Random Samples and Standard Deviations

Random Samples and Standard Deviations

By Ryan Donlan, Ed.D., and Jeff Papa, Ph.D.

to move in with its own agenda and with its own rules of
engagement regarding our planet, and us. In other words,
imagine a new highest-order species in town. Their way
of navigating existence differs from ours, and we struggle
to understand it. One might say this is because with
our level of intelligence as human beings … we just can’t
The new beings present themselves in typical big-screen
fashion—with slender limbs, formidably large heads, and
oversized eyes that seem a predominant way of communicating—
possibly telepathically. Cognitively they are welladvanced;
their technology, travel, and abilities to fend-off
interdiction indicate such.
We learn they are emotionally advanced as well; however,
their way of experiencing emotion (i.e., the way they
“feel”) exists along an entirely different existential plane
from ours. In other words, it almost seems our new extraterrestrial
guests are without an emotional component, the
way we understand emotion. This is unsettling, especially
when they announce:

Very soon, X percent of the world’s territory will be ceded to
them, both land and sea.

Many human beings, animals, and other living creatures
will be displaced to the areas our new visitors wish not to
inhabit, or will be domesticated in the living spaces of our
new inhabitants.

If we were urgently hoping to have input into what
our invaders might arrange for us, as they divvy up our
world and take possession, what might we propose, share,
or encourage?
We can’t help thinking the answer to this question is
eerily similar to what our world’s animals might say to
us—our world’s current dominant species—if they could
talk candidly in their own way. Imagine what we could
learn if animals would share their perspectives on how we
have made use of their domestication and resource allocation
as the dominant species.
Might they offer first a friendly jab, saying to us as
author Robert Breault did, “If a rabbit defined intelligence
the way man does, then the most intelligent animal would be a rabbit, followed by the animal most willing to obey
the commands of a rabbit.”

Oddities, from the Dominant Perspective
Consider how we struggle to understand the behavior
of even an animal we think of as relatively high on the
chain of intelligence. About the domesticated dog, we’ve
published these basic “lab notes”:
A seeming fixation on an old, worn-out toy … among
the bigger, brighter, squeakier, and better-tasting ones
bought more recently by one’s owner
Incessant barking at some of our harmless neighbors
(and walkers of gentle dogs), while fawning over the
local would-be burglar strolling the neighborhood and
sizing-up the next conquest
Rolling in whatever has the strongest scent, found in the
backyard or a field nearby
Jumping streetside toward passing, high-speed vehicles,
thankfully restrained by a prudent owner’s leash
We live with and observe them, yet we seem incapable
of understanding them or, worse, willing to go only so far
in truly considering them our planet’s companions.
Scant attentiveness leaves us with the aphorism “Dogs
will be dogs” or sometimes just asking them to their face,
“What?” Most likely, our domesticated partners would
be more than happy to explain what is going on in their
world if we would dial things down a notch and get in
their canine sync. Mark Twain offered wise counsel,
saying, “The more I learn about people, the more I like
my dog.”
Might our new alien visitors be similarly inclined in
terms of incapabilities or unwillingness in understanding
a human’s perspective, while settling-in to their own new
world order and positions of dominance?
We wonder if providing animal intelligence a space in
the MRJ might encourage a bit more positional humility
through which we, as humans, might reflect when acting
dominantly. Imagine what might be possible if people
and animals could have authentic, philosophical chats
with each other, a la Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar,
authors Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein’s 2007 book
that is essentially a humorous and irreverent philosophy
course with a front and back cover.
We offer a similar conversation between Harper Human
and Pat the Cat – our creations, we admit – through
which we might discover different rules of engagement in
how to move forward together, just as we would wish for
with our aliens above.

Philosophical Chats
Let us first consider “Ontology,” the branch of metaphysics
having to do with being. In contemplating why we exist
in the first place, it’s not inconceivable that the distance
between our extraterrestrial visitors and us is not unlike
the seeming gulf that spans between us and our animals.

