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Old 01-27-2003, 12:45 PM   #1
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Instincts?

This is a question we've been discussing in the "Peace?" thread... but it doesn't belong there anymore so I'm dragging it out here. We've got a really good dialogue going so far... I'll repost for everyone's benefit:

Quote:
Originally posted by theSoulfulMofo
How can peace be a simple thing, when most humans are wired with survival-of-the-fittest instincts?

I mean, it's literally a dog-eat-dog world out there... economically (captialism), politically , socially (racism)... in the free world, we are taught to compete and earn our place in the world, even it means beating down the underdogs...

i don't know... am i making any sense?
Quote:
Originally posted by hippy
Anthropologically, humans do not have instincts. Everything we have learned is a product of the society we live in. Unfortunately, the societies we have all grown up in are largely capitalist and have the "dog-eat-dog" mentality. Also unfortunately, that world view has infiltrated most human life. But if you look at societies like band societies, they don't engage in war to solve their problems. War developed when agricultural societies started to grow and become rooted in one spot. When people began to lose intimate contact with one another, they began to engage in the practice of war. And it has developed from there.
Quote:
Originally posted by Sherry Darling[/i]
Humans don't have insincts? Tell that to anyone who's ever been attacked. Any mother who sees her kid in harm's way. Anyone who hasn't eaten in a week.
Quote:
Originally posted by hippy
lol you should have heard my anthropology teacher trying to convice my class last semester that humans don't have instincts. But technically we don't. We aren't born with anything in us that says "as a mother, when my child is in trouble, I must protect it". That reaction in us is learned. We learn how to be mothers. We learn how to react when we are attacked. Humans have reflexes, such as breathing and muscle contractions when we touch something hot, etc. But everything else is learned.

The example my professor gave was with chimpanzees (who are the closest primate to humans). Suppose that a chimp is taken from it's mother as soon as it's born. It's raised by itself and has no one to learn from. No way to learn social patterns of behavior, no way to learn how to "mother", or how to take care of a child. Suppose that chimpanzee then has a baby. You will find fthat the chimpanzee has no ability to care for that infant chimp. She will have no knowledge of what to do with it or how to behave toward it, etc. Even when her baby is in mortal danger, she will be apathetic because she has never been taught that a mother *should* protect her baby. The same goes for if the chimp is put in contact with other chimpanzees. She will be lost as to how to deal with them as a consequence of never having learned that particular behavior. This analogy applies to humans in the same sense. Look at other cultures and you will find a different idea of "mother".
Quote:
Originally posted by pub crawler
Okay, wait. Your Anthro professor teaches a radically different concept of behavior than did the professor from whom I took an anthro class 5 years ago at UCLA. Either that, or I totally misunderstood my professor -- or I'm totally misunderstanding your professor.

My professor instilled in us that all behavior is a product of both nature and nurture. "Instincts" are the same thing as "nature," are they not? I'm honestly curious about what you learned.


Edit: It's also possible that one or both of our professors were wrong.
Quote:
Originally posted by hippy
First, I should say that the class that I took was a Cultural Anthropology class which focused mainly on the development and structure of human societies. This class is different from a regular anthropology class which would tend to focus on human evolution and such. Now that that's done, on to the other stuff!

According to the text that we used (Bates and Fratkin, Cultural Anthropology, 2003) and my particular professor, "nature" is simply the genes you are born with. This determines your physical and, to some extent, emotional indispositions. It takes the "nurture" (the environment in which you live) to express those characteristics. So, for example, some genes may be expressed in a certain in environment which may not be expressed in another. So, yes, behavior is a product of both nature and nurture. What I was trying to show in my previous post was that humans do not have "instincts," that is, programmed behavior to act a certain way in a certain situation. Women are not programmed to be mothers, that is a learned behavior. However, women are born with the capacity to become mothers. In the same manner, all men are capable of becoming the biological parent of a child, but that does not mean they automatically are born with the capability to be what our society calls a "father."

So to answer your question: Instincts are not nature. Those things we are taught to refer to as instincts are really reflexes. Our genes cannot tell us how to mother or father or take care of ourselves. Our genes can give us the ability to be able to do those things, but it is the behavior we learn from the moment we leave the womb that teaches us how to do the things necessary for life. And what we learn is determined by our culture.
Quote:
Originally posted by Sherry Darling
Survival is an instinct. Sex and sleep are instincts. We're created with them in order to stay alive. There is precedent for this in nature, too.
Quote:
Originally posted by Elvis
Actually... survival in humans is not an instinct - its taught. Sleep is something that happens, no matter if you try to or not. Also.. from what I've read/heard ... sex with humans is not an instinct either, it's something we choose to do, and also do for pleasure.
Quote:
Originally posted by Sherry Darling
Mmmmmmmm.....you're aware of the amount of biological evidence to the contrary, aren't you? For example, sex feels good so we'll do...so that our species will survive.

And that's the discussion so far... anyone care to respond?
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Old 01-27-2003, 12:49 PM   #2
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And Kristie responded to this discussion in my journal....

