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Difference between human emotions and animal instinct

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Here is my current understanding, looking for criticism and/or addition if any:

 

There is no fundamental difference, the difference lies in scope and completeness. Animal instinct is a complete package of preprogrammed hardwirings that is able to automatically guide the animal in question through its life. Human emotions are left-overs from evolution that used to be a more complete package in our ancestors, but due to the advent of the rational factuality, are now only pieces of its former self.

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Here is my current understanding, looking for criticism and/or addition if any:

 

There is no fundamental difference, the difference lies in scope and completeness. Animal instinct is a complete package of preprogrammed hardwirings that is able to automatically guide the animal in question through its life. Human emotions are left-overs from evolution that used to be a more complete package in our ancestors, but due to the advent of the rational factuality, are now only pieces of its former self.

'instinct' is a usable format means what an animal is pre-wired to do without the use of either thought or emotion.

 

'Emotion' ,OTH,, indicates behavior that stems from a stimulation of said 'emotive region' of the brain. In all animals, this structure (Thalmic system) is connected to the cerebral cortex via a mediated unit normally called the 'hypocampus'.

 

What's true is that all animals are wired differently, and have various differences in cerebral matter, homo sapiens the most.

 

Re Homo sapiens, Kahneman and Tversky have theorized two modes two modes of  thought, slow and heuristic. The later refers to instant, rule of the thumb '"instinct" that is, indeed an evolutionary adaptation that has less use now than during the paleolithic, or in certain inner cities in the USA.

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Not sure what question the post asks, if any.

But I would suggest that there is a huge difference , that being between conceptual consciousness and consciousness of other kinds. It seems , the op, to place a more casual effect of "evolution" than is warranted. Evolution is more analogous ,in this sense, to erosion. Both concepts explain a process , but neither process is guided in any sense by intent. Our rational faculty allows us to experience and conceptualize emotion. Instinct may well be the experience of states totally analogous to human emotions but with no ability to be aware of the experience apart from the experience , if that makes any sense?

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There is a fundamental difference between emotions and animal instincts. Emotions are part of the indirect reward system of the brain (as opposed to the direct pleasure-pain reward mechanisms when a thorn pricks you, for instance). There is not much of a difference (in terms of function) between human and animal emotions, but the "working material" for human and animal cognition (which the emotions derive from) are different, and since the working material for humans is concepts, humans have an indirect choice in the otherwise automatic emotional realm. Human emotions are not "left-overs" from some other "complete-package" as a result of evolution: our emotions still have the same intended functions it had originally evolved. There is no conflict between emotions and our rational faculty (in fact, humans would never be able to experience emotions properly without their rational faculty). Of course your emotions can influence your behaviour, but only if you let it to.

 

Now the question about animal instinct is completely different: it is a form of automatic knowledge which has nothing to do with any reward system (such as emotions). Emotions are not knowledge: they are subjective experiences (for example, apparently if you inject certain chemicals into the brain, you would be ble to feel certain emotions, but there is nothing you can inject into your brain that can give you knowledge). To be frank, there is not much of a relation between emotions and instincts, except maybe that they are automatic (and the word "automatic" may not even have the same meaning when applied to the two different cases).

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Just a gentle reminder - "animal" instinct is no different from "human" instinct. It exists in humans just as much as any other animal. There are behaviors that we are genetically hardwired to have or tend towards. Evolutionarily, there's absolutely no reason to have gotten rid of such instincts, and an abundance of evidence points towards humans having instincts just as animals do. 

 

I don't have anything biologically to say about the difference between emotions and instincts - I don't know the biological basis of the former - so I'll draw a distinction philosophically and semantically.

 

Semantically first. Emotions are a mental response to stimuli. Instincts are a physical set of actions that we are programmed to tend towards. A good example is caretaking behavior - mothers instinctually pursue certain courses of action with regards to their young. This is not a result of nurturing or societal conditioning. But it's also not a mental response as an emotion is, it's a set of actions. So, semantically, there's a pretty solid difference between the two.

 

Philosophically, I would argue that emotions are not entirely genetic and not entirely automatic. Emotions, philosophically, are a mental response to reality as compared against our set of values. If something happens that goes against our values, we feel bad. If something happens that goes towards our values, we feel good. Our values are established as a result of nurture as well as individual, directed thought. That means that we can actually change our emotional response to stimuli over time. This is a pretty key difference between emotions and instincts, which are hardwired behaviors. 

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It exists in humans just as much as any other animal.

You'd know all about that won't you? Your information should come handy now:

 

 

 

Evolutionarily, there's absolutely no reason to have gotten rid of such instincts...[ ]

Prove logically why getting rid of instincts (if that is what actually happens) is not necessary to evolve the kind of consciousness humans possess. In other words: state precisely all the contradictions that arise assuming instincts need to be got rid of to evolve human consciousness. (You need to analyse first the nature of human consciousness and then state the proof).

 

 

 

....an abundance of evidence points towards humans having instincts just as animals do.

I don't need "abundance of evidence". Just any one will do. Also hypothesizing infinitely (which most psychologists do nowadays), with barely one or two experiments designed to test them does not constitute "abundance of evidence". There is also an "abundance of evidence" for the born-gay theory and it is all just infinite hypothesizing with no time to verify them or challenge them.

 

 

 

There are behaviors that we are genetically hardwired to have or tend towards.

