Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Are Humans The Only Species That Can Conceptualize?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

I read by an Objectivist author that birds cannot conceptualize. Their intelligence and mental capabilities seem to have shown experiences of them forming conceptualizations, however. I'm not fully clear on what a concept is exactly so thats why I cant figure it out.

Also I want to ask the more vast question of if there are any species that can conceptualize besides humans?

Link to post
Share on other sites
I read by an Objectivist author that birds cannot conceptualize. Their intelligence and mental capabilities seem to have shown experiences of them forming conceptualizations, however.
I don't know what facts you're speaking of, so all I can say is that I don't see any evidence that birds (or any other animal) can conceptualise.
I'm not fully clear on what a concept is exactly so thats why I cant figure it out.
A brief explanation is here, on the Objectivism Wiki. The basic idea is that a concept has to do with man's unique ability to form hierarchical abstractions which are represented by a single symbol.
Link to post
Share on other sites

To answer that you have to examine what concepts are used for. If you are familiar with computer programming you will know that in modern languages there is a distinction between a 'class' or concept of an object and the object itself.

Most animals can only think and act directly with concrete objects, they cannot take the characteristics of an object to form an idea of an object in their mind.

If you can create a concept of an object in your mind then your thoughts no longer have to apply on one specific object but on a general idea of such an object. It goes even further when you want to link several concepts together. In this case you need concepts of a combination of concepts.

Take for example a box. As an object you see its specific size, form and color. Having a concept of a box in mind you will recognize the box by its form and ignore its size and color. If you put things in the box and carry the box around in order to carry the things you have put in the box around, too, requires you to know the concept of a box, its functions relative to the things you put into the box. So, as a concept, the box is no longer just a form, color and size, but it also has characteristics like the function as a container.

Many animals do understand certain concepts of things, like how a good (safe, warm etc.) sleeping place looks like. Many of these basic concepts are hardprogrammed, i.e. are no result from learning but from genetics. There the main function of the brain is merely to execute and adapt these concepts and not to create new concepts by combining known concepts.

There are some animals who are able to create concepts of combinations of concepts, for example apes are able to think and solve basic problems, like stapling crates to reach the banana hanging from the ceiling. Why? Because they can create a concept of the crates and solve the problem by adding up the characteristic 'when I stand on a crate I am a little taller' to a small tower.

An animal which is not able to create combination of concepts will at best try each of the crates seperately to reach the banana and fail.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I found this segment on Wiki with the title called Conceptual Skills(of birds):

"Some birds, notably pigeons, have demonstrated the ability to conceptualize. In one study, conducted at Harvard in 1964, it was shown that pigeons have a general concept of "human," which includes male humans and female humans, individual body parts, and the human body from the back, from below, and from above. When shown photographs of all of the above, the pigeons recognized the photos as "human." They also recognized photographs of human beings in "disguise" (i.e, a human in the nude, wearing strange clothes, or shown out of proportion).

Another study conducted with pigeons showed that the birds were able to distinguish between the artworks of different artists. For example, they could tell the difference between a Picasso and a Monet."

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

Is this an example of conceptualizations or are they mistaken? Also, can you give me examples of concepts to help me further understand the word.

Edited by konerko14
Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't know the answer to the original question but it does seem to be a scientific question rather than a philosophical one. It could be of philosophical relevance if it were discovered that an animal species had conceptual abilities similar to those of humans, and in particular the ability to reason. We would then have to consider what rights such a species might have; possibly the same as humans.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It could be of philosophical relevance if it were discovered that an animal species had conceptual abilities similar to those of humans, and in particular the ability to reason. We would then have to consider what rights such a species might have; possibly the same as humans.

It seems to me that birds are seen as at the bottom of the hierarchy in Objectivist Epistemology. Didn't Rand refer to the inability to go beyond the number of 3 as crow-epistemology? Hm. I wonder what this would actually mean in regards to "smarter" animals like dogs or pigs. This also reminds me of this report I've once seen on a parrot who was capable of simple calculations and deductions. But I'll have to research to find it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It seems to me that birds are seen as at the bottom of the hierarchy in Objectivist Epistemology. Didn't Rand refer to the inability to go beyond the number of 3 as crow-epistemology? Hm. I wonder what this would actually mean in regards to "smarter" animals like dogs or pigs. This also reminds me of this report I've once seen on a parrot who was capable of simple calculations and deductions. But I'll have to research to find it.

