21 September 2008

PRT responses to Dr C and Poor Pothecary (1)

For some time, I've been trying to redeem that IOU which I rashly left on the 12th (almost prehistory in blog time), promising to discuss prospect/refuge theory in response to Dr C's and JSBlog's comments.

Alas, it hasn't worked. All attempts to construct a thoughtful essay which gathered in and marshalled all my thoughts on the subject just built messier and messier versions of the same self indulgent ramble.

So... I've given up, and will attempt a series of short postcards, taking each thought one at a time.

Let's start with Dr C's assurance that "that we are not born with a fully developed Prospect-Refuge mentality". I fully accept that. He goes on to add that he is sure "the neural pathways that allow the adult to express this behavior are there in some kind of Ur-network way", which I also agree with one caveat which I'll come back to.

A preliminary disclaimer: although I'm not quite a lay person where developmental psychology is concerned by comparison with Dr C's professional background I might as well be. Anything I say is either empirical or tentative exploration of what may be true alongside anything Dr C has said (or will say), and not in opposition to it. For apparent contradictions I may seek resolution; from real ones, I back down and no contest.

The clear truth, I think, is that we are not born with a fully developed anything – certainly in the psychological sense. That's precisely why we are so evolutionarily successful. Like the PC on which I'm typing this, we come with a hard wired BIOS plus a basic toolkit of peripheral drivers and the rudiments of an operating system assembled for us by evolution to give us head start in the fundamentals of learning. The full form of the operating system, and the applications software layer on top of that, are bootstrapped from the foundation set by early experience of specific environment partially mediated through parental and social attentions.

(Dr C may well, by now, have decided that I'm talking complete rubbish ... but making a fool of myself rarely stops me from putting my foot in my mouth, so let's press on.)

Observation of both human and other "higher" mammals (I shall be talking about cats in due course) convinces me that they have a very firmly encoded set of basic software (to that, also, I'll return in another post). How far, and to what extent, it is used depends on environment ... but the ways in which the organism learns from the environment is shaped by that basic software – and remains available to new learning in new environments, later in life. Specifically, I am empirically persuaded that a fundamental prospect/refuge instruction set is present in every animal I've been able to observe.

That's enough to be going on with. Part 2 will chug along in due course ... though its form will probably depend upon responses (if any) to this one.


Tony Brampton said...

We have what is programmed into us by God. That is what is there at the beginning. What happens afterwards is down to us, or to those who influence us, but it obviously has to be based on what was programmed there to start with.

Presumably God would have programmed our ancestors with what they needed to live in trees or on plains or wherever they were. Now he I imagine he will program us to live in houses, so the past is a bit meaningless.

Felix Grant said...

Tony – I'm interested in your suggestion that God continues to carry out detailed "maintenance programming" as we develop.

Am I right in thinking that God will continue this to reprogram us, for example, to comfortably live in zero gravity orbital environments, or on other planets?

If so - do you envisage physical reprogramming as well? To cope with "heavier" gravities, for example, or (temporarily?) increasing our lifespans to survive the long journeys to other stars?

Does God reprogam each of us individually (only at birth, or continuing throughot life?) or as cultural groups (not everyone lives in houses, so I presume it can't be done on a species wide basis) at intervals?

Do you see God as having continued this maintenance programming throughout the evolutionary process that brought us to the early tree or plain stages? Or would you say that there were were no prehuman stages in our evolution, and it all started with the tree/plain stage?

I'm sure you appreciate that, since I don't believe in either God or (if he does exist) his intercession in our affairs, this is an academic issue to me ... but, at that academic level, it's intriguing.

Dr. C said...

Felix, will respond as soon as I can; our country is melting away like the Wicked Witch of the West