Darwin Day 2015 Questions: #6 How does learned behavior evolve into inherited instinct?
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Darwin Day 2015 Questions: #6 How does learned behavior evolve into inherited instinct?

(Music playing) Richard Dawkins: “How does learned behavior
evolve into inherited instinct?” Well that’s a very advanced question because
it wouldn’t occur to many people that that is what happens,
but there is a very interesting theory about how that happens and why it happens. It’s called the Baldwin effect. In the Baldwin effect, the idea is that an animal learns, for example, some skill. A good example might be thrushes, which smash
the shells of snails and then eat them. And the closely related blackbirds don’t do this. If you give a blackbird a snail
that’s been taken out of its shell, it’s very happy to eat it, but a blackbird hasn’t the faintest idea how to smash a snail, whereas thrushes do it all the time, they do it on so called anvils. Now the Baldwin effect idea would be that some ancestral bird, ancestral to thrushes, learned how to smash snails. A very, perhaps a very skilled bird,
a very clever individual bird that learned how to smash snails
and then maybe other thrush ancestors copied it. They also learned how to
smash snails and got rewarded for it and so they learned and learned
and learned. And then as the generations went by,
the progeny, the next generation, of these ancestral birds also learned. Perhaps by imitating their parents. And as the generations went by, the ones who learned fastest,
were the ones who got the most food. And so any genetic tendency
to be fast at learning how to smash snails would have been
favored by natural selection. And so natural selection,
by choosing genes over many generations, would eventually build into the gene pool a skill which started out as a learned skill. Now learned skills are very important in birds. A beautiful example is the habit of tits,
blue tits and grey tits, of opening milk bottles. Nowadays not many milk bottles are
delivered on doorsteps, but there was a time when I was young, when every day the milkman would deliver milk and place it on the doorstep. And grey tits and blue tits discovered, some individual birds discovered, how to open the either tinfoil or
cardboard tops to these bottles and drink the cream. Fascinatingly, this habit spread
like an epidemic. Birds copied each other and
ornithologists were able to actually trace the flow of this habit,
of this skill, in radiating circles outwards from focal points in the country in Britain, where particularly clever individual birds had discovered how to do it. So it was a learned skill. As far as I know, nobody has investigated the Baldwin effect in this particular case, but the way it would work would be that as the epidemic,
the learned habit spread, over generations, those individual birds
who learned fastest were the ones who got the most cream, therefore had the most offspring, passed on the genes, not initially genes for opening milk bottles, but genes for learning quickly to open milk bottles. And in the end they would learn so fast,
they wouldn’t need to learn at all and then you might call it an instinct. And that would be the full Baldwin effect. So the Baldwin effect would be a way
in which a learned habit can get built into the gene pool as an instinct
by natural selection of genes. Superficially, the Baldwin effect
sounds like Lamarckism. Lamarck was the French naturalist
predating Darwin, who had a theory of evolution
which was based upon the inheritance of acquired characteristics and that’s wrong, that doesn’t happen, or almost certainly doesn’t happen. But the Baldwin effect produces something which looks like Lamarckism and is therefore very interesting. Acquired characteristics,
something that an animal learns, are not automatically incorporated in the genes. That would be Lamarckism. Injuries, uh… My mother once had a dog,
who sometimes, like many small dogs, limped on three legs. And there was another dog in the village who had lost a leg in a car accident, and the owner of this three-legged dog thought that her dog must be the father of our dog,
because it limped on three legs. That would be Lamarckism. In the case of the thrushes or the tits
that I’ve just been mentioning, it would be Lamarckism if the learned habit
just was pumped straight into the genes, but the way it happens is not like that. The way it happens in the Baldwin effect is that there must be some genetic variation in there, which affects the rate of learning this particular habit or even the rate of learning generally, and that is what’s being naturally selected. So it’s not that the habit gets pumped into the genes. What happens is that there is spontaneous variation among the birds, in proper Darwinian fashion,
ultimately due to mutation; variation in ability to learn a habit such as this. And then natural selection favors
those individuals who learn fastest, until in the end they learn so fast
that it looks as though they haven’t learned at all. (Music playing)

100 thoughts on “Darwin Day 2015 Questions: #6 How does learned behavior evolve into inherited instinct?

  1. Wouldn't we expect the Baldwin effet to be effective after several generations only? Isn't it too slow for the bird-figuring-out-how-to-open-the-milk-containers example?

  2. sorry this doesnt explain anything. Are we saying physical skills can be stored chemically in Genes or that ability to learn a skill is??? I dont understand how inherited behaviors work.

