From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Nov 19 2006 - 16:39:36 EST
>Quoting Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>: >> Can a non human animal distinguish between a movement which is also an >> action and one which is not? If not, then how would a non human animal >> know it has lost the capacity for action? > >I am not sure I understand what you mean, or what point >you are making here. Could you give an example that would >clarify it? If through electrical stimulation we could be made to point to a specific object, we would not think we had acted as if we had intentionally pointed to that object about whose location a friend had just asked, would we? > >I gave the example of caging an animal as an example of depriving >the animal of its capacity for the actions of freely moving about >and seeking food, mates etc. There seems to be something implicit in the concept of action or at least certain kinds of it that only humans capable of it. This may not be true; this may be a more a semantic debate than an empirical one. If I remember correctly, a most careful exegetical study of Marx's ideas about the teleological nature of human behavior is John McMurty's Structure of Marx's World View. I'll look for the book again. > >I also dont understand why you see these points as germane to >Marx original distinction between architects and bees and spiders. Well this distinction raises the question of how and how we are not like other non human animals. Is there a way in which we act uniquely, uniquely have a self or a world or culture or goals or intentions? As I said, I wish I could think about these questions. Here is one answer from Jonathan Marks. Yours, Rakesh http://personal.uncc.edu/jmarks/pubs/Un-Textbook/MarksUnTextbook14.pdf Jonathan Marks Culture, Evolution, and Human Biology Theme: Humans are uniquely bio-cultural animals. Everything we do is rendered meaningful within a contextualizing environment of economy, social relations, and ideas. That environment changes rapidly, and not only do we change to fit it, but the practice of science, and especially of biological anthropology, changes with it as well. Adaptability and the Human Condition The hallmark of the human condition is not so much our particular adaptations, but the extent to which our intelligence and long periods of growth and immaturity allow us to be adaptable. Natural selection molds the gene pool of species to conform to the stresses of the environment; but the adaptations wrought by natural selection are long-term and largely irreversible. That is what we generally mean by "adaptation" in an evolutionary sense. Human populations have adapted in this evolutionary sense mostly in fairly subtle ways. The least subtle is of course the depigmentation of human skin in non-tropical latitudes, allowing ultraviolet light to stimulate the production of Vitamin D and folic acid (Essay 13). But those examples seem to be quite rare. We find geographical regularities in body build across mammalian species, and these seem to hold as well for human populations. Short, stocky bodies retain heat more efficiently than lean, lanky bodies, and consequently you tend to find lean animals in the tropics and fat ones in the arctic. Interestingly, this generalization (known as Bergmann's Rule) also seems to hold for human populations, at least in the extremes. One finds lean, lanky people in East Africa, and short, stocky people in Greenland. (Obviously other factors are also at work, since the officially tallest population today is the Dutch.) Similarly, Allen's Rule relates limb length to climate among vertebrates, with cold-adapted species having shorter limbs; and again we tend to find the longest-limbed peoples in hot areas, and the shortest-limbed in the coldest. Another well-known, but subtle, genetic adaptation is lactose tolerance, the ability to digest milk beyond childhood. This ability does not exist in most people - at least 70% of the people in the world. Far from being a "disease," lactose intolerance is polymorphic everywhere, and is the majority condition among everybody except Europeans and other people with a history of cattle herding, like some East Africans. The mutation permits people to metabolize lactose, the sugar in milk, and thus to derive sustenance from a food that would otherwise give them gas and diarrhea. This mutation, then, seems to be an adaptation to the availability of an available source of nutrition - milk - that ordinarily requires fermentation into cheese or yogurt to be digestible. And even more subtle are the adaptations of the human gene pool to the environmental pressure of infectious disease. The gene pools of peoples in malarial environments have developed elevated proportions of certain alleles that afford some measure of protection from that debilitating disease (Essay 5). Other diseases have been suggested as pressures (such as cholera, bubonic plague, and tuberculosis), having corresponding effects on the gene pools of certain populations, but with far less convincing evidence. Presumably the ravages of historical pandemics, like the bubonic plague in Europe from 1348-1350, have an effect on the gene pool at least in the genes governing immune responses or assisting in disease resistance, but the specifics are unknown; or even whether other alleles may have been "carried along" under the intense selection for disease resistance. It is certainly not terribly difficult, however, to imagine the mutations that may confer resistance to AIDS infection having a subtle effect on the human gene pool over the next several generations. The diverse other ways in which humans come to respond to environmental pressures, and form a "fit" with their surroundings, comprise the study of adaptability. After all, there is also genetic control of physiology, as first explored in depth by the biologist C. H. Waddington (Essay 6). Human bodies are characterized by developmental plasticity, that is, they are sensitive to the conditions of growth, so the adult form of the body can be affected by long-term stresses quite strikingly and regularly, without being directly a consequence of the genetic program. In this sense, the body is adapting to an environmental stress, but it is not doing so through the gene pool in geological time, but rather, over the course of a single