RE: Study shows brain can learn without really trying

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Tue Nov 13 2001 - 19:01:35 GMT

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Study shows brain can learn without really trying
    Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2001 19:01:35 -0000
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            <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. >
            Well, I interpreted the comment sent in a particular way based on
    the apparent idea that individual success within a social group is
    influenced by self-awareness. It was the context of your presentation that
    made me comment in that way.
    >> Primate societies may be
    >> highly social, but they are also highly hierarchical in both
    >> (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.)>
            It depends on what you mean by 'more fluid'. I don't suggest that
    hierarchies in ape societies are unchanging, only that such hierarchies

    > > 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.>

            Well, we've covered this before. The evidence for social behaviour
    in our ancestors is very limited since we hardly have enough bones to agree
    on the organisation of our ancestry (or for that matter to agree on gender
    of some of those bones IIRC). I think the 'radical departure' argument is
    the mistake, because there is no precedent for it in any other part of
    nature. Evolution occurs slowly, gradually (with blips for major natural
    disasters and so on), what we do know about forerunners and close relatives
    of humans, like neanderthals, is that they were extremely well adapted to
    their ecological niches. The last sentence of this paragraph surely isn't
    what you meant to put?

            <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.>

            What do you mean by habitual and habit?
    >> 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.>

            Does that actually answer the question, or not, I'm not sure?
    >> 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
    >> 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. >

            That's like, IIRC Baudrillard's contention that evidence that
    mummies died from TB wasn't really possible because TB wasn't discoverd
    until the 19th century. This week's New Scientist, amongst a number of
    really interesting tidbits, had a piece of research showing that the
    decision-making process over choice of food sources could be incredibly
    simple. I don't have it in front of me, but it was suggesting that a lot of
    the decision making processes we make, may be far more simple than we
    believe. I'll dig it out.
    >> Now, the next question is whether
    >> we consider such transmission between guppies as memes or not,
    >> 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
    >> 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. >

            Well you see that's the core question. I don't know the answer,
    initially on this list I was reluctant to acknolwedge the possibility of
    animal cultures, but now I find some reasonable evidence and arguments for
    that, which I think bring into question the necessity of self-referential
    mentality for memes.
            The problem is if we explicitly say what animals have is not "real"
    culture, then we have to define how we're different and how that is
    reflected in our "real" culture. And yet the meaning of culture seems no
    nearer agreement than it has been for decades. There are people in my field
    who, rightly or wrongly, would view the way we talk about culture and
    evolution on this list with rage, jaw-dropping disbelief, or a range of
    other responses.


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