  3. This is brilliant – 1 of the few evolutionary concepts I couldn't quite explain was inherited knowledge (instinct) but the baldwin effect explains it excellently!

  4. Milk was delivered at the door step until the highly evolved humans pasteurized the milk. They learned to lie about health benefits to fool the customers. Higher profits at fellow mans expense has evolved. Without moral laws you have a world of slaves.

  5. What about a kitten taken away from its mother early, it will wash its face and bury its poo in the garden without seeing other cats doing it. This cannot be learned behaviour, so it not instinct?

  6. Perhaps this , perhaps that , perhaps , perhaps – God created DNA mr rabid saliva dripping atheist Dawkins – quit spreading stupidity perhaps you don't really understand DNA .

  7. The most interesting application of Baldwin effect is human ability to come up with and understand things as Baldwin effect.

  8. DNA can program or re program in a generation, this is science, DNA structuring is by design, evolution is fact but its mechanics are far from understood.

  9. you didnt answer the question Mr Dawkins…….you fudged over the bit between learning super fast and the genetic inheritance of a trait (which is not learned at all)

  10. "…not genes to know how to open milk bottles, but genes to learn QUICKLY how to open milk bottles, and in the end they would learn so fast that they wouldn't need to learn at all."

    Seriously? This is the world's leading evolutionary biologist's explanation of how instinct for complex behavior is coded in DNA? It's an absurd "explanation". It's a bit like saying that if Olympic runners keep breaking the world record for the fastest mile, eventually they'll be able to arrive at the finish line without leaving the starting block.

  11. Nice!.. I always feel that something is missing with so many explanation regarding the phenomenon of instincts..Now, picking into the bottle–needs a lot of observing birds observing other birds doing the deed and a lot of milk-bottles–how would the developing bird have acquired the knowledge (instinct) how to pick itself out of the egg?

  12. Around about 3 years ago I visited London and I was astonished to find a pigeon walking across a street according to the traffic light signals. I happened to be in the same group of people walking across the same road as that pigeon, it was the funniest thing ever! Obviously that particular pigeon learned that to avoid cars while crossing the street (if it was too tired to fly) it would have to follow the humans walking across or look at the colour of the traffic light. I think that very well proves that birds can learn new skills and perhaps that pigeon may have learned that from other pigeons or spread that skill around. Interesting!

  13. Mr. Dawkins, You mentioned about the "Birds and Milk bottles" which is a known fact and it's proven that animals learn from each others or mabye share their experiences.
    I really like to know your opinion on those who hide and Monopolise the knowledge so they can enslave others.
    I really like to know if our educational system is democratised and there are no barriers for someome from average background.?? ( obviously someone who has talent and is a university post graduate to certain levels.

  14. Mr. Dawkins. I like to know your opinion on if you believe that Religion was totally a bad idea for humanity or it was necessary in a certain time of civilisation.
    Could we be better off without it at all.??

  15. 2:08 i don't think he believes it either. How could genes make anything specifically faster at learning one specific behaviour? how can a physical gene correlate to a set of actions that a animal decides to carry out?

  16. another false evolutionist doctrine. there is no such thing as instict. what evolutionists observed and called instict is in fact just another evidence that we live in simulated universe. the fact that animals behaving in certain way have nothing to do with their instict or their genes, but rather with the basic structure of simulated universe. they behave like this because script of simulated universe says that they should behave like this.

  17. There's also the fact that the more a species benefits from something (like a learned habbit passed down, which I'd call a "culture"), the more it becomes dependent on that thing to survive by discarding other resources available, or if other resources wane. In that sense, it became not that if you learned fast you got an extra treat, but if you don't learn this or randomly do it by habit, you will be discarded from the gene pool.

  18. Very interesting. 🙂
    But if instinct is basically "instant learning", how come sometimes an instinct is present even without any stimuli of the enviroment that would trigger the need to learn it?

  19. So Richard said qualities of being quick at learning are selected for and then it looks like inherited instinct.
    He gave as support examples of birds learning skills from each other and this knowledge radiating out.
    That is completely wrong and deceptive.
    Realize that there are 2 types of knowledge in brains, instinctive knowledge and learned knowledge.
    Humans have a large percentage of their brain for learning, and a small amount for instinct.
    Animals, to varying degrees, have a large amount of their brain for instinct and a small amount for learning.
    Some, like dolphins, ravens, parrots, dogs and monkeys can learn quite a bit, within limits.

