Hard Wired? Not So fast!

Swallowing is self-taught. Anything else a bit more sophisticated is taught by others. We are cultural animals. Discuss.

Massimo Pigliucci, a (Roman!) biology PhD cum philosophy PhD teaching from an elevated chair in New York, objected to my tweeting aphorism above: “That is contradicted by a number of well established studies in developmental psychology, as well as by research on other primates.”

OK, Massimo, relax, I was a bit quick, thus simplistic in my formulation. Any discourse is incomplete, I was pointing at a direction. Indeed, I am a great advocate of ethology. Ethology, the experimental study of behavior, is an experimental field. That means its fundamental architecture is made of experiments.

Nicotinoid Insecticides Don't Kill Bees Directly, But Make Them Neurologically Dysfunctional Enough To Die From It

Nicotinoid Insecticides Don’t Kill Bees Directly, But Make Them Neurologically Dysfunctional Enough To Die From It

[All scientific fields are like gravity, they are experimentally driven. We basically know, experimentally speaking, not much more than what Newton knew already, as far as gravity is concerned (with the further twist of gravity being a field at speed c, like electromagnetism, hence, waves, etc.). A true revolution will happen in gravity the day we find something completely unexpected (the fact that gravity at this point is also equivalent to a space curvature theory is a triviality consecutive to Bernhard Riemann’s deep differential manifold theory). Some say we already found something unexpected, the phenomenon known as “Dark Matter”]

Ethology is also experiment driven. And our experiments are not as sophisticated as they soon will be. Differently from gravity, the progress in ethology is going to be quick, and very deep.

Ethology discovered already what writers of fables for children, and “primitive” “savages” hunting for survival, have long known: advanced animals care, have a sense of justice, are observant, loving, etc. More generally, advanced animals,, and others, not even very advanced are endowed with many other sophisticated behaviors we used to attribute to humans exclusively, etc.

Ethology has now gone further: ethologists also discovered that sophisticated, virtuous human-like “instincts” are not universal, even in a species which exhibit them: exploiters and freaks are not just a human phenomenon. In prides of lionesses, the same particular individuals tend to do all the work. Worse: lionesses have been observed having no maternal “””instinct”””. Other, experienced and caring lionesses had to intervene.

So animals have been observed to have altruistic behaviors, or behaviors making group life possible. (It’s quite a bit a chicken and egg situation: without apparently “hard wired” behavior, group life is impossible; the “group” could be just mother and child, such as a leopard and her kitten, or a mother orangutan and her child…)

However, ethology has not yet determined systematically how much is learned from others, and from the environment.

Hence the role of other animals, and how much is self taught is not clear at this point (insects such as wasps and bees “think” at least seven times faster than humans, so they can learn fast, and it looks like “instinct” to us!). In either case, when there is learning, there is no “hard wiring”. Or more exactly much of the “hard wiring” comes from the neurological life of the individual, as it does in any… creator. The creature being created by itself as creator of itself. God inside.

Learning is essential for survival of bees. Honey bees make repeat visits only if said plant provides enough reward. A single forager will make visits to that type of flower for most of the day, unless the plants stop producing nectar or weather gets adverse. Honey bees practice associative learning, and standard classical conditioning, which is the same in honey bees as it is in the vertebrates.

In other words, if even insects learn much more than a few tricks, as I have long suspected, we don’t know what “instincts” are really made of. This will have to be determined by further, much more refined ethological studies (differently from gravity, where it’s not clear what new experiments to do, and how to get results, although LIGO and VIRGO may well bring breakthroughs… In ethology, new experiments are just matter of financing, considering the progress of micro-electronics).

A famous example of what I am talking about is Lorentz’s geese (he got the Nobel for that). Young geese were imprinted on Konrad being their mom, and thereafter followed him everywhere, at some point of their development.

Why can’t that happen for all behaviors, and all species with advanced brains? In other words, could not just all our behaviors come, to a great extent, from some sort of imprinting?

