Just got home with my first baby, and man is she delightful. In learning the ancient tricks of parenthood, though, I've been constantly amazed at the amount of knowledge already packed into the baby when she arrives. Not intellectual, abstract knowledge, but instinctual knowledge. For example, she knows how to make sucking faces when she's hungry. Or cry when she's cold.
On the surface, this looks pretty simple. But the closer I look at it, the more remarkable it seems. What mechanism makes her want to do that? The common and superficial Western answer is "Instincts developed and refined by evolution." Well and good, but what is an instinct? What is it, actually, in the organism that makes them perform a behavior?
The articles on the web give only the superficial answer -- "inherited." How so? If genetically, then shouldn't it be possible to "shut off" the instinct with genetic manipulation? We haven't done that yet to my knowledge, so this doesn't strike me so much as an experimental and scientific explanation as an "everything came about through evolution of genetic material, so the answer to every question in biology must be found in evolution." And anyway, how many complex interactions of genes must go into telling a baby how to make a sucking face, manipulate the tongue, and periodically swallow to get milk from a nipple they've never seen before in a world they can't possibly understand?
Or is instinct non-genetic? Is it something else?
Reductionists would argue that the child has some sort of pleasure sensor, and that the release of pleasure-chemicals is triggered by the instinctual behavior. Perhaps. But what pleasure chemicals are released by crying when cold? And what tells the body that those particular chemicals are "pleasure chemicals" to be sought, as opposed to "pain chemicals" to be avoided. This solution seems only to beg the question.
I really have no idea. And that makes watching my little girl eat that much more of a spiritual experience. Because every day it seems more and more obvious to me that somebody put those instincts in her, and I'd really like to shake his hand.
Human self-awareness without cerebral cortex
11 hours ago