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Human learning and survival Essay

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There is a common belief that the ability to learn is what makes human survival possible. I believe that survival is not based solely on learning. Human survival especially in times of vast environmental change is the result of a combination of learning, logic, reasoning and subsequent application of knowledge. The thing that sets humankind apart from other living things is intellect, which according to the dictionary is the ability to learn and reason. Learning is simply the ability of animals (humans included) to acquire and retain new information.

Whenever we try to learn a new dance step, learn a new language or simply remember the names of people we meet, we in fact use our learning faculties. So do animals when they figure out that scrounging around in garbage cans can reward them with food. Darwinian theory proposes the idea of evolution wherein living things adjust biologically, mentally and physiologically to environmental conditions and demands. When the concept of “survival of the fittest” and natural selection is discussed, it pertains to animals that are not just physically fit but mentally as well (Arrizza).

In fact most biologists and anthropologists support this thinking by citing the example of how humans have always depended on their wits in order to survive. More often than not, it is the more dull-witted ones who perish even before they have given birth to offspring, which probably is a good thing for succeeding generations (Thorndike, 1931, p. 184). It was stunningly simple. Nature does what animal breeders do, but gradually, and over longer periods of time. In a species, those individuals who are best adapted in their hereditary endowment will succeed, and survive, better than their fellows.

That is the “struggle for existence. ” Those successful individuals will leave more offspring, and this will move the mode, the central tendency of the species, in their direction. Following generations will continue to undergo selection for still better adaptation: running, swimming, seeing, hiding, chewing, or all together. (Howells, 1993, p. 6) Supposing this theory was correct however, it would imply that the “weak” or learning challenged humans would have been weeded out a long time ago. The thing is that in today’s times, learning challenged humans still exist and even thrive.

There are some quarters that may opine that intelligence and the development of skill are products of mental evolution. Evolution refers to progress to something more functional, advanced and suited to the current environment (“Human Evolution”). The fashioning and use of primitive tools are just a few hallmarks of how human intelligence has evolved and applied “learning” into something that helped their survival. For all practical purposes, learning is often seen as an attempt to create a memory or store information that lasts as it is invariably linked with memory. Dr. Eric R.

Kandle, vice chairman of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives sums it as: “Learning is how you acquire new information about the world, and memory is how you store that information over time” (“What is learning”) Simply put, it is just the accumulation of facts and information. At this point it is important to point out the difference between learning and memory. Kandle points out that not all learning can get stored into long term memory. Such is the case of things a person learned in school. Unless these lessons are used in day to day life, many will have trouble remembering them some years after.

Kandle adds that “There is no memory without learning, but there is learning without memory. ” (“What is learning”) True learning cannot exist without memory but Thorndike (1911) scorns the idea that human learning is the same as real human intellect. He states that learning alone does not include the more complex processes of reasoning or inference. No real thought is given to the relationship and causality of things, neither is there an appreciation of the progress the application of learning is causing. He further posits that learning is based solely on factors that are present in the environment.

It is human intellect that makes it possible for humans to think and develop further learning “outside the box’ or beyond what are present in his environment. Rychlak (1994) supports this contention with his own theory of “Logic Learning. ” Rychlak believes that learning is an inherent quality in both humans and animals alike. Humans however possess the power and capability of logic that enables them to make sense and assign purpose and function to information that is learned. (p. 35) Learning is not limited to humans. Every living organism has the capability to “learn.

” It has been proven that animals including dogs, cats and even bees have information and skill acquiring capabilities. While most animal characteristics are arguably innate or instinctive like a newborn baby or puppy’s nipple searching and sucking reflex, many later skills are learned. What sets people apart is rather not limited to the capacity to learn and store information but rather in the processing of this information afterwards and figuring out what to do with it. Animal learning is mostly based on impulses and instinct.

There are three different ways by which organisms learn: “by trial and error, by observation and imitation, and by instruction. ” (Campbell, 1998, p. 39) Trial and error is by far the most common method of learning among living organisms. An example of this is when a mouse tries to figure its way out of a puzzle by trying out first one path, then another until it hits upon the correct path to follow. Observation and imitation is illustrated by how the young of animals and humans alike acquire learning by watching and imitating the actions of their parents. This is most commonly the basis of the development of behavioral patterns and actions.

Finally, and what is arguably the method unique to humans is the method of instruction through language. Why is it unique? Instruction needs conscious thought and full intention of teaching. What is more is that instruction is a big factor in the propagation of a culture yet the topics and methods of instruction are also largely dependent on culture (p. 40). Language is also another important and distinctive part of both human culture, instruction and in effect, human learning (Alland, 1973, p. 209). Using language in instruction speeds up the learning process thereby allowing for more potential information to be learned and assimilated.

Instructions and responses are direct and accurate. In the same way, a shared language serves both as a unifying element of culture and “shared experience” between individuals. Learning and Adaptation Enough mention has been made of adaptation with regard to human survival…what is adaptation? Adaptation is lexically defined as an adjustment to conditions present within an environment or a reaction to a persistent and present stimulus. It allows an organism to “adapt” or change components or behaviors within itself to match the demands of its environment.

Survival is an organism’s ability to exist and propagate in relation to its surroundings and environments. Is learning the key to adaptation and in effect human survival? No. But it is one of the fundamental and major contributors to it. Like most living organisms, humans have physical limitations that are challenged by natural elements and processes such as climate, hunger and other environmental conditions. Unlike other animals however, humans are relatively less sensitive and attuned to environmental changes (Piantadosi, 2003, p. 1).

It is at this point that the human ability to learn, reason and compare their living conditions and determine problems that may exist and threaten their survival. Like people in modern days, primitive men had their environment with its own accompanying problems. If modern people today are challenged by more high tech issues like traffic, work, and finances, our primitive ancestors had to figure out ways of keeping warm in the winter and putting food on the table (or rock). There were challenges in how to hunt and capture prey effectively as well as make sure that they do not become prey to carnivorous predators of their time.

From plain materials and tools fashioned with flint and animal bone, primitive humans graduated to working with copper which was more malleable yet as tough as stone, and then to the much stronger bronze which was formed by melting copper with tin and finally, iron (Hartman, 1996). Supporters of learning as the keystone of survival wold point this out as a way by which learning improved human existence. But basing on definitions alone, learning meant that they simply realized that stone is not so easy to work with, copper is malleable but pretty weak, and bronze and iron are harder metals.

It is logic and reasoning that made it possible for them to realize that 1. ) there are problems with the materials they are using, 2. ) they need to find a better solution to their requirements, hence the search and formulation of copper and bronze. Without logic and reasoning people then would have simply stopped at knowing. One may look at this the same way as the differentiation between science and technology. Science is that wide and impressive body of knowledge which will remain meaningless unless applied and utilized in technology.

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