Clever Micah

Why, this must be the smartest dog in the universe.

Her husband decided to ask their 4-year-old dog another question, the square root of 25. Micah tapped his paw five times.

To prove this wasn't a fluke, the couple and a friend tossed out more math than teachers during exam time. Micah consistently pawed the correct answers, appearing to solve such problems as square root division, finding the numerators and denominators of fractions, multiplying and dividing, even basic algebra.

"He can calculate problems given in English, Spanish, French and German," Cindy Tuten said.

I know how the dog does it (pssst, here's a hint: Clever Hans), but apparently the Tuten family does not, and they actually have a bizarrely elaborate explanation that involves, of course, Jesus.

Deeply connected by their faith and Christian beliefs, the Tutens began to pray.

"How many persons are in the God head?" Cindy Tuten asked.

Micah tapped three times.

"How many God's are there?" The dog tapped once.

After the couple recovered from shock, they called their closest friends. "You've got to come over here and see this," they said. One of those guests was Gigi Graham, daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham and the late Ruth Graham, of Montreat.

"I have no explanation," Graham said of the dog's abilities. "The first time we saw him, he performed a whole lot better than the second time. I thought it was a very interesting thing, and that his 'parents' were very sincere and wonderful people who want to use this dog for the Lord."

Graham won't venture a guess as to the dog's gifts.

"I believe God can do whatever God wants," she said. "God used strange things in Scripture so that doesn't cause me to doubt. I guess I just have to know more."

It is the belief of this family, that beyond math and games, Micah was put on this Earth to teach people Jesus is coming soon, the Tutens said.

Both professionals, they knew coming forward with this story would be dicey.

"I believe the Bible is true and it tells us how God used ravens to feed Elijah, a whale to save Jonah and a donkey to speak to Balaam," Stan Tuten said. "Now that I see how God is using Micah, I'm all the more convinced he can use any creature to accomplish his purpose."

Uh, right. The way god has chosen to reveal our imminent destiny is to give a dog who can understand French and calculate square roots to an ignorant Christian family in North Carolina. Yeah, that makes sense.

The worst part of the story: Stan Tuten is a math teacher, Cindy Tuten is a physician. How can such ignorance persist after all that education? Religion insulates them, I suppose.

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I'd be more convinced if he'd said "DiMaggio."

How can such ignorance persist after all that education?

Sometimes I think you follow a religion that assigns ritual properties to education, as though it were a panacea that banishes all forms of stupidity and unwanted social opinions. It's not an exorcism, it doesn't function if the people involved don't actively participate, and it doesn't magically produce truth and enlightenment.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

You know, I find I'm most disappointed not by the Jesus thing (because at this point, o well), but by the fact that EVERYONE doesn't know about Clever Hans! It's one of the coolest animal behavior/psychology stories ever I think.

I guess Stan and Cindy Tuten didn't study much psychology or they surely would have heard of Clever Hans. Information about Clever Hans has been around for decades.

Kseniya: I got it. I like it. An oldie but goodie.

By Jeff Chamberlain (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

From the article:

"I have no explanation," Graham said of the dog's abilities. "The first time we saw him, he performed a whole lot better than the second time.

This is the only indication given that the dog doesn't perform flawlessly. So Jesus is using the dog to announce his second coming--if you ignore all those times the dog (Jesus?) gets "2+2" wrong. I'd say in addition to not understanding the nature of this "Clever Hans" phenomenon, there is a healthy dose of confirmation bias going on. In short, the dog can add numbers, except when he doesn't, but you just have to ignore those occasions.

By H. Humbert (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

tikistitch - I didn't see your comment before I posted. You're right. It really is one of the coolest animal behavior/psychology stories.

I first learned about it in a psychology class. I wonder if the other disciplines ever bring it up.

Meanwhile, inside gods head:

God: We need to tell the world I'm coming back!
Spirit: But how
God: we could end poverty, war and the like.
Jesus: or we could send a dog that can do math!
Spirit: I'm with Jesus on this one.
God: Okay, a dog it is!

