Natural Dog Training in New York City

Natural Dog Training in New York City
Featuring All 100+ Articles Lee Charles Kelley Wrote About Dogs for from 4/09 to 2/13, Plus New Articles Written in the Same Vein!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

From Pavlov to Pauli: Dogs, Time & Confirmation Bias

Understanding How Dogs Experience Time May Help Us Understand Ourselves 
Originally published on July 28, 2009 by Lee Charles Kelley in My Puppy, My Self

Dogs live totally in the moment. They don’t dwell on the past and they don’t worry about the future. This may be one of the most charming and delightful things about them. But while dogs have no sense of linear time, they do have a very exact sense of cyclical time (probably related to circadian rhythms1), and it’s pretty amazing.

Pavlov once did an experiment where he sprayed meat powder into the mouths of a dozen or so dogs at noon every day for 2 weeks in a row. Then on the 15th day, he didn’t spray the powder yet they all still salivated exactly at noon.

How does that happen? 

There was a time when, as soon as Jeopardy was over, I’d get up, put on my shoes, wake my Dalmatian Freddie, and take him out for our evening walk. Then after about 9 months, my schedule changed so I stopped waking Freddie at that time. And yet, like clockwork, he woke up on his own at exactly 7:25 each day, and continued doing so for several months until he finally got used to our new schedule.

Dogs have a very strong sense of cyclical time, which makes sense because it would be advantageous for predators to have this ability. However, it’s equally clear that dogs don’t have a sense of linear time. That seems to be a construct of more developed type of brain. In fact, I think the ability to use reason—to see cause and effect, to put two-and-two together, etc.—is dependent on 3 cognitive abilities: 1) the use of language, 2) a sense of oneself as being separate from others and from one’s environment, and 3) a clear sense of linear time. When studied in their natural state, dogs show no signs of possessing any of these abilities, so they can’t have “reasons” for their behaviors, which means we have to examine their unique form of consciousness (or dognition, if you will) in terms of emotion not reason, and desire not intent.

So let’s take a look at how dogs would grasp the concept of time.

Even for human beings, time is not an absolute; it’s entirely subjective depending on our moods. “Are we there yet?” the kids will ask from the back seat. “Wow, the time just flew by!” we’ll say at the end of a wonderful evening. And during moments of extreme trauma, “Everything just seemed to go into slow motion.”

Einstein proved that time is not only subjective, it’s relative to how fast you’re traveling. He also said that the past and the future are illusions. In fact, some scientists say that linear time may be nothing more than an artifact of a quantum wave collapse.

Physicist Nick Herbert: “The present doesn’t have any special status in physics. The fact that time seems to flow is a kind of illusion that our kind of existence gives rise to. ... If we just took the equations of physics ... the universe would seem to be a kind of eternal, ever-present process.”

That sounds exactly how dogs experience life: an ever present process with certain crests and valleys that cycle in a continuous circadian rhythm. If so then linear time would be like a series of particle-like moments, set in chronological order, cyclical time would be like a wave, and we’re seemingly back in the realm of quantum physics. (New research suggests that quantum physics may be able to explain some of the mysteries surrounding the sense of smell, the process of photosynthesis, and other biological functions.)

Can the laws of physics mesh with our understanding of animal psychology? 

In 1919, in Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist John B. Watson wrote, “The key which will unlock the door of any other scientific structure will unlock the door of psychology.” In 1952, quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli2 was more specific: “It would be most satisfactory of all if physis and psyche could be seen as complementary aspects of the same reality.” In fact Pauli spent a great deal of time trying to find the laws that would connect mind (energy) and matter.

One of the most fascinating things about Pauli’s life is what’s called the “Pauli effect,” the tendency for equipment to malfunction whenever he was in the lab. There was even one such mishap in Gottenheim, Germany, where Pauli had worked several years earlier. Pauli was living near Zurich at the time, though, which caused the scientists to joke that the malfunction couldn’t have been caused by the Pauli effect because he wasn’t there at the time. Yet they found out later that he’d been passing through Gottenheim on his way to Zurich, and was sitting in a railway car at the exact moment the incident took place!

Despite his affection for and belief in the somewhat unscientific nature of the principle named after him, Pauli was a perfectionist when it came to hard science. He was especially sensitive to confirmation bias, both in his work and the work of his fellow physicists. He’s said to have been so infuriated by one paper that he coined the phrase “Not only is it not right, it’s not even wrong.”

Carl Jung worked with Pauli on several attempts to formulate a workable theory connecting mind and matter. Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe what he called the “acausal connecting principle” that links mind and matter without any reference points in space or time.

In many ways time has always been a mystery. St. Augustine wrote, “What is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it, I know not.”

