Saturday, June 16, 2007

I Hate Chess, I Love Chess, I Hate Chess...

Hola darlings! At last, the weekend is here. Ahhhhh, I live for my weekends. So what if it's hot as hell outside and I'm running up a monstrous electric bill because the central air has been on non-stop since I got home from the office last night? It was hot enough in the house to fry an egg on the kitchen counter, yech! I hate chess! Actually, I love chess, when I don't hate it, that is. Right now I'm in my third game with Crusader Scott and it's at the point where I can see things turning - I'm losing the game with the white pieces, sure as shootin', and I can't figure out what to do to try to turn things around or even if I can turn things around. Arrrrgggghhhh! I stare at the board - and come up blank. Every move that I think I might make now doesn't seem good enough; moves I thought were good about 5 moves ago turned out to be yechy stupid moves. So much for trying to "visualize" what my opponent might do 3-4-5 moves out. Ha ha ha! Now it's my turn to move, and I believe I've developed a mental block - rather like one trying to pull one's own tooth, I just can't do the final yank on the pliers, so to speak. Ouch! I'm paralyzed. Here are the moves in our game thus far - mind you, I'm not looking for help - I could do that much easier by getting a chess program and cheating in private, lol! I used to have a bootlegged copy of Chessmaster 4000, and I loved playing the "Bobby Fischer" persona; I could actually get up to around 19 moves before losing to "him" - once I even got up to 25 moves. But when I got this new computer a few years ago the program wouldn't work on it anymore, or I couldn't figure out how to get it to work. Anyway, I recently purchased Chessmaster 10 for my three grand-nephews (yes, darlings, I am that old to have grand-nephews, eek) and I'm thinking of buying it for myself, because I miss playing against Fischer. Oh yeah - those moves, arrrgggghhhh: (1) e4 c5; (2) Nb1c3 e5; (3) Qd1e2 Ng8f6; (4) Ng1f3 Nb8c6; (5) h4 d5; (6) d3 Bc8g4; (7) Nc3xd5 Nf6xd5; (8) exd5 Qd8xd5; (9) Qe2e4 Qd5xe4; (10) Qe2e4 Qd5xe4; (11) dx34 O-O-O; (12) Bc1e3 Bf8e7; (13) Bf1c4 Bg4h5; (14) O-O Bh5g6; (15) Bc4d3 f6; (16) c3 Rd8xd3 (17) Ra1d1 c4; (18) Nf3d2 Rh8d8; (19) Rd1a1 b6; (20) a4 Be7c5; (21) Nd2xc4 Bc5xe3; (22) Nc4xe3 Bg6xe4; (23) a5 Nc6xa5; (24) Ra1a4 f5; (25) c4 Rd3d4; (26) Rf1c1 Kc8b7. Don't laugh (well, at least, don't let me hear you)! I'm not going to proofread them - I had to write them all down by hand and then type them in, I could not copy and paste from the redhotpawn site where we play - I already see a few real bonehead moves - what was I thinking?! I'm working on the follow-up about why UTD dropped sponsorship for the Denker Tournament - not sure how to approach it yet; I figure the best way is to just let people speak for themselves rather than trying to summarize everything, but that will make for one big long blog post. I don't know if it will be finished today though; I'm going shopping with one of my friends later this afternoon and then we're going out for dinner and drinks and some partying, oh yeah!

