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Human Nature - Human Instincts.

  1. Dec 31, 2008 #1
    What is human nature and what is known by human instincts? What's the difference between the two? Is there any distinct line differentiating the two?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2009 #2
    Funny, years ago we had a very smiliar discussion in the forum. The board was completely different then. I think sometime around 2004?

    The main idea of the discussion was if human can be accepted as controlling sexual instict? Or what human feels sexually can be called as an instinct?

    Personally I think, just because we have cultural regulations or some means of birth control, it doesn't mean we can control it. It's uncontrollable, so it's an instinct. Like violance. So, humans do have instincts. So, we are animals. And being an animal, despite of being intelligent, our nature has common parts with animal nature. We created some sort of an environment designed to reduce that animal nature; its reactions and reflexes. But it's only a matter of change in environment for human to get back on those instincts. So I guess, all of this is human nature?
  4. Jan 19, 2009 #3


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    I don't agree that violence is an instinct; I think, rather, that it is learned.

    As for sexual urges, we can't control them.

    As for our thoughts, we can't control them; at least, like most control, not with attempted force.

    Despite all that, we appear to be able to choose our actions to a remarkable degree amid all these strong urges.
  5. Feb 12, 2009 #4
    No no no no no. What you have to understand is the difference between INSTINCTS and IMPULSES. Animals have instincts. Bees dancing, dogs fighting, whatever, are uncontrollable automatic responses. Human sexual urges are IMPULSES as are impulses like hunger, fear, etc. The difference is that urges do NOT have to be acted upon. The URGE you feel is a biological REFLEX that you can cognitively choose whether or not to act upon. Dogs can't. They can be conditioned to learned responses but they cannot actively CHOOSE whether or not, at any given time, whether or not they WANT (because animals do not have wants, they have needs) to act. Our cognitive self awareness and ability to actively choose our behavior and understanding is what makes us far different from animals.
  6. Feb 12, 2009 #5
    NeHumanasCred, that's an interesting way of looking at it. I would agree with you for the most part. However, I'm sure animals, like humans have conflicting impulses. What about a mother cat who feels the impulse to eat herself, but gives her food to her kittens? I've seen cats close to starving do that.

    I've also seen cats, especially older cats, look interestedly at mice but then decide not to pursue them. That to me is a conscious decision not to act on an impulse.

    Of all the animals I would agree that humans have the most innate ability to ignore impulses based on abstract reasoning. However, it would be difficult to conclude that no other animal can do it at least to a small extent.

    The entire subject is somewhat philosophical, as in not provable one way or another. What's free will/self determination? Do we ultimately have it? People have been asking these questions for ages.
  7. Feb 12, 2009 #6
    What's you're observing are instincts and conditioned responses. Cats have the preservation of their young built in to their anatomy. Have you ever seen an animal (without nervous system damage) engage "child abuse"? The answer to that is no because animals don't have emotion (I know people are going to argue with this one for ages, but the scientific research has yet to show that lower creatures can perceive emotion). As for the older cats looking at mice and choosing not to pursue them, that is a conditioned response based of Skinner's system of positive and negative reinforcement. A trained house cat may not pursue a mouse because it's well fed and does not find a positive consequence from chasing, catching, and eating said mouse. There are very few animals in the world that will hunt when they're not hungry. A STARVED cat however, no matter how old/trained it is, will ALWAYS run off it's survival instinct and chase said mouse. That's the difference between animals and people. Starving animals will not and cannot ignore, for instance, their hunger instinct which is what defines it as an instinct. Humans are the only creatures alive that can be 100% neurologically healthy and literally starve themselves to death in the presence of food. The only other thing I want to point out is that instincts and impulses are different from physiological responses. That said, instincts and impulses are the BEHAVIORAL reactions organisms make in response to physiological and environmental stimuli. Your "feeling" of hunger is a uncontrollable biological response that is in every way the same as any other mammals biological response to hunger. An animal will instinctually hunt for food in response to this hunger while a human will make the conscious and IMPULSIVE choice to appease their hunger. If you have any other questions or input feel free to say it. <3
  8. Feb 12, 2009 #7


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    Leaving aside instinct, Strong Reciprocity is the best model of human nature in regards to political philosophy:

    (this is an excerpt from The Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker,
  9. Feb 13, 2009 #8
    Actually yes. There are plenty of animals that attack their own offspring. It's not very common but it happens.

