Hey, Kant’s Gettin’ Baked – Check Out His Moral Sense!

No one will ever know how dogs were domesticated, but we can make some good guesses based on the results beside us. Domesticated canines are less aggressive than their wild brethren. They pay attention to us in addition to their own species. They tend to be more ‘cute’ than grown wolves. A couple of different scenarios make sense of these observations. Maybe wild dogs hung around human encampments, attracted to food. The ones that didn’t bite us were tolerated, probably because they were good garbage disposals but also probably because they were social animals and we recognized that shared trait. The ones that didn’t growl were allowed close to the fire. The ones that learned to beg got more than scraps. Alternatively, we brought pups home after exterminating the adults and kept or disposed of the little ones as they pleased us. Either way, we catalyzed the changes we see.

And either story draws a vivid line connecting that first contact with the pair of dogs that pull my son’s sled. The products of selective breeding and the characteristics of wild canines are both visible in their behavior. They are working dogs, so they retain more wild traits than a pure companion animal. The aggression required to pull hard just seems to bring the wildness along with it. The lead dog is a Siberian Husky, and as expected for a lead dog, she is the most wolf-like of the two. She rarely seeks affection. She will hunt if not restrained. If the other dogs in the house defy her, she bares her teeth and puts her foot on their neck. She poses no risk to strangers, however. As entities outside her social order, they merit no attention beyond a quick sniff to establish détente. As for domestic traits,with her human family members, she is keen. She can tell when her boy is about to prepare the sled even before his parents. She recognizes words and tones as directional commands, and most impressive, she reads the expressions of facial features she does not possess. And she does it all for approval, not directly for food.

She is constantly running a reverse Turing test on her human associates, as do all dogs. Alan Turing proposed his test to determine when a computer was thinking and therefore conscious, and presumably, therefore a person. His test was a practical one. Essentially, a human inquisitor would speak with the computer alongside a human control subject and if the inquisitor could not tell which was which, the computer was thinking. The Turing test basically offered a practical answer to the question, “What makes me think a person is a person?”. The dog is asking, “What does it take for me to make you think I’m a person?”.

The dog owes this behavior to her ancestors and their human breeders. She cannot be taken out of context, nor can any of the players in this tale. Though they are no more conceivable to her than the astrophysics that lead to her winter coat and her instinct to dig a snow bed, she and they share a necessary link. It is a strange relationship, but a natural one, not a supernatural one. The same forces that fuel her cells fuel the sun and govern the seasons and the people who made her what she is.

It is possible that  a separate reality exists. If so, we can never know it, else it would no longer be separate, just weird. Look at the various proposed supernatural ideals, such as a moral sense, independent mind, or essential self-awareness. A bottle of Thunderbird can dispense with all of them with ease. If these intuitions are valid they are part of the Thunderbird reality with us, not visitors from a higher realm. The only way the supernatural makes sense is as a variation on George Berkeley’s model, in which we are all simply God’s thoughts. Unidirectional causation allows a separate, higher superstructure, but it renders it unknowable and so practically irrelevant to us. We can assert such a world without fear of self-contradiction, but there can be no Turing test to sort it out. If such a world exists, we relate to it, at best, as puppets to a puppet master rather than as dogs to humans or even dogs to winter. And if so, why worry about it? Nature is weird enough.

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