Friday, June 15, 2007

2007 Denker Tournament of High school Champions

I don't generally follow scholastic events but recently became interested in the Denker Tournment of High School Champions after reading about the withdrawal of support for the 2007 Denker by the University of Texas at Dallas after several years of awarding 4-year scholarships to the Denker winners. To make sure I had my facts straight, I did a little googling and, while information was scarce particularly as I went back in time, I was able to find the following information about prior years' prizes for winners of the Denker: (1) At the University of Texas at Dallas website, I found a list of 4-year full tuition and fees scholarships awarded to Denker Tournament winners from 1999 through 2005: 1999: -- Andrei Zaremba - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions -- Karen Birkedahl - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions 2000: --Nat Koons - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions --John Cole - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions --Yelena Gorlin - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions 2001 – none listed for Denker Tournament 2002: --Joshua Friedel - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions 2003: --William Aramil - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions 2004: --Pieta Garrett - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions 2005: --Trevor H. Jackson - Denker Tournament of State High School Champions (2) I was able to confirm the following information at websites other than UTD: 2003 Denker Two 4-year scholarships from UTD, one to the top male finisher and one to the top female finisher (must be a minimum of 2 females playing in the event), plus $1,000 a year housing allowance for each scholarship. 2004 Denker 4 year scholarship from UTD; also, scholarships totaling $1,200 to the top four finishers from other sources 2005 Denker 4-year scholarship from UTD 2006 Denker 4-year college scholarship from UTD, valued at $40,000; also $1,000 Ursula Foster Memorial Chess Gift - $500 to each of the Top 13 and under winner from the Denker High School Tournament of Champions and the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls; also, through the generosity of GM Denker’s son, Mitchell and the U.S. Chess Trust, scholarships totaling $2,200 will be awarded between the top ten finishers.

That’s a minimum of ten (1999 through 2006) scholarships that I could find information on, about $400,000 worth of sponsorship. (UTD may have awarded more scholarships during the 1990's, but my internet searches didn’t turn up any concrete information). This is in addition to the money that Mr. Denker and, after his death in 2005, his family contributed to help Denker players offset some of the costs of attending the event, in addition to funding several scholarship prizes.

And then we come to 2007. Here is an announcement about the 2007 Denker from the USCF website:

The U.S. Chess Trust will award $2200 in Scholarships ($500-300-250-200-200-150-150-150-150-150) (a total of 20). Scholarships are designated for college expenses and will be sent to winners only upon proof of college enrollment (copies of paid bills, or official letters, etc.) There will also be a $500 Ursula Foster scholarship awarded to the highest finisher who is under the age of 14 on the first day of the tournament. If no participant is under 14 then the scholarship will go the under 15, etc.

That’s it. No mention of a UTD scholarship. UTD had funded Denker scholarships for years, adding a great deal of luster and financial reward to the title "winner of the Denker," and then poof – no more sponsorship.

Now, one may reasonably ask "what happened – why did UTD pull its funding from the Denker?" Why, indeed? I’ll get to that – but there’s more to this story – a happy ending! I’m so American – I just love happy endings where the guys in the white hats triumph!

On June 14, 2007 it was announced at Susan Polgar’s blog that Texas Tech would award a 4-year full tuition scholarship to the winner of the 2007 Denker! Hooray!

I checked the Texas Tech website to see that their full-time tuition for resident students will be about $7,100 a year for the 2007-2008 school year The press release did not mention non-resident tuition; the 2006-2007 non-resident tuition was $14,709 (30 credits, 15 a semester). So, conservatively, the Texas Tech scholarship for the 2007 Denker could be worth anywhere from $28,400 to $58,800.

I'll be posting more about this story later.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chess Hustlers - New Orleans (Pre-Katrina)

Hola, darlings. A hot, muggy night here at home. New Orleans is far away down the mighty Mississippi from where I live but (except for the bugs and floods), our weather tonight is probably similar. I wrote the following back in 2004, intending it to be part of an article I eventually did for Goddesschess, but this didn't make it into the final version. Since that time, Katrina happened... The following was written by an unnamed Cannuck who was visiting Sin City during a convention in 1995. (Things have not improved since then...) Learning of INFORMS the Hard Way! In anticipation of the marketing track of the Fall INFORMS Conference in Atlanta, some odd people, who are also tall, reminisce about last Fallin New Orleans [Asst. Ed.] Returning from New Orleans' French Quarter the night before the Fall '95 INFORMS conference, I stopped to watch a grizzled chess hustler collect winnings from his last chump, when a thirty-something challenger stepped up. Clocks were set at 5 minutes. With bewildering speed, the game evolved, each move punctuated with the bang of a chess-clock (switching one player's clock off and the other player's, on). Suddenly, the hustler paused. He picked up a piece, tried out a spot for size, thought better, and moved elsewhere. The hustler's subsequent tempo became erratic: lightning quick, one move, precious seconds expiring the next. Meanwhile, the challenger's prompt rhythm only varied when he called out, "Time." Dazed, the hustler picked up the clock and eyed it an inch or so from his face in an expression that seemed to say, "I'll be damned." For the next game, the right-handed hustler now sat with the clock to his right. Unlike the first game, the hustler endeavored to keep an even pace. But a massive exchange unexpectedly gave the challenger a pawn ready to become queen for his second victory. The hustler paid $10, shook hands, and suggested a rematch the next evening. "In a longer game, I'll have a better chance," he said. I approached the challenger and asked his Chess Federation Rating. "2300." A world master--only 1% of all competitive players are rated above 2200. I then watched the challenger make his way, with a similarly conservatively-dressed comrade, to the conference hotel. INFORMS had arrived in New Orleans, and a local chess-hustler had learned this fact the hard way.

