Perceive - "To become aware of, know, or identify by means of the senses."
Perception - "(1) the act or faculty of apprehending by means of the senses or the mind; (2) a single unified awareness derived from sensory processes while a stimulus is present."
Stimulus - "Something that excites an organism or part to functional activity."
Behaviour - "an aggregate of observable responses of an organism to internal or external stimuli."
It may seem kind of odd to you to include a dissertation on "Human Behaviour" in a discussion of Metaphysics. You might think that such an essay should more properly belong in a book on Psychology. However, I have a particular reason for including this essay here. Given the First Axiom of Evolutionary Pragmatism - that Reality is objective - we must deal with the unavoidable consequence that all Human behaviour, in fact all behaviour of all forms of life, is a reaction to perceived changes in the environment. How we deal with the objective reality in which we find ourselves has a significant influence on our individual and collective futures.
The following comments on some aspects of human behavior are not intended as a biologically or psychologically accurate picture of the science of what takes place, but rather the descriptions are intended to form a conceptual model to aid in understanding and discussion. As such, it should be regarded as a rough approximation, good enough for the purposes of this exploration of the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism. Underlying this exploration is a committment to the premise that Homo sapiens is an evolved member of the genus Homo, of the tribe Hominini, of the family Hominidae, of the order Primates, of the class Mammalia, of the phylum Chordata, of the kingdon Animalia. In sort, this discussion is based on the thesis that all living organisms have evolved through the processes of natural selection, and that all "behavior" is directed action on the part of the organism in the interest of continued genetic survival.
Without a perceived change in the external or internal stimuli received, there would be no need to behave. Even a lowly virus, an organism everyone will agree possess no mechanism with which to conceive anything, reacts to changes in the "perceived" environment. In the case of the virus, when the chemical "senses" detect a compatible locator site, the virus will proceed to inject its DNA (or RNA) into the receiving organism. For a virus, whether this is a behavioural reaction, or merely a chemical reaction is debatable. It is even debatable whether a virus can be considered to be "alive" in the normal use of that word. But with other clearly living organisms, the argument is less obscure. When the organism perceives the environment changing, then behaviour changes in response. The environment, of course, must be considered to include the internals of the organism itself. Eating can be considered to be a behavioural response to the changing levels of sugars in the blood stream (for those organisms having a blood stream).
The changes in the environment, and the resulting behaviour, are not always as obviously connected as the couple of examples cited here. If I were to cause a sudden loud noise, and you jumped, the cause-effect relationship is obvious. But the complicated and subtle behaviour patterns of courtship, and pro-creation, especially in many of the more complex species, are equally as much a response to changes in the environment. The cause-effect relationship may be more obvious in single celled amoebae, where pro-creation is a direct response to the degree of growth reached, and thus the availability of resources in the environment. But the mating behaviours of the avian and mammalian species, for example, are still directly related to the organism's stage of growth. And this degree of growth is still directly related to the availability of resources in the environment. Although, the more complex the species, the more subtle is this link to the environment.
Instinct - "innate propensity to certain seemingly rational acts performed without conscious intention; innate, usually fixed, pattern of behaviour especially in response to simple stimuli."
The determinants of which behaviour is elicited by a given set of stimuli, can be grossly divided into two sets. There are "Instinctive" reaction patterns, and there are "Learned" reaction patterns. Instinctive reactions are pre-programmed into the organism through the genetic coding. For any one individual, instinctive behaviours are triggered when the environment presents stimuli that match the triggers that have been programmed by the genetic code. A good example, is the reaction of a sun flower to the position of the sun. As the sun changes location in the sky, the sun flower will move its face to point towards the sun. If you fool the flower by presenting it with an alternate source of light, it will move its face to point to what it perceives to be the new location of the sun. The stimuli of the light matches the pre-programmed triggers, and the resulting behaviour is completely automatic. You can not teach the sun flower to exhibit any other behaviour in response to this stimulus.
One of the interests of scientists, is to determine the nature of the triggers in more detail. In the case of the sun flower, for example, a curious scientist might vary the number and location of the lights, or their emitted spectrums, in an effort to learn more about the detailed nature of the trigger. Does the flower respond to the strongest light? Perhaps the flower responds to just a limited frequency range? Because the reaction pattern is an instinctive one, if the proper stimuli are repeated the behaviour will be repeated. It is not possible to teach the sun-flower to alter this reaction to the stimulus.
All living organisms have instinctive behaviour patterns. Even you and I have instinctive reactions, and probably more than you would think. If I were to suddenly throw a handful of paper-clips towards your eyes, you would blink and perhaps draw back sharply. And the reaction you have to a sudden loud noise, is a similar example. These are instinctive reactions on your part, that have been pre-programmed by your genetic code. Even a baby that cannot yet see properly, and certainly cannot yet reason, will exhibit these reactions. In order to protect your most vital sensory organ, your genes have programmed a protective response into you. And the "fight or flight" reaction to a sudden unexpected surprise is equally a pre-programmed protective response. Only with difficulty would you be able to exercise voluntary control in these situations and refrain form showing any overt reaction. But the instinctive reaction is so basic and so automatic that you could not entirely suppress it. Those curious scientists have shown that the instinctive reaction is so much faster than any voluntary control you might try to exercise, that the instinctive reaction can be clearly measured even if it is not obvious to the casual observer.
To the individual, these instinctive behaviour patterns are automatic. If a stimulus is perceived that matches a trigger, the behaviour is generated. There is no choice or learning involved. The reaction is fast, and fully automatic. I must emphasize here, that "perception" is the key word. The classically understood process of perception is, according to the pundits, one part sensory input and nine parts expectation. This principle is as true of the sun flower as it is of the human brain. In the case of the sun flower, the sensory input is the relative location of the brightest light source. The "expectation" is that the sensed light source is the Sun. In a somewhat similar fashion, the brain, regardless of its sophistication, frequently "sees" what it wants to see.
In the longer view, however, the genetic material itself learns. Through the processes of trial and error, and over a large number of generations, the pool of genetic code packaged in the individual members of any species "learns" which behaviours are most suitable for given environmental stimuli. On a more or less random basis, genetic mutation produces a new behavioural trial. The mutated genetic code alters the previously coded behaviour, or alters the previously coded trigger. The result is an individual with a new instinctive response. The process of experience in the environment determines whether or not the new instinctive responses are appropriate. Since instinctive behaviour patterns are genetically determined, the processes of genetic evolution are the means through which the genetic code "learns" from the environment. Mutations in the instinctive response patterns that assist individuals in proliferating their gene-plasm will become dominant, and mutations that interfere with individuals proliferating their gene-plasm will die out. Over time and enough generations, it is as if the gene-plasm is "learning" how to behave in the environment through a process of trial and error. Over the millions of generations through which your genetic code has evolved, the gene-plasm has "learned" to protect the eyes with a blink and a sharp retreat, and "learned" to prepare the body quickly for a "fight or flight" choice when surprised. Over time, the genetic codes that code for such instinctive behaviour have been more successful, than genetic codes that do not.
Most species of life on this planet, are governed almost entirely by the behaviour patterns established in the genetic-code, by "Instinctive" behaviour. The "learning" that occurs to adapt the species to the environment, takes place at the species level and at evolutionary speeds. The gene-pool as a whole "learns" new behaviour patterns with which to deal with the environment. And if the environment changes faster than the gene-pool can "learn" to deal with the changes, then the gene-pool will probably find itself at a competitive disadvantage, and die out. Most of the extinction's of former species of life, can be attributed to this inability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. The genetic code of these species was unable to develop new behaviour patterns fast enough to deal with the changing environment.
Habit - "(1) settled tendency or practice; (2) automatic reaction to a specific situation."
For any one individual member of any species, however, since they are endowed with a fixed package of genetic code, the instinctive response patterns they are programmed with, is the set they have to live with. But individual members of many species can also learn, independently of the genetic-code. Scientists have shown that even members of some species of single celled microbes can learn new behaviour patterns. In those species provided with larger neural capacities, the ability to learn is greater. In fact, it appears to be a consistent correlation. The larger the ratio of neural capacity to body mass, the greater the ability to learn new behaviour patterns. There are, interestingly enough, some significant exceptions to this relation (Man, for example, does not have the highest ratio - the Blue Whale does). But it does appear to hold for the vast majority of known species, and especially for the majority of what is commonly known as the "higher" species. Learned behaviour patterns are those reaction patterns acquired by the individual beyond what the genetic code pre-programs for.
Learned behaviour patterns can be further sub-divided into two sets. There are "Habitual" behaviour patterns, and there are "Reasoned Choice" behaviour patterns. An habitual behaviour pattern is one that is invoked by a stimulus pattern that closely resembles a pattern that has often been experienced in the past. The habitual reaction is a little like an instinctive reaction, in that it has been developed in response to a particular pattern of stimuli that has been previously experienced. Like the instinctive reaction, the habitual reaction is largely automatic. The mental processes that generate behaviour appear to pick up on the similar stimulus pattern and initiate the learned habitual response. Experiments have shown that, like instinctive reactions, habitual reactions are faster than consciously determined ones (the Reasoned Choice set). Although they are demonstrably slower than instinctive reactions. Once you have learned an habitual behaviour reaction, it is difficult to consciously overcome.
Some typical human examples of habitual behaviour include driving a car and riding a bicycle. Once you have learned the process, the average individual can do either without much conscious thought. Pavlov's famous dogs are another good example from the animal kingdom. In this experiment, Dr. Pavlov trained his dogs by ringing a bell shortly before feeding time. After a suitable learning period, the dogs learned to associate the bell with the food. Once learned, Dr. Pavlov could elicit the habitual reaction of salivation merely by ringing the bell. In each of these examples, a set pattern of stimuli is associated with a pre-programmed reaction pattern. If the bicycle leans to the left, you steer to the left. Once this difficult trick is mastered through the much slower conscious processing, the habitual reaction system takes over. And since the habitual system responds much faster than the conscious one, the process of riding that bike becomes much smoother.
In most of the many species of life that have demonstrated a learning capability, learning new behaviour is a matter of developing new habitual response patterns. Through trial and error, the individual tests the suitability of different behaviours in response to a repetitive stimulus. Eventually, a particular behaviour produces a "good" result. If the stimulus is repeated frequently enough, and the "good" behaviour is repeated often enough, the individual will learn the habit of responding with this "good" behaviour whenever the stimulus is experienced. Anyone who has trained their pet is familiar with this kind of learning process. There are a number of variables in this process, of course, that depend on the sophistication of the species involved. For the "simpler" species, the frequency of the stimulus must be relatively high, and the complexity of the behaviour that would be labeled as "good" must be low. For species we can call more "sophisticated", the learning processes can deal with a lower frequency of experiencing the stimulus, and can respond with more complex behaviours.
To make this description a little more comprehensible, let us consider a "Feeder Box" thought experiment. The Feeder-Box is a cage in which we can place an individual member of a particular species. In the box is a trigger mechanism that the individual can use to obtain food. When the trigger is tripped, food is presented. (The exact design of the box would change depending on the species we selected for the experiment, of course, but that is not relevant to our thought experiment. I am trying to describe this device in a general way that would apply to any particular species we selected for this experiment.) The trigger mechanism must demand a behaviour on the part of our experimental subject that is in the normal range of behaviours producible by that species. We cannot, for example, expect a microbe to press a button, or a chimpanzee to type in a password.
Consider what would happen when we place a pigeon in the box. A pigeon's normal behaviour includes pecking at things, so the trigger mechanism would probably demand the pigeon peck at something such as a colored spot. At first the pigeon just pecks at anything that looks like food. And the pigeon gets hungry. The feeding behaviour of pecking has been unsuccessful. So the pigeon gradually widens it's "definition" of what looks like food. Eventually, that definition includes the colored spot and through trial and error, the pigeon pecks at the spot. Suddenly food is available. At first, the pigeon does not learn the connection between the spot and the food, and so the pecking behaviour will be focused on the location where the food appeared. If this was not the location of the spot, no further food will appear. The process will repeat until the pigeon pecks the colored spot again. The number of trials the pigeon must go through before it connects the colored spot with the food, varies depending on a number of things. Studies have shown that the variables include such things as the color of the spot, the time delay between the pecking of the spot and the appearance of food, the physical distance between the spot and the food dispenser, and whether the pigeon can see both the spot and the food dispenser at the same time. And there are other more subtle variables. All of this demonstrates the learning processes of a pigeon, and how an individual member of a species can learn a new habitual behaviour pattern. And it is an habitual pattern. If the pigeon is now removed from the box, and presented with a colored spot, it will continue to peck away at the spot expecting food. It will take as long or longer for the pigeon to unlearn the habitual response, as it took to learn the response.
As another example, consider what would happen if we placed a chimpanzee in the box. Now because the range of normal behaviours from a chimpanzee is so widely complex, we can arrange a suitably complex trigger. But the overall description of the learning that the chimpanzee goes through, will be identical to what the pigeon went through. The length of time it will take the chimp to accidentally discover the trigger will depend upon the complexity of the trigger we design. And the number of trials it will take for the chimp to learn the habit will depend on different variables than for the pigeon. But experiments have shown that the learning processes are the same in the general sense.
Habitual reactions are invoked in response to a stimulus pattern that is "similar" to one that has been experienced in the past and successfully dealt with. But sometimes this is inappropriate. Sometimes, there are some key differences between the current stimulus pattern, and the one corresponding to the habitual behaviour. If the differences are significant enough, of course, the habitual reaction is not triggered. But if the differences are critical, but not significant enough, then the habitual reaction can be triggered in an inappropriate situation. In the case of Dr. Pavlov's dogs, for example, the learned response of salivation was triggered by the ringing of the bell. And in the case of both the pigeon and the chimp the triggering behaviour continues for a while once they are removed from the Feeder-Box. These responses are inappropriate under the circumstances, since the expected food is not forthcoming, and the environment of the experimental situation no longer exists. The gross differences in the stimuli due to the changed environment, is not enough to overcome the "Similar" stimuli of the bell or the colored spot.
We have been talking here about animals and their behaviour. But the Human species is also one with many habits. In fact some people suggest that most of what we do on a daily basis is habitual. Which side of the bed do you get out of in the morning? Do you think about the processes of getting dressed, or is it automatic? First the left leg and then the right leg. I put my trousers on the same way every morning. I shave the same way, eat the same breakfast. And so forth. In fact, for everyone, most of the responses to repetitive situations is learned habitual behaviour. Driving a car, using a knife and fork, typing, and even much of what we call introductory conversation. "Hello" and "How do you do?" are habitual responses to meeting people. Even reading, writing, speaking, listening, are learned habitual responses. We don't normally consciously ponder the meaning of the individual written or spoken symbols we see, hear, write or speak. We just do it. The meaningful interpretation is automatic. We have learned the habits of communication. Man is largely a creature of learned habitual behaviour patterns.
The role of habit in human behaviour is even more subtle and extensive than the foregoing suggests. (As if that were not enough already.) Consider how we learn to deal with other people. As children we watch and mimic our parents, peers, and heroes. We learn by trial and error which behaviour is accepted and successful in getting us what we want. As very young children, we learn quickly that by crying, we get attention. As teens, we learn the difficult behaviours necessary for dealing successfully with the opposite sex. As young adults we learn the proper behaviours for being successful in society and business. As adults dealing with the environment and each other, we do not normally pay much attention to choosing our behaviour from moment to moment. We just behave as we have learned to do. These are learned habitual reaction patterns. In such and such a situation, the "proper" behaviour is this and that. To demonstrate the truth of this principle, one merely has to consider the differences in what is considered "proper" behaviour in different cultures around the world. In fact it is these very differences in what is considered "proper", that makes each culture different. And consider how difficult it is to move from one culture to another and feel comfortable.
Consider, as an example, a stereo-typical small town Texas politician. With ten-gallon hat and high-heeled cowboy boots, he greets his constituents with a broad smile, sincere eye-to-eye contact, bone-crushing handshake, thunder-clap slap on the back, and a deafening "Howdy Pardner! Glad to see Ya'll!". In his home town, he fits right in. His behaviour is perfect for his time and place. He comes across as sincere, friendly, and someone to trust. (Although perhaps a little over-done.) But now consider how this person would manage if he were to be transported to a small town in Japan. In this new cultural environment, all of his behaviours are wrong. His Japanese equivalent will avoid eye-contact as a sign of respect, and will bow low to indicate his figurative social position. Touching will be avoided, and speech will be quiet, sedate, and indicative of respect rather than brash camaraderie. Unless our transplanted Texas politician is very astute, and carefully manages his behaviour at the conscious level, his down-home country neighbourliness will thoroughly insult and offend anyone he attempts to talk to. In the Japanese culture, almost everything our friendly trustworthy Pardner would naturally, "habitually", do to win our trust will cause the reverse effect. Successfully operating in a different culture is one of the times when we must pay particular conscious attention to how we are behaving. It is a difficult thing to do easily. The first gut reaction is "This behaviour is wrong". We can tell it is wrong, because what our reason tells us is the "proper" behaviour in the new environment is not the behaviour that our habits, our guts, tell us is "proper". We have to use conscious control to overcome the habitual responses.
Life-style - "a person's typical approach to living, including his/her moral attitudes, preferred entertainment, fads, fashions, etc."
Even the habits of culture do not exhaust the extent to which we are governed by our habits. Faced with a constant over abundance of choice in life, the human animal will often establish a higher level pattern of habitual behaviour that automatically reduces the future range of choice. These "Second-degree" habitual behaviour patterns I will refer to as "Life-Style Patterns". The processes of establishing these more generalized habits are the same for all of the other habitual patterns we have been discussing. A set of behaviours is discovered, by accident or design, that gives us a "good" result more frequently than not. The more frequently behaviours that fit the pattern deliver what we want, the more set the habit. As with other habits, we can change the patterns through conscious efforts, but the re-learning process is difficult and generally avoided. The pattern works most of the time, and so is held to whenever possible. Exactly the same as with other, more simple and obvious, habits.
The habits of Life-Style Patterns make their impacts by limiting the range of choice in any situation, frequently down to one option. And they do this in all sorts of unexpected ways. The Life-Style you have learned will determine such varied things as what clothes you consider, what cars you want, what jobs are attractive, what mates are desirable, and how you have fun. Are you a Liberal or a Conservative? Which life-style label you fit yourself to will influence your thinking and opinions on a broad range of subjects. Are you a Red-Neck, Blue-Collar, White-Collar, Professional, Tradesman, Bum? The life-style you adopt will impact everything you do, and everything you want to do. This is not because you were born to be a White-Collar, Conservative, YUPpy, DINK (or whatever you choose to call yourself). These are behaviour characteristics that you have learned. And the choices you make on a day-to-day basis are largely constrained by the life-style you have adopted for yourself. Where do you shop for clothes? Who are your friends? What do you like to do? All of these things are influenced by your life-style habits. Doing things that do not fit with the life-style pattern you have learned is still possible. They merely require more conscious effort, and occasionally they just do not feel "proper". It would require a conscious effort of reasoned choice to overcome the habitual reactions that your life-style habit prescribes. Just as it would to function successfully in a different culture, or learn a new language or learn to ride a bike for the first time.
In the creation of habit patterns, most people stop with "Second-level" Life-Style habits. But a few advance to the "Third-level", and create Philosophy-of-Life habit patterns. This is not to suggest that most people do not have a Philosophy of Life. Everyone has a Philosophy of Life. But most people adopt their Philosophy of life in the same way that they adopt their Life-Style - an unconscious process of mimicking the behaviour of those they consider most "successful" (however they happen to conceive of that criteria). But a small minority of people have the interest to inquire into their Philosophy of Life, and to adopt a particular philosophy by conscious choice. For that small minority, a Philosophy of Life habit pattern serves a similar role as does a Life-Style habit pattern, but at a higher level. For those who do not consciously think about their Philsophy of Life, one must view their Philsophy of Life as just another aspect of their Life-Style habit patterns - rarely consciously chosen, and most frequently adopted by default from their social surroundings during their formative years.
Like a Life-Style habit pattern, for those who consciously establish one, a Philosophy of Life habit pattern makes its impact by limiting the range of acceptable choice. But unlike Life-Style habits, Philosophy of Life habits transcend any cultural differences that may be encountered. Life Style habits can be overcome through conscious effort. Philosophy of Life habits, on the other hand, becuase they are chosen through conscious reflection, can only be violated through unconscious or emotional reactions to situations. (They can, of course, be changed through conscious reflection - but that is not violation.) Conscious attention to the situation will only strengthen a Philosophy of Life habit. Life Style habits are recognized as being cultural environment specific, and countering one's Life Style habits becomes reasonable in different cultural environments. But Philosophy of Life habits are considered to supercede all situational considerations, and constrain what behavioural alternatives are judged reasonable under any circumstances.
Reason - "(1) intellectual faculty characteristic, especially of human beings, by which conclusions are drawn from premises; (2) form or try to reach conclusions by connected thought, silent or expressed, from premises."
Premise - "previous statement from which another is inferred."
Infer - "reach from facts and reasoning."
Choice - "decision between possibilities."
This brings us to the most important set of behaviour patterns, the Reasoned Choice behaviour. Many of what we have been labeling "more sophisticated" or "higher" species, are capable of some degree of reasoned choice behaviour. But the human species makes the most extensive use of this form of behavioural determinant. It is the Human Species' special talent. It is the ability that most separates us from the other species of life on this planet.
In order to describe how the Reasoned Choice Behaviour reaction occurs, I have arbitrarily divided the process in to six phases. Again, I should emphasize, the following description is not intended as a biologically or psychologically accurate picture of the science of what takes place, but rather to present a conceptual model to aid in understanding and discussion.
The first phase is that of Perception. I have discussed the processes of perception earlier in the essay on the Nature of Reality (and pointed to some further explorations of the subject). We each are continually bombarded with sensory stimuli that reflect our observations of the Reality around us. These stimuli are processed in the brain. The front-end processing combines our experienced perceptions and our current expectations of what we think we are perceiving, to identify and classify what we are perceiving in order to provide meaning or understanding. But as you have probably noticed, most of the on-going flood of sensory input does not make itself felt at the conscious level. This is because the conscious mind builds a "significance filter". The efficiency of this filter varies from moment to moment, depending on our current degree of pre-occupation. If you are concentrating on some specific thought process, then the filter will be quite efficient at blocking out the "noise" of unwanted sensory input. Only if something truly significant (i.e. unexpected) is perceived, will it pass through the filter to distract your focus. If we are concentrating on what is happening around us, on the other hand, then the filter will be quite inefficient. You will be conscious of more of the world around you as more of the sensory inputs make it to your consciousness for identification and classification.
The result of this "significance filter" is that the role that perception plays in the Reasoned Choice behaviour has more to do with the nature of the other kinds of behaviour, than with any characteristics of "viewing Reality through a glass darkly". Both the instinctive behaviour patterns, and the habitual behaviour patterns, also have "filters". When the incoming stimuli from the environment match one of these filters, the corresponding behaviour is initiated. As the set of stimuli fall through the filters, whether or not they trigger any behaviour on the way, they eventually reach the "significance filter" of the conscious awareness. And if the significance filter is not set too high, then the conscious mind will become aware of the input. It is this "conscious" level of the mind that performs the processes of Reasoned Choice behaviour. It is at this stage that the conscious mind can detect a stimulus pattern that may have already triggered an inappropriate instinctive or habitual response. But the reasoned choice process starts up relatively late in the time sequence. This is why scientists have been able to demonstrate that instinctive and habitual reactions are so much faster than the reasoned choice reaction.
The second phase of the process is that of Conception. At this stage of the process, the conscious mind has received a set of sensory inputs that have passed the significance filter. The conscious mind is aware that something is happening. The conception stage then, is the process the conscious mind goes through to understand why this particular set of sensory inputs passed the filter, and what these inputs tell about what is happening. The mind has to identify what the sensory input is that has passed the filter, and classify what is being perceived in order to understand what Reality is doing, and what it means to the individual. Performing this identification and classification of what is actually going on, is a necessary precursor to the next phases in the process of choosing an appropriate behaviour. In most situations, the conscious mind is continually processing new sensory inputs. A new identification or classification does not have to be developed from scratch. Rather, the conscious mind attempts to fit the new sensory perceptions into the framework of the currently running Synthetic-Objective Model of what is going on around us. This is why some optical illusions can be so startling. The initial perceptive inputs lead us to make identifications or classifications in one direction, and suddenly a new perception of the illusion causes us to suddenly make a major shift in our conception of what is happening. This same conception shift is also behind many jokes. The text of the joke purposely leads us in one direction, and the punch-line causes us to make a sudden shift in our notion of what had been happening all along. I do not intend to go into why this sort of thing should be regarded as humorous. It is sufficient to emphasize that our running cognitive model of what is happening influences, and sometimes determines, how we fold new perceptions into our understanding of what is going on.
The third phase in the Reasoned Choice process is Goal Development. Once the mind has developed a model of what is actually going on, it develops a series of possible goals. These goals are models of what can be regarded as desirable states of Reality. There may be more than one goal that would be regarded as desirable in the current situation. And these goals may be mutually supporting, mutually exclusive, mutually independent, or any combination or variation. This stage in the process merely selects from the set of all conceivable goals, the smaller set of possible goals that have meaning in the current situation. Given what reality is actually doing (based on the understanding just developed), and given that it is doing something that is not expected (because the perceptions passed the significance filter), what set of possible behaviour objectives would be desirable starting from the current situation? The development of the set of possible goals depends critically upon the past experiences of the individual. One cannot suggest as a potential goal something that one cannot conceive of. The size of the set of potential goals, therefore, will increase with learning and experience. It will, of course, also decrease with the uniqueness of the situation one finds oneself in. If the Synthetic-Objective Model that the mind has developed about what Reality is actually doing is sufficiently unique in the experience of the individual, then the set of potential goals that are meaningful to the situation will be quite small - even perhaps empty.
The fourth phase is Means Determination. Once a set of potential behavioural goals is selected as reasonable under the circumstances, the mind next seeks for the possible behavioural alternatives that will achieve the goals. Once again, the degree of success at this stage of the process depends on the level of experience one has with the behaviour of Reality. A necessary requirement for the suggestion that a particular behaviour will achieve the desired goal, is the understanding that if you do "This", then Reality will react with "That". This understanding can come from previous experience that "This" behaviour results in "That" consequence. Or more frequently, the understanding can come from a knowledge of the underlying cause-effect relationships adhered to by Reality. In this case, one can hypothesize that "This" behaviour should result in "That" effect, without actually having previous experience in this area. Obviously, the greater your knowledge and understanding of the behaviour of Reality, the larger can be your set of behavioural alternatives. In either event, the result of the fourth phase of this Reasoned Choice process is the addition to the set of possible goals, the set of behaviours that will achieve those goals. Sometimes, however, the process fails. Sometimes, as a result of ignorance, or the uniqueness of the circumstances, the individual cannot develop any behavioural alternatives that would be expected to satisfy the goals. Sometimes, either the goal selection or the means determination phases of behaviour generation fail to develop any alternatives at all that meet the requirements of the situation. The "do-nothing" alternative remains the only one on the table.
The fifth phase is Evaluation and Selection. In this phase, the mind examines each of the possible goals, and each of the alternative means towards those goals. The evaluation process draws upon the best estimates for the consequences of these various behaviours to tag each alternative behaviour with a degree of desirability. The more desirable the consequences, or the more undesirable the consequences, the more thought and effort the mind will invest at this stage of the process. Once again, the accuracy of the prediction of consequences is determined by the amount of knowledge the individual has about the behaviour of Reality. Either through personal experience or through abstract learning, the more knowledge the individual can bring to bear, the more successful this stage in the process is likely to be. The outcome of this stage is the choice of which behaviour to initiate. It is this last phase that most people are conscious of when they consider their processes of choosing behaviours. It involves the highest degree of intellectual effort, and the widest degree of conscious consideration of consequences. It can fully occupy the conscious mind for a serious decision. All of the previous steps in the process exist (in this conceptual model), but they happen mostly automatically and without much conscious attention. The other phases are data extractions from your accumulated experiences and learning. It is in this phase that the worrying is done, and the choice is made. For that reason, it is the one phase that is most obvious.
The sixth phase of the Reasoned Choice process is Progress Measurement. This is not really a separate phase in itself. It is merely the closing of the loop back to the first phase of perception. Having made the choice of which behaviour to initiate based on an analysis of consequences, the mind has a set of consequences it expects. These consequences are loaded into the significance filter as the sensory inputs that are expected. As Reality reacts to our behaviour the perception processes compare the sensory inputs with what is expected. The significance filter compares what is being experienced with what is expected. When there is a variance noticed (and there almost always is a variance of some degree) these processes begin the decision loop again.
The way I have described of the process of Reasoned Choice Behaviour might seem to imply that it is sequential in nature. But this is certainly not the case. It is actually a simultaneous and concurrent process, with multiple feedback loops between the various stages. If the consequences of the initial set of behaviours are not good consequences, then the process may feed back to the goals stage to expand the horizons within which reasonable goals are selected for further analysis. All of the feed-back connections possible within this model are all simultaneously operating.
In computational terms, it is a "Parallel Processing Distributed Network" model, and in the terminology of the Artificial Intelligence community, it is called a "Neural Network" decision mechanism. The length of time the network takes to "relax" into a choice of behaviours, will depend on the magnitude of the positive or negative values of the goals involved, and the good and bad consequences of the various behaviours considered.
Although the process itself is occasionally a conscious one, it normally proceeds completely automatically with little conscious attention to the process involved. We are conscious only of a decision that needs to be made, and the decision is made. It happens constantly throughout each day. Most of the decisions are small ones, and the process happens quickly. Ever used an unfamiliar calculator? The process of finding and pressing the proper buttons is a Reasoned Choice behaviour process. All of the processes I have described are operating. Are you conscious of the process? How about buying or leasing a new car or new house/apartment? I'll bet at least part of the process happened under your conscious attention. The consequences of making a bad choice are great enough, and the value of the goal involved is great enough that you probably invested a large effort in the evaluation and choice stage of the process, and were conscious of the process you were going through.