I've seen a couple birds and horses that could do basic addition and subtraction. I think animals can form concepts (I think any creature with a BRAIN does), but I think those concepts are limited to the intelligence and anatomy of the animal. i.e. if a dog comes to a wall, it has several options that it can come to. It can; dig under the wall, try and jump the wall, try and go around the wall, or just go back the way it came. I also think it requires concept forming to learn (even on smaller levels) basic commands or actions.

Link to post
Share on other sites
In one study, conducted at Harvard in 1964, it was shown...
We will have to see the actual publication (just say no to Wikipedia, whose founder is variously reported to be dead or alive, depending on which version you read). The experimental details are vital, since this sweeping conclusion which is reported by Dr. Who? on Wikipedia doesn't provide the evidence. The important questions are, "can pigeons correctly identify various individuals as instances of 'human'?" and "can pigeons correctly identify various humans as instances of 'human'?". Concept formation involves both integration and differentiation, and if they cannot actually tell that Jones is a different being from Smith, then they don't really have a "concept". So there are many questions about the text that have to be raised. Not the least of which is, what famous psychologist was at Harvard and presumably oversaw these experiments in the early 60's; and how much unwarranted overgeneralization did he engage in?

The standard puzzle-solving = intelligence = conceptualization assumption that animophiles typically engage in is wrong. The question is not whether animals bumble around randomly acting and sometimes succeeding at something. Do any animals have symbolic representations? No. I don't care how clever a cow is at identifying kinds of grass or artists, they don't have symbolic cognition.

Also, can you give me examples of concepts to help me further understand the word.
Most words. "Dog", "cat", "cow", "mammal", "bird", "fish", "animal" would all be examples.

Objectivism does pertain to science, in the sense that it has epistemological tools that are required to do science; but the question you're asking isn't philosophical. I'm giving you a scientific evaluation, not a philosophical one.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think in cases such as the pidgeon,(assuming it is valid) it is important to differentiate between recognition abilities and conceptual abilities. Animals of all types can certainly recognize objects, human and otherwise. That does not neccessarily imply conceptualization. Even if they could distinguish smith from jones, it could be a recognition and memory process rather then conceptualization.

I think a valid test for conceptual abilities would require abstraction to at least one level above precepts. So for example, they would have to not just recognize humans as humans, but also be able to know that they are mammals with certain similiarities to other mammals. And really, I think conceptualization is probably an either/or thing. You either have it or you don't and if you do you should also be able to follow a concept up or down conceptually. To use Rand's furniture example, a single chair to concept chair to concept furniture to manmade objects should be an easily tracable path for a conceptual creature. To actually hold a concept like furniture, you would need to be aware that it included all kinds simultaneously-desks,tables,etc. Also it would be neccessary to apply it in principal to any other group of objects or group of abstractions. This ability is what makes it possible for humans and not pidgeons to invent computers and visit moons.

What am I am still unsure of is whether or not it is a different kind of mental ability or a different quantity of mental ability. Any neuroscientists on the list?

It seems to me that birds are seen as at the bottom of the hierarchy in Objectivist Epistemology. Didn't Rand refer to the inability to go beyond the number of 3 as crow-epistemology?

The crow refers to an experiment involving crows that is referenced in OPAR. I do not think it implied that they were near the bottom intelligencewise. They just happened to be the subject of the experiment.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I think a valid test for conceptual abilities would require abstraction to at least one level above precepts.
Especially good would be relational concepts, such as "between", "smaller", "darker"; or, cardinality relations like "4" as in "the collection of 4 {seeds, nails, corks...}" as distinct from "the collection of 5 {seeds, nails, corks...}" or "the collection of 3 {seeds, nails, corks...}".

The point of Smith vs. Jones is that if pigeons just perceive a generalised "human shape", and cannot tell that Smith is not the same as Jones, then they aren't subsuming multiple units under one higher unit (concept), so this would be "fake generalization".

