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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Different forms of social cooperation: a nod of the head

I've been very busy in the past month or so setting up new websites and pursuing business interests that may seem to have nothing to do with Project Bow. A pesky commenter on one of my sites wanted to know: so have you given up on proving that Bow's communication isn't "Clever Hans"? And when I replied that I had not given up on anything, but was also not pushing Bow to prove anything he doesn't want to prove, she was not satisfied. To her way of thinking, unless I am working on direct proof, then my interactions with Bow are of no consequence, for scientific purposes, which is all she really cares about. On top of that she suggested that I was deluding myself that Bow and I were communicating at all. Who's to say that our day to day conversations are not entirely in my own head, and that Bow is contributing nothing?

That is a valid question, but I also think that if what is going on here is entirely Clever Hans, then even Clever Hans is of scientific interest. Why on earth wouldn't you want to study how non-verbal cues play a role in social cooperation?

Take for example the following video. I needed to explain some things about how to get a Google Adsense account to my new writers on Pubwages. Did Bow have to be a part of that? Well,  no, he didn't. But I am with Bow twelve hours a day, most days, and so the only way I manage to get anything done is to involve him in my daily transactions. Besides, he's much more photogenic than I am.

When you watch the video, notice how at first Bow circles me, then he sits down to listen to what I have to say, then he gets up in the middle because it's not all that interesting, but when I train the camera on him as I am wrapping up my spiel, Bow starts to nod and smile, as if agreeing with me. Did I train him to do that? No. Did I ask him to do any of that? No. He did what he felt like doing, just as when he takes my hand and points to letters, he's also doing what he wants, not what I want. I couldn't for the world force him to say something that he doesn't want to say or do something that he doesn't want to do.

But did Bow really understand what I had to say about getting a Google adsense account? Does he know what adsense is? I doubt that, because he's still struggling with the concept of money. However, there are lots of human beings who also don't understand about adsense. A good friend who watched the video wrote me that she enjoyed it, but she had no idea what I was talking about. Bow, too, seemed to enjoy my presentation, though he had little comprehension of the subject matter. And yet he knew exactly which part of the discourse was the wrap up, and he decided to give his approval at that point.

Is it a pre-verbal skill to be able to pick up the beginning, middle and end of a speech, without knowing exactly what it's about? How many times have you used that same skill when trying to determine when to applaud or agree with your interlocutor, even though you were not closely attending to the meaning of the discourse? What allows us to cooperate in this way? Why are some autistics incredibly dense about picking out this sort of information?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Bow is not ahuman. And when he does something that strikes you as similar to what a human would do under similar circumstances,this does not justify any conclusion that he is doung so for the same reason a human would.

  3. The mere suspicion that Bow is responding to non-verbal cues, does not enable you to study what those cues are.

    Removing all non-verbal cues, and finding out whether this results in Bow behaving differently, would, however, justify the conclusuoin that he had responded to non- verbal cues before.

  4. I seem to have finally figured out how to choose a profile!