By Dutch vigilante (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

I would be more impressed if they claimed it was magic - "Look, no Hans!"

Bob

The weird thing is, this sounds exactly like the sort of prank somebody who'd heard of Clever Hans would have thought up. I mean, it's just so transparent. . . .

My dogs are such slackers. They're not prophets of the second coming or anything.

>>>I'd be more convinced if he'd said "DiMaggio."<<

Thanks Kseniya . . . I just laughed out loud in a room full of people. :)

By cureholder (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Bollocks. That dog can do basic arithmetic with reasonable accuracy. But zillions of bees around the world are absolute masters of geometry, producing an infinitude of perfect hexagons, day in, day out. Surely that's a proof of the existence of our Lord Jesus!

Funny, my dogs really get excited when I say "Where's Jesus?" or "Jesus is home!". Of course they do the same thing when I say, "Where's mommy?" or "Mommy's home". Coincidence?? I think not!

/tongue_in_cheek

They should ask the dog how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

By potentilla (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Yes. Surely God could make the dog "perform better" every time! Zeno's right: time to have the owners ask Micah questions they don't know the answers to.

So how do they know it's not Satan? Why haven't they killed their Satan-possessed dog? Are they in league with Satan because they like their dog? If their dog has puppies, will they be sons of Satan? These are serious religious questions, the kinds of questions religious folk are always saying Dawkins should be addressing in his books, and I think we have a right to hear the answers, straight from the dog. I'm talking 3-network special -- this is big!

"She held one hand high in the air with a bowl of cut tomatoes and cooked chicken (the dog's reward) and the other out for the dog's answer. Micah tapped his paw once."

If Jesus really sent him, shouldn't you just have to hold up a crucifix or a Bible or something to get his cooperation?

Now, if he were a border collie, a) he would be doing algebraic topology, and b) he would work for free.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

LisaS said, "It really is one of the coolest animal behavior/psychology stories. I first learned about it in a psychology class. I wonder if the other disciplines ever bring it up."

Well, we learned about it in our class on Insect Behavior, as does anyone who studies animal behavior. It truly is fabulous as a cautionary tale!

"How many God's are there?" The dog tapped once.

How many God is are there?

I wonder if this was simple stupidity or a hyperactive spell checker which is too sheltered to know that god can take a plural form.

I'd be more convinced if he'd said "DiMaggio."

Posted by: Kseniya | June 23, 2007 11:36 AM

Good one! You cracked me up.

And it reminds us that they totally failed to mention that their divine little dog could speak.

"Micah, how does sandpaper feel?"

"Ruff!"

"Praise Jesus!"

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

I had to look this up:

A guy has a talking dog. He brings it to a talent scount. "This dog can speak English," he claims to the unimpressed agent. "Okay, Sport," the guys says to the dog, "what's on the top of a house?" "Roof!" the dog replies. "Oh, come on..." the talent agent responds. "All dogs go 'roof'." "No, wait," the guy says. He asks the dog "what does sandpaper feel like?" "Rough!" the dog answers. The talent agent gives a condescending blank stare. He is losing his patience. "No, hang on," the guy says. "This one will amaze you. " He turns and asks the dog: "Who, in your opinion, was the greatest baseball player of all time?" "Ruth!" goes the dog. And the talent scount, having seen enough, boots them out of his office onto the street. And the dog turns to the guy and says "Maybe I shoulda said DiMaggio?"

... all alone in Madison, Wisconsin. :-(

I wonder if this was simple stupidity or a hyperactive spell checker which is too sheltered to know that god can take a plural form.

Not to mention the "God head"... that's no head, that's an abstract-noun-forming suffix, the same as in apartheid. Godhead is just "deity" in English.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Why do they always conveniently ignore the hypothesis that the dog could actually be the Antichrist? Signs and wonders, dontchaknow.

There was an ad in our local paper: "free to good home, well-trained blue healer..."

