MT VOID 02/05/99 (Vol. 17, Number 32)

MT VOID 02/05/99 (Vol. 17, Number 32)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 02/05/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 32

Table of Contents

Outside events: The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-447-3652 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
Rob Mitchell  MT 2E-537  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


As Al Pacino says in the GODFATHER films, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." Well, not really, but events occurred that reminded me that I had a little more to say about canine intelligence. I will tell you what got me thinking about it. Evelyn cooked a turkey and we had it for dinner, then had a refrigerator full of leftovers. The next day I took some leftover turkey meat and next to it was a dish of stuffing. So I took a couple of spoonfuls with the turkey. This stuffing was OK, but it was not as good as I was hoping. It seemed a little strange that it was still in cubes if I gave it any thought at all. A little while later Evelyn mentioned that she still had some stuffing in the refrigerator to cook up. Well this did strike me as odd since first of all the turkey had been deconstructed the previous evening. I did the deed, so I know. How does one have uncooked stuffing the next day. What does one stuff with it? Well, she cooks up some outside of the turkey. It is stuffing that never had and never would stuff anything, but we still call it "stuffing." I realized that it is not just dogs who desperately try to figure out human society and try to function in it. It is a fairly constant condition for many of us humans. None of us really knows the rules. That is because no one source makes up the rules. Everybody makes up his or her own rules. And we drift around in and out of sets of rules. I probably was supposed to know that when Evelyn makes a turkey, that there are two kinds of stuffing that she makes and that even long after the turkey no longer exists as a unified whole, there is still stuffing that has not yet been prepared to eat. This runs counter to my intuition and is just a fact that has to be learned. Some facts about a sphere of rules are much more obvious than others. Any environment that one enters has a lot of these spheres hanging around and as you enter them you try to figure them out as quickly as you can manage. You just hope that people in the spheres understand that you are confused and want to help you. And about your best tool for figuring them out is language.

Now when you are a dog--a situation I suspect the reader either will never have to face or has already mastered-your language skills are probably not as well- developed. I am sure that when a human talks to a dog, the dog is thinking, "Now what the HECK does this all mean? I am supposed to understand it or he wouldn't be saying it to me. Now what does it mean?" And with a dog putting himself under that sort of pressure you can bet that if the intelligence is there, the dog will pick up human language skills.

In the last set of articles I suggested that barking is really a dog's attempts at the verbal language he hears humans using, or as close to it as the dog can make with his throat. I should have mentioned that this idea of dogs trying to imitate humans is not so fanciful as it might sound. There is a canine behavior that animal behaviorists have said is an imitation of humans. When dogs are around humans they like they will pull back the corners of their mouths. I believe that they do it for humans and not for dogs. Dogs do sometimes smile as a greeting to humans.

I would like to think that dogs are happy with the pact they have made living with humans. I am not sure because so much of their lives have become boredom. That has to be part of the reason a dog sleeps so much of the time. The figure I heard is that an American dog sleeps on the average 75% of its life. That means there is much less continuity in how long the day is. A dog wakes up several times a day and probably has a hard time of getting the concept of whether it is morning or afternoon. That would depend on how long he has slept. About the nastiest punishment you can give a human is to put him in solitary confinement so he has nobody to talk to. Dogs do communicate with humans, mostly collecting information, but it cannot be as interesting as a human conversation. There dogs in the wild have the edge. Writers like Farley Mowat think that wild dogs have much more complex conversation than we imagine with other dogs. And dogs talk on very large networks. In NEVER CRY WOLF Mowat is out in the northern wilderness and an Inuit tells him that a stranger was coming and would arrive the following day. The prediction proves to be true and when Mowat asks how the old Inuit knew, he founds out he heard it in the howling of the wolves. Mowat does a sort of double take on the implications, but wolves network complex information with wolves at what must be great distances. (I may have wrong some of the details of the anecdote, but the conclusion is Mowat's.)

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619

Quote of the Week:

     We learn from experience that men never learn anything
     from experience.
                                   -- George Bernard Shaw