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

From: Adrian Teo (
Date: Sat Dec 21 2002 - 16:47:57 EST

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    Hello Bob,

    There are clear limitations to Behavior modification that does not
    require a free will explanation. In fact, one of the strongest
    criticisms of Behaviorism is that it ignores completely biological
    nature. In studies of conditioning aversions, we know that even with
    animals, it is harder (and in some cases impossible) to condition
    aversion to certain objects, and much easier to condition fear and
    aversion to other objects (such as snakelike objects). It is not
    because these animals are exercising their free will, but that by
    nature, through evolutionary accumulations, they are biologically
    predisposed to develop fear and aversion to certain types of objects.

    I am also well aware of the primate language projects, but while
    advocates like Jane Gooding and others argue that they show evidence
    of compassion, morality, and even altruism, others like Marc Hauser
    (Harvard), Pinker (MIT), Kagan (Harvard) are extremely skeptical.
    One simply cannot know for sure if an animal who shares food is doing
    it out of compassion or a sense of justice, or simply acting under
    the powers of reciprocal altruism, social conditoning, or kin
    selection. It is extremely tempting to ascribe human emotions and
    thoughts to animals who behave like us, and as scientists, we have to
    extra careful and critical.


    -----Original Message-----
    From: Robert Schneider []
    Sent: Sat 12/21/2002 5:32 AM
    Subject: Re: animals and humans (was "Evolution wars")

            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

                 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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