up and carry it to the nut processing site.)

The animal mind has evolved to some complexity. Parrots can learn symbolic and conceptual tasks often considered as pre- or co-requisites for complex cognitive and communicative skills. Consider the work of Dr. Pepperberg with her African grey parrot, Alex, who understands concepts of category, same/different", absence, quantity, and size. He has learned over 40 object labels: paper, key, nut, wood...  He has functional use of "no", of phrases such as "come here", "I want X", and "Wanna go Y". He can identify 7 colors: rose (red), blue, green, yellow, orange, grey, and purple. He labels 5 different shapes: triangles, squares, etc. He uses "two", "three", "four", "five", and "sih" (six) to distinguish quantities.
     Alex comprehends categories. He has learned not only that "green", for example, is one instance of the category "color", but also that, for a particularly colored and shaped object, "green" and "3-corner" represent two different categories of its markable attributes. Thus he categorizes such objects based on our vocal query of "What color?" or "What shape?" Alex differentiates categories of colour, number, shape and "mah-mah", that is, matter of composition (wood, paper, metal, wool).

Alex has also learned abstract concepts of "same", "different". Thus when shown two identical objects or ones that vary with respect to some or all of the attributes of color, shape, and material, Alex responds with the appropriate category label as to which attribute is "same" or "different" for any combination. If, however, nothing is same or different, he replies "none". He comprehends a relative concepts such as size. He responds correctly to questions asking which of two objects is the bigger or smaller, and responds "none" if they are of equal size."

One of the striking things, watching Alex on television, is how fast he is with his answers. When asked a question like "how many red triangles", he can see and answer quicker than I (mind you, he's had practice). Another neat thing, when he would make a mistake (perhaps intentionally) he would say, "Sorry". (click here to see the quotation from which this is gleaned.)
Pepperberg debates whether he is really contrite, because when he bites and says "Sorry", he is as likely as not to bite again in a moment. But then perhaps birds have short, rather mood than attention, spans. Or perhaps birds don't go in for contrition.

When left at the veterinarian's office, Alex shrieked, "Come here! I love you. I'm sorry. I want to go back."

hought. Thoughts do not take place in isolation. They unfold in an animals experience. Latter we may close our eyes and call up images, fragments, abstractions. Thought is textured by our sensory experience and our memories. Thought also evolved out of the "symbolism" that animals come to use to organise their behaviour. Letting an association , or a group of associations, stand for a category is thought in embryo.

I've walked around the question several times. What is mind? Tielhard de Chardin said that experience is the relationship between things. The cup's relationship to the tea is its experience of it. Relationship: like the lumping together or differentiation, relationship is a "description" of the material world; a quality.

We have all this information processing modeling the world, making plans, decisions, and somehow the animus comes to dwell in the drivers seat. The charioteer holds the reins; sees the world; feels, decides, experiences.

Who experiences? "Mind" posits an "I", a perceiver..

I've circled this subject somewhat like a dog looking for somewhere to settle. I could really use your help, your insights to see if we can advance our understanding. Where, and what, is the mind? Please click here to comment, answer, or query.


Elephants painting!

Some aspects of neural networks are discussed in Neural Net
(which is Chapter Four of Pattern and Resonance in the Natural World)


Elephants painting!