sean

Instincts

31 posts in this topic

How would you classify something such as 'breathing'? Is that not unlearned behavior in response to one's environment that fulfills a purpose? I would not call breathing an instinct, would you?

No, I wouldn't. I think breathing is just a biological process; I'm not sure it should even be classified as a behavior.

If the term applies to anything, it has to be to a complex series of behaviors (seemingly unrelated) that fulfill a specific environmental need: looking for twigs, carrying the twig to a tree branch, flying away, looking for more twigs, placing it in a certain location so that a structure results, remembering where the original twigs were placed, remembering where the nest is built, etc.

I think of an instinct as a (genetically) pre-programmed series of simple actions that accomplish some goal related to survival. I think B. Royce's point about instincts "running" an animal is a good one. I'm not sure where memory fits in this, as you suggest in your example. I tend to think memory is a separate conscious (but non-volitional) process than the genetically-based instinct in animals. The two interact but are different, I think.

I agree that breathing is just a biological process. Any activity performed while sleeping is a biological process; instincts "run" an animal only when it is awake----aware of, or in contact with, reality. The contact triggers the behavior.

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This behavior is a reflex, specifically, the "rooting reflex." Infants have many reflexes for the first few months of life, and doctors test these reflexes to evaluate development. A good list of these reflexes and related descriptions is here.

I know that this is called a reflex but I don't agree with it being classified as a reflex because it is not as input-precise as the term reflex implies. The baby doesn't respond to the input with exactly the same movement. It performs the same behavior which has similar but not precisely the same movement.

Could you clarify what you mean by "exactly the same movement" and why you don't think the same movement is occurring in something like the rooting reflex? I haven't seen anything to suggest that the movement must be "exactly" the same. Do you have a reference for that?

Indeed, if you go to the site I linked to and click on "reflex action," it shows that reflexes are measured on a scale from 0 to 4: 0 = absent, 1+ = hypoactive, 2+ = normal, 3+ = hyperactive without clonus, and 4+ = hyperactive with clonus.

This indicates that the physical action being measured occurs on a continuum or range. In other words, the reflex occurs or doesn't--if it doesn't, then there's a problem somewhere; if it does, then it's an issue of the extent to which it's there. Thus, I'm not sure where the idea of "exactness" in movement fits in here.

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Could you clarify what you mean by "exactly the same movement" and why you don't think the same movement is occurring in something like the rooting reflex? I haven't seen anything to suggest that the movement must be "exactly" the same. Do you have a reference for that?

Well my understanding comes from Descartes, Pavlov, and a hodge podge of psychologists discussing development. Descartes' conception of "reflex" described a fixed nervous path between sensation and reaction. There's several references for he and Pavlov.

My point is that I think it is a mistake to group together very specific reactions like a knee moving when you hit it, with complex reactions like a baby turning and sucking. The term instinct is a distinction between learned behavior and genetically transferred behavior. The term reflex is a description of a simple causal reaction along the nervous system. When these two terms and the mechanisms they describe are blurred together determinism and anti-consciousness rear their heads.

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My point is that I think it is a mistake to group together very specific reactions like a knee moving when you hit it, with complex reactions like a baby turning and sucking.

Just to clarify, rooting and sucking are two different reflexes, each caused by a stimulation of different things. Individually, they are precisely the definition of a reflex you describe, i.e., "a simple causal reaction" involving the nervous system. Even put together it is very simple behavior.

In fact, the "Moro reflex" is much more "complex": "It is likely to occur if the infant's head suddenly shifts position, the temperature changes abruptly, or they are startled by a sudden noise. The legs and head extend while the arms jerk up and out with the palms up and thumbs flexed. Shortly afterward the arms are brought together and the hands clench into fists, and the infant cries loudly" (see the link I included earlier).

The term instinct is a distinction between learned behavior and genetically transferred behavior. The term reflex is a description of a simple causal reaction along the nervous system. When these two terms and the mechanisms they describe are blurred together determinism and anti-consciousness rear their heads.

To be honest, I'm getting kind of lost here. My initial statement was that humans do NOT have instincts but do have reflexes. I have taken from your posts that you see things like the rooting reflex as an instinct. You are also, rightly, against determinism. However, the idea that Man has instincts is consistent with the idea of determinism. Hence my confusion.

In any event, you are of course free to disagree with the categorization of various behaviors as reflexes. However, you would need to take that issue up with the field of neuroscience, which has defined these terms (and, for what it's worth, I think correctly).

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Just to clarify, rooting and sucking are two different reflexes, each caused by a stimulation of different things. Individually, they are precisely the definition of a reflex you describe, i.e., "a simple causal reaction" involving the nervous system. Even put together it is very simple behavior.

I could be wrong. It's been a while since I've had a class on this stuff but I don't think your description of rooting is accurate. I don't think it is a simple reaction of the nervous system.

In fact, the "Moro reflex" is much more "complex": "It is likely to occur if the infant's head suddenly shifts position, the temperature changes abruptly, or they are startled by a sudden noise. The legs and head extend while the arms jerk up and out with the palms up and thumbs flexed. Shortly afterward the arms are brought together and the hands clench into fists, and the infant cries loudly" (see the link I included earlier).

