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ChrLzs

Sheldrake - "Dogs That Know ..."

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ChrLzs

This thread will, as the days(weeks/months..) progress, contain a review of Rupert Sheldrake's book:

"Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home".

Essentially this book claims that pets are able to sense, through unknown means, when their owners are about to arrive home in the absence of any other clues. Before I start to look at the content of this book in detail, I'd like to offer up a small challenge to readers, especially those who support Sheldrake's conclusions.

Think of it as a little lateral-thinking exercise.. and as you will see, it will be quite useful as we proceed! Indeed, by participating, you will be helping with the application of.. wait for it...

"The Scientific Method!!" Tadaaa!

OK, here's my little preliminary challenge - two questions for you to consider.. If one was studying this topic, namely dogs showing signs that they knew their owners were about to arrive:

1. What things would you need to define FIRST? In other words, what are we/Sheldrake 'measuring' and how are we going to do that properly?

2. What things that might bias your results would you need to be very careful about?

The first question is just to get you thinking about how (and how not) to go about a proper investigation..

The second question is designed to first of all test out whether you are open (or closed..) minded, and then the answers will help you go back to question 1...

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Likely Guy

Is there a link to the book, or excerpts?

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ChrLzs

Unfortunately no, you would have to ..eurgh.. buy it. As I do not wish to give Mr S any free advertising, I will refrain to give links where you could do that - indeed I'd strongly recommend that any interested prospective buyers read this review (and any others you can find) first...

However, you can read a related 'paper' here, that will give you the general idea. Note that this was 'published' at the JSE ("Journal of Scientific Exploration") which is a venue for speculative papers - it is not a credible/respected Science Journal.

Anyway, about the book...

Here's some supportive reviews/comments.

Here's a not so supportive one (a smallish PDF).

I do have the book in my possession and will be offering quotes and references as I go.

As an added incentive to participants in this thread, I shall, at my cost, ship it to the person that I think clearly wants the book and offers the best post (I don't mean the best pleading post, I mean the best ontopic post).. Judge's decision (ie my decision) is final, and anyone who wishes to complain about those terms can officially.. go jump.

BTW, this follows on from this thread about 'Morphic Resonance'. I am hoping that those who were stridently supporting Sheldrake will join in and discuss the actual content of the book, along with the methodology (or lack thereof) used..

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ChrLzs

Here's the blurb for the book, anyway:

Many people who have ever owned a pet will swear that their dog or cat or other animal has exhibited some kind of behavior they just can't explain. How does a dog know when its owner is returning home at an unexpected time? How do cats know when it is time to go to the vet, even before the cat carrier comes out? How do horses find their way back to the stable over completely unfamiliar terrain? And how can some pets predict that their owners are about to have an epileptic fit?

These intriguing questions about animal behavior convinced world-renowned biologist Rupert Sheldrake that the very animals who are closest to us have much to teach us about biology, nature, and consciousness.

Filled with captivating stories and thought-provoking analysis, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home is a groundbreaking exploration of animal behavior that will profoundly change the way we think about animals, and ourselves. After five years of extensive research involving thousands of people who own and work with animals, Sheldrake conclusively proves what many pet owners already know -- that there is a strong connection between humans and animals that lies beyond present-day scientific understanding.

With a scientist's mind and an animal lover's compassion, Sheldrake compellingly demonstrates that we and our pets are social animals linked together by invisible bonds connecting animals to each other, to their owners, and to their homes in powerful ways. Sheldrake's provocative ideas about these social, or morphic, fields explain the uncanny behavior often observed in pets and help provide an explanation for amazing animal behavior in the wild, such as migration and homing.

Sounds good, right...?

B)

Added PS..

Observant readers who are familiar with the 'Scientific Method' or even just REAL research or investigation, will already spot a number of BIG problems in that blurb... I'll be back later to begin elaborating..

Edited by ChrLzs

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ChrLzs

BTW, for anyone tempted to offer up supporting anecdotes about their own pet's similar special powers.. May I *strongly* suggest you refrain until later in the thread, after I have addressed anecdotal evidence in some detail.. If you do not wait and read that bit, it might be embarrassing if I then use your anecdote as an example...

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Lilly

I have to agree that there are problems with Mr Sheldrake's study. The main issue I see is that we humans don't completely understand the complex dynamic of a dog's hearing and smelling. A dog's sense of smell is literally millions of times better than us poor humans and their hearing is much more acute and wider in range (dog whistles work for this reason). Using these 2 'super senses' alone could make dogs appear to have *special powers*. I have a feeling (ie, just my opinion) that this is what's really taking place when dogs appear to sense their owners arrival back home.

