• schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    I've written about this before, but I guess just would like an updated conversation on the topic.
    Humans have some built in drives- the drive for pleasure sought out in eating food and sex, for example. Our reflexes seem to be pretty keen in things like not getting hit or crashing into others- magnified by high speed vehicles. But mainly, humans seem to get by using the plasticity of learning. Learning can take many forms that I am not going to enumerate (but I certainly invite others to if they want). Learning in humans is different than say, crows, parrots, apes, monkeys, dolphins, and whales, powerful learners that those species are. Human learning usually takes its form not just by memory of action, but through conceptual integration with long-term potentiation- hippocampus and connections with neocortex and all that. This is mainly due to having linguistic capabilities especially, Wernickes and Brocas regions come to mind. This essentially comes down to cultural learning, habit formation, and the like being the backbone of long-term survival of an individual within a human social framework.

    Let's take the example of a bird- a cardinal let's say and compare the cardinal to a human. What are the major differences in cognition that both use to survive? What does it mean cognitively, for the point of view of a cardinal to survive "instinctually" versus a human who is driven through cultural learning? Besides the probable critique that this is a "false" dichotomy, what are the implications as to human nature? Also, how did this decoupling occur over time between survival through instinctual mechanisms and surviving through cultural learning mechanisms?
  • Isaac
    714
    Learning in humans is different than say, crows, parrots, apes, monkeys, dolphins, and whales, powerful learners that those species are. Human learning usually takes its form not just by memory of action, but through conceptual integration with long-term potentiation- hippocampus and connections with neocortex and all that. This is mainly due to having linguistic capabilities especially, Wernickes and Brocas regions come to mind.schopenhauer1

    What evidence are you basing all this on?
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.2k
    As we look at animal cognition, we see all kinds of similarities to humans, similarities that we humans didn't expect. It would be foolish to state that all animals have the same levels of consciousness/sentience/etc, but I think it may also be foolish to presume our uniqueness, when observation seems to show otherwise. :chin:
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k

    Okay, so this debate isn't about how similar or unique necessarily learning capabilities are. I've had these circular arguments before. What I'm getting at is that humans have a way of doing things different from other animals (I used specifically an animal like a cardinal).

    I do not think it is very debatable that humans have a niche way of surviving, and it is very unique. The question is the nature of how this came about, and how this reflects the nature of being human. I simply refer you back to the questions in the OP rather than going down the rabbit-hole of "Humans are not different than other animals in very unique and specific ways!!". That is not the point of this thread, though if you have nothing else to add, I will note that perhaps the very premise that humans have a unique way of survival is something to question itself. I don't see how that is in any way justified, but that is the topic for another thread. This thread is assuming that is the case- which to me is not that controversial a premise.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.2k
    Well we do seem to need some degree of understanding of human and animal cognition, as you ask us to...

    ...compare the cardinal to a human. What are the major differences in cognition that both use to survive?schopenhauer1

    The simple answer to that is: I don't have a clue. I think that may extend, to we don't have a clue? What do you know of bird cognition? I know almost nothing. And of human cognition? Not much more. To compare the two on this basis seems fraught with problems.

    What does it mean cognitively, for the point of view of a cardinal to survive "instinctually" versus a human who is driven through cultural learning?schopenhauer1

    What is it like to be a bat? Is this the intended purpose of your topic, to consider or revisit Nagel's views?
  • Isaac
    714


    As @Pattern-chaser has already outlined above, all your subsequent questions are technical ones about mechanisms. If you're just going to assume humans think differently to animals without examining the evidence, then why don't you just similarly 'presume' a load of answers to your subsequent questions?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k

    Because it is not a controversial claim to presume a bird and a human have different cognitive frameworks :roll: .
  • Isaac
    714
    Because it is not a controversial claim to presume a bird and a human have different cognitive frameworksschopenhauer1

    But that's not what you said is it. What you said was...

    Learning in humans is different than say, crows, parrots, apes, monkeys, dolphins, and whales, powerful learners that those species are. Human learning usually takes its form not just by memory of action, but through conceptual integration with long-term potentiation- hippocampus and connections with neocortex and all that. This is mainly due to having linguistic capabilities especially, Wernickes and Brocas regions come to mind. This essentially comes down to cultural learning, habit formation, and the like being the backbone of long-term survival of an individual within a human social framework.

    That's a hell of a lot more than "a bird and a human have different cognitive frameworks".

