Re: animals and humans (was "Evolution wars")

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Sat Dec 21 2002 - 08:32:51 EST

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    Adrian writes:
    > AT: What you wrote appears to support my argument for a clean
    > qualitative break between animals and humans. One chooses freely and
    > the other doesn't. Humans arrived on the scene suddenly, although
    > there were other human-like, but instinct driven creatures roaming
    > around.

    I'm not so certain that there is "a clean qualitative break between animals
    and humans. One chooses freely and the other doesn't." I can think of many
    instances when my dog Joshua has chosen freely. And I recall a presentation
    many years ago by a colleague of mine in Psychology relating a paper
    published by a former disciple of B. F. Skinner. He was thoroughly imbued
    with and trained in Skinnerian psychology and the method of positive
    reinforcement. An applied psychologist, he was once hired by a bank that
    was opening up a new branch in a major city. The bank wanted to put a
    display in their front window containing a pig and a piggy-bank. The
    bankers wanted this pyschologist to train the pig to pick up wooden nickels
    and drop them into the piggy-bank. There would be a painted barnyard
    backdrop and dirt, rocks, plants, etc., to give the scene verisimilitude.

         Well, the psychologist got to work, put the pig in the "barnyard," and
    began a training regiment with positive reinforcement. The training
    proceeded step by step: first getting the pig to pick up a wooden nickel,
    then to carry it to the piggy bank, then to drop it in. Every time the pig
    successfully concluded a step he would get a reward. The training seemed to
    be going well, for the pig started to drop these wooden nickels into the
    piggy-bank; then all of a sudden the plan started to go awry. It seemed
    that the pig developed a fondness for these wooden nickels, and decided to
    keep them for himself. Instead of putting them in the bank, he would bury
    them in the sand or hide them behind the rocks or plants. The rewards he
    was given became less important to him than these little wooden prizes.
    Nothing the pyschologist tried in order to get the pig with the program
    worked. The bank had to find another way to amuse potential customers, and
    the psychologist came to the conclusion that the pig had free will and that
    Skinner was wrong.

         I do not deny that animals in general are instinct-driven (as my dog
    is), but I think that one can make a case that in the evolutionary process
    some mammals at least have emerged that exhibit behaviors that arise from
    the animal freely choosing one course over another. Some primates,
    including great apes and chimpanzees exhibit behavior that is arguably
    self-reflective. Koko the gorilla (The Gorilla Foundation:
    communicates thoughts to humans that are clearly self-reflective, using a
    form of sign language for which she herself has invented signs to put
    together phrases and communicate feelings and desires. She hasn't uttered
    any philosophical or theological sentences (at least not yet), but she seems
    to have a moral sense and communicates moral judgments.

    Bob Schneider

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