Edited by Lilly
typo
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Imaginarynumber1

This is gonna be good.

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Leonardo

I have to agree that there are problems with Mr Sheldrake's study. The main issue I see is that we humans don't completely understand the complex dynamic of a dog's hearing and smelling. A dog's sense of smell is literally millions of times better than us poor humans and their hearing is much more acute and wider in range (dog whistles work for this reason). Using these 2 'super senses' alone could make dogs appear to have *special powers*. I have a feeling (ie, just my opinion) that this is what's really taking place when dogs appear to sense their owners arrival back home.

As the article linked to here explains, the study of cognitive behaviour in dogs is still in its infancy when compared to non-domesticated animals such as some primates and birds. However, there is a hypothesis that dogs have a "scent clock", which the experiment in the video the article contains hints at - but as the narrator points out, that experiment does not yet constitute 'science'.

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NewAge1
Unfortunately no, you would have to ..eurgh.. buy it. As I do not wish to give Mr S any free advertising, I will refrain to give links where you could do that - indeed I'd strongly recommend that any interested prospective buyers read this review (and any others you can find) first...

I am quite sure you can borrow a copy of the book(s) at your local library. That's what public library are for and since there is some interests in Sheldrake's books, they pretty much all have copies made available.

Anyway, based on your obvious disdain of everything Sheldrake-related, (your dislike of the character and his methods is made quite clear on this thread already and you haven't started your 'review') I would place a caveat to what appears to be biased as a source of information and I do believe people would get a better perspective by becoming more familiar with his work first and his books intented for this purpose are accessible to the lay public so you don't actually need a scientific background to understand his ideas.

Edited by sam_comm

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ChrLzs

Sam, I think I have made it pretty clear that, having READ Sheldrake's book, that yes, I think it is 80% rubbish. And this thread is where I will back that up by pointing out the inadequacies, the omissions, and the lack of decent methodology. I will be quoting the book in detail, and you are welcome to argue against my position. You are also welcome to declare any bias that you might have, like one towards wanting 'morphic resonance' to be real, or thinking that Sheldrake is a shining knight in armour who is infallible.

At the end of the day, the folks who will make this thread worthwhile, are those who are willing to examine what the book contains, and to think about what SHOULD have been done in such an investigation. Up above you will see that already Lilly has brought up a really interesting point - indeed that one wasn't even on my list.. I have a lot of other stuff to bring up as well, that I believe Sheldrake has either completely ignored or handwaved away very unscientifically. I also have big problems with his methods of collecting 'data', and I will be outlining those later.

So what have you brought up so far, Sam? Did you not see my challenge above, or is it beneath you? I would have though the best way to show that you are willing to debate the issues properly would be to engage in a bit of preliminary thinking about the basics... So again I will ask those two questions:

If one was studying this topic, namely dogs showing signs that they knew their owners were about to arrive:

1. What things would you need to define FIRST? In other words, what are we/Sheldrake 'measuring' and how are we going to do that properly?

2. What things that might bias your results would you need to be very careful about?

Don't worry - whether or not anyone else has any further input, I'll answer them.. But don't be whining later that you never had a chance to show your knowledge of how an investigation SHOULD be undertaken, or your ability to open your mind and consider ALL the possible/potential causes for the behaviors in question. And then we need to look at how those behaviors were actually measured and recorded, don't you agree?

If you would prefer a simpler question - Sam, how should anecdotal 'data' be considered/included?

In regard to getting this book from a local library I can only speak for my region (Brisbane, Australia), but it was unavailable even via inter-library loan, so I had to buy an old copy (on eBay at a bargain price, I must say...). I guess the only explanation for it not being on library lists is that the gubmint is suppressing it and doesn't want us to know... I mean, it couldn't possibly be that the library system here knows crap when it sees it.... Anyways, as I said earlier, if anyone wants my copy, after this thread has run its course I'll be shipping it to whoever seems the most worthy. But given the eBay pricing, I suspect it isn't in very high demand.

As for how my bias affects the review that will eventually appear here (I'll give it a few days to see if anyone else wishes to have a go at answering those two questions), well, Sam, you will be welcome to point out how I misrepresent the book's content. I trust you have your copy ready so you can correct my quotes or add in any context that I may deliberately conceal, right..? :D

And Sam, did you think the blurb above was OK? Spot anything worthy of concern?

It's time to start walking that walk...

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ChrLzs

They said I'd never return.... Nyer, nyer..

