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Behaviourism and Evolution

  1. May 1, 2003 #1

    Another God

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    Behaviourism = the philosophy that a mental state is a disposition to behave a certain way.

    I am not a fan of behaviourism directly, but I have just come to realise that Behaviourism is the most accurate philosophy of the mind in terms of evolution. I mean, when u consider that evolution can only select organisms based on their phenotypes, that is, the way they work, and the way they behave, it seems like that Behaviourist philosophy of the mind is the only way that Evolution can select for one mind over another. The mind which causes certain behaviours over other behaviours is selectable. The mind which 'thinks' a lot, or 'feels' a lot, but suppresses its behaviours or whatever, is unknown to Evolution.

    Evolution cannot select minds. It can only select behaviours.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 1, 2003 #2
    Which human behaviours does evolution favour?
  4. May 1, 2003 #3
    Re: Re: Behaviourism and Evolution

    Behaviours that promote the spread and long-term suvrival of the individual's genes - whether it be an individual's own genes or identical genes on other individuals.
  5. May 1, 2003 #4
    strong drives, ie sexual, parental, curiosity, umm, the other ones...
  6. May 1, 2003 #5

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    More generally put: The ones which don't get us killed, and which cause us to have as many children as we can possibly support.

    But that isn't really what this thread is supposed to be about.
  7. May 1, 2003 #6
    Re: Re: Re: Behaviourism and Evolution

    As I see it, human behaviour is tremendously-diverse. You can meet all types of people within your own locality. It doesn't appear that evolution has impeded this diversity of human behaviourism. I'm struggling to see how evolution has had any impact on the way we think and feel.
  8. May 1, 2003 #7

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    Um, OK how about... without evolution, we wouldn't be this way at all?

    But while Behaviourism is a philosophy of human minds primarily, in this context, it more has to do with the evolution of Minds down the track. So it has to do with the shaping of the brain from the dumbest to the most brilliant of all creatures....

    Evolution can't select their mental states. Evolution can only select their behaviours.

    Thats all I am saying.
  9. May 1, 2003 #8
    As Dawkins tirelessly reminds the readers in his books many times, each of us are descended from a very long line of ancestors - each of whom had been successful in passing on his/her/its genes when many of their contemporaries had not.

    So, if behaviours are influenced (if only partially) by genes, then there must have been selection of behaviour going on.

    LG: I don't see why diversity of human behaviour counts against evolutionary psychology (branch of evolution that deals with evolutionary basis of behaviour). In any particular environment, the most successful behaviour depends largely on the behaviour of other individuals. Hence we don't have one single set of genes dominating the gene pool.

    eg some people are more aggressive than others, and may get an advantage over the less aggressive ones if most others aren't aggressive. But in a population where almost everyone is aggressive, a less aggressive individual might actually be better off. So you get an equilibrium of aggressive and passive individuals.

    Back to AG's topic: I agree with the point that it is behaviour that counts in terms of evolution. When one asks the question 'what good is the mind for?' According to evolution, the answer must involve behaviour. Merely thinking a thought doesn't do anything - it is the action (actual or probable) that flows from the thought that counts. (Apply this to ethics and you get a consequentialist position saying that a good thought is good only because of its likelihood of inducing 'good' behaviour.)
  10. May 1, 2003 #9
    AG hints that evolution is responsible for human behaviour. But human-behaviour is influenced by human thought & feeling (attitudes). And human attitude is about as diverse an attribute as exists in the whole universe.
    Natural Selection should favour specific types of organism. But when it comes to thought & attitude - and when those said traits are so diverse - then the only conclusion I can see is that evolution has had no effect in favouring any type of mentality... since all types of behaviour/mentality seem to have flourished.

