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Human civilization really took off when individuals started to interact with each other, in language and trade and settlements. The transition from stone age to our space faring civilization of today wasn't as much a matter of sudden genetic mutation as it was a social organization realizing a latent potential. I hope there're no big disagreements about that so far.

Regard dogs. Very social and somewhat malleable domesticated animals as we have bred them. What if we taught them to "speak" with each other? Not teach them to speak with us (like Dolittle), which all dog training to date seems to focus on. But to use our technology to create dog-to-dog-adapted multimedia user interfaces to facilitate the dogs' communication with each other. Creating a dog language for dog use. Even if we might not understand all of what they chat with each other using it. For them to create their own civilization on their conditions here among us.

The dog-communicating civilization, as far as I think I know dogs, would probably focus on territory claims and social status and sex and food. There's no end to their interest in those topics (nor is it to ours). But who knows, maybe their perfect sense of smell and excellent hearing could contribute a for us completely new view of the world and even of concepts like mathematics, which humans developed out of geometry because our visual and spacial senses dominate. The dogs' civilization might surprise us in unforeseen ways. It might revolutionize social sciences more likely than natural sciences.

Is it feasible to create a dogs' (or some other species') civilization by teaching them how to better communicate with each other?

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    $\begingroup$ Dogs already have dog language for dog use all right. just as wolves. And indeed wolf communication focus on territory claims and social status and sex and food. And, to some extent, dogs too, but dogs tend to be social in more human-oriented way. So what's your question, really? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 21 '17 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot Apes have that body language too, since millions of years. But then more informational and efficient communication suddenly came around and BOOM the apes created civilization. Since communication and coordination of existing individuals seems to be the trigger for civilization, rather than genetic mutations of each individual. Dogs (for example) might have as great a potential as we the apes had, to be realized by a simple reorganization which we now could arrange with our machines' user interfaces adopted to the needs of dog users. Unleashing their civilizational potential. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Apr 21 '17 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ "suddenly came around" - no no no, not suddenly, really. But please, be more specific about how sophisticated do you want their language to be. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 21 '17 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot 0.01 billion years is sudden to me considering that life vegetated here for 400 times that period without going civilized. I imagine we could train the dogs' language as a kind of repeat of our own language and civilization development. We could try out different concepts on different flocks and learn something about ourselves that way. I'd call it a success when dogs mark their territories based on agreed upon geometric maps, and arrange courts to settle conflicts. They have all the pieces of that already instinctively, us giving them a better language could develop it infinitely. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Apr 21 '17 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ It's a very interesting idea, but do consider that human language was something which developed over several generations (and our brains grew larger and more complex as co-developmental feature). For dogs to start to use more advanced communication, they too will need to advance gradually into it. We would have to make a basic platform which slowly grows more complex over generations and that is assuming that we even have a clue what dogs consider communication. We cannot construct their language and believe they will learn it, they will have to built it if they are to understand it. $\endgroup$ – Mrkvička Apr 21 '17 at 12:11
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No, Dogs are pretty far from civilization

Here is a short list of things that humans have and dogs don't. Most of these things will be limiting on dogs creating a civilization.

  • Dogs don't have specialized language areas of the brain. Humans do; no other animals really do. This is neuroscience, where little is known and less is proven, but it is generally accepted that there are specifically evolved areas in the human brain that allow us to process language. Without that part of the brain, even if you taught the dogs to talk, they wouldn't be able to process abstract thoughts and create new language for new situations.

  • Dogs don't have vocal chords. Humans have a descended larynx, and a tongue that can interact with the pharynx to produce a wide variety of sounds. In addition to the brain problems with language, it also doesn't help that dogs can't make nearly the variety of noises with the control that we humans do.

  • Dogs can't operate tools. No hands, mouth isn't that useful, etc. Tough to build a civilization without tools. Walking on two legs has its advantages.

