We need to have a lighter blog for a change, so I will talk about dogs.
I have had smart dogs and dumb dogs. There are smart dogs – I know this in the same way that I know that there are cold winters. Not all winters everywhere are cold but I have personally experienced cold winters and I have experienced smart dogs. People who have known parrots, dolphins, bonobos and the like seem to feel the same about those animals. Of course, there are cold winters and then there are Cold Winters – smart like cold is relative.
My current dog is the sort that looks at your hand when you point at something. My last dog was the sort that looked at what you pointed to and not your finger. This smart dog was a cross between a Border Colley and a Huskie. An example of the sort of behaviour that convinced me that there was a real mind in that head was her showing off the house. We were building a house and the whole ground floor was open with just the studs showing where the walls would be. The dog watched me show someone the house on a few occasions. I would stand in one place and say that this was going to be the bathroom. The visitor would have to imagine walls where the studs were, then on to other rooms. One time I was showing someone the kitchen and I said to the dog to show them the bathroom. She went to the ‘bathroom door’ studs and looked over her shoulder which was her sign for ‘follow me’. I told the person to follow her when she did that posture and she led them into the bathroom. I said to show them the living room, the dog went to the edge of the living room space and looked over her shoulder and then entered the space. And so on.
What she had done was to pick up, in my conversations with others, the words (probably ones I had emphasized and that were accompanied by a gesture) for the rooms. And she picked up the idea of going from room to room. She had a large vocabulary of words she understood – I figure she had well over a hundred. I talked to her in an ordinary conversational way rather then barking commands as I must with my present dog. She had already taught me how to follow her. It took her longer to teach me that, than it took her to learn a few of the things I taught her. She understood from my reference to her and to the next room on the tour that I wanted her to take over the task. The usual ‘dogs only follow commands, they do not communicate’ does not seem to me to cover this sort of situation. Shepherds communicate with their dogs. So do blind people. There really is communication between people and some animals. The communication is not through a language, however, it is through things like words, gestures, postures, and symbols. The communication does include quite complex concepts.
I have the same sort of evidence that my dog had a mind as I had that the next person I might be introduced to had a mind. It is easier for me to understand and predict their behaviour if I use a theory-of-mind then it is otherwise. It is also easier for me to believe that the other person has conscious experience like mine than it is to believe they don’t. The same applied to my dog. She will be more conscious of some things than me and less of others because her senses are slightly different, but on the whole it will be a similar sort of experience.