The Chess Show

I think I first discovered "The Chess Show" website sometime in 2001, when I was putting The International Chessoid together. I thought the website was the most wacky, wonderful and original approach to chess I’d ever seen. It made chess FUN. The show, an original production, ran on public television (local cable access) once a month between 1990 and 1998 in Portland, Oregon. I still visit "The Chess Show" website on occasion, but over the years a lot of the links that used to work are no longer current and/or relevant. There was also this song that used to play over and over again - it was sort of a catchy tune but after awhile it started to grate on one's my current browser it doesn't play anymore, or perhaps it just got old and died, or perhaps someone killed it! Through the wonders of modern technology, some video clips of the show are available for viewing at u-tube. I got tickled more than a pink pawn last night while watching some vintage footage from "The Chess Show" - check it out (heh heh). "The Chess Show" also offers DVDs for sale. The production values weren’t the greatest, the level of chess "teaching" was basic, the musicians were deliberately hokey (part of the bigger joke of the show in general) and the really cheesy "special effects" – ohmygoddess! But the show was so zany, so antic, and so full of energy and good-hearted humor – I fully understand why the show developed a loyal fan base and continues to attract fans to this day, even after being off the air so many years. The people behind the shows weren’t chess masters, but they were incredibly creative and funny. I also discovered last night that I could actually answer their quiz questions! Whooowee, baby! My favorite character is the resident chess femme, Cybele. I love her skintight dresses and other over-the-top costumes, her different "characters," and her larger than life Marilyn Monroe wannabe persona (wink, wink). I wonder if anyone else out there has ever tried doing a chess show on public access tv? I wonder if a show like "The Chess Show" could succeed today?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Burials with “Substitute” Heads Discovered Half a World Apart

In 2004 Christina Conlee, an archaeologist at Texas State University, found a rare headless skeleton in a tomb sitting cross-legged with a ceramic "head jar" placed to the left of the body

The decapitated body was found in the Nasca region, named for the ancient civilization that thrived in southern Peru from A.D. 1 to 750.

The age and condition of both the body and the jar, which is painted with two inverted human faces, suggests that the victim was killed in a rite of ancestral worship, Conlee said.

The burial site, called La Tiza, contains only the third known Nasca head jar found with a decapitated body.

Head jars have been found at other Nasca sites and are often associated with high-status burials, though scientists know little about their function.

The archaeologist also noted that the head jar is painted with the reversible image of a human face that can be seen right-side up or upside down, suggesting that the jar might have been meant as a substitute for the victim's missing head. Full story here.

Half a world away, in China, in May, 1987 at the archaeological site at Jiahu (discovered in 1962), archaeologists opened Grave M344, and saw an adult male whose head was missing. Where his head would have been were eight sets of tortoise shells and one fork-shaped bone artifact. Full story here.

Unfortunately, I could find no further development of the Jiahu "substitute head" burial online; the 2003 article in devoted mainly to a discussion of the possibility that the Jiahu "signs" are a precursor to or possibly even proto-writing, some 5000 years before it is generally accepted that Chinese writing first appeared during the Shang period.

Tortoise shells and animal scapula have been used by diviners in China since before the Shang period, so my guess is that the "substitute head" burial using eight pairs of tortoise shells (which may have contained pebbles of various colors and shapes) was of a very important diviner whose head was retained as an oracle, much like the Druids did thousands of years later. The number eight, of course, has long been significant in Chinese divination (i.e., the I Ching).