  • Dogs (probably) can't visualize a 3-d object in their head. This is a little tricky, since I'm veering into neuroscience again. However, one of the key evolutionary developments of humans that apparently no other animals have is the ability to visualize objects that doesn't exist. This is a very critical skill for two things, to copy something you have seen before, and to invent something that you have never seen before. This was the key development between the Oldowan and Acheulean industries in paleolithic tool making. Where Oldowan tools were made by luck, Acheulean tools were made by design. Evidently, by ~1.5 million years ago, our ancestors became so tool dependent that there was evolutionary pressure for the brain to develop better ways to plan and manufacture new tools. Since chimpanzees probably can't do this, dogs almost certainly cannot.

You can certainly argue that, using technology, we can insert enough microchips into a dog's brain to overcome these problems (although no hands still sucks). But, I would argue at that point, we'd have built AI's so powerful that we would be the pets, and dogs would just be the pet's pets. Unless AI's found us less likable than dogs (which seems true) and keeps the dogs as pets and exterminates us. Either way.

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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff Its not about teaching the dogs to do these things or giving them a user interface. There is nothing in a dogs brain to teach or interface with. You'd have to give them whole new parts of the brain to do these things. And at that point, as my last paragraph says, you can probably just make AI wholesale, and the AIs will go off making their own civilization and then who has time for dogs? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 21 '17 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff While the brain can take over lost parts by relearning things in different parts of the brain it can't learn things it's incapable off. Dog brains lack the required structures to develop language. Research shows that writing for example replaces parts of the brain linked to body language, it's still communication though. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 21 '17 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff: kingledion is correct, dogs are not going to develop a language within our current civilization. However, if we were to start putting evolutionary pressure on dogs towards language development, then they would "talk" in some manner within a couple of million years or so. $\endgroup$ – Mrkvička Apr 21 '17 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff If you're going to obstinately refuse facts, we really can't help you. Dogs do not have the capability to learn language in any form. They can work out signalling but signalling is not language, even if it can appear that way sometimes. To get what you want, first you'd have to uplift dogs, then teach them language. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Apr 21 '17 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff Once again, dogs can signal but that is not language (link is about apes). "Communicative signs... cannot be combined to create new meaning. Also, apes can only communicate about things in their immediate surroundings, unlike humans who can refer to the past, the future or places and objects which are not present... Humans are able to combine a limited number of words in such a way that they can express an infinite number of messages... The brains of apes do not provide the cognitive resources..." $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Apr 21 '17 at 13:33
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Start with music. from http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Crow_20Music#1096876393

This idea is based on the hypothesis that the ability to appreciate music emerged together with the ability to converse - music is the hidden sister of language. Conversation and music are similar in many ways. Meaningful inflections, changes of pace and volume, even word sounds are echoed in music, still carrying their connotations from language. It is sometimes hard to separate out the music of someone speaking in your mother tongue - your analytical brain keeps stepping forward to make sense of the words. This is somewhat less of a problem with foreign language. I posit that music is appealing because it allows the suppressed part of the language brain to step forward. Ok - so what? I propose that an effort be made to extract the music from the conversation. For human languages I bet this could be done by someone with a good ear and some practice. This person could help design a computer program. The computer program would then be applied to conversations between animals.

There is no doubt that some animals communicate with language like sounds. Chimps and dolphins are two examples. I think crows may be another. With the aid of this program, species-specific music could be generated. You would need to take care that the full range of tone and infection was captured - not just what humans can hear. Computer generated music lacks the spark of real music, but it can sometimes come close.

So you have crow music? Then what? I propose that listening stations be set up, with nothing more than a somewhat comfortable environment and the ability to play the generated music. Possibly there could be a switch the animals could trigger when they wanted to hear. Crows, chimps and dolphins all find pleasure in exercising parts of their brain outside of the context of survival - they play. If we get the music right, they should want to come and hear.

