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instinct vs. free will

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libertygrl
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Posted 09/24/10 - 4:49 PM:
Subject: instinct vs. free will
do animals have autonomy?

or, more to the point, does a being that acts strictly in accordance with instinct have free will?

any thoughts?
Nihil Loc
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Posted 09/24/10 - 8:54 PM:

crying

Terrifying Qs and As, Lib.

A yes or no answer comes first and then we proceed to explain why.

Autonomy, as supported by human culture and free thought (mind), is a late development to the vibrant spread of life. Its significance is brought to bear upon the conscious reflecting subject only.

Animals cannot (or do not) reflect on possible realities. If they do they do not communicate it in language or action, so the question of whether or not they are capable of informed choice of a possible reality that would give them a sense of individuation seems to have an apparent answer. Animals do not have autonomy insofar as we argue they don't have autonomy.. They do have will though, and the exercise of such will within a gratifying environment could be coterminous with a situation of autonomy.

The mind is an evolutionary gamble (accident) that might destroy itself as a result of its individual 'autonomies.'
The radical variety of behavior offered by mind might be the limit of this sense of autonomy as opposed to some ideal that was born of the era of Enlightenment. Autonomy might just be a learned path of least resistance for the gratification of instinct.

I feel uneasy by denying animals human freedom, but if this is the right answer, then we should not feel so uneasy denying man of his autonomy also.

Where do we draw sensible, meaningful boundaries?


praxis
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Posted 09/25/10 - 12:28 PM:

Interesting how the one in control always has greater free will, regardless of how smart they are.
henry quirk
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Posted 09/25/10 - 12:43 PM:

I'm weak and can't resist, so...

The first time a hominid said (or thought) 'no', and then acted on that denial (of biology, or hierarchy, or whatever) autonomy (agency) was expressed and became reality.

Even if the placeholder 'no' was not in use at the time, the 'sentiment' is what brought life to the agent (autonomy in the flesh).

Obviously: to exercise autonomy/agency, the individual must first see him-, her-, it-self as 'I', as separate from, distinct from, everything around it. This self-definition, it seems, only happens in a full way by virtue of the particular and peculiar complexity found in the human animal.

So: while Rover may be one bright, friggin', dog (conscious as hell), Rover is unlikely to experience it 'self' in a real, full way.

Even orangutans (arguably closer to humans than even chimps in the capacity to 'self-recognize') present only a pale shadow of self-awareness, at least when compared to the average human schmo.

#

"Where do we draw sensible, meaningful boundaries?"

Where it (the boundary) is always drawn: with the individual.

If some dog proved itself to have human-level self-awareness ('I'ness) then I should happy to listen to its arguments about this or that (in whatever fashion it could present them)...the capacity of this one dog, however, shouldn't, can't, bestow on ALL dogs the same courtesy.

The same can be said of a great many humans, which is -- of course --a sad and pathetic thing.

The extraordinary dog that claims and defends its 'I'ness is a thing to be marveled at...that the majority of a species (ours), naturally 'I'-ridden, chooses to denigrate that 'I'-ness in favor of 'collective' (the reducing of the individual to mere cog) efforts is a friggin' shame.

#

And: to operate fully within the confines of instinct is the sphere of the non-'I'...'I's can, and do, cut against instinct's grain all the time. When 'I' choose to ignore or move away from the jackass instead of, as my instincts direct, punch him in the head, I assert 'me' (as a whole, as agent, as autonomy) over the directives of my flesh.
Monk2400
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Posted 09/25/10 - 2:49 PM:

Instinct has nothing to do with freedom. The issue is a red herring.

All organisms are autonomous in so far as they are NOT automatons. Clearly, all animal organisms are self-directed beings, not puppets of some other agency.

Instinct is irrelevant. Or, more precisely, instinct only goes to explain the rational behind certain choices--the motivation. Human beings, for instance, are always making free choices, but what are the ends motivated by? Desire? Ideal? Instinct is just another one of these. Because a certain non-human animal acts primarily from 'instinct' (whatever THAT really means) doesn't mean that their acts are not 'free'. They still have to confront their environment and make decisions about what to do and when.

Surely the wolf decides which of the deer herd to attack. It doesn't matter whether this act is motivated by hunger or not. The point is that it is not controlled by an external force.

Self-awareness and greater cognitive functioning gives human beings greater degrees of freedom in the sense that they can do more with purpose--they can act in the moment based on projections about ideal conditions. Whereas other beings may only have the luxury of responding to immediate conditions.

But, insofar as it is THEIR response, they are still fundamentally free.

8)
Nihil Loc
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Posted 09/27/10 - 2:03 AM:

Monk wrote:
But, insofar as it is THEIR response, they are still fundamentally free.


O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a
king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.


~Hamlet
henry quirk
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Posted 09/27/10 - 8:44 AM:

"Surely the wolf decides which of the deer herd to attack"

I don’t think so.

