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ChrLzs

Review - Sheldrake's "Dogs Who Know When..

74 posts in this topic

15 minutes ago, oldrover said:

I think this thread is going to be very interesting, I'm looking forward to seeing the next installment. 

I just hope the thread can be brought back to its original objective - i.e. Rupert Sheldrake's book.

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41 minutes ago, Derek Willis said:

I just hope the thread can be brought back to its original objective - i.e. Rupert Sheldrake's book.

Oh I'm sure it will be. Personally, and although, like everyone else, love to tell stories about my dog I'm going to resist this and any other side discussion, and stick solely to Chrlzs' posts and those that relate directly to discussion of the points raised there. 

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12 hours ago, oldrover said:

Oh I'm sure it will be. Personally, and although, like everyone else, love to tell stories about my dog I'm going to resist this and any other side discussion, and stick solely to Chrlzs' posts and those that relate directly to discussion of the points raised there. 

Me too. Earlier I succumbed to the temptation of responding to spurious posts. I will avoid that from now on. 

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On 12/6/2017 at 9:15 AM, Derek Willis said:

When I was young we had a dog - a Shetland Sheepdog - who would always begin barking before my mother put the key in the front door. The dog never barked before anyone else did this. This was quite fascinating, and being young at the when time Uri Geller was at the height of his fame, I thought there might be something in this psychic stuff. So, my brother and I carried out an experiment. We spent days during the summer holidays looking out of the window to see who was arriving. What we noticed was that my mother whilst approaching the house, or at the garden gate, or walking up the garden path, always found someone to wave to and say "hello" and pass a few comments. Usually this was one of the neighbors or a delivery man or whoever. As a control we asked our mother not to speak to anyone on a few occasions when she was nearing the house. You know what? The dog didn't bark. Obviously, with her keen hearing the dog could hear our mother. Needless to say, as soon as my mother returned to her normal habits, the dog began barking again.

But here is something I have never been able to explain. Before I was born there was a woman murdered in woodland near my home. The woman's body was found next to a particular tree. As kids we all knew where the "murder tree" was. However, we had to avoid walking with the dog near the murder tree because she would bark furiously, growl, and bare her teeth. The murder occurred twenty years before we got the dog, so I don't know what that was all about!

Edit: I think it would be great if you spent some time on this as it is one of the old chestnuts used in support of ESP. 

Maybe the dog is still picking up a lingering scent. Or just your discomfort about the tree. 

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3 minutes ago, ChaosRose said:

Maybe the dog is still picking up a lingering scent. Or just your discomfort about the tree. 

Both suggestions were made in earlier posts.

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Sorry about the delay in continuation!  My life is just a bit busy right now - for all good reasons..  Normal services should resume within a day or so...

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Oh and just to quickly clarify (or muddy the waters even more), although I'm not actually sure what point was being made... I'm in Australia, and I'm not particularly familiar with the terms used in other countries.  Where I use the term 'thesis', it was in regard to the university students who spent time at the research centre I managed as part of them gaining their Doctorate.  This was mainly in the fields of marine/general biology and aquaculture, with a bit of oceanography and meteorology and other related sciences thrown in.

Hereabouts, as part of them being awarded a Doctorate, they must produce a comprehensive and extremely thoroughly researched and well presented thesis, with that document being about the size of a small novel.  It is produced under the guidance of, and then finally graded by the higher level staff (eg Dr's, Professors and Assoc Professors) involved in the topics.  It must be 100% 'scientific', ie only use properly documented scientific methodology, it must contain all the requisite data, it must be verifiable, etc...  In other words, it should stand alone as a valid piece of science.  Theses are often the starting point for further repeated research and may even start new branches of science.

Anyway... my point was simply that it was a bit unfair to treat a book as a 'fully scientific' paper/report/study/thesis/dissertation whatever... but nevertheless, Sheldrake's books are often rolled out as if they were exactly that...  As part of this process I will also be looking at what work Sheldrake has had accepted by the 'Scientific Establishment' - and there certainly is .. some.  That will, in part, involve looking at exactly what the word 'published' means, and also examining some organisations that claim to be scientific, but really aren't. 

Back in a while..