Value - "(1. An amount, as of goods, services, or money, considered to be a fair and suitable equivalent for something else; a fair price or return. 2. Monetary or material worth: the fluctuating value of gold and silver. 3. Worth in usefulness or importance to the possessor; utility or merit: the value of an education. 4 . A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable."
The two most important determinants of a person's personality, character, and behaviour, are the level of understanding of Reality's cause-effect relationships, and the set of value patterns that he has developed. In the first case, the level of understanding will determine the person's degree of success in predicting the consequences to considered behaviours, and in selecting behavioural goals that are reasonable under the circumstances. And since most learned habitual behaviour can (although does not always) start from the grounding of Reasoned Choice behaviour, a person's level of understanding of Reality will affect this form of behaviour as well.
Value patterns, however, determine how the individual will value all of the various goals and consequences considered during the processes of determining a Reasoned Choice behaviour. Value patterns are those interrelated sets of values that have been associated with particular experienced or learned goals or behavioural consequences. As I have described, it is not enough to know that if I do "This" it will result in "That". It is also necessary to be able to place a value on the desirability of "That" result of my behaviour. Is "That" result something that is good or bad? In the processes of Reasoned Choice, I do not want to rely on the genetic level of good/bad judgment. Because if I make a poor judgment, the entire genetic pool of the species might learn from the error, but I individually, might pay dearly for the miscalculation. It is definitely in my own personal individual best interests to make quality good/bad judgments about the probable impacts of the consequences of my behaviour. So, over time, and through many methods, I learn to associate certain degrees of desirability with the probable consequences of potential behaviour. It is my set of Value Patterns that allows me to gauge how valuable the outcome is.
Throughout life, every individual learns that certain goals, and certain consequences or states of Reality, are to be regarded with certain degrees of desirability. As a trivial example, the individual learns through experience that food is valuable when you are hungry, and less so if you have just eaten. A child learns early that waiting for the stop light to turn green, is a good way of increasing the safety of crossing the street. When evaluating possible means towards the goal of getting across that street, the alternative of waiting for the light to change would be rated higher in most circumstances, than the alternative of jay-walking through traffic. In addition to the lessons from experience, the individual is taught explicitly and implicitly by parents, teachers, peers, and others in the social environment. Each life situation that is experienced, observed, or otherwise learned about, will have associated with it a certain degree of desirability. As each new situation or scenario is associated with its respective desirabilities, a set of patterns is built up. By employing these patterns, the individual will be in a position to select that particular goal, and that particular means to the goal, that is most desirable.
The acquisition of a set of value patterns is in no way a directed or controlled process. Each individual learns through his or her own purely personal life experiences. Because of this haphazard individuality, each individual acquires a set of value patterns uniquely his/her own. This raises the sociological problem of two individuals, brought up in differing environments, having value patterns so different that they conflict on many major points. For example, a child brought up in a ghetto street-gang environment is going to acquire a set of value patterns radically different from a child of an upper class professional family. Neither would be immediately able to function successfully in the other's environment. And there would be little common ground between them as the basis for any common understanding, although of course they could learn. Because of this individuality of learning experiences, no two individuals brought up in different cultural environments, will view the same situation with the same desirability. The larger any population of interest, the greater the probable differences in these perceived values.
I must emphasize again, that "perception" is the critical element here. You will react with instinctive "gut-level" emotional reactions to sensed, identified and classified stimuli. All of the principles of instinctive behaviour that I described above, apply to the emotional reactions as well. And as I stressed earlier, perception is one-tenth sensory input, and nine-tenths expectation. It is just as possible to fool the perceptive processes in a negative way, as it is to use them in a positive way. And ignorance, of course, can be deadly. This is even more important when one is talking about the emotional reactions. These reactions are triggered by instinct-level analysis of what is and is not in the long term best interests of your genes.
Most people, of course, do not consciously think in terms of the best interests of their own particular genes. But then, no known species of life consciously thinks in terms of the interests of their genes. The processes of evolution have made that unnecessary. Through the long, random process of trial and error experimentation, evolutionary development has provided a more immediate and perceptible substitute or proxy. This proxy is the emotional need or want. When you are hungry, you want food. Or need food, depending on the degree of your hunger. When you consider crossing that busy street, you feel safer crossing with the light, and afraid of jay-walking. Your genetic programming, developed over the billions of years of genetic evolution, has programmed you into feeling an emotional need or want for those things the genes have already learned are in their own long term best interests. And you feel an emotional fear or repulsion for those things the genes have learned are counter to their long term best interests. When translated into the terms of the emotional proxy, value patterns reflect the individual's determination of what goals and means deliver the greatest long term amount of emotional satisfaction. Thus, in the case of crossing the street, your conscious knowledge of the risks involved in the various alternatives, and the probable consequences of the alternatives, tells your "gut" (the emotional interpreter, not your digestive tract) that it will be safer to wait for the light at the corner. As a result, you experience an emotional response to the situation that tells you that you want to wait for the light, and are afraid to jay-walk. But as you gain experience with the Realities involved in crossing streets, you learn that some street-crossing circumstances are safer than others. And eventually, you can evaluate the risk of crossing the street as less undesirable than is the effort to walk to the corner and wait. And thus, with suitable experience, and the proper traffic circumstances, you jay-walk.
But we live in a complex, and ever changing world, that our instinctive analysis processes are poorly equipped to deal with becuase they evolved in a much simpler environment. The result is that these instinctive analyzers depend more and more on the conceptual manner in which we identify and classify what we "See". We depend more and more on our conscious understanding of Reality as the current problem gets farther and farther away from situations the processors are "used to" (i.e. genetically adapted to). Our instinctive emotional response to the sight of a tiger stalking us is bound to be far more reliable than our emotional responses when we sight an attractive member of the opposite sex in a modern social setting. The first example is primal. Our instinctive emotional reactions have had ample opportunity to learn the best responses. It is one of the reasons why the call of the wolf in the wild can still raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The second example is fleeting and highly cultural in context. Our instinctive emotional reactions are a poor guide to proper behaviour. If you doubt this, contrast the probable behaviour of the amorous drunk, whose higher centers of reasoned analysis have been short-circuited, with the probable behaviour of the suave sophisticate.
The fact that most Reasoned Choice behaviour is also the most socially desirable behaviour, is the result of the importance of social acceptance to the individual's emotional satisfaction. There is, in fact, a complete hierarchy of emotional priorities that is programmed into the instinctive emotional analyzers. This hierarchy was first described and explored by Dr. Maslow, a behavioural psychologist in the 1930's and 1940's. As a result the hierarchy is called "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs". As Maslow described the hierarchy, there are five distinct levels of emotional priority. In any situation, all five levels may be triggering an emotional response, but one will be dominant. Which one is dominant will depend on the individual's current circumstances, and how strong the need is from the lower levels of the hierarchy. The five levels are :-
Physiological Needs:- At the base is the emotional concern for immediate satisfaction of physiological needs. As you can imagine, this level of instinctive emotional response was probably the first to develop, and generates the strongest emotional responses. It is also the least sophisticated response. This level of instinctive processing responds only to the most immediate perceived threats and physiological demands, but generates the strongest emotional reactions. Physiological level emotions are the most difficult to overcome with conscious effort. The processors at this level are concerned with the preservation of the self in the face of physical threats. It is this level of instinctive reaction that produces the "fight or flight" responses. When faced with a sudden unexpected surprise, you jump, your heart pounds, the blood is directed towards the major muscle groups, and adrenaline pumps into the blood stream. All are classical symptoms of the need for a sudden physical response. You don't have to think about it. It has happened before you are consciously aware of it. Also managed at this level are the organism's biological needs for food, water, warmth, etc., including the immediacy of physical lust. You can see from this list how difficult it is to overcome the emotional demands from this level of the hierarchy. Especially if they become strong. But as I have emphasized before, sometimes our conceptual model of Reality need bear little resemblance to the "True state of affairs". It is this Physiological level of emotional response that is the basis of such powerful, and sometime inappropriate responses as fear of heights and other "irrational" phobias and neuroses.
