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Will a baby crawl off a cliff?

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In a study in 1960, conducted by Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk of Cornell University, 36 infants were placed in a very special room: one-half of the floor was completely transparent glass, the other half was regular, well, floor. The infants obviously avoided the glass floor, most did so even as their parents stood across it urging them to come to them. But most, particularly older children, preferred the the perceived (or possibly instinctual) comfort of the regular floor.

Although this result by itself does not distinctly prove the suggestion that this is instinct or innate knowledge, the fact that infants of other species, namely chicks, rats, turtles, kittens and puppies, did the exact same thing: thus equating animal instinct with young child knowledge.

I know that Rand had this to say:

Man is born naked and unarmed, without fangs, claws, horns or “instinctual” knowledge.

[...]

Man has no automatic code of survival. He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions—but his consciousness will not function automatically.

She rejected the idea of instinct as one more source of knowledge in humans (besides reason, of course); but it seems to me that this instinct related to the glass floor is knowledge, and is not derived from reason because chicks, rats, turtles, kittens and puppies (and small children) do not possess reasoning capability.

In terms of epistemology, if this is not instinct in humans, then what is it?

source: http://www.wadsworth.com/psychology_d/temp...us/ps/ps05.html

Edited by Voice(of)Reason
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Reason. Infants learn about the concept "falling" very early in life. It's also evidence that their visual system has matured to the point that they can perceive depth.

Definitely - by the time an infant learns to crawl, it is several months old. It takes several weeks minimum before they can even roll over.

Depth perception will be well established by crawling.

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Although this result by itself does not distinctly prove the suggestion that this is instinct or innate knowledge, the fact that infants of other species, namely chicks, rats, turtles, kittens and puppies, did the exact same thing: thus equating animal instinct with young child knowledge.

Flowing from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and out of the mouth of Sherlock Holmes: "An exception to the rule disproves the rule."

In that case, it is not always the case that kittens instinctually avoid walking off cliffs, because I remember watching a comedy show a few weeks ago where they show a few kitties ignorantly falling into a hole, that had formed in someone's lawn, by walking into it.

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Reason. Infants learn about the concept "falling" very early in life. It's also evidence that their visual system has matured to the point that they can perceive depth.

I'm sorry but I missed the premise that infants are rational, somehow able to form syllogisms from a posteriori knowledge and deductively conclude that this particular action is not in one's best interests.

And the "falling" that most infants experience very early in life is hopefully not falling from cliffs. Falling from a crawling position maybe, but not through a transparent floor. It may be true that depth perception develops early in life, but it does not necessarily follow that an infant can "connect the dots", pairing that ability with conclusions regarding steep drops in elevation and the dangers therein.

In that case, it is not always the case that kittens instinctually avoid walking off cliffs, because I remember watching a comedy show a few weeks ago where they show a few kitties ignorantly falling into a hole, that had formed in someone's lawn, by walking into it.

It's probably the case that cats/kittens do not fear cliffs because no matter the heights a cat falls from, it can lower its terminal velocity enough to the point where it will not die on impact. It is not an evolutionary necessity that a cat know by instinct the dangers of a cliff. But, yes, cats do eventually learn to avoid cliffs; my philosophy professor once told us how his cat would jump from magazine to magazine on a glass coffee table, careful not to touch the transparent parts.

Edited by Voice(of)Reason
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The study says that infants were 6 to 14 months old. I didn't read enough to see if they mention how much crawling experience they have. Just wanted to add that this perception of danger is something that I found was missing in my son at one point when he was beginning to crawl. He wasn't near a cliff, but he was on the bed trying to crawl and he was about to go right off... when I realized "wow! this guy doesn't know what a drop is". I remember this really clearly, because I remember also thinking "wow, this tabula rasa thing is seriously true".

Infants are so dumb compared to little puppies etc. (I have not observed pups closely enough, but I know that they do some things within days that take infants months). The little human can't even find a nipple, and often isn't quite clear about how to suck on it! It is quite common for young moms to be figuring out how to coax their baby to nurse properly.

Still, within that pattern of slow-learning, they do learn things every day. My own memory of this has faded, but my wife would have at least 4 or 5 little progress points to report to grandma each week. I remember one from the time that he had start crawling: he slows down when he passed between furniture now. I don't remember the details -- whether he had hit furniture, or whether had learn to use "visual cues" some other way -- but, I do remember him trying to crawl fast, then slowing down as he negotiated a "pass" between the sofa and chair, and would then scurry again.