    Given that Nature favours the strong, I find it curious that we don't all have the mentality of an aggresive-warrior. Of what good was 'morality' to animals? And hence, what good did Nature see in morality, for ourselves?
  11. May 1, 2003 #10

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    Actually, a consequence which I see in my claim here, is precisely that evolution has very little stock over the mind of people. It has directed the evolution of the reactive mind of animals throughout time. It has created minds which calculate in such a way so that appropriate reactions occur in the body, and so that intelligent paths are chosen etc... INtelligent behaviours were selected throughout our evolutionary history (because that is all evolution can select...), and somewhere along this path, it seems that this personal subjective experience phenomenon was created.

    Why? How?

    I think it was accidental. I don't think evolution could have ever selected for it, or could control it once it had been created.

    I think the subjective experience is an emergent property of our particularly complex brain. The brain is under the control of evolution in so far as our brain is directly related to our dispositions of behaviour, but completely out of the control of evolution (of the natural selection kind anyway) in terms of our ..deeper, more personal thoughts, musings, experiences etc.

    Evolution has no place for the deep thinker.
  12. May 1, 2003 #11

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    Yes, this is true, but do you believe that the mind is completely knowable through its ability to affect our dispositions to act certain ways? Or do you think that there is more to the mind than behaviours?

    I think we experience things everyday which don't influence our behaviours. I am certain that we think a variety of things which don't directly influence our behaviour.

    Evolution can only act on our behvaiours. If we never act on a thought, then that thought never happened in evolution's eyes.

    Yep, see above. Attitudes (feelings and beliefs) are out of the realm of evolution (thats what I am claiming anyway...in a round about sort of way...i think...). Behaviours are what counts. And not all thoughts, beliefs and attitudes are expressed into behaviours.

    I think you are blinding yourself to the fact that humans seem to have ..jumped...out of the struggle for existence into an as yet unknown niche. We are special, because we make the environment suit our needs. With such luxury, without constant competition for survival, there is plenty of evolutionary room to diversify. This is one of the key concepts behind evolution. Each generation should produce more than can survive. That way, only the best survive, and the weak die. When you find an organism in a niche which has plenty of resources thoughm enough for every single member of the next bunch of generations, then how are the weak going to be weeded out from the strong? They won't. Not straight away anyway. So you will see an incredible growth in diversity over those few generations, until Wham. The population limit is reached, and the weak are killed off.

    Something similar will happen to humans. It won't be like usual though. We don't like to let evolution control us anymore. Not genetic evolution anyway...

    If we didn't have morals, we wouldn't have the societies which allow us to be such powerful world roaming creatures.

    The evolutionary benefits of morals are blatently clear to a second of solid thought about the contrasting option.

    Being strong isn't always a 'physical' thing... Strong armour, strong camoflage, strength in their speed, strength in social skills. I think Humanities strength is in our complex social abilities. I think it is also an entirely reasonable doctrine to believe that our intelligent is directly linked to our evolutionary path down the 'strong social creature' option. Being 'moral' is our strength.
  13. May 1, 2003 #12
    This kind of infers that 'morality' is the ~strength~ behind human success.
    I agree. But morality hardly has the upper-hand in human existence. So why has Natural Selection failed to weed out "the wicked"? Or is that yet to come?
  14. May 1, 2003 #13

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    Seriously lifegazer, how many years have you been around in here? Haven't you recieved the ESS lecture from Sivakami yet????

    Evolutionarily stable system. This is what Zimbo was getting at before.

    Nature will never weed out the wicked, because in a society where everyone is moral, a wicked person would be able to take complete advantage of everyone, and all of the moral people wouldn't be able to compete with the evilness of that person. That wicked person would do so damn well, that they could have heaps of offspring and support them easily. The wicked genes would be spread, and over the coming generation numerate. Eventually, there would be so many wicked people, that the harmonious balance that the moral society had would crumble, and the sustainable population made possible by that society would fall. many would die. The moral few would have the advantage because they would help each other out, and rebuild their own society without the wicked.. or something like that...

    And so it would go, up and down, up and down, slowly resting out on a point of equilibrium.