    So, if you're comparing to all other animals (including great apes, elephants, dolphins etc) then I'd say the answers to your questions are...

    What are the major differences in cognition that both use to survive?schopenhauer1

    Probably none. There are many social animals who rely on complex social relationships to survive, and there are a number who rely on higher cognative strategies. Given that, and very little physical differences in the brain, its likely we use the same cognition.

    What does it mean cognitively, for the point of view of a cardinal to survive "instinctually" versus a human who is driven through cultural learning?schopenhauer1

    Nothing. I don't see you having presented any evidence that human survival is driven by cultural learning any more than other animals.

    how did this decoupling occur over time between survival through instinctual mechanisms and surviving through cultural learning mechanisms?schopenhauer1

    It didn't. You've not provided any evidence that it did. If you find any evidence I don't see why that evidence would not also contain your answer, but until then Occam's razor applies.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    Probably none. There are many social animals who rely on complex social relationships to survive, and there are a number who rely on higher cognative strategies. Given that, and very little physical differences in the brain, its likely we use the same cognition.Isaac

    Oh so birds set up institutions of learning to teach about the latest technology? Of course not. There must be some sort of difference there, don't you think? I can't believe I'm actually debating this point.

    Nothing. I don't see you having presented any evidence that human survival is driven by cultural learning any more than other animals.Isaac

    So when a bird finds seeds, it was explicitly taught and integrated how to do so? When a goose goes south for the winter, that was through painstaking research?

    It didn't. You've not provided any evidence that it did. If you find any evidence I don't see why that evidence would not also contain your answer, but until then Occam's razor applies.Isaac

    Then certainly Occam's razor would indicate there is indeed many reasons human learning and human cognition in general are different than other animals. If you want to make an argument for the learning mechanisms roughly mapping to ancestral ones that can be seen in other animals as well, fine, but that would be moving beyond the scope of this thread.

    Rather, I'd like to focus on how humans developed the vast amount of plasticity (compared with other animals), and minimal amounts of reliance on internal drives, automatic functions, etc. The mechanisms and implications of this are my focus.
  • Wallows
    8.1k
    Besides the probable critique that this is a "false" dichotomy, what are the implications as to human nature? Also, how did this decoupling occur over time between survival through instinctual mechanisms and surviving through cultural learning mechanisms?schopenhauer1

    The thread lacks focus. Could you distill what you're trying to get at?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k

    As I said above: Rather, I'd like to focus on how humans developed the vast amount of plasticity (compared with other animals), and minimal amounts of reliance on internal drives, automatic functions, etc. The mechanisms and implications of this are my focus.
  • Wallows
    8.1k
    The mechanisms and implications of this are my focus.schopenhauer1

    As far as I'm aware it's a matter of our sentience and intelligence that allows us to adapt and change our behavior. We have a unique feedback mechanism along with memories that can be altered in perception. I don't know where you might be able to find an adequate answer to this question based on facts as the field of cognitive science is constantly being reinterpreted. But, your focus should not be on the hippocampus, which is not unique to humans; but, rather the higher brain functions such as the frontal cortex and prefrontal cortex.

    There's also the matter of religion and belief. Some animals display advanced behavior such as mourning over the dead. Such as elephants, chimpanzees, and primates in general.
  • creativesoul
    5.2k
    I do not think it is very debatable that humans have a niche way of surviving, and it is very unique. The question is the nature of how this came about,schopenhauer1

    Language use and interdependence...
  • Isaac
    714
    Oh so birds set up institutions of learning to teach about the latest technology? Of course not. There must be some sort of difference there, don't you think? I can't believe I'm actually debating this point.schopenhauer1

    What have institutions of learning got to do with it? You asked about cognition.

    So when a bird finds seeds, it was explicitly taught and integrated how to do so? When a goose goes south for the winter, that was through painstaking research?schopenhauer1

    Yes, in principle those types of learning happen often in the animal kingdom. Not those two examples, but cultural learning is common among apes, monkeys, dolphins, and elephants to name just a few. Try doing some actual research if you're interested in the subject.

