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Volition of Animals

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james_h
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Or you can always do it like people have done for millenia, by looking at the way animals live and asking why their way of life is so much worse than man.

That may be, but what about physical limitations? It could be that since they have no opposable thumb or the ability to form languages, that there not able to exploit and improve their surroundings. I'm just playing devils advocate, I am going to do a bit of research on this.

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Monkeys have an opposable thumb. As does the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Ever seen the Jurassic Park? Those little grubby hands of his seem to be quite nimble. What about the chameleons who have tails that are incredible strong and agile. I wouldn't mind having a tail like that. Birds don't even need an opposable thumb, they can fly! Talk about an evolutionary survival mechanism, no need to beat the enemy, just flap your arms a few times and you're outside his reach! So all birds would have to do would be to continually invent better nests, starting with a more solid foundation, larger areas where more eggs could be fit, a roof so the rain would be harmless, etc. I can think up a lot of things birds could do to improve their living, using those little gray noggets of mine.

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Or you can always do it like people have done for millenia, by looking at the way animals live and asking why their way of life is so much worse than man.

I am not dismissing observation. Observation is, afterall, the starting place for all scientific induction, and I was assuming such observation in what I said. But observation of animal behavior does not in itself always lead to unequivocal conclusions, some facts which are not at all obvious. However, we remove any doubt as to the nature of behavior by the scientific investigation of the mechanisms and systems which underlie that behavior.

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What do you mean by "instinct"? A definition please, if you are not using the term the way Objectivists use it.

With that idea defined, what do you mean by "change their behavior in light of instinct"?

Are you saying that some nonhuman animals can change their own instincts? Or are you saying something else?

Perhaps a particular, verifiable example would make the issue clearer. Could you identify one?

What I'm saying is that some critters don't have instincts like other critters. Like Salmons have instincts to breed that are pretty over-whelming from what I've read. But a great ape like humans will breed whenever they want to. Dolphins are pretty similar in that regard. and I believe the African Grey Parrot is similar too but don't quote me on that. o_O

-- Bridget

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You are making the very common mistake of anthropomorphizing animal behavior. You first need to study the sensory-perceptual level and learn about the regulatory systems in a biological entity that function automatically and deterministically. An animal's awareness of the external world is just a survival mechanism that acts as input for regulatory control of motor activities, and it functions just as automatically and deterministically as any other regulatory system within its body.  The animal is guided by a pleasure-pain mechanism which along with its sensory-perceptual apparatus provides an automatic means to regulate behavior in service of the animal's life.

You can study your own conscious processes introspectively, but you must be careful about projecting these processes onto animals. The conceptual level of man is different in kind from anything else that exists in the animal kingdom, so if you want to understand animal behavior you have to study it scientifically, and the place to start is in understanding sensory-perceptual mechanisms and automatic regulatory systems.

The reason I'm still somewhat skeptical of what you are saying is that as far as I know studies of human biology/physiology have similar results. There are mechanistic/automatic models of various aspects of our bodies/minds. (How our eyes work, ears, neurons, etc) But we know we have volition based on our experience with our own minds (ie: you can observe your own mind, see it, then assume other people have volition also) As far as I know there are no experimental studies of people claiming to show they have volition. (I do not know that much about the field so maybe there is something to it other than mechanistic models of various aspects of our bodies/minds, that does take volition into account)

So if we can't experimentally detect volition in ourselves, and we can construct mechanistic models of many aspects of our own bodies/minds, then how does the fact that we can do this with animals rule out that they have volition?

At any rate I will look around in the field of Physiological Psychology. I had never heard of it before so thanks for letting me know about it. Maybe I will be convinced when I study it.

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I asked you for a definition of instinct. You replied:

What I'm saying is that some critters don't have instincts like other critters. Like Salmons have instincts to breed that are pretty over-whelming from what I've read. But a great ape like humans will breed whenever they want to. Dolphins are pretty similar in that regard. and I believe the African Grey Parrot is similar too but don't quote me on that. o_O

-- Bridget

You did not define instinct.

I will ask again: What is your definition of instinct? Please, by genus and differentia.

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The reason I'm still somewhat skeptical of what you are saying is that as far as I know studies of human biology/physiology have similar results. There are mechanistic/automatic models of various aspects of our bodies/minds.

The difference is that you cannot explain human behavior soley by these mechanisms, whereas animal behavior is thereby fully explained. That fact represents the difference between animals who function solely on the sensory-perceptual level, and human beings who, in a addition, possess a volitional consciousness.

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Stephen, you did not dismiss simple observation, and I did not dismiss scientific investigation :). We are simply proposing two sides of the same coin. You are suggesting that investigation of animals vs. man ought to be done with rigorous scientific experimentation, and I agree. But I made my point about simple observation to remind people that humans have known there is something in them that sets them above other animals for far longer than we have had the scientific method which is necessary to fully prove that conclusion.

Everything can be proven by science. Some things, however, are also so evidently apparent that they can be proven through a few simple steps; and this issue is one of such things, that was my whole point. We're on the same page here.

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Stephen, you did not dismiss simple observation, and I did not dismiss scientific investigation  :). We are simply proposing two sides of the same coin. You are suggesting that investigation of animals vs. man ought to be done with rigorous scientific experimentation, and I agree. But I made my point about simple observation to remind people that humans have known there is something in them that sets them above other animals for far longer than we have had the scientific method which is necessary to fully prove that conclusion.

True.

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I asked you for a definition of instinct. You replied:

You did not define instinct.