Safety Needs:- The emotional processors at this level are concerned with a slightly longer term than the lower one. One can imagine that this level of response evolved later than the first one. The processing required demands a degree of foresight and planning, since the reactions are concerned with the avoidance of future dangers, and the satisfaction of future organic needs. The processors at this level are concerned with preventing circumstances that would trigger the lower level physiological response, and are also concerned with the longer range objectives of sexuality and procreation. You can see that at this level in the hierarchy, your level of understanding of how Reality works becomes very important. And the conceptions you have about what will and what might happen are very important. Consider, as an example, why you might not want to tell your dad about a mistake you have made. When you were very young, your father was likely the family's disciplinarian. When you were "bad", your dad spanked you (either literally or figuratively). As a result you learned that getting your father angry, caused you pain. And, as was fully intended, you learned to avoid making your father angry by not being "bad". On the other hand, because your father loved you, and wanted only the best things for you, when you goofed and made a silly mistake, he became angry at your foolishness. The causes of the anger in the two situations are not at all the same. In the first case, you were "bad", in the second you did not live up to his expectations. In the first case, it was fully intended that you should learn to fear the results of being "bad". But in the second case it becomes an unintended consequence of the first lesson, that you fear the associated anger. The anger in the second case is not your responsibility, but due to the high expectations held by your father. None-the-less, you have learned to fear the anger, not the true cause of the anger. And as a natural, though unintended result, you have learned to fear disappointing your dad. So you fear telling him of your mistake. The processors at this level trigger your emotional reactions based on what you think is going to come to pass. The degree of foresight and the ability to predict are critical contributors to the emotional reactions triggered by this level in the hierarchy. But there can be a great gap between what you "know" intellectually, and what the processors have learned through experience and "know" at the emotional level. A great deal of psychiatric treatment revolves around re-educating your Safety level emotional processors, and correcting emotional misconceptions with what you know intellectually.
Social Needs:- This third level in the hierarchy developed as an integral part of Man becoming a social species. The emotional processors at this level are concerned with the role of the individual as a member of a group. All of the needs and wants of an individual as a member of a social species are triggered at this level. The need for companionship, the need to be accepted by the group, the power of peer pressure, all are invoked by the emotional reactions of processors at this level. Fads and fashions, life-styles and initiation rites, all fall into this category. When the Physiological and Safety levels have been quieted down, the need for social acceptance becomes quite powerful. The power of peer pressure can be quite daunting. In this age of medical knowledge about the damage caused by drugs and cigarettes, it is peer pressure that is making smokers and drug addicts of younger and younger people. It is peer pressure that causes hem lines to rise and fall, not the temperature. It is peer pressure that keeps most people on the "right" side of all but the more serious of laws, not the penalties involved. And it is peer pressure that makes bigots and racists.
Esteem:- Further up the scale, are the processors that invoke the emotional needs for group recognition as a valued member of the group. It is not enough just to be accepted as merely another member of the group. Once that has been achieved, there is a need to have the rest of the group recognize your individual existence, and value your membership in the group. It is not enough to be merely another member of the pack, you have to establish a recognized position in the "pecking order" or power structure. And it is beneficial to your genes to have a higher position in the structure than a lower position. The emotional processors at this level are concerned with motivating the individual to achieve a higher position in the group, to be recognized and valued as a powerful member of the group. It is the emotional drives from this level in the hierarchy that allow people in a gang or mob to commit excesses that individually they would never consider doing on their own. In an effort to gain the recognition of the other members of the group, individuals will grab a slight initial group direction, and take it to excess. It is the emotional need for group recognition that creates both lynch mobs and Green-Peace.
Self-Actualization:- And at the top of the scale are the emotional reactions that govern the needs of the individual to feel fulfilled. From this level come the emotional needs for living and performing to the best of one's abilities, and to feel that one's potentials are being fully explored and stretched. This is the emotional level that creates mountain climbers, and artists, and is the emotional core of professional pride in all lines of work and play.
As you can see from my description of each level, the higher up the pyramid, the less physical and more intellectual are the concepts involved. The higher up the hierarchy we get, the more important become the concepts we carry around on how Reality works and how it will behave in response to our behaviours. At the lower levels, the stimuli are largely sensory in nature. The blood sugar is low, and we get hungry. There is little conceptualizing involved. At the higher levels, the stimuli are almost entirely conceptual. It is not what they said, but what we think they might be implying that matters. How's that for a third-hand-removed example.
Do not assume from this overly brief description of the hierarchy, that there is any kind of sequential scope of satisfaction involved. All the emotional drivers at each level are operational all the time. Its just that the emotional drives from the lower levels are stronger and more insistent. Emotional needs from the higher levels tend to get swamped in the flood of emotional need if the lower levels go unsatisfied to any great degree.
In any situation, or in any Reasoned Choice process, all levels of the hierarchy will be contributing emotional needs to the value pattern processing. How potential goals will be developed and consequences will be valued will depend on both the values we have learned to place on those things, and the various needs we currently are feeling for emotional satisfaction. Which goal and means combination is most desirable in filling the most important emotional need? Notice, I did not say the strongest need, I said the most important need. Determining which of the emotional needs is the most important, also depends on our learned value patterns. We can use our conscious processing to trade off some emotional needs for others. We can, for example, ignore our current hunger in favor of loosing a little weight and living longer. We can choose to ignore the peer pressure that is trying to get us to do something we know is stupid. This kind of trade-off between values and emotional needs generates both the hunger striker and the ecology movement. We can consciously choose to employ the fullest extent of our intellectual capabilities, in understanding as much as we possibly can about Reality, and in determining the best possible course of action in the interests of our genes, in the longest possible term. The emotional needs triggered by Maslow's Hierarchy are input to, but not total determinants of the Reasoned Choice process.
The effort demanded by proper employment of the processes of Reasoned choice, can be quite excessive. Especially when you consider how much of an over abundance of choice is faced by the modern individual when compared to our pre-historic ancestors. But the human species displays a remarkable tendency to make choices that automatically reduce the future range of choice. This tendency to simplification is called "decidophobia", because it has many of the superficial symptoms of a fear of making decisions. Faced, in some situation, with a wide range of options to choose from, the individual will often choose a course of action that will result in the greatest reduction in the breadth of freedom of action in the future. It is doubtful that the individual is consciously aware of this objective during the process of choosing. But the prevalence of "decidophobia" is far too wide spread to be a coincidental result of other objectives. The motivation for this objective is probably a form of mental laziness. It may be perceived to be simpler to make simplifying choices now, so that the available mental energies can be more profitably employed on important decisions later.
The adoption of a certain life-style habits is a good example of this kind of choice. (Assuming, of course, that the particular life-style is actually chosen, and not merely accepted by default.) Once the choice has been made, the individual has automatically put severe constraints on the future range of acceptable action in many areas of life. As we discussed earlier, life-style choices can impact everything from the mates you choose to the food you eat. Another simplifying decision that many people make is what group to join. Group membership is not always, or even often, a result of decidophobia. But many people use the group relationship to greatly simplify their lives. Such relationships function on the one hand like life-style choices, and on the other, to introduce someone else's opinions and priorities into the decision making processes. This is true of all kinds of group relationships, from the local bridge club to a marriage. In most marriages, for example, the partners divide up the universe of decision areas. One partner assumes responsibility for some areas, like the kitchen, and the other partner assumes responsibility for others, like the garden. Many areas are shared, of course, and even in their areas of responsibility, some decisions are important enough to extend beyond the sphere of local management. Most decisions in the other person's sphere of responsibility, however, are abdicated to that other person. This can dramatically reduce the mental workload on any one individual. In some relationships (not just marriages), however, the decidophobia by one partner of the team is so great as to result in complete abdication of all decisions to other members of the team. There are many social organizations that almost demand this complete abdication of decision making. Most cults are this way.