    There will always be wicked people (in Natural Darwinian Evolution anyway).
  15. May 1, 2003 #14

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    Why is it that everything I post lately is completely indecipherable and incoherent?

    I read back over what I write each post, and realise that yes, I did write all that, but when I thought it, it seemed to make a lot more sense.

    I hope I haven;t confused people too much with my disjointed connection of thoughts.

    PS: I think I spellt siv's name wrong again. Lucky we never see her anymore. She gets very upset by that
  16. May 1, 2003 #15
    You have a warped view of morality. You make moral-people sound like a complete bunch of 'losers'. Sometimes, morality alone forces you to go to war.
  17. May 1, 2003 #16

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    When u dumb things down, sure it could sound that way. But lets apply the concept to real life.

    Everyone in a community is moral except for one chap. Every single person in this community donates all of their change from the grocery shopping to an open tray dedicated to some good charity. Since everyone is moral, the money isn't locked away, or protected or whatever, because there is no reason to. Except this one guy. Whenever he goes shopping, he sneaks up to the bowl, grabs all that he can, then pays for his shopping with it.

    He gets a free ride from the moral people, because they don't know they are being ripped off.

    In a world where everyone is moral, there would be no need to check for cheats. This is the perfect situation for cheats to arise. This is what evolution does. Every possible niche is filled.

    The fact that we are now such a complicated society though, the rules are somewhat different for us I think. We aren't so subject to the laws of Darwinian Evolution, as much as we are subject to the laws of cultural evolution. I think the only way we will all become moral, is if we instigated a Big Brother system, where cheats were permanently stamped out, and kept out.

    but that wouldn't be an evolutionary step in terms of darwinian evolution. It would be a cultural evolution step.... (whatever the difference is)
  18. May 1, 2003 #17
    Recorded History

    This almost sounds like the period of the Great Deluge (flood). And why doesn't recorded history go back any further than 5,000 BC? Doesn't it seem strange that so much could happen to the world in such a short period of time? Kind of suggests to me that modern man must have been a transplant ... from heaven above or, who knows?

  19. May 1, 2003 #18

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    hmmm...except usually, a failing society doesn't cause great world wide floods. They happen of their own causes, which are usually completely unrelated to the affairs of whichever species of animals are having problems.

    Unless of course they had mad scientists with powerful weather machines 5000 years ago?
  20. May 1, 2003 #19
    The behavior of human beings includes the words we use, such as the words we are using here right now. Traditional behaviorism cannot model this behavior meaningfully, but modern Radical Behaviorism can. Radical Behaviorism successfully bridges the gap between the cognitive and behavioral schools of thought, something no other discipline has managed to do.

    To say evolution cannot select minds, only behaviors is an oxymoron that denies the scientific evidence of traditional behaviorism as much as anything else. It is like saying we design computers according to how they behave yet this has no impact on how we program them. It is patently obvious evolution has selected for people who feel happy and sad, who think and communicate within a circumscribed context.

    The range of human thought is circumscribed by our environmental limitations. During the course of human evolution we have had no need to be capable of imagining what a twelve dimensional object looks like, for example, so we have not evolved the ability to do so even though theoretically human neural networks are perfectly capable of such things. However, we do have a need to be able to communicate and abstract, and many anthropologists consider this to be what has determined the enormous success of humanity as a species.

    When is a thought a behavior and vice versa? The answer is it depends upon the context. Without context words are meaningless. Attempt to reduce all thoughts to the context of behaviors, and the words "thoughts" itself becomes meaningless. Attempt to reduce all behaviors to the context of thoughts, and the word "behaviors" becomes meaningless. In both cases behavior and thought are merely words which we define, we give meaning to, and which do not possess any meaning in and of themselves.
  21. May 1, 2003 #20
    It's getting increasingly difficult nowadays to figure out just what it is that people mean when they throw around the label "behaviorism". Generally speaking, though, one hears a certain sort of story, a story about the fall of behaviorism and the rise of the cognitive revolution. Behaviorists, as the story goes, did not take the mind seriously. They oversimplified. Cognitivists, on the other hand, take the mind as seriously as you please, and devote the better portion of their time to figuring out how it works - how it accomplishes all that miraculous "learning" that behaviorists ascribed to it.

