Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dog Gone It....that's interesting

As I was processing 100's of basketball photos Wed. night, I caught most of an interesting science program, The Human Spark, on Basin PBS. The show explored the evolutionary similarities and differences between human reasoning abilities and those of the great apes [gorillas, chimps and orangutans]. The show focused on decades of intense research, mainly at the Max Plank Institute. Amazingly the concrete reasoning abilities of the apes was at least as good as young human children and sometimes better. But the apes fell far short in connecting abstract relationships.

An example of abstract thinking pointed out by one scientist was the simple act of a human pointing at something. Even very young children made the connection that pointing at something meant to look in the direction for something of significance or meaning. But after 10 years of experiments, the apes just don't get it. And with intensive training....they could not be taught to do so. A pointing human finger may as well be a banana.

But, the scientist pointed out, there is one, and only one, animal species that gets the message of pointing. And that is.....the modern dog. Alan Alda, the host, seemed amazed and asked why this is. The scientist pointed out that other wild canines such as wolves and coyotes in captivity don't exhibit this trait and can't be taught, so it must be that modern dogs, having lived and working with humans for at least 10,000 years have had this genetically imprinted on them as a useful tool. She pointed out that some dogs naturally do this, but almost all the dogs they worked with could be taught fairly quickly to look where a human is pointing.

A special bond indeed.