lifetime by virtue of the body's reactive properties. While these physical modifications are not passed on per se, the persistence of the stressor across generations causes the bodies of ancestors and descendants to develop in a consistent and similar fashion. In this category we can place the changes in head form and body that occur as a result of immigration, described in the last Essay. A major environmental stressor is hypoxia, or reduced air: people who live at high altitudes, or whose mothers smoked heavily while pregnant, commonly have "stunted growth" - their bodies have physiologically adapted to the lower oxygen levels and have altered their growth trajectories accordingly. These physiological adaptations are non- genetic, since they are direct responses to specific environmental pressures. But they are also permanent; once the bones grow in a certain way, over a certain period of time, they are stuck with that form within very narrow limits. Thus, the practice of cradle-boarding (tying the infant's head to a cradle with a flat surface) results in a very flat rear of the head. This is such a regular feature of some populations, that it had once been classified as a racial type - the "Dinaric" skull form. But it is due simply to a cultural practice. Similarly, the binding of women's feet by traditional Chinese society, or the lifetime of repetitive motion by women grinding grain in agricultural societies, affect the skeleton in very characteristic ways. In addition to adapting genetically and developmentally, humans adapt facultatively to short-term stresses. These adaptive physiological responses are generally reversible, such as tanning, callousing, or increasing the blood flow to cold parts of the body. Athletes preparing for competition at high altitudes will commonly train at high altitudes for precisely that reason, to acclimate their bodies to the new stressor. These short term physiological responses are another aspect of the adaptability of the human condition. A third kind of non-genetic adaptation, also widely shared with other animal species, is behavioral adaptation. Many animals - especially mammals - learn what to eat, how to hunt, how to hide from predators, how to act around other members of their social group, and even how to use tools to accomplish specific tasks. The key element here is the transmission of information. (Ethologists sometimes refer to this as "cultural," but that reflects a different use of the term than in anthropology.) Obviously humans also learn things, and use objects to help them survive. But in humans, as we noted in the last Essay, these objects take on an evolutionary trajectory of their own. They comprise an extra-somatic (external to the body) adaptation and super-organic mode of evolution. There is certainly nothing mystical about this: after all, you use things, but how many of those things have you actually made yourself? Mostly they were made by others, independently of your organic existence, and quite possibly before you were even born. You read English, but you didn't invent it; you were born into it. To the extent that people invent new things or coin new words, those are minor perturbations, roughly analogous to mutations; cultures change through the large-scale social process of adoption, which is often difficult to predict. Cellular phones and the internet, now impossible to imagine being without, were almost inconceivable a generation ago; so was an alliance with Russia in a global and domestic war against an enemy called terrorism. The point is that human culture is not merely a response to environmental problems, but comprises a complex environment in and of itself, which necessarily entails its own set of responses. And those responses come partly from you as an individual - learning how to act appropriately in your own time and place - but also from us as a social collectivity. I have "written" this book, for example, only in the very narrow sense of having composed it; but I didn't chop down the trees, make the pulp, press and cut the paper, blend the ink, cast and set the type, print it and bind it! Clearly, even the most basic things we take for granted are formed and exist within a complex network of economic, political, and social forces; and are well beyond the capabilities of any individual person. This is what anthropologists mean by culture. It is not the learned behaviors themselves, but the invisible matrix of social relations, meanings, technologies, and histories within which those behaviors are embedded, as well as their visible products. That is the difference between a beaver dam and Hoover Dam; and it is presently the most powerful force in our own adaptation and survival, without precedent in the history of life. > > > >> Are these even empirical >> questions? If not, should we move them on positivist grounds? >> I wish I knew more about the philosophy of action and Donald Davidson's >> writings. I have also tried a couple of times to understand Husserl's and >> Merleau Ponty's ideas about the special intentionality of human >> consciousness but have never felt satisfied. Just marking these >> ideas/questions which I just can't pursue now.But I read you, Dogan, Ian >> and Howard with interest >> Rakesh >> >> >> >> > >> >> > So Bees and Spiders too, have goals for their labour, which goals >> >> > they must presumably store in their heads. >> >> >> >> Are our goals stored in our head; is that where the self is, simply >> >> localized as a neural object? I thought the integrative biologists had >> >> provided good reasons for skepticism. See for example Denis Noble, The >> >> Music of Life: Biology beyond the Genome. >> >> >> > Whether the intentions are stored in the head is not vital, the issue >> > is whether they are internal to the organism or can be externalised > > > in the form of spoken or written instructions. Internal intentions >> > are commonplace among animals, written instructions, are as far as I >> > know unique to civilised humanity. >> > >> > ---------------------------------------------------------------- >> > This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program. >> > >> > > > > >---------------------------------------------------------------- >This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.
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