More information was provided in the article about the 2004 Nasca "substitute head" burial, but much of it was speculation. Just not enough is known yet about the whys and wherefores of these rare burials in South America. My suggestion is that this burial, too, is of an important personage (not a sacrificed prisoner of war) whose head was kept as an oracle.

Yes, I know – these burials are half a world and thousands of years apart. But human nature has remained stubbornly static since the dawn of time despite our spreading out across the globe in the intervening millennia. Rite and ritual are as old as we are, and probably older. There is evidence, for instance, that the "not human" Neanderthals buried their dead and, in one grave of a child, someone left a small bouquet of flowers on top of the body before it was buried. Despite cultural differences that it suits some folks to play up these days, we all come into the world the same way, we all die and, in between, we are primarily concerned with pursuing our survival and satisfaction, to the best of our ability.

Oftentimes, the simplest explanation is the correct one. It makes more sense to me that these burials, strikingly alike in the use of a "substitute head," were done for the same reason – the head was taken and used as an oracle.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Chess Tales

I often don't know from day to day what I'm going to write here. Today I was all set to post some interesting information about possible buried treasure and a "mysterious" Dead Sea Scroll (cue spooky music, wooohooowoooh....) but then it occurred to me - duh - that I should write instead about the two interesting conversations I had today about chess! The first one was over lunch with a friend, Karryn. As often happens in a conversation, I don't recall how exactly how the topic of chess came up. I found myself talking to Karryn, who is nearly 20 years younger than I, about Alina Markowski, who began playing tournament chess back in the 1950's, and the incident at the unnamed chess tournament that took place in Milwaukee (our home town) in 1973, where a male player objected to playing against a woman. When told he would be disqualified from the event if he did not play Ms. Markowski, he showed up for the game, played one move, and then left, ceding the point to Ms. Markowski. Karryn was shocked by the blatantly sexist behavior that Ms. Markowski experienced, and wanted to know more about women chessplayers. I gave her some background on the history of the dominance of the Soviet chessplayers, and that led to the history about the Cold War confrotation between Fischer and Spassky, and that led into the Polgar sisters and their eventual "connection" with Fischer after Fischer became a "persona non grata" in his own country. She hadn't heard about any of this and, amazingly enough, I could tell she was fascinated and very interested in what I was telling her (guess I'm a good storyteller). She was particularly interested in the Polgar sisters. At the time the Polgars were making headlines in New York in the 1980's, Karryn (who is the same age as Susan Polgar) was in high school and caught up in all the social life and activities of the typical teenager of that era with the advantages of an upper middle-class upbringing. New York and its news coverage of chess events, and even the Polgar sisters on the covers of nationally distributed news magazines may as well have been on the other side of the moon as far as Milwaukee was concerned! I gave Karryn a little background on the sisters and the problems and issues that Susan Polgar faced as she grew up and wanted to play in "men's" tournaments under the closed Communist system that ruled in Hungary that wanted her to be the next great women's champion, and about Judit Polgar; I told her about Gata Kamsky and about watching Judit's last Candidates' Match game on the computer a week ago Saturday morning, the one she lost, the one that sent her back home to Hungary $40,000 richer (we had a laugh about that). Karryn was surprised to learn that Judit Polgar is the only woman player among the top players in the world - why aren't there more, she wanted to know. She was also surprised to learn that the Polgar sisters are all mothers of young children! As we rode up in the elevator and walked to our respective offices, she mentioned that her oldest daughter, who is 11 and a soccer nut (and very good player), learned how to play chess recently when she accompanied a friend to the local YMCA where a chess club meets, and was taught the game. She liked it, but as her daughter's friend has moved away and Karryn's family does not have a membership at the Y, her daughter probably won't play chess again. As I ducked into my office, I said that many schools now offer after-school scholastic programs. I could tell by the look on Karryn's face that she was thinking "oh yeah, great, just what I need, one MORE activity to shuttle the kids around to..." Later in the afternoon, Judith dropped by to rummage in the dish of snack-size chocolate bars and "Nips" I keep available for anyone in need of a chocolate and/or sugar fix, and we chatted. Judith is an elegant woman about 11 years older than I. She dresses "just so," is perfectly coiffed and speaks with a precise mid-eastern seaboard accent that has not quite disappeared even after all these years. When we