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

From: John Burgeson (
Date: Thu Dec 26 2002 - 12:20:27 EST

  • Next message: John Burgeson: "Re: Evolution wars"

    Adrian wrote: "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."

    While I agree, it is also very tempting to apply "nothing buttery" to the
    question and claim victory for "scientific objectivity,"

    I recommend highly the book WHEN ELEPHANTS WEEP which I revied in
    PERSPECTIVES a couple of years ago. A copy of my review is on page 2 of my
    web site.

    John W. Burgeson (Burgy)

    >From: "Adrian Teo" <>
    >To: "Robert Schneider" <>, <>
    >Subject: RE: animals and humans (was "Evolution wars")
    >Date: Sat, 21 Dec 2002 13:47:57 -0800
    >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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