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I didn't know the old boy was still in business. Sheldrake has been around for decades. He's an honest-to-god scientist who believes something exists, rather akin to the Force, called Morphic Resonance, a concept under who's umbrella he gathers an assortment of mystical and pseudoscientific phenomena, from telepathy to ancestral memory. I use to find his works entertaining, if requiring a modicum of suspension of disbelief, back in the days when I enjoyed firing up one and--figuratively speaking--rolling my eyes up into my skull and drooling over weirdness. Ah, the care-free days of youth! He does have the virtue of making more sense than the likes of Von Daeniken--but that's not too difficult.

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11 minutes ago, Hammerclaw said:

I didn't know the old boy was still in business. Sheldrake has been around for decades. He's an honest-to-god scientist who believes something exists, rather akin to the Force, called Morphic Resonance, a concept under who's umbrella he gathers an assortment of mystical and pseudoscientific phenomena, from telepathy to ancestral memory. I use to find his works entertaining, if requiring a modicum of suspension of disbelief, back in the days when I enjoyed firing up one and--figuratively speaking--rolling my eyes up into my skull and drooling over weirdness. Ah, the care-free days of youth! He does have the virtue of making more sense than the likes of Von Daeniken--but that's not too difficult.

He got a boost in popularity after Tedx had him give a talk and the main Ted organization came down on Tedx for not not holding to the standards and soiling the brand. They took his video down and now marked it as the video they don't want you to see. 

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2 minutes ago, Hammerclaw said:

I didn't know the old boy was still in business. Sheldrake has been around for decades. He's an honest-to-god scientist who believes something exists, rather akin to the Force, called Morphic Resonance, a concept under who's umbrella he gathers an assortment of mystical and pseudoscientific phenomena, from telepathy to ancestral memory. I use to find his works entertaining, if requiring a modicum of suspension of disbelief, back in the days when I enjoyed firing up one and--figuratively speaking--rolling my eyes up into my skull and drooling over weirdness. Ah, the care-free days of youth! He does have the virtue of making more sense than the likes of Von Daeniken--but that's not too difficult.

Yep, that's pretty much it.  I think my biases here are probably pretty obvious, but what struck me with this book was how he either dismissed or didn't even consider many of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that an animal might get cues as to the imminent arrival of their owner.. And that's assuming we accept that his methodology of determining what is a valid sign of the animal's 'prediction' or detection, as distinct from the normal (growing) levels of anxiety shown as that arrival gets later and later.

It seems to me to be a common thing in claims of telepathy and the like.  Call me a cynic, but instead of looking for simple testable scenarios, the wannabe-famous claimants instead look for scenarios that are unbelievably complex, and involve lots of subjectivity - thus virtually guaranteeing 'success'.  Every single thing that might have a slight bias, is of course going to be interpreted as a positive sign...

Anyway, once we get into the meat of the book, actually look at the methods used, and I point out what was either wrong or completely ignored, or subject to bias through subjective interpretation... well, you folks can be the judge..

 

Hopefully the next instalment will be in just a few hours, once I get home and re-read the preface, intro and chapter one..

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2 minutes ago, ChrLzs said:

, he's completely out of the parkYep, that's pretty much it.  I think my biases here are probably pretty obvious, but what struck me with this book was how he either dismissed or didn't even consider many of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that an animal might get cues as to the imminent arrival of their owner.. And that's assuming we accept that his methodology of determining what is a valid sign of the animal's 'prediction' or detection, as distinct from the normal (growing) levels of anxiety shown as that arrival gets later and later.

It seems to me to be a common thing in claims of telepathy and the like.  Call me a cynic, but instead of looking for simple testable scenarios, the wannabe-famous claimants instead look for scenarios that are unbelievably complex, and involve lots of subjectivity - thus virtually guaranteeing 'success'.  Every single thing that might have a slight bias, is of course going to be interpreted as a positive sign...

Anyway, once we get into the meat of the book, actually look at the methods used, and I point out what was either wrong or completely ignored, or subject to bias through subjective interpretation... well, you folks can be the judge..

 

Hopefully the next instalment will be in just a few hours, once I get home and re-read the preface, intro and chapter one..