aren't discussing the bain of conservative politics, or laughing over the latest silliness of The Wall Street Journal editorial board, we talk about museums, art, opera, and the latest best-sellers on The New York Times list. My goddess, I sound like a horrid snob, don't I. Again, I don't recall precisely how the subject came up, but seemingly all of a sudden I was talking about the Goddesschess website, and Chess Femme News, and this blog, the research we do, the online chess I play, the chess that Don and I have played and how I've been teaching my grand-nephews to play chess, - I half-jokingly called it "My Secret Life." For just for a nano-second, Judith looked taken aback. And then her eyes lit up and she said "oh my" and waved her hand "just so" and laughed. She asked me if I had ever seen the movie "Searching for - oh, what's his name" and I said "Bobby Fischer," and she said "yes!," and that unleashed a torrent of discussion about the charming movie, about the back-drop of the entire Cold War "confrontation" in the Fischer-Spassky match (something with which Judith was perfectly familiar, having been an adult at the time); then I mentioned the book, and that led to another 10 minutes of discussion, and then to a whole set of remembrances on her part - things we'd never discussed before in our five years of working together. Judith's father taught her (and all her siblings) to play chess when she was 4 or 5 so, as she put it, "he would have someone to play with." He used the same method to teach them that I'm using to teach my grand-nephews how to play (probably the wrong way to teach chess) - teaching how the pieces move and then allowing generous "take back" of moves until they reach a certain level of what passes for "chess competency" in patzers like us. She knew exactly what I meant when I explained that I am not a good player because, in order to become good at chess, one must devote time to studying, unrelenting study... Judith attended college at the University of Minnesota, majoring in musical studies. As part of this major, she spent two months every summer at New York's Julliard School of Music. One semester, as part of an "inter-cultural" exchange with the Russians in 1958, while I remember standing in the yard with my daddy, who was pointing up into the night sky trying to show me what "Sputnik" was, Judith and a small group of her fellow students were freezing their butts off at a "dormatory" at the University of Moscow. In the evenings, she and her fellow exchange students would play chess with the locals at a small chess club close by. We had a good laugh about that because of course the Russians were so much better players than the bourgeoise capitalist Americans (Pigs). Judith said she played and played in that unrelenting cold, and didn't win a single game. Until one night. She didn't remember his name, and she barely remembers what he looked like, and she thinks he was about 20. She pulled a checkmate out of "nowhere" and in her last move triumphantly called out at the club "MATE!" The player gave her such a look. A split-second later, she realized she had made a terrible mistake in calling out her triumph so. Judith said that afterward, she was so unnerved by the experience that she didn't win another game and shortly thereafter, she didn't play another chess game. Shocked, I said "Judith, you've never played another game of chess since Moscow?" She said "oh, I got over it eventually," and she waved her hand "just so." Judith took another piece of chocolate out of the candy dish and headed down the hall and I turned back to my computer screen. It was time to get back to work. I have to laugh now, recalling the expression on Karryn's face when I was recounting the Markowski story, and my own internal reaction to hers - the truth is I was shocked by her shock! Has she experienced so much less sexism and discrimination than her contemporary, Susan Polgar? I graduated from high school the year SP and Karryn were born (1969). Could the 17 year gap in our ages account for such a difference in Karryn's and my perceptions - in our experiences? We didn't get into that (we'd already talked an hour and 15 minutes and had to get back to the office), but after thinking about it on the ride home tonight, I believe I found at least a partial answer to what seems to be such a gap between Karryn's and my generations, and why I knew that Judith understood exactly what I was talking about, almost without the words coming out of my mouth, and why I understand exactly what it was Judith was conveying, without she ever saying it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Kamsky Disappoints

Kamsky was sent home today from Elista after having lost Game 5. The USA's best hope for a shot at the world championship this time around seemed like a different player in the second half of the Candidates' Matches. For whatever reason, he couldn't get a decent position out of any of his openings and his play just wasn't up to snuff. To be honest, though, he showed some signs of trouble in the first half. Will Kamsky retire from chess now and join a law firm somewhere? Will he decide to go for broke and get a second to help him with his opening prep and make a big push for the World Cup next year? I think he needs to compete against more top level Grandmasters and he's not going to get that kind of test playing the World Open!

