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54270Re: [evol-psych]do animals 'know'?

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  • Andy Lock
    Jun 1, 2007
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      I'm more on Jay's side than Edgar's here (and thanks for the Lorenz 'lost ms' pointer, Jay).  However, while I see no grounds for crediting symbolic abilities to animals other than some hominoids, I would not wish to deny animal 'subjectivity', in the sense of their living in a perceptual world.  It does then become an interesting angle to begin asking: how do the sensations that animals have become organised into their perceptual worlds, and how are their perceptual worlds linked to the generation of appropriate activities.

      I've elaborated some of my thinking here in a lecture course I've just finished this week (Thank You, Lord!) which you can access at

      Lectures 12, 14 and 15 are the most central to these questions, but you are all welcome to look around at the others.

      12 begins with Nagel's classic paper 'what is it like to be a bat?'
      14 is all on George Herbert Mead and inter alia his distinction between significant and non-significant symbols as well as his 'perspective' arguments
      15 is a potted guide to Jacob von Uexkull's Umwelt argument (much of which can also be found in Koffka's 'Principles of Gestalt Psychology').  Jay will likely see this tack as unscientific, but my excuse is that I prefer an account that is adequate to articulating and understanding the problems that need to be addressed, rather than adequate to the dictates of 'science' which, as an objective, third-person standpoint, loses sight of the real problem.

      Lecture 4 introduces some ideas in evolutionary epistemology, and while I have pointed students mostly at Henry Plotkin, his debt is to Donald Campbell's seminal accounts , and Campbell quite explicitly traces his position through Lorenz back to Kant.

      Should anyone want to adopt or adapt these lectures for their own purposes, please ask me before downloading them willy-nilly.



      At 03:42 2/06/2007, you wrote:

      Edgar Owen: Yes, one can certainly describe animal actions with algorithms with some success. These are descriptions of behavior.
      Jay R. Feierman: The algorithms to which I referred are definitely not behavior. They are rules for processing information . They operate through a transducer (innate releasing mechanism), which generates a specific set of coordinated motor patterns in response to specific moods or specific sign stimuli. The algorithms influence both perceptual proclivities and behaviors.
      Edgar Owen: The question we are considering (and that you are not addressing) is what goes on within the animal's mind to produce that behavior.
      Jay R. Feierman: That is a romantic question for novelists, poets and writers of children's stories. It is as unanswerable a question as, "How many angels can dance on the dead of a pin"?
      Edgar Owen: If the algorithms do not address what goes on within the mind, that does not imply there is nothing going on.
      Jay R. Feierman: The "mind" is not an object of scientific study for neurophysiologists and neuroethologists, who are studying the proximate mechanisms of perceptual proclivities and behaviors in the brain.
      Edgar Owen: When a human gets hungry it goes to a restaurant, this tells us nothing about the actual mental process that results in that behavior.
      Jay R. Feierman: Which is why neurophysiologists and neurophysiologists study the brain and not the "mind."
      Edgar Owen: In simple terms, the mental process is that the human imagines a place where he can get food and imagines where that restaurant is located and imagines how to get there. All these things are symbols of the reality they represent.
      Jay R. Feierman: Can you define what you mean by "imagine" and also what you mean by a "symbol," as without knowing how you are defining these terms, I can not comment on what you are saying. The way that I define imagination and symbol, imagination is not a process which utilizes symbols except when one is imagining things in words, which are symbols with culturally attributed meaning. However, one can imagine a place where one can get food without using words. One can just have a graphic, visual image of a particular restaurant. Do you consider a visual image, such as a photograph of something, a symbol of the thing in the photograph? That would not be a symbol for me. The three lines "K" is a symbol for me, as is the Christian cross, etc.
      Edgar Owen: The human is thinking symbolically to decide on a course of action, and it is this which results in the behavior.
      Jay R. Feierman: If someone has had a stroke in their language areas of the brain, which destroys their ability to use symbolic human language, do you really believe that they cannot imagine going to a particular restaurant and then go to the restaurant to eat?
      Edgar Owen: Animals use exactly similar processes to solve real problems.
      Jay R. Feierman: Apart from the fact that "exactly similar" is an oxymoron, how do you know that? If an animal knows that a food source is always in a particular location and then the animal gets hungry away from the food source, the animal will go towards the food source. The animal has learned the location of the food source , which will satisfy its hunger. It recalls this from memory and then goes to the place, which is stored in its memory. Again, you have to define "imagination," as that is not a necessary step in the process in how I understand animal behavior.
      Edgar Owen: Remember the rule is we must always apply the same criteria to human and animal mentality.
      Jay R. Feierman: I don't know what you mean by "mentality," as that is a term that I never use. However, I have a rough idea what you mean by the term. As such, I don't agree that one must always try to understand non-human and human perceptual proclivities and behaviors by the same criteria. The reason is that humans have brain capacities which are not present in non-human animals. We, therefore need criteria for understanding human perceptual proclivities and behaviors which are not applicable to non-human animals.
      Edgar Owen: The lion imagines the prey likely to come to the waterhole at a particular time, so it goes there to find food.
      Jay R. Feierman: You should write children's stories.
      Edgar Owen: This imagination is obviously not sensory reality.
      Jay R. Feierman: Owen, one can understand the behavior of non-human animals without using the term "imagination." If you look in the journal, "Animal Behavior," you will not find a single article which uses the term "imagination" for understanding the behavior of non-human animals.
      Edgar Owen: Therefore it must be a symbol of such reality.
      Jay R. Feierman: Your first premise is not correct, so neither is what you draw from the premise. And, you need to define "symbol," as you are using the term.
      Edgar Owen: Therefore the lion is thinking symbolically and making a rational decision. There is absolutely no way around this conclusion.
      Jay R. Feierman: Again, you should write a children's story, "Leo the Lion."
      Edgar Owen: I fear it is you who are the romantic, as you seem wedded to some unrealistic quasi-religious view that human minds are intrinsically different than animals'.
      Jay R. Feierman: I would never say such a thing. The "mind" is not a concept I ever use in scientific parlance. However, human brains are intrinsically different from non-human brains just like vertebrate brains are intrinsically different from invertebrate brains.
      Edgar Owen: Few if any philosophers would mention Lorenz as having made any contributions to epistemology.
      Jay R. Feierman: That's because they don't understand Biology and reinterpreting aspects of Philosophy with Biology is threatening to them. Lorenz stated on numerous occasions that his elucidation of how a priori knowledge is acquired through natural selection is his single most important contribution to science. For that he was given Emanuel Kant's chair at University of Konigsberg and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, so I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss his discovery. It is monumental in the history of ideas and knowledge.
      Edgar Owen: The message of his 'Behind the Mirror' has more to do with his belief that knowledge gained from our senses must be accurate, since if it were not we could not survive.
      Jay R. Feierman: I suggest you read Behind the Mirror. That is not its central thesis. A priori knowledge, a term coined by Kant, was considered by philosophers (including Kant) to be knowledge that does not come from ones senses. Lorenz showed, nevertheless, how the capacity to have a priori knowledge evolved through natural selection. What was even more significant was that Lorenz realized how this could have occurred when he was a prisoner of war of the Russians in WWII. He wrote the manuscript on cement bags, partly with bird feathers dipped in berry juices. The manuscript, which had been lost for many years, was found after his death and published. See http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Science-Human-Species-Introduction/dp/0262621207/ref=sr_1_29/002-2460736-3843242?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1180710278&sr=1-29 .
      To join the Human Ethology Yahoo Group, go to http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/human-ethology/

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