I give him an ever so slight benefit of doubt--and myself more than a single grain of salt. Still, Plate Tectonics was once fringe science, too. At least he thinks outside the box, although, in his case, he's completely out of the park, too.

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Continuing the review.. Preface..

In the preface, Sheldrake gives some background about his childhood and the theme for the book:

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.

He gives an example to explain why he has the belief that there is something beyond scientific explanation, and that is the homing ability of pigeons.  He curtly states that this is unexplained:

Quote

Their homing ability is still unexplained today.

This is puzzling (and a little worrying..) - even back in 1999 there was plenty of research available on animal homing abilities.  He seems to completely ignore all the research on things like the ability of pigeons to detect magnetic fields, their awareness of sun angles (including through clouds via UV-sensitive vision) so as to determine time-of-day and their direction of flight, their acute sense of smell, and of course they have perfectly good vision for mentally mapping the terrain and its features...

Most scientists who study this topic seem to agree that they use a combination of all those - given they have more and significantly better senses for navigation than humans, it's hardly surprising they can find their way around rather well..

 

In his recollections he later refers to his early work in biology and states:

Quote

I heard nothing about how pigeons homed.

......?  Well, no, Rupert, you wouldn't unless you actually asked someone working in that field, I would surmise... I'm happy to give lots of cites on pigeon homing research, if anyone really doubts that it is (and was) pretty well understood.

After lamenting on 'typical' science involving animals (including dissections, testing chemicals on them, etc) he says:

Quote

A love of animals had led me to study biology and this was where it had taken me.  I began to wonder what was going on.  I later came to see that the split I experienced within myself is widespread within and outside the scientific community.

I can fully understand that being involved in some areas of biology could be quite unpleasant and this may be a common concern for those folks, but whether that same split applies to say particle physicists, cosmologists, etc?  As a countering example, one of my roles as operations manager for a large marine research lab was to ensure that all marine life brought into the centre was ethically handled and wherever possible (which was 95%+ of the time), should be released back into the wild at the same location it came from.  I love marine life too, and I was in fact pleasantly surprised about how all the staff - including commercial interests - did the right thing.  OK, perhaps I was a little spoilt - marine biology is just like that, and maybe isn't typical...?

 

Then, rather tellingly, Sheldrake says this:

Quote

In 1994 I published a book ...in which I explained well-known and little understood phenomena, and suggested how inexpensive research could lead to major breakthroughs.  One of these experiments concerned the possible telepathic abilities of dogs and cats.

Hmm.  First he refers to the phenomena as "little understood".  Then he suggests inexpensive research could lead to major breakthroughs?  Perhaps just as well, he doesn't mention what those breakthroughs were, or even if he was claiming any..

 

I'll stop there for a short while to let all that sink in... I will come back to revisit that last quote, because I think it explains some of the mistakes and traps that Sheldrake falls into, later in the book... 

 

Thanks for your patience so far, readers!  If you have any issues with what I have done thus far, or have any suggestions for ways I can do better, fire away.  Similarly, if you disagree, don't stay silent!..  I will also be happy to post extra context from the book if anyone feels I may be misquoting or leaving out surrounding context.

I'll try to post more each day, but hey, It's nearly Xmas, and things are getting a little tight... forgiveness is appreciated!

 

Edited by ChrLzs
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Just in case you think I've been hit by a bus...  :D

A couple of other comments about content in the Preface..  following on from his comments about the possibilities of 'inexpensive research', Sheldrake goes on to say:

Quote

A more inclusive kind of science is possible.  It is also much cheaper.

Interestingly, he doesn't really explain why the science is more inclusive, or why/how it becomes cheaper.

Could it be that 'inclusivity' refers to those who feel excluded from Science by their lack of knowledge as to how it works and the resultant fear or distrust?  Or could it just be Jane/Joe Average, who generally don't get the opportunity to be involved in scientific studies?  Or could it be that Sheldrake wants to include those who tell great stories?

Does being cheaper involve simplifying the methodology (perhaps to levels where the methodology breaks down)? In particular, is *this* topic of the type that can be looked at simply, or are there in fact quite a few things to think about and properly consider when looking at canine and human behavior? Or does it mean that one just starts to accept anecdotes rather than doing painful checks?  Or does it involve writing a book and selling it, instead of putting the research up for proper peer review?