Conversation #1: On knowing WHO we are
Hey, Pat (Harper Human might say): Humans existentially
experience being in part by leveraging advantage.
We have, most of us, a future-mindfulness and an
appetite for investment in things staving off future hardship.
We conceive our place in time as moving from the
past, through the present, and toward a more productive
and enriching future. We humans might say, “We
are, so that we can become.” This doesn’t always work to
our advantage, as Richard Dooling notes: “Man is a firestealing
animal, and we can’t help building machines and
machine intelligences, even if, from time to time, we use
them not only to outsmart ourselves but to bring us right
up to the doorstep of Doom.” That said, it’s the way we
are, it’s what we do, even though ostensibly with a better
outcome. Peter Kreeft echoed the sentiment, saying,
“Like apes, we breed, sleep, and die. Yet like God we say,
‘I am.’ We are ontological oxymorons.”

Well, Harper (Pat the Cat might say): From the standpoint
of animals, an ontological approach to being seems
more about present-mindfulness—being in tune with
surroundings and leveraging within reach what skills
allow. A symbiotic relationship with the environment is
more an animal’s thing, rather than an accumulative perspective
on how much of it we can control with the faculties
we have. Animals might say, “We are, so that we can
be … now.” It’s almost as if animals dance with the world
around them as they exist rather than plodding through
it toward something else. I offer you your own Wayne
Dyer, who noted, “When you dance, your purpose is not
to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step
along the way.”
[The conversation moves forward, eventually taking up “Epistemology,”
the theory of knowledge and how we make sense
of the world. And again, the point is relative comparison,
between the human and one of those with whom we live experientially,
one we feel looks up at us and whom we wish we
could better understand.]

Conversation #2: On knowing HOW we think
Harper Human: Well Pat, humans seem on a never-ending
quest to advance their knowledge, in terms of building
upon a foundation already in existence, and leaving
space for new discoveries to appear. Our best selves try
to make sense of things, and as we learn more, we sometimes
find fewer answers and better questions. Those who
know thinking best utilize intellectual humility and know
when to pause and ponder. As one of our preeminent psychologists,
Tania Israel, puts it, “A little more listening to understand, a little less trying to convince, and a lot
more intellectual humility would do everyone a world of
good.” Yet, how often do only the smartest and most humble
of humans try to make sense of things?
Pat the Cat: That making-sense-thing makes sense, Harper.
Animals making their own sense of thinking seem on
a never-ending quest to pique a curiosity, as if we’re constantly
wondering, “What happens if, and what happens
when?” Experientially rich, our scatterplot of experiential
attention is often given a bad rap. Isn’t it true, as your satirist
Will Cuppy noted, that “If a cat does something, we
call it instinct; if we do the same thing, for the same reason,
we call it intelligence”? Yet, while animals learn, they
build capacity and versatility with a rich repertoire of cognitive
tools. Ethnobotanist, mystic, and butterfly collector
Terence McKenna noted, “The felt presence of immediate
experience is the only world you will ever know. Everything
beyond that is conjecture and supposition.” The most
knowledgeable of animals seem to possess a never-ending
state of epistemological oneness.
[As Harper and Pat’s interchanges progressed, they regularly
touched on their roles in the world as we know it, each other’s
place in it, and how they might best be providing a yin
and yang of complementary existence. They both cited forward-
thinker Malcolm Gladwell, who said, “Truly successful
decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and
instinctive thinking.”
In terms of decision-making, it seems species at different levels
of developmental altitude might approach things in different
ways. Yet both parties acknowledged that scholar Rochelle Forrester
had a point when she noted, “Each species has its own
sensory world, which is often very different from each other
species’ sensory world … the human view of the world is only
one view and is no more valid than that of any other species.”]

