Re: Maternal instinct

Robert Snower (rs222@WORLDNET.ATT.NET)
Sun, 28 Jul 1996 18:13:40 +0000

At 03:18 PM 7/28/96 +0000, Ronald Kephart wrote:
>In message <> "Arthur L. Baron" writes:
>> How true of many mammals, but a little closer to humans, the chimpanzees have
>> shown a cognitive need learn how to mother infants, and I would call that
>> maternal behaviour. Mothers, aunts, or other infant rearing females in the
>> group teach the daughters the necessary skills. Infants isolated from the
>> adult transmission during the formative years not only display poor social
>> skills but don't have a clue of what to do when it comes to raising an
>> infant.
>I recall a story from a few years ago concerning a female gorilla, raised from
>infancy in captivity (I think in Chicago) and thus not "socially" a gorilla.
>Her zookeepers (jailers?) managed to get her pregnant, but when she gave birth
>she didn't know what to do with her new infant, never having seen mothering
>behavior. If I have the story right, they brought in a human mother; the
>gorilla watched her nurse her infant and then proceeded to nurse her own baby.
>I think something like "bioprogram" would be a better word than "instinct".
>Humans (and other hominoids) are almost certainly predisposed thru
>bioprogramming to be good mothers, but this like many other behaviors in these
>species probably requires a "trigger" to be fully operative, the trigger in
>case being experience with the behaviors in an appropriate social context (not
>unlike language in humans, by the way).
>"Instinct" on the other hand, if I understand the term correctly, should, by
>definition, require no such trigger.
>Ron Kephart
>University of North Florida

I think a case can be made for a general theme to be exhibited in evolution
of behavior moving in the direct of, from instinct to learned behavior.
>From automatic to the requirement of imitation. So what the lower form does
automatically, the higher form needs to learn.

Is this culture? I think not. As long as the learning process is purely
one of imitation, I would not call that pattern of behavior a cultural
construct. It takes another step to make it culture. For example, if the
were to use, say, a piece of fruit, a coconut or a banana, to cradle in her
arms in order to practice motherhood, that would be a cultural construct,
because the animal has made a hypothesis: that the coconut is a an infant.
A symbol for "infant" has been created.

Now I see that Ron Kephart said about the same thing in his post of July 24,
but he did not specifically tie symbol-making with the definition of
culture-- pretending, i.e., hypothesis-making.

Can animals other than Homo sapiens create hypotheses? I don't think there
is any doubt about it. They can do ritual, which is a hypothesis. As I
previously mentioned, ritual combat for mating is a pretend fight--nobody
gets really hurt. This is a cultural construct. And, as with Homo sapiens,
this facility to culturally construct is put to the unique use of rejecting
natural selection at the individual level in favor of altruism.

On the other hand, with lower animals the "cultural construct" is itself an
instinct. While in man it is a learning (mimetic) process, and prior to the
learning, a creative one, higher than learning itself. Higher than learning
as strict imitation. It is a higher and subsequent form of intellectual
activity, as compared to imitation.

Best wishes. R. Snower