    Fish and Insects are mostly instinct. This means they are BORN knowing how to do all the important things they need to do. They don't need another to teach them and don't really have the brain to learn and remember anyway.
    Monarch butterflies take several generations to fly from Canada to particular groves in Mexico. None of them have been there before so none could teach another the way. Birds instinctively know they can fly and how to do it. Same with insects.
    All animals have behaviors which are characteristic of their species. One can say, a sheep will behave a certain way. A goat will like and dislike certain things. Animals have an affinity for particular actions. Some species love to hide, others to swim tirghtly in a group. You could take new baby creatures with no exposure to parents and a dog will still act like a dog and a cat like a cat.

    Human babies instinctively know how to suckle and to doggy paddle. They are hard wired to immediately learn language. Boys and girls instinctive begin liking the opposite sex at the time their bodies are ready for them to do so.

    Many more possible examples. The upshot is that Richard's answer was a non-answer. It was an evasion that answered nothing because he doesn't know. Evolution doesn't have a workable explanation for how random point mutations could give something instinctual unlearned knowledge.

    One cannot learn something and have a later generation know it without learning. Such would have to be programmed into their DNA.
    Which is an excellent case for a wise, loving Creator to hard-wire each type of creature with instinctive and beneficial, crucial knowledge and skills to define their uniqueness without having to learn it.

    The "Was it Designed?" series examines many such fascinating abilities.

  20. Very interesting, thanks for publishing!
    Yet I don't find it a satisfying answer to the question.

    Having inherited a gene that makes you quicker to perform a behaviour doesn't make you instinctively do it. Crying is innate, but infants do not wait and see how other humans cry to imitate that quickly.

    Also it's a very general assumption to say that there are genes that enable you to perform such a specific task as crushing snail shells in a quicker manner.

    Having said that with my humble understanding of the subject, I just feel that although is an interesting hypothesis it does fully account for the aforementioned issue.

  21. What about instincts in animals which never had the ability to observe others and mimic or even use tools. Like a sea sponge.

  22. Love the presentation, but Im genuinely curious in one element of the presentation. What if a bird would be separated by it's parents at a fairly young age, just old enough that it can make it on his own. It doesn't properly know what it should eat, other than the healthy food it got from it's parents. Will it now instinctively, when intervening a snail, know exactly how to do the process to eat it, or will it have to be taught to the bird from a young age by it's parents, or does he have to see another bird from it's spicy do it, so that he can try to replicate the process enough times until he has learnt it? Or does he instinctively know the process when facing the snail

  23. DAWKINS is possibly the BIGGEST SHOVELER of HORSE MANURE I have ever heard… He can't ANSWER the basic question of How Learned Behaviour is STORED in the DNA…because after all that's the ONLY thing passed onto offspring from the PARENTS from an EVOLUTIONARY POINT OF VIEW…

  24. I think learned skill is a genius explanation but taking that to be an instinct of a newborn (with no learning) is a major leap. To learn, you need to first be taught, whereas instinct just happens without being shown how, right? For example, would you expect humans to be born ready to speak a language as an instinct (yeah, i mean after MANY generations, like in a billion years!) ? Please explain. thanks

  25. One might say that there was genes present already, perhaps dormant and unused or used in some other capacity, that were used when discovering an ability and that the rest of the species probably have most of the same genes. In order for selection to happen they has to be culling and thus already the animals that cannot learn it will have a slight disadvantage just like the animals that are slower than an potential improvement to learn it faster. Thus the genetics doesn't start after an ability is learned rather it continues. How we make choices are rooted in genetics and instinct. The more complex the instinct the more "thinking" we think we do.

  26. I think Mr. Dawkins just made an argument that supports the idea of ever increasing intelligence via evolution. This is just what Carl Sagan used to say. It does make sense even if many animals, like cockroaches, are very successful albeit not terribly intelligent.
    (I love these men; they are my heroes – read all their books).

  27. But how are some animals born knowing exactly what they need to do to survive , even when it's in no way intuitive? Is memory genetic?

  28. How do baby snakes learn to hunt and constrict preys right from birth without any parent to learn the skill from. #Thoughts

  29. Before answering what learned behavior is you should explain what the process of learning is in the first place? What forced those species to learn? What kind of mechanism triggered that process of learning? Was it instinct? That would be circular reasoning! There is no fucking difference between theists and atheists. Both claim that they know the absolute truth! What are you saying, Mr Dawkins is a complete nonsense!

  30. And there's a big difference between saying that the Baldwin effect is yet another avenue of evolutionary effect, as opposed to attempting the extrapolation that the Baldwin effect is proof that the behavior of humans can be identified by inspecting the individuals DNA.