    I'd like to focus on how humans developed the... minimal amounts of reliance on internal drives, automatic functions, etcschopenhauer1

    But you still have not demonstrated this to even be the case yet. Why would you want to focus further investigation on a fabricated presumption, why not just presume the rest of your answers?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k

    So if we use this article as a starting point: https://www.eva.mpg.de/documents/Sage/Tomasello_Ape_CurrDirPsychScience_2010_1552616.pdf

    Tomasello seems to indicate that children as early as 1 years old can hold theories of mind different than apes in terms of collaboration. Communication in human infants goes beyond individualistic goals of communication (what I need for myself now) to provide helpful information, emotions, and attitudes that require a sort of joint effort. There is a natural stance in humans that both parties have to be committed to the communication process. This predisposition for collaborative/committed/joint communication, along with basic linguistic abilities to decode symbols and use syntax (linguistic generation), creates cultural learning.

    This article here tends to agree: https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/5855/the-decoupling-of-instinctual-programming-and-cultural-learning
    Unlike nonhuman apes, who exploit others’ perspectives primarily for their own purposes (28), human infants put their perspective-taking skills to work in the contexts of sharing attention with others and communicating cooperatively with one another. Importantly, human children also expect their social partners to be similarly motivated, creating a reciprocally cooperative framework for communicative and collaborative endeavors. For example, around their first birthdays, human children begin to produce pointing gestures simply to call others’ attention to objects of interest, and, when others point for them, children assume a cooperative motive relevant to the common ground between the two communicators (29). In contrast, whereas great apes can learn to point imperatively, for example when requesting food (30), they do not produce pointing gestures simply to share information with others, and, when others point cooperatively for them (e.g., to indicate the location of hidden food), nonhuman apes tend to perform poorly, most likely because they do not understand their partner’s cooperative intention. Shortly after 1 y of age, human prosocial and cooperative motives begin to evidence themselves more explicitly through acts of (unsolicited) instrumental helping, which again are critically supported by the ability to infer others’ intentions, knowledge, and desires (31). Therefore, unlike nonhuman apes, human cognition seems to be most tailored for cooperative and prosocial rather than Machiavellian purposes (32). — MacLean Article

    Further Tomasello explains:
    In addition, other important aspects of cultural learning in humans
    derive from their special cooperative skills and motivations,
    and these add to the power of the human cultural ratchet as
    well. Specifically, adults teach children things intentionally—
    whereas teaching is not an important dimension in the lives
    of other great apes, if it exists at all—and teaching is a form
    of altruistic cooperation (free donation of information). Human
    children are especially attuned to adults teaching them things
    (Gergely & Csibra, 2006), and they trust adult instruction
    implicitly based on their cooperative motives. Indeed, when
    adults teach them things, children trust this so much they
    often jump to normative conclusions. Thus, they learn not just
    that this is how the adult did it, but that this is how it is done—
    this is how we in this group do it, how it ought to be done. For
    example, in a recent study, 3-year-old children who witnessed a
    puppet playing a game in a manner discrepant with the way
    they had been taught objected strenuously: The puppet was not
    doing it ‘‘right’’ (Rakoczy, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2008).
    Such normative judgments derive, almost certainly, from identifying with the group in terms of how ‘‘we’’ do things.
    And so to complement their special skills of collaborating
    with others in the moment, human children also come into the
    world ready to ‘‘collaborate,’’ as it were, with forebears in their
    culture, by adopting their artifacts, symbols, skills, and practices via imitation and instructed learning. Their cooperative
    identification with the group leads them to learn not just that
    this is a useful way to do things to meet individual goals, but
    it is the ‘‘right’’ way to do things, at least for members of this
    group. This almost moral dimension makes human cultural
    learning especially powerful in comparison to that of their closest primate relatives....What most clearly distinguishes human cognition from
    that of other primates, therefore, is their adaptations for
    functioning in cultural groups. Groups of individuals cooperate together to create artifacts and practices that accumulate improvements (rachet up in complexity) over time,
    thus creating ever-new cognitive niches (Tomasello, 1999).
    Children must be equipped to participate in this process during their development by means of species-unique cognitive
    skills for collaboration, communication, and cultural learning. Humans are thus characterized to an inordinate degree
    by what has been called niche construction and gene–culture
    coevolution (Richerson & Boyd, 2005), as the species has
    evolved cognitive skills and motivations enabling them to
    function effectively in any one of many different self-built
    cultural worlds.
    — Tomasello Article

    If we look at purely physiological traits, besides obvious brain-to-body ratio, and neural architecture differences with chimps, genes like the FoxP2 gene (which has some proven associations with human language abilities), and the discovery of "mirror neurons", there are physiological differences as explained in this article: https://www.seeker.com/health/mind/comparison-of-primate-brains-reveals-why-humans-are-unique

    Human brain interneurons express the enzymes tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and DOPA (3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) decarboxylase (DDC). The two proteins are involved in dopamine biosynthesis.