Maybe Micah's just dyslexic and thinks his owners are saying how many dogs are there.

I encourage everyone to read the complete PDF of Micah's abilities. Save it for a good laugh.

http://tinyurl.com/2rrb34

Here's some of his best 'skills':

H. encourage Christians who are struggling with spiritual/emotional/physical issues (by staring at them for
excessive periods of time, and oftentimes indicating an encouraging message through taps to questions they ask).

I. join in prayer circles (by spontaneously coming near, and usually into the center of the circle, when people start
praying to God)

J. always exalt Jesus as the Son of God Who came to earth in the flesh to give His life as a ransom for many, and
Who is returning one day (not long from now, Micah thinks!) to establish His earthly Kingdom as the Bible foretells

Coincide or strange disturbance in the force?

I just posted about clever hans in the context of Tony Blair's shoes, self hypnotism and a card trick which got badly out of hand yesterday, I flick into google reader and this post is the first one it shows me.

woo woo

100 years ago, Clever Hans, the horse, was proven a fraud. He couldn't count either, nor could he understand several languages. Maybe this dog story was inspired by the horse story.

100 years ago, Clever Hans, the horse, was proven a fraud.

Well, let's be fair; it's not like he claimed he could do that stuff, and his owner was almost certainly honestly deluded. And he did demonstrate impressive skills at reading body language, just like all the math-doing dogs who came later.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

I see on that pdf that he answers general questions with 1 tap for yes, 2 for no...three for I already told you that, 4 for you should know that yourself and 5 for i'm not supposed to tell you that.

Wow! It's a Magic-8-dog!

Steve "How many taps for 'Ask again later?'" James

By longstreet (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Assuming that we are dealing with another "clever hans", what would happen if an atheist/polythiest asked how many gods there were?

Funny, just last night I dreamt about a dog that could talk. (She said "I want to play ball")

Coincidence? I think ... so.

Assuming that we are dealing with another "clever hans", what would happen if an atheist/polythiest asked how many gods there were? (#37)

Well, assuming she/he takes cues from the owners I imagine the same. Maybe we could ask a question the owners don't know and concentrate *really* hard on a lower wrong answer.

Or we could have someone write a number on a sheet of paper, give it to someone else in a sealed envelope and have the someone else ask what the paper says. This wouldn't work for Kluger Hans as his trainer claimed Hans was mathematical, not clairvoyant. But it could work with Micah as the owners are basically claiming she is divinely inspired.

====
As well as dreaming about the dog that talked, I dreamt George W. Bush met the new Anne Landers and they gushed in mutual awe and flirted. Then Bush slapped her around and slammed her against the sink (she immediately became a literal ragdoll, rather than human, the second he began) in a so-you-like-it-rough play. I and a female friend of mine happened to be sitting at a table in the kitchen as this was going on. (Although we were in proximity, in dream logic we weren't supposed to be able to interact although we physically could) My friend was angry and broke and said very loudly to Bush "You are a vile and mean person and what you are doing is dispicable and unacceptable!". I left the table because I didn't want to face the conflict.

Okay, that has *nothing* to do with the topic on hand, but it was a .... weird ..... dream.

It could be a Jesus Dog. There is a simple test.

Ask the dog to tell us the value of Pi to the last digit.

If it is a regular super-dog, it will freak out and melt down. If it is Jesus Dog is will say something clever and evasive, like Jesus would do.

(I may have those test conditions reversed ... not sure)

I watched the videos they have. Micah only answers questions in the form of taps to Cindy's right hand (well, once he taps her leg). Cindy appears to hold very still when receiving the taps, so I guess the cue is something subtle (it might even be muscle tension in the arm/hand being tapped).

Micah's body language, though, looks very obvious - not "I have something important to say", but "I CAN HAZ TREETS NAOW?". Correct answers are rewarded. What, the truth isn't reward enough?

More than once Cindy pushes the dog back and tells him that he's encroaching on her personal space. Heh. Maybe God wants Micah to shove his nose... somewhere. How can she thwart the will of God?

