Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Mon, 19 Oct 1998 14:07:54 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 14:07:54 -0400 (EDT)

On Mon, 19 Oct 1998 22:07:26 +0000 Bruce Howlett
<> wrote:

> Dogs are easier to train because they
> recognise us as fellow predators (binocular vision and smell)

I'm not sure I follow this. Do you mean that dogs are capable of
classifying other species into predators and non-predators on the
basis of recognition of binocular vision and our smell? I would
imagine that humans probably smell much like other primates, many of
whom eg. gorillas and orang utans are not carnivores/predators.

> The key to this is understanding what
> "buttons" to push to get a horse to behave the way we want rather than
> the way they want. This is basically achieved by making the desirable
> outcomes easy and the undesirable outcomes difficult

Yes, but what you're describing is individual learning by the horse,
co-ordinated by a skilled reinforcement from the trainer.

> The similarity between horses, dogs and humans is that they are all
> "social" animals with distinct hierarchies that recognise dominance and
> subservience. Training is a much higher level activity than imitation,
> it is actually communication.

Nope. Got to disagree there. Many animals communicate, such as
bees, vervets etc, who show no evidence of any ability to imitate.
Imitation is no lower than communication - or indeed higher - they
are just two different things.

> Ask any experienced rider and they will
> tell you about the extraordinary and euphoric feeling of being in total
> sync with a horse performing a difficult manoeuvre, whether cutting out
> a steer or a dressage test or a cross country event. This is high level
> communication of a sort more subtle, continuous and cooperative than
> mere language.

Yes, but is there any imitation? I don't see how a horse could even
begin to imitate a human, as the anatomy is so different. For
instance, how could a horse, even a superintelligent one, imitate me
fumbling for my keys?

> I simultaneously laugh and groan when I hear you suggest that the
> intellectually challenged bird is considered the only bona fide imitator
> in the animal kingdom.

But nevertheless, that is the case. Quite how birdbrains manage to
imitate, is, I agree a bit of a puzzle (or a lot of a puzzle) but
apart from the largely anecdotal evidence in primates, birdsong
imitation is the only real model system we have for imitation outside
of humans.


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