The study you quoted was meant to show that infants rely on visual cues. So, that's all I would take for it -- at best. To jump to the conclusion that these infants did not previously learn to use such cues would be wrong.

Edited by softwareNerd
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I'm sorry but I missed the premise that infants are rational, somehow able to form syllogisms from a posteriori knowledge and deductively conclude that this particular action is not in one's best interests.
I understand. There is a common misconception especially among the college-bred that "reason" involves explicit, conscious formalization with first order predicate logic, Philosophy 250 prerequisite. That isn't what rationality is. No actual rational human uses formal deductive reasoning to gain knowedge of the real world, they use it to focus on grasping relationships between general statements and illustrative examples.
And the "falling" that most infants experience very early in life is hopefully not falling from cliffs.
You shouldn't confuse the popular name of the experimental paradigm with actual circumstances of the experiment. They don't really put babies at the edge of a cliff, and they don't actually test whether the baby thinks "Man, I'm not gonna go out on that cliff!".
Falling from a crawling position maybe, but not through a transparent floor.
Also down stairs, off of couches and beds. This indicates that their understanding of falling isn't restricted to just those previously-experiences stimulii. Note BTW that if humans had any instinctive fears genetically wired in, they would not have a fear of standing on a transparent floors, since dangerous transparent floors played very little role in mammalian evolution.
It may be true that depth perception develops early in life, but it does not necessarily follow that an infant can "connect the dots", pairing that ability with conclusions regarding steep drops in elevation and the dangers therein.
And yet it's true. Remember that developmental psychology is an empirical discipline, not an exercise in Cartesian rationalism.
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In a study in 1960, conducted by Eleanor Gibson and Richard Walk of Cornell University, 36 infants were placed in a very special room: one-half of the floor was completely transparent glass, the other half was regular, well, floor. The infants obviously avoided the glass floor, most did so even as their parents stood across it urging them to come to them. But most, particularly older children, preferred the the perceived (or possibly instinctual) comfort of the regular floor.

Although this result by itself does not distinctly prove the suggestion that this is instinct or innate knowledge, the fact that infants of other species, namely chicks, rats, turtles, kittens and puppies, did the exact same thing: thus equating animal instinct with young child knowledge.

I know that Rand had this to say:

She rejected the idea of instinct as one more source of knowledge in humans (besides reason, of course); but it seems to me that this instinct related to the glass floor is knowledge, and is not derived from reason because chicks, rats, turtles, kittens and puppies (and small children) do not possess reasoning capability.

In terms of epistemology, if this is not instinct in humans, then what is it?

source: http://www.wadsworth.com/psychology_d/temp...us/ps/ps05.html

It's also important to keep in mind that no empirical research can possibly prove the acquistion of a priori knowledge, since it is a contradictory term. Knowledge acquired before consciousness or even existence is impossible. A phenomenon that might possibly demonstrate knowledge at birth must be explored as genetic, but as far as we know, concepts are formed after birth, and no one is born with such knowledge. If they were, this would demonstrate the evolution of consciousness, but I don't think such findings really demonstrate this.

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I've always been bewildered by Rand's refusal to admit that humans have instincts. Forget the baby falling off the cliff--a newborn put to his/her mother's breast will begin to suck.

Objectivists accept that all animals have instincts. Objectivists accept that humans are animals.

Therefore...

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I've always been bewildered by Rand's refusal to admit that humans have instincts. Forget the baby falling off the cliff--a newborn put to his/her mother's breast will begin to suck.
This, b.t.w., is not an instinct, it is a reflex.
Objectivists accept that all animals have instincts.
What? Why didn't I get that memo?
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"This, b.t.w., is not an instinct, it is a reflex."

Can you explain that difference more clearly?

This, b.t.w., is not an instinct, it is a reflex.What? Why didn't I get that memo?

Er...do you deny that all animals have instincts?

Edited by dicktar
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Ayn Rand uses instinct to mean "an unerring and automatic form of knowledge," (From Galt's Speech), whereas modern liberal academia (esp. sociology) uses instinct to mean "inborn behavior." Rand's definition is narrower, because it draws a distinction between acts based on knowledge and acts in general. Modern academia generally denies the human ability to know, so it makes sense that they would object to Rand's narrower definition.

~Q

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Wouldn't any child have an inclination to learn in someway? Where is the separation between instinct and natural human behavior? It's natural to react to certain stimuli. You cry when in pain and you giggle when entertained. All animals have some form of " instinct ". I just don't think that we have apriori concepts/knowledge. Just natural ways of reaction.