Hey, one can self-imprint. When I want to eat more correctly, I starve myself a bit, and then eat the correct foods (say apples, carrots, tofu). Then I repeat a few times. Then I long for apples, carrots, tofu…

So south American monkeys have a sense of justice. But that does not mean that sense of justice is “hard-wired”. It may just have been taught. By others. Other monkeys. Or it may even be a sort of natural monkey science. Indeed natural interactions with others can be a teaching experience (or a succession of experiences, until a theory arises)…

But that does not mean that sense of justice is “hard wired”. It may just have been taught. By others. Other monkeys. Or it may even be a sort of natural monkey science. Indeed natural interactions with others can be a teaching experience (or a succession of experiences, until a theory arises)…

Standing up, and being able to run, is crucial to the survival of herbivores. A casual look at how a new born herbivore stands up shows that it learns to do so in a few minutes. Some moves are learned in a few seconds. However, today’s most sophisticated programmers could not write such a program. Nor does the brain of a small antelope contain a large computer loaded with such a software. Thus the truth: the antelope learns to stand up. That means it hard wires itself through the learning process. The environment in the most general sense imprints it with the appropriate circuitry.

Ethology will enlighten neurology, and conversely. Both fields are just getting started.

Patrice Ayme’

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31 Responses to “Hard Wired? Not So fast!”

  1. brodix Says:


    Massimo recently posted a forum topic on evolutionary versus developmental biology. To which I suggested developmental biology might be thermodynamically cyclical and reciprocal, while evolutionary biology is necessarily temporally linear.

    Given I have been ceaselessly arguing for the present being a state primarily defined by thermodynamics, while temporal history is just the residual effect and he has not taken to the idea, this example didn’t have any effect either.

    Think about it though; We try to understand why other animals seem to be quite altruistic, in terms of causal effects, but in thermodynamics, the push of causality is only one side of the equation. The other being the pull of low pressure systems. Now other animals don’t have an abstract financial system to efficiently store value. For most creatures, anything beyond what they currently need would have definite carrying costs. So it would be natural for them to disperse the excess to others with insufficient resources.

    Essentially those with more are high pressure systems, while those with less are low pressure systems and as we have been taught since elementary science class, nature abhors a vacuum.

    Now many people go around life with a sense of drive to do something, even when we don’t have to. So given this drive is far deeper than any financial mechanism to monetize it, there is natural tendency to help others, when they need it. Even if the feedback is not obvious, or direct.

    Now look at gravity. Essentially it functions as a vacuum effect. Seemingly drawing everything inward and downward. While radiant energy is an outward, upward pressure effect. So we again have this thermodynamic cycle of mass falling inward, as energy radiates outward.

    Even “gravity waves” are not really gravity, but energy being radiated away, as gravitational objects fall into one another.

    So what then is Gravity, but part of the larger cycle. Now we associate it with mass and apparently there isn’t enough mass to explain all the gravity, so “dark matter” is theorized, but if gravity is really a vacuum effect of low pressure systems being created by the loss of energy, this effect would begin at a very small but gradually increasing rate throughout the electromagnetic and light spectrums as well, as this energy radiates outward and expands, which lowers its energy level and it starts to coalesce and quantify.

    Now we can only measure light in terms of quantum particles, but that is possibly an initial condensation of the expanding wave of light, such that photons are the primary step of gravitational collapse.

    Something to chew on.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Brodix: Ah Massimo, never hesitating to hit below the belt when he is hurting…. He adulates Marcus Aurelius, and “found me meandering” about Aurelius, and threatened to “ban” me. I accused Marcus Aurelius to have enunciated the doctrine of what I call “intellectual fascism”.

      Einstein himself thought that “the present” was a big problem in physics as he conceived of it (which is pretty much the core of what all physicists admit)

    • EugenR Says:

      Like the description of Gravity as a low pressure state, and then the gravitational wave is the contra radiation to balance the system. Yet seeng this phenomena as allegory for social altruism is too much to chew for me.

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        Brodix is a uniquely strange case… However, pressure” is a factor in Dark Energy. The gravitational wave genesis, as I tried to explain is as primitive as physics can get. Newton could have thought of it. He nearly did (he knew instantaneous gravity was a problem, although he did not put it that way). The gravitational or electromagnetic wave is due to the apparent change in direction of the source: that conveys energy away.

      • brodix Says:


        Instead of thinking of it as a directed conscious action, say doing a favor for someone, think in terms of the essential desire to do or be something beyond what you are, to push boundaries in whatever way possible. So that makes you a high pressure system. Necessarily you can only push in the directions of the lower pressure areas in your vicinity. Which could just as well be negative, as positive and creates cascading and possible blowback effects. So it’s not so much altruism as a distinct effort, as it would be a socially positive example of the larger dynamic at work.