Your right that "complexity" is not really what I am trying to distinguish. The idea is, if you stimulate the baby and the same output happens invariably, it is safe to assume a non-conscious, simple causal reaction is occurring. The reflexes with the feet, the Moro reflex, and others that persist into adult hood do behave this way. The exact same reaction occurs every time. But the rooting action, from my understanding, is not precisely the same every time. Watch some babies doing it. You can generalize that the same behavior is happening, the baby is turning its head to the side being stimulated. But it is not turning its head precisely the same amount which you would expect if it was just a reaction to stimulus. If you hit your knee the same amount it will kick the same distance but with rooting you get pretty different degree of muscular movement from the same intensity of stimulation. That said, I've seen some babies jolt their head to the finger like a robot. So maybe it is a simple reflex early on and starts to entwine with a conscious movement as consciousness develops.

To be honest, I'm getting kind of lost here. My initial statement was that humans do NOT have instincts but do have reflexes.

My first post was not directed at you. Is that your confusion?

I have taken from your posts that you see things like the rooting reflex as an instinct. You are also, rightly, against determinism. However, the idea that Man has instincts is consistent with the idea of determinism. Hence my confusion.

Maybe here is the source of your confusion. Human instincts are "consistent" with all philosophic positions of free-will. If you mean to say that the existence of instincts "implies" determinism, than that is not true. What about man having instincts do you think leads necessarily to determinism?

In any event, you are of course free to disagree with the categorization of various behaviors as reflexes. However, you would need to take that issue up with the field of neuroscience, which has defined these terms (and, for what it's worth, I think correctly).

The irony of this statement is funny to me. You have just taken two controversial stances, man as tabula rasa and self-causation. You then tell me I should be discussing my stance (much less controversial) with neuroscience which is actually discredited by your own terms. Outside of the irony of this statement, it doesn't bring anything to the discussion. This is a message board for psychology. I am discussing something pertinent to that field. If you prove my point wrong that's great. I don't mind being enlightened but why direct my discussion away from a discussion board?

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I could be wrong. It's been a while since I've had a class on this stuff but I don't think your description of rooting is accurate. I don't think it is a simple reaction of the nervous system.

The link I included in a previous post provides the description, and there are quite a few references included. However, you can google "rooting reflex" and see if something different comes up.

Your right that "complexity" is not really what I am trying to distinguish. The idea is, if you stimulate the baby and the same output happens invariably, it is safe to assume a non-conscious, simple causal reaction is occurring. The reflexes with the feet, the Moro reflex, and others that persist into adult hood do behave this way.

According to what I have read, many if not most of the reflexes in infancy don't last into adulthood. This may be one reason they are considered reflexes--they are very simple actions, really reactions, that have a time-delimited "survival value." Then once the infant gains more control over its body, the reflexes go away.

The exact same reaction occurs every time. But the rooting action, from my understanding, is not precisely the same every time. Watch some babies doing it. You can generalize that the same behavior is happening, the baby is turning its head to the side being stimulated. But it is not turning its head precisely the same amount which you would expect if it was just a reaction to stimulus. If you hit your knee the same amount it will kick the same distance but with rooting you get pretty different degree of muscular movement from the same intensity of stimulation. That said, I've seen some babies jolt their head to the finger like a robot.

That's why I mentioned in a previous post that reflexes are apparently evaluated on a range of movement. It's not, or doesn't have to be, the exact same degree of muscular movement.

So maybe it is a simple reflex early on and starts to entwine with a conscious movement as consciousness develops.

Yes, I think that is exactly what happens, and then the reflex goes away.

My first post was not directed at you. Is that your confusion?

No, I understood that your first post wasn't directed at me. My confusion regards the issues below.

Maybe here is the source of your confusion. Human instincts are "consistent" with all philosophic positions of free-will.

Not Objectivism's.

If you mean to say that the existence of instincts "implies" determinism, than that is not true. What about man having instincts do you think leads necessarily to determinism?

It might be helpful to look at the quotes from Ayn Rand on instincts provided here, which was included in a post by system builder earlier in the thread. In my own words, an instinct is a "hard-wired," i.e., genetically-based, series of actions (not just a simple action, such as a reflex) related to survival. An instinct in Man would mean that we have non-conscious, automatic behaviors (not just reflexes) that help us survive. In other words, our behavior (or at least some of it) would be determined by the genetically-based instinct, as opposed to our volitional consciousness.

You have just taken two controversial stances, man as tabula rasa and self-causation.

Man is tabula rasa when it comes to knowledge; we are not born with concepts or knowledge of how to survive. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by self-causation, but I certainly think consciousness is causal and we can direct our own lives through our thinking and choices. Are these positions controversial?

You then tell me I should be discussing my stance (much less controversial) with neuroscience which is actually discredited by your own terms. Outside of the irony of this statement, it doesn't bring anything to the discussion. This is a message board for psychology. I am discussing something pertinent to that field. If you prove my point wrong that's great. I don't mind being enlightened but why direct my discussion away from a discussion board?

Perhaps I didn't state my point clearly enough. I wasn't trying to direct your discussion away from this board; I was pointing out that you are arguing against a field of science that defines these terms. That's a tough thing to do, but you are free to. For my part, I have specifically cited definitions from neuroscience to support my position, so I'm not sure how I can be discrediting that field while also using its definitions.

As for this discussion, if you have better definitions of reflexes and/or instincts, by all means share them! And please share what instincts you believe Man possesses and how this does not lead to determinism. There's plenty to discuss here.

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