DEEP ETHOLOGY

The Integrative Biology of Behavior


ETHOLOGY is the objective study of animal behavior as a repertoire of adaptive traits most fully understood in the context of evolution and most authentically manifest under natural conditions.
DEEP is an acronym for the four disciplines that anchor our inquiries: DEVELOPMENT, ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, and PHYSIOLOGY:  DEEP ETHOLOGY
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“DEEP” is also used in several ways which converge with its meaning here in “DEEP Ethology.”  For example, “DEEP TIME” began with 18th century geology (more on that). DEEP includes the sense that the world and its phenomena are beyond human capacity to conceptualize—beyond human understanding—and the source of awe and even fear (which together create the SUBLIME).  At all levels of organization–wherever our inquiries in biology and natural history begin, the network of causes and consequences extends beyond our competence, requiring us to reign in our ambitions.  Arguably the sense of the sublime is amongst our most extraordinary experiences.

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DEEP ethology is an integrative way of bringing insight to problems involving the causes and consequences of behavior. Each of the four major biological disciplines (DEVELOPMENT, ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, and PHYSIOLOGY) overlap considerably with each other, but each must be considered as a necessary component of a comprehensive view of behavior.  Just as important to our progress in the pursuit of insight, considering the disciplines together evokes creative interactions that lead in unexpected directions and foster the emergence of new hypotheses and possible answers.

The DEEP ethologist begins with an objectively described behavioral pattern and seeks insight as to its CAUSES and CONSEQUENCES from this concerted interdisciplinary scrutiny. In this way the HOLISTIC and REDUCTIONIST points of view become complementary as we are drawn through multiple levels of organization. This INTERDISCIPLINARY approach reflects the view that while disciplines seem to have boundaries, REAL LIFE does not.

To begin, we must engage the central organizing principles of the respective disciplines that contribute to ethological insight.

The questions associated with each perspective could be asked of virtually any trait as an entry point into the constellation of biological concerns .. the DEEP perspectives are overlapping and in some cases interlocked, but once into process, additional questions will flow if not cascade from these preliminary questions. The ease with which the process proceeds is dependent on the precision of the description of the trait being investigated. The description and the questions can be expected to fine-tune each other as you proceed.

DEVELOPMENT ECOLOGY EVOLUTION PHYSIOLOGY
​study of change in individuals — becoming “all you can be” — involves the progressive expression of genetic potential as enabled or suppressed in specific environments and NEURO/BEHAVIORAL PLASTICITY (learning) ​the contexts: climate, geology, and other animals — involves the context in which behavior occurs and the organism’s interactions with that context ​study of change across generations — the “ultimate” cause and consequence of behavior — involves biological variations that affect changes in traits. ​study of how animals function — involves the “proximate” biological cause for the expression of any behavioral trait.
Key Words: ONTOGENY, EXPERIENCE, EPIGENETICS Key Words: BIOTIC (predators, prey, conspecifics) and ABIOTIC (geology, climate) Key Words: GENES and MEMES.  ADAPTATION, FITNESS Key Words: NERVOUS SYSTEM and ENDOCRINE SYSTEM; STRESS
​KINDS OF QUESTIONS:
How do the predictable change in the developing organism interact with the unpredictable changes in the environment? Does the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern CHANGE throughout one’s life? Would a specific experience affect the organism in different ways at different ages? why?
​KINDS OF QUESTIONS:
Is the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern different in different (physical or social) contexts? What aspect of the environment enables or impairs experience? Why? given a specific ecology, what are the costs and benefits of a particular trait?
KINDS OF QUESTIONS:
What are the ultimate causes and consequences of the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern … is it ever adaptive”? (that is, does it contribute to biological fitness?) Has this phenomenon evolved? When did it arise in our ancestry? How will it affect our fitness? Why?
KINDS OF QUESTIONS:
What are the proximate causes and consequences of the likelihood of a specific behavioral pattern? How does the organism recognize it? How is the current experience integrated with past (and possible anticipated?) experiences? What is the path information takes (consider “top-down” and “bottom-up”)
​A complete inventory of potential developmental influences is not feasible, requiring “educated guesses” based on other work. ​The broadest possible questions would engage every variable detectable; we must approximate what we think might be relevant based on our observations or other work ​The questions that reach for answers about ultimate causes and consequences approach the boundaries of knowledge of the most ancient past or our ability to envision the future. ​The questions about the most proximate causes or consequences approach the boundaries of our knowledge about the functions of cellular submolecular components.

Each section has a specific aspect of biology as its principle target — They ask different questions and have different methods of answering them, each appropriate to the level of organization that is being studied.

Of course the disciplines –their questions and the methods developed for answering them– often overlap but they can often be more fully understood from the perspectives of these specific aspects of biology.  Taken together they are ETHOLOGY, and the starting point for the ethological interpretation of behavior is the ETHOGRAM


ETHOGRAM.  An objective DESCRIPTION of all available units of behavior and behavioral patterns: the ETHOGRAM provides clarity and a shared vocabulary on the nature of the phenomenon of interest.  Questions wil certainly be raised, but invest your time in those which are at least in principle answerable. The ethogram enables us to discern patterns and  devise testable hypotheses.   Survey the intellectual and investigative tools and techniques available, and remain open to information or ideas from sibling disciplines that might enable creative new approaches as we pursue understanding.


 LEVELS of ORGANIZATION.  it is worth keeping in mind that a behavioral pattern  is a biological phenomenon at the ORGANISMIC level and there are levels below and beyond.  Tight correlations with phenomena that cause behavior and others that are likely consequences work together to create a narrative: a story that starts (someplace) has action (more-or-less) and ends (someplace).  Taken together, “causes” (such as activity in a set of muscles controlled by cells in the brain) It is the key set of CONNECTIONS that organizes our conscious awareness and it can be exquisitely sensitive to conditions of the surrounding environment within the body and in its “outer” environment.  The interaction of the body and the brain in causing behavior is the topic of EMBODIED COGNITION.  Relentlessly followed to all possible levels of organization of causes and consequences leads, ultimately, to metaphysics.   Our understanding is good at our organismic level, but the deeper or further we go, the more we approach the unknowable.  (A question for scholars of the infinitesimal (physicists) and of the vast (cosmologists) is whether the information we seek in unknown or unknowable.)   The opt-out for some biologists is that we do not really have to know it all, just enough to meet  ultimate biological need for self-actualization . The problem with opting out is that historically (and intuitively) the mere pursuit of such knowledