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Hammering Imaginary Nails

Hammering Imaginary Nails

Hello and good day!

We had a customer in the chocolate shop yesterday who posed a very interesting question.

She just bought a cute new puppy. This prompted a conversation about pets and pet ownership and then we trailed off into a discussion about animals in general.

We fell upon the topic of how animals think. Here was the question we got stuck on.

Do animals think in language?

Human beings are able to think in language and in sensory synthesis.

When we access a memory, we can recall the visual, audio, olfactory, taste, touch, and emotional sensations that go with the memory.

Sometimes the sensations are so vivid that we can almost relive the experience in our minds.

On the other hand, when we reason things through, to weigh options and make decisions, we talk to ourselves in our head. There is a physiological underpinning to thought, electric currents running through neurons.

The electricity flow manifests itself in language output and the language you think in depends on the language you have learned to speak best.

This line of thought brings you to a very curious insight.

In other places, where people speak a different language, they also think in that language. Not only couldn't you understand their words when they speak out loud, but you also wouldn't understand their thoughts.

But this isn't entirely true.

You can glean what a person's thoughts might be from their actions.

Even if you don't speak the same language, there are certain universalities to human behavior.

You know what a scared face looks like. You may not understand the exact words that a person is thinking but roughly you know they must be thinking, "holy crap, that's scary!"

Now back to the conversation with our customer.

She told a cute story about her new puppy. The puppy climbed onto a couch and learned that this behavior was prohibited.

Through disciplinary action, the puppy was taught that there will be consequences when that action occurs.

A few days later, our customer walked in on the puppy pondering whether to jump on the couch again. She watched from a distance out of curiosity.

She could see that the puppy was having a hard time making a decision.

He was looking at the couch with obvious desire.

Oh, how comfy it would be to curl up on that soft couch.

The puppy's muscles were twitching, ready to jump, but he couldn't bring himself to go for it. He stood there and stood there, mulling it over. And then, finally, the puppy appeared to think, "what the hell," and went for it.

Our customer popped out of hiding and disciplined the puppy again.

In theory, the lesson should now be more deeply engrained.

Here is the mystery.

We roughly know what the puppy was thinking about. He was trying to decide what to do about the situation with the couch.

What we don't know, is how the puppy was thinking about it.

A human would have used language to argue the thing out with themself.

A dog doesn't speak a language, as far as we know, although they do understand language prompts, sit, stay, no, roll over, and so forth.

What is their mechanism for running a cost benefit analysis on an ambiguous situation?

None of us in the chocolate shop had a good answer.

This question can be run out to cover any animal that acts in ways that are more than simply instinctual.

I don't know why, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about the implications of this.

There are smart animals all over the place.

We have racoons that come through our back yard who appear to be very calculating.

There is a lot of thought happening in the world that we aren't privy too, because it is isolated inside the brain of the living being, and in the case of animals, the thought is occurring in some format that we don't know and can't comprehend.

Down the rabbit hole I went until I came back to my fellow humans.

Have you ever spoken to somebody, and you thought that you were explaining the most obvious thing in the world?

Could be politics.

Could be religion.

Could be where you ought to eat lunch, or where to park.

Could be a strange disagreement over something trivial with a friend or spouse.

You are certain that the correct answer is clear, but for whatever reason, your counterpart vehemently disagrees with your interpretation of reality.

This is frustrating because we operate on the assumption that all human beings think more or less in the same way.

You'd especially think this was true about somebody who speaks the same language as you and who has grown up in the same cultural setting.

Given that we are all equipped with the same apparatus, it feels like it should be simple to convince somebody as to the correctness of a viewpoint.

But it doesn't work that way.

It is very hard to convince people to change their opinion on just about anything.

I had a disagreement with somebody recently that I could not rationalize.

To me, the other person was so obviously wrong.

To them, the reverse was true.

Neither one of us could make sense of the deadlock and neither was willing to concede their side, because we both thought that we were indisputably 100% correct.

This experience, plus my thinking on animals, has led me to a conclusion that I am going to operate with from now on.

Everybody has knowledge and understanding that cannot be transmitted to others.

The same way we cannot fully understand how animals think, we also cannot understand all the ways in which our fellow human beings think.

No matter how hard we try, some things are veiled in mystery.

When I get into a situation with a person who I know is smart and who has proven themself to be of high integrity, but who holds a position that I cannot fathom, I am going to label it a case of heterogenous understanding.

They understand it one way.

I understand it another way.

There is no bridge to connect us on certain issues and that is ok.

It has to be ok. It is reality.

The alternative to accepting reality is to drive yourself crazy hammering away at imaginary nails that disappear just as you attempt to strike them.

Anyhow, thank you for allowing me to ramble on a bit today.

Hopefully we can have grace for folks even when we can't understand how in the world they think what they think.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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