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Tuesday, May 14 - 11:23amSanction this postReply
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Ed,

I'm curious about the difference between humans and other animals and concept formation. I'm not sure I fully understand the differences. A crow can watch humans walk across a field and enter the forest. And, in some crude fashion, keep a count of how many went by... but only up to 4 or 5 and after that it seems to become "many." Crows can't count in the sense of association with an abstract symbol for a number. But, notice that the crows are keeping an awareness that is of a kind of thing. It is not an awareness of just "things in motion", it is an association of each concrete instance of a man with a specific (even though unidentified) kind of thing - a category. The crow might not mistakenly add extra for a horse, for example, if it is at the end of halter being pulled by one of the humans, or for some horse that wanders along after the people. The crow has specific associations that let it group concretes as a kind - some things are dangers, others are food, etc.

I had a parrot that would absolutely freak out at the site of a dark colored sock, but not be the least interested in a white sock. Clearly an almost hardwired reaction, and one the parrot didn't seem to be able to learn about, or react differently despite what should have been learning experiences. (That same parrot would be scratching its head with a toenail while on its perch, and then stop, look around the bottom of the cage, spot a feather, climb down, pick up the feather in its beak, climb back on the perch, and then grasp the feather with its foot and use it to more effectively scratch its head.)

Association plus enumeration together are almost like abstraction - like concept formation - except the animals don't seem to be able look inward and think about abstraction. And the general categories they end up associating concretes with seem to be hardwired ("thing that could harm me," "thing to eat," etc.), yet they can differentiate between the different kinds of "things that could hurt me." And, they don't seem to be able to project into the future the way we do, like when someone starts imagining doing something differently the next time they do it.

In your example of the man in uniform resulting in an the dog making the invalid association... that example could have been written such that a particular dog having had many positive encounters with friendly men, required many bad experiences with men in uniform mistreating him before he started going after uniformed men.

I think that other animals do perform a kind of examination of what shared attributes would invoke the equivalent of a concept, but the difference is the lack of choice or self-awareness in that process. More and more as time passes I see our form of volition, when tied with self-awareness of our inner processes, and our capacity to imagine a thing that doesn't exist (at least not in the present, or in our current perceptual field) as the keys to our unique human faculty.



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Tuesday, May 14 - 7:27pmSanction this postReply
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Great post, Steve.

I'm not sure I follow where it is you were going with the crows, and the best way for you to get me to understand is to know where I'm coming from first -- so I'll answer each point in hopes to make that clear.

If the crow saw that the men were accompanied by one horse, I'm not sure what it would do. I explain the "crow epistemology" example with 2 things:

1) instinct (tells crow if entity is friend or foe; or food)
2) memory (lets crow know that if 3 men enter and only 2 leave, then one man is still in the forest, and caution is still warranted)

If crow instinct considers horses a threat, then I suspect it'd count the horse as another danger). Memory does the rest and, like you say, there is no need for deliberate mental counting (as with symbols, or speech, or holding one's fingers out). The crow does not need to view each man as a "unit" -- because each man is fully remembered as a proper noun. The crow's short-term memory is limited but might exceed that of humans, a superiority also found in apes.

1) humans can hold about 4-7 things "in the mind's eye" at the same time (try to envision a square, circle, triangle, and pentagon all at once in your "mind's eye")
2) crows might be a little better or worse than that
3) apes seem to be able to hold about 6-9 things in memory at the same time

Regarding long-term memory, the Clark's Nutcracker can commit over 1000 similar-but-slightly-different things to memory (it stashes for in thousands of spots every season; and remembers more than 1000 of the spots months later).

Regarding your parrot using the fallen feather as a back-scratcher, Mortimer Adler gave a good example of a researched chimp which had to smash 2 bamboo shoots together in order to use it as a tool to get food, or unlock his cage, or whatever. The chimp never thought to do something like that, until he visually saw the 2 shoots on the ground -- visually appearing as one long stick.

The only way for the idea to enter his mind was via perception. It's not scientific, but I'm willing to bet that your parrot had experienced the feeling of having been accidentally scratched by a feather stem before.

Regarding the dog and the man in uniform, you described Pavlovian "rote" learning and I agree. After initiial "memory-based" learning, it takes several examples to "unlearn." I'm guessing though, that if you give such animals drugs that inhibit memory, then they would "unlearn" old habits just as quick as it took to first learn them.

In play with my dogs (decades ago), I discovered that, with very short term learning (measured in only minutes) it took 2-4 repeats of altered signaling behavior from me before I would get the appropriately-altered response back from them. Things that the dog had grown accustomed to (over the years) were very hard to "undo." Emotion also seemed to prevent the response modification process, so that a dog filled with anticipation kept doing the same thing, but expected different results to ensue (the definition of insanity). Leading to the following hypothesis:

Emotional animals are certifiably insane.

Regarding volition, introspection, and creative imagination -- I have to agree with you that those 3 things underpin our unique epistemology. It might be that, if you took one of them away, we would act like animals. Because of the potential for self-fulfilling prophecy, you can metaphorically take one of them (or all of them) away by promoting false philosophy.

But then you are left with the view that humans are nothing but savage brutes -- which will cause you fear and make you want a wrong morality and make you want wrong political policies. The adage that some aren't ready for freedom is akin to the adage that you should learn to swim before ever going near a body of water in the first place.

:-)

What folks need to keep in mind is how unique we all are, when compared to everything else in the known universe.

Ed
(Edited by Ed Thompson on 5/14, 7:31pm)




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Thursday, May 16 - 2:31pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

I'd use a word other than "instinct" for those hard-wired things. I remember an article Nathaniel Branden wrote many years ago in The Objectivist where he discredited "instinct" as an unfounded claim for knowledge without any perceptual base. There are reflexes, like all infants have a sucking reflex. There may be a crow reflex that translates the image of large animals into the hormonal fight or flight physiology.

Regarding the crows, I was trying to indicate that they organize the percepts of different animals into different categories, such that the count of four men walking past, plus four deer, just a moment later, (assuming the deer don't trigger any fear reactions), that the count would still be four. Those crows have done something equivalent to taking the percept of each man, 'abstracting' in effect the key similarities while tossing out irrelevant differences so that each man is given a count of 1 and the deer get a count of zero.

You said, "...there is no need for deliberate mental counting (as with symbols, or speech, or holding one's fingers out). The crow does not need to view each man as a "unit" -- because each man is fully remembered as a proper noun. The crow's short-term memory is limited but might exceed that of humans..."

Yes, I agree, but notice that they do recognize the man as danger-creature, but the deer as a not-danger-creature and this very much like our concept formation process.

I'm suspecting that there is a level of conceptual behavior that other animals engage in, but that is different from ours by not having the same kind of self-awareness, agent type of volition, or the depth of abstraction (symbolic, for example, where we can say, "Let x stand for..."), or creative imagination like ours that projects a different thing in the future than we have in the present or have seen in the past.
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You wrote, "In play with my dogs (decades ago), I discovered that, with very short term learning (measured in only minutes) it took 2-4 repeats of altered signaling behavior from me before I would get the appropriately-altered response back from them." This is another aspect of learning we don't talk about much, but we all know of. This is where we learn something more fundamental first, and it then becomes a platform, in effect, to learn new things, or variations on older things. The first thing your dogs had to learn was this relationship where you acted in some way that they were supposed to respond to. Then, when they learn that when you behave in this way, and they do the right behavior, they get a treat. That becomes the base and it makes it very fast for them to see that there is a new trick they should do, and their focus narrows down to understanding what is it you want with this new trick signal.

We don't think of babies or even toddlers of being rational, but on one level they are struggling with the most fundamental concepts - learning, at a basic level, things like that there is an external world, that they can be effected by it, that it has a permanence, that they can effect it, that it is made of different things, and so forth. Until those are solidly in place as a foundation (even though they aren't yet, and maybe never will be, conscious of them explicitly, or self-conscious of their presence), they can't go forward with what we usually think of as rational. Babies and toddlers are learning to use the rational faculties. Your dogs had to grasp that they needed to do something, that it was associated with the specific signal you were making.
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You wrote, "What folks need to keep in mind is how unique we all are, when compared to everything else in the known universe. True.... but the fact that we can do what we do, is evidence that is is something that can exist, and therefore other entities could be discovered or created that duplicate what now seems to be irrevocably unique.




Post 3

Thursday, May 16 - 6:36pmSanction this postReply
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Steve,

I concede the point about using "reflex" or "reflexive behavior" rather than instinct (which does seem to insinuate some kind of innate knowledge). Various spiders weave various webs similarly every time, and the kicker is that they do it successfully the very first time that they try. The knee-jerk reaction to that (forgive the pun) is to go ahead and say that they have innate knowledge -- that they were born "knowing" how to weave a web.

But, as you say, that's problematic.


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Regarding the crows, I was trying to indicate that they organize the percepts of different animals into different categories ...
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Well, I'm thinking a deliberate organizing -- the kind of organizing that humans might engage in -- might be too strong here. Like the pattern of the web of a spider on his first try, it would seem that the reflex is there and that friend and foe are "pre-organized" for animals. This doesn't mean that birds can never be friends with snakes, only that it'd take a lot of lab time -- a lot of facilitated "unlearning" -- in order to make that kind of thing happen.

Because of identity, it would not happen "naturally" (without the conscious effort of men in lab coats). You will not wake up tomorrow, or next week, or 100 years from now, or 1000 years from now, to discover birds and snakes interacting together in playful glee, for the same reason that you won't wake up to discover that have formed a political action committee.


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I'm suspecting that there is a level of conceptual behavior that other animals engage in ...
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I'd argue back that there is animal activity which, if it were to be engaged in by a human, would have to be engaged in under the auspices of formed concepts -- but that this isn't evidence of "conceptual behavior" in animals. For instance, for man to weave a web like spiders, or to build a dam like beavers, then he would have to form concepts.


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That becomes the base and it makes it very fast for them to see that there is a new trick they should do, and their focus narrows down to understanding what is it you want with this new trick signal.
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Great point. The second trick is always easier to teach than the first. It is almost like the dog is learning about learning.


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True.... but the fact that we can do what we do, is evidence that i[t] is something that can exist, and therefore other entities could be discovered or created that duplicate what now seems to be irrevocably unique.
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I agree that there may be volitionally-rational alien life forms even more advanced than we currently are. I also agree that you could get so smart as to be able to create a new life form. But I do not believe that you can do that kind of a thing non-organically (i.e., strong AI is impossible).

Ed



Post 4

Thursday, May 16 - 6:39pmSanction this postReply
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Another thing about induction vs. enumeration. Enumeration is where you ask about outcomes:

Were all the swans over there white? Were all the swans in that other area white?

But induction is where you ask about processes:

Is there an essential genetic basis for the color of feathers on a swan?

There is a vague similarity here, but enumeration is not a form of induction.

Ed



Post 5

Friday, May 17 - 8:14amSanction this postReply
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Ed,
... the dog is learning about learning
Exactly. And this points up a kind of hierarchy... akin to the hierarchy of concepts, yet different. All of our processes we engage in that exercise the rational faculty are processes that have their own history of learning that matured them to where they are. Just as a building couldn't be standing up and supporting the occupancy of its people without the architect, developer, equipment and foundation preparation that preceded its use. Our minds had to learn to drive it's equipment, to examine its processes to monitor them for accuracy, and to build the more basic and often less accurate understandings before we could go on to juggle the abstractions we do today. Knowledge has hierarchy, but so does the process of knowing.
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I agree with what you said where, if humans were doing the kind of thing animals do, they would be using a different process. My point was just that animals have 'things', even if arrived at differently, that are the equivalent of simple concepts. I don't buy that they are all hardwired in - that a dog comes with pre-built patterns in its brain for 'humans' to which it somehow automatically grasps how to associate each concrete person met with that category. The truth is going to be somewhere between that automaton type of view and the way we form concepts.



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Friday, May 17 - 5:43pmSanction this postReply
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Steve,

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The truth is going to be somewhere between that automaton type of view and the way we form concepts.

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Accepting that point for the sake of debate, I postulate that what it is that higher animals mentally have -- what it is that is responsible for that middle-of-2-opposites truth -- are these 4 tools:

1) sense perception
2) memory
3) imagination
4) crude (non-logical) association

These are what Mortimer Adler calls the perceptual powers of awareness/consciousness. If some animals have them in higher degree than even humans -- which scientific research already indicates -- then it's possible that these 4 things explain all of the complex or learned behavior of animals.

What do you think of that?

Crude association is the best candidate for the 'supra-automaton' behavior of animals (behavior that makes us accidentally think that they volitionally utilize logic in order to form concepts). Kids are notorious for crude association, especially when interjected with imagination.

There was a psych study once where the researcher had kids stay in a room together. He showed them a box and asked the kids to imagine a puppy inside. He reassured them that their imagination is just imagination -- and that it does not dictate what is true of reality (i.e., he said that, in real life, there is no puppy in the box).

Then he left the room and the cameras kept rolling ...

Wouldn't you know it, but these youngsters approached the box wild-eyed. They had been told that there is no puppy, and that they were merely put through an exercise where they imagined one instead. Yet they couldn't help fidgeting and eventually opened the box.

They ran the same kind of trial in the negative, with the kids imagining a monster in the box (or something bad or scary, like a monster is). The kids stayed away from the box after the researcher left the room -- even though they were reassured that it was all in their imagination.

Then the researchers tried it with older kids, and lo'-and-behold it didn't work. Older kids treated reality as if it were reality and they treated imagination as if it were imagination. They were unconcerned with the contents of the box after the researcher had left the room.

The upshot is that there is a certain pre-teen age where rationality snaps into place for humans. If anyone can find this study and post a citation of it here, then I would be grateful.

Ed



Post 7

Friday, May 31 - 3:48pmSanction this postReply
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Ever read Adler's The Difference of Man and The Difference It Makes? He makes the point of higher animals having what he termed 'perceptual abstraction', a sort of prelude to the quantum leap of conceptual consciousness.... biology rarely is totally either/or, but increments of blurring the difference at close-up but seeing a definite demarcation from a distance... this is why animals do not think, yet some, the higher ones, have developed attributes which can be easily anthropomorphized into more than is actually there...



Post 8

Saturday, June 1 - 8:55pmSanction this postReply
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Robert,

Ahem. Umm. Yeah. Oops. Gotta' get that book ...

Thanks for the reminder about that!

Ed




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