 

Yes, my biases are showing, but as you will see when we get to the actual cases that Sheldrake relates... he does all of those things and more.

About the cases he is about to relate, Sheldrake says this:

Quote

For the last five years, I have been doing research on the perceptiveness of pets with the help of of over two thousand animal owners and trainers.  I have surveyed over a thousand randomly chosen pet owners to find out how common various kinds of unexplained behavior are.

Now, how did Sheldrake locate his 2,000 animal owners?  Were the thousand surveys truly sent to random pet owners?  If so, how did he ensure randomness, and how did he not fail the Confirmation Bias / Cherry Picking test right from the start?  We will find out shortly....... 
 

{sorry - I know that's only a very short instalment, but Xmas busy-ness is afflicting me... in a very nice way, but something has to suffer..}

 

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ChrLzs

We all have our biases. If Laplace was right, then we all ought to have our biases. Bias, or the assessment of prior plausibility, is integral to the 'Bayesian' approaches to evaluating evidence which Laplace pioneered.

One of my biases is that if I read something ambiguous, then I will 'bend over backwards' to pursue an interpretation that is coherent and meaningful. So, indeed, what could a word like inclusive mean in science?

Personnel? There are underrepresented groups in the ranks of scientists and especially in particular branches of science. That is a fact, and that interpretation would be coherent, but it doesn't seem to be where this author is headed.

Amateur vs. Professional? (as in your remarks about the Average family, and Sheldrake's term 'inexpensive.') That's coherent, too. Lots of people enjoy stargazing with their backyard telescopes, for example. I think that interpretation is getting warmer - an amateur spots some interesting phenomenon (her dog knows in advance when she's arriving home), and teams up with a formally trained scientist (like Sheldrake or Bem) to explore the phenomenon.

I am also open to another interpretation: receiver operating characteristic (ROC). That's a formal model of a hard fact: there's always a trade-off to be made between the two fundamental kinds of error in uncertain inferences:

- "detecting" something that isn't really there (false alarm)
- missing something that really is there (failed alarm)

Sheldrake's inclusive may mean changing the trade-off that (reputedly) prevails in science, that science is exceptionally "skeptic-friendly," that it is far more concerned with avoiding the false alarm than avoiding the failed alarm.

In the skeptical imagination (a borderline oxymoron :) ), science is like the memorable Mikey, who won't like anything, because he hates everything.

 

 

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9 hours ago, eight bits said:

Sheldrake's inclusive may mean changing the trade-off that (reputedly) prevails in science, that science is exceptionally "skeptic-friendly," that it is far more concerned with avoiding the false alarm than avoiding the failed alarm.

This is a really important point - and I hope I will satisfactorily address it as we start looking at Sheldrake's evidence.  You are dead right - and as a skeptic I'll happily agree I am indeed much more concerned with false alarms...  I suspect that is because my experience with failed alarms is generally the failure was with good reason... :D  but perhaps I am cherry picking...

The dear readers will have to make their own judgement as I proceed.. and I'm OK with that.  I don't expect to change the status quo - believers believe and skeptics always want more/better evidence.  My aim here is to ask the question - is this book of Sheldrake's worthy of a place on the Non-Fiction shelf?

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20 hours ago, ChrLzs said:

is this book of Sheldrake's worthy of a place on the Non-Fiction shelf?

So far, and I appreciate the in depth approach, no. If this is to be presented by Sheldrake as a legitimately scientific work, or as a worthy criticism of the 'exclusivity' of  'science', then there are screaming methodological errors cited already. 

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Continuing the review.. Introduction..

Sheldrake commences by giving four examples - the first of which is as follows (p. xiii):

Quote

Kate Laufer, a midwife and social worker in .. Norway, works at odd hours and returns home at unexpected times, but, whenever her husband Walter is home, he greets her with a hot cup of freshly brewed tea.  What accounts for her husband's uncanny timing?  The family dog Tiki... "Wherever he is, or whatever he's doing", says Dr Laufer, "when Tiki rushes to the window.. I know my wife is on her way home."

