What's imprinting for? Guess/guess/guess

[From Bill Powers (951020.0545)]

Bruce Abbott --

One question that seems to be overlooked is why chicks do NOT start
following large moving objects as soon as they can see and walk.

Suppose we postulate that at some age, chicks become able to learn that
controlling one variable can become a means of controlling other
variables of importance to them: in other words, they become able to
learn a new level of control. What is there that a chick is highly
likely to learn to control better than it previously could, by learning
to control the relative position of some large moving object?

When those goslings started following Konrad Lorenz, where did he go?
Did he go into his house, into his study, and start writing? Did he just
go about his business, with a line of goslings following him in an
amusing display of imprinting? Surely, at some point, Konrad must have
led his little train of goslings to where there was some food they could
eat, some water they could drink or swim in. I seem to recall some
snapshots of Konrad sitting belly-deep in a pond with goslings around
him in the water, and of walking across a yard with goslings following
him through the grass. Where else did he lead them? And what good did it
do the goslings to follow him?

I think that by labeling this phenomenon "imprinting," Lorenz gave up on
science and turned to magic. I maintain that there is an explanation for
imprinting and that it is to be found in the natural circumstances of
the present environment, coupled with the chicks' ability to learn how
to control what is important to them. I maintain that this is true of
all "instinctive behavior" and that if we just study the control
processes thoroughly enough, we will discover what is being learned, and
why -- even in a stickleback. We will find out why that bird stupidly
moves its bill to return the egg to the nest when the egg has rolled out
of reach. We will find all these explanations in terms of the physical
equipment of the organism, the inborn needs of the organism, and the
capacity of the organism to learn how to control.

What I think, of course, has no influence on nature. I could be quite
wrong. But as far as I can see, psychologists and ethologists have by no
means exhausted the possibilities for rational present-time explanations
of the behaviors they observe. How could they have done so? They have
not had the concept of controlled variables, and they have not realized
that all behaviors are produce solely in order to control perceptual
variables. Before I can even begin to accept the magical-seeming
explanations that I hear, I must know that every possible control
organization has been ruled out. We have by no means finished our
observations at the most basic level. Control theory provides us with
many new ideas that we can try out before we give up and say that this
is just how it is. Psychologists and ethologists may want to get on with
more interesting matters, generalizing to all species, but I don't. I am
not satisfied that they have really understood what is going on. When
you don't know control theory, many important possibilities are simply
not going to occur to you.


Shannon Williams --

     To know my motives you would have to systematically guess my
     motive, and then test to see if you could be right. Without this
     "guess/test/test/guess/test/test..." procedure, you mostly have

Best to all,
bye until Tuesday

Bill P.