You know, "tendency" is such a huge package deal that can be used to sanction any whim, undefined feeling or motivation (which is its purpose). And talking as though it as a fact that only a "tendency" is required for you to act, is pandering to all irrationality (notice how people use explanations like this only when they have no proper justifications for their actions when challenged to bring up with some), by basically having "scientists" say: "You see, you don't need to know all the motivations for your actions. We at FutureLabs [not referring to any real lab] have it all worked out for you. Just blindly follow whatever you feel, because that's the way evolution meant it to be". You see, reason requires you to properly define all your premises and acknowledge all its consequences. A "tendency" is the proper territory and realm of an irrationalist. Reason requires you to pursue clearly defined goals, which require clearly defined actions. "Tendency" is neither here nor there. To be more precise: it does not have an identity. The result of accepting "tendency" as a motivation is not a harvest of all the time-tested evolutionary guideways. The result is to psychologize yourself and to accept all subconsciously accepted premises (which is the basic problem with immoral humans by the way - this is a significant problem. Meanwhile, you act as though reality does not require strict adherence to logic and anything goes) as inborn and immutable. It is essentially a way out of resolving your inner conflicts and doubts. You may claim your "tendency" can be properly analysed and then meet the requirements of reason, but then it stops being a tendancy.

 

 

 

A good example is caretaking behavior - mothers instinctually pursue certain courses of action with regards to their young.

"not a result of nurturing or societal conditioning." So, according to you, all mothers are just waiting to dispose their babies at the nearest doorstep and are only prevented from doing so by their instincts? You talk as though instincts are the only way to explain this obviously paradoxical behaviour that confounds all reason. Humans don't even have any instinct to eat (no, hunger is not an instinct and hunger does not create paddy fields). Why would they have an instinct to mother children?

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So, according to you, all mothers are just waiting to dispose their babies at the nearest doorstep and are only prevented from doing so by their instincts? You talk as though instincts are the only way to explain this obviously paradoxical behaviour that confounds all reason. Humans don't even have any instinct to eat (no, hunger is not an instinct and hunger does not create paddy fields). Why would they have an instinct to mother children?

Note that he said nothing about acting against instincts. So, the argument isn't so much that we need instincts, but that we have instincts. I actually question that instinct is a valid concept, even for animals, but because a mental world is sufficient and in fact a better way to explain behaviors. If instincts are physical responses, then it seems to me only things like knee-kicks are instincts, which are only mechanical responses. That makes instinct superfluous as a concept.

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You'd know all about that won't you? Your information should come handy now:

 

 

Prove logically why getting rid of instincts (if that is what actually happens) is not necessary to evolve the kind of consciousness humans possess. In other words: state precisely all the contradictions that arise assuming instincts need to be got rid of to evolve human consciousness. (You need to analyse first the nature of human consciousness and then state the proof).

 

 

I don't need "abundance of evidence". Just any one will do. Also hypothesizing infinitely (which most psychologists do nowadays), with barely one or two experiments designed to test them does not constitute "abundance of evidence". There is also an "abundance of evidence" for the born-gay theory and it is all just infinite hypothesizing with no time to verify them or challenge them.

 

 

You know, "tendency" is such a huge package deal that can be used to sanction any whim, undefined feeling or motivation (which is its purpose). And talking as though it as a fact that only a "tendency" is required for you to act, is pandering to all irrationality (notice how people use explanations like this only when they have no proper justifications for their actions when challenged to bring up with some), by basically having "scientists" say: "You see, you don't need to know all the motivations for your actions. We at FutureLabs [not referring to any real lab] have it all worked out for you. Just blindly follow whatever you feel, because that's the way evolution meant it to be". You see, reason requires you to properly define all your premises and acknowledge all its consequences. A "tendency" is the proper territory and realm of an irrationalist. Reason requires you to pursue clearly defined goals, which require clearly defined actions. "Tendency" is neither here nor there. To be more precise: it does not have an identity. The result of accepting "tendency" as a motivation is not a harvest of all the time-tested evolutionary guideways. The result is to psychologize yourself and to accept all subconsciously accepted premises (which is the basic problem with immoral humans by the way - this is a significant problem. Meanwhile, you act as though reality does not require strict adherence to logic and anything goes) as inborn and immutable. It is essentially a way out of resolving your inner conflicts and doubts. You may claim your "tendency" can be properly analysed and then meet the requirements of reason, but then it stops being a tendancy.

 

 

"not a result of nurturing or societal conditioning." So, according to you, all mothers are just waiting to dispose their babies at the nearest doorstep and are only prevented from doing so by their instincts? You talk as though instincts are the only way to explain this obviously paradoxical behaviour that confounds all reason. Humans don't even have any instinct to eat (no, hunger is not an instinct and hunger does not create paddy fields). Why would they have an instinct to mother children?

 

Apologies, I'm not familiar with the way the posts on here work anymore, so I'm having a hard time figuring out how to quote individual parts of your response.

 

In any case! Wow! The number of words you've put into my mouth is truly astounding. Did I say that mothers are just "waiting to dispose their babies at the nearest doorstep"? No, I didn't. I said there's certain nurturing behaviors that we are pre-programmed with. Does it mean we inherently HAVE to act on those behaviors? Nope. Not even animals inherently act on all instincts - believe it or not, some animals are capable of acting in a semi-reasoned fashion. An instinct, in this case, refers to a set of behaviors that we tend towards (and I say that we "tend" towards them because we do, indeed, have the ability to not act on them, as a result of having a faculty of reason) as a result of being human.

 

Robert F. Port, professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Indiana University, puts instincts this way: "It is an ability to behave in a certain way coupled with a tendency to behave that way at appropriate times." Hence my wording as well - in constructing his list of possible human instincts, he suggested that instincts can be recognized by a few traits: universality (meaning, presence across all members of the species) and a sufficient reason to believe that such behaviors were not learned from experience being two of those main criteria.

