June 11, 2024

Who’s back there?


Discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…”

-Isaac Isomov


The days cooled off a bit and Waldo and I are walking out on the rail-trail in mid to high sixties weather.  Those temperatures are well within the Waldo operating range.  Even so, he still glances behind us every few seconds as we head out.  It can’t be that he’s doing it because he’s too hot and wants to go home.  It must be that he’s leery of bicycles coming up from behind us.  I do know that he doesn’t like it when they do.  I don’t like it much myself, but, for some reason, he has now developed a real concern about it.  It’s not like his tail is tucked, or anything like that.  He’s just vigilant.  When a bike, or bikes, do come from behind us, he goes off to the side of the trail and sits down.  I never trained him to do that and I certainly don’t discourage him from doing it now.  He has just developed the habit on his own.

The thing I find most curious about it is that he is constantly looking behind us, even when there is nothing there.  Granted, some bicyclists insist on pushing their vehicles to the limit and come up on us fast.  Sometimes at around thirty miles an hour.  Nothing happened to make Waldo suddenly so wary (I would know because I’m with him 24/7), but he is.  Maybe it’s because he knows from experience that bikes will more than likely be there?  I sure wish I could speak Waldo as well as I do French, and that’s a pretty low bar, but I don’t.  The important thing is, he is okay.

I think what’s going on here is that Waldo has detected a pattern.  Warm days of spring, when there’s no precipitation, means that it’s likely there will be bikes on the trail.  I don’t think the fine details of how the number of bikes increases on the weekend matters to him, but I do think his understanding makes room for some variation.  There are days, usually midweek, when we don’t meet any bikes at the beginning of the trail and he seems to relax his vigilance a bit.  He is a smart dog.

Now, if he were human, he might count the number of bikes on each day, note the day of the week, the time of day, the weather and maybe some other variables, then look for a more detailed pattern.  If a pattern were noticed, then he might look for a mathematical formula that produces the same variation of the number of bikes, given the variables involved.  He could then formulate a theory and test it against observation.  Having a theory, confirmed through observation, he might then extrapolate to estimate, on any given day, just how many bikes he is likely to confront on our walks.  He would then have a better idea as to how vigilant to be.

That is how human science is done.  But, of course, doggie science isn’t concerned with that level of detail.  Warm day, morning, no rain = an increased need to watch out for bikes coming up from behind, is plenty good enough.  Confirmed by meeting at least one bike near the beginning of our walk, and his behavior is set for the rest of the walk.  I think the difference on the return trip is that he has more the attitude of “Damn the bikes, full speed ahead!  I wanna go home and chill.”

Now that I think about it, it could be argued that the real intelligence of human beings is that we are really, really good at detecting and defining patterns.  All of science can be thought of as pattern recognition.  We assign numerical values to objects of observation, collect data and look for patterns in the data.  Our real genius is in being able to define mathematical functions that reproduce a pattern in the numbers that corresponds to the patterns of what we observe.  That’s why mathematics is the language of science.  Armed with those functions, we can then predict what is likely to happen.  Having that foresight, we can engineer huge passenger jets, rockets into deep space and foresee the coming debacle of global warming.

Some believe that science searches for truth.  It doesn’t.  If truth is what you want, you need to look into philosophy, or religion.  Science doesn’t ever reveal truth.  It tells you what, when, and to what extent something is likely to happen.  Scientific models, like the atom, protons, electrons, neutrons and so on, are not meant to be the truth, just a useful way of thinking about reality that helps in the formulation of accurate patterns.

Waldo science is much simpler than that.  He can just get enough of a vague idea of the patterns that happen to get a gut feeling of what might happen, and then pay attention in case it does.  He doesn’t need to build planes, or rockets, or worry about global warming.  All that is our bailiwick.

All he needs is a nice walk out in the woods without being bothered by a bicycle.


Damn the bicycles, let’s go!

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