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Unread June 1st, 2006, 11:43 AM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: Damasios: Professors of Creativity


After re-reading my last post I see a potential hole in my proposed explanation that appears most obviously in behavior decisions where intellect is not used. I don't think I have clearly shown the difference between a go, no-go choice for some possible behavioral response to a threat or opportunity - and the selection of one behavior from two or more candidates. Are these two different problems for the brain to solve? Or, are they part of the same problem.

For example, a nesting bird in the grass hears an animal approaching. Does it freeze and depend on its camoflage? Or, does it fly and leave its eggs exposed to the hunter? Freezing and flying can be seen as two possible responses to the bird's avoiding predators while nesting behavior that could be selected by the circumstances and provided by instincts. A predatory bird flying overhead could induce freezing while loud rustling in the grass nearby could induce fleeing to draw the predator away from the nest. Some birds have even evolved a faking an injury behavior to make that more likely.

In any case, it seems to me that the instinctive behavior selection mechanism doesn't have much creative ability to select from a menu of options - other than simply matching perceived threats with responses - like a lookup table. In computers those can take up a lot of space but they are fast and deterministic. Their utility is dependant on a good ability to discriminate between different threats and probably works best for threats that are easily recognized by the organsim's perceptual tools.

Some advanced behavior selection takes place however in some animals that we would classify as non-intellectual. Baby birds are known to freeze at the sight of any bird flying overhead. As a chick matures it learns that only some overhead outline shapes, flying patterns, wing beat frequency, etc. are dangerous - I'd conclude that a form of belief is developed in their mind (learning) that can be used to provide more effective behavior selection by over-riding instinctive responses in some cases.

I see this belief mechanism as the probable evolutionary predecessor to intellectual reasoning. It was added to make instinctive responses more discriminating - which means that more effective and less costly behaviors could be selected in some cases, while still preserving the greater safety of immediate instinctive response to danger offered by the lookup table. I suspect also that it operates in a similar way in that any overhead outline probably induces a freeze response for a nesting bird - but a short time later, if it's a safe outline, that response is cancelled.

So, to provisionally answer my own question - right now I'd say that . .

a) Instinct works in a way that specific recognizeable threats that reach a threshold for action induce set responses - like from a threat / response list. The first one that reaches that level takes over the organism and probably inhibits any others that may be almost at that level. Fight or submit responses, for example, in dogs. Once one is selected it is very hard to get them to switch. There may be a lot of hysteresis in instinctive behavior choice.

b) More advanced animals have some ability to modify or cancel those responses, even before they are executed, according to learned beliefs about the world - which makes them more efficient organisms. In simpler animals these are simple emotional associations but perform the same function that actual beliefs that have both cognitive and emotional dimensions do in humans. In both cases, animals with decision mechanisms sensitive to the emotions of beliefs, are better able to thrive in the face of threats and opportunities, and expend less energy to do it.

c) Even more advanced animals have an emotional ability to ask what if questions about their possible responses that are generated by instinct memory and belief - an emotional version of deductive reasoning. A dog's instinct may call for fighting another menacing dog - but they may decide (emotionally feel) after an initial threat response (that typically preceeds the fight response), that it is too big and menacing and therefore switch to submit mode. This seems also to be a form of belief mechanism (association) at work. Growing dogs learn that they get their butts kicked by the bigger, meaner adversaries.

d) And even smarter animals can create new behavior candidates for consideration - inductive reasoning - and then ask what if questions about each one and arrive at a conceptual best choice. This, even while their instincts, beliefs, etc. may be emotionally urging them to a different response.

So, behavior choice probably isn't quite as simple as I described in my last post - but is still plausibly mediated by emotional forces from instincts, beliefs and intellectual inputs.

I'm interested in these questions for the same reason that I am interested in locus - just to be sure there is some plausible explanation for these observations and that there isn't any premise-killer in there. My real interest is in understanding how inputs such as instinct, belief and reason participate in human behavior decisions - especially, to explain my suspicion that we use d) above, far less than we think we do.


Last edited by Margaret McGhee; June 1st, 2006 at 02:11 PM.
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