        Patrice! You are calling me a strange case!!!😉

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Brodix: OK, got it, I think that you make sense here, there are forces at work, although they are SOCIAL FORCES. This is not far from what I am saying: it’s these forces, which replace, by the work they effect, the PROGRAMMATION everybody speaks of (which obviously cannot exist, although thery did not understand that yet).
          Being the strangest case makes me an expert on the question of alienhood…
          Let’s not do too much nestling in comments, people complain they can’t be read…

    • Gmax Says:

      Where did Massimo post that forum on developmental biology?

  2. Paul Handover Says:

    With some trepidation I will attempt to add my own thoughts. I use the word trepidation simply because I can’t equal the knowledge displayed by Brodix and by you, Patrice.

    But what I can offer from having lived closely with up to 16 dogs, 5 cats and 4 horses many of whom had backgrounds of tremendous suffering and cruelty is this.

    Animals have a sophisticated understanding of trust. Additionally, they read humans in tremendous detail much of which is ‘reading’ how we smell. Human bodies clearly have a complex and sophisticated direct link between our feelings, moods and the scent of our skin.

    Dogs are the masters of learning and interpreting patterns. Both our behavioral patterns and such seemingly trivial things such as when a television programme is coming to an end.

    The 5 dogs that sleep in our bedroom at night, especially the 3 that sleep on the bed itself, have not the slightest difficulty in knowing if I am getting out of bed to go to the bathroom, or stirring because I need to get up.

    I could go on and on, and do so in my book Learning from Dogs.

    Animals offer us humans so much starting from the fact that dogs have been reliably measured as being creatures of integrity. Your post extends those offerings way beyond warm-blooded creatures.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Paul: I bow in turn to your great knowledge of dogs and horses. On a much more modest scale, I was alpha to a number of dogs (I would not consider myself their owner). A bit like you I cam to lead some horses and dogs who had difficulties with previous “owners”. In Africa there was a stallion only me could ride (appropriately named “Napoleon”). Napoleon loved attacking other horses, so everybody was scared of him, and we had the weirdest, completely unique relation. It was the strangest form of trust. The mad stallion, and its trusted cavalier. I learned a lot.

      I actually never thought of it carefully. In retrospect, but also at the time, it was a golden age. Indeed because of this trust between two completely different species you speak about, creating a relationship nobody else had… Let me think about this some more…

      • Paul Handover Says:

        I look forward to those further thoughts.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          I will have to gather them first, they are pretty tentative… The fact that trust is the essence of our relationship with animals such as horses and dogs, or cats (something you attracted my attention to).

          BTW, I am not going to say this on Learning From Dogs, and I appreciate a lot your son’s drive for a Parkinson Charity, but, in general, between us, especially in the USA, the intervention of the state supporting research and care has been replaced by private “philanthropic” activities, which serve as the excuse for not financing the former (by hefty taxes on the hyper rich).

  3. Gmax Says:

    What you are saying is… intelligence everywhere?

  4. Partha Shakkottai Says:

    “A famous example of what I am talking about is Lorentz’s geese (he got the Nobel for that). Young geese were imprinted on Konrad being their mom, and thereafter followed him everywhere, at some point of their development.”

    Religion seems to be able to do this against natural “instincts”. I am referring to Islam, its misogyny and hate for “others”.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Indeed, it’s a problem all over the place. Adolf Hitler used to boast that his German opponents could do anything against him, because the youth had been imprinted to become Nazi (Hitler did not use the word “imprint” but equivalent words, such as “they are ours”).

      This is why to be anti-Salafist Islam becomes a form of racism, unavoidably, just as being anti-Nazi is a form of racism, because brainwashes creates new species, neurologically speaking. The correct way out is to admit that. And then condemn the fact inferior systems of thought create inferior species (so to speak).

  5. Partha Shakkottai Says:

    Hi Patrice:” Or more exactly much of the “hard wiring” comes from the neurological life of the individual, as it does in any… creator. The creature being created by itself as creator of itself. God inside.” Seems to be what Upanishads say!
    Very profound.

