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Author Topic:   Instinctual Behavior Vs Intelligent Decisions
Wollysaurus
Member (Idle past 2571 days)
Posts: 52
From: US
Joined: 08-25-2011


Message 1 of 83 (643660)
12-01-2011 3:56 PM


Please read Message 4 before posting to this thread. It contains a clarification of the topic. --Admin

Hi all.

Hopefully this question isn't a big rehash of something which has already been discussed.

My question seems simple: How do we tell the difference between behavior which is the result of inherited, evolved processes and behavior that is the result of intelligent decision making?

This question arises because I am currently reading _Climbing Mount Improbable_ by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins starts early in the book with the example of spider webs (and their probable 'evolution') demonstrating complex evolved behavior and the "appearance" of design in what is actually a naturally evolved system. He refers to such things as "designoid" (such as an organism which may appear deliberately designed but which is actually the result of random mutation/genetic change and nonrandom selection).

What sort of test might we apply to something in order to decide whether a behavior is based on a conscious decision making process and not a behavioral compulsion driven through evolution? Some examples I think of are pack hunting behaviors (such as wolves, or chimps hunting monkeys) that might look like 'tactics' and which could appear to be the result of complex communication and spacial reasoning; however, I might be guilty of applying anthropomorphism to the critters. They might not have a "choice" in how they go about their hunt, any more than the spider has a choice in the design of its web or the beaver in the construction of its dam.

Just like a spider might be genetically compelled to go through the physical motions of building a web, might not an ancient hominid be compelled to knap a hand axe, without any real conscious understanding of what it is doing?

Might the ability to learn new techniques and pass those techniques on to another generation via communication and learning be such a test? For example, a human learning a better construction technique for putting together a shelter, through observation and trial, and then passing that new technique on to his or her offspring, who do the same?

Put it this way. Imagine some hypothetical island off the northern coasts of Europe, where an isolated population of Neanderthals is discovered. What behavioral patterns / observable evidence might we look for to determine whether they are self-aware, thinking creatures using intelligent decision making processes (I hate to use the phrase "critical thinking" but that might be best) assuming that direct communication with them is impossible? Or maybe substitute "aliens on a far away planet" for Neanderthals. I suppose the tests might be the same.

I appreciate your thoughts on this matter. I'm very interested in this question, though it may be pretty murky.

Edited by Admin, : Add moderator note at top.

Edited by Admin, : Change title, was "Evolved Behavior Vs Intelligent Decisions".


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Wollysaurus
Member (Idle past 2571 days)
Posts: 52
From: US
Joined: 08-25-2011


Message 2 of 83 (643661)
12-03-2011 1:24 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Wollysaurus
12-01-2011 3:56 PM


Anybody?
This message is a reply to:
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Admin
Director
Posts: 12580
From: EvC Forum
Joined: 06-14-2002
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 3 of 83 (643662)
12-03-2011 8:17 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by Wollysaurus
12-03-2011 1:24 AM


Wollysaurus writes:

Anybody?

I think we're all hoping some other moderator will tackle this one because it was a little difficult to tell where you were going. My own reaction was that the Dawkins paragraph near the beginning gives the sense that the thread would be about evolution versus design, so I'd remove that paragraph since it's purpose is to clarify but it doesn't seem to do that.

I think you may really be asking how we tell the difference between instinctual and conscious behavior. Whether instinctual behaviors are evolved did not seem part of the topic. If so then I think the proposal needs a rewrite.


--Percy
EvC Forum Director

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Wollysaurus
Member (Idle past 2571 days)
Posts: 52
From: US
Joined: 08-25-2011


Message 4 of 83 (643663)
12-03-2011 7:41 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by Admin
12-03-2011 8:17 AM


I think we're all hoping some other moderator will tackle this one because it was a little difficult to tell where you were going. My own reaction was that the Dawkins paragraph near the beginning gives the sense that the thread would be about evolution versus design, so I'd remove that paragraph since it's purpose is to clarify but it doesn't seem to do that.

I think you may really be asking how we tell the difference between instinctual and conscious behavior. Whether instinctual behaviors are evolved did not seem part of the topic. If so then I think the proposal needs a rewrite.

Hi there.

The intent is not "evolution versus design", at least in terms of the organisms or their behaviors. For the purposes of this thread, I accept evolution. I am not asking whether or not a sky god taught the spider how to make its web. My question is specifically in regards to how we can determine whether what an organism does (its actions, whether we are talking about building a spiderweb or a sky scraper) are the product of unconsciously directed physical actions compelled by evolutionary processes (in my opinion building a spiderweb or beaver dam would fall into this category) or the result of a deliberate, conscious decision making process (such as building a sky scraper).

The spider does not sit back and think to itself "hmmm, the tensile strength of this strand isn't quite right" or "this spoke isn't in the right place, I'll just redo it tomorrow." But how do I "know" the spider is not, at some cognitive level, planning each part of the web and is instead simply acting out physically actions which are programmed at a genetic level?

On the flip side, how could I prove that someone planning a twenty story skyscraper is doing so on a conscious level, utilizing a higher intelligence?

