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  Topic: Animal Intelligent Design?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
lpetrich



Posts: 12
Joined: Jan. 2003

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 19 2003,02:20   

William Dembski apparently believes that beavers intelligently design their dams.

However, beavers have some sort of dam-building instinct that consists of placing sticks and mud wherever they hear rushing water, such as at an underwater speaker playing that sound. This document on beaver control warns about that, and understanding that has enabled the design of a Beaver Deceiver fence around a culvert inlet.

I find it curious that both supporters and critics of Intelligent Design theory have said so little about the question of intelligent design by species other than Homo sapiens, because there is an abundance of seeming evidence of such design, like beaver dams, spiderwebs, and so forth. And if much of that is true intelligent design, then we have an abundance of nonhuman intelligent design right under our noses, in a sometimes very literal sense!

Animal-intelligent-design capability is part of a lot of folklore, and many pet owners seem to think that their pets have that capability. And the reputable biologist George Romanes had offered numerous seeming examples of that capability in the late 19th cy. Only to be repeatedly ridiculed later as an example of how not to do animal-behavior research.

Much animal behavior has been found to be a combination of instinct and simple forms of learning, though the instincts involved may be very complicated, and though instinct and learning are often closely intertwined. For example, web-building spiders know how to build their webs without being taught, and the webs they build have a stereotyped, species-specific architecture, despite their complexity. There has been some simulated-spider research that implements web building with a combination of algorithms with the form of "if you feel this configuration of nearby strands, go here".

And much animal learning would be hard to call intelligent design on the animal's part; this includes mechanisms like

Imprinting (Konrad Lorenz became the "mother" of some geese)
Habituation (not responding to "meaningless" stimuli)
Latent learning (wandering around and picking up detail)
Classical/Pavlovian conditioning
Instrumental/operant conditioning

There is an exception:

Insight learning (pausing and then implementing a solution)

This may be called a form of intelligent designing. But it has been seen in only a few species, most notably chimpanzees. So one reasonably concludes that the intelligent-design ability is rare in the animal kingdom. And the closeness to our species of the main counterexample is consistent with what one would expect from evolutionary biology -- in fact, Wolfgang Koehler had used evolutionary biology to decide on an experimental subject for his pioneering experiments.

And what, precisely, might Koehler's chimps have been doing? An analogy with human problem-solving suggests that they were manipulating a mental model of their solution before implementing that model. Thus, a chimp who sees a lot of crates and an out-of-reach banana may imagine crates stacked on other crates to reach that banana before actually trying to stack those crates.

So performing intelligent design may simply be manipulating a mental model of something before building it. Thus, if I wish to build a dam across a creek, I don't get seized with an uncontrollable urge to collect mud and sticks and place it where I hear rushing water. Instead, I picture in my mind that dam and imagine where best to place it and how I'd build it.

By contrast, intelligent-design advocates generally treat intelligent design as some sort of unanalyzable fundamental principle.

And from the occurrence of structures that appear to be produced by intelligent design, but that are not, one obtains a powerful counterargument to the "design inference".

One counterargument is that spiders, beavers, etc. were designed with their instincts, but that does not change how the appearance of design had been produced by a non-design mechanism. The ultimate origin of those instincts is an entirely separate question.

  
Dr.GH



Posts: 2113
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 19 2003,16:33   

Let me recommend The Things We Doby Gary Cziko.  His chapter 7, The evolution of Animal Behavior is particularly apt.  I think that you will find considerable support for some of your thoughts posted above.

The relevant question raised by Cziko is why do we think that we think differently from animals?  The error that the Intellegent design creationists make, and many of their critics, is the assumption that human behavior is categorically different from nonhumans.

--------------
"Science is the horse that pulls the cart of philosophy."

L. Susskind, 2004 "SMOLIN VS. SUSSKIND: THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE"

   
lpetrich



Posts: 12
Joined: Jan. 2003

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 20 2003,04:09   

Thanx. I downloaded and read the whole book; it was nice to discover that it also referred to mental modeling as an important ability.

There was an interesting experiment mentioned in it (chapter 9) for finding out how chickens and chimpanzees find their way around obstacles:
Quote

It turns out that chickens and chimpanzees differ markedly on the Umweg task. Whereas chickens can solve the problem only if their frantic movements bring them by chance to a spot where they can see the path around the obstacle, chimpanzees can more calmly examine the situation and then simply walk around the barrier to obtain the object. So chickens must rely on the variation and selection of overt behaviors, but larger-brained chimps are able to substitute the variation and selection of mental processes for overt behavior.

Thus, chimps can do intelligent designing, while chickens cannot -- at least as judged from their behavior.

  
Dr.GH



Posts: 2113
Joined: May 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 20 2003,18:56   

Chimps also perform more like humans on other barrior tests, as well as their ability to recognize themselves in mirrors.

--------------
"Science is the horse that pulls the cart of philosophy."

L. Susskind, 2004 "SMOLIN VS. SUSSKIND: THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE"

   
lpetrich



Posts: 12
Joined: Jan. 2003

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 24 2003,22:28   

Self-recognition is an ability possessed by very few species. Human children acquire that ability at about 18 mos - 2 years of age, but great apes acquire that ability at adolescence. Outside of Pongidae/Hominidae (Pongohominidae?), the only species that show evidence of self-recognition are the bottlenose dolphin and the Asian elephant (the most common captive cetaceans and proboscideans, however).

And self-recognition may be a byproduct of a more general mental-modeling capability, with the model being of oneself.

  
RBH



Posts: 49
Joined: Sep. 2002

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 25 2003,12:48   

Ipetrich wrote
Quote
And self-recognition may be a byproduct of a more general mental-modeling capability, with the model being of oneself.

I have  a vague memory of a view of consciousness/self in which the model is oneself.  That is, the "self" that is our awareness consists in the mental model built through the interactions of the perceptions of inputs and the perceptions of one's own behavior in the light of those inputs during some developmental period.  So self-recognition would be the model 'recognizing' its own existence!  Recursion, anyone?

RBH

--------------
"There are only two ways we know of to make extremely complicated things, one is by engineering, and the other is evolution. And of the two, evolution will make the more complex." - Danny Hillis.

  
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