 

Other examples, since you dislike the motherly nature example, might include our sexual behavior. We do not control our arousal explicitly, at least not initially, human beings as a whole tend towards being aroused by the opposite sex, and we get aroused by an early enough age that we lack the ability to have constructed a sufficient value system to encompass sexual attraction. The mere fact that humans tend towards attraction to the opposite sex is reason enough to believe it's instinctual - if such attraction was built off the construction of a value system, we'd have no reason to put the opposite sex so highly above the same sex, especially considering the quantitatively large number of reasons to not want to care for a child. The fact that there's some evidence pointing towards our tendency of attraction to a certain sex being genetic is physical proof that sexual attraction is an instinct - if it's a genetically learned behavior, then it's an instinct. 

 

Other programmed, instinctual behaviors include blinking and flinching. These are behaviors that, with sufficient training, humans can avoid doing, but are programmed into us to occur from birth. They are genetically inherited behaviors. 

 

"state precisely all the contradictions that arise assuming instincts need to be got rid of to evolve human consciousness."

 

You're improperly placing the burden of proof on me. You're saying "prove me wrong", when in science, we require that one prove oneself right. In this case - show me a single reason why having a pre-programmed set of instincts is contrary to having a faculty of reason?

 

Evolutionarily, it makes no sense to get rid of a certain set of instincts because those instincts 1. do not harm our ability to survive, and 2. in many cases increase our chances of survival. If you understand evolution on any level, it should make sense to you why I stated that, given those two premises, instincts would not be gotten rid of evolutionarily. Broadly, evolution leads to the maintenance of traits that increase our chances of survival, and the riddance of traits that decrease it.

 

Babies, who I think most of us can agree do not have a developed faculty of reason, aren't wont to lying in place and doing nothing. Despite the lack of a faculty of reason, despite any sort of value system that they could have developed on their own, they clearly have certain things they desire - there's no way for them, without a faculty of reason, to have obtained the value system necessary to "desire" something, so we're left with one alternative: they have those desires from birth. I'm hoping that this isn't an astounding idea to you, because it seemed fairly obvious to me in my biology education.

 

 

 

It seems to me that you're putting a lot more weight into the existence of instincts than there needs to be. There's no reason to think instincts contradict the existence of a faculty of reason. I would propose that part of the criteria for an instinct's existence is that it specifically be capable of being overridden by that faculty of reason - otherwise it's simply an involuntary behavior, like the pumping of one's heart. Instincts do not clash with reason. I'd argue that our ability to overcome instinctual behavior is a core part of understanding how advanced our faculty of reason is.

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Louie said:

If instincts are physical responses, then it seems to me only things like knee-kicks are instincts, which are only mechanical responses. That makes instinct superfluous as a concept.

I agree with this. Nothing like a "heuristic" qualifies remotely as a "instinct". Instinct and automatic are not isomorphic.

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Note that he said nothing about acting against instincts.

True. I was thinking about other posts in others threads, but I should stick to arguments stated in just this thread to avoid confusions.

 

 

I actually question that instinct is a valid concept, even for animals, but because a mental world is sufficient and in fact a better way to explain behaviors.

I have thought about that too (i.e., whether animals have instincts) but not along those lines. When you look at the basic premise of instinctual actions they state that it is some kind of information retained in the basic biology of an organism that can lead to specific behaviours (not making any statements about motivations), which were never learned previously. However, when you look at the cognitive information gained from the experiences that an animal has, none of that can affect their genes (there is the concept of "Genetic Memory", but the wikipedia article states that it is not "Lamarckian"), since genes are immutable since conception. So the information carried in the genome cannot be percepts or concepts (or atleast not the percepts or concepts experienced by the animal) but has to be knowledge added to the genome by natural selection, i.e., information stored (through natural selection) and retrieved (i.e., the final intinctual action) without reference to cognition (percepts or concepts). So if an animal does an instinctual action, it is not conscious of it because the information involved does not speak the same "language" as your consciousness (which uses percepts and concepts). For example, when you do an instinctual reflex action such as a "knee-kick", you are not conscious of the action but only the effect (or the "feedback" by the various senses you have). Also, since you cannot be conscious of instincts (assuming they exist), whatever love and affection you have for your child cannot be instinctual.

 

Now, if you go deeper, you'd see that these "information in another language" or "codes for action" whose execution is automatic is primarily observed in terms of motor action. So, in order for them to work, they (motor action) must necessarily not be under your conscious voluntary control. The crucial idea is that for humans, their motor development is fully volitional. A human baby infant does not know how to walk whereas the young ones of a "precocial" species learn very quickly. It seems to me that these "precocial" animals have impulses (which they are not conscious of, so I don't use "impuse" in the usual sense) to do certain motor activity and as a feedback mechanism using their percepts (i.e., using information from their senses), learn the motor activity perceptually and adjusted to the environment. It seems that, for humans, their motor development goes in a different pathway such that they can never carry out these "codes of action" (if they still exist) and hence can't learn from them. The importance of motor control is also significant when considering the shift in brain regions used when "primitive reflexes" disappear as a child develops.

 

This feedback mechanism can also explain how "birds" appear to learn to fly: at a certain stage of motor development, they generate motor impulses and by a feedback mechanism, learn from their own actions. This can also explain other "learning processes" in "precocial" animals that involves a combination of instinct (an automatic code of action, i.e., separate from your consciousness) and practice (by perceptual feedback mechanism).

 

Now as for why humans still retain simple reflexes but not complex instinctual action, it may have to do with the fact that the information never passes through the brain: the synapse is in the spinal chord. But all this is speculative (although they seem very logical), but unless you have a research lab, you probably can't test them.

 

 

If instincts are physical responses, then it seems to me only things like knee-kicks are instincts, which are only mechanical responses.

You can still talk about complex instinctual behaviours (which are mechanical responses) under my analysis but you also need to invoke feedback mechanisms to bridge the "language" gap.

 

 

That makes instinct superfluous as a concept.

