Animal Behavior Feels Like A(n?) Humanity

26 Jan

My take on reading Chapter 1 of the Alcock text Animal Behavior: An Evolutionary Approach and Chapters 1-3 of Mesuring Behaviour is that learning about Animal Behavior feels a lot like epistemology in the non-Science world, say the Humanities or the Arts (from whence I hail).

For one, observation of an animal in a habitat, and the idea that iterative observation is both the basis of, and can be informed by, subsequent hypothesis and experiment–that “feels” like the arts (where you look . . . then you make a brush stroke, for instance) or like literature (where you read a primary text . . . then you come up with an interpretive thought that you then need to substantiate).

Also, ways our authors have of describing science feel quite comfortable to me.  Alcock stresses that science never knows anything for sure, but that it is one long conversation about what seems most likely to be true (“anyone who has taken a look at the history of any scientific endeavor will learn that new ideas continually surface and old ones are regularly replace or modified,” says he, page 18). That stress feels humanistic in nature. Consider the Talmud, one long conversation about what is most likely to be true.

Or get these lines from Measuring Behaviour, which emphasize the generative and creative nature of certain parts of science:

Formulating hypotheses is a creative process, requiring imagination as well as some knowledge of the issues involved . . . . It is not possible to give definitive advice on how to formulate good hypotheses, any more than advice can be given on how to write good literature or paint good pictures. (27)

Or, from page 19:

A preferable approach is to muster every possible type of mental aid when generating ideas and hypotheses, but to use the full rigour of analytical thought when testing them.

I could also add that the Marin-Bateson model of the steps involved in research feels like it would be applicable to any process of knowing, science or not.

What have I learned here?  Probably not much–that core human ways of knowing cohere across disciplinary boundaries?  (One might predict that, given that humans are the people doing the knowing in all the different places).  Still, it’s a THOUGHT, and new to me, and good enough (IMO) for my first ever (test) blog post in Animal Behaviour class.


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