By Owlmirror (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Wait a second. Whta's this:

If I were there and really wanted to see whether the dog could do it, I would make sure the dog could not see the owner," said Tim Pennings, a mathematician from Holland, Mich. Pennings believes his dog uses a form of calculus to fetch balls thrown into the ocean.

A little googling finds that Pennings doesn't really think his dog uses calculus.

Of course, although he makes good choices, Elvis doesn't actually do calculus. Nonetheless, Pennings remarked, "Elvis' behavior is an example of the uncanny way in which nature . . . often finds optimal solutions."

I see on that pdf that he answers general questions with 1 tap for yes, 2 for no...three for I already told you that, 4 for you should know that yourself and 5 for i'm not supposed to tell you that.

How many taps for "PLease take me the fuck outside before I shit on the carpet!"?

You know, it's so blatantly obvious that the dog starts tapping and doesn't stop until it gets a reaction out of its owner. These people really are retarded.

I wonder [what other] disciplines [besides psychology] ever bring [Clever Hans] up?

I cannot recall for certain where or when I first learned of Clever Hans, but vaguely recall an Isaac Asimov essay? In any case, I'm fairly confident I knew the story well before I went to university, where I did studied mathematics and engineering, not psychology.

"I believe God can do whatever God wants," she said.
and
" Stan Tuten said. "Now that I see how God is using Micah, I'm all the more convinced he can use any creature to accomplish his purpose."

You think Cindy and Stan are stupid, god must be a fricking dolt!
I mean, his children are dying and starving and killing each other all over the planet, and he makes a dog do arithmetic? Sorry, buddy, but YOU'RE FIRED!

Boy, Micah is sure going to be pissed when he gets told to "stay, Micah stay" as his "parents" get raptured into heaven. Micah is smart but I don't think he knows that he's going to be LEFT BEHIND.

Oh my dog. He also gives political opinions on the Iraq war and euthanasia? These people are way more delusional than your post on them, PZ. You're going soft.

Assuming that we are dealing with another "clever hans", what would happen if an atheist/polythiest asked how many gods there were?

It depends on what sort of polytheist. If they were Shinto or Hindu the poor dog could be there for a long, long time.

By Knight of L-sama (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

"DiMaggio dog joke" is what this ignorant aussie googled.
Of course I had heard of dogs and DiMaggio before. It's a great joke.

By grasshopper (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

"'How many God's are there?' The dog tapped once."
The reporter's name is Susan Reinhardt. I bring this up because I need to know how a professional "journalist," veteran of presumably countless English classes, can fuck up something as elementary as the difference between a possessive and a plural. Hell, I ride my 6th grade class over those kind of errors.

I just found this joke here

Honey, a Golden Retriever, went to a Western Union office to send a telegram.
She took out a blank form and wrote,
"Bark..bark..bark..bark..bark..bark..bark..bark...bark."
The clerk examined the paper and told her, "There are only nine words here. You could send another 'bark' for the same price."
"But," Honey replied, "it would make no sense at all."
By grasshopper (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Slightly off topic, this show was on the History Channel last night. I flipped by it and could only stand a couple minutes because they were talking about the mechanics and props that Jesus needed to be able to do the illusion of walking on water. They had reasons about why it wasn't shallow water, etc., all bible based of course. Never once did they stop to think that it could be a parable or even outright fiction. I had never heard of Brock Gill or Andre Kole and the whole idea of Christian magicians sounds scary, worse than Christian rock due to a much lower base line of suckage.

Just when I start to like the History Channel they blow it, every time. For every two or three competent, educational program they do, they have to do at least one piece of inane crap about bible codes, or ghosts, or the Loch ness monster and Bigfoot. And it's never balanced with simple common sense and contradictory evidence. They don't tell of the guy who ran the bible code software on 'Moby Dick' and came up with all kinds of 'spooky' end of the world messages.