And where do we draw the line? Given some of the spectacularly complex behaviors we observe in nature, whether in terms of construction of physical structures or even social behaviors, how can we tell when something is the result of an intelligence using reason and higher functions, versus an organism just following a genetic program?

Edited by Wollysaurus, : Clarity

Edited by Wollysaurus, : No reason given.


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Admin
Director
Posts: 12580
From: EvC Forum
Joined: 06-14-2002
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 5 of 83 (643665)
12-10-2011 9:06 AM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Instinctual Behavior Vs Intelligent Decisions thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
crashfrog
Inactive Member


(2)
Message 6 of 83 (643684)
12-10-2011 10:44 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by Wollysaurus
12-03-2011 7:41 PM


On the flip side, how could I prove that someone planning a twenty story skyscraper is doing so on a conscious level, utilizing a higher intelligence?

Whether or not everybody in the same species does it.

Doesn't that seem to be the distinguishing feature? If something is an inherited instinct, then every member of the species (or most, at least) will inherit the instinct and you'll observe the behavior. Most beavers get into dam-building, right? We can probably assume therefore that beaver dams aren't the individual inventions of individual beavers, but something they instinctively do.

Similarly, if almost all humans felt compelled to build twenty-story skyscrapers, I think we could assume that was instinct. Instead it seems to be the province of a relatively small number of architects.


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nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 7 of 83 (643691)
12-10-2011 11:55 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by Wollysaurus
12-03-2011 7:41 PM


It is going to be very hard for spiders. If they are "conscious" then their consciousness is likely to be sufficiently different from ours, that it would be hard for us to understand it.

The term "instinctual" is also not very precise.

Let me talk about birds building nests, to illustrate what I see as the issues.

As best I can tell, nest building cannot be completely specified by the DNA. And that's because the way a bird builds a nest will depend on the materials used. There isn't enough DNA to have special instructions for every type of material. And birds do use human made synthetic materials at times.

I would tend to characterize it as the bird having an inherited drive to build a nest, but that the bird has to learn on the scene what works and what doesn't work with the particular material used. And birds can be slow learners. I had a robin build a nest on the top my patio light. That was not a good idea, so I disassembled it. The next year it happened again - possibly the same robin.

My general view: the organism is responsible itself for specific acts of behavior (not counting the knee jerk kind of response), while what is inherited can give a general directional bias toward some kinds of behavior but it is unlikely to handle the specifics.


Fundamentalism - the anti-American, anti-Christian branch of American Christianity

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Wollysaurus
Member (Idle past 2571 days)
Posts: 52
From: US
Joined: 08-25-2011


Message 8 of 83 (643704)
12-10-2011 6:25 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by nwr
12-10-2011 11:55 AM


Thanks for the replies.

Along crashfrogs reasoning, say every spider of a certain species in a genetic "island" builds its web in the same way, couldn't that be evidence that the spider is following a "program" that doesn't contain a conscious component?

If the spider hatches, has no exposure to other spiders building webs, and then builds a web exactly conforming to other webs in a given sample group of spidrs of the same species, wouldn't this be strong evidence of genetic rather than consciously driven behavior?

I guess this is an extremely broad topic that could go in all sorts of directions, especially when it comes ro human behavior.

Edited by Wollysaurus, : No reason given.


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nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 9 of 83 (643705)
12-10-2011 6:54 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Wollysaurus
12-10-2011 6:25 PM


Along crashfrogs reasoning, say every spider of a certain species in a genetic "island" builds its web in the same way, couldn't that be evidence that the spider is following a "program" that doesn't contain a conscious component?

This depends on what "in the same way" and "conscious component" mean. Those terms are not easily defined.

If the spider is following a "program", then I doubt that it is the same type of program that we use with computers. That is, I doubt that it is a fixed sequence of mechanical steps. It seems to me that it would need a program that involves feedback and adjusting what it is doing based on the feedback - a sort of self-adaptive behavior.

If the spider hatches, has no exposure to other spiders building webs, and then builds a web exactly conforming to other webs in a given sample group of spidrs of the same species, wouldn't this be strong evidence of genetic rather than consciously driven behavior?

When I suggested in an earlier reply, that a bird has to learn how to build a mouse, I did not intend that to imply learning by imitation (or copying). I meant only learning by trial and error discovery of what works. In the case of the spider, I would guess there is little learning. That is, building the second web probably does not build on what could have been learned from building the first web. For the bird, I would guess that there is some learning, so that building the second nest is probably influenced by the experience of building the first nest.

Note that I am not a biologist. I suspect some of the above could be tested empirically, and perhaps this is already known.


Fundamentalism - the anti-American, anti-Christian branch of American Christianity

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Dr Adequate
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Posts: 16086
Joined: 07-20-2006
Member Rating: 10.0


Message 10 of 83 (643716)
12-10-2011 11:05 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Wollysaurus
12-01-2011 3:56 PM


You can change the situation so that what would be useful behavior such as would be suggested by the intelligence of the animal becomes stupid behavior in the artificially created situation, and see if the behavior persists. If it does, then it cannot be a product of intelligence, since it is not an intelligent thing to do.