    How do you tell behaviorists and cognitivists apart? Here's one way of looking at it: if you ask a behaviorist, "what is the mind?" the behaviorist will say, "what mind?" If you ask a cognitivist, "what is the mind?" the cognitivist will say, "the mind is the brain."

    So it's no good saying that all there is to being a behaviorist is believing that mental activity is dispositional. Cognitivists believe that, too. After all, mental activity takes place in the brain, and things done by the brain influence things done by the whole organism: behavior. I certainly believe that mental states are basically dispositional. In fact, I believe that the whole point of ascribing mental states to organisms is to predict and explain their behavior, linguistic and otherwise. But I am not a behaviorist for two reasons: (1) I believe that intentional ascription is indispensable to psychology; behaviorists believe that it is useless. (2) I am interested in the inner workings of the cognitive architecture that enables brains to accomplish all that learning; behaviorists are not.

    People who think that mental states supervene on behavior are not "behaviorists". Behaviorism is a term of abuse with which they are sometimes branded by critics, because everyone is afraid of behaviorism. Behaviorists are the people who think that there are no mental states to supervene on anything, or at any rate, that psychological explanations need not concern themselves with such states.

    Now, with all of that out of the way, I, of course, agree that evolution can only work on the mind if the mind is something that plays a role in the behavioral economy of an organism. And, of course, minds do in fact play such a role, as all of us should know from our everyday interactions with other people.

    P.S.: "Radical Behaviorism", incidentally, is Skinnerian behaviorism, which holds that mental terms are explanatorily vacuous and should be translated into behavioral terms whenever possible.
    Last edited: May 1, 2003
  22. May 1, 2003 #21
  23. May 1, 2003 #22
    Your definition is a bit negative and misleading imo. Skinner, for example, denied the validity of Radical Behaviorism.

    Expressed positively, Behaviorism assumes it is possible to meaningfully explain behavior without reference to cognitive mental processes. This definition does not deny the existence of cognitive processes, but assumes they can be given quantitative rigor and expressed without self-reference.

    Thus, it also explains how Radical Behaviorists have bridged the gap between the quantitative rigor of traditional behaviorism and the cognitive sciences while the opposite has not occured. There is no single accepted definition of the cognitive sciences and to refer to it as being concerned with the "mind" of the brain is self-referential. Without clear and explicite terms and an accepted over-arching cognitive theory you might as well attempt to count how many angels dance on the head of a pin.

    What the Radical Behaviorists have demonstrated, among other things, is exactly why the cognitive sciences have failed to find a single unifying theory thus far. Most are still focused on content outside of context and without any clear way of varifying such theories anything and everything goes. Because the Radical Behaviorists have bridged the gap, now some of the more off-the-wall cognitive theories can finally be thrown into the trash can where they belong.

    Sigmund Freud is considered the father of the cognitive sciences and psychoanalysis is still widely reguarded as a science. However, in the early sixties an independent study showed it has no efficacy whatsoever. How academia can continue to call something a science that has no evidence linking it to reality and is largely self-referential and of dubious worth is beyond me.
  24. May 2, 2003 #23
    Apparently, in your race to find a new label for what I have once called "psychological contextualism", but what we may as well call "externalism" and leave it at that, you have overlooked the fact that "radical behaviorism" is a label that is already in use, a label applied to views of the Skinnerian type.

    Philosophers of mind with Quinean sympathies, like Dennett and Davidson (mentioned on this forum not once), are "psychological contextualists", but they are not any kind of behaviorists. Again, it is not behaviorism to suppose that cognition and behavior are intertwined, a supposition that is, of course, common to all the brain sciences. In fact, since behaviorists believe that behavior can be explained without reference to cognition, such a supposition is completely antithetical to behaviorism.