    While the ancestors of chimps and gorillas lost the ability to express these enzymes in the neocortex, a human ancestor likely recovered it. The scientists do not know which human ancestor recovered this ability, or when.

    Since dopamine in the midbrain plays many roles in the central nervous system tied to cognition and behavior, humans would seem to have won the evolutionary brain jackpot. The definition of intelligence is subjective, but our working memory, reflective exploratory behavior, and other cognitive skills appear to be uniquely enhanced versus these abilities in other animals.

    "After all, to the best of our knowledge, we are the only living species that is trying to understand how our brain works and what makes our brain different from other species' brains," Sousa said.
    — Viegas Article

    Anyways, I would say that all of these way in which we can use our episodic memories, linguistic skills, and cooperative learning abilities are what contributes to our enormous plasticity. We are not beholden to mainly automatic/inherent modules of behavior, but rather are more prone to deliberate actions, higher degrees of freedom of actions related to a certain goal, as well as immense abstractions of thought and imaginative generation.

    Compare this to other animals, like a cardinal. Much of the behaviors in cardinals are not deliberations, abstraction-based, with a high degree of freedom in regards to a goal. Rather, innate abilities to cope with environmental stimuli- pre-programming modules to handle specific situations of feeding, mating, shelter, building are what are more at play. These behaviors are hardcoded rather than plastic. There is some learning, perhaps encoding a song from a parent or habituation to stimuli, but that is not the same.

    This deliberative, high degree of freedom cognition provides enormous existential burdens that other animals simply don't have. We know that we exist, we can deliberate and evaluate every action we do. We can even choose to commit suicide, decide to go on a hunger-strike, and judge life itself as not that great. These are things that other animals cannot do. A cardinal does not experience existential despair. it does not evaluate its day as "good" or "bad". It simply does its hard-coded, pre-programmed thing each day, rain or shine, natural disaster, predator, or what not.

    Humans on the other hand, are able to conform, but we also know we don't have to do this. However, conforming is necessary for social cohesion. Institutions need to be created, learning can only take place cooperatively, information needs to be transmitted to accumulate the knowledge, individually and as a collective to keep the technological and cultural artifacts going in order to survive. But don't also forget that we need to be entertained. With great degrees of freedom comes great degrees of boredom that need our entertainment pursuits. We need challenging activities, other humans to share information with, and flow states to keep our brains occupied.

    I'd like to see what @Bitter Crank has to say.
  • Isaac
    714
    You'll have to walk me through how any of what you quoted leads to...

    We are not beholden to mainly automatic/inherent modules of behavior, but rather are more prone to deliberate actions, higher degrees of freedom of actions related to a certain goalschopenhauer1

    I've read through it a couple of times, including the article, but I'm not seeing any link to motives at all. It all seems to be about the fact that humans can respond more appropriately to shared intention than other primates. Some of the work I've read about primate empathy would seem to contradict these conclusions, but that's not necessarily relevant unless I can see how you are using them as evidence for your key argument.

    We can even choose to commit suicide, decide to go on a hunger-strike, and judge life itself as not that great. These are things that other animals cannot do.schopenhauer1

    Again we're back to unsubstantiated claims. There is scientific debate around whether animals commit suicide, they certainly self-harm and refuse food in response to stress. So all you're left with it the bare assertion that "when humans do it, it's for different reasons".
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    I've read through it a couple of times, including the article, but I'm not seeing any link to motives at all. It all seems to be about the fact that humans can respond more appropriately to shared intention than other primates. Some of the work I've read about primate empathy would seem to contradict these conclusions, but that's not necessarily relevant unless I can see how you are using them as evidence for your key argument.Isaac

    I mean because you say it ain't so, don't make it ain't so. My question is how human decoupled from instinct to plasticity (not to deny there are some instincts as well, which the OP already mentioned). These articles are but one example of a theory of how this decoupling came about. Theirs focused mainly on collaborative learning. Some articles I am sure will focus more on tool-use in conjunction with collaborative learning, mainly brought about by having hands free from walking bipedally. Yet others will focus mainly on linguistic capabilities and what that does for an animal's cognitive framework. Perhaps all three will be focused on, focusing on tool-use, language, and collaborative learning integrating and ratcheting each other to create a decoupling from instinctual modules to more plasticity.

