Reposted by CFACT
By David Wojick | November 24, 2020 | Environment |
In addition to studying complex human thinking, I have observed complex instinctive arguments in animals for many years. Instinctual behavior is often viewed as simple, perhaps even pointless. I've come to a very different conclusion that instinct is basically inherited expertise. Instinctive behavior is often very complex and involves sophisticated concepts, expert knowledge and a lot of decision-making.
So I wrote down my observations and hypotheses in the form of a four-year series of 46 short blog articles. The blog title is Horse Cognition and Other Living Things (many of which are discussed). It's about 30,000 words, so there are many things.
My approach is what I call "robotic analysis," which means asking what a robot would need to feel, understand, know, and decide in order to do what the animal instinctively does.
This does not mean that the animal's behavior is a robot, far from it. Artificial intelligence robotics tries to model intelligent behavior. For example, the development of the self-driving car required a lot of study of what exactly we do when we drive. The difference between a pedestrian who can move and a mailbox who cannot move (except in extreme circumstances).
Here are snapshots of some of the many blog articles to give you an idea of the results:
The amazing cow circle. June 2015
A small herd of cows and their calves are threatened by dogs. The cows do not all face the dogs. Instead, they form a defensive ring with each cow facing outwards. The calves go to the center of the ring. Think about what is required. The cows have to recognize the threat as a demand for a circle. You need to know how to form this circle, which is far from easy, especially since some are facing away from the dogs. The calves need to know to go to the center.
Baby behavior. May 2016
A baby bird is hiding under my riding mower as I approach and plan to mow. When I sit on the mower, it runs out and hides under my truck. This baby knows when to hide, where to hide and how to hide. It also knows when to change hiding spots. These are complex behaviors.
Instinctive learning. April 2016
A bird building a nest flies long distances to certain places for materials. The bird needs to know what it wants in the burrow at this point, and it must have already learned where the right stuff was.
I don't know how to trot. October 2013
Two-legged animals like us can only take one step forward at a time, but four-legged humans can do so in several ways. With horses, one of these ways is the trot. Most Tennessee Walking Houses, however, cannot trot, despite being as physically capable as other breeds that trot, which most of them are. Hikers lack this instinctive knowledge.
I began this research many years ago when my wife and I, avid backpackers, camped near an active beaver pond. The pair of beavers were still building their dam. My first career was designing earth dams for the US flood protection program, so the dam interested me.
I was amazed that it was much more sophisticated than our dams, which are basically carefully prepared piles of dirt. The beaver dam was a trellis of sticks that supported a mud and rock wall on the upstream side. Building this complex structure is an equally complex process, including cutting trees for the wood materials. I discuss this in the December 2013 article Meet the Beaver.
There is also a lot about the research method of robot analysis as well as the overall concept of an instinct as unlearned expert knowledge.
When an expert looks at a situation that falls within his area of expertise, he sees and thinks things that non-experts cannot. In many cases, instinctive behavior in animals is just that.
Animals live complex lives that we don't understand. Both pet ownership and wildlife management depend on how well we understand the animals we care for or care about. Robotic analysis is a way to understand a lot more.
David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and politics. For origins see
For over 100 previous articles on CFACT see
Available for confidential research and advice.