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Guns, Germs, and Steel three: Operant Conditioning 
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Post Guns, Germs, and Steel three: Operant Conditioning
Diamond defines an animal that is a "candidate for domestication" as any terrestrial herbivorous or omnivorous animal species (one not predominantly a carnivore) weighing on the average over 100 pounds (45 kilograms). Of 148 "candidate" species, only 14 have actually been domesticated, and of those, five account for the vast majority of individuals world wide.

One of the major characteristics that make a putative candidate not-domesticable is the species ability to be tamed. Zebras are biologically very similar to horses. But nobody tames or domesticates zebras. The reason, Diamond explains, is that no matter how long one keeps a zebra in captivity, it will kill you if it gets the chance. Their "personality" is simply not amenable to taming or domestication.

When I took psychology in college, operant conditioning was taught as irrefutable fact; all animals, including humans, respond to reinforcement and punishment in predictable ways. I recognized then and mainstream psychology recognizes now that there is a lot more to final behaviour than conditioning alone, and behaviorism has been abandoned as a stand-alone explanation for all behavior. Still, until I read Diamond's chapter on animal domestication, I took it for granted that operant conditioning was an undisputed major force in molding all animals' (including humans) behaviour.

Fourteen out of 148 created this suspicion in my mind: dogs and pigeons respond to operant conditioning. Dolphins and humans do too, some of the time. But perhaps most animals do not; and perhaps the behaviorist extrapolations from o-c experiments have been greatly overrated.




Sat Feb 08, 2003 10:00 pm
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Post Re: Guns, Germs, and Steel three: Operant Conditioning
Jeremy:

I moved this thread to this forum since it pertains to Guns, Germs and Steel. These book forums never die so feel free to continue the discussions even when we have moved to another book.

Chris




Thu Feb 20, 2003 7:50 pm
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Post Re: Guns, Germs, and Steel three: Operant Conditioning
Jeremy,

darn good point! I've always been skeptical of behaviorism (of course, there are many varieties of it, as a behaviorist friend of mine keeps reminding me of), and I think your comment is right on target.

Another complication may be that even species that do respond to operant conditioning (humans, dogs) may do so only within certain limits. I doubt that you can get humans to do anything you want simply by conditioning. The same may be true for dolphins, of whose behavioral flexibility we know much less.

By the way, here is a joke about behaviorism: What does a behaviorist say after sex? "Was it as good for me as it was for you?" :rollin

OK, another one: How doeas a behaviorist greet a friend? "Hi, you are fine, how am I? :lol

OK, enough of that...

Cheers,
Massimo




Tue Mar 11, 2003 9:52 am


Post Re: Guns, Germs, and Steel three: Operant Conditioning
I agree that it's probably possible to train all kinds of animals, maybe even zebras, but I think the reason why so few of them were domesticated had more to do with timing and location than with their ability to be domesticated.

This is how I see it: Zebras weren't domesticated because the people who lived in the areas they lived in weren't an advanced enough civilization to need to domesticate them. They probably hadn't yet become an agricultural society (were still hunter gatherers) when another more advanced civilization found them and brought with them domesticated crops and animals. At that point the more primitive society adopted the crops and animals that the more advanced society brought with them rather than going through the time-consuming and difficult (maybe impossible) work of domesticating their own local plants and animals.

Another possiblility is that the local people had wanted to or tried to domesticate the Zebra and couldn't (or found it wasn't very beneficial for them) because of their temperment or something along those lines. Other reasons for candidates for domestication not actually being domesticated are their numbers and location, their ability to live in captivity, and their resistance to disease.

I don't have the book in front of me be I think that is how Diamond would explain why so few of the candidates for domestication actually were domesticated. It makes sense to me. If there are holes in my logic or some other explanations in the book that I don't remember, please reply.

Edited by: pegasus563 at: 3/16/06 2:02 pm



Thu Mar 16, 2006 1:45 pm
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