Concept/Content emergence (mind)
Information caption Open behavior systems lead to a new level of organization: the psychological. To achieve plasticity, a learning system needs to be decoupled from particular inherited behaviors. Organic evolution can then act only at the level of the whole learning system. Fitness is determined by how well the system in its entirety performs, not whether each and every behavior, gauged separately, enhances survival and reproduction. Individual acts thus become relatively insulated from direct natural selection. In addition, learning has the potential to modify, or regulate, innate behavior or dispositions. The psychological level thereby becomes emergent, exhibiting new interactions and properties relatively independent of lower level functions (genetic and physiological), and able in part to influence them.
Organisms with open behavior accordingly achieve a degree of autonomy (Murphy and Brown 2007). The consequences for interpreting morality are profound. For example, autonomous organisms may make authentic choices (not strictly dictated by heredity). Emergence and autonomy provide a biological context for interpreting many major philosophical concerns: intention, agency, and free will which are only meaningful at the mental, or psychological, level (Hofstadter 1979; Sterelny 2001).
Autonomy also leads to individual identity. Even organisms with identical brains may behave uniquely, due to different learning histories or environments. Cultural variation is also possible. Organisms with open behavior have the potential to develop a wide range of values, whether moral or immoral, not determined strictly, or exclusively, by their genes.
Inquiry caption Consider the consequences of learning for evolution. How will selection act on learned behaviors? Is it possible for specific learned behaviors to be selected? (In what way?) How is fitness exhibited or "measured" in such cases? How does the ability to learn itself evolve?
Can learning modify innate behavior? In whay ways? Explain. How should we charaterize the relationship between behavioral genetics and mental (or psychological) functioning, on two apparently diferent levels of organization?
Imagine two genetically identical animals: will their learned behavior also be identical? What does this tell us about the "identity" of organisms with open behavioral programs? How would you characterize behaviorally the notion of choice? What makes genuine choice possible? What should a biologist say about the concepts of intention, agency and free will?
Target Concept: Moral behaviors may be learned as part of an open behavioral program.
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