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Thread: The idea of "racial memory".

  1. #1 The idea of "racial memory". 
    Forum Professor Daecon's Avatar
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    I was thinking about things such as salmon swimming upstream back to their spawn point, or birds flying to equatorial regions in the winter, and I was wondering if racial memory was a scientific hypothesis or just a fictional construct.

    Could instinctive behavior and the idea of racial memories be connected in any way, if such a thing was real?


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    I'm very interested in anthrozoology and animal philosophy and so instinct vs genetically shared memory is something I've previously thought about. Having lived in the countryside I tried relating it to the animal behaviour I've witnessed and it's an area that perplexes me - for example - the cattle-grid is a relatively new invention, yet every cow knows not to cross it despite never having crossed it, nor got stuck in one, nor been taught by other cows to avoid it; so is this instinct or genetic memory, and how does that work? In some areas a real cattle-grid isn't even necessary; all you do is paint one on the road and the cows still avoid it - that doesn't seem like instinct to me, but some kind of memory that has been shared among the cows genetically. How this process works is something I can't yet figure out, but it certainly deserves more study and for sure it will have huge implications on explaining a lot of human behaviour too.


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    Please define your terms. How is "instinct" different from "racial memory" in terms of animal studies?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sealeaf View Post
    Please define your terms. How is "instinct" different from "racial memory" in terms of animal studies?
    I'm not sure. Perhaps "racial memory" could be like a mechanism to explain the effect of "instinct"?

    This is all just speculation on my part, however, as I don't really know anything about how instinct works. The idea of racial memories may not even be valid and just fictional.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Sealeaf View Post
    Please define your terms. How is "instinct" different from "racial memory" in terms of animal studies?
    I'm not sure. Perhaps "racial memory" could be like a mechanism to explain the effect of "instinct"?

    This is all just speculation on my part, however, as I don't really know anything about how instinct works. The idea of racial memories may not even be valid and just fictional.
    Keep working on the topic. I found the genetics of instinct fascinating.
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    Instinct is genetic, yes (i.e. racial memory).
    It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
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    I thought humans had no real instinctual behavior - a handful of reflex behaviors but nothing complex enough to be called an instinct?
    As is often the case with technical subjects we are presented with an unfortunate choice: an explanation that is accurate but incomprehensible, or comprehensible but wrong.
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    Quote Originally Posted by river_rat View Post
    I thought humans had no real instinctual behavior - a handful of reflex behaviors but nothing complex enough to be called an instinct?
    We are just more intelligent versions of animals with lesser intellectual abilities, so while what we learn since birth has a larger influence in our behaviour, it is all still based on the same basics determined by genes. Our leaned behaviour is constrained to a box defined by our instincts.
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    somewhere along in here, we'll have to look at epigenetics.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    We are just more intelligent versions of animals with lesser intellectual abilities, so while what we learn since birth has a larger influence in our behaviour, it is all still based on the same basics determined by genes. Our leaned behaviour is constrained to a box defined by our instincts.
    Genes and instincts are different things though? Instincts are complex, unlearned behaviors in response to certain environmental stimuli - I can't think of one human behavior that meets that criteria. Suggestions?
    As is often the case with technical subjects we are presented with an unfortunate choice: an explanation that is accurate but incomprehensible, or comprehensible but wrong.
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    Response to pheremones was once dismissed as nonsense.
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    I saw a documentary once that compared human group behavior to ape group behavior. In many cases they were extremely similar. I'm pretty sure you could describe those responses as instinct, but the tricky bit is that in humans they're all very general/vague and easily rationalizable. (Things like putting your fists up in the air in a victory pose matches what many apes do and triggers a measurable release of testosterone.)

    I think this is the one: The Human Ape: A Documentary with Some Sartling Insights about Human and Non Human Connections
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    What do we call a baby monkey?
    For dogs, we have puppies. For deer we have fawn. For Cats we have kittens. For kangaroos we have joey.
    Cubs, calves, chicks, and for many many more we have a seperate name. For primates it's all baby? ---baby gorilla, baby chimp, baby .... .
    So too of Lemurs?
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    Technically, it's infant.

    Kind of a universal term, though. Maybe no one could be bothered to try harder.
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    or
    an (instinct?)unconscious recognition of proximity within gene pool?
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    Yeah, I thought about that, too. I don't think it's a strong correlation, though. We call young sharks "pups", but I don't think it's because we relate them to dogs.
    "Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." -Calvin
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    Quote Originally Posted by river_rat View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    We are just more intelligent versions of animals with lesser intellectual abilities, so while what we learn since birth has a larger influence in our behaviour, it is all still based on the same basics determined by genes. Our leaned behaviour is constrained to a box defined by our instincts.
    Genes and instincts are different things though? Instincts are complex, unlearned behaviors in response to certain environmental stimuli - I can't think of one human behavior that meets that criteria. Suggestions?
    Instincts are coded in the genes. When we start from the blank state after birth, our instincts guide our development. Every part of human behaviour has it's origins in one or more instincts. It is this interplay between instincts and learned behaviour that evolutionary psychology studies.

    There are many instinct that are evident once we look a bit deeper at human behaviour. These include our social nature and the drives we experience that directly pertain to it, our compulsion to find a mate and procreate, etc. Many instincts are evident in their raw form when they first surface during early development.