I will ask again: What is your definition of instinct? Please, by genus and differentia.

Any given general behavior happens to be not of cognition. Like salmon swimming up stream to breed, there's been no evidence to my knowledge that they have the capacity to think in the general terms we humans define thinking as. So that's my definition of instinct. But I defined it before you just didn't like it. Are you satistfied?

-- Bridget

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I asked for a definition of "instinct," a term you used earlier. Here is what you said in reply:

Any given general behavior happens to be not of cognition. Like salmon swimming up stream to breed, there's been no evidence to my knowledge that they have the capacity to think in the general terms we humans define thinking as. So that's my definition of instinct. But I defined it before you just didn't like it. Are you satistfied?

No, I am not satisfied. You have not provided a definition, unless the nonsensical first sentence is your idea of a definition. If so, what is the genus? What is the differentia?

Have you studied Ayn Rand's epistemology? Do you know how to form definitions?

The ungrammatical second sentence does appear to be an example of instinct -- in part. Why do you choose to write in such a garbled, ungrammatical style at some times but not at other times? What do you gain by doing so?

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The difference is that you cannot explain human behavior soley by these mechanisms, whereas animal behavior is thereby fully explained. That fact represents the difference between animals who function solely on the sensory-perceptual level, and human beings who, in a addition, possess a volitional consciousness.

Ok - I would find it convincing if we could completely and fully explain animal behavior by reference to various automatic systems. I have heard about various aspects of animal behavior explained by reference to such systems, but I have never heard anyone claim animal behavior is fully explained by them.

Could you describe what you mean by 'fully explained', or give a reference to an article or something explaining it? For instance can we put an animal in a certain environment, control aspects of the environment, and predict how it responds with complete accuracy? Or are there different experiments for each type of behavior, and it only undergoes certain types of behavior?

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One of the things I do not understand about Rand's writings is how she could claim that animals have no volition. Clearly they do not possess a conceptual conciousness like man's - the differences between their actions and ours are just too profound. And they would have to make use of symbols in a sophisticated manner like us which they clearly do not.

But why identify volition exclusively with the use of abstractions? After all I can often observe myself going for periods of time without conciously thinking about what I am doing, yet my actions still seem 'chosen'. For instance if I am jogging or washing dishes, I am volitionally choosing my actions even though I am not conciously thinking about them.

But why could they not possibly make choices between various concrete possibilities, both available to them in a given instant? For instance if a dog has a bowl of water in front of him as well as a bowl of food, how do you know he does not 'choose' to eat, drink or do neither?

I am not claiming to know that animals do have volition - I just don't see how you can rule it out.

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Ok - I would find it convincing if we could completely and fully explain animal behavior by reference to various automatic systems. I have heard about various aspects of animal behavior explained by reference to such systems, but I have never heard anyone claim animal behavior is fully explained by them.

Then do as I suggested before. Find almost any text on physiological psychology and read about it yourself.

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Any given general behavior happens to be not of cognition. Like salmon swimming up stream to breed, there's been no evidence to my knowledge that they have the capacity to think in the general terms we humans define thinking as. So that's my definition of instinct. But I defined it before you just didn't like it. Are you satistfied?

-- Bridget

I looked for your defintion of instinct. Could not find it. Are you sure you understand the concept of "definition"?

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Explain how animal behavior (completely deterministic supposedly) can EVOLVE into human choice (not at all determined apparently)

If language is an example of a conceptual faculty then the dynamic, generativeness and displacement of many animals' use of language would most certainly qualify them for abstraction and thus volition

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Explain how animal behavior (completely deterministic supposedly) can EVOLVE into human choice (not at all determined apparently)

Give me a few minutes to find the answer. Right now I am busy curing cancer. Should take another minute or so. Besides, you are the guy who told me I was being irresponsible by leaving it to others to cure death, and now you complicate my life with another problem to solve? Gee, I just can't win. :(

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If language is an example of a conceptual faculty then the dynamic, generativeness and displacement of many animals' use of language would most certainly qualify them for abstraction and thus volition

I fear you have watched one too many episodes of Mister Ed.

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Point of order, I told you that you should know that everyone is accountable for the fact that they are not working towards 'curing' death and that it should be at the top of everyone's list, if indeed life is as good as you say it is.

My point however, was that determinism is a comprehensive system- if a system is determined at time 0, you can't presume that it will become undetermined at time 1, much as you are positing with life. So either show me how we all 'grow a soul' or otherwise explain this instantaneous creation of material (either within the brain or wherever you are going to posit this volition lies)

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Point of order, I told you that you should know that everyone is accountable for the fact that they are not working towards 'curing' death and that it should be at the top of everyone's list, if indeed life is as good as you say it is.

Point of fact: you spoke to me of "a responsible behavior towards the problem of death." Anyway, I and others responded several months ago to you on your bizarre notion of life and death, but apparently it did not make any difference.

My point however, was that determinism is a comprehensive system- if a system is determined at time 0, you can't presume that it will become undetermined at time 1, much as you are positing with life.  So either show me how we all 'grow a soul' or otherwise explain this instantaneous creation of material (either within the brain or wherever you are going to posit this volition lies)

To disabuse you of your bizarre view of determinism seems as fruitless an effort as it was to spend time disabusing you of your bizarre view of life and death. But, regardless, if you deny the existence, right here and now, of something so blatantly obvious as a human volitional consciousness, then I for one could care less whether or not you ever understand from whence it came.

Incidentally, your login name on this forum was very aptly chosen.

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