    The point is that every conscious animal has to deal with conflicting impulses. We deal with it all the time. I felt like hanging around in bed this morning, but I knew I had to get up and go to work. I'm sure my cat deals with something similar when she's hanging around in the sun, but feels a bit hungry.

    BWV, it's interesting that you use the term "best model." How are you evaluating different models? You really need a separate model to evaluate and rank other models.
  10. Feb 13, 2009 #9


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    Why? its social science not physics
  11. Feb 13, 2009 #10
    You're missing the point entirely. The fact is that, accounting for conditioned responses and learned behavior, instinctive animal behavior is completely predictable because they don't have a conscious choice in their behavior. What I was referring to with "child abuse" was exclusive to newborn defenseless offspring. There is no animal that will attack their offspring for NO particular reason. Human are the only creatures that can and do hurt their children intentionally out of cognitive choice. Find me an example where a neurologically HEALTHY animal goes out of its way to kill its children without being provoked to by some other physiological or environmental stimulus. Filial infanticide is EXTREMELY rare in non-human species and only occurs in response to a stimulus where the death of the offspring would further the well-being of the species.

    I know it's hard to accept but animals do not have cognition. There is no plausible research to prove it. We love to impose our humanity on animals and pretend they have love for us, but they're brains just don't work the same way as ours. They CAN'T feel higher emotion.

    Finally, I'm not quite sure where you're coming from with the whole "tired/hungry cat" thing as an example of conflicting impulses. If your cat wakes up in the morning and is tired and hungry, if there is food available and she knows it she'll eat it. She doesn't stop to think "What a beautiful morning, I think I'll stare at the trees and ponder their beauty. Oh I'm hungry, but I'd rather sit here a minute than go eat" because animals can't THINK. They're behavior is instantaneous and regulated by their instincts and conditioned responses. I can't stress that anymore. Animals. Can't. Think. Any "emotion" you feel from your pets is imposed and perceived by you because you want it to be true. Chimps, dolphins and a few other species are still part of a hot debate on how close some species are to developing cognition, but your arguing that cats have conscious choice of their actions just proves how little you really know about the neurological and behavioral sciences.

    Take ANY University Psychology/Sociology/Behavioral Sciences/Neuroscience class and this is what they'll tell you because it's closest thing we have to scientific truth on the matter.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 13, 2009
  12. May 20, 2009 #11


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    For a very similar line see Thomas Sowell's 1987 http://books.google.com/books?id=Nw...=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3#PPR9,M1"; he uses 'constrained' (A. Smith, Burke, Hobbes, Federalist authors, Hayek, Justice Holmes, M. Friedman) and 'unconstrained' (William Godwin, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Marx, H. Laski, Galbraith) views. Beinhocker (2006) seems somewhat derivative of Sowell in the quoted passage.
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  13. May 20, 2009 #12


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    Beinhocker is a popular writer summarizing the thinking of alot of people, so he is by definition derivative. The Smith-Hayek tradition is the common thread there.

    For a direct source, Herbert Gintis would be good start
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  14. Dec 6, 2011 #13
    If animals can't think and act on their own, if animals do not have the power of will or of control, if they do not in anyway can change their behavioral instincts then what about the emotions that many animals show towards their masters? I've seen a lot of dogs that die either immediately or within a day or two of their master's death. What about the many cases of a mother animal of one species nurturing a young new born of another species? From where do these emotions or behavior arise from? I'm not getting into an argument. This is something that I just want clarified. Please help. I'm new to this subject in more ways than one.
  15. Dec 6, 2011 #14


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    Thank you for your contribution Subramanian S, this thread is two years old and thus is too old to revive. Feel free to post any questions you have in the relevant forums.
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