Link to post
Share on other sites
Especially good would be relational concepts, such as "between", "smaller", "darker"; or, cardinality relations like "4" as in "the collection of 4 {seeds, nails, corks...}" as distinct from "the collection of 5 {seeds, nails, corks...}" or "the collection of 3 {seeds, nails, corks...}".

This is what the parrot I talked about could do.

Link to post
Share on other sites
This is what the parrot I talked about could do.

I don't know if this applies to parrots but with horses who could alledgedly count, I think it turned out that they were responding to different ticks that their trainers possessed. For example, when the horse starts counting with its hoof, for 2+1, it goes until 3 at which point the trainer and the people around react to the number 3, then it stops counting.

I would be curious to read about the parrot experiments. If it is not double blind then I'd be surprised if their successes could not be traced to something similiar.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Alex? I'm skeptical. If you'd like to make the case, though, I'm willing to take the argument seriously. Let's start with a scientific publication.

Okay, deal! This looks promising to me since I will at last get a firm grasp of Objectivist Epistemology and of reason as the basis of rights. So even if I'm wrong, I'll learn a lot.

A quick Google search led me to the Alex foundation where I found two scientific papers, which are - unfortunately - rather worthless for our purposes. An online search at my university's library showed no results, but I can get Pepperberg's book "The Alex Studies" sent to me from another library for 1.50€, which is something I would do. (They say on the site that it will take about two weeks until I get the book, however)

If you know a good online source for publications, I would be glad if you would let me know.

Link to post
Share on other sites
A quick Google search led me to the Alex foundation where I found two scientific papers, which are - unfortunately - rather worthless for our purposes.
You've really identified the core problem. I actually welcome this challenge; I know the sins of the ape-language people, and especially how they have been solidly resistant to scientific criticism, and the parrot-folks are even less scientifically credible. If you are interested, Laura Petitto has been active in the debunking business (which seems to be a dead enterprise, now that the claims have been debunked). The foundational review article is Seidenberg, M.S. & Petitto, L.A. (1979). "Signing behavior in apes: A critical review". Cognition,7, 177-215. This is a standard "you need to answer these objections" paper that the animal-nuts never squarely address although they nibble around the edges. You can probably get this paper easily from your library, and it will suggest lots of vital methodological issues that almost certainly were ignored.
Link to post
Share on other sites

Nobody answered yet what would be the sounds/words/physical gestures that represent these so called bird concepts. Without one of the above whatever it is they might be doing it cannot by definition of a "concept" be conceptual reasoning. So this is in fact a philosophical issue if it can be shown that these birds communicate using some sort of symbolic language which would of course be shown scientifically, but no evidence has been presented for such symbolic representation which MUST be presented first before any discussion involving avian conceptual faculties can be meaningfully discussed either philosophically or scientifically.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Nobody answered yet what would be the sounds/words/physical gestures that represent these so called bird concepts. Without one of the above whatever it is they might be doing it cannot by definition of a "concept" be conceptual reasoning. So this is in fact a philosophical issue if it can be shown that these birds communicate using some sort of symbolic language which would of course be shown scientifically, but no evidence has been presented for such symbolic representation which MUST be presented first before any discussion involving avian conceptual faculties can be meaningfully discussed either philosophically or scientifically.

On this note, what about horses (which is where most of my experience lies). Some horses may like one person, or even one horse over another. Each horse knows the difference between me, my mother, my father, my wife and acts accordingly. (i.e. there are things that my horse Cris, knows he can get away with with me, but not my wife). For the longest time, no one could even touch my mother's horse (except her) as he would, basically, try to kill anyone else. He's calmed down in his old age (26 now...yikes) but he still carries preferences. I would think that if a horse goes through the effort to pin his ears back/try to kick one person, but not another...that would be concept forming.

The same would be true of dogs and cats (who can recognize their owners from strangers and will react differently even to different strangers).

