Do Dogs Have A Free Will?

Do Dogs Have A Free Will?
July 3, 2012 by Kevin Behan
But first, do human beings even have free will?

Current research indicates (to many) that the notion of free will may be illusory. In a range of experiments, subconscious processes (indicated by a region of the brain becoming active) virtually predetermined what a person is going to do well before the person is aware they have arrived at a decision. The researcher can virtually predict what the person is going to do or think just by what's on the monitor before the person is even aware of their choice. The question then is what can dogs teach us about the essence of choice and the nature of a free will? As creatures of the immediate-moment and as mirrors of humanity, I propose dogs can teach us much.

First of all, in nature there is no such thing as freedom. In my reading of dogs and why they do what they do, it seems that our feeling of freedom, and from which we gain a sense of being an autonomous individual consciously directing our thoughts and actions, in point of fact derives from a feeling of flow, of a sense of emotional movement. In turn, this sense of movement depends on being emotionally integrated with our surroundings. Consciousness is quite literally a stream, or river, of flow. It's an error to think that consciousness is self-contained. So for example, the feeling of being constrained and constricted, as if someone or some external force is taking over control of our time or personal space, is akin to a paddler getting their canoe stuck in the shallows. And then once pried loose again, the feeling of flow returns as the craft is swept back up in the current. A sense of freedom is dependent on the current, the smooth passage over the surface of the water. It's doesn't derive from being free of one's surroundings, or free to go however one wants, but rather of being integrated with it, 100% connected, tethered and we do not have dominion over the dynamics of integration. We can choose to either participate, or disengage, but if one chooses the latter one becomes emotionally charged, ultimately just as frustrated and alienated as the canoeist hung up on the shoals. And since other emotional beings are constituents of the same current of consciousness that we swim in, this means that each constituent of the current will drive the others in a collectivized participation. There can't be the feeling of internal emotional movement without an external state of synchronization, a feeling of being connected with others and thereby flowing along, akin to matching one's steps and moves to the throng along a bustling sidewalk. There's only one way of be in the flow of the river and feel good. This doesn't mean one can't go upriver from time to time as sometimes it pays to go against the current to get to another branch of the river flowing in the right direction. But my point is that moving against the current exacts a cost and is recorded in an emotional checkbook we're always trying to balance. These deep subconscious processes are our animal mind computing the direction of flow. The feeling that even when standing still, we are somehow moving toward something. I would go so far as saying that this is where our concept of Time arises.

Also in regards to free will, it should be noted that our minds come "pre-loaded" with many things and contexts assigned a flow value that isn't acquired from learning by experience. Nature doesn't leave it up to individuals to figure everything out on their own, the basic stuff is precoded. In terms of emotion there is the "preyful aspect," that which absorbs and conducts the flow of emotion, and this stands in contrast with the predatory aspect, that which reflects and resists the flow of emotion. If you've ever become uneasy when someone stares at you, that's the predatory aspect activating the balance circuitry deep in the subconscious. If you've ever said to a chubby cheeked baby with a plump round-baby belly: "You're so cute I could eat you up!" (through clenched teeth no less); that's the baby's preyful aspect pulling you in and dissolving any sense of separation.

In a dog's emotional impression of any living thing, these two values are juxtaposed and then blend together to derive an overall conductive value. This blend however isn't fixed. It can shift. An emotional value can move on the scale, if that is an individual can achieve a state of synchronization either with the stimulus in question, or with others. Integration with the flow pattern changes the inhibiting effects of a predatory aspect so that what once seemed overwhelming, can come to represent a heightening of flow. This is what a dog gains when trained in a progressive way. He learns to align with his handler to overcome something that would have otherwise caused him to respond by instinct. Synchronization with others shifts the master threshold (predator aspect relative to preyful aspect) by which emotional values are acquired and a direction of flow is assigned.

This plasticity also sheds light on the matter of choice as well as on the profound distinction between the human and canine mind in terms of the Will.

Given that there is no such thing as freedom in nature because all its constituents comprise the "current" from which the feeling of flow arises, and paradoxically, the feeling of integrity and autonomy, therefore one individual can't feel good unless the others with which it is emotionally entrained feel good as well. Will is the flow of the whole and this is why it feels good to be generous and charitable and why we define integrity as a function of subordinating the self for the good of the community.

However, we often hear of a dog or a person being called "willful" and this indicates a misunderstanding of Will. Since Flow = Integration = feeling good, by definition being full-of-Will is good. This larger meaning of Will pops up in a number of expressions, the Will-to-live, the Will-to-win, Where there's a Will there's a Way. Will is a force that manifests for the whole and from which we derive a feeling for the whole, all of which is encapsulated by the feeling of flow. Dogs are our ultimate mirror for this phenomenon by virtue of being the most social and adaptable animal on earth. They show us that one can never have too much Will.

So, there is but one choice; one can either choose to be part of optimizing the flow configuration, or to go against the flow and build up a charge, which means ultimately to be subsumed in, if not consumed by, the flow system. Thus dogs don't have "a" free will, but they have the freedom-of-Will, i.e when integrated and in alignment they feel better than when they are not. Another way of saying this, is that it takes two to make a choice. And since dogs are beings of the immediate-moment who are not attached to the past, they will always choose flow, if, they can FEEL it. Because of free Will, no dog is an island.

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Comments (3)

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Fri, 01/25/2013 - 16:54

Dog of the Week!