I think instincts are inescapable when trying to explain animal behaviour (although they are not the primary processes, which are percepts). There seems to be no other way to explain, for example, how baby turtles "know" they have to crawl to sea (of course they don't "know" even with their instincts, which, as I proposed are primarily mechanical, but the instinct gets them into the sea and that is all that matters). The feedback mechanism allows animals complex instinctual behaviour while still keeping it a mechanical response, which can also be influenced by environment because the actual learning is still perceptual. Instinctual action is like having a robotic parent built inside you to "guide" you only by "showing" you what to do.

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In any case! Wow! The number of words you've put into my mouth is truly astounding. Did I say that mothers are just "waiting to dispose their babies at the nearest doorstep"? No, I didn't. I said there's certain nurturing behaviors that we are pre-programmed with.

Of course you never said that mothers are waiting to dispose their babies at the nearest doorstep. I wasn't attacking your statements but your premises. I am saying that there is no way you can conclude that mothers have instinctual behaviours without a properly controlled experiment and how do you control this experiment? By providing a conflict between their personal motivations and "instinctual impulses". You can't distinguish between the two, otherwise.

 

Does it mean we inherently HAVE to act on those behaviors? Nope

But, why wouldn't you?

 

You're improperly placing the burden of proof on me. You're saying "prove me wrong", when in science, we require that one prove oneself right. In this case - show me a single reason why having a pre-programmed set of instincts is contrary to having a faculty of reason?

The burden of proof falls on the person asserting the positive ("humans have instincts"). Also (in case you didn't notice), I never said humans didn't have instincts. I was merely challenging your positive assertions and premises for those assertions. I don't have to supply proof since you made the first assertion and I made none.

 

Evolutionarily, it makes no sense to get rid of a certain set of instincts because those instincts 1. do not harm our ability to survive, and 2. in many cases increase our chances of survival. If you understand evolution on any level, it should make sense to you why I stated that, given those two premises, instincts would not be gotten rid of evolutionarily. Broadly, evolution leads to the maintenance of traits that increase our chances of survival, and the riddance of traits that decrease it.

Too bad humans natural selection does not apply to humans, which necessarily implies: getting rid of instincts would be the most advantageous, evolutionarily, for humans. Your 1. and 2. are wrong (if you can try to understand why 1. is wrong, you are pretty much all set). You don't know what evolution means for humans.

Edited by human_murda

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It seems that, for humans, their motor development goes in a different pathway such that they can never carry out these "codes of action" (if they still exist) and hence can't learn from them.

What makes you think humans have different motor development? The process is learned, yeah, but it's also learned by animals. You are making a specific scientific claim of how human motor development works. Since I dispute it, I'd like a citation from someone. The fact of the matter is that many birds and mammals have very human-like methods of learning to the extent they have a mental world and are able to think about the world. Not with concepts per se, but it's not a metaphor for thinking. Even bees have a mental world to gather honey, albeit a primitive mental world.

See: http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/animal-cognition-96639212

and: http://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/the-development-of-birdsong-16133266

Your argument seems to be that somehow, humans are above and beyond all of biology. Not true. The only difference really is that humans have the ability of deep abstract thought. Indeed, human motor development is pretty slow, it just isn't evidence that humans don't have instincts at all. The rest of your post is kind of confusing to me, so I don't quite know how to respond. The important thing to remember is that not all theories about instincts are behaviorist theories. In fact, you've provided a behaviorist argument of instinct, and rule out humans from that argument because they don't have instincts. Feedback and mechanical response is basically a behaviorist theory, albeit more advanced than Skinner's behaviorism. Do you see how that begs the question? The question is if human's have any instincts!  

Iud gives a good and credible explanation of instincts, I just happen to disagree, on grounds that instincts are more mental than physical, so instinct is a poor concept. It's nothing really controversial, or even philosophically questionable. I'm just throwing in that "animals have instincts while humans don't" is not a good or even useful theory. Either humans and animals have instincts, or neither of them do. And instinct doesn't mean "a victim of fate" in the sense we are doomed  to act on instinct.   

 

However, when you look at the cognitive information gained from the experiences that an animal has, none of that can affect their genes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics

My claim to some expertise at all is lots of studying cognitive science - I believe Iud studies biology a lot, so I'd say he has some expertise too.

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Louie said pretty much everything I'd need to say, with a few exceptions. I would tend to agree that, at the least, "instinct" is a poorly defined concept. However, it's widely accepted in the Objectivist community that animals have instincts and humans do not, and since the only notable difference between humans and other animals is a deeper level of abstract thought than other animals are capable of (and note that there are animals capable of a level of abstract thought, though nowhere near approaching what humans are capable of), I can't see why one would think animals have instincts and humans do not.

 

Biologically, it's fairly widely accepted that humans do possess what we think of as instincts, as defined in my previous post. Whether these instincts substantially affect our actions or cause us to act differently from the ways in which we might already be rationally inclined to act is murky water at best. But again, I'd agree that instincts are a poorly defined concept - my main disagreement here is that we should imply that animals have them and somehow, for no real good reason at all, humans do not.

 

Again, thanks to Louie for pointing out some other issues, including the issue of epigenetics. If you're not feeling like reading a wikipedia page, the idea is thus: yes, things that happen in our lifetime do indeed affect our genes, and yes, those changes are heritable.

 

 

"Too bad humans natural selection does not apply to humans, which necessarily implies: getting rid of instincts would be the most advantageous, evolutionarily, for humans. Your 1. and 2. are wrong (if you can try to understand why 1. is wrong, you are pretty much all set). You don't know what evolution means for humans."

 

Now this is an interesting contention. If I'm reading this correctly, you're implying that natural selection and evolution do not apply to human beings. Considering the substantial evidence to the contrary and the broad consensus in the field of evolutionary biology, what makes you think, human_murda, that humans are exempted from evolution or natural selection in any particular way? We know that humans evolve immunities to certain diseases, we know that humans are subjected to the same processes of inheritance as all other animals, we know that humans undergo the same sort of selection for those traits... so what makes you think that it applies differently for us?