Now, I can't speak for birds (other than maybe chickens, which I used to have) and their recognition faculty, but I suspect it would probably be, more or less, the same within a limited grasp of their interactions with humans.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I would think that if a horse goes through the effort to pin his ears back/try to kick one person, but not another...that would be concept forming.
I don't see that. Concept-formation involves integration (of multiple units), differentiation (multiple units must be recognised), measurement omission (abstraction from the specific non-essential properties of the particular concretes, and symbolic representation -- not just the ability to perform in a particular way on behavioral tests, but actual ability to mentally represent an open-ended class with a symbol. This latter part is most obviously beyond the capability of non-humans; claims about the other cognitive aspects are also commonly overblown.
Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't see that. Concept-formation involves integration (of multiple units), differentiation (multiple units must be recognised), measurement omission (abstraction from the specific non-essential properties of the particular concretes, and symbolic representation -- not just the ability to perform in a particular way on behavioral tests, but actual ability to mentally represent an open-ended class with a symbol. This latter part is most obviously beyond the capability of non-humans; claims about the other cognitive aspects are also commonly overblown.

You may need to break that down a little further for me...since I didn't understand a .25 of that. (remember, i'm a drummer). I know that Horses/dogs/cats can do the first two you listed, but I don't think I understand the measurement omission part. I CAN tell you that a Horse/dog/cat CAN tell the difference between me and you, another person from another person, and even species from species. I can't really speak about measurement omission until I understand it more.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I CAN tell you that a Horse/dog/cat CAN tell the difference between me and you, another person from another person, and even species from species.
Where is the evidence that horses, dogs or cats understand the unity of the species "cat", "dog", "man", "squirrel"? What facts are you pointing to that show that prove this?

If you take the concept "man", that subsumes any number of concretes, like for example all of the people in Houston. They come in many sizes and colors, which are "measurements". Since not all men are the same height, shape, color, then these aren't essential attributes of the concept "man", and they are omitted. Measurement omission refers to leaving out the details which are not essential to the concept.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Where is the evidence that horses, dogs or cats understand the unity of the species "cat", "dog", "man", "squirrel"? What facts are you pointing to that show that prove this?

If you take the concept "man", that subsumes any number of concretes, like for example all of the people in Houston. They come in many sizes and colors, which are "measurements". Since not all men are the same height, shape, color, then these aren't essential attributes of the concept "man", and they are omitted. Measurement omission refers to leaving out the details which are not essential to the concept.

Generally, how they act towards said creature. I don't have a bunch of SCIENTIFIC evidence, I just have personal observations. A horse knows the difference between a dog and human (by nature that the horse might approach the human for food, and run from the dog...being a natural predator). I'll try to pull up some sites that might offer insight. Besides, it seems you're suggesting (I could be wrong) that animals have no cognitive skills whatsoever. Basic concept forming MUST exist for cognitive skills to exist (otherwise there's no purpose in them.) How does an herbivore know to avoid poisonous plants without having some form of recognition (via measurements - shape, size, smell, sound)? How does my dog know the difference between all three of his toy bones (the tennis ball bone...his rubber bone....his spiky bone...). How does a horse know the difference between hay and straw? They must have, at least, BASIC concept forming.

http://www.acoustics.org/press/150th/Bee.html

reference site

Memory in Monkeys

More info

Hopefully, some of this stuff might shed some light on it (or create more confusion...)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Basic concept forming MUST exist for cognitive skills to exist (otherwise there's no purpose in them.) How does an herbivore know to avoid poisonous plants without having some form of recognition (via measurements - shape, size, smell, sound)?
I understand the problem now. Peikoff's book OPAR and Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology will provide a much more details overview of Objectivist epistemology and I highly recommend that you read them; however, the brief answer is that you're not speaking of "concepts", as Rand identified them. You're basically asking an evolutionary / purposive question -- why does man have a conceptual faculty, more specifically, what sequence of evolutionary events gave rise to the conceptual faculty as a specialized aspect of consciousness. Of course, we have no idea -- all we know is that it did happen. You appear to equate "consciousness" with "having a conceptual faculty", which is wrong, in that the two terms are defined differently. You are also conflating the issue of innateness and conceptualism: much animal knowledge is innate but no human knowledge is. No doubt the loss of innate knowledge is connected to the rise of the conceptual faculty (at the very least, the conceptual faculty renders innate knowledge superfluous).

On the lower end (lower than planaria), I don't have a clear enough understanding of "cognition" to know whether there are any non-cognitive animals. Sponges might be an example. Otherwise, I think all animals have cogition. But your arguments don't address the question of concept-formation, they only address the question of whether animals have cognition.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...