Back to Harper and Pat:

Conversation #3: On filtering our decisions
Harper Human: Pat, gotta say, as humans, we have a lot
of responsibility here as the dominant species. Thus, we
often rationalize via moral high ground in filtering decisions.
With sporadic forays into moral absolutism, we often
articulate things as good or not-so-good, right, or wrong,
appropriate, or not. Overall, we do mean well. With what is
assumed and voted on as the moral high ground, those typically
in control define the good and bad of the situation.
Yes, there can at times be a perpetuation of power, or inequity
borne of dominant ideology. But from the standpoint
of humans who have the ability to reason with higher levels
of cognition, conversations regarding the morality of things
are always possible; however, from an animal’s perspective,
are they even prudent?
Pat the Cat: From our vantage point, Harper, animals
seem to make decisions more relatively. An operationalized
ethical relativism seems on board. Similar to humans,
our approach includes both positives and negatives—an
upside includes a degree of respect and an allowance for
difference. Conversely, some might get mistreated, devalued,
or left aside. From our standpoint, it might simply be
put, “It is what it is, and probably not much more than
that.” How do humans reconcile this with an insatiable
appetite for reason? It’s a challenge. Your Felix Alba-Juez
rightly asked, “Why is it so difficult for us to think in relative terms? Well, for the good reason that human nature loves absoluteness, and erroneously considers it as a state of higher knowledge.” To an animal, this insight is hardly even relevant because we spend little, if any, time thinking about reason and, even when we do, we usually don’t mind.

So What?
Harper and Pat’s chats do not end there and continued to touch on many more scintillating topics, but even their discussion above has caused us to wonder: From the standpoint
of our rich literature on animal intelligence, are
today’s scientists and researchers gathering insights that are
inherently human-centric? Consider the African proverb
that says, “Until the lion learns to write, every story will
glorify the hunter.” Could a different narrative be woven?
Might it be possible that the lions – or whoever’s on the
other end of the spear – have a different measuring stick?
“Perhaps measuring animal intelligence by comparing it
to human intelligence isn’t the best litmus test,” PETA’s
Ingrid Newkirk observes.
Dolphins seem good point-persons as we bring a close to
this standard deviation on this month’s issue.
Hal Roach once said dolphins are “animals that are so
intelligent that, within a few weeks of captivity, they can
train a man to stand on the edge of their pool and throw
them food three times a day.” Douglas Adams shared a
similar sentiment: “[O]n the planet Earth, man has always
assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because
he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and
so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck
about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the
dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent
than man—for precisely the same reason.”
Possibly, comparisons among species are moot points.
Noted primatologist Frans de Waal once observed, “There is
no single form of cognition, and there is no point in ranking
cognitions from simple to complex. A species’s cognition
is generally as good as what it needs for its survival.”
So let’s end where we began … with aliens. Cosmologist
Carl Sagan once said, “In the deepest sense, the search
for extraterrestrial intelligence is a search for ourselves.” He
might’ve been right. In making our own decisions as the currently dominant intellectual species, it might behoove
us to pause, reflect, and respectfully consider all life forms
with whom we coexist—and to keep their level of intelligence,
value, and dignity in mind. Professor Salam Al
Shereida cautions, “We are our decisions.”
Perhaps with an eye toward the stars above and what
our future might hold if we ever are visited, we now have
an opportunity to make an interest-bearing, “Karma-like”
deposit in our future—to be withdrawn someday when
new inhabitants come to our planet, force us to check our
egos, and make us step down a rung in existential altitude
This issue of the MRJ is dedicated to that future.

