sabato 18 novembre 2017

Lessons from animals

Hi guys,

I am in bed from a week like a whale stuck on a shore cause my beautiful appendix has decided to get inflamed. Fair enough, I am spending many hours in good company: books, a pen, a notebook and my girlfriend’s intellect.

Now, I want to share in this space some reflections and thoughts about some mechanisms that got clearer in my mind by looking at the consistent effort my two new cats* are putting in growing up.
I believe valuable lessons can be dragged from animals.

They are filtered away from social / behavioral conditionings and they are in a much better position to fully connect with their instincts.
I am fascinated by the ability to fully be immersed in their actions, reacting to life in a continuous fashion as moment after moment was revealing itself infinite possibilities.
They are still too young to freely wonder around the open world so we are sharing a space 24/7 and I am experiencing every stage of their evolution.

Just to make this clearer I will break it down into paragraphs:

Task orientation

Everything they do is to solve a task, therefore they grow faster. Working with a goal in mind, has been more functional since the age of times in learning a skill, period.
I'll give you the scenario. The cats are on the floor and they need to reach the top shelf of a closet. They follow a procedure I am trying to isolate here.

Phase 1: Territory scan and options discovery

They will spend all the time they need looking at the motor problem from all the possible angles; observing it with maximum care, with all the senses they need.

Phase 2: Option choice

-       Simple over complex
-       Low risk over high risk

They will always choose ground level over height, stable flat surfaces over unstable round surfaces and the path of least resistance. If pressure gets in the game than it all breaks down, favoring task completion in the least amount of time.

Phase 3: Operative choice

Once the choice is taken - they operate.

This is the algorithm in a mindmap:

Of course, if they do not have a scenario ready in the matrix, they'll create it. That still clip on the floor becomes a running rat animated by their paws. “Get it or you'll starve!”

Live and fail fully
My cats engage in every activity as if it was the last thing they are going to do in their life. They
fight each other fiercely; they hunt with no other thought running in the background; they stay still staring at nothing for minutes and minutes and they lick themselves as if they wanted to eradicate the worst of the evils from the fur.  Emotions are NEVER out of the game.
Overall, they give everything they can.
However, if they don’t succeed in their tasks, they fail and they try again ..but.. here comes the most interesting part:

the adjustments they do in their failures are quite random in a trial and error fashion, but the information they recollect from the reaction to their actions, is not random AT ALL.
They get better every day at selecting the variables that are useful for the progress; rejecting those that are useless. Once they get the correct movement and it produces a positive impact: bang! They reinforce it and here they go, already looking for the next task.

In this view, learning is an error-selection process, where the collection of information from the playground is more important than the actual outcome.

Basically, they fail better day by day, by filtering the information and placing the attention in the right place.

Many empty spaces

The first impression that I had, since I was in contact with animals was that they take time. They constantly take time for themselves. They are hungry, they eat. They are tired, they sleep. They have a boost of energy, they use it. And all these fluctuations in needs provide the body a variety of stimuli, that are the ones useful to live a healthy life.
They also take a lot of time to do absolutely nothing – call it: otium, resting, immobilism, meditating. Whatever, but they do it. And they never do anything “useless”. Those practices are beneficial. There is much more going on in the body; more than what we can actually see, and much has to be discovered yet. So, who knows what truly lies behind emptying some space in our lives (longer happier existences?).

Teaching is a physical-relational process

“Never trust a person that wears gloves”.
Our society is trying to disconnect ourselves from our physical being, trying to put barriers to physical contact and encounters. I say this living in Italy (the reign of hugs and handshakes), outside it’s much worse.
When we teach we should touch, feel, connect with the student.
I believe it has value to stay side by side, hands in the dirt. Same level, but different at the same time. You do something wrong in a game, I hit you (not with anger, with positive intent, but I hit you). You do something great, I shout and hug you.
Pedagogically speaking, it has a lot of value.
I can see this happening with every stage of development of my kittens. I do something wrong, she/he bites me, scratches me, screams at me and so on.
So, I do the same physically 100% leaving no space for words. And guess what in return they listen and care about me as well.
It just works better. It’s a bit like playing a zero sum game**.


As a last thing, I want to talk about this curios phenomenon I noticed in my cats. They get stressed if they can live only on a single layer. What do I mean? For example, if they have an empty room with just the floor, they get more aggressive and upset for anything. If you add chairs, tables, closets and so on (that they can climb), this improves their characters. Why? I guess it’s because it opens up possibilities, but actually I am not sure, it’s quite a mistery.
Does this happens with humans as well? I say – a hundred per cent yes.
Do people realize this? I say – a hundred per cent no.
If we go to the mountains, populate trees, go on rooftops, sleep in caves underground and so on, we perceive a difference in our feelings and behaviors.
Got a crazy cat? Putting shelves everywhere will transform it from a Tasmanian devil into Garfield.

Ok, I am done for now, have a nice one!


*Cats' names: Sanementereng and Ekomo (a basic drum), two African words that are dear to me. The term literally represent an African dance that esemplificates their way of learning. That is: “you listen to the rhythms since the day you are born, so when you first touch the drum as child, you already know the rhythms and know how it SHOULD sound. Nobody ever has to explain anything to you, you just copy what you hear. That is why many African drum teachers do not explain enough and do not go methodically forward in teaching”– cit. rootsworld. This is the way I have decided to grow these two creatures.

** “In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant's gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. Thus, cutting a cake, where taking a larger piece reduces the amount of cake available for others, is a zero-sum game if all participants value each unit of cake equally (see marginal utility)”. – Quote from the big W.

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