The wolf is conscious (open to the world, aware of it) but not 'self-conscious'...there is no deliberation on its part about which deer to go after. Instead, what the wolf perceives (by way of sight and smell) trips off complex 'programs' (instincts) bred into it.

It goes after the straggler, for example, not because it 'recognizes' easy or easier prey, but because, over a god-awful amount of time, the wolf species, through the trial and error of natural selection, was 'programmed' to go after the straggler.

In this: the wolf is a bio-automaton, no different, conceptually, than one of those robotic vacuum cleaners advertised on late night television.
Monk2400
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Posted 09/27/10 - 9:39 AM:

Just stop for a minute and think about how complex a 'program' would have to be to totally govern a sentient being. The number of factors involved in even the simplest tasks are innumerable. Moreover, the very fact that individuals of a species can and do adapt to circumstances and environments that are outside what either they or their ancestors experienced is proof that these beings are much more dynamic than human arrogance usually gives them credit.

The wolf cannot be programmed to go after a particular deer. On the field, the end result is still undetermined until the wolf acts. And the fact is that the wolf--at any given time--is free to act or not act. The predator chooses its time to strike and chooses its time to lay back and wait.

Furthermore, if you deny freedom at its most basic level then human freedom will also disappear. There is nothing special about so-called 'self-consciousness'. It only adds another level of complexity to the perception of the world. And once you begin to break down the human experience, it becomes clear that even such complexity is deeply entrenched in reflexive and instinctual behaviours linked to natural selections taking place over god-awful amounts of time.

So sorry, I don't buy it, Decartes. If freedom exists at all it exists within all sentient beings--even as a necessary condition for sentience itself.

8)
henry quirk
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Posted 09/27/10 - 10:11 AM:

Well, I favor 'autonomy/agency', not 'free will'.

"Freedom/free will' is a nice notion but unsupported by the way the world seems to work.

I can choose because I am 'I'...I can stop, pause, consider my 'self' in relation to 'whatever'.

I self-deliberate (self de-liberate).

As for 'programs'...scratch the placeholder (a poor word choice on my part)...instincts are so much more than programs, but, in the end, are still 'instincts'.


"The wolf cannot be programmed to go after a particular deer."

No, its instinct (flesh) will dictate it goes after the easiest or easer prey when certain conditions arise...computers can be 'programmed' to do this or that given certain conditions exist or come into play (do 'this' when 'that' and 'that' and 'that' happens).

Nothing like agency or autonomy, or even 'freewill', exists in a computer.

Build a robotic roach (it's been done)...by way of artificial senses the processor of the 'roach' is made 'aware' of its surroundings...its 'instinct' is: when 'this' happens, do 'that'...it doesn't think about the action (or the condition(s) for the action)...it never deliberates or improvises...it just does what it does as automation.

The wolf -- a product of millions of years of trial and error 'research and development' -- is no different.

Now 'you' with your particular and peculiar complexity DO pause, self-reference (self-consciously), self-deliberate...you 'choose', as only an 'I' can.

I suggest there is a huge gap between the wolf and you...one is ruled by the flesh that comprises it; the other rules over the flesh that comprises him. The difference is the complexity of the flesh, a complexity of a particular, peculiar, and 'rare' sort that seems to only 'be' among creatures like me and thee... wink

Edited by henry quirk on 09/27/10 - 4:07 PM. Reason: editing
libertygrl
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Posted 09/29/10 - 12:07 AM:

welcome back, henry.

NL wrote:
Where do we draw sensible, meaningful boundaries?

indeed. we can recognize fundamental differences between ourselves and animals (similarities too, of course) but what rights should be accorded to various beings as a result of these distinctions? not drawing a boundary seems to not be an option.

Monk wrote:
Surely the wolf decides which of the deer herd to attack

does the wolf use judgment, would you say?

praxis wrote:
Interesting how the one in control always has greater free will, regardless of how smart they are.

or how smart we think we are. on a related note, is complexity in intelligence a mark of greater freedom of will? or, on a random tangent, are we really that much smarter than rocks? for all we know, rocks may be the most blissed out beings on the planet. complexity seems to cause a lot of grief. ignorance is bliss and all that.
henry quirk
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Posted 10/07/10 - 8:42 AM:

"welcome back, henry."

Seems you left the back door open... wink
libertygrl
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Posted 10/07/10 - 10:54 AM:

ha!

ok last post FORREAL! laughing
Zenoplata
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Posted 02/09/11 - 6:40 AM:

There have been a number of animals capable of self-identifying according to studies. I think the experiment they do is to put a spot on the animal, somewhere on its body. If they are able to look in the mirror and recognize that it's actually a spot on them rather than believing it to be a different animal they are considered to be conscious of their own existence.

The experiment and its implications are obviously more complicated than that, but that's the jist of it.

Regardless, I think free-will may be nothing more than a complex series of instincts which we fail to recognize as such. Most of us would like to think that the choices we make are entirely of our own volition, but it's entirely possible it's just something we've convinced ourselves of.
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