The final goal? To make musicians. This is why crows are well suited for this experiment. There are millions of them. If one in a million has the brain hardware to not only appreciate our generated music, but to come up with his own, those crows should congregate around the listening stations, listening to the music we made and trading new music with one another. The same might be true for dolphins or chimps. Once these pioneers show it can be done, other individuals will join in.

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  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mean to reduce language to sound. Or hand writing. Although all of that might play a useful part. For dogs smell and tail waving and paw prints might be more important communication components. One could still spell out a language of that kind of alphabet. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Apr 21 '17 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ This scheme comes at language via music. It may not work as well with dogs, but the question opened it up to other species. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 21 '17 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ What music do the apes hear? That of the birds! And by imitating the sound of birds, ape hunters can communicate across distances without alarming the prey. Phrases like "Nothing here" or "Found traces going north" or "Gather at the camp" were formulated as bird songs. The birds taught humans how to talk. (I finally figured out how to spell 'taught', sorry) $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Apr 22 '17 at 12:19
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There is a debate about what exactly "Civilization" means, but I'm in the camp that believes it is more-or-less synonymous with writing. So for me, this question devolves to, "What kind of 'writing' could dogs develop?"

They don't really have the dexterity to manipulate a traditional writing implement, so that's out.

They certainly don't have the dexterity to use a woven system, like the Andean civilization used.

One thing that does occur to me is that dogs already do have one means of record transmission: scent. This is part of why they like close contact so much, and why they spend extra time sniffing a newcomer in greeting (particularly a family member who may have been interacting with a dog they've never met). I'm not sure how much information can really by translated this way, but at the least its like leaving a calling card. To build a true civilization out of this, you'd probably have to modify the dogs to be able to leave multiple different scents on demand.

Another thing that occurs to me they could do for more permanent writing is use an impressed writing system, on specially-prepared soft ground, using their own paws to do the impressing. They'd probably have to use the orientation of the print to constitute different glyphs.

Either of these options of course would require reorganization of dogs' brains to be able to process information this complex (assuming they can't right now).

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  • $\begingroup$ "but I'm in the camp that believes it is more-or-less synonymous with writing". Dogs do have dexterous tongues. The organ which seems to be crucial for our human political leaders. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Apr 21 '17 at 14:24
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We already have humans, whales, dolphins, bees and ants, each with their own distinct yet advanced communications methods. Soon we may have AIs chatting away to each other electronically. And you want to add dogs to the dialogue? What do you have against dogs?

I mean really, what has language ever done for any of Earth's more communicative species? Humans have used it to build kingdoms, nations and corporations, so that they can justify slaughtering each other in wholesale numbers. Bees and Ants have used it to build rigid matriarchal dynasties with no career potential for the drone castes; and again, waged war on each other on a scale that makes humans seem peaceful. And the languages of whales and dolphins sound so mournful... I don't imagine that they are using their lingual calls to tell each other dirty jokes.

Has the happiness of any species on Earth ever been improved by their learning to communicate with each other?

Let's leave our usually happy, infinitely patient and forgiving, noble and loyal canine friends in their current blissful state; contentedly ignorant of the burdens of higher communications. They are already so much wiser and better than we will ever be... let's not mess up one of the best things our planet has created during this epoch.

All kidding aside, teaching dogs to talk is not only a feasible idea, it is a spectacular idea! As the current stewards of this planet, one of the things we should be preparing for is our own retirement from that role. During the next several thousand years, we will either send our children up to the stars or lower our corpses into shallow graves. Either way, Earth will someday need new caretakers. ...and it is our job to start training our replacements.

I think the Dogs would be an excellent choice for that role.

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    $\begingroup$ Language allows you to post your silly views on the internet. Is that improving your happiness? It improves mine. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 21 '17 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ "no career potential for the drone castes" without human language, what is the career potential for a dog? $\endgroup$ – njzk2 Apr 21 '17 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ This is funny, but it doesn't really answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Pyritie Apr 21 '17 at 17:38

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