  31. How about humans ? can learned behaviors evolve into inherited gene? or instincts? can humans religious rituals for example evolve into inherited modified human instincts? or gene?

  32. I can definitely agree and see how the Baldwin effect could/would come into play for particular animals within a species having a higher capacity to learn and comprehend in situations that would require problem solving skills (as Dawkins states with example with Blue and grey Tits opening milk bottles). That still doesn’t get to the heart of where certain highly methodical and specified behavioural patterns could’ve come from. Let’s steer away from the Examples of birds and focus on an animal that is quite commonly domesticated around the world, a house Cat. Anyone who has owned or knows people who have cats can immediately identify certain Ingrained patterns that can be observed in Cats even if the cat has been isolated from all other cat, or animal interaction from birth. The most peculiar of these traits that I’ve observed happens to be the ability to be an Amazing hunter essentially out of the “box”. (which is important to note because the action requires incremental steps to achieve the goal and isn’t just some sort of biological twitch or some other trivial action, There’s intricate method required to get to the end goal ) These animals innately know and practice this very methodical skill set without being taught or observing other cats that know how to do this and the real question is…how? Now, we can speculate on hypothetical scenarios that could’ve occurred millions of years ago with the Predecessors to the house cat until the cows come home but the reality of the question being adequately answered requires some sort of mechanism (ie. some thing we can observe that’ll transfer developed hard connected memories within our brain to our genome )explaining how these learned abilities could’ve some how been transferred to the genome and then laterally to the offspring, and if we are using the model of universal common decent we must be able to observe such a mechanism acting to some degree within our biological systems of today. I am no ethologist or do I claim superior knowledge to the people that devote their lives studying these things but it would appear to me that this issue can be understood through the process of rational and logical thought alone. How can behaviours this advanced not be taught but yet still exist within these cats from their very inception and if we all descended from a common ancestor this mechanism should be apparent in our everyday lives and in all living organisms should it not? I’m pretty sure everyone with some life experience knows what happens when you touch fire for prolonged periods of time .. that lesson alone can save a life or be a beneficial behavioural adaptation but yet is never transferred to our children. Why is that? Has the mechanism stopped working at some point? It would appear that “Lamarckism” in fact would have to some how be in effect for all of this to make sense as the mechanism of natural selection seems to fall short of adequately explaining these highly specified behaviours in cats or in other animals like beavers etc . The way it appears to me is that there are 2 possible ways to account for advanced behaviour patterns such as the hunting ability in cats or dam creating abilities of beavers.. 1. through an incremental learning process over a particular amount of time or 2. It was intelligently designed into the organism by an external intelligent agent. It would seem to me as that the second option seems a lot more tenable as we can draw comparisons to things we observe within our technologies today (ie. an iPhone no matter where manufactured and no matter the model/size of the iPhone if it is geared with the same software/hardware assembly instructions it will act as an iPhone will act with minor differences depending on the size of screen and so forth but at the end of the day the way an iPhone behaves is contingent on its preprogrammed nature. I’m on a quest to understand the world and universe better and mean no disrespect to anyone so if my objections are invalid please educate me further so I may understand!

  33. So still in the end, the learned or acquired characteristic wouldnt be incorporated into genes right? They just seem normal due to selection on the ability to 'learn' right?

  34. What about insects or other animals that just aren't intelligent enough to learn a skill that they now possess as an instinct?

  35. ok… what's interesting to me is exactly HOW they came to the definitive determination that these learned behaviors were not in fact impressed on the genes and passed down genetically, but instead just the result of an extremely fast ability to learn. Select any female puppy from a litter and separate her from her mother at birth and bottle feed her. When the day comes that she herself is a mother and she starts successfully raising her young, was not that "motherly instinct" genetically inherited? Or would we say that she just learned really, really fast what it would take to successfully raise her young? Learn from who or what? The ghost of mothers past? gtfoh

  36. Had plants not been existed first and end even now all other life forms would not exist.
    Therefore, evolution is fiction. Right?Thanks.

  37. How would you explain learned behavior in species like the Monarch Butterfly? They instinctively travel thousands of miles to the same spots in Mexico but the butterflies that started the Journey to the North are not the ones that make it to Mexico actually all the Monarchs that make it to Mexico have never been there before and will never be there again? Why they keep making the exact same journey every year? How do they learned something they have never seen done?

