Is There A Relationship Between "Anticipations" and "Instinct"?

  • In recent discussions the question has been raised as to whether there is a relationship between the Epicurean theory of Anticipations (especially as described by Velleius in his "etching" reference in "On The Nature of the Gods") and the view that is generally described as "instinct," especially as we (presumably) see examples in animals.


    Over time I expect this question to recur so let's use this thread as a discussion starter.


    1. What is "instinct"?
    2. Does the common conception that certain animals are born "hard-wired" to certain behaviors at birth, prior to any experience of any observations of that behavior, really exist?
    3. If it exists, does it have anything to say about the possibility that certain behaviors in humans may also be "hard-wired" from birth, prior to experience?
    4. if such hard wiring actually exists in humans to any degree, is there any relationship between this phenomena and what Epicurus described as anticipations / preconceptions / prolepsis?
  • Just to get the ball rolling:


    The only things hard-wired in this regard are the faculties of pattern recognition, sensation and affect: all "instinct" can be reduced to this.


    Pattern recognition is one of the ways that we have been thinking about Anticipations and I think pretty much aligns with DeWitt. It both precedes and reacts to sensations, forming concepts and affecting behaviors from such an early age that it is commonly and mistakenly thought that there are ideas and behaviors that are innate.


    Affect is defined as a faculty of registering pleasure/displeasure and the degree of arousal. This corresponds to the Feelings and is a guide to behaviors and to forming concepts. These behaviors and concepts are formed from a very early stage of development in each individual, often through social connections, and are not innate.


    :/

  • Affect is defined as a faculty of registering pleasure/displeasure and the degree of arousal. This corresponds to the Feelings and is a guide to behaviors and to forming concepts. These behaviors and concepts are formed from a very early stage of development in each individual, often through social connections, and are not innate.

    I think I am with your completely on the first paragraph, but on this one I think you're making a distinction that may be in Barrett but may not be in Epicurus as to "degree of arousal."


    Also the word "affect" would appear to be Barrett (?) the term in Epicurus as to the feelings would appear to be "pathe" sometimes translated "passions" and includes both pleasure and pain (Don?) but does NOT include "degree of arousal" as part of the term pathe / passions. Obviously degree of intensity or focus is something that is relevant, but I don't gather that that factor is included under the term pathe (?)


    The reason I think it is important to distinguish the two categories is that "degree of arousal" or "intensity" is a huge question that involves evaluation of the pleasure as relatively more or less desirable, and that's such a deep topic that I don't think they can be merged together. We know Epicurus said not to measure relative pleasure in terms of "time" (not the longest but the most pleasant) but as far as I know he didn't give any other measurement of intensity either, so if we're trying to be as clear as possible we ought to make clear to people that there is no absolute standard (time or anything else) telling us how to compare pleasures.



    Pattern recognition is one of the ways that we have been thinking about Anticipations and I think pretty much aligns with DeWitt. It both precedes and reacts to sensations,

    I think you're intending that to mean "the faculty of pattern recognition" and the issue of "both preceding and reacting to sensations" is really the question. Is it just a "faculty for recognizing patterns" that exists at birth, or is there any faint etching or disposition to etch in a particular way that is involved. Relevant quotes from Velleius include:


    "For he alone perceived, first, that the gods exist, because nature herself has imprinted a conception of them on the minds of all mankind." ....


    "For the belief in the gods has not been established by authority, custom, or law, but rests on the unanimous and abiding consensus of mankind; their existence is therefore a necessary inference, since we possess an instinctive or rather an innate concept of them; but a belief which all men by nature share must necessarily be true; therefore it must be admitted that the gods exist."


    "For nature, which bestowed upon us an idea of the gods themselves, also engraved on our minds the belief that they are eternal and blessed."


    Now it's maybe possible that this imprinting / engraving took place after birth by operation of images received after conception, but it appears a good or better chance that Velleius is talking about at birth, not exposure to images after birth.


    And that's where the discussion would involve whether beavers are born with dam-building imprinted in their minds, or whether the behavior is fully learned from experience. I would think that these "instinct" questions deserve a lot of attention, because if and when it were to be reliably shown that animal brains contain etchings of any kind of behaviors, that would likely establish the principle that this could go on with humans too.


    All of this is also part of what we (individually) need to take a position to as to "what Epicurus taught" as distinct from "what we think is in fact the fact the case."

