Friday, February 19, 2010

The lama training experiment

Karen Pryor describes how to train a lama to accept to be touched. You start approaching from far away. If you approach too much, the lama will run away. So you approach just enough, until you see the lama show signs of tenseness. At that point, you give him a reward for having left you come so close: you withdraw. He relaxes. You iterate, sometimes coming a little closer, sometimes staying a little longer.

The success of this technique leads to the following hypothesis: lamas don't have the cognitive abilities to discretize continuous quantities. 100 meters and 98.3 meters? It's really roughly the same. 98.3 and 95.2? Same. And so on.

How to test this hypothesis? One could discretize the continuum for him: pre-install a set of very different landmarks (from the lama's point of view: his favorite foods?) at the stations that you will be posted.

Before we get into technicalities regarding the convergence of Cauchy sequences, let's re-center onto what's important: that it works. And the question that is on everybody's lips: can this be applied to infants.

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