  6. brodix Says:


    I’m banned. Massimo says its just a few weeks, but since I’d probably go back to the same subjects…..

    Getting lots of people to move in the same direction, for better or worse, is an essential fact of reality. That’s why understanding the physics of what is going on, is just as important as responding to the specifics.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I can understand why Massimo wants so bad to become a stoic. Whereas I am clearly the real thing. Last he threatened to ban me was when I contradicted the Internet lie that Marcus Aurelius was the first emperor with a biological son. He did not like my wealth of details to the contrary… Your metaphysics of your version of physics, for someone who knows real physics such as me, is quite a trip…

  7. EugenR Says:

    To my understanding the human and as well all animal kingdom behavior is rather innate than learned. It is correct philosophically, (Kant’s pure reason) and psychologically (the Dutch obesity syndrome).
    The newborn baby has to learn how to perceive the world, like learning to measure the distance from the desirable thing. The answer to question, is the toy within the reach of my hand or not, has to be learned. Yet the intention to reach the toy has to be innate, otherwise those who don’t have it, would die in the competitive world. Is it a result of evolution, or for some an implanted attribute, may be questioned, but the very fact is, that at the basic level the life and so the consciousness is pre-wired.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hmm.. Kant would have said something intelligent? News to me. The little I know how him sounds like raw Nazism.

      “Pre-wired”????? How???? There is no such a thing as “pre-wiring”. Actually the brain develops probably in interaction, learning from its environment, including itself as part of said environment (see “mini-brains”). It’s pure physics and math. Of a type as yet unknown (mathematics of morphogenesis…)

  8. brodix Says:


    “they are SOCIAL FORCES. This is not far from what I am saying: it’s these forces, which replace, by the work they effect, the PROGRAMMATION everybody speaks of (which obviously cannot exist, although thery did not understand that yet).”


    Force is an energy. Programing is information/form. Energy is always pushing out, while form is always settling/pushing in. From radiation pushing out, as mass pushes in, to social energy pushing out, as civil and cultural order pushes in.

    In reality those inward forms are just an effect of the energy, either by it expanding to the extent of its capacity, like the amplitude of waves, or encountering other pressures and forces.

    So form is only an expression of energy. There is no form in the void.

    So energy goes past to future, as form goes future to past, ultimately cyclically, as energy tires and crests, folding back in on itself, like a wave cresting and folding. While form eventually dissipates its energy back out.

    We go birth to death, future to past, as the species moves onto the next generation, shedding the old, past to future.

    Consciousness goes from one thought to the next, past to future, as thoughts come into being and dissipate, future to past, leaving only a residue of memory and form, as narrative history.

    What expands between galaxies, radiation/energy, is balanced by what contracts into them, gravity/mass.

    Time, as frequency, is only part of temperature, frequency and amplitude.

    Time is linear, like cause and effect rationality. While emotion is thermal, like heat and pressure(against form).

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      In physics, force is NOT energy. However, an applied force on a displaced object over a distance is an amount of energy. It turns out to be obtainable from frequency. Why? How do they relate? Because the energy of a photon is hf (h Planck’s constant, f, frequency photon). But that’s also, up to a constant, the momentum of said same photon (which indeed can move an object).
      So you hit in passing on something deep…

      • brodix Says:


        I have said any definition of energy becomes form. Like frequency and amplitude. So force is kinetic energy. Which is quite different from radiant energy.

        Just as the form of the swinging bat is lost to the past, the energy is transferred to the ball, even though there was no physical mass being transferred. Similarly, those little sun wheels, with black and white sides, spin because the black absorbs light, while white reflects it. So black absorbs energy and heats up, while white reflects and pushes. Either way, energy is transferred, otherwise know as causation. One heat, the other motion.

        There is no way to express energy, except in terms of a particular form. Just as there is no way to describe consciousness, except as it is expressed, such as thoughts, feelings, senses.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          E = 1/2 mvv is the fist order term of E = 1/2 mcc. So (“physical”) mass, under the form of energy, is transferred to the ball.
          As any force can be expressed as change in geodesic distance in an appropriate geometry, force is indeed form… Or more exactly can be expressed as form (Riemann)… But it’s a tautology…

          • brodix Says:

            “Or more exactly can be expressed as form”

            Exactly. How else could it be?