 

I'd like to point out what I always tend to point out in discussions of evolution: evolution is not a physical thing. It is not a "guiding hand" or anything of the like. My "focus" (I hesitate to say "expertise", due to not having finished my education) is on mathematical biology, and as such I like to think of evolution as what it is: a mathematical reality. In humans, the base rate of mutation is something like 90~ mutations per generation (taking a very rough average from the citations on this page: http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2013/03/estimating-human-mutation-rate-direct.html ). Assuming you have a basic understanding of biology - I make this assumption because you're presuming to discuss biology at all - it would be evident that these mutations are subject to the exact same selective pressures that any other animal is. If they aid our survival and ability to reproduce, no matter how little or great of an aid they are, they will tend to be passed on. If they hinder our survival and ability to reproduce, now matter how little or great of a hindrance they are, they will tend to not be passed on. This is a vast simplification, but it makes clear the mathematical reality: generation by generation, a mutation will appear more often if it lends to the success of an individual, and generation by generation, a mutation will appear less often if it does not lend to the success of an individual. 

 

 

" There seems to be no other way to explain, for example, how baby turtles "know" they have to crawl to sea"

 

If you accept this as proof of instincts, than you must also accept the automatic actions of human beings as proof of instincts. How do baby humans know to suckle on a breast? How do baby humans know to cry in order to get attention? Why does a baby crying provoke an automatic response in human mothers? 

 

Again, I'm not arguing that instincts are necessarily a great concept. But if you're accepting THAT as proof for the existence of instincts, than there are very clearly instincts in human beings as well - no matter how little they actually affect our actions once we reach a level of development that allows for use of our faculty of reason.

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What makes you think humans have different motor development? The process is learned, yeah, but it's also learned by animals. You are making a specific scientific claim of how human motor development works. Since I dispute it, I'd like a citation from someone.

I don't have a citation and I am not aware of any study which was specifically aimed to distinguish between human and animal motor development. My post was merely a contention that that was worth looking into.

 

Your argument seems to be that somehow, humans are above and beyond all of biology.

Really? How is that?

 

The only difference really is that humans have the ability of deep abstract thought.

I don't think it is merely a computational issue. Human consciousness (and all its prerequisites) is itself different.

 

The important thing to remember is that not all theories about instincts are behaviorist theories. In fact, you've provided a behaviorist argument of instinct, and rule out humans from that argument because they don't have instincts. Feedback and mechanical response is basically a behaviorist theory, albeit more advanced than Skinner's behaviorism

I am not sure it constitutes a behaviorist theory. Of course I left out any discussion of the processes that lead to the mechanical impulses primarily because it was automatic: there was no consciousness involved (but is still mental in the same way integration of sensory data into percepts is mental, but automatic); secondarily because I have no idea what it is. But that doesn't discount its role in the process.

 

Either humans and animals have instincts, or neither of them do.

Why? What makes it necessary that if one species has an instinct, another should have too? Considering that you believe that there is some ambiguity regarding whether there is any species at all that possesses instincts, your assertion seems arbitrary. What would establish such a causal link if you see no reason at all to believe the thinks being linked?

 

Epigenetics still doesn't explain how concepts and percepts (which exist in your brain) can reach your gametes.

Edited by human_murda

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Now this is an interesting contention. If I'm reading this correctly, you're implying that natural selection and evolution do not apply to human beings

I'm implying that evolution applies to human beings (i.e., humans can evolve traits that allow them to survive better) but not by natural selection. I am not contesting the validity of evolution. Given our genetic coding system, it would be pretty much inevitable.

 

If you accept this as proof of instincts, than you must also accept the automatic actions of human beings as proof of instincts. How do baby humans know to suckle on a breast? How do baby humans know to cry in order to get attention?

Of course, suckling is a reflex and I give exemption to that because it doesn't pass through the brain.

 

How do baby humans know to cry in order to get attention?

Isn't that a learned behaviour? Given that crying is the primary means for a baby to communicate, isn't that, err.. inevitable?

 

Why does a baby crying provoke an automatic response in human mothers?

Really? What is that even called? Annoyance instinct (it can be one of the response)?

Edited by human_murda

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"I'm implying that evolution applies to human beings (i.e., humans can evolve traits that allow them to survive better) but not by natural selection. I am not contesting the validity of evolution. Given our genetic coding system, it would be pretty much inevitable."

 

In what way do you suppose natural selection does not apply to us? Off the top of my head, traits leading to immunity to certain diseases persist and grow in human populations. The pressure acting on such traits is natural selection. I'll give you that it's liable that other selective pressures, such as sexual selection, may have a greater influence in human society and natural selection may have a lesser influence than what you'd see in the populations of other animals, but there's no actual reason for it being absent.

 

"Isn't that a learned behaviour? Given that crying is the primary means for a baby to communicate, isn't that, err.. inevitable?"

 

Not really. Babies do it right out of the womb. It's something they inherently know to do when distressed. Other things like suckling and rooting are referred to as primitive reflexes, which, contrary to your assumption that they do not pass through the brain, do indeed pass through the brain and are associated with the frontal lobe. I'm not a neurologist, so I won't presume to explain any more than that - the point being, these aren't simply muscle reflexes. They're inherent behaviors that originate in the brain.

 

Why is this such an issue to you? What do you suppose would lead to humans not having "instincts" when other animals do? We've conclusively shown that instincts would not, by definition, interfere with a rational faculty - by definition, an instinct can be overridden by a faculty of reason. So why is this an issue at all? Is it just because Ayn Rand wrote about animal instincts and humans not having them? Because last I checked, she wasn't a biologist.