  • It both precedes and reacts to sensations, forming concepts and affecting behaviors from such an early age that it is commonly and mistakenly thought that there are ideas and behaviors that are innate.

    I think that's an important statement right there! (Emphasis added)

  • I think that's an important statement right there! (Emphasis added)

    I agree it is important as to "ideas" - which I think all of us agree (even me, despite Dewitt's comments that might seem to differ) would be fully formed concepts, and these are NOT present at birth. But I am not so sure about "behaviors." Behaviors may be and probably are different from "ideas" (fully formed concepts), and I can see the possibility that those dams and migrations patterns or whatever are "behaviors."

  • Cassius I've made an attempt to corelate the current science as presented in the Barrett book with my understanding with the Canon. You're quite right to point out some of the differences! Regarding affect, to me it's useful to think about if and/or how arousal relates to intensity (as I understand it, it's different); I'm also curious to what degree the Greek pathe might correspond to affect.


    Regarding behaviors, JJElbert had a good point last night about animals that are raised in captivity being unable to survive in the wild. Intuitively (meaning I'm totally guessing!) it seems to me that animal behaviors are driven by pleasure and pain (or affect) and by the faculty of pattern recognition, both interacting with the senses. I think that this is taking materialism to its logical conclusion, although observation would trump any purely logical conclusion and looking at animals seems like a good direction to pursue.


    As to Vellius, that brings up the controversy of Cicero being such a tainted source and how much we can trust him. This is why I was interested in reading modern theories in the first place: to try to make up for the uncertainties in the ancient texts and see if that can shed any light on Epicurus' thinking. But as you say, they are two different things.

  • Just let me be clear on this point: I'm still very much in the evaluation phase myself on some of these issues. Plus you can add to that the point that I fully expect to be still in the evaluation phase on many of them on the day they haul me off to the funeral home!


    I especially think that "instincts" needs further research that is far beyond our (certainly my) ability to really come up with hard data on, so that's probably going to have to be one of those long-term issues that we talk about for quite a long time.


    As to Cicero, I tend to think that we can trust him when the points he raises are not slanderous toward Epicurus, and I don't detect that Cicero really had a problem with the "etching" suggestion. It's when Epicurus' views seemed to hold Cicero back from his politics and military glory-seeking that we probably need to look at him most suspiciously.


    All of these are issues on which I do not profess to know "the answer" so we'll likely continue to debate them as long as we live, which hopefully will be quite a while longer!


    Gosh I wrote this entire post thinking I was talking to Don and now I see I'm talking to Godfrey ;) Don's lined up to get my two cents every Sunday as we go through Lucretius, as to you Godfrey we've got to find a way to translate all of your detailed research into some forms of "presentation" to the outside world too!

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    Operant conditioning: Innate vs learned behaviors (video)

    Khan Academy · khanacademymedicine

    Oct 26, 2015

  • Interesting video! In the terms of the video, the question that I'm asking is whether complex behaviors are actually innate. To me, the behaviors listed as simple are innate, biological, and would not involve an Anticipation.


    Assume that you go to a bird's nest, take an egg, and rear the bird that hatches from the egg away from other birds. Once it is fully grown, if you release it will it fly south for the winter? Will it exhibit mating behavior appropriate to its species if it comes across a bird of the opposite sex? Will it wake up early to sing? These seem to me to be learned behaviors, but that's just theorizing on my part. Theoretically speaking, maybe the bird would seek warmth as a precursor to migrating, and have some awkward teenage sexual attraction to the other bird as a rudimentary mating behavior. Both of these not quite developed behaviors could be Anticipations in the sense of the "sketch" that DeWitt refers to. As to singing, there is probably a joy of making noise which may eventually lead to a song of sorts.


    But do seeking warmth, having sex, and making noise really rate as Anticipations? They seem to be just simple biological functions of seeking pleasure; adding the specific behaviors of flying to San Juan Capistrano, doing a specific mating dance and singing a particular birdsong seem to me to be learned behaviors. If this is correct, then an Anticipation would be considered social and not innate.


    Somebody has probably done experiments along these lines, which could provide useful observational evidence to work with. If I have a chance I'll try to track some down!

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  • Ha that article seems to imply they just want peace and quiet!


    The pig may have to yield some of its place as an Epicurean symbol if this keeps up. Pig as symbol of pleasure and beaver as symbol of canonic anticipations :)


    Maybe if they has had more beavers in Athens we'd already have the dual symbolism!