          • brodix Says:

            And more to the point, while the energy is conserved, the form changes, even if the only way to express it is as form.

  9. Kevin Berger Says:

    Dumb question : springing from Partha Shakkottai’s idea of religion (islam in his example) as an imprinting force, and your etymology of religion as a binding force basically, what do you make of today’s greatest and most omnipresent religion, the all-imprinting globish mass-media culture (AKA weaponized merchant protestantism)?

    Other dumb question : based on your latest entry about the polar ice and what it entails for say, the first half of the 21st century, what do you make of some of the historical notions you’ve used in past essays IIRC?
    That is, the “hydraulic dictatorships” or the “death spiral through plutocracy” of (respectively) the drought-stricken Middle-East or pre-Columbian South America?

    So, the next “big thing” in human affairs would be either “dictatorship” through whatever climatic derangements await (heh, islam may *be* the religion of the future, after all!), or to wither through plutocrats-induced craziness and dumbness, your Franks being nowhere to be found, cf. the imprinting force bit above?

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      “the all-imprinting globish mass-media culture” is compounded by the Sillyconvaleyish (Silly Cone) madness, acute on the Internet. Those people are incredibly dumb and offensive, while thinking they are the smartest, and it extents all the way where it started from, the likes of Harvard, Ivy League, Stanford, Berkeley. I know well, I was at the very core of that degenerate mentality when it all started. I had prestigious idiots from the top universities telling me in seminars I was an idiot, while I had good reasons to believe they were the corrupt idiots. As you can guess, it did not go very well. I had that problem in math, physics, and philosophy.

      In the latter case, I had Germany’s most prestigious philosopher once explaining why Western Europeans rung bells. The seminar at Berkeley was packed. I intervened, and said it was just so that people could tell time (that’s how I use it when in the Alps: one sleeps, and one can tell time, at the same time). The head of the department, the prestigious “philosopher” Hubert Dreyfus, rose up, and told me: “How can you say something that stupid! You continually say stupid things which offend everybody here!”

      That was an extremely unusual outburst. In years of academia, I saw such an outburst only one other time in a mathematics research seminar (it was not directed at me; however, in a Black Hole seminar I held in Stanford Physics department, a Fields medal tore into me: in retrospect, I was right, he was wrong; yet he changed his mind, and became a well known thief later, making it all the way to the NYT in the matter of stealing ideas… But his mentor was the most famous American geometer…)

      Some what I am saying is that things rotted from the head. Gates of Hell, Face of Book, etc came later. They implemented a corruption in full evidence by the time Paul Krugman became Ronald Reagan economic adviser…

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Plenty of celebrities in the USA (for example Al Gore) have jumped on the notion that the Syrian crisis was caused by drought, aka “climate change”. It’s correct only in the sense that it precipitated a crisis with the Syrian dictator, an unmovable plutocrat with deep roots in London.

      The GHG crisis is going to create wars all over. The present refugee crisis is similar to the Jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s. It was fundamentally caused by not taking out Hitler, also known as Assad, in a timely manner. So Putin, Stalin like, jumped into the fray.

      Now Saudi Arabia has attacked Lebanon economically. The only thing that’s clear is that Europe should rearm right away.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      In my latest (fatal) attack against the Marcus Aurelius cult, I pointed out that Romans, until after 300 CE, were persuaded that they live under a REPUBLIC. Between the assassinations of Domitian and Commodus, there was: 1) a century, 2) no assassination of emperors.
      Lincoln, McKinley, JFK: 3 presidents assassinated in one century…

      In other words, we could be in terrible times already, and not know it. Most Europeans see the coming back of Hillary as the second coming of Christ, when, in truth, it’s the return of the plutocratic apocalypse… Thank Belzebuth, barring assassination, it will be an authentic plutocrat of the non-connected with government type the next president, and it may well be hilarious…

      The Franks seem to be Hollandized into stupefied mediocrity. OK, they came initially from Holland, but Francois is really mediocre… Actually, looking back, since Clemenceau, one rather bathes in mediocrity (Blum was good internally, but he should have attacked in Spain, be it only to see French pilots come short relative to the Luftwaffe… Actually they would not have, and they would have trained, instead of learning on the spot in the week after May 10, 1940…)

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