 

"Why? What makes it necessary that if one species has an instinct, another should have too? Considering that you believe that there is some ambiguity regarding whether there is any species at all that possesses instincts, your assertion seems arbitrary. What would establish such a causal link if you see no reason at all to believe the thinks being linked?"

 

Evolution. Organisms don't spontaneously generate. So if we know that the organisms from which humans evolved possessed instincts - which it is commonly assumed that they do - and there is no reason for such things to be absent in human beings, and we know of behaviors that could, potentially, be instinctual, then there's no reason to think that humans do not have instincts. Humans are special in that they have a higher degree of abstract thought... but in no other ways are they special. We're not excluded from the evolutionary process. We're not exempt from the same things that affect animals.

 

"I don't think it is merely a computational issue. Human consciousness (and all its prerequisites) is itself different."

 

I'm not implying it's merely a computational issue. However, the categorically same kind of abstract thought that we are capable of, other animals are also capable of. Not many of them, but some of them. Tool usage, concept formation, grouping, things like that. Animals are more primitive in their ability to reason conceptually, but such ability does exist. So, categorically, our consciousness is similar. However, the LEVEL of abstract thought that we are capable of is significantly deeper - so much so that it has allowed us to become the dominant species on the planet.

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conceptual thought is a uniquely human thing, or more specifically counter-factual reasoning or the ability to reason abstractly. animals are very good at perceptual level stuff, better than humans i would say which shouldn't come as a surprise. I think people like David Hume can explain how humans with partial rationality think.

Edited by Mikee

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Epigenetics still doesn't explain how concepts and percepts (which exist in your brain) can reach your gametes.

It was to dispute that there is no sort of information that can affect genes. True, it isn't going to transmit percepts or concepts, but instinct isn't about percepts or concepts, it's about a tendency of responses. Instincts aren't a form of knowledge, although you can say there are innate dispositions to seek out or make sense of certain information inputs, or an innate structure for representing the world mentally. That isn't the same as saying you receive knowledge transmitted across generations. Instinct is basically an innate ability where learning isn't required to do it better or worse, so that's how it's a "tendency" rather than a rule of action. In other words, knowledge isn't part of instinct anyway.

 

Of course I left out any discussion of the processes that lead to the mechanical impulses primarily because it was automatic: there was no consciousness involved

If you mean to say sea turtles/bees/ants/birds/etc don't even have a mental world, then you are wrong. If consciousness is involved is largely philosophical, but it is well known that something goes on mentally that is not evident through mechanical responses and feedback. If you eliminate the mental world, the result is behaviorism, as behaviorism is essentially about how behaviors happen without positing some sort of computation or mental representation. Mostly, it's really only microorganisms that are totally absent of all awareness (they don't even have neurons). My point is that non-humans have more complex behavior than you grant them.

 

What would establish such a causal link if you see no reason at all to believe the thinks being linked?

It only fails to work as a theory when I add in lots of research on animal learning and development that shows how there are various explanations of behavior which don't need instinct to work. There are innate mental structures that when combined with direct perception of the world help to produce cognitive maps, as most people call it. In a way, it's not unlike forming a concept, it's just far more limited than any true concept is. So although I grant there are tendencies, I think you get far stronger explanations for behaviors without saying there are physical responses that go with tendencies. To me, instinct is really used when explanations are lacking. Still, it is a credible theory that on its own doesn't threaten rational philosophy (at least, not everyone who accepts it).

 

Iud:

 

Animals are more primitive in their ability to reason conceptually, but such ability does exist.

I'd dispute calling it conceptual, I like to call it pseudoconceptual. No known animal (except maybeeeee dolphins) can abstract from abstractions. I get your point, I'm just being more exact - science and philosophy in the same thread gets messy. :P

 

By the way, the editor along the top of writing a post has a quote button. Just highlight what you want in a quote box, then click quote. It's right next to the Twitter button.

Edited by Eiuol

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In what way do you suppose natural selection does not apply to us? Off the top of my head, traits leading to immunity to certain diseases persist and grow in human populations.
I have issues with it on the basis of cause and effect i.e., with regards to the question: if humans have a disease, is it necessary for them to evolve it out? No, they could develop a medicide (not the same as eating medicinal leaves which are part of "nature" and hence the "metaphysically given") and then cure it. Adaptation isn't the automatic course of action for human beings. As Ayn Rand said, "The difference between animals and humans is that animals change themselves for the environment, but humans change the environment for themselves". This implies that using natural selection for solving your problems is an appeal to the metaphysically given. Again, there is nothing wrong with artificial selection which is what is proper and required for man. Now, "Changing yourselves for the environment" runs contrary to the conceptual nature of man. Man survives by "changing the environment for themselves", implying he can use the evolutionary forces to his advantage. But evolution is applicable to humans only in as far as it helps man to change environment to suit himself i.e., in the development of his conceptual faculty. Now, as far as what this means for your instincts: they are an endless stream of failing ideas (assuming they are "conscious tendencies") that clogs your reason. Instincts may improve the survival advantage of animals but it works against human survival: which requires a mind free from endless streams of "evil" thoughts and "compulsions". Existence of human instinct (again, assuming you are all conscious of it) is the assertion that there are "metaphysical" components to human consciousness. Natural selection does not apply to humans because human deaths are not metaphysical facts. They didn't have to happen. Development of the human genome is not a metaphysical fact. It didn't have to develop in a certain way.

 

 

Not really. Babies do it right out of the womb. It's something they inherently know to do when distressed.

I was saying that using crying to communicate is a learned behaviour, not that crying itself was a learned behaviour.

 

 

Other things like suckling and rooting are referred to as primitive reflexes, which, contrary to your assumption that they do not pass through the brain, do indeed pass through the brain and are associated with the frontal lobe.

I don't know much about biology but isn't the frontal lobe involved in "inhibiting" reflexes, not causing them?

 

 

Why is this such an issue to you?