OK, onwards... As I alluded earlier, the biggest problem I would anticipate if I was planning to properly research this topic, is this:

People LOVE their pets.

In simple terms (and I do it myself!) we love our pets to death, and we also *don't* want to think of them as being 'ordinary'.  Now, as a sciency sorta guy, I know that, f'rinstance, my dog does have extraordinary powers - he has hearing that extends up to at least 45,000 Hz, whereas the typical healthy young human maxes out at 20,000 hz (I'm struggling to hear 15,000 Hz nowadays, even in my good ear...).  My little doggy friend has a nose that can detect chemicals in the air at concentrations 40 times less than us - he has 300 million olfactory receptors compared to our lousy 6 million... His brain is wired differently as well, of course, so applying human logic to try to understand his behavior..?  Well, good luck with that.

Then there are things like his internal clock - does he have one?  I know I do, and it's very accurate... but then again, do I cheat? - in my near wakefulness, do I look up at my clock, and then when I awake on time, assume it was that internal clock rather than simply my ability to see things while sleeping?

I gave that example as it relates to some of Sheldrake's claims, and it shows there's a lot to think about and a lot of traps.  My main concern and criticism of Sheldrake, is that he doesn't seem to want to think too hard about the following:

- what natural abilities and senses do dogs actually have?

- how do they use them that differs from human behavior?

- what things, other than 'paranormal abilities' might be responsible for their behavior

and of course:

- is it possible some proportion of these folks are not telling the whole truth, or not giving us all relevant information?

Sheldrake seems very happy to accept anecdotes.  That's ok, anecdotes can be a starting point but if you want to find the truth you must consider *everything*, and also admit your (and your sources) potential biases.  Plus you must, if testing any hypothesis, think of everything that might affect the results of your tests.  Finally, you also have to be extremely rigorous in documenting both the methodology you have used and how you have used protocols to prevent what might be called 'self-delusion' ... AND that you record ALL the data rigorously, so it can be checked to eliminate the possibility of cherry picking.

Did Sheldrake do all of that?  We shall see as this review proceeds...

The book starts with a Preface, with this as the first paragraph:

Quote

This is a book of recognition - a recognition that animals have abilities that we have lost.  One part of ourselves has forgotten this, another part has known it all along.  

Rather than explain, he then draws a picture of his childhood and explains his interest in animals and plants.  Then he says he became especially intrigued with homing pigeons, and asks:

Quote

How did they do it?  No-one seemed to know.  Their homing ability is still unexplained today.

Hmm.  That was written in 1999.  Homing pigeons were doing their thing at least 3000 years ago.  They only went one way back then but were bred by several cultures to enhance that ability over time.  Many birds can detect magnetic fields and they, like dogs, have excellent abilities to detect odours, as well of course as having good vision.  It's true that in 1999, as now, we didn't know for sure exactly how each species used those abilities and in what proportions, whether the magnetic field detection was electric (ie nervous system) or electro-chemical or via a bit of ferrite in their heads :D , and whether it was more the olfactory or magnetic or visual pattern recognition, etc... But even in the 1970's, it was quite clear what the mechanisms were, if not how it all came together for each species.  "Still unexplained today"?  Hardly

Strangely, later in the preface while discussing a different topic, Sheldrake pops up with this sentence:

Quote

I heard nothing about how pigeons homed.

The fact that he heard nothing about it, suggests to me he wasn't actually looking very hard.  There is much in the scientific literature about the topic - by all means start with the Wiki and see for yourselves.

Anyway, I guess those sort of words being used in the Preface do suggest what type of audience is being targeted - dare I say a non scientific one, who won't look stuff up!

 

In the next instalment, we'll look at the 'Great Gulf' that Sheldrake says opened up within him as he learnt biology.  I think it was more tunnel vision from a desired outcome, but you can judge for yourselves later....

Edited by ChrLzs

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Desertrat56

I don't have any scientific facts but I think the answer to question 1 would be to measure the time the dog goes to the door and waits for someone and the time that person actaully gets to the door. 

I only have an anecdote that confirms part of Sheldrake's thesis for me (not anyone else as it is anecdotal), something I never thought about until it happened.  I lived alone for many years.  The dog i had when this happened was a 14 year old dog I had adopted when he was 11 because his owner was hospitalized for and then put in an assisted living home.  My friend was visiting and we were taking a trip to another state.  I left her at the apartment with the dog and went to get the rental vehicle.  When I came back she told me the dog had been standing at the door for 10 minutes as if I was coming any time.  He was calm and relaxed the whole time I was gone (about an hour) but 10 minutes before I got home he went to the door to wait for me.

