The Nature of Learning in Animals

Discussion in 'Creation vs. Evolution' started by Administrator2, Jul 6, 2002.

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    PAUL OF EUGENE

    The following material is relevant to the discussion Helen and I are having on the nature of learning in animals. I think it is very interesting, fun to read, and I hope you will see fit to add it on for information purposes and perhaps as a spark to discussions. The rest is all quoted material.

     
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    HELEN

    Fascinating, Paul. I looked all over the net for any followup material on this and only found some kids' science fair projects mentioned (but not even explained). Has there been anything done since 1966 on this?
     
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    PAUL OF EUGENE

    Alas, I don't have anything more to add about planarian worms. But I have some ideas further evaluation of them, tho in the course of my non-experimental day job I'll never have time or opportunity myself . . .

    Today, with our better equipment, can we disect the worms cell by cell and count their nerve cells, and measure any differences between trained worms and untrained worms?

    Can we simulate the nerve cell connections and thereby duplicate the behavior of the worms in a computer simulation?

    I suspect that there has been little follow up because psychology lacks a general theory of consciousness and awareness. Not that I count worms as being conscious or aware but rather that experimental psychologists lack a theoretical framework around which to develop further experiments.

    That's just a fancy way of repeating that we are ultimately vastly ignorant about these things.
     
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    HELEN

    I agree that we are ignorant of a great many things, Paul. Let me at least ask this -- where did you get the information you posted? It does not seem to be written the way I would expect in a regular journal but seems instead to be some kind of popularized account. Is there any verification of this material itself that can be referenced? As I said, I could not find anything about it on the web.

    In the meantime, having worked somewhat with animals in both a psychology lab and in our own home, I would venture to say that there is a difference between what we might call conditioned responses and the type of learning involved when we train a dog or horse (PLEASE don't talk to me about training cats! They train us!). And all that is in turn, in my opinion, gapingly apart from intellectual learning that takes place with humans.
     
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    PAUL OF EUGENE

    The book is "The Territorial Imperative" by Robert Ardrey. You can buy it today - here's a link to that book at Amazon.com.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1568361440/inktomi-bkasin-20/002-4632614-2525634

    The excerpt I quoted is typical of Ardrey's interesting and lucid writing style. Note how much of the experiment he manages to convey and still keep the reader interested all the way through. You can learn a lot about animal morality, evolution, and such, in spite of its age. Please consider adding it to your library! There are some books that simply wear well with time and this is one of them. The story of the experiments on planarian worms is NOT the main thrust of the book, which is how the theme of territory plays out across multiple species, including man. I just thought the experiments he so eloquently described were interesting.

    Now its only fair to warn you Ardrey's work is strongly pro-evolution and he directly states time and again positions you have opposed. Think of it as an investment in learning what the other side thinks like.

    I know what you mean about cats! I have observed cats in my back yard who are very indignant that I don't feed them and water them. Seemingly, once in a while the cats issue a "deed" to my house and then the winning cat comes over to claim his just dues, free food and water and medical care from us humans that live in his house. We don't have pets or keep pets and the cats eventually give up.

    Starlings nest in our neighborhood every spring. Until we put up a permanent grill, a pair would always try to nest the the drier vent hole, which is up under the eave. Two different years, a pair started doing this and we stuffed newspaper in the hole to block them. One year the birds kept hanging around, seeming trapped in attachment to the location for the longest time and then finally gave up and we presume nested elsewhere. The next year, a cute young couple started to nest there again and we stuck the newspaper up there again and apparantly they complained to somebody in authority, because an older, larger starling came over and looked over the whole situation very carefully. This couple did not take near as long to give up and go elsewhere.

    Sure looked like a little bit more than mere conditioned response was going on to me!
     
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    HELEN

    Paul, hi again! I did not say that conditioned responses were all that animals had. I said they were different from what we call learning where training some animals is concerned and certainly different from the intellectual learning we give our children and, hopefully, continue ourselves.

    As far as the planaria are concerned, I would want to see some kind of official write-up, at least, of what happened. I would want to try to duplicate it or see it duplicated. This is the sort of thing which is wide open to both testability and falsifiability, and that should be done for it to be verified. Fascinating tales are great, but they do not always give the facts necessary for determining what was actually going on.

    And yes, the birds learned. I have no doubt about that. But it is still a wee bit different from studying and passing a test on the history of the Roman Empire… :D
     
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    PAUL OF EUGENE

    At Helen's request I checked out Ardrey's footnotes and his book provides the following reference on the quote I provided above as his source:

    Best, Jay Boyd: "Protopsychology", Scientific American, Feb 1963
     
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    HELEN

    Thank you Paul. I am wondering, if this experiment was actually as reported, why it did not inspire a whole host of repeats and further experiments with other very simple life forms?

    I am going to try to get hold of the original article. The implications of learning and "preferences" without a brain are fascinating.

    If this is indeed true of planaria, then when one is cut in half so that a new half regenerates, would both new planaria then 'remember' what the original learned?

    I can't believe the implications of this have slipped by the scientific establishment!
     

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