Monday, February 12, 2007


I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that matter “learns” how to survive by the simple means that behaviours that don’t serve survival through time do not persist.

But there can be no “learning” without memory, because there can be no knowledge without memory. There has to be a persistent record of experience to learn from.

In a sense, life itself is all about maintaining a record of experiences that result in persistence, that result in survival.

But where does that record reside? We know that human beings (indeed all forms of life, but let’s discuss human beings) keep a record of experience in various short-and long-term memory systems. But there are some human behaviours that are clearly not learned. A child will focus on its mother’s face from the moment its little eyes are capable of focusing. No one taught the child to stare at its mother, or to say “bababa”, or to suckle at the breast. These things are instinctual.

The idea that some forms of knowledge seem to be innate has confused philosophers from at least the time of Plato. Fortunately, science has solved it. Every living creature carries a record of the sorts of behaviours that work for its species in a longer-term “memory” system – DNA.

Experience is the fount of all knowledge. One of the arguments against this position has been that some knowledge appears to be innate. How can it therefore be founded on experience? An infant has no experience to draw upon!

The answer is that in DNA and other genetic material is recorded the experience of generations of living creatures, who passed on their knowledge to the new generations.

This innate, instinctual knowledge is a record of the sorts of behaviours that result in survival. Behaviours not only of the baby as a whole, but of its eyes, ears, and other organs, of its brain, of its digestive system, of the hair on its head, all of which through the millennia have served the survival of its kind.

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