For example, here are a couple of cases in which the celebrated naturalist Fabre teased wasps. His interference makes it clear that what looks superficially like intelligent behavior are just instinct:

Fabre removed from a so-called sphex-wasp a killed grasshopper, which it was conveying to its nest and had momentarily laid down at the mouth of the burrowas these insects always do on returning with prey, in order to see that nothing has intruded into the burrow during their absence. Fabre carried the dead or paralyzed grasshopper to a considerable distance from the hole. On coming out the insect searched about until it found its prey. It then again carTied it to the mouth of its burrow, and again laid it down while it once more went in to see that all was right at home. Again Fabre removed the grasshopper, and so on for forty times in successionthe sphex never omitting to go through its fixed routine of examining the interior of its burrow every time that it brought the prey to its mouth.

And again:

One of the ground diggers of the genus Sphex had completed its hole, placed in it a large locustid (an ephippiger) upon which she had laid her egg in the usual way, and gone through all the preliminaries to sealing up the hole. At this point Fabre interfered by putting the wasp to one side, carefully withdrawing the ephippiger from the hole and taking it away. He then released the wasp which had been watching him rob her nest. She returned to the hole at once, entered and explored it as usual, came out and resumed her work at the point where it had been interrupted, and continued until the hole was sealed with the ordinary elaboration. The fact that the nest contained neither egg nor prey, and that she knew it so far as by her means of acquiring knowledge she knew anything, was no deterrent to her going through the regular routine...

Now this clearly isn't a product of intelligence, because it's stupid.

Edited by Dr Adequate, : No reason given.


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Modulous
Member (Idle past 184 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005


Message 11 of 83 (643729)
12-11-2011 3:42 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by nwr
12-10-2011 6:54 PM


If the spider is following a "program", then I doubt that it is the same type of program that we use with computers. That is, I doubt that it is a fixed sequence of mechanical steps. It seems to me that it would need a program that involves feedback and adjusting what it is doing based on the feedback - a sort of self-adaptive behavior.

as a quick FYI: It is possible to write a program that takes feedback and adjusts what it is doing based on the feedback. We have programmed robots that do this.

As for the topic: as far as I can tell, making intelligent decisions is the instinctive behaviour in at least one species on this planet and probably more.

Edited by Modulous, : No reason given.


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DWIII
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Posts: 72
From: United States
Joined: 06-30-2011


Message 12 of 83 (643745)
12-11-2011 8:44 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by Wollysaurus
12-03-2011 7:41 PM


Wollysaurus writes:


The intent is not "evolution versus design", at least in terms of the organisms or their behaviors. For the purposes of this thread, I accept evolution. I am not asking whether or not a sky god taught the spider how to make its web. My question is specifically in regards to how we can determine whether what an organism does (its actions, whether we are talking about building a spiderweb or a sky scraper) are the product of unconsciously directed physical actions compelled by evolutionary processes (in my opinion building a spiderweb or beaver dam would fall into this category) or the result of a deliberate, conscious decision making process (such as building a sky scraper).

As you have already noted, drawing a definitive line between instinctive behavior vs decision-making behavior may be problematic; for all we know, some such borderline-behaviors blur the distinction, being a mixture of both.

Even so, we can make a first approximation. Do all (or the vast majority) of a given species engage in one set of specific behaviors irrespective of past experience or contact with other members of that species? Can those differing sets of such behaviors by different species be put into a pattern which corresponds to the nested hierarchy of common descent? In that case, such behaviors would be the product of evolutionarily processes.

On the other hand, if a specific behavior pattern is exhibited in only a small subset of that species, or many different behavior patterns exist within that species directed to the same general goal AND those behaviors were influenced by contact with the various behaviors of other species members and past experiences within the lifetime of the individual, then you could infer some measure of independent cognition.

It is possible that base-line cognitive ability itself is a result of evolutionary processes, but the individual acts of cognition are not.


DWIII

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jar
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Posts: 30934
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004


Message 13 of 83 (643749)
12-11-2011 9:56 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Modulous
12-11-2011 3:42 AM


making unintelligent decisions
Much that is often considered "instinctual" real is learned behavior. I'm not as sure that "making intelligent decisions is the instinctive behaviour in at least one species on this planet and probably more" as you seem to be.

Living things do not exist in a vacuum; behaviors do have consequences. But we see examples of at least one species on this planet and maybe more making unintelligent decisions pretty regularly.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!

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nwr
Member
Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 14 of 83 (643777)
12-11-2011 3:54 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by Modulous
12-11-2011 3:42 AM


as a quick FYI: It is possible to write a program that takes feedback and adjusts what it is doing based on the feedback. We have programmed robots that do this.

Yes, I'm well aware of that.

In that case, I don't consider the behavior to be programmed since it partly depends on the feedback.


Fundamentalism - the anti-American, anti-Christian branch of American Christianity

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Tangle
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Posts: 6680
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 15 of 83 (643839)
12-12-2011 11:03 AM


One test would be if the organism could show novel behaviour in reply to a change in circumstances. Ie can it invent?

Your skyscraper planner could probably also design you a bridge a bungalow or a airport if asked. Your spider would keep spinning the same type of web until it died regardless of the situation it found itself in.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

  
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