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Do animals have volition?

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A concept like non-existence is far beyond the grasp of arguably the second most intelligent species on the planet. So without understanding the real meaning of the fundemental alternative that living creatures face, they are not capable of volition, almost by definition.

They may not understand death, but they know they want to avoid situations where they feel fear.

I found an interesting study/observation done by some biologists that explain more in-depth the communication system of the primate, vervets. Here:

"A vervet gave one call when it saw a snake. Other members of the troupe then stood on their hind legs and scanned the ground. A second type of call always followed the sighting of a leopard. Other members of the troupe immediately climbed to the smallest branches of nearby trees, safe from the heavy leopard. Lastly, a vervet called yet a third way when it saw a martial eagle cruising the sky. Clinging to the outer branches of a tree, or standing tall in the grass would leave the monkeys vulnerable to this attack. Instead they climbed the tree, but stayed near the trunk, deep in the tree, or alternatively dove into dense bushes."

This shows that vervets understand a few distinct sounds that represent concepts. The first sound is a concept for 'scan the ground', the second sound is a concept for 'go to a small branch', and the third is a concept for 'climb to bottom of tree'. These are not just emotive responses. The vervets understand the situation and then choose to go to the appropriate location. If this isnt volition, what is it?

http://acp.eugraph.com/monkey/index.html

Edited by BaseballGenius
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They may not understand death, but they know they want to avoid situations where they feel fear.

I found an interesting study/observation done by some biologists that explain more in-depth the communication system of the primate, vervets. Here:

"A vervet gave one call when it saw a snake. Other members of the troupe then stood on their hind legs and scanned the ground. A second type of call always followed the sighting of a leopard. Other members of the troupe immediately climbed to the smallest branches of nearby trees, safe from the heavy leopard. Lastly, a vervet called yet a third way when it saw a martial eagle cruising the sky. Clinging to the outer branches of a tree, or standing tall in the grass would leave the monkeys vulnerable to this attack. Instead they climbed the tree, but stayed near the trunk, deep in the tree, or alternatively dove into dense bushes."

This shows that vervets understand a few distinct sounds that represent concepts. The first sound is a concept for 'scan the ground', the second sound is a concept for 'go to a small branch', and the third is a concept for 'climb to bottom of tree'. These are not just emotive responses. The vervets understand the situation and then choose to go to the appropriate location. If this isnt volition, what is it?

http://acp.eugraph.com/monkey/index.html

Not that I necessarily believe this, but couldn't the response be instinctual as opposed to volitional?

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How do you know that this is a choice?

I know she makes a choice not to eat certain things because every morning I feed her and she eats, except for foods/brands she doesn't like ie; the kind without gravy. Do you think she is not hungry only on mornings i run out of wet food?

Whats also interesting is when her brother gets locked in the closet, for example, she will come downstairs...meow to me and run up to the closet for me to open it. He may have been meowing and I didn't hear it. (yes, I am trained) Seriously, there is a form of understanding, (remy is trapped in the closet and crying) and communicating or knowing to find me. I don't know if this process is human like but there is some type of processing happening.

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They may not understand death, but they know they want to avoid situations where they feel fear.

I found an interesting study/observation done by some biologists that explain more in-depth the communication system of the primate, vervets. Here:

...

This shows that vervets understand a few distinct sounds that represent concepts. The first sound is a concept for 'scan the ground', the second sound is a concept for 'go to a small branch', and the third is a concept for 'climb to bottom of tree'. These are not just emotive responses. The vervets understand the situation and then choose to go to the appropriate location. If this isnt volition, what is it?

http://acp.eugraph.com/monkey/index.html

I read several of those articles. They were very interesting, but I did not see any explanation of causation. Schools of fish also seem to communicate danger, almost telepathically, as evidenced by how a school will swim away from danger simultaneously. But again, the causation is not understood.

With the primates, their language is still stuck at these first level concepts. They are able to identify particular objects, but that is not the same as an abstraction. It is not removed from perceptual reality by any steps. They could for example learn to identify a chair and maybe with enough training associate it with a particular sound. But then try to teach them what furniture is. Or even better, try to teach them that thay endowed by their creator with an inalienable right to pursue their happiness. Their enjoying a banana does not imply understanding of that right or from where it is claimed to be derived.

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I know she makes a choice not to eat certain things because every morning I feed her and she eats, except for foods/brands she doesn't like ie; the kind without gravy.
Okay, well, I've got a hammer here, and I've put it on the table. Then every time I push it to the edge of the table and beyond, it falls to the floor. Every time! Do you conclude that the hammer choses to fall? Suppose an electron and positron (d'oh, not photon) mutually self-destruct: do they chose to self-destruct? I suggest you examine the concept "choose" and other causal concepts, and explain what you think justifies calling the actions of your cat, or my hammer, a "choice".

Yes, there is some kind of process happening. Why do you call it a choice?