    Again we're back to unsubstantiated claims. There is scientific debate around whether animals commit suicide, they certainly self-harm and refuse food in response to stress. So all you're left with it the bare assertion that "when humans do it, it's for different reasons".Isaac

    Just because actions are similar, doesn't mean they are the same. Someone committing suicide for an identified, specific, and deliberate reason- from a complex set of ideas (possibly unquantifiable, since the human brain is so imaginatively generative, it might even be hard to isolate), versus general "stress" of an organism due to environmental factors would be reductionist for the point of making an argument. Do I have to give you examples of animals not having complex set of ideas of immense imaginative generation in order for you to agree?
  • Isaac
    714
    I mean because you say it ain't so, don't make it ain't so.schopenhauer1

    Just because actions are similar, doesn't mean they are the same.schopenhauer1

    I'm not suggesting that your arguments are refuted by the evidence. I'm saying that they are not particularly implied by it either, which means that you're either left preaching only to the already converted, or you need to present a compelling reason why your position (in line with the evidence) is any better than any other position (also in line with the evidence).

    So the question is not why can you believe that, it's why do you choose to?

    You're saying that humans are not primarily driven by instinct, but by 'higher motives'. You have no evidence to prove that this is necessarily the case (ie that no other explanation will suffice). You dismiss the alternative, that we are still driven primarily by our instincts, yet you have no evidence demonstrating that this must necessarily be the case. So the philosophical question is why have you chosen the former and rejected the latter?
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    You're saying that humans are not primarily driven by instinct, but by 'higher motives'.Isaac

    I'm not saying humans are driven by 'higher motives'. In fact, often I emphasize how much of our motivation comes down to survival, adjusting comfort levels/performing maintenance, and finding ways to entertain.

    What I am saying is the way humans go about surviving is in large part, through plasticity in our learning. For example, a bird mainly builds a nest based on instinctive drives. There are some species where it's noted that they get better over time (i.e. the weaver bird), but mainly it's based on innate processes. The type of nest that is produced is based on species. Also the species generally knows when to make the nest based on instincts as well- let's say the spring time for the cardinal.

    Now, human behavior is much more plastic. Building a shelter takes coordinated effort,and is not based on innate drives, but based on complex learned processes that the individual and a given society accumulates (i.e. accumulated cultural learning) in order to make the best shelter. Humans plan, think up various tools and processes, rework them etc. The degrees of freedom in the human cognitive process is enormously greater and more varied. There is no instinctual module to perform this or that action for building a shelter. In fact, a human can decide to not build a shelter at all, and wait until they are in a better area (assuming it's a hunting-gathering society). Humans can think about and take innumerable courses of actions as well as generate incalcuable nuanced, imaginative worlds and scenarios.

    This flexibility is called "plasticity". In other words, or cognitive process compared to other animals can be characterized by its plasticity- our degrees of freedom in thought, and what we can learn culturally. Where a bird often survives through instinctual modules to perform survival-related actions, humans have high degrees of freedom of thought and plasticity-of-learning to survive, making for an enormous range of human behaviors and ways of survival.

    So I described plasticity, I provided some common theories as to how this plasticity came about (physiology of brains/biology, cooperative learning adaptations, linguistic generation), and have provided some of its implications. These implications being that we are a species which such high degrees of freedom we can evaluate our situation as we are doing it. We can put an emotional marker on what we are doing, and know that we are doing so. We can say- "I do not like doing this task, but it is the best course of action in order to survive right now". We can also realize that we can be doing any number of other tasks than the ones at hand now, giving us the responsibility of authenticity.

    We can decide to play a "role" and know that really we are "playing at a role" so we can confine our thinking to certain values. However, we can decide that other roles, and other actions are more to our liking. We are the only ones who can think along the lines of a Schopenhauer or Camus, that life can be absurd, that we were born, but everyday we have to decide what we are to do with it. We can question why we were born, or whether it's worth it to continue to live. This is called existential thinking. We understand our existential situation as we are living it. We are not just living in the moment, we are constantly examining life itself, and any given task in life itself that we choose to do or perceive has been given to us.

    A bird does not say, "Eh, today I'm not going to build my nest. I'm just going to perch here and chill". It simply does not have the degrees of freedom to do so. A bird does not question its own life, its worth, and whether any given task is worth it. A bird does not philosophize about existence. Of course, that shouldn't even have to be argued.