Quote:
Quote:
Anthropologically, humans do not have instincts. Everything we have learned is a product of the society we live in.
We still have SOME instincts... i.e. the instinct to take care of your children (the how of it IS learned), to fight to stay alive, eat food, pass on your genes, incest, etc. All the more basal things are or begin as instincts, but most everything that we do in society is learned. Culture is basically defined as things that are learned, and that which is uniform across the human species is programmed in our DNA. As to the mothering thing, here's a random fact... when one is around and taking care of small children, the brain releases a chemical that has been proven to be addictive. Gobbles, my cat, her mother died a few days after she was born and had no role model, and she raised two litters of kittens this year... of course, she's not a primate, and not really related to humans, so that might be moot.
Back to incest, in India (okay so I'm not 100% sure that's India), many schools operate so the same classroom of children is together for their entire education. These children spend almost all their time together, eating, sleeping, and when they grow up marriages inside this classroom are almost nonexistant, although culturally they're not looked down upon and sometimes encouraged... they're like brothers and sisters to each other.
Anyway, your anth prof should meet my anth prof, heh Problem with anth, everything's got a hundred people on both sides with differing opinions that get into fistfights at conventions.

Quote:
But if you look at societies like band societies, they don't engage in war to solve their problems. War developed when agricultural societies started to grow and become rooted in one spot.
There's band societies that are (well, were) rooted in one spot... there were large cities in California where the native americans there were hunter-gatherer societies that lived mainly on acorns, because there was such an abundance of them. Course they don't war with other societies either... just saying.
But yeah, large-scale agriculture was a direct precursor to war... have you ever read Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn? The whole book is pretty much about that, I'd highly recommend it if you haven't. Oddly enough, I read the first half on the plane to see you and the second half on the plane home...

anyway, yes, war is learned and we are NOT pre-programmed to wage it. Apes fight over territory, but only so they have more access to food (and mates, but that's another story), and our access to food doesn't depend on the size of our territory any more. The only context where we will fight is if our life is in danger... even a chimpanzee raised in captivity will fight you if you are hurting it, it doesn't have to learn how.
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Old 01-27-2003, 06:42 PM   #3
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I have a few edits about what I said earlier...
Quote:
that which is uniform across the human species is programmed in our DNA.
I decided in the shower today, that's not true all the time, just a lot of the time. All societies dispose of their dead, but that's a health matter and not instinctual.


Quote:
hippy sez:
But if you look at societies like band societies, they don't engage in war to solve their problems. War developed when agricultural societies started to grow and become rooted in one spot.
Today in my anth class we discussed pastoralism and the Nuer of Sudan. The Nuer traditionally are cattle herders and do not practice agriculture, and are in a constant state of war, both within their society and with their neighbors, the Dinka. One nearly uniform aspect of pastoralism is that they are usually warring with someone.
Example: Why the Nuer are always at war.
Part of the definition of an independent state is that the State has a monopoly on violence. When someone steals your car, you call the cops, and the police as representatives of the State mediate. The Nuer do not have this centralized monopoly on violence (or cars), so when someone steals your cow you either go get your cow back or find a mediator. The finding of the mediator is kind of complicated and involves kin ties and doesn't always work. If you don't agree with the solution then you AND your entire family goes to war with the person who took your cow and THEIR entire family. Many times a large family will claim a smaller family took one of their cows in order to kill them all and take their cows. Then the Dinka take the Nuer's cows, and there's no one to mediate between them, so they go fight to get their cow back. The "state of war" I'm talking about here isn't constant fighting, but it's the constant tension that a battle will break out on any given day.

disclaimer: When I refer to the Nuer it means those Nuer who live traditionally, herding cattle. Some do live in cities and some do practice agriculture... I'm talking purely pastoral society.

I'm sure I stuck my foot in my mouth somewhere in there...
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Old 01-29-2003, 04:13 AM   #4
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Why did this thread just meander down the page? This is all so interesting!

I love a good old nature vs nurture debate. I wrote a paper once on this specific topic of nature vs nurture and looked at the situation of cross cultural adoption to make my points. Not prove them mind, as I dont believe one can prove one over the other. Both sides of this argument have valid points that can't be denied. While adoption may not deal with the issue of instinct, it does look at traits and how they can be passed on or completely avoided with absolutely no contact with an influencing source. I wont post it all here unless anyone is interested as it was mostly from a personal standpoint having lived with the result of a cross cultural adoption for all of my life.

With regard to the point made about survival instincts though, I have to say I dont agree. I think it was Elvis who was quoted with saying there is no such instinct in humans. I'm not sure if there is levels of survival or what context it needs to be looked at, but doctors say that it is actually impossible, for example, for a person to drown themselves unassisted. A person cannot hold their head under water of their own free will without the brain taking over from consious control and forcing air to be inhaled again.

I can't recall who was quoted with what regarding mothering instincts either, but I dont believe for a second that it is all learned. I think the practices and tasks required to raise a child successfully so it is always fed, clean, clothed and comforted are learned. But there is an instinct that doesn't involve physical nurturing as does the emotional and psychological relationship with a child born of you. Go to any maternity ward and ask the women if they can tell their baby's cry from another. Chances are they can. Perhaps they learn that cry, so that may be moot. Ask them if their milk supply changes when they know their baby is crying for food, as it surely does. Its more than just physiology. There is this knowledge that appears, and guides a mother as to what needs to be done and what is required. No one can learn all that is required for care of a new baby in such a short time. There is no rule book, no classes that teach this. It comes somehow and most accomplish it without actual learning. I'm not saying that its all instinctive and its a walk in the park, as it isn't, but there is a fair amount of change, and establishment of the mother role that comes to exists in such a short time span that leads me to think that we do have built-in instinctual abilities to cope with such a huge job of nurturing a child.
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Old 01-29-2003, 04:35 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by Angela Harlem
Why did this thread just meander down the page? This is all so interesting!
Because it's easy to go off about politics, but it's hard to form an opinion and back it up with science.
It really saddens me that topics that aren't about religion or Bush get so few replies... Someday I'd like a good discussion on some aspect of quantum theory.
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