All the examples are similar anecdotal stories - and clearly we don't know enough to make a judgement.  In this case, for example, some things I'd like to know:

- has a continuously recording camera documented this behavior?
- how often does her husband have a cup of tea - is there a continuous boiling water supply or does he need several minutes?
- what is meant by 'unexpected times?  All hours of the night, completely random times - again, is this documented via a diary?  Would most of her trips take say between 40 and 60 minutes?
- does the dog *only* go to the window at the right time, and how much time elapses between the dog going there, and the actual return?
- does she ring/text her husband before returning, ever, sometimes, or always?

One would hope that the case of Tiki will be returned to later in the book - for now we have no idea what is going on, just an anecdote from some folks who clearly love their pet..  We'll find out later if there is any more about Tiki...

After giving these short stories, none of which are cited at this point, Sheldrake opines (p. xiv):

Quote

Through five years of extensive research on the unexplained powers of animals, I have come to the conclusion that many of the stories told by pet owners are well founded.  Some animals really do seem to have powers of perception that go beyond the known senses.

I'd agree with this sentiment - certainly most of these stories will have some foundation in truth... I would add one word to the last sentence.  In between the last two words '..known senses' I would insert 'human'.  The last sentence would now read:

Some animals really do seem to have powers of perception that go beyond the known human senses.

That is definitely true,  Dogs, for instance, have remarkably good hearing, well beyond the frequency and volume range of humans - they also have different eyesight, hugely more sensitive sense of smell.. and that's just dogs...  Bees see in UltraViolet, pigeons have magnetic 'compasses' in their heads, and so it goes on..  Also, and here's where I think one of the most important points is missed or ignored by Sheldrake - dogs have a pretty good internal clock, as good, possibly better than humans.  You know how some folks have an ability to be able to set an internal alarm, eg they need to wake at 3am for an early flight and they simply focus on that time, got to sleep and they will awake within minutes of the appointed time.  I know about this ability, as I am one of those people... and no, I have no visible clock where I sleep, so I can't 'cheat'*..

Sheldrake then offers potential reasons why animals are 'ignored' in this regard by the sciences.  He thinks there is a 'taboo against taking pets seriously' and that we too strictly focus on economics, technology and the 'mechanistic view of life'.

And then he says this (p.xv):

Quote

Whether in the laboratory or in the field, scientific investigators typically try to avoid emoitional connections with the animals they are investigating.  They aspire to a detached objectivity.
...
Another {reason why animal behavioral research is neglected} is the taboo against taking psychic or 'paranormal' phenomena seriously.

Wow.  I'll come back to this in much more detail later - but attacking objectivity, and ascribing a 'taboo' as an explanation for mainstream science ignoring the paranormal..!  Science does indeed dislike subjectivity, and has a problem with 'paranormal' claims, as in it rightly and correctly ignores them until provenYou do not EVER base new science on anything that is not properly evidenced.  In *my* opinion, those approaches are really really sensible and good. 

 

 

Next, Sheldrake addresses (he likes pre-emptive strikes, apparently) the 'Clever Hans' effect - that will be FUN...!

... be back later with the next instalment, same bat channel..

* on the topic of the internal clock.... actually, I *may* still be cheating a little - more about this 'ability' later - you may be surprised when I point out that even though you might think there is no clock in your bedroom.. there is (in most bedrooms) a very accurate time keeper, that you may not have noticed, but your subconscious knows about...

Edited by ChrLzs
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On 12/5/2017 at 5:16 AM, ChrLzs said:

 ideally how would you gather data to test the hypothesis in a way that avoided bias, cherry picking etc?  Should we avoid cherry-picking in such an investigation?

If it doesn't change the context of the message i do not see the problem with cherry picking at all because the devil is in the details and by breaking stuff up it's easier to make conclusions and explain things better. Such approach is double edged sword and has the tendency to make us biased, unknowingly :) 

First step is to have some kind of general understanding of behavior in dogs and also their physical characteristics and experience from having dog as a member of the family is priceless in this case ( but not essential )... Only after that it's reasonable to approach the author and his claims, with good foreknowledge.

