I spent the day at a family reunion, complete with the usual round of Uncle Bob’s unending stories. I love his stories, but they can go on forever, each sentence getting added to and embellished, with the story getting more and more wild and detailed in the telling. I am always amazed at his ability to enhance and expand in rapid succession. A storytelling session with Uncle Bob can at times be like walking through a maze, or touring an ornate museum, all complete with a great deal of detail.
Following a day with Uncle Bob, I then spent a quiet day with my dog. We have been working on training for an agility course, and the tiny details of each obstacle and movement are something to be addressed and trained. In the process, I was struck by my dog’s attention to the immediate and fundamental. She only paid attention to what occurred at the moment. She could not enhance upon them, could not expand like my Uncle Bob. She followed a simple command, with a straightforward response. But did not embellish it. Did not add to it. She could follow a series of commands, with individual cues, but could not independently string together a series of commands without support or an extreme amount of repetition.
It got me to thinking. She is my constant companion when I am home. My shadow, always by my side. But while I am thinking multiple steps ahead, thinking of the future, of the next training step we are going to work on, my shopping list, and that I need to call my mother, she is focused on the exact moment. She is unable to expand upon her responses to my commands. When I tell her to “sit”, her response is to sit. Not to sit and then bow or attempt some other behavior. Just to do what I told her to do. I can modify her behavior, work on her posture when she sits, or how fast she sits upon command, but that takes my intervention.
Animals are unable to expand and build upon interactions with the complexity that humans do. We can see that as a deficit, or we can see that they live entirely in the exact moment. They remember and can be trained in responses, but they generally will not build upon them, and most certainly not rapidly and with the flexibility we see in human communication. So, perhaps we can learn and choose how to use our skill in recursion. We can use it, like my Uncle Bob does, incessantly, or we can limit it in order to have more streamlined communication, focused on the simplicity of the moment like my dog does while we are training.