Various reasons. For one, I've never "felt" any instinct. Secondly, it is part of the "Break free of all traditions. You're brainwashed if you accept anything your fathers held as true. There is no objective morality. Your "innate" biology/psychology is all that is moral. Philosophy is redundant" nonsense. Thirdly, I've always wondered how very specific percepts could be transferred to your genes, when that is used to explain attraction to specific body features, specific "talent" in various disciplines, etc., so on and so forth...

 

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If you mean to say sea turtles/bees/ants/birds/etc don't even have a mental world, then you are wrong. If consciousness is involved is largely philosophical, but it is well known that something goes on mentally that is not evident through mechanical responses and feedback. If you eliminate the mental world, the result is behaviorism, as behaviorism is essentially about how behaviors happen without positing some sort of computation or mental representation. Mostly, it's really only microorganisms that are totally absent of all awareness (they don't even have neurons).

You didn't understand my post very well at all. I wasn't eliminating a mental world. I was saying that instincts are responses to certain inputs and that input can't be specific percepts (as percepts can't be passed through your genes). I am suggesting an alternative (where alternative doesn't mean "new and exclusive" but "in addition to") process that result in motor output. One is obviously a human's or animal's consciousness which result in the most complex and varied motor output and the source of such output are percepts and concepts. The other is the instinctive process, where non-conscious phenomena give rise to motor output. The former obviously exists. Reflex actions (non-conscious phenomena giving rise to motor output; they are responses to sensory data and not percepts) exist, so the latter also exists. I am saying both exist (not one at the exclusion of the other). The problem arises when considering instinctual actions other than reflexes (eg:baby turtles "know" they have to crawl to sea) : many people claim they are responses to specific percepts or concepts (eg: 

  • "Human beings as a whole tend towards being aroused by the opposite sex", which necessarily involves percepts/concepts; also,
  • "The working material" for a mothers emotions are concepts, but instinctual resposes are responses to sensory information and no human emotion can be instinctual and based on sensory information. Another way to say this is to remark: "since no specific perceptual or conceptual information has ever been passed to your gametes, emotions cannot be responses to specific percepts or concepts". I am assuming he was talking about something like this)
  • "So we're left with one alternative: they have those desires from birth.": desire is a cognitive process that cannot be related to instinct.

although, by my earlier arguments, they cannot be.

 

 

Percepts/concepts are the "working material" for consciousness (emotions, curiosity, desire, etc., basically all "cognitive" functions). Sensory data are the "working material" for instinctual processes (reflexes, FAP,etc). Cognitive processes cannot be invoked for instinctual processes (which is done in this thread for "human instincts" but not for "animal instincts"). Consider the following examples of "fixed action pattern" as wikipedia gives them :

  •     Kelp Gull chicks are stimulated by a red spot on the mother's beak to peck at the spot, which induces regurgitation.
  •     Some moths instantly fold their wings and drop to the ground if they encounter ultrasonic signals such as those produced by bats;
  •     Mayflies drop their eggs when they encounter a certain pattern of light polarization which indicates they are over water.

None of them involve percepts. They are all resposes to very specific sensory information, before they could be integrated. All the "examples" given in this thread about "human instincts" involve (other than reflexes which does not involve the brain) percepts and concepts. If humans had a way to store specific percepts or concepts in their genome, you would have sufficient reason to think that emotions are also "instinctive". The fact that emotions are not instinctive is further evidence that there are no specific percepts or concepts in your genes (if there were, you would have automatic emotions to certain percepts/concepts). Even when you claim humans and animals have instincts, you use very different standards for both (eg: percepts/concepts sometimes for humans vs sensory always for animals).

 

Here is a random article I found (written by a feminist) that discusses the tendency to invoke specific percepts/concepts in relation to "instincts". With a perceptual/conceptual definition of "instincts", people can even use it to describe their liking for ice-cream flavours (which is a cognitive process by the way and not subject to "instinct") or to explain cognitive "feelings" and "tendencies" they have always had, by invoking the "fact" that some very specific percepts or concepts (eg: attraction to specific features of a person's body, or, as she lists in Reason No.4, inclination to draw feet and shoes, loving cheddar cheese, trashy pop music, etc all of which are percepts) managed to get into their genes.

 

 

My point is that non-humans have more complex behavior than you grant them.

Of course animals have complex behaviours that involve learning various behaviours maybe even to count and sign language (not in the human way): but it doesn't matter because none of that is relevant to what I am talking about.

 

The instinctive process could be related to the "sensations" of the lower of the conscious animals Rand talks about: "Sensations are an automatic response, an automatic form of knowledge, which a consciousness can neither seek nor evade." But she never stated any relation between the two that I am aware of.

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Louie said:

I agree with this. Nothing like a "heuristic" qualifies remotely as a "instinct". Instinct and automatic are not isomorphic.

That's because 'instinct' is such a bad word that you'll just waste time arguing over its meaning. What it seems to indicate is behavior not associated with cognition.

 

Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated that lots of what we normally call 'thought' really isn't...hence, 'heuristic'. So in terms of Ockham's principle, perhaps it's easiest to define behavoir as either thought-motivated or not, ostensibly making 'heuristic' and instinst equivalent.

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I have issues with it on the basis of cause and effect i.e., with regards to the question: if humans have a disease, is it necessary for them to evolve it out? No, they could develop a medicide (not the same as eating medicinal leaves which are part of "nature" and hence the "metaphysically given") and then cure it. Adaptation isn't the automatic course of action for human beings. As Ayn Rand said, "The difference between animals and humans is that animals change themselves for the environment, but humans change the environment for themselves". This implies that using natural selection for solving your problems is an appeal to the metaphysically given. Again, there is nothing wrong with artificial selection which is what is proper and required for man. Now, "Changing yourselves for the environment" runs contrary to the conceptual nature of man

 

Right. How could I have forgotten - Ayn Rand, evolutionary biologist and philosopher.

