Thursday, September 19, 2013

Instinct is a way of learning, not a way of thinking

Welcome to Horse Cognition (and other critters). The purpose of this blog is to explore my theory of animal cognition, especially but not exclusively in horses. The basic concept is that instinct is a way of learning, not a way of thinking. That is, instinct provides animals (including humans) with certain capabilities and beliefs, just as learning does, but it does not direct thinking any more than learning does. What I am specifically rejecting is the common notion that instinct is somehow an alternative to thought. On the contrary, so far as I can tell all animals think. Instinct merely provides some of the basic knowledge and beliefs that thought uses.

For example knowing how to use a shovel does not make me dig a hole. Once I decide where to dig a hole my knowledge helps me do it. In the same way a beaver has to decide where to build a dam before instinct tells it how. And even then there are a great many specific decisions to be made, just as there are when I dig a hole. Knowledge is not a substitute for thought and instinct is a source of knowledge (or belief).

This is a science blog so I am pursuing a basic science question, or a method if you like. The question is "what does an animal have to believe (or know) in order to do what it does?" I am especially interested in the concepts an animal must have in order to do what it does, because my training is in concept analysis. My focus is on horses because I have set up an observatory to study them, but I have been working on this for a long time, studying many sorts of animals, including humans.

I think blog posts should be short in order to focus the comments and questions so this is enough for now. Once again, welcome.

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