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ChrLzs
5 hours ago, Desertrat56 said:

I don't have any scientific facts but I think the answer to question 1 would be to measure the time the dog goes to the door and waits for someone and the time that person actaully gets to the door.

Yup.  As long as you record the dog's behavior continuously, and do this over several occasions where the absence length varies substantially, AND (here's the kicker) that you eliminate any possibility of the dog picking up a clue as to the impending arrival.  That could be anything from a very subtle change in any of the family's behavior (eg after a phone call or message was received), right through to the dog hearing a high pitched squeak/whistle/vibration (beyond human perception) from the car's engine/brakes/suspension that it recognises, or perhaps even a scent from the car or the arrivee.

Later as we get into the meat of the book, it will be clear that Sheldrake's methods weren't up to it.    

Quote

I only have an anecdote that confirms part of Sheldrake's thesis for me (not anyone else as it is anecdotal), something I never thought about until it happened.  I lived alone for many years.  The dog i had when this happened was a 14 year old dog I had adopted when he was 11 because his owner was hospitalized for and then put in an assisted living home.  My friend was visiting and we were taking a trip to another state.  I left her at the apartment with the dog and went to get the rental vehicle.  When I came back she told me the dog had been standing at the door for 10 minutes as if I was coming any time.  He was calm and relaxed the whole time I was gone (about an hour) but 10 minutes before I got home he went to the door to wait for me.

Is that something you might do reasonably frequently, eg go shopping or to the doctor or whatever, for about an hour?  I know I do, and it's usually for about an hour.. If so, then there's not really anything amazing.  Also, was it really ten minutes? And were you perhaps slow to exit the car, or did you walk, in which case tiny scents or inaudible (to you) sounds might be involved.  It's complicated, and you really have to consider everything.

 

As an aside, lots of people have surveillance systems that run continuously, so if anyone of them seriously thought this was happening, that continuous footage would be exactly what is needed as a starting point to help prove or disprove the effect.  But I didn't/don't see Sheldrake or anyone else in this field, approaching people with this sort of 'existing database' and then going in for a full analysis and scientific paper.  Real science is hard work, writing books is easy.....

Edited by ChrLzs

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Desertrat56
13 hours ago, ChrLzs said:

Yup.  As long as you record the dog's behavior continuously, and do this over several occasions where the absence length varies substantially, AND (here's the kicker) that you eliminate any possibility of the dog picking up a clue as to the impending arrival.  That could be anything from a very subtle change in any of the family's behavior (eg after a phone call or message was received), right through to the dog hearing a high pitched squeak/whistle/vibration (beyond human perception) from the car's engine/brakes/suspension that it recognises, or perhaps even a scent from the car or the arrivee.

Later as we get into the meat of the book, it will be clear that Sheldrake's methods weren't up to it.    

Is that something you might do reasonably frequently, eg go shopping or to the doctor or whatever, for about an hour?  I know I do, and it's usually for about an hour.. If so, then there's not really anything amazing.  Also, was it really ten minutes? And were you perhaps slow to exit the car, or did you walk, in which case tiny scents or inaudible (to you) sounds might be involved.  It's complicated, and you really have to consider everything.

 

As an aside, lots of people have surveillance systems that run continuously, so if anyone of them seriously thought this was happening, that continuous footage would be exactly what is needed as a starting point to help prove or disprove the effect.  But I didn't/don't see Sheldrake or anyone else in this field, approaching people with this sort of 'existing database' and then going in for a full analysis and scientific paper.  Real science is hard work, writing books is easy.....

No, that was the first time I left the dog home with someone else in the apartment.  My times of leaving and coming back were usually random, 20  minutes to run get take out, 2 hours for shopping, 6 hours etc.  Also I parked right by the door so the dog would not have heard me drive up 10  minutes before I got there.  It is not something I ever thought about, and only mention because my friend told me he acted that way.  My anecdote is not proof of anything, just something that leads me to believe Sheldrake may have a valid thesis and just needs someone to collect data to prove or disprove it.

Edited by Desertrat56

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Alchopwn

Of course dogs know when their owners are coming home.  Can you more-or-less tell time without a clock?  I can.  Why suppose that dog's can't?  They can also hear far better than we can, and they can likely hear the distinct noise of their owner's car or footfall as they approach.

What is more interesting is when dogs smell cancer and other illnesses.  Not only that but they defend our property and keep us amused.  Dogs are great, and sharing the planet with them is a privilege.  Don't take this as a symptom that I don't like cats or something tho... why can't we all just...get along?

Edited by Alchopwn

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