Religions are another example of life simplifying choices. Religions, almost by definition, defer to some form of "Authority". This authority is assumed to be the ultimate repository of all correct decisions. It can be a book, as in the case of the Bible or the Torah, or it can be the head priest or senior philosopher in the case of cults and oral-culture religions. Most religions thus make sharp distinctions between that which is approved of and that which is disapproved of. This can drastically reduce the acceptable range of choice open to adherents. The set of religions is not limited to the classical ones either. There are a number of modern pseudo-religions that are the functional equivalent for those disillusioned with the classical ones. These modern substitutes include such radical political and social philosophies as Marxism, Communism, Fascism, and Green-Peace. All of these types of organizations place strict limitations on what the individual adherent is permitted to think, say, and do.
A dependence on authority can make life extremely simple, for those who find life too complicated to be comfortable. It is not just the religions and pseudo-religions that do this. Political conservatives frequently do it as well. "If it was good enough for our fathers, it is good enough for us." And the classical fault of the elder generation of scientists, is a dependence on authority for the correctness of their positions (since generally, they are the authorities).
The most dangerous form of this dependence, is an appeal to public opinion. If "everyone" thinks that some position is correct, then it simply must be correct. But that is again abdication of your own decision making responsibility to other people's opinions. It is one thing to accept as fact, evidence that "everyone" agrees is fact. It is another to accept as fact "everyone's" opinions of what is good and bad. In the case of evidence about Reality, it is assumed that the evidence can be verified at will if required, and has been enough times to make it trustworthy. In the case of moral and ethical opinions on what is good and bad, however, "everyone" cannot possibly have our own best interests in mind - however you choose to concieve of the "best" involved here. In fact "everyone" most likely has their own best interests in mind. What "everyone" generally thinks is good, therefore, can be regarded as "good for them" and not necessarily good for you. As children we are frequently guilty of using the "everyone" argument. Do you remember using the line "but everyone else has .... "? The argument is used in an attempt to get something by convincing our parents that since everybody else has it, we should get it as well. But the counter used then, is just as valid against any argument from consensus opinion. Just because everybody has it (does it, says it, believes it), does not mean that it is good for you. In most cases, it is better if you make your own determination of what is best for you, according to your own concept of "best".
Learn - "(1) get knowledge of (subject) or skill in (art) or ability to do, by study, experience, or being taught; (2) commit to memory; (3) become aware by information, or from observation."
Curiosity - "The desire to learn or know about anything, inquisitiveness."
Curious - "desirous of learning or knowing, inquisitive."
Inquisitive - "given to inquiry or research; eager for knowledge."
When I began this discussion of Human Behaviour, I said that the determinants of behaviour elicited by a given set of stimuli, can be grossly divided into two sets, the "Instinctive" reaction patterns, and the "Learned" reaction patterns. I talked briefly about the nature of Instinctive behaviours, and at length on various aspects of Learned behaviour. I made another statement when introducing Value Patterns, that the two most important determinants of a person's personality, character, and behaviour, are the level of understanding of Reality's cause-effect relationships, and the set of value patterns that has been developed. We've been talking about the nature of value patterns and their impact on Learned behaviour. Now I would like to discuss the impact of the levels of understanding of Reality on behaviour.
Most species of life cannot learn new behaviour at the individual level. All of their behaviour is instinctively determined. The species as a whole learns through the pressures of genetic evolution on the genetic determinants of their instinctive behaviour triggers and reaction patterns. The ability to learn new behaviours at the individual level, appears to be linked in some fashion to the ability for controlled movement. Species that do not move of their own accord about the environment, and species that move but only randomly, do not generally exhibit much in the way of learning abilities. You can't teach the sun-flower new tricks, for example. There are some exceptions to this rule, but the generality appears to hold. And most of the exceptions that have been identified, appear to have spent some of their evolutionary history as a mobile species. Of those species of life that do have an ability to direct their movement about the environment, the ability to learn appears to be present in some degree. The scientific community has not determined why this association should hold true, but the hypothesis is that an ability for controlled motility presupposes a determination to leave where you are now, and get to somewhere else, for a purpose. For all of the species that possess controlled motility, that purpose is food gathering. Once a motile creature begins to move about the environment, the species will begin to encounter new phenomenon at a faster rate than can be handled purely by evolutionary (genetic) learning processes. It appears, therefore, that a basic ability to learn from experience is a survival adaptation for success as a motile species. There is a difficulty with this theory, however. Those species that possess random mobility also are faced with the same environmental challenge, but have not appeared to have developed any learning ability. This may be because those species that have random mobility but not controlled motility are among the single celled organisms. There are, of course, species with controlled motility among the single celled organisms, but they generally display only a very elementary learning ability, if any at all. Perhaps the development of the beginnings of a learning capacity is what transforms a random mobility into a directed motility. Whether this particular hypothesis is true or not, there does appear to be a direct relationship between the displayed capacity to learn, and the ability for controlled motility about the environment.
The term in general use for the non mobile species is "plant", and that for mobile species is "animal". This again is only a non-scientific generality, since there are examples of species that don't fit this particular distinction, but are classed as plants or animals because of other more basic similarities. But for our purposes here, the generality will be "true enough". We can therefore make a generalization for the purposes of further discussion that "Animals learn, Plants do not". Again, this is not strictly true, because there are examples that do not fit the generalization. But the statement covers the vast majority, and can be treated as true for the purposes of further discussion.
Once a basic learning ability is developed, there results a clear net benefit to the individual to invest effort in learning about the environment. If an animal moves about the environment, not in an effort to find food, but in an effort to gain information, then we label that behaviour "curiosity". You can examine the various animal species and measure the proportion of effort that is invested by the individual in movement for the purposes of food gathering, and in movement for the purposes of simple learning. Although, of course, understanding which is which will involve a somewhat arbitrary classification by the investigator. We generally cannot actually know which is which. The distinction must be inferred from other clues. However we make the distinction, it turns out that the higher the proportion of effort that is invested in curiosity, the greater the apparent learning ability of the species. Which side of this relationship is cause, and which is effect, is uncertain. I suspect that the relationship has a self-reinforcing nature. A little learning ability promotes the development of a little curiosity, which in turn promotes the development of a greater learning ability. And so forth.
Curiosity, as a facet of animal behaviour, is a very wide spread phenomenon. Indeed, only the "lowest" species of animal life do not exhibit at least some degree of curiosity. Since all animals move about their environment in search of food, the successful individuals are the ones who are best at finding sufficient food resources to permit and sustain procreation. This is a restatement of the basic principles of genetic evolution. The better able the individual is at understanding the environment, the more likely the individual will be successful in finding food. The better able the individual is at predicting how the environment will react from moment to moment, the better equipped that individual will be to avoid dangers and locate food resources. Thus, there is a survival benefit to be obtained from an ability to learn and remember about the nature of the environment.
