Thursday, January 23, 2014

Horses make a lot of decisions

In the last post I talked about how beaver are constantly making local decisions when building their dams. Instinct may give the beaver the knowledge they need to make these decisions but it does not make the decisions for them. Instinct is a way of knowing, not a way of thinking.

The same is true for horses, only the horse's decision making may not be as obvious since they are not building stuff. When they are on their own the horse's number one activity is grazing and they spend many hours doing it. Grazing involves almost continuous decision making because you have to constantly decide which specific thing to eat next.

To see this consider the following thought experiment. You are in a pasture and you pluck a bit of grass. Now you want to pluck a second bit. How many possibilities are there to choose from? Even if you do not move there are a great many, so you have to make a local decision.

People do this too of course, for example repeatedly choosing from the different things on their plate. You can watch yourself do it. What is especially important is that this decision making typically does not involve verbal thinking, so horses can do it too. A lot of thinking is nonverbal.

Moreover, as I described in an earlier post, horses often "graze in motion" which means taking a step or two every few seconds. When to step and where also requires making decisions.

Then there is the fact that the herd as a whole (or in part) often moves more or less together. How this is done is the topic of much scientific research but it clearly involves a great deal of decision making by the horses involved.

Sometimes this decision making regarding what to eat next involves food that is not close by, or even in sight. The entire herd may abruptly go a long distance, into a new field, to graze on some bushes. Or a single horse may do it, leaving the herd behind.

The point is that horses make a lot of decisions as they do what they do and decision making is a form of thinking.

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