He Wants to Buy a Chess Board

I love stories like this. I sure hope this gentleman is able to hold onto his money and won't end up like so many other big lottery winners - suckered, broke and bitter. From cnews June 11, 2007 $37M lotto winner wants a chess set By LISA ABEL TORONTO (CP) - He's 55 years old, single, with no children, lives in a rooming house, and has been on disability since October. Oh, and Graham Gelineau is also $37 million richer after winning Saturday's whopping Lotto 6-49 jackpot - the largest single-ticket prize to be claimed in Ontario. The Toronto man doesn't drive, so he took the subway to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.'s downtown office Monday afternoon to pick up his winnings. "Apart from the money, my life's going to stay pretty much the same," Gelineau said. "That's what I think, but who knows what the future holds. ... I want to reflect on it and take my time. It's a big responsibility." Gelineau said he would share the money with family and friends, and donate some to charities. He also said he no longer plans to work and will move out of the rooming house into an apartment. But aside from that, he mostly refused to offer details on how he plans to spend his winnings. I'll buy a new chess set," he said - but made of wood, not anything elaborate. Gelineau found out he was a winner when he checked his ticket early Sunday morning. "When I woke up, the first thing I thought, bizarrely, was to check my numbers," he said. When he phoned the lottery corporation's automated service to hear the winning numbers, he couldn't believe it. So he hung up and called again just to make sure. "I checked the numbers again, that's what I did - several times, to be frank." Gelineau has been buying tickets at the same west-end convenience store for a couple of months since he moved into the area, although he has been playing lotteries off and on for the past 30 years. When he had his ticket validated at the store where he purchased it, Gelineau said there was a moment of panic when the terminal shut down and special music played to indicate a win exceeding $10,000. "The owners thought somehow the ticket had destroyed the machine," Gelineau said. "Then they got a call from the lottery office and they explained the situation. "Never in a million years did I think I'd win this much money. Never. I had a good feeling, but then I do every draw." Gelineau said he didn't have a system or a set of lucky numbers. "Just random good guessing, that's all," he said. "No science, no inside knowledge, just random luck. "You think about it, you envision, you have all kinds of daydreams that you entertain, but to actually win this kind of money and then ... it's a whole different ball game, believe me. A whole different reality."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dogs Are Smarter Than We Think