    I found this list:
    Port's Instinct List
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sculptor View Post
    What do we call a baby monkey?
    For dogs, we have puppies. For deer we have fawn. For Cats we have kittens. For kangaroos we have joey.
    Cubs, calves, chicks, and for many many more we have a seperate name. For primates it's all baby? ---baby gorilla, baby chimp, baby .... .
    So too of Lemurs?
    Completely off-topic, but I have a very strong dislike of both chimpanzees and gorillas. It's not really a "phobia" as I'm not afraid of them, I just utterly hate them.

    So I call baby ones a waste of cuteness.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    Instincts are coded in the genes. When we start from the blank state after birth
    If we have many instinctual behaviors than by definition we do not start off as blank slates?

    Every part of human behaviour has it's origins in one or more instincts. It is this interplay between instincts and learned behaviour that evolutionary psychology studies.
    Remember that organisms can't really change instinctual behavior, its hard coded into their response set. How can something hard coded and unchangeable be the basis for such varied human responses?

    I found this list:Port's Instinct List
    Port is a linguist who believes that language is instinctual, so I don't exactly trust that list. For example, making jokes is not something that fits any normal definition of instinctual behavior. We are not universally as a species compelled to tell some specific joke for example in the same way that certain bird are compelled to sing certain songs.
    As is often the case with technical subjects we are presented with an unfortunate choice: an explanation that is accurate but incomprehensible, or comprehensible but wrong.
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  21. #20  
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    Quote Originally Posted by river_rat View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    Instincts are coded in the genes. When we start from the blank state after birth
    If we have many instinctual behaviors than by definition we do not start off as blank slates?
    Yep, maybe not the right term there. What I mean is we start out with a basic instruction set, with the added capacity to learn and build upon that basis.

    Every part of human behaviour has it's origins in one or more instincts. It is this interplay between instincts and learned behaviour that evolutionary psychology studies.
    Remember that organisms can't really change instinctual behavior, its hard coded into their response set. How can something hard coded and unchangeable be the basis for such varied human responses?
    I have not gotten my point across. The point is we are born with a base set of instincts and then build on that basis through learning. We must have a basic set of instincts programmed in order to be able to learn more complex behaviours through life. Imagine if you built a learning robot. You'd have to endow it with basic instincts that would have it react in certain ways to a certain stimulus in order to produce a favourable outcome in the environment that it finds itself in. In evolutionary psychology terms, those basic ways of interaction with the environment is selected for. The basic instincts evolve in ways that they'll produce patterns of behaviour that would be favourable for survival.

    I found this list:Port's Instinct List
    Port is a linguist who believes that language is instinctual, so I don't exactly trust that list. For example, making jokes is not something that fits any normal definition of instinctual behavior. We are not universally as a species compelled to tell some specific joke for example in the same way that certain bird are compelled to sing certain songs.
    Instincts in this context are those traits that are universal among humans. In terms of humour, it has a certain social function. It is not about certain jokes, but more about the capacity for humour in general.

    Instinct - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The role of instincts in determining the behavior of animals varies from species to species. The more complex the neural system of an animal, the greater is the role of the cerebral cortex, and social learning and instincts play a lesser role. A comparison between a crocodile and an elephant illustrates how mammals for example are heavily dependent on social learning. Lionesses and chimpanzees raised in zoos away from their birth mothers most often reject their own offspring because they have not been taught the skills of mothering. Such is not the case with simpler species such as reptiles.
    As complex beings, our instincts are more involved in how we learn behaviours than the actual behaviours themselves. An American and an isolated African tribesman might not share certain specific behaviours, but each is still confined within a box of possible variations determined by more or less universal instincts among humans.
    Disclaimer: I do not declare myself to be an expert on ANY subject. If I state something as fact that is obviously wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me. I welcome such corrections in an attempt to be as truthful and accurate as possible.

    "Gullibility kills" - Carl Sagan
    "All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it." - Harry Block
    "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle
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  22. #21  
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    Quote Originally Posted by KALSTER View Post
    I have not gotten my point across. The point is we are born with a base set of instincts and then build on that basis through learning. We must have a basic set of instincts programmed in order to be able to learn more complex behaviours through life. Imagine if you built a learning robot. You'd have to endow it with basic instincts that would have it react in certain ways to a certain stimulus in order to produce a favourable outcome in the environment that it finds itself in. In evolutionary psychology terms, those basic ways of interaction with the environment is selected for. The basic instincts evolve in ways that they'll produce patterns of behaviour that would be favourable for survival.
    Are you not using the word instinct where the concept of reflex would be better?

    Instincts in this context are those traits that are universal among humans. In terms of humour, it has a certain social function. It is not about certain jokes, but more about the capacity for humour in general.
    I'm not sure how that meets the requirements to be an instinct though? Lets take the wiki article as a basis for a definition. An instinct must be a complex behaviour pattern which is:

    • Automatic
    • Irresistible
    • Occur at some point in development
    • Triggered by some event in the environment
    • Universal to every member of the species
    • Unmodifiable
    • Untrained

    As complex beings, our instincts are more involved in how we learn behaviours than the actual behaviours themselves. An American and an isolated African tribesman might not share certain specific behaviours, but each is still confined within a box of possible variations determined by more or less universal instincts among humans.
    How does that concept meet the requirements to be an instinct? The idea of humans being defined by our "instincts" fell out of fashion in the early part of the 20th century if I can recall my history of pysch correctly.
    As is often the case with technical subjects we are presented with an unfortunate choice: an explanation that is accurate but incomprehensible, or comprehensible but wrong.
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  23. #22  
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    I think laughter meets all those points, although I'm not sure unmodifiable is really appropriate as you can train animals to overcome what would generally be accepted as instincts.
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