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Can you explain that difference more clearly?
A reflex is an automatic physical response to a stimulus which bypasses the brain, dramatically reducing reaction time (under 500 msc). An instinct is automatic knowledge.
Er...do you deny that all animals have instincts?
Er... yes. Got it figured out yet? You made a mistake in claiming that Objectivists accept that all animals have instincts.
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A reflex is an automatic physical response to a stimulus which bypasses the brain, dramatically reducing reaction time (under 500 msc). An instinct is automatic knowledge.Er... yes. Got it figured out yet? You made a mistake in claiming that Objectivists accept that all animals have instincts.

Just to be clear: Do any animals have instincts?

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There's a rather long previous thread in instinct here.

I reproduce a post that I made to that thread:

In "The Psychology of Self-Esteem", Branden questions the application of the term "instinct" to animals. He notes that saying something is an instinct explains little. For example, saying that it is a dog's instinct to bark at strangers is not much different from saying "dogs just do that" or "dogs are just made that way". If one uses the term less loosely, then it can be valid. Branden suggests that if one uses the term "instinctive" to mean those actions that are the direct result of an animal's pain-pleasure mechanism, that would be an example of a valid usage. However, the term is often used broadly as a place-holder for an explanation, rather than being an explanation itself.

Branden recommends: "A Critique of Konrad Lorenz's Theory of Instinctive Behavior" - Daniel S. Lehrman (The Quarterly Review of Biology, vol. 28, pp. 337-363, 1953).

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Why should we believe that almost all higher animals have instincts, but humans have none?
Why should we believe that no higher animals are conceptual being with volition, and man is the exception? But go back to your original question -- you simply don't understand the Objectivist position. You first have to understand what the position is; once you're there, you can reasonably ask "Is this right?". Remeber, this isn't Democratic national politics, this is philosophy. Wrong is wrong, and close enough for federal specs is insufficient.
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This experiment is used to prove development of depth perception, not innate ideas. The infants used in that experiment would have all developed the (implicit) concept of depth-perception prior to the experiment at the age of 6-14 months (most likely). An experiment was done in the 60s by Dr. Richard Held (a psychology professor at MIT) and his colleague Dr. Hein, to isolate self-produced movement from movement produced otherwise (being on a moving cart, etc would be an example) to see if the same percepts result. An excerpt from their article “Movement-Produced Stimulation in the Development of Visually Guided Behavior” in the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology:

"In the kitten carousel, one kitten was able to locomote around a central axis; the other was attached to it by means of pulleys so that it was not able to locomote but simply moved as and when the first one moved. Each kitten therefore received the same visual input but only one of them could alter its own input as a function of physical movements that it, itself, could control."

At night, the kittens were allowed to romp and play in pure darkness. They were allowed light only during the few hours in which they were placed in the apparatus. Thus, one kitten was never allowed self-produced movement in light and instead had to hunch in the apparatus, moved around by the actions of the other kitten. After 6 weeks of this experiment, the kittens who were able to propel themselves in the kitten-carousel apparatus in light were able to develop to the perceptual stage, in which depth perception is placed. The way they tested this was by two experiments, including the cliff test. The 'cliff drop-off' test was administered in the form of providing a board, with one end appearing to have a drop off of only two inches, and another with a drop-off of six feet (this end was covered with glass so the kittens wouldn't hurt themselves obviously). The kittens who were able to see their own actions in light preferred the shallow end, while the other kittens didn't care one way or the other. The second test involved the reflex kittens have, where they put out their paws when pushed near the edge of a surface in anticipation of climbing onto it. The kittens who weren't able to see the effects of their movements allowed themselves to be pushed right into the edge of the surface.

A fact emerges from this: that percepts require certain conditions to develop. sNerd's example of his infant son almost crawling off the bed is an example of an infant that had not (at that point) developed the percept of depth. Length and temperature are another two examples. I remember seeing a friend's baby try to touch a hot candle on a birthday cake. These are percepts that need to be grasped (and they are grasped quite early, under the right conditions). The fact that they develop quite early is no indication of innate-ideas in humans.

Harry Binswanger's lecture, 'The Metaphysics of Consciousness', is an invaluable resource that anyone with the opportunity should listen to, as it addresses a lot of the issues in here in great detail as well.

Edited by West
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Why should we believe that almost all higher animals have instincts, but humans have none?

Instinct is automatic knowledge. That is, knowledge which is not subject to volition.

Higher-order animals possess knowledge, but they do not possess volition. We call that instinct.

People possess knowledge as well as volition. We call that reason.

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