I'm a dog lover, raised from a long line of dog lovers. I already had two canine companions when we moved into this place, and I adopted a third in 1991. The four of us happily rattled around the house and garden, until one by one, they succumbed to old age and went off to the Happy Hunting Ground. It broke my heart each time I lost one of my doggies, so these days I'm dogless. As any dog owner knows, some dogs are very smart. Spencer, who died in May, 1999, was a small peekapoo with a temperamental disposition who let me know he suffered my role as master of the house only to keep a roof over his head and food in his dish. He was smart as a whip and he loved sitting on my lap while I played OTB chess. He would sit very still, his head just peeking up above the edge of the table, and stare intently at the board. He never went so far as to shove a piece forward with his paw or pick one up in his mouth, but I swear he knew the game better than I! It seems scientists are finally learning just how smart dogs are. This news story hit the wires earlier in the week - I saw it today in my local newspaper: What Were They Thinking? More Than We Knew. By Rob SteinWashington Post Staff WriterMonday, June 4, 2007; Page A05 Dog owners have long maintained that their pooches have a lot more going on between their furry ears than scientists acknowledge. Now, new research is adding to the growing evidence that man's best friend thinks a lot more than many humans have believed. The provocative new experiment indicated that dogs can do something that previously only humans, including infants, have been shown capable of doing: decide how to imitate a behavior based on the specific circumstances in which the action takes place. "The fact that the dogs imitate selectively, depending on the situation -- that has not been shown before," said Friederike Range of the University of Vienna, who led the study. "That's something completely new." The findings come amid a flurry of research that is revealing surprisingly complex abilities among dogs, chimps, birds and many other animals long dismissed as having little intellectual or emotional life. "Every day, we're discovering surprises about animals and finding out animals are far more intelligent and far more emotional than we previously thought," said Marc Bekoff, an animal behaviorist who recently retired from the University of Colorado. "We're really breaking down the lines between the species." The study was inspired by research with human infants. Fourteen-month-olds will imitate an adult turning on a light with her forehead only if they see her doing it with her hands free. If the adult is clutching a blanket, infants will use their hands, presumably because they can reason that the adult resorted to using her forehead because she had no choice. To determine whether an animal could respond similarly, Range and her colleagues trained Guinness, a female border collie, to push a wooden rod with her paw to get a treat. A dog generally does not use its paws to do tasks, preferring to use its mouth whenever possible. So the key question was whether dogs that watched Guinness would decide how to get the treat depending on the circumstances. After making sure the owners could not influence their pets' behavior, researchers tested three groups of dogs. The first 14, representing a variety of breeds, did not watch Guinness. When taught how to use the rod, about 85 percent pushed it with their mouth, confirming that is how dogs naturally like to do things. The second group of 21 dogs watched Guinness repeatedly push the rod with her paw while holding a ball in her mouth. In that group, most of the dogs -- about 80 percent -- used their mouth, imitating the action but not the exact method Guinness had used. That suggested the dogs -- like the children -- decided Guinness was only using her paw because she had no choice. The third group of 19 dogs watched Guinness repeatedly use a paw on the rod with her mouth free. Most of those dogs -- 83 percent -- imitated her behavior exactly, using their paws and not their mouth. That suggested they concluded there must be some good reason to act against their instincts and do it like Guinness. "The behavior was very similar to the children who were tested in the original experiment," said Zsofia Viranyi of Eotvos University in Budapest, who helped conduct the experiment, published in the May 15 issue of the journal Current Biology. "Whether they imitate or not depends on the context. It's not automatic, insightless copying. It's more sophisticated. There's a kind of inferential process going on. " Viranyi and her colleagues said more research is needed to confirm the results and to explore what the findings say about the canine brain."Do they use the same cognitive process as the infant? Or is it something different?" Range said. "We have no way of knowing that right now." The findings stunned many researchers. "What's surprising and shocking about this is that we thought this sort of imitation was very sophisticated, something seen only in humans," said Brian Hare, who studies dogs at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. "Once again, it ends up dogs are smarter than scientists thought." The experiment suggests that dogs can put themselves inside the head of another dog -- and perhaps people -- to make relatively complex decisions. "This suggests they can actually think about your intention -- they can look for explanations of your behavior and make inferences about what you are thinking," Hare said. Others go even further, suggesting the findings indicate that dogs have a sense of awareness. "It really shows a higher level of consciousness," said Stanley Coren at the University of British Columbia, who studies how dogs think. "This takes a real degree of consciousness." Others were more skeptical, saying it's too far a leap to conclude from the study that dogs possess conscious awareness. "It's so easy for the human mind to look at a dog doing something like this and force our human way of thinking about it on the dog," said Daniel J. Povinelli, a cognitive scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. "This ability might happen automatically without any conscious reflection on the dog's part." The findings could simply be yet another example of the well-documented ability of dogs to interpret subtle physical cues that stem from their long, close relationship with humans, several researchers said. "Dogs are really keen observers of the world around them," said Bruce Blumberg, who teaches classes on dog behavior at Harvard University. "They use simple but reliable rules that capture just enough of a problem to be able to just do better than guessing. This may just be another example of that." Regardless of the interpretation, the research reflects a renewed interest in dogs. "There's been an extraordinary explosion in research on dogs," said Stephen Zawistowski, an animal behaviorist at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "What we're seeing really for the first time is incredibly serious and important work on dog behavior and dog genetics. The really important work will be when the canine cognitive work meets the canine genome work. It's going to give us information about where these capabilities come from."
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...