Confirmation Bias and How Dogs Experience Time
Originally published on July 28, 2009 by Lee Charles Kelley
Linear vs Cyclical Time
Dogs live totally in the moment. They don’t dwell on the past and they don’t worry about the future. This may be one of the most charming and delightful things about them. But while dogs have no sense of linear time, they do have a very exact sense of cyclical time (probably related to circadian rhythms) , and it’s pretty amazing.
Pavlov once did an experiment where he sprayed meat powder into the mouths of a dozen or so dogs at noon every day for 2 weeks in a row. Then on the 15th day, he didn’t spray the powder yet they all still salivated exactly at noon.
How does that happen?
I can give you an example. There was a time when, as soon as the game show Jeopardy was over, I would get up, put my shoes on, wake my Dalmatian Freddie, and take him out for our evening walk. Then after about 9 months, the TV schedule changed so I stopped waking Freddie at that exact time. And yet, like clockwork, he still woke up, on his own at exactly 7:25 each night, and continued doing so for several months until he finally got used to our new schedule.
This shows that dogs have a very strong sense of cyclical time, which makes sense because it would be advantageous for predators to have this ability. However, it’s equally clear that dogs don’t have a sense of linear time. That seems to be a construct of a more developed type of brain.
Einstein and Relativity
Even for human beings, time is not an absolute; it’s entirely subjective depending on our moods. “Are we there yet?” the kids will ask. “Wow, the time just flew by!” we say at the end of a wonderful evening.
Einstein proved that time is not only subjective, it’s relative to how fast you’re traveling. He also said that the past and the future are illusions. In fact, some scientists say that linear time may be nothing more than an artifact of a quantum wave collapse.
Physicist Nick Herbert: “The present doesn’t have any special status in physics. The fact that time seems to flow is a kind of illusion that our kind of existence gives rise to. ... If we just took the equations of physics ... the universe would seem to be a kind of eternal, ever-present process.”
Strangely enough, that sounds exactly how dogs experience life: an ever present process with certain crests and valleys that cycle in a continuous circadian rhythm. If so, then linear time would be like a series of particle-like moments, set in chronological order, cyclical time would be like a wave, meaning we’re now back in the Wolfgang Pauli’s realm of quantum physics.
Can the laws of physics mesh with animal psychology?
Connecting Mind and Matter
In 1919, in Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist, John B. Watson wrote, “The key which will unlock the door of any other scientific structure will unlock the door of psychology.”
In 1952, quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli  was more specific: “It would be most satisfactory of all if physics and psyche could be seen as complementary aspects of the same reality.” In fact Pauli spent a great deal of time trying to find the laws that would connect mind and matter.
Then there’s the “Pauli effect,” the tendency for equipment to malfunction whenever Pauli was anywhere near the lab. There was even an instance in Gottenheim, Germany (where Pauli had worked several years earlier) when Pauli was living near Zurich. Yet there was a major equipment malfunction which caused the scientists working at Gottenheim to scratch their heads and joke that the equipment malfunction couldn’t have been caused by Pauli’s presence because as far as they knew he wasn’t there at the time.
They found out later that he’d actually been passing through Gottenheim on a train, on his way to Zurich, and was sitting in a railway car at the exact moment that the equipment malfunction took place!
Synchronicity and Perceptions of Time
Carl Jung worked with Pauli on several attempts to formulate a workable theory connecting mind and matter. Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe what he called the “acausal connecting principle” that links mind and matter without any reference points in space or time.
In theoretical physics, the problem of time is a conceptual conflict between general relativity and quantum mechanics in that quantum mechanics regards the flow of time as universal and absolute, whereas general relativity regards the flow of time as malleable and relative.
This problem raises the question of what time really is in a physical sense and whether it is truly a real, distinct phenomenon. It also involves the related question of why time seems to flow in a single direction, despite the fact that no known physical laws seem to require that.
So essentially quantum physics describes a world full of vibrating probabilities. And it’s only when we observe a phenomena that those probabilities settle down and start to become “real.“
“The door through which this happens,” says physicist Nick Herbert, “is measurement. ... but quantum physics doesn’t tell us what a measurement is. Some extreme guesses are that consciousness has to be involved, and only when some entity becomes aware do the possibilities change into actualities.”
A lot has happened since Pavlov’s day, and even Pauli’s. This is the 21st Century. John Watson’s hope that the laws of psychology would one day be revealed through physics and chemistry is becoming a reality. And yet it hasn’t. True, some cognitive scientists are starting to realize that animals have emotions, primarily because they have the same kind of wiring for emotion that we do. But many scientists also insist that animals have the ability to think, ignoring the fact that there are certain bits of cognitive architecture that the “non-human” brain simply does not possess.
A Reverse Pauli Effect
Like quantum physics there are many things about time and consciousness that are still a mystery. But if we look at what Wolfgang Pauli, the only mystery is why we don’t assiduously avoid confirmation bias by not steering dogs to act in the way that our experiments are designed to prove. And even if some scientists aren’t doing this consciously, if dogs are in a situation where there’s nothing interesting going on and someone with a strong enough desire comes along and wants them to do something, they’ll usually try and find a way to do it. Dogs are confirmation bias with a tail [4.]
So it seems to me that we not only to avoid confirmation bias but to avoid a kind of reverse Pauli effect, where the test case subjects in this study—the dogs—operate in ways that they wouldn’t do under normal circumstances.
Pauli believed, and rightly so, that consciousness was energy. On the most basic level all behavior is an energy exchange with the environment. So let’s see if we can begin to explain canine behavior from a purely energetic standpoint . What are dogs, after all, when given enough time and room to play, but pure, unadulterated (not mention timeless) energy?
So let’s celebrate dogs for the qualities they actually possess: their true dogginess. They’re amazing animals, particularly since they’re able to fool so many otherwise talented scientists into thinking some very strangely unscientific ideas.
“Life Is an Adventure—Where Will Your Dog Take You?”
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1. A study was done in Japan recently which showed that the human body naturally emits light. These are not infrared emissions detectable with night vision goggles or special cameras. The body emits photons with wavelengths in the visible spectrum. And the amount of light emitted varies over time, and does so according to our circadian rhythms.
2. Pauli was a brilliant physicist but also thought of himself as a natural philosopher. In physics he was famous primarily for the exclusion principle (aka, the Pauli Principle), and for his 1930 prediction of the neutrino, which wasn’t actually proven to exist until 1956.
3. Interestingly, there are certain equations related to quantum physics where space and time reverse themselves. Time becomes space and space becomes time. It’s also interesting that in humans the sense of time seems to be processed in the parietal lobe, which is also where a sense of spatial dynamics is processed.
4. In a previous article I noted that dogs have an uncanny ability to “get under our skin” and “hijack” our brains. Cognitive scientist Michael Tomasello has said that animals who are “enculturated” with humans show higher levels of cognition than those who aren’t, suggesting that the cognitive abilities of domestic dogs may be the result of embodied embedded cognition, a theoretical outgrowth of self-organizing systems.
5. Despite his affection for the somewhat unscientific nature of the principle named after him, Pauli was a perfectionist when it came to hard science. He was especially sensitive to confirmation bias, both in his work and the work of others. He’s said to have been so infuriated by one paper that he coined the phrase “Not only is it not right, it’s not even wrong.”