There has never been a time in the history of mankind that we have been alone.  Other creatures have always occupied the spaces around us and we have had relationships of one kind or another with all of them…sometimes as hunter, sometimes as prey, sometimes as helper and protector, sometimes as the protected, and sometimes we seem mutually indifferent.  Not one of these creatures has changed in any appreciable way since time began.  Forms, shapes, colors and behaviors might vary, but the cat is still a cat, the dog is still a dog and the horse is still a horse…of course.

Meanwhile, man has developed scientific approaches to health, construction and agriculture, flown to the moon, and substantially changed the face of the planet.  However, in all these years of scientific advancement, there is no evidence that our basic nature has changed at all.  Whether you read Virgil or Shakespeare, Plato or Nietche, Jung or Freud….a human being is still a human being.  Technological advances do not represent changes in basic nature.

Science has pushed us forward in many regards and demonstrated through Quantum Physics that our view of the universe is flawed.  Given the fact that we and our fellow creatures inhabit this universe, it follows quite correctly that our view of ourselves and the creatures around us is flawed as well.  I would like to give you an example of what I am talking about and hopefully throw a little light on the problem…no pun intended.

The biggest problem in the training of any animal is recognizing behavior, then understanding what that behavior means.  Therefore the view of the observer is all important.  We assume that what we see is all that is going on.  Therefore the animal is what we observe it to be.  Nothing could be further from the truth (eg. sullen resistance, disobedience, anthropomorphism, etc.)

This brings us to Werner Hiesenberg and the “Uncertainty Principle”.  Simply stated, “the more we know about the position of a particle, the less we know about its momentum…and vise versa”.  Therefore, “what we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning”.  The Uncertainty Principle brings us to the realization that there is no “My Way” which is separate from the world around us.  It brings into question the very existence of an “objective” reality.  The world does not pass by inexorably on a predetermined path to inevitable conclusions.  We are not passive witnesses to this unfolding, not mere “cogs in the machine” as we had believed.  The “cogs in the machine” have become the “creators of the universe”.

If we create our own universe, then what you see is what you get.  However, what you see may have nothing whatever to do with what is going on.  So, reasonable argument demonstrates that the idea that animals are what we perceive them to be is erroneous.

Animals are not static.   By definition, they are organic…”process information and respond”.  Dogs and cats, for example, are interacting with us, and us with them, just like the particles in the Uncertainty Principle.  To clarify this idea, let’s look at how observing light and questioning its properties produces changes in the very nature of light itself.

Philosophers and scientists throughout history had long questioned the nature of light.  There was no doubt about its existence and its effect could be readily observed.  But what was it exactly?  Was it a substance, was it something that moved through a substance and how did it work?  In 1803 Thomas Young devised an experiment to test the nature of light.  What he knew was this: water moved in waves with peaks and troughs, you could measure a wave’s length, and if you sent a wave through an opening smaller than its ‘wavelength”, the water would “diffract” (spread out from the point of the opening).  He also knew that if two waves made contact, the waves would amplify in the peaks and go calm in the troughs called “interference” (these troughs are called frequency cancellations in audio).  So he took a light and three pieces of screen.  In one piece, he cut a large rectangle (much like a picture frame) and shone the light through the screen onto a wall.  Of course, he got a sharp edged dark shadow on the wall.  Then in the second piece of screen, he put a small slit (smaller than the wavelength of the light) and shone the light.  He got a fairly large round image slowly darkening out to a fuzzy edge…the light had diffracted…just like a wave.  Now he took the third piece of screen and put two small slits in it and shone the light.  He got alternating bands of light and dark on the wall…as with two stones dropped in a pond, he had achieved “interference” with amplified peaks (the light bands) and still troughs (the dark bands where no light had struck). Eureka…light was a wave!