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That's not a very constructive question. How do you know anything is ever a choice?
That's not a very constructive question. You're effectively denying that the concept "choice" even exists, which you know isn't true. What you should do, instead, is identify clear referents of the concept, and try to identify what they have in common. What is it that you are integrating when you integrate this and that concrete situations into the concept "choice"? What are you excluding? Then show why the concept should be applied to cats and hammers.
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Okay, well, I've got a hammer here, and I've put it on the table. Then every time I push it to the edge of the table and beyond, it falls to the floor. Every time! Do you conclude that the hammer choses to fall? Suppose an electron and positron (d'oh, not photon) mutually self-destruct: do they chose to self-destruct? I suggest you examine the concept "choose" and other causal concepts, and explain what you think justifies calling the actions of your cat, or my hammer, a "choice".

Yes, there is some kind of process happening. Why do you call it a choice?

Ii don't push my cat away from the bowl. You are pushing the hammer.

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Ii don't push my cat away from the bowl. You are pushing the hammer.
How does that matter? You are putting the food in front of the cat. If icicles form on my roof and fall off eventually, with me doing nothing about it, does that mean that they chose to fall? I just don't understand how your answers tell me anything about the concept of choice.
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How does that matter? You are putting the food in front of the cat. If icicles form on my roof and fall off eventually, with me doing nothing about it, does that mean that they chose to fall? I just don't understand how your answers tell me anything about the concept of choice.

First let me say that I'm not saying it is a choice, but that it seems like a choice.

Icicles falling would involve gravity and melting. My cat sits and eats every morning...except with food she doesn't seem to like. I don't just give the same brand so I would conclude that she surmises, decides, instincts, insert word, that its not favorable. If its a preference wouldn't that involve a choice of some sort.

The cat would have to surmise that its not what is usually in the bowl, she would have to recognize it's different. If that "logic" can only be attributed to smell or pattern it still is a recognition of difference.

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If that "logic" can only be attributed to smell or pattern it still is a recognition of difference.
Alright, but there is a vast difference between being able to recognize a difference and actually having a volition, conceptual consciousness. That is where humans and animals differ: that humans symbolically represent concretes in their minds and can organize those symbols in into groups -- concepts. Any being with a nervous system, and quite a number of machines, can distinguish certain things. What matters is how they do it. Cats react on the basis of a physical pain / pleasure mechanism.
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Alright, but there is a vast difference between being able to recognize a difference and actually having a volition, conceptual consciousness. That is where humans and animals differ: that humans symbolically represent concretes in their minds and can organize those symbols in into groups -- concepts. Any being with a nervous system, and quite a number of machines, can distinguish certain things. What matters is how they do it. Cats react on the basis of a physical pain / pleasure mechanism.

Volitional Science will also profoundly change the world. It will make it possible to design a social structure in accord with the laws of nature.

Of all the things that make up this universe, only an infinitesimally small percentage, as far as we have observed, contains life’. Some forms of life, such as viruses and germs, appear to have no consciousness. Many forms of life have consciousness but no volition. A sunflower, for example, will follow the path of the sun by turning itself to face the sun. Certain types of cells will locomote themselves from darkness to nearby light. Such reaction requires a consciousness of the environment. However, neither those conscious cells nor the conscious sunflower can decide for itself, "Today I don’t feel like doing anything. I’ll just let the light or sun go by and I’m not going to move." To make a decision like that requires a much higher level of consciousness; it requires volition.

[Note: By "Life" I mean a thing containing DNA and/or RNA. By "consciousness" I mean a thing containing DNA and/or RNA that demonstrates awareness of its environment.]

Many animals have volition but none has as much rationality as man does. When a high degree of volition is coupled with a high degree of rationality, things like books, automobiles and antibiotics come into existence

here is the site http://www.bridgetofreedom.com/Index.htm

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[Note: By "Life" I mean a thing containing DNA and/or RNA. By "consciousness" I mean a thing containing DNA and/or RNA that demonstrates awareness of its environment.]

This definition (or even description) of life and consciousness is highly flawed. Dead bacteria contain DNA, yet they are most certainly not alive by any standards. Technically speaking we could even call a test-tube with some DNA in it alive, using your definitions. I don't mean to be rude, but defining something by using non-essentials is not a good way to get more knowledge about the world.

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Choices? Well, my dog likes to come to my room when I get home from work. She gets on the bed and either lies there or plays with a stuffed animal. She also likes to bark at anyone who walks past the house. If I get home when someone is passing by, she will try to come with me, got back to barking, move closer to the door, go bark some more, come closer, go barking, and so on until I either carry her in, or people stop passing by the house. If I just go in, she stays and barks, but by then there is no choice anymore.

I think this clearly illustrates she doesn't understand she has a choice or that she must make one. She always tries to do both things at once.

Now, if I offer her two different foods, she'll take the one she likes best every time; then she'll try to eat the other unless I put it away. If I offer her only one kind of food and she doesn't like it, she'll let it go uneaten until 1) someone elsee feeds her something else or, 2) she gets hungry enough.

Is she making a choice, or doing what she feels like doing? I favor the latter.

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My cat sits and eats every morning...except with food she doesn't seem to like.

(emphasis mine)

I've noticed that the personification of animals is something that is often aggrivated by ignorance. That is, ignorance of how the animal's instincts actually work. The Dog Whisperer is a great show for understanding how dogs really work, and I think would help out with this sort of mistake.

Anyhow, also notice that an animal having an instinct to eat or not eat a given food ("like" it) does not equal choice. I don't like fish; this is an automatic response of my body to the taste and smell of fish. My volition doesn't enter into it. I don't have to exercise it in the least when I'm not liking fish. Similarly, when your cat "likes" or "dislikes" a food, this also does not require volition.

How is one supposed to prove animals have volition?

First, take something that does have volition and prove that that does. Then apply the same method to an animal.

I suppose that would be the responsibility of the animals. :)

Heh, I like that.

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To have volition means you are able to think, or use reason. Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses. I found an example of a certain fish species that fits this description:

"Stanford University scientists made the discovery—said to be the first demonstration that fish can use logical reasoning to figure out their social pecking order—by studying fights among small, highly territorial, spiny-finned fish called cichlids, common in freshwater in tropical Africa, including in Lake Tanganyika in central Africa.

Logan Grosenick, a graduate student in statistics, and his colleagues found that a sixth fish could infer or learn indirectly which were the 1st through 5th strongest simply by observing fights among them in adjacent, transparent tanks, rather than by directly fighting each fish itself or seeing each fish fight all four others."

http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/070...ish_brains.html

These fish are showing they identify and integrate the material provided by their senses, and therefore means they are using reason. The use of reason means you have volition.

By the way, theres a thread on this topic already: http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...amp;hl=volition

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To have volition means you are able to think, or use reason.

This is not correct. Volition is the capacity to make choices while concious of alternative choices you could have made. They are not synonymous in the way you suggest.

Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses.

This is accurate.

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I found an example of a certain fish species that fits this description:

From the same article:

Anthropomorphizing animals, or casting human intentions on them, is a mistake, Grosenick said, but it's a philosophical matter as to whether the cichlids' ability to infer rankings is the same as similar reasoning in humans.

"They are making correct logical inferences on an abstract representation of their world, which would usually be called 'reasoning' in humans," he said.

Biologist Russell D. Fernald, one of Grosenick's colleagues on the study, said that fish thinking is very different from that of humans.

"The capacity shown here is a necessary precondition for reasoning, but having this capacity does not mean these fish actually reason or do any other specific logical tasks," he told LiveScience.

The fact that they demonstrate a behaviour does not provide enough information to determine causation or mental process. If I weighed 110 lbs and was deciding if I wanted to fight a guy who weighed 120 or 260, I'd probably choose the guy who weighed 120 even if I had not seen them fight. I am not familiar with these fish but it could be any number of sensory based factors which would cause them to be more or less intimidated by the stronger fish. Things as seeming inocuous as color patterns can even play a role. This is why anthropomorphizing is such a dangerous habit. Without the ability to communicate abstract thoughts, we have no insight into their mental process.

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Volition is the capacity to make choices while concious of alternative choices you could have made.

How can a person determine this in animals? Its easy to figure out with humans because we have our own mind to analyze and also are able to have complex conversations with other humans. But how exactly do you prove animals understand there are alternative choices or not?

The fact that they demonstrate a behaviour does not provide enough information to determine causation or mental process. If I weighed 110 lbs and was deciding if I wanted to fight a guy who weighed 120 or 260, I'd probably choose the guy who weighed 120 even if I had not seen them fight. I am not familiar with these fish but it could be any number of sensory based factors which would cause them to be more or less intimidated by the stronger fish. Things as seeming inocuous as color patterns can even play a role.

Yes, the fishs' behavior could be based solely on perceptual data, but how can a person determine if it is based on this or if it is an act of volition?

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Alright, but there is a vast difference between being able to recognize a difference and actually having a volition, conceptual consciousness. That is where humans and animals differ: that humans symbolically represent concretes in their minds and can organize those symbols in into groups -- concepts. Any being with a nervous system, and quite a number of machines, can distinguish certain things. What matters is how they do it. Cats react on the basis of a physical pain / pleasure mechanism.

“By consciousness I simply mean those subjective states of awareness or sentience that begin when one wakes in the morning and continue throughout the period that one is awake until one falls into a dreamless sleep, into a coma, or dies or is otherwise, as they say, unconscious. [This comes from Searle 1990; there is a much longer attempt along the same lines in his 1992, p. 83ff.]”

I will argue that this sort of pointing is flawed because it points to too many things, too many different consciousnesses.

So how should we point to P-consciousness? Well, one way is via rough synonyms. As I said, P-consciousness is experience. P-conscious properties are experiential properties. P-conscious states are experiential states; that is, a state is P-conscious just in case it has experiential properties. The totality of the experiential properties of a state are “what it is like" to have it. Moving from synonyms to examples, we have P-conscious states when we see, hear, smell, taste and have pains. P-conscious properties include the experiential properties of sensations, feelings and perceptions.

I know animals don't wake up in the morning and say "I'm alive" but can they have an animal version of consciousness. Are all the arrows just pointing to instinct?

http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty...idged%20BBS.htm

Edited by Alessa36
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