Re: Communication based on private states

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Mon Oct 23 1995 - 20:57:06 BST

rh> From: "Harrison, Richard" <>
rh> Date: Mon, 23 Oct 1995 10:33:05 GMT

> l&t> Figure 1 illustrates our animal model: A pair of birds was trained to
> l&t> exchange arbitrary cues, "letters," based on drug-induced state
> l&t> variations in the internal environment of one of them. The drug-cue
> l&t> bird received cocaine, pentobarbitol, or saline and was trained to
> l&t> communicate with another bird by pecking response keys corresponding to
> l&t> these drug-induced state variations.

rh> Is this communication? If in Stage B (in the actual figure -
rh> internal state reporting) a random key was pecked then the Decoder
rh> would still match correctly and be rewarded (presumably due to prior
rh> reinforcement of this behaviour). Wouldn't a definition of
rh> communication involve an intent by the initiator to influence the
rh> response of the receiver. This situation does not seem to involve any
rh> such intent.

Well I don't know if all communication has to be intentional
communication (communication is information exchange, and someone
can give me information inadvertently too). But of course we are
interested in deliberate communication -- not just that the act is
deliberate, but that the intention is to inform, rather than just to
influence behaviour.

It's one thing to define this category of behaviour, however, and
another to find a methodological basis for deciding whether or not a
particular instance fulfills the definition and falls in the category!
It's for you to decide how well L&T have managed in this respect.

> l&t> The tacter's deprivation and satiation conditions were alternated
> l&t> (ABAB) and the birds' communicative performance was observed.
> l&t> When satiated and without visual access to the mander, the tacter
> l&t> stopped matching letters to colors and this condition was eventually
> l&t> terminated. Subsequently, however, the opaque barrier was removed for a
> l&t> final condition (with the tacter deprived and satiated in alternate
> l&t> ABAB sessions, as before). With visual access to the mander reinstated,
> l&t> the tacter's matching behavior reappeared, following the mander's
> l&t> request, even though the tacter was food and water satiated. (Lubinski
> l&t> and MacCorquodale, 1984)

rh> Seems to be the first indication in the article of emergent
rh> communication in pigeons that doesn't leave open the possibility that
rh> reinforced behaviours are simply being combined independent of
rh> 'communication'.

Does this one really work, then? Why? What is your methodological basis
for distinguishing the instrumental (where the pigeon simply uses all
aspects of the situation as a means to goal -- getting food/water) and the
intentional -- where the goal is itself to communicate with the other

The fact that the reappearance of the other pigeon can restart the
behaviour could be just another example of the social facilitation of

> l&t> Although not responsible for all subjective components of emotional
> l&t> states, the circulatory, digestive, proprioceptive, and respiratory
> l&t> systems are involved in providing interoceptive stimulation on which
> l&t> statements about affects are based; and covariations in the properties
> l&t> of these physiological events as a function of reinforcing stimuli,
> l&t> emotionally charged punishers and reinforcers, are well documented
> l&t> (Buck, 1987; Carlson, 1986; Tuma & Masur, 1985).

rh> Does this mean a change in these interoceptive stimuli changes
rh> affect?

No; that it is sometimes a concomitant of affect.

> l&t> After completing a component of the interlocking sequence, each bird
> l&t> gradually began to orient toward the stimulus change in the adjacent
> l&t> chamber, which was in close proximity to the other bird. After
> l&t> consuming food or water, for example, the drug-cue bird approached the
> l&t> area near the decoder's "How do you feel?" key. If the decoders were at
> l&t> all sluggish in pecking the key when this light became illuminated, the
> l&t> drug-cue bird would rapidly peck the Plexiglas directly above the key
> l&t> while orienting toward the decoder.

rh> This behaviour certainly seems to have some intention behind it (NB.
rh> When I wrote my first comment I didn't know L & T had made this
rh> observation). Nevertheless, the decoder does not understand anything
rh> from the interaction about the drug-cue bird from the 'interaction'.
rh> The most the aggression implies is;
rh> "Press your key, I'm thirsty."
rh> It seems unlikely that the Drug-cue bird has communicated (in any
rh> successful sense) knowledge about it's internal state to the Decoder.

Pigeons have social lives too, so they may goad one another to get to
it; it could also be frustration with no social directedness; but you're
right, even if there is an intention to influence the other pigeon, it
seems more like "get moving"!

> l&t> Even though such clients may have good reason to feel angry, they are
> l&t> unable to report that feeling. In this situation, the therapist, or
> l&t> possibly other members of a therapy group, gesticulate, raise their
> l&t> voices, or in other ways present an aversive setting to
> l&t> client-listeners until they blurt out their feelings.

rh> This a weak analogy to the pigeon model. How many human interactions
rh> involve people who have no interest in expressing themselves. Even if
rh> you accept that the above scenario as one such example, it differs
rh> from the pigeon model in that the therapist or group understands (at
rh> least to some extent) the internal sate the client is reporting.

You're right.

> l&t> The human tendency to conceal emotional stimulation for social
> l&t> advantage makes it understandable that such language based repertoires
> l&t> would be more common in humans than in other organisms.

rh> Does the causal link between 'human tendency to conceal emotional
rh> stimulation' and the commonality of a language-based repertoire humans
rh> display necessarily work in the direction L & T suggest?

I don't know about you, but I see little in this article about emotion,
less about language. If you remove the labels that have been attached to
everything the pigeon is doing and feeling, you have a reinforcement
choreographed series of things the pigeons must do in order to get what
food and water. The "cues" for the choreography are sometimes "external"
(but is a heard sound or a seen light "external") and sometimes
"internal" (why is an itch more internal than a touch?), and the
contingencies depend on both pigeons' actions and interactions. But
what, if anything, the pigeons think they're doing under these
conditions is an open question...


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:23:55 GMT