Random Samples
In selecting articles for this issue, there were so many interesting
papers that it was difficult to choose which to share
at any length and which to just mention for readers to
explore on their own.
■ In a 2020 Psychological Bulletin article titled “The Comparative
Analysis of Intelligence,” Mary Flaim and Aaron
Blaisdell examine existing methods for assessing animal
intelligence and exploring similarities to human intelligence,
proposing a novel method for approaching such
■ Earlier, in his 2013 paper in the American Philosophical
Quarterly, “Animal Minds: A Non-Representationalist
Approach,” Hans-Johann Glock presents a unique
approach to questioning philosophically whether or not
animals even “have minds.” The same year, in the Journal
of Comparative Psychology, J. David Smith et al. report
in “Animal Metacognition: A Tale of Two Comparative
Psychologies” their experiences comparing animal intelligence
to the human capacity for metacognition. Here,
the authors define metacognition as “the capacity to
monitor and control one’s cognitive processes,” and they
review whether this ability can be observed in non-human
■ An article included in this issue discusses possible applications
of animal swarm intelligence to human teams; to learn
how NASA has considered swarm intelligence applications
for robotics, you may also wish to read “NASA Swarmathon
Search and Rescue,” by Jose Medina et al. from the Proceedings
of the 30th Florida Conference on Recent Advances in
Robotics (2017). In “Cognition in Insects” (2012), which
appeared in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society,
Barbara Webb looks into whether insects know what they
are doing or if they simply know what to do; do they understand
stimuli or are they simply programmed to respond in a
rote manner to specific stimuli?
■ An article included in this issue examines the difficulty
of comparing human intelligence with animal and artificial
intelligence due to architectural differences. Juliane
Bräuer et al. say in their “Old and New Approaches to
Animal Cognition: There Is Not ‘One Cognition’” (Journal
of Intelligence, 2020) that nonhuman cognition should
be studied relative to its own unique ecological factors, not
simply in comparison to human intelligence.
■ Several investigators have looked at mathematical abilities
in animals. A research paper in this issue of the MRJ
notes that zebra mbuna fish and stingrays are able to add
and subtract. While it is uncertain exactly when and to
what extent humans first understood the concept of zero
and applied it to practical and theoretical applications, a
2021 article in the Journal of Neuroscience by Maximilian
Kirschhock et al. examines this concept in crows. In
“Behavioral and Neuronal Representation of Numerosity
in the Crow,” the authors report that crows can understand
the concept of zero (in relation to “one”) and elucidate the
significance of this ability existing in brain architecture different
from that of humans.
■ In their 2016 article in Current Directions in Psychological
Science, Gregory Berns and Peter Cook asked “Why Did
the Dog Walk Into the MRI?” The authors used MRI studies
of canine brains to better understand neural function
and intelligence in dogs. Five years later, Shany Dror et al.
investigated memory and intelligence in dogs for a 2021
Royal Society of Open Science article titled “Acquisition and
Long-Term Memory of Object Names in a Sample of Gifted
Word Learner Dogs.” And in 2022, Andrea Sommese
et al. looked at possible meaning or explanation of caninehuman
interaction in their study titled “An Exploratory
Analysis of Head-Tilting in Dogs,” published in Animal
■ In reviewing potential articles for this issue of the
MRJ, we found very little research involving domestic
felines. However, we did come across this study in a 2021
issue of Animal Cognition: “Did We Find a Copycat? Do
as I Do in a Domestic Cat (Felis catus).” Authors Claudia
Fugazza et al. demonstrate that domestic cats have some
ability to learn to copy human-demonstrated actions.
■ Meanwhile, an interesting article regarding a littleresearched
animal can be found in a 2018 issue of the Journal
of Comparative Psychology. Titled “Object Permanence
in Giraffa camelopardalis: First Steps in Giraffes’ Physical
Cognition,” the work by Alvaro Caicoya et al. demonstrates
that the giraffe has some comprehension of previously
seen hidden objects but that this ability may be limited
to a short time frame. Going a bit further afield, Andrew
Adamatzky reports in his 2022 Royal Society of Open Science
article titled “Language of Fungi Derived From Their Electrical
Spiking Activity” that fungi can be observed communicating
with each other with a vocabulary of up to 50
words using electrical spike activity.
For additional reading on animal intelligence, we think
you might like George Page’s book Inside the Animal Mind:
A Groundbreaking Exploration of Animal Intelligence.

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