As a basic level of learning ability initially develops, it allows the species to profit from more information gleaned from the environment. Curiosity becomes a greater and greater proportion of the behaviour as the ability to profit from the information is developed further. The greater the learning ability, the better able the species is to profit from experiences. The more curious species learn the most and the fastest. They are thus better able to recognize dangers and opportunities. As the human species developed from a tree dwelling, food gathering ape, to a plains dwelling, tool using hominid, the curiosity behaviour patterns played a key role. The hominids would never have survived for long, out on the open plains in competition with the great carnivores, if the tendencies towards curiosity and experimentation had not previously prompted the development of an omnivorous diet, and an elementary ability to use tools. Curiosity is the hand-maiden of intelligence. Without the ability to analyze new and different situations, without the ability to recognize subtle patterns across dissimilar experiences, curiosity would have been a dangerous evolutionary experiment. The curious would be constantly getting into trouble, without the benefit of being able to profit from the experience. Likewise, without the intense interest in the environment and the willingness to invest effort in exploring it, intelligence would have been a dry seed, never having a chance to bloom for lack of the flood of information on which it grows.
Leaving aside the biochemical learning exhibited by the less complex life-forms, an animal learns by experiencing positive and negative reinforcement of reactions to perceived stimuli. In a novel situation, the individual will go through the processes of Reasoned Choice behaviour determination to select a reaction that appears most appropriate. The more limited the intellectual capacities of the species, of course, the more limited will be the analysis performed during the choice process. But all of the steps will be there to some degree. Learning does not take place if the reactions are governed purely by the instinctive reactions. There must be some level of conceptualization and reasoning involved for learning to take place. The sixth step of monitoring progress against objectives must be present if the individual is to learn anything. These processes do not demand a sophisticated neural network like the human brain. The processes of Reasoned Choice can exist in very elementary form in much less sophisticated environments. The memory may be limited, and the understanding of the environment may be limited, but the essence of learning is the ability to choose a behaviour that is other than instinctively determined.
(Throughout this discussion, I have been using and will continue to use anthropomorphic terminology like "pleasurable", "unpleasurable", "reasoning" and "wanting" when describing the behaviour of non-human species. I am using these terms as descriptive of observable behaviour, not in any effort to attribute human-like emotional responses to non-human species. A single celled amoebae, for example, can be described as having a pleasurable sensation if it successfully obtains the food it requires. This is because the amoebae behaves in a fashion similar to how humans behave if the result was a human-pleasurable result. So please do not accuse me of attributing human intelligence to non-human species.)
Once the individual generates a reaction to a given stimulus, if that reaction is beneficial to the welfare of the individual's genes, the individual will experience a pleasurable sensation. This is an emotional/chemical reaction has been designed by evolutionary pressures to induce the repetition of that reaction to that stimulus in the future. The pleasurable emotional response is purely instinctive, even biochemical in nature. At the more basic levels, this pleasurable response might be nothing more than the absence of hunger or fear. If, on the other hand, the reaction to the stimulus is detrimental to the welfare of the gene-plasm, the individual will experience an unpleasurable sensation that is intended to induce the avoidance of that reaction to the stimulus in the future. We have here the co-coordinated action of two different levels of behavioural response. On the one hand, we have the level that perceives the environment, reasons (to some degree) about it, and chooses a response from a range (that might be quite small) of possible alternatives. On the other hand, we have an instinctive, even biochemical, response to the consequences of our actions. The reasoned choice process is future oriented. The entire process is directed at choosing the alternative that will result in the best consequences in the future. The "pleasure/pain" emotional response is immediate, and is a reaction to the currently experienced circumstances. The process of learning, is the process of associating which consequences result from what behaviours, and which emotional responses are triggered by which environmental circumstances.
Because man is an animal, and has all of the response patterns of the other animals, he learns in the same way as the other animals. These basic principles are the learning process in any animal. The process is most evident in human learning when the individual is learning by experience, as in the case of a young child or the casual experimenter. Young children are generally taught by their parents, through the direct application of physical or emotional pleasure and pain, that pleasing them is "good" and displeasing them is "bad". This is usually the first step taken by all mothers when raising children. The mothers first indicate pleasure with a smile and affection, and displeasure with a frown and a slap. The child quickly learns to associate the smile with the affection and the frown with the slap. From that point, all the mother has to do is use the smile or the frown appropriately. The child automatically (habitually) associates the signal with the pleasure or pain required. The lesson must be periodically reinforced lest it be unlearned (all habits can be unlearned if unreinforced). And the signals must be employed consistently and appropriately or the lesson will be unlearned even faster. A smile must be used to indicate pleasure and be reinforced with affection, in those situations that the child would normally expect to earn the pleasure reaction. And a frown must be used to indicate displeasure and be reinforced with some degree of pain (not necessarily direct physical pain), in those situations that the child would normally expect to earn the displeasure reaction. There must be a large degree of consistency between the reaction the child expects and the parental messages that the child observes. The child is, after all, attempting to understand how Reality reacts and behaves. The child will expect that Reality will react with some degree of consistency. If the parents do not adhere to this principle, then the child will develop an understanding of how Reality behaves that will include the inconsistency of the parents. The child will, in essence, unlearn the association between "good" and "bad" behaviour and the signals that the parents are using to indicate which is which. The child will, in fact, learn what the parents' inconsistent messages are indicating is "good" and "bad" behaviour, rather than what the parents may be inconsistently verbalizing is "good" and "bad" behaviour. The messages that the parents are sending out, it must be remembered, are only partially verbal. The bulk (some experts estimate 80% or more) of human communications is done through body language and voice tonalities, not the spoken words.
When the learning process is being consciously guided by a teacher, it becomes possible to invoke more subtle applications of pleasure and pain. The teacher can employ incentives keyed to the individual's Hierarchy of Needs. Initially, if the "good" / "bad" lesson is properly taught by the parents, then any teacher can draw upon this psychological association by employing the same set of signals as the parents. By indicating pleasure or displeasure with the students behaviour, the teacher can invoke the students own habitual association with the proper pleasure and pain responses. In a similar way, when the individual begins to expand his/her time and space horizons beyond the immediate satiation of Safety level needs, and into the future and social levels of the motivational hierarchy, then the individual's peer group, social superiors, bosses, dates, and finally himself, can apply suitable emotionally sensations of pleasure or pain merely by indicating pleasure or displeasure with the individual's actions
The various disciplines of Evolutionary Biology offer ample evidence that much of of what we like to think of as "Free Will", is in fact the result of various Instinctive responses. So much of how we deal with the objective environment around us is the result of pre-programming by our genetic code. Even our much vaunted ability to learn is an evolutionary adaptation by our genetic material to the challenges of the environment. Within the constraints of our instinctive behaviours, we are programmed to learn new ways to deal with a rapidly changing environment.
However, the slow and laborious processes of conscious decision making is often too time and energy consuming to be an efficient means of dealing with familiar circumstances. So we develop various forms of "mental short-hand" - habits. With greater or lesser success, we tend to adopt Cultures, Life-Styles, and Philosophies in order to minimize the amount of effort it takes to deal with a rapidly changing environment.
But the key to understanding Philosophy in general, and Ethics in particular, is an understanding of the Reasoned Choice response to circumstances. How we form Value Patterns, and how we manage our emotional responses to genetically provided needs is vital to properly understand why it is so important to make our own philosophical choices, and to not rely on the choices others would make for us.
Everyone is equipped with the ability to reason, learn, and make their own choices. Few make use of that ability. Understanding why is the first step to correcting that deficiency.
(1) Maslow, A.H.; Frager, Robert; Fadiman, James. Motivation and Personality, 3rd Ed. Harper and Row, New York, 1987. ISBN 0-0604-1987-3.
(Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs has come under significant criticism over the years since first proposed in 1943. But his analysis is sufficiently useful for the purposes employed here, and will be treated as "true enough" for the purposes in hand.)