  38. I disagree with his answer. I know this is from a few years ago so he was answering a question without todays knowledge. New developments in epigenetics has proved that our genetics are NOT fixed from birth . Everything we do, whether it's the food we eat, the experiences we have and all our interactions with the environment change each cell of our bodies on a genetic level. Every mammal has evolved , emotionally, physically and psychologically through our interaction with the environment. That's what causes our instincts. It's why a child has an immediate emotional reaction seeing a snake even if it's parents never even saw a snake. Survival instincts especially were laid down through our ancestors experience millions of years ago.

  39. Is there definite proof of organic evolution?
    Professor H.H. Newman of Chicago university answers this question.

    " Reluctant as he may be to admit it, honesty compels the evolutionist to admit that there is no absolute proof of organic evoolution."

    He writes :
    The nature of the proof of organic evolution, then, is this:
    that using the concept of organic evolution , as a " working hypothesis, it has been possible to rationalize and render intellgible a vast array of observed phenomena, the real fact upon which evolution rests.

    In other words, the working hypothesis works and is therefore acceptable as truth untill overthrown by a more workable hypothesis.
    ' Evolution, Genetics & Eugenetics ' p.57

  40. The Adam and Eve the first man and women on Earth proved true —
    as all humans are deccendanta of a single couple,scientists say .

    Scientists have said that we sprang from a solitary pair of adults — who lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago — after a catastrophic event almost wiped out the entire human race. The findings were made by scientists who surveyed that genetic
    ' barcodes' of five million animals — including humans.

    Ph D (Arabic Literature) MA (triples)

  41. I don’t think I understand this. The explanation seems to go something like this:

    1. A "clever" bird suddenly opens a shell and finds food. This is plausible. This bird has certain genes that has the phenotypic expression of creative exploration of things – perhaps a certain exploratory, creative personality.

    2. Other birds (without the clever birds genes) imitate this behavior. These birds leave more offspring who learn by their parents to open shells and find food. I don’t think this can suddenly «become» an instinct without involving some epigenetic theory, because all that is happening is that children learn from parents in generation after generation.

    The children of the clever bird, however, have that clever – creative – birds genes, and therefore the same phenotypic expression of creative exploration of things. This genotype and its phenotypic expression of exploratory behavior and creativity (I suspect in general) will be passed on to the clever birds’ offspring. These offspring will have a genotype with the phenotypic expression of more and more exploratory and creative problem-solving behavior towards their environment. All this is plausible, I think. This is the Popperian growth of knowledge. But I think the devil is in the details of what you call «instinctive», because what is instinctive here is not the specific «opening of shells to find food», but the organisms drive to want to explore the environment and try to open things to find food in general. I don’t see how the explanation can go from the description I have laid out so far, to

    3. Offspring instinctively opens specific type of shell in a specific manner to find food without trying to open other things and test their creativity in other ways.

    I don’t understand how the explanation can go from «creative exploratory behavior» in one organism to «genotype with specific phenotypic expression of opening specific shells in a particular way to find food» in its offspring. I wish I understood this better. Perhaps these birds actually use their creative exploratory behavior in the early development of their lives and soon finds out that some shells are better than others. I have no idea. But if we take as an example the innate behavior, instinct, of human babies responding with fear to snakes without having experienced – learned – the snakes danger, I just don’t see how a Baldwin-type of explanation can work. One possibility is that some ancestor to humans had a mutation that made them respond with fear to certain patterns – snakelike patterns – and this genotype had more offspring than those who didn’t. But I don’t think that’s probable – a mutation that corresponds with the world in the manner of matching snakelike patterns seems weird. It seems to me that an explanation of how instincts evolves needs some form of learning (perhaps in the form of epigenetics), but I have no idea how that can work.

  42. yes dawkins, then how do you explain the manner in which savants are able to have the ability before going through any aquistion…?

  43. We now know that genes can be turned on and off by the environment.
    Therefor behaviours and skills can be turned on and off.
    Surely this subject could be prove with experiments.

  44. Fair Point Richard, You raise One Possibility. Another Possibility is the Really Really Smart Birds ran into Bad Luck and were Wiped Out by a Volcanic Eruption, A Fire, An Ice Age or perhaps a Tsunami. Therefore you may well be Referencing the Not Very Smart Birds. Which in Turn Raises the Question, Are Humans a Result of Luck or are the Other Animals a Result of Bad Luck. Further Again, this Still raises the Dilemma of Why Only One Animal would Advance with IQ. The Others, Including Apes, Monkeys, Chimps would remain with Little IQ Despite Significant Instincts. It seems Impossible that 99.99999999999999999 % of the Life Forms would All Run Into Bad Luck. So To Me, The Big Human Mystery goes on. Thanks for your Efforts.

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