    (For some reason I am questioning whether they have beavers in Greece. I know we have plenty in the USA.)


    (Note 2 if we have a patron animal for ethics and canonics that leaves us needing one for physics)

  • So according to these videos there is some sort of predisposition to build and to sing. Would this be a "faculty?" A biological "sketch" and thus a DeWitty Anticipation? Would subsequent learned behavior still be an Anticipation? Is it appropriate to draw a line between the two or could both be considered Anticipations?

  • My first thought is that this would be similar to developing sharper use of eyes or hearing through use. The faculty exists at birth but can be sharpened / tuned with use. So I would not draw a sharp distinction - I would see all results from the faculty as separatr from the faculty , along the lines of separating the faculty of sight from things that we see.

  • Also Godfrey in terms of subsequent learned behavior, almost surely there would be types of behavior too which do not arise from anticipations. I dont see why the existence of the dispositions would rule out the invention of new activities as we grow older, in part or whole unrelated to the original dispositions

  • (Since I am suggesting we always ought to be planning our seminar presentations)

    (Note 2 if we have a patron animal for ethics and canonics that leaves us needing one for physics)

    On the symbolism of pigs/hogs I think there is some material which help explain the reference. We surely know it it existed from the Boscoreale cup and the Horace reference. I think there is a church father comment also referencing it in which hogs are cited as pursuing pleasure singlemindedly.


    Numerous animals would work for the others but any that are known for their instinctive behavior, beavers and their dams being a great example, would fit.


    For physics the first thing that comes to mind is the characteristic of curiosity. Maybe animals that construct elaborate nests or communities (beavers again maybe) could be said to be implementing physics principles, but I tend to think that the way Epicurus emphasized the study of nature more for the relief it brings from fear and perhaps even enjoyment in itself, the more characteristic trait would be curiosity. Googling "animals that represent curiosity" brings up all kinds of weird examples that are to my view too obscure if I were doing a presentation; the animal that is more universally in my experience associated with curiosity would be the cat, but no doubt there are others.


  • Just to restate a couple of points that are (or should be) obvious:


    The suggestion before the house, based on the Velleius material as highlighted by DeWitt, is that there might be "inborn" / "present at birth" dispositions toward certain activities. Not fully formed ideas, not fully formed concepts, nothing with "information" or "opinion" in it, but "dispositions" that are "etched" as it were on the brain even at birth. Or in maybe more modern term, genetic encoding that disposes animals to act in certain ways depending on circumstances that arise in life.


    If so, the potential analogy would be that an innate disposition at birth for beavers to grow up and build dams would be an example of a faculty that exists at birth, etched into the brain, which then flowers into a disposition to dam-building later in life when the circumstances present themselves. As per the article Don cited, maybe the sound of flowing water inspires them, or maybe they just recognize as part of their disposition that flowing water is a necessary prerequisite to successful dam-building, and they don't try it til the flow triggers them.


    Carrying the analogy forward, Velleius would be saying that the disposition to form ideas of gods exists at birth, and develops as babies age, either without outside influence (in which case the constructed ideas are less perverted) or along with outside influences. But in either case the disposition to recognize an issue as to the existence of "gods" is present at birth.


    As to the other recorded example of anticipations, justice, the same analogy can be drawn. Human babies (and others maybe) are born with the disposition to recognize that there is an issue involving social arrangements to be pursued. They find later, but this is not part of the anticipation, that agreements not to harm or be harmed lead to happier living than do other arrangements (random rule of the mob or the strong). But the initial disposition / faculty was the recognition that this social structure pursuit is an activity to be recognized and pursued, just as the beaver builds dams or the human brain contemplates the nature of potential gods.


    To me, it is absolutely obvious, and would be obvious to a child, that this is the potential direction that Velleius was going. Why have not these issues been pursued and investigated in great detail? I am sure that there are many reasons that we aren't finding many articles on it, but I think one reason is that Academia / the intellectual establishment is wedded to the Aristotelian "blank slate" approach, and they are opposed to looking for or finding anything that would conflict with their model, in which "education" or "nurture" is everything. It's the old "nature" vs. "nurture" debate and does in fact have lots of implications.


    And so I relate this back to the picture of Epicurus and the "This is the way things are" attitude. I don't want to know only those things that make me feel good and give a warm and fuzzy feeling. Just like with the inevitability of death I think that we ought to pursue the truth wherever it leads, confident in the conclusion that we'll find better ways to live happily when we know the truth than when we don't.