    Now we're getting somewhere. Of course, expressed positively, the way you've just expressed it, Behaviorism is a complete failure. It is a failure because (1) successful behaviorist explanations of behavior are not in fact empty of mentalistic ascription, but simply mask it with a shift in terminology, and because (2) behaviorist explanations that are oblivious to internal stimuli can't account for most of human behavior, anyway. "Quantitative rigor" is, of course, being applied to cognitive processes all the time, in cognitive science, artificial intelligence, computational neuroscience, and so on and so forth. It is not, however, applied to cognitive processes by "radical behaviorists", since behaviorists treat the cognitive architecture of the brain as a black box, and assume that psychology should not bother to figure out how it works. Certainly they are not concerned with bridging any gaps between cognition and behavior.

    I am somewhat at a loss as to what all this "self-reference" talk is about. I assume you're referring to the circularity of belief-desire ascription, but then my question must be, "what forum are you from?" I would have thought that in all my pontifications on this topic, I have at the very least gotten across the point that belief/desire psychology and cognitive science are not the same. Cognitivist explanations of internal structures proceed by figuring out what the structures have to be like to do what they do, then by figuring out what their structures have be like to do what they do, and so on and so forth, decomposing the cognitive architecture of the organism into progressively dumber subsystems until one hits the neural level where there is no further decomposing to be done (not very much, anyway). So cognitivism is as “quantitative” as you like. We begin by taking out a loan on the cognitive prowess of some system or another in the brain, but we pay it out once we figure out how that system works (i.e. reduce it to smaller and stupider parts). Mind you, this is not an explanation of how the entire organism works, nor is it a description of that organism as a person (assuming the organism in question is human). It is an explanation of how the brain works, an explanation that we need to make sense of the organism’s behavior. It’s not all that you need to make sense of the organism’s behavior. You need environmental context, too. The key point here is that behaviorists ignore internal stimuli and focus solely on external stimuli, some cognitivists ignore external stimuli and focus solely on internal stimuli (and I am critical of them, too), but you need an account of both if you want to explain behavior.

    In passing, I am interested in what you think an “over-arching cognitive theory” is supposed to be, or why you think we need one. I am also interested in which particular “cognitive theories” you think belong in the trash.

    It's beyond me, too, but thankfully, most of the academics that consider psychoanalysis some kind of science are to be found in literature departments. Then again, Chomsky is the father of cognitive science (one of them, anyway), not Freud, and I have no idea what psychoanalysis has to do with any of this.
  25. May 2, 2003 #24

    Hey dude, you were the one saying cognitive scientists claim the brain is the mind.... what a laugh. The cognitive sciences take the introspective approach while the behavioral ones take the physical or "external" one as you put it. Hence you have so many cognitive theories which make no reference whatsoever to the human brain. The brain and its physical behavior is more the realm of behaviorists while the mind is the realm of cognitivists.

    I couldn't care less about such officious fools as Quin and Dennett. I am talking about Functional Contextualism which has proven its worth clinically. Before you open your mouth wider and insert your foot deeper, perhaps you'd best check out this website:

    http://www.relationalframetheory.com/index.html [Broken]

    Contextualism contends that words only have meaning according the context. This includes words such as behaviorism, cognition, etc.

    As I already said, Freudian psychoanalysis should have been trashed long ago, but I haven't exactly made a study of what other cognitive theories should be trashed.

    An over-arching cognitive theory, in my mind, would resemble a TOE (theory of everything) in physics. It would likely be a poetic theory capable of being interepted from several distinctive rudamentary viewpoints ranging from the behavioral to the cognitive, from the psychological to the purely philosophical. Hence its philosophical foundations would be ultimately based upon either mysticism or pantheism and its applications would range from the pragmatic to the spiritual.
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  26. May 2, 2003 #25
    Oh dear Eris, the irony. Please do take the time to get a rudimentary grasp of the topics before you start with the commentary.
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