Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Do Dogs Have Free-will?

Of course not.

This, I understand, parachutes me into an area that I readily confess to know nothing about. There must be a scientific literature on this, and I am sure that there are passionate dog owners who are positive that their dogs possess free-will. This also is well outside the areas that I normally blog about, so if you, dear reader, are interested only in areas pertaining to antiquity, Judaism, or the intersection of the two, you can stop reading here.

I was brought to this musing during a recent hike that I took with my dog, pictured above.

(Incidental proof dogs don't have free-will:
1. My dog loves to roll in horse dung;
2. No being with free-will could, should, or would roll in horse dung;
3. Ergo, dogs don't have free-will, QED.)

We arrived at a beautiful lake and a thought experiment occured to me. My dog is very loyal and hates to be alone, but my dog is also very cautious. He is afraid of the water. What if, I thought, I were to swim out in the lake? At that point, my dog would be conflicted: he would be pulled to follow me but would not want to go into the water.

I'm not sure what he would do (it was far too cold for me to actually test this at that moment), but whatever he did it would not really be a "choice." When faced with such a dilemma, we humans choose one based on all kinds of criteria, conscious and not. For a dog, though, one instinct will win over the other not on the basis of a choice, but on the basis of... well, what exactly?

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