Re: Communication based on private states

From: Smith, Wendy (
Date: Mon Oct 23 1995 - 11:42:55 BST

Species and individual differences in communication based on private

l&t> Young children also convey feelings to parents and caregivers in
l&t> nonverbal ways, for example, with tears or sobs. Yet, unlike
l&t> chimpanzees and other nonhuman species, most children somehow seem to
l&t> learn to identify their feelings and to report them to others through
l&t> natural socialization processes. The present target article is about
l&t> the nature of this process and the mechanisms responsible for creating
l&t> individual differences in communicative behavior involving one type of
l&t> private stimulation, emotional or feeling states. We will propose a
l&t> nonhuman laboratory animal model for this process.

l&t> If, however, we could somehow achieve reliable access to private
l&t> stimulation (i.e., technically, if we could gain access to the
l&t> functional relation SD -> Rv , private event -> verbal response), as we
l&t> believe we can, and differentially reinforce it, as in the
l&t> establishment of an exteroceptive discrimination, there is no reason to
l&t> suppose that interoceptive stimuli are incapable of generating
l&t> interoceptive discriminations as precise as exteroceptive stimuli are
l&t> in establishing exteroceptive discriminations (Overton, 1971).

By "private states" are we meaning experiences or internal physical states
(i.e. the experience of hunger rather than the physiological experience
of a low blood sugar). In the seminar, we discussed the correlation
of experiences to certain physical states. Although, as in the
example of humger, the two may correlate very well, one is physical,
and the other is non-physical. As an experience is non-physical, we
have no access to it, and so it can't be measured or observed.
Humans can't share experiences; although they can share descriptions
of experiences. If this is the case, sharing an experience with a
pigeon would appear very ambitious.

l&t> Both Darwin and Bernard argued that anatomy, physiology, and behavior
l&t> not only look similar in different animals but often share common
l&t> evolutionary origins and current regulatory mechanisms.

To a certain extent, everything can be explained at a biological
level, because we (and pigeons) are biological creatures, and
therefore all behaviours (and experiences?) will be mediated through
biological apparatus. However, although the experience may arise out
of the activation of the biological apparatus, it is not the same
thing as the activation (ie cause is not the same as effect, however
closely related they are). Therefore, even if the same biological
apparatus is activated in two beings, it does not
mean that the experiences will be the same.

l&t> This target article will explore the possibility that arbitrary,
l&t> nonspecies-specific communication between organisms based on private
l&t> events may extend beyond Homo Sapiens and does not require language.

l&t> Laboratory animals can also be trained to differentiate between the
l&t> internal state produced by a behaviorally active drug and that
l&t> associated with a vehicle (usually saline) injection or placebo

l&t> After consuming food or water, for example, the drug-cue bird
l&t> approached the area near the decoder's "How do you feel?" key.
l&t> If the decoders were at all sluggish in pecking the key when this light
l&t> became illuminated, the drug-cue bird would rapidly peck the Plexiglas
l&t> directly above the key while orienting toward the decoder. At this
l&t> point, the decoders would typically approach and peck the "How do you
l&t> feel?" key and, then move toward the area by the "Thank You" key,
l&t> standing in position until the drug-cue bird finished matching its
l&t> state to the associated letters.

Are the pigeons communicating an experience, or are they doing
something else entirely? We see them pecking at keys, etc, but by
assuming that this is due to an experience and that they are
communicating this we could be anthropomorphising. If they are
communicating, is this about a non-physical experience, or a physical
internal state?

l&t> To understanding communication is difficult; communication based on
l&t> private stimulation is even more perplexing. With regard to the
l&t> arbitrariness of the medium of communication, communicative behavior
l&t> falls along a continuum. Behavior that is elicited by pheromone release
l&t> or by the visable presence of a conspecific and that subsequently
l&t> evokes a behavioral change in another member of the species lies near
l&t> one end (Salzinger, 1973). Near the opposite end are human vocal
l&t> utterances which by virtue of their symbolic relationships and
l&t> organization, produce unique and characteristic responses from other
l&t> members of that community (e.g., I love you). In this target article,
l&t> we are concerned with nonhuman communicative behavior that shares
l&t> properties of human behavior, but is unlike either end of this
l&t> communicative continuum.

Are pheromonal communication and language best described by two ends
of a continuum? Even if they are due to some form of quantitative
difference, the differences may be sufficient to cause qualitative
differences (like colour - it is a continuum of wavelengths, but
these lead to qualitative differences). I think I'm talking about categorisation here.......

l&t> Linguists and philosophers single out the intent of the communicative
l&t> exchange as an essential element in human communication.

l&t> This does not mean that chimpanzees (or other organisms) cannot learn
l&t> such discriminative repertoires, only that there is typically little
l&t> adaptive utility for them to do so.

Animals do not appear to share communication in this way
spontaneously, and perhaps this is important. Chimps should,
perhaps, be regarded as first class chimps rather than second class
humans. "Chimpness" or "pigeonness" may be essential to an
experience - as in what is it like to be a bat, the only way to find
out is to be a bat. Perhaps something within a human experience
leads to the sort of communication that chimp and pigeon experiences
don't. Perhaps "why" is as important as "how".

l&t> The pigeon experimental situation shares some features of the
l&t> interactions between parents and children with autism or other
l&t> developmental disabilities (Keogh, Whitman, Beeman & Halligan, 1987;
l&t> Reichle, Lindamood, & Sigafoos, 1986). Autistic children are often
l&t> minimally verbal and unable to report their private experiences to
l&t> others. Indeed, a common diagnostic feature of autism is the failure to
l&t> use gestures or other symbolic communicative devices to indicate needs
l&t> or wants. Thus, to create the desired behavior or outcome in their
l&t> parents, autistic children may pull or push their parents to the
l&t> refrigerator and then begin to scream or to hit them until they open
l&t> the door and retrieve the orange juice. Yet, just as in pigeons,
l&t> extensive training can often be used to teach autistic children to
l&t> discriminate familiar objects correctly (e.g., food items, articles of
l&t> clothing, household objects, places).

This may add to knowledge about how communication first develops in
children, but again, "why" may be necessary to understand the
differences between autistic and normal children. How well do pigeon
studies address this point?


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