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

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Sat Dec 21 2002 - 20:18:38 EST

  • Next message: Jim Armstrong: "RE: Evolution wars"

    Hi, Adrian,

         You write: "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."

         I agree that one must guard against the pathetic fallacy, but that
    doesn't mean that we should dismiss any emotion expressed by an animal that
    reminds us of human emotions as merely a biological predisposition, as if
    our own emotions did not have a biological component. I think the argument
    may stem on whether there is a continuum between emotions expressed by some
    animals and those expressed by humans. I was not predisposed to believe,
    and I have given up believing, that there is a clean break between humans
    and other mammalian species in this respect.

    Christmas Blessings,

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Adrian Teo" <>
    To: "Robert Schneider" <>; <>
    Sent: Saturday, December 21, 2002 4:47 PM
    Subject: RE: animals and humans (was "Evolution wars")

    > 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
    > 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.
    > Blessings,
    > Adrian.
    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: Robert Schneider []
    > Sent: Sat 12/21/2002 5:32 AM
    > To:
    > Cc:
    > 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
    > and humans. One chooses freely and the other doesn't." I can think of
    > instances when my dog Joshua has chosen freely. And I recall a
    > 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
    > 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,"
    > 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
    > successfully concluded a step he would get a reward. The training seemed
    > 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,
    > the psychologist came to the conclusion that the pig had free will and
    > 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
    > to have a moral sense and communicates moral judgments.
    > Bob Schneider

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Dec 21 2002 - 22:13:40 EST