On 12/5/2017 at 5:16 AM, ChrLzs said:

how many things can you think of, that would help a pet to 'sense' or predict their owner's arrival?  I already have a list, so you might want to hold back on that until I post it (otherwise I might just steal your ideas!)

It could be as simple as having two reasons behind that supposed ability of dogs to predict owner's arrival. I do not see it as prediction but something much more solid and possibly easy to back up factually. But i stop here, following your advice ( not because of stealing alert :) but to make sure i do not damage this topic ).

Interesting subject for which i have explanation which seems reasonable, anyhow - would love to read the book first. 

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On 12/18/2017 at 3:15 PM, ChrLzs said:

This is a really important point - and I hope I will satisfactorily address it as we start looking at Sheldrake's evidence.  You are dead right - and as a skeptic I'll happily agree I am indeed much more concerned with false alarms...  I suspect that is because my experience with failed alarms is generally the failure was with good reason... :D  but perhaps I am cherry picking...

The dear readers will have to make their own judgement as I proceed.. and I'm OK with that.  I don't expect to change the status quo - believers believe and skeptics always want more/better evidence.  My aim here is to ask the question - is this book of Sheldrake's worthy of a place on the Non-Fiction shelf?

I'll be bold and say "I don't think so" - my daughter is a professional dog trainer and is an avid reader of current science on dogs and dog behavior.  I think that Sheldrake has made the mistake of thinking "I know everything about the subject at this point (i.e., what he knew in 1990) and can therefore speculate in a meaningful manner."  There's been a lot of changes in the way we understand dogs (and other animals) from behavior analysis and other sciences... and let's not forget Temple Grandin's contributions.)

He mentioned when dogs know their owners are coming home, but I don't know if he's discussed how accurate a dog's sense of time is (you can train them to remind you to take medicine at a certain time) or how keen their hearing and smell is.  My daughter's dog knows when I'm at her apartment building, even if I arrive at a different day.

"Psychic" would be if the animal started heading toward the door the minute the person walked out of the distant door and got into their car/onto the bus/whatever.  You'd also have to make sure there are no distractions near like another dog or squirrel or so forth.

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My cat knows when I'm suppose to be home--she's always in the window, waiting. If I arrive early or late, she is not. She may be a psycho kitty, but hardly a psychic.

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I have 3 cats, they know when mom is coming home too. Mostly they stay in the house. Once in a while my brother lets themn out. They always show up when I come home at 4:30 from work. Or if I go anywhere  on weekends they seem to know when I come home.

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I would suppose, that maybe on non overcast days, that an animal could use shadows within a household as a sundial of sorts giving a general idea as to when master might be arriving home. That and some animals use their senses on a higher level than humans as their lives may depend on it. (Hearing, smell, sight etc..)

Edited by Vilasarius
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14 hours ago, Vilasarius said:

I would suppose, that maybe on non overcast days, that an animal could use shadows within a household as a sundial of sorts giving a general idea as to when master might be arriving home. That and some animals use their senses on a higher level than humans as their lives may depend on it. (Hearing, smell, sight etc..)

I thought the same thing. 

Dogs are creatures of habit just like us and they know time because of cues and the light in the house helps them to recognize the time an owner would come home and maybe sounds such as church bells at a certain time. 

Dogs are very aware of what kind of clothes the master puts on to go out. They know the ones that our going to be a long or short trip too. 

I haven't read Sheldrake's book but I read parts of it that were posted on the internet to think that it was just the keener senses that dogs use and not paranormal at all in his examples to me. 

This book doesn't hold a place on my bookshelf. Talking about pigeons being psychic struck me as silly since they are sensitive to magnetic fields. It's just higher developed senses some of which people don't have or use. 

 

 

 

Edited by White Unicorn

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Sorry about my absence - finding it hard to motivate myself to go back to this book and continue, but I will.

In regard to the last few responses...,   yes:D

Dogs and other domestic pets do have some highly refined, and differently tuned, senses, and keeping time is not difficult.  Sheldrake does however claim that even when the owner returns at completely unexpected or erratic times, the pets still get it right...

As I will argue later, there are two huge problems here:

- he did not document that at all well..

- he completely ignores a whole pile of possibilities in regards to clues that the animals may detect.

 

Be back later to continue..

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