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animals part II

2003-01-08 - 3:55 p.m.

This started out a response to LFM in my guestbook--but became so big that I just posted it on the diary. Thoughts, reactions? LFM, please poke more holes if you see them--it really does help me think critically!!!


I love you because you make me refine my arguments!

There are certain behaviors/values that are pretty much universal to humanity. Most cultures consider it wrong to kill people in the social group without provocation; most cultures have some sort of couple pairing for the purpose of bearing and raising children; most cultures consider it beneficial to sustain elders past their reproductive age (past menopause).

In addition to these behaviors, there is strong evidence that human beings have an instinctual concept of "fair"--or more specifically, of not being cheated. There is some evidence to show that even in a close family, one will do more for one's sibling or child than for one's cousin or grandchild. The issue is genetic background. There are probably many more examples that I just don't know/can't think of.

I believe that a great deal of human behavior is hardwired into our genetic code--is rooted is instinct. This is not to say that humans haven't moved these behaviors and thinking patterns beyond instinct and into something more. I think we have. But I think the urges to "do right" come from ingrained survival tactics--just as the urges to destroy "the other."

But I think it is arrogant and wrong-headed to say that animals, esp. higher primates, have not or cannot do the same. For a long time, the thinking was that man has reason and animals have instinct (while women just had their hysertical wombs). I think humans and animals possess both instinct and reason--they are hardly mutually exclusive.

I agree with your post--my point is simply that our behaviors are rooted in instinct, not in morality--but morality has devloped the instinct into the prevaling cultural/social code.

As for complex cognition--how exactly do you define that? A number of years ago, scientists got a fascinating, albeit horrifying chance to work with a girl that had essential grown up without any influence. When she was found (I think she was between 7 and 12) she had no language, was not toilet-trained, could not walk, etc. She had been living in a crib all her life and her parent(s) had fed her and that was pretty much it.

She did manage to learn how to walk--although not very well. She also managed to learn how to talk--sort of. She could say the words, but she couldn't really communicate that well. I can't remember much of the details, but one thing I do remember was when she learned her colors. Most people learn the basic colors and then move on from there. We can all distinguish and debate about navy blue and royal blue and electric, but we conceptualize them as subsets of the basic color blue. This girl couldn't grasp that concept. She insisted on a name for every color on the Pantone strip.

I wish I could remember more details about this case--the poor thing died very young.

C raises an interesting question--Why do humans have such a tough time admitting animals are smart too? If I had to guess, I'd say that part of the downside of human intelligence is this terrible arrogance and contempt for "the other"--and fear. We have a tendency to break down into a smaller group against the world--humans against animals, ethnicities versus everyone else, Americans versus the world, etc. etc. etc. I think we need to overcome this trait pretty damn soon (and to be fair, I think we've made tremendous progress in the past century) or we are going to have to face some pretty serious ramifications. This trait may have come in handy when we were all competing for food back in our troglodyte days, but it will not work in a global society.

My have I waxed philosophical today!


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