Unfortunately, in 1905 Einstein proved that light was a particle, much like a stream of bullets, each bullet being called a photon.  Einstein’s experiment was based on the work of Phillippe Lenard (Nobel 1905 for photoelectric effect) and went like this.  He took a light gun and a piece of metal plate, fired the light gun at the plate and whoops…off bounced an electron.  If light were a wave, the plate should have vibrated the way your floor does when Junior cranks up the stereo in the basement. The photon has struck the electron and knocked it off the atom in the plate in a “packet” of energy (Quantum Theory - Max Plank).  Therefore, light is a particle.  Now we have a dilemma.

Of course now some “wag” had to suggest that we take the photon gun and shoot it at a photographic plate with our slit-screen in front of it, so they did, and here’s what happened.  They fired the photon gun at the screen with one slit open.  The photon went straight through the slit and struck the photographic plate just like a bullet (particle).  Then they fired again.  This time with two slits open, and low and behold they got alternating light and dark bands on the photographic plate, denoting “interference”, the property of waves.

The question is, how does the photon know if one or two slits are open?  If both are open, there are always alternating bands of light and dark.  If one slit is closed, there is no interference, the dark bands disappear and the whole wall becomes illuminated, including those areas which were previously dark when both slits were open.  When we fired our photon and it went through the first slit, how did it “know” that it could go to an area that must be dark if both slits are open?

Let’s go back to our definition of organic: the ability to process information and to act accordingly.  Hmm…photons (which are energy) do appear to process information and act accordingly, and therefore, strange as it might seem, they are organic.  If light will literally act like a wave at one point (when we ask it to) and then act like a particle (when we ask it to), the light is interacting with us…what you see is what you get.

The lesson here may be that we are looking at animals in entirely the wrong way and thereby getting the wrong answers.  The great thinker Franz Kafka said “All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers, is contained in the dog”.  I believe this statement may well include other animals, but is particularly true of the dog, as he so eloquently reflects us back to ourselves.  He cannot speak, and those who cannot speak observe with great skill.  We have many unconscious behaviors that go unobserved by all, except the dog.  And it seems clear by our success rate with animals in general, that we do not do a very good job of observing their behaviors and understanding their value systems.  This “reflecting back to us ourselves”, warts and all, can be maddening and is the cause of much grief between trainer and dog, especially when the dog is particularly astute in his characterization.  One need only see an angry owner once to realize what an immense influence a dog or cat can have on human behavior.  The result of this, unfortunately, is often “punishment” for the animal, which breaks down the bond…everybody loses.   Will an animal readily comply if we present our own wants in such a way as can be reconciled with his?  Of course they will.  No animal willingly chooses punishment and pain over compliance…as we are like to do.  They do not consciously resist us.  What I believe they see, is that we are unpredictable and dangerous at worst, and indifferent inconsistent idiots at best.  In response to this problem, we must develop a discipline that will allow us some assurance of clear communication between us.  This would reduce stress for both parties and make learning easier.  Let us look at two particular examples.

Some years ago the Swine Growers of America had an auto-immune problem in their breeding program.  This led to a study, which revealed that the swine with handlers who liked the pigs and talked with and petted them during routine maintenance were healthy.  Those swine with handlers who were indifferent, were chronically ill, had high infant mortality, and small litters.  An experiment was then set up which produced an 80% increase in health and mortality by simply changing handling practices.  Our perception changed, which led to a change in “our” behavior, which produced a positive result.  According to the state department there was “no change in the swine’s stated position”.

Secondly, slaughterhouse design has been revolutionized by the hard work of an autistic woman (whose name I cannot recall) who’s unique view of the world led to changes that have reduced stress and injury to cattle, thereby making a difficult situation more humane.

In closing this part of my presentation, let me remind you that your perception of things becomes your reality.  Sometimes we have to let go of what we believe.  The half step is confusion, but confusion must be accepted as it leads to new beliefs and behaviors.  It can be uncomfortable, but it’s well worth the struggle.  Try always to keep the “beginner’s mind” of Zen teaching.  Be open and ready to experience and accept new ideas.  The animals of the world are not going to change for us or anything else.  If we are to succeed, if we are to be more humane, we must change.  There are huge rewards waiting out there for all who will but try.


Human-Animal Interaction…Perception is the Key

by  Dale Stavroff