This has absolutely nothing to do with counting dogs, does it?

Maybe it will in a few months when they get there hands on the story and give critical thinking another kick in the crotch.

Shucks, I was in a good mood a moment ago.

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

It is the belief of this family, that beyond math and games, Micah was put on this Earth to teach people Jesus is coming soonI can't believe that they're wasting the Holy Canine's sacred powers! Why don't they ask him "How many years until Jesus returns?"Of course, Pope Poochie's foot might fall off if he tried to tap out an infinite number...

"Oh, those darn Tutens! Always up to something!"

*groan*

Oh, do read the PDF. It's quite a hoot, but I feel sorry for the dog. When he wakes them up in the middle of the night, they think it's because he wants them to pray for someone. I'd imagine that when they figure out who it is, rather than tapping yes, the dog pees on the floor.

[...] I need to know how a professional "journalist," veteran of presumably countless English classes, can fuck up something as elementary as the difference between a possessive and a plural.

I see that all the time, especially in local papers. I suppose major newspapers with wide distribution have expert editors to ferret out these tricky subtleties. I don't expect them to do better in skepticism, though.
I shouldn't wonder that Professor Pennings (who's given no title in the story, of course, since he isn't as august as a Reverend) made the unfortunate mistake of mentioning how humans solve optimization problems with calculus. I expect the poor reporter's brain overloaded, as she was just looking for a dog story, so now we have dogs looking for critical points.
I do note that "He" is not capitalized in

"Now that I see how God is using Micah, I'm all the more convinced he can use any creature to accomplish his purpose."

Ms. Reinhardt might expect a scolding from Micah over that. Good job on asking local veterinarians what they think of the dog tricks instead of relevant academics, who might actually know of cases like Clever Hans rather than jumping to a spiritual explanation. And by all means we certainly wouldn't want to conduct a demonstration where the problem is written on a board separated from the Tutens by a partition.

"We were speechless," Cindy Tuten said. "We were also skeptical."

I do not think that word means what she thinks it means. I don't normally associate skepticism with deciding that supposed amazing abilities must have a divine origin, with no reason that I could discern other than the Tutens' faith.
P.S. Since "education" has been mentioned, I'll agree with Caledonian that it's not at all insurance against ignorance or proof against unfounded speculation. I've made some progress in graduate program in mathematics while picking up next to nothing about humanities in school and no more science than a few facts in first-year courses. I've learned some things from other reading and could have tried to diversify my studies, but it's entirely possible to get through with hardly any knowledge outside a specialty. I don't find this case particularly surprising.

I just asked my cat (who can compute duration and has figured out how to turn on a cd player) how many gods there were.

She looked at me like I was an idiot for a second, and went right back to sleep. In the end, it just proves that cats are smarter than dogs and people. ;)

I always liked the story of Clever Hans. It proves how smart even fairly dumb animals are, when it comes to picking up on subtle things (I saw a horse run like hell from a grocery bag that was blowing across a field once).

By Chinchillazilla (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

Dogs are better than cats, becuase they are happy to see you when you get home. And you can take them out on walks, and play with them. I don't know something about dogs actually liking you makes me like them more than cats. Of course this applies to all cats. The whole dog seeing Jesus coming thing is a scam, you might as well say you read a biblical scripture off a necco wafer. Mr. Meyers i love how you don't capitalize God, oh you, your so hip and cultured and intelligent. Are you miserable on the inside, you must be alot like House from the tv show. Great show it is. I am a German foreign exchange student.

I just asked my cat (who can compute duration and has figured out how to turn on a cd player) how many gods there were.

Why bother? You know she's just going to answer, "One. Me."

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink

I'm sorry, but everyone seems to be missing the truth here. This is clear evidence of reincarnation. Hans has come back as Micah. It's obvious, surely?

I watched the videos carefully and its quite clear that the dog is taking its cues from the querant's left hand. I've culled a couple of frames from one of the videos that show the difference in finger positions between the cue for two and three taps, for example. The trick is really just a variant of the "give me a paw" trick that most dog owners teach their pets.