Certain drugs like LSD, peyote, etc., drastically change a person’s perceptions about the passage of time, indicating that linear time really is a mental construct, not a fixed fact of nature. It has also been documented that some autistic persons have either no sense of linear time or a very different sense of it than the rest of us. 

In Beyond the Silence: My Life, the World and Autism, Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay wrote the following bit of poetry...

“Every move that I make shows how trapped I feel
Under the continuous flow of happenings
The effect of a cause becomes the cause of another effect...
But it is a world full of improbabilities  
racing toward uncertainty.”

This brings us back to quantum physics, which describes a world full of vibrating probabilities. And it’s only when we observe a phenomena that those probabilities settle down and become real. 

“The door through which this happens,” says Nick Herbert, “is measurement. ... but quantum physics doesn’t tell us what a measurement is. Some extreme guesses are that consciousness has to be involved—only when some entity becomes aware, do the possibilities change into actualities.”

A lot has happened since Pavlov’s day, and even Pauli’s. This is the 21st Century. John Watson’s hope that the laws of psychology would one day be revealed through physics and chemistry is becoming a reality. We’re getting more and more information all the time now on how chemical agents like dopamine and oxytocin exert tremendous control over behavior, learning, and even evolution. We have the ability to do fMRIs on human subjects to see what parts of their brains fire up while they’re engaged in certain simple cognitive tasks (like time-dependent tasks lighting up certain sections of the parietal lobe3). We can even do tests on patients while their brains are exposed during surgery to find out where the language centers are located in the brain. It seems as if the ideal that Watson was hoping for has finally arrived.

And yet it hasn’t. Cognitive scientists are starting to realize that animals have emotions, primarily because they have the same kind of wiring for emotion that we do. But many of them also insist that animals have the ability to think, ignoring the fact that there are certain bits of cognitive architecture the “non-human” brain simply does not possess.

If you ask me, too many dognitive scientists design their studies with heavy confirmation bias in mind. In one such study on “selective imitation in dogs,” the owners of the dogs involved were there, giving the animals cues. 

So were the dogs really exhibiting selective imitation or just being good, obedient little doggies? And the conclusions drawn!—that dogs will imitate another dog’s behavior “if they believe the other dog has a good reason for doing it”—are begging for Pauli’s response. Not only is that not right, it’s not even scientific enough to be wrong.

Like quantum physics, synchronicity, and autism, there are many things about time and consciousness that are still a mystery. And yet if we look at what Wolfgang Pauli had to say, the only mystery is why we don’t assiduously avoid confirmation bias by not steering dogs to act in the way that our experiments are designed to prove. And even if some scientists aren’t doing this consciously, if dogs are in a situation where there’s nothing interesting going on and someone with a strong enough desire comes along and wants them to do something, they’ll usually try and find a way to do it. This means that dogs are confirmation bias with a tail4.

So it seems to me that we not only to avoid confirmation bias but to avoid a kind of reverse Pauli effect, where the equipment, or in this case the test subjects, operate in ways that they wouldn’t do under normal circumstances. (We could call this the “doggie effect.”)

Pauli believed, and rightly so, that consciousness was energy. On the most basic level all behavior is an energy exchange with the environment. So let’s see if we can begin to explain canine behavior from a purely energetic standpoint5. What are dogs, after all, when given enough time and room to play, but pure, unadulterated (not mention timeless) energy?

So let’s celebrate dogs for the wonderful qualities they actually possess: their true dogginess. They’re amazing animals, particularly since they’re able to fool so many otherwise talented scientists into thinking some very unscientific things. 

“Life Is an Adventure—Where Will Your Dog Take You?”



1. A study was done in Japan recently which showed that the human body naturally emits light. These are not infrared emissions detectable with night vision goggles or special cameras. The body emits photons with wavelengths in the visible spectrum. And the amount of light emitted varies over time, and does so according to our circadian rhythms.

2. Pauli was a brilliant physicist but also thought of himself as a natural philosopher. In physics he was famous primarily for the exclusion principle (aka, the Pauli Principle), and for his prediction in 1930 of the neutrino, which wasn’t actually proven to exist until 1956.

3. Interestingly, there are certain equations related to quantum physics where space and time reverse themselves. Time becomes space and space becomes time. It’s also interesting that in humans the sense of time seems to be processed in the parietal lobe, which is also where a sense of spatial dynamics is processed.

4. In a previous article I noted that dogs have an uncanny ability to “get under our skin” and “hijack” our brains. Cognitive scientist Michael Tomasello has said that animals who are “enculturated” with humans show higher levels of cognition than those who aren’t, suggesting that the cognitive abilities of domestic dogs may be the result of embodied embedded cognition, a theoretical outgrowth of self-organizing systems.

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