Writing 1; Section 4: February 2012 Archives

Instinctive Drift!

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Instinctive drift is the tendency to return to an evolutionary selected behavior following repeated reinforcement. This can be seen in many mammals form pigeons to chickens to raccoon, pigs and many other animals that can be trained with operant conditioning. The example the book gave was of a cute little story where animal trainers Marian and Keller Breland taught animals such as a raccoon to do tricks like dropping coins into a piggy bank. What they soon found was even after conditioning the raccoon would start to rub the coins together and dip them into the piggy bank but not drop them. He had reverted back to his instinct of washing seeds in a stream to clean before eating. Another example is a pig that was taught to bring wooden disks into a piggybank that after being conditioned would spontaneously drop the disks and push them with its nose in a rooting fashion. These odd occurrences were explained by instinctive drift. The raccoon reverted back to washing the "seeds" (coins) and the pig went back to rooting (dropping and nosing the disks). This shows that our instincts can be very strong and in situations similar to our instincts we can in a way "unlearn" what has been taught to us. Not necessarily unlearn but have our instincts take over us. Instinctive drift maybe some of the reasons why some people cheat. The institution of marriage or a relationship is a learnt process where our instinct is to compete and mate with the best to procreate and therefore pass our genes down as much as possible. Murder may fall into this case as many animals fight and kill each other over territory and mates. The real question is can we blame what is in our nature?raccoon_in_stream.20112019_std.jpg

As human beings, we take for granted our sense of being, our personality, what makes us, well, us! We don't wake up every day asking ourselves, "How did I just wake up?" "What is guiding me?" "What drives me to do the things I do?" But the BBC video with Marcus de Sautoy gave me a new, unique view on our own consciousness. Whenever we do something, our brain is acting in coordinance with our sense of self... our "consciousness." But where exactly does this consciousness come from? And who is in charge of it?
The right button/left button test that Sautoy underwent fascinated me. The fact that scientists could predict which button Sautoy pressed 6 seconds before he actually did it was astounding. It made me wonder though, how could this happen? It is kind of scary to think about this concept of how someone could consciously know what we are going to do without us being aware of it. It brought me to a much larger epistemological question of "How do we know what we think we know?" The entire video tries to answer this question, but in my mind, I don't think we will ever discover the true mysteries of our consciousness. How can we solve our own inner mechanisms, our beliefs, our desires? The very thought of all this burns out my brain and makes me want to just not think about it because it is so unbelievably mystifying.
Furthermore, the red dot test that Sautoy surveyed also led me to an interesting question. If the little girl doesn't pass the consciousness test, who is she as a person? Is she conscious? Is she aimlessly viewing the world as a completely different individual? Is there a "switch" that at some age we turn on and then we are conscious? This video led me to so many abstract questions about our internal "self." We as humans strive to solve so many problems in our external world, but have we even decoded our very own being? Do we even know who we are?consciousness.jpg

nature_vs_nurture2.jpg I found an article on Science Daily that talks of a study conducted by Dr. Michael Craig and Dr. Marco Catani from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London that says sociopathy is linked to certain deficiencies in the brain. This article supports the belief that nature holds more of the responsibility for the construction of ones character as opposed to a person's environment. However Doctors Michael Craig and Marco Catani have also said that if these findings are repeated it will be hard to underestimate them. So as of right now we cannot know for sure if this study is scientifically valid. This study is interesting because it shows that people who become sociopaths were predisposed biologically to behave that way, and that traumatic experiences during childhood might not play such a large role as many people once believed.
Personally I believe that the findings of the Craig's and Catani's study will hold because they found the deficiencies using the powerful imaging technique of DT-MRI to locate the differences in the sociopathic brains, which sounds to me like a pretty reliable source for information. I do however believe that nurture can play a part. If someone who is predisposed to becoming a sociopath never experiences a traumatic event that triggers that certain part of their brain they may never become crazy, whereas someone without these odd tendencies of the brain might see something awful as a child and simply snap. While still can't know for sure the answer to this great debate the work done at King's College in London make a good case for nature.


This is Dexter he is sociopathic killer, who also happens to solve crimes for the police and who grew up with a father who loves him, his brain however is compelled to kill.

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