Not that this should be at all surprising to anyone. From the comments in the interview article, the Tutens sound like they were suffering from empty nest syndrome and adopted a surrogate child. Who doesn't want to convince the world that their kid is divinely inspired? I bet they have a "My dog is on the honor roll" bumper sticker, too.

I had never heard of Brock Gill or Andre Kole and the whole idea of Christian magicians sounds scary

There is a book, The fakers, by Christian magician Danny Korem and Christian psychologist (or is it psychiatrist?) Paul D. Meier. The book resembles a typical skeptical book in some ways: Dowsing? Ideomotor effect. Psychic powers? Cold reading. etc. But each chapter ends with a bit about how unfortunate it is people push this fake magic, because it detracts from people's belief in the real magic of Je-e-esus. After a while they give up on the skeptical talk and start pushing the religion full-time.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 24 Jun 2007 #permalink

Isn't it remarkable how people corrupt the meaning of 'skeptical' to 'disbelieving'? I suspect it's because of the high standards required to actually be skeptical, and people get the idea that it's a good and desirable thing, so they just appropriate the word without understanding or caring about how hard it is to be that way.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 24 Jun 2007 #permalink

Caledonian:

Isn't it remarkable how people corrupt the meaning of 'skeptical' to 'disbelieving'? I suspect it's because of the high standards required to actually be skeptical, and people get the idea that it's a good and desirable thing, so they just appropriate the word without understanding or caring about how hard it is to be that way.

It's a lot like "theory" in that regard, then.

BTW, I just asked both of my cats how many gods there are, and each of them blinked once. Of course, once I adjusted for the fact that they always blink at me once when I wake them up, it seemed to be slightly less significant response.

They do know their names, though.

I just told this story to my 9 year old. To demonstrate, I had him be Hans, asked him math questions he wouldn't know, and told him to watch my face for when to stop. Got the questions right every time. He now understands the concept a lot better than that couple.

As a resident of Asheville, I hang my head in despair that this goofy crap came out of my community. As for the "reporter" Susan Reinhardt, her daily column is almost entirely made up of fluff and puff "human interest" non news that is clogging the arteries of our media. The cost in blood and treasure of our illegal occupation of Iraq grows day by day, our corrupt leaders believe themselves above the law, and THIS is what is in my local newspaper? Same as it ever was, Billy's a local so every time he or a friend or relative of the Grahams farts it makes the local rag.

Here's 2 parts of the list of his 'abilities':
H. spells English words by tapping out the letters of the alphabet using 1 tap for A, 2 taps for B, 3 taps for C, and so forth (prefers to split the Alphabet into 2 parts and tap out if the letter is in the 1st or 2nd part, and then start with "A" or "L" and go from there).
I. initiate communication by staring at the person, jumping up against the person's leg, or tapping/scratching on the foot of the person he wants to interact with.

For H - Why not start at A & N - clearly this dog is simple (either that or it can't deal with W-Z)
For I, isn't that normal dog behaviour anyway? Why the hell would anyone include this as a special ability?

These people are unbelievably stupid

"God used strange things in Scripture so that doesn't cause me to doubt. I guess I just have to know more."

in numbers, god makes a donkey talk.

let me just say that i am not impressed by foot-tapping. almighty supernatural entity... makes a dog tap its foot. now that's power. i certainly couldn't make a dog do that.

now, when the dog starts waking the family up in the middle of the night to prophesy that the return of christ is imminent, in a loud james-earl-jones-esque voice, THEN you should call a press conference.

By arachnophilia (not verified) on 25 Jun 2007 #permalink

I wonder if this was simple stupidity or a hyperactive spell checker which is too sheltered to know that god can take a plural form.

Not to mention the "God head"... that's no head, that's an abstract-noun-forming suffix, the same as in apartheid. Godhead is just "deity" in English.

By David Marjanović (not verified) on 23 Jun 2007 #permalink