Methodological Considerations

The above hypothesis introduces very special difficulties into the problem of how to test what is called the "psychology" (e.g., intelligence, ingenuity, discrimination, etc.) of individual animals. A simple discrimination experiment, such as has been run in the Lilly laboratories, and no doubt elsewhere, involves a series of steps:

(1) The dolphin may or may not perceive a difference between the stimulus objects, X and Y.

(2) The dolphin may or may not perceive that this difference is a cue to behavior.

(3) The dolphin may or may not perceive that the behavior in question has a good or bad effect upon reinforcement, that is, that doing "right" is conditionally followed by fish.

(4) The dolphin may or may not choose to do "right," even after he knows which is right. Success in the first three steps merely provides the dolphin with a further choice point. This extra degree of freedom must be the first focus of our investigations.

It must be our first focus for methodological reasons. Consider the arguments that are conventionally based upon experiments of this kind. We argue always from the later steps in the series to the earlier steps. We say, "If the animal was able to achieve step 2 in our experiment, then he must have been able to achieve step 1." If he could learn to behave in the way that would bring him the reward, then he must have had the necessary sensory acuity to discriminate between X and Y, and so on.

Precisely because we want to argue from observation of the animal's success in the later steps to conclusions about the more elementary steps, it becomes of prime importance to know whether the organism with which we are dealing is capable of step 4. If it is capable, then all arguments about steps 1 through 3 will be invalidated unless appropriate methods of controlling step 4 are built into the experimental design. Curiously enough, though human beings are fully capable of step 4, psychologists working with human subjects have been able to study steps 1 through 3 without taking special care to exclude the confusions introduced by this fact. If the human subject is "cooperative and sane," he usually responds to the testing situation by repressing most of his impulses to modify his behavior according to his personal view of his relationship to the experimenter. The words cooperative and sane imply a degree of consistency at the level of step 4. The psychologist operates by a sort of petitio principii: if the subject is cooperative and sane (i.e., if the relational rules are fairly constant), the psychologist need not worry about changes in those rules.

The problem of method becomes entirely different when the subject is noncooperative, psychopathic, schizophrenic, a naughty child, or a dolphin. Perhaps the most fascinating characteristic of this animal is derived precisely from his ability to operate at this relatively high level, an ability that is still to be demonstrated.

Let me now consider for a moment the art of the animal trainer. From conversations with these highly skilled people —trainers of both dolphins and guide dogs—my impression is that the first requirement of a trainer is that he must be able to prevent the animal from exerting choice at the level of step 4. It must continually be made clear to the animal that, when he knows what is the right thing to do in a given context, that is the only thing he can do, and no non-sense about it. In other words, it is a primary condition of circus success that the animal shall abrogate the use of certain higher levels of his intelligence. The art of the hypnotist is similar.

There is a story told of Dr. Samuel Johnson. A silly lady made her dog perform tricks in his presence. The Doctor seemed unimpressed. The lady said, "But Dr. Johnson, you don't know how difficult it is for the dog." Dr. Johnson re-plied, "Difficult, madam? Would it were impossible!"

What is amazing about circus tricks is that the animal can abrogate the use of so much of his intelligence and still have enough left to perform the trick. I regard the conscious intelligence as the greatest ornament of the human mind. But many authorities, from the Zen masters to Sigmund Freud, have stressed the ingenuity of the less conscious and perhaps more archaic level.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Supreme Sobriety

Supreme Sobriety

How to Maintain Your Resolution to Be Sober. Get All The Support And Guidance You Need To Be A Success At Sobriety. This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Turning Your Love For Cooking Into A Money Maker.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment