Re: Study shows brain can learn without really trying

From: Dace (
Date: Fri Nov 09 2001 - 22:15:17 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Study shows brain can learn without really trying
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    Tried to post this a couple days ago.

    Hi Vincent

    > <It gives a competitive edge among intensely social animals like
    > > primates. While it does nothing for survival of the group as a whole,
    > > reflexive consciousness determines which members of the group are
    > > more likely to reproduce. It's among primates that the terrain of
    > > competition begins to shift from environmental to social. The successful
    > > ones are those who are aware of themselves as minds and not just as
    > > bodies.>
    > >
    > Well, that would be so nice if it were true, that all we had to do
    > to be successful in life is to be self aware.

    That self-awareness is evolutionarily significant doesn't mean it's the only factor determining success. Humphrey isn't arguing the point you're criticizing him for. You're dismissing him on the basis of a statement you yourself have projected onto him. Your mind is playing a trick on you.

    > Primate societies may be
    > highly social, but they are also highly hierarchical in both genders
    > (silverbacks and all that).

    Sure. But ape societies are far more fluid than kingdoms, empires, corporations, or nation-states. Both males and females are in competition to determine whose genes get passed along. Females, who face the prospect of falling out of favor of the alpha male, will struggle for ascendancy just as mercilessly as males. The dominant male can lose out at any time to a younger challenger, or the challenger and a few allies can kidnap some females (who, we can be assured, put them up to it in the first place) and start a new genetic line-- if, that is, they're able to fend off retaliation from the tribe. And accidents do happen, particularly when you live in a jungle. Injuries that would seem like nothing at all to us can strip a dominant male of his supremacy. When the jockeying begins again, the one with the greatest degree of mental self-awareness has an edge.

    Apes don't make dynasties. They don't have high-tech methods of repression. Reflexive consciousness evolved in the play of shifting alliances and dominance characteristic of ape society. Anyway, that's the going theory. (Humphrey, N., 1984, Consciousness Regained, Oxford University Press.)

    > Humans, as we've covered before, are by no
    > means the same, but from interpersonal interaction to international
    > diplomacy force seems to count for quite a lot.

    Not only is male dominance absent in early humans, even our hominid ancestors two million years ago were roughly equal in size between genders. Our fundamental mistake has been to assume that apes somehow segue into humans. In reality, we began as a radical departure from primate (or any other) evolution, and only recently, in the last dozen or so millennia, has the atavistic ape-like world of "history" emerged. The popular image of "ape-men," as depicted in Kubrick's 2001, is a projection of the modern world onto our pre-technological past. If our ancestors half a million years ago had been as primitive as we are, they could never have survived and proliferated.

    > > Transmission of electronic impulses requires no self. Transmission
    > > of ideas and memes does. In fact, a meme is an idea that takes on
    > > its own self-existence.>
    > >
    > I think what I'm driving at here is the problem of self and
    > consciousness, that it is possible for information transmission to occur
    > without the thing transmitting it being conscious of what they are doing.

    It works at three levels. A radio signal has no need for consciousness, either at the point of transmission or reception. But life is habitual, not automatic, and consciousness is the flip-side of habit. Memory without consciousness makes no more sense than past without present. There's no memory without consciousness to perform the act of remembering. As to human communication, this requires consciousness of oneself as a mind. Both the sender and receiver must experience mentality itself, in order to rationally structure its contents. For us, mentality isn't just an appendage but the substance from which we're (self)made.

    > Do individual guppies have selves?

    Life is self-creative, self-regulating, and self-perpetuating. Rather than having "selves," guppies simply exist intrinsically. That means they aren't products of external forces (supernatural or otherwise). There's no "self" which is somehow separate from the body, no mysterious "entity" that pervades our being. The self is nothing more than the self-existence of the body.

    > They appear to respond to the behaviour of other guppies in
    > experiments in a way that implies cultural transmission, but would we
    > therefore have to regard them as having selves, or are they merely
    > following a behavioural algorithm?

    Algorithms were invented by mathematicians in the last 2500 or so years. They have no independent existence in nature, whether in brains or anywhere else. Math is the original artificial language, the first precise method of description. It's not that guppies follow the algorithms in their brains, but that the algorithms in our imagination accurately describe guppy behavior.

    > Now, the next question is whether
    > we consider such transmission between guppies as memes or not, Dugatkin
    > does, no doubt others would not. Are we talking about something that has a
    > behavioural impact, or must it be something that is consciously sent, and
    > consciously interpreted, the kind of "message" you're talking about? Where
    > would the information transmitted in body language come into your equation,
    > for example?

    Lacking self-awareness, the animal mind isn't a very hospitable environment for memes. Patterns of behavior are established biologically. The culture of guppies is a shadow of the biology of guppies. It's not a thing-in-itself, like human culture. Outside the context of self-referential mentality, there can't be any self-propagating ideas.


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