 

The issue here is that you're not actually understanding what evolution is. Evolution is not some physical construct. It's not something that organisms "undergo". It's not something that humans choose to enact or not enact. Evolution is, fundamentally, a mathematical construct. Traits that lend themselves to the increased survival of an organism NECESSARILY will be passed on more BECAUSE organisms that survive longer, reproduce more. Traits that DECREASE one's ability to survive NECESSARILY will not be passed on as often, because organisms with those traits will survive shorter periods, and reproduce less. So what do you suppose MUST happen as a result? Well, gradually the frequency of the negative trait diminishes, and the frequency of the positive trait increases. As I said - it is a mathematical construct.

 

It's a very common misconception, and has been for over a century now, that humans are exempt from evolution because of our ability to think conceptually and use tools. That's simply not true. There's nothing that we can do, categorically, that another organism cannot do in order to deal with changing circumstances. Other organisms migrate, other organisms use tools and shelter (to an extent, depending on the organism), other organisms do as much as they can to adapt to their changing environment, just like humans do. But that doesn't change the mathematical certainty that negative traits will necessarily reduce in frequency over time as a result of diminished lifespans and reproductive viability. The effect may be smaller in humans due to the existence of medical science, but it does still exist. 

 

I trust Ayn Rand's ability to interpret and explain philosophy and literature. But she is not an evolutionary biologist, or a biologist in any sense. Just because she thinks that humans are not subject to the effects of the environment does not mean that she's right.

 

 

 

I don't know much about biology but isn't the frontal lobe involved in "inhibiting" reflexes, not causing them?

 

:P See! This is what happens when a biologist comments on neurology, entirely outside of his area of expertise! 

 

I looked into it more, and you are indeed correct. The frontal lobe inhibits primitive reflexes, which originate in the brain stem as automatic responses to stimuli. Which again leads us back to the definition of instinct - does an automatic response count as an instinct?

 

 

 

Instincts may improve the survival advantage of animals but it works against human survival: which requires a mind free from endless streams of "evil" thoughts and "compulsions". Existence of human instinct (again, assuming you are all conscious of it) is the assertion that there are "metaphysical" components to human consciousness. Natural selection does not apply to humans because human deaths are not metaphysical facts. They didn't have to happen. Development of the human genome is not a metaphysical fact. It didn't have to develop in a certain way.

 

 

Natural selection certainly applies to human beings for the exact reasons I listed above. No organisms' death is a "metaphysical fact".  Deaths do not have to happen to any organism. Which is why organisms with traits that aid their survival, including humans, are more likely to survive longer and reproduce more, and therefore, from a purely mathematical standpoint, those traits have an increasing frequency within a population, including human populations.

 

 

 

I'd like to repeat a point that you did not address earlier: human attraction. Instinctually, humans are attracted to the opposite sex. There are some humans that are different in this respect, but most humans are attracted to the opposite sex. This befits the definition of an instinct that I laid out earlier: 

1. Universality - the trait in question can be found in all members of the species

2. Tendency - the action or set of actions is a tendency that can be overridden by conscious thought or present in a different form in different members of the species

3. Not learned - evidence currently points to sexual attraction being genetic, not a conscious choice.

 

This is an example of an "instinct" in my mind, and the mind of the professor that I mentioned earlier. It's beneficial for the species overall to pursue a specific course of action - the pursuit of the opposite gender - and so traits that cause humans to inherently tend towards the opposite sex have been bred for. We can consciously choose to not pursue a member of the opposite sex, but it's fairly clear that our sexual orientation is not a learned behavior. This is a very, very, abundantly clear example of an "instinct".

 

Reproduction itself is an example of an "instinct." If it were simply that we chose to reproduce as part of our value system, we'd see much greater variance in the choice to reproduce than we do - as it is, most humans want to reproduce, pretty much starting from the age that they're capable of doing so. The fact that some don't - just as the fact that some people are not attracted to the opposite gender - is actually proof that it is an instinct: there's a clear MINORITY in both examples, which makes it fulfill the criterion for being an instinct by making it a "tendency" and not a "reflex": it can be overridden. 

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As Ayn Rand said, "The difference between animals and humans is that animals change themselves for the environment, but humans change the environment for themselves".

That quote isn't even about instincts or evolutionary biology anyway. I can't find where Rand said that either. That's a difference, yes, but I don't think anyone denied that humans have profound cognitive ability to alter the environment.

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I believe the quote is: "It is only animals that have to adapt themselves to their physical background and to the biological functions of their bodies. Man adapts his physical background and the use of his biological faculties to himself-to his own needs and values." from VOR: Of Living Death.

 

An example I've heard many times on instinct, is a police officer instinctively pulling his gun. In this sense though, it is a learned or automated response. In martial arts, the techniques are practiced over and over to automate them as well as improve. When a situation arises that calls for something, you see an event and react to it simultaneously without being aware of an conscious initiation of the action.

 

Reflexive action covers both the suckling and  the light hammer tap to the knee.

 

I prefer this, as instinct usually raises more issues when it is used, while learned behavior versus natural processes, such as reflex, usually hones in more quickly.

Edited by dream_weaver

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Reproduction itself is an example of an "instinct."

You mean to say you saw an attractive woman and and some primal part of your brain went: "I must do this. For the human race".

 

 

Can't seem to find that same exact quote, only this:

Man’s unique reward, however, is that while animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his background to himself. If a drought strikes them, animals perish—man builds irrigation canals; if a flood strikes them, animals perish—man builds dams; if a carnivorous pack attacks them animals perish—man writes the Constitution of the United States. But one does not obtain food, safety or freedom—by instinct.

I was only using the quote to make my point. The quote is true and the implications follow.

Edited by human_murda

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