    I wonder what @Bitter Crank, @Baden, @Wayfarer, and @unenlightened have to say.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.2k
    Because it is not a controversial claim to presume a bird and a human have different cognitive frameworksschopenhauer1

    But controversy follows immediately after any attempt to describe or define these differences! :chin:
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.2k
    I'd like to focus on how humans developed [...] minimal amounts of reliance on internal drives, automatic functions, etc.schopenhauer1

    They did? When was this? I do not suggest we don't do these things, or that we don't do lots of other things too. But I do wonder if we still do a lot more things instinctively than perhaps we assume?
  • Isaac
    714
    These implications being that we are a species which such high degrees of freedom we can evaluate our situation as we are doing it. We can put an emotional marker on what we are doing, and know that we are doing so. We can say- "I do not like doing this task, but it is the best course of action in order to survive right now". We can also realize that we can be doing any number of other tasks than the ones at hand now, giving us the responsibility of authenticity.schopenhauer1

    This^ is the massive leap. That we have a very complex methodology for achieving goal (shelter, food, social cooperation...) and that we teach that methodology via culture is what you have provided the evidence for, and done so amply. Yet I would completely agree with that, I think most psychologists would.

    Yet you then leap to emotional self-reflection and authenticity. The evidence you've provided doesn't even hint at this, let alone demonstrate it as a necessary conclusion. What has a complex, culturally learned, technology got to do with emotional self-reflection? I'm not seeing the link you're drawing.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    Yet you then leap to emotional self-reflection and authenticity. The evidence you've provided doesn't even hint at this, let alone demonstrate it as a necessary conclusion. What has a complex, culturally learned, technology got to do with emotional self-reflection? I'm not seeing the link you're drawing.Isaac

    I did demonstrate the conclusion (I am not sure it is necessary, but sufficient). That is to say, we have enough degrees of freedom in our psyches to evaluate any given task or any given situation as we are doing it. This goes back to another thread I started regarding our ability to evaluate work as we are doing it.

    Essentially one of the main philosophical implications of our degrees of freedom (i.e. plasticity), is our self-reflection, and awareness of ourselves in relation to "existence" in general. At least, this is a conclusion I am the most interested in. We can choose any number of courses of actions and lifestyle choices. We can choose to live homeless by choice, for example. We can absolutely find the work we are doing dreadful, but then decide that we are still going to muddle through it to get a paycheck because we know that paycheck leads to future goods and services like food, utilities, transportation, housing, entertainment, etc. Other animals, don't have the degrees of freedom to evaluate the very work they are doing to survive as "dreadful" and then decide "well, I'll still muddle through it". This kind of self-reflection is absent due to simply not having the evolutionary adaptations that lead to these degrees of freedom as humans (due to contributors like evolutionary adaptations for language, tool-use, adaptations for cooperative learning, and the rest that help ratchet up our unique survival niche). A bird doesn't mutter to itself "fuckn, nest-making, I hate this shit, wish I could just perch on a branch all day..Ugh, more fuckn seeds.. I just want a vacation". That's silly and absurd.. but it seems like you really want me to belabor this point. A bird simply doesn't have the degrees of freedom for existential thinking. In a way, a byproduct of the way we evolved, involves the seeds for a negative evaluation of the very foundations by which we as individuals and a species survives.

    This extra layer of degrees of freedom adds in a way, an existential burden for the human animal. We are the species that can put negative evaluations on the very things we need to survive. In fact, we can put a negative evaluation on life itself. We can even wonder the worth of going through this whole survival/comfort-seeking/entertainment-seeking adventure/challenge in the first place. We can question our own species' continuance, and whether existing itself is necessary or good for future generations.

    Now, how has society developed mechanisms to prevent negative evaluations from becoming too aggressive? Humans have the great ability to manage our own behavior through various avenues such as "roles" and "competition". If you play the "role" of good worker, good citizen, good family man, successful person, great thinker (what many people think they are on philosophy forums perhaps) and make these models to live up to, and get people to buy into it, this eliminates some of this excess negative assessment of the situation. In other words, people would be more interested in living up to a role or playing at a role than "luxuriating" in the uncertainties of existential evaluative thinking of life itself.

    However, this playing at a role is also "inauthentic" living according to existentialists like Sartre. If our species has the degrees of freedom to understand its own existential situation, buying into a role unknowingly would be to give up the very freedom we have for existential evaluation in that we have in the first place (as a possible byproduct of our own evolutionary adaptation for plasticity). Other animals have built-in modules that generally can't be overriden (except through other built-in modules). We have enormous degrees of freedom that can override any particular action we are doing, if we deem it not worth our time and commitment. We can even judge the whole human affair of surviving to pursue some sort of "pleasure" or "happiness" as absurdly circular, and life to be on the whole, not worth pursuing for ourselves or the future. We can become existentially depressed (not just depressed by way of mood regulation problems as would be the case in classic depression). We can live knowing our situation as just beings who must survive and entertain over and over. We must constantly motivate ourselves to keep going. Again, society provides "roles" and certain ways of thinking for people to by into (e.g. competition, not falling behind your neighbor, etc.). But when these self-imposed constraints are taken off, we are being authentically thrown into our own awareness of our own existential situation.
  • Isaac
    714
    Essentially one of the main philosophical implications of our degrees of freedom (i.e. plasticity), is our self-reflection, and awareness of ourselves in relation to "existence" in general.schopenhauer1

    No I'm still not understanding the link, I'm sorry. We have complex technology, right, I get that bit. So our methods for achieving a goal are very complex. We teach those methods deliberately via culture, still with you this far. We can adapt our methods to circumstances and choose between a range of methods to suit, still with you up to here.

    Then you jump to saying that somehow because of this we can judge what we're doing emotionally and animals can't. What has judging our situation emotionally got to do with technological complexity, cultural learning, or adaptability?

    Even if I could understand the link, you say its only sufficient but not necessary. If its only sufficient, then all you can say from that is that humans do {whatever conclusion you draw}. You can't say that non-humans can't do it, that would require a necessary proof, to imply that the behaviour in question is necessarily reliant on the factors you've identified and so those lacking those factors must necessarily be incapable.

    I've no objection to the philosophical investigation of "what does it mean for us to be able to judge our lives to be good or bad?". I'm just confused as to why it is so important to that investigation to insist that other animals can't do this.
  • I like sushi
    902
    Many animals possess parts of what we call ‘human language’. What sets us apart is that we possess the faculty a bird has, a monkey, and a dog in combination. There is neurological studies on this subject and I’m referring to something relatively dated now from Cognitive Neuroscience third or fourth edition (obviously the chapter on Language!)

    The link is ...

    https://www.hse.ru/data/2011/06/28/1216307711/Gazzaniga.%20The%20Cognitive%20Neurosciences.pdf

    It’s a great resource and selects research from a various of positions without weight to any as ‘better’ or ‘worse’. It helps to partake in ‘philosophical’ arguments if the actual scientific knowledge is used as a touchstone. at least, if not as a guide.

    Enjoy!
  • schopenhauer1
    2.7k
    Then you jump to saying that somehow because of this we can judge what we're doing emotionally and animals can't. What has judging our situation emotionally got to do with technological complexity, cultural learning, or adaptability?Isaac

    I am trying to understand how it is that a species can have negative evaluations of a given task- especially ones related to survival, and have negative evaluations regarding life itself. We are able to do this because of our higher degrees of freedom. As I mentioned a previous post:

    This extra layer of degrees of freedom adds in a way, an existential burden for the human animal. We are the species that can put negative evaluations on the very things we need to survive. We have the burden of knowing we don't like a task, but muddling through it anyways (e.g. this task sucks, but I got to do to earn pay for goods and services). In fact, we can put a negative evaluation on life itself. We can even wonder the worth of going through this whole survival/comfort-seeking/entertainment-seeking adventure/challenge in the first place. We can question our own species' continuance, and whether existing itself is necessary or good for future generations.

    The human has an existential burden of being able to evaluate life itself as it is being lived, each task, each action, each moment. I find it interesting that this evolutionary path has been borne out in humans. Pre-programmed procedures, having an innate ability to do survival mechanisms X, Y, Z would be sufficient, but the path of the human animal was to have survival mechanisms that favored degrees of freedom and plasticity. The very mechanisms by which we were able to start evaluating our lives and existential situations and understanding our relation to existence were originally to allow for ways to survive in our social and geographic niche. The byproduct is we can even decide, based on deliberation, analysis, etc. that life itself is not worth being born into and have to live through moments of added suffering because we "know" our own negative evaluations of a given situation as we are doing them (again, things like "this task sucks, but I am still going to do it).

    These guys don't have these added existential burdens:



    Just to orient the major implications of the human existential predicament (add a heavy dose of philosophical pessimism though).

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