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Do We Understand Behavior?

Do We Understand Behavior?

Do we understand behavior? The conundrum of the behavioral sciences is that they are not exact sciences in the same sense as physics or mathematics. Behavior is like the spectrum of light: it is as difficult to say when yellow turns into orange as when one behavior turns into another. It is a continuum of quantity, perceptible throughout its duration, describable only when quantity turns into quality.

Friendly, insecure, pacifying, submissive, and fearful behaviors are a continuum of quantity, as are content, self-confident, assertive, dominant, and aggressive behaviors. The distinction between any two behaviors is a matter of function; the borderline separating one category from the next is a matter of observational skill, contextual parameters, and convention; the way we understand it all is a matter of definition.

Our brain wants to tidy up its stored information in small boxes, but once in a while, I like to turn them upside down. It’s good mental exercise, I find, and it helps me keep a good sense of perspectives.

Featured image: Behavior is like the spectrum of light. It is a continuum of quantity, perceptible throughout its duration, describable only when quantity turns into quality (© Illustration by Roger Abrantes with drawings from Alice Rasmussen).

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Roger Abrantes

Born in Portugal, a citizen of the World. Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology, B.A. in Philosophy. Speaks seven languages. Present work: lecturing on Ethology and sailing and diving in Thailand (marine biology environmental management).

View all articles by Roger Abrantes