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54259Re: [evol-psych] kin selection suicide->do animals 'know'?

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  • Jay R. Feierman
    May 31, 2007
      Edgar Owen: Rough and oversimplified explanations are as follows: a priori knowledge is independent of experience, while a posteriori knowledge is dependent on experience."
      Jay R. Feierman: (Sorry for the size difference in some of the sentences. I couldn't fix it when I cut and pasted.)
      Konrad Lorenz won the Nobel Prize in 1973 for showing that a priori knowledge requires phylogenetic experience to have evolved, even though ontogenetic experience is not necessary to use it. See http://www.amazon.com/Behind-Mirror-Natural-History-Knowledge/dp/0844662127/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-2460736-3843242?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1180674108&sr=1-1
      Edgar Owen: The problem with your use of these terms here is that there is active dispute as to how they apply even in humans (whether for example a priori knowledge is even possible in humans), so it greatly muddles the issue of how humans and animals think. So I suggest we drop the a priori and a posteriori terminology.
      Jay R. Feierman: Read Lorenz's Behind the Mirror and you will retract that suggestion.
      Edgar Owen: The essence of your argument I think is that animals don't/can't think symbolically but humans can. This is clearly incorrect precisely because to act effectively animals must be able to imagine states that do not yet exist, and condition their behavior on such imagined states.
      Jay R. Feierman: That's not the same as "thinking symbolically," where a symbol has an assigned meaning. Also, you are romanticizing and anthropomorphizing non-human animals when you say that they "must be able to imagine states that do not yet exist and condition their behavior on such imagined states." That is not how ethologists understand animal behavior.
      Edgar Owen: For example, the lion imagines the prey is likely to run in a certain direction, or to come to a certain waterhole to drink, and decides its behavior on this basis.
      Jay R. Feierman: You are a romantic! The lion and the prey are both governed by ancient, well studied algorithms ,which determine their respective behaviors. To "imagine" is a level of cognitive awareness and information processing that is present in humans. Attributing such higher cognitive capabilities to lions is highly speculative and beyond our current scientific ability to do. And, it is unnecessary to do this. The behavior of the lion has been shaped by and is predictable by the behavior of the prey and the behavior of the prey has been shaped by and is predictable by the behavior of the lion.
      Edgar Owen: The imagined state is the symbol of the real state, therefore the lion must be thinking symbolically.
      Jay R. Feierman: That presumes that the lion is imagining what the prey will do rather than just reacting to ancient, inborn algorithms depending on what the prey actually does. Also, states only exist in one form. When the form changes, so does the state. Therefore, an imagined state would have to be static, which it is not. In the real world when we have referents to which we culturally assign a meaning, the meaning is fixed. If the imagined state for a lion were (raw) filet mignon of wildebeest, that is not a symbol of the grazing, yet to be consumed wildebeest. It is simply a yet to be ingested part of the wildebeest. Therefore, I don't accept that the imagined state of the lion is a symbol of the real state, which is a moot point, as I'm not conceding that imagination has to be employed at all in understanding lion behavior. That is simply an unnecessary accessory, like leather seats.
      Edgar Owen: It is quite clear such symbolic thought is absolutely required to account for the obvious animal behavior of choosing between non-actual future alternatives.
      Jay R. Feierman: I don't believe there is evidence that animals, other than humans, choose between non-actual, future alternatives.
      Edgar Owen: If animals did not think symbolically, we would expect non-survivable near random behavior.
      Jay R. Feierman: Animals react to particular sign stimuli, which are representative of larger entities, such as when a gull pecks at a spot or a bird puts food in a gaping beak. However, the spot or the beak are not symbols of the whole animal. They are simply parts of the whole animal, which natural selection uses to initiate an adaptive behavior. One way of knowing that something is a symbol is that one needs some sort of outside information to know the meaning of the symbol. That's not the case with the gull's reaction to a spot or a bird's reaction to a gaping beak. These are just parts of the whole. The same can be said of the parts of the human female which human males find attractive to look at. They are not symbols. They are simply parts. Non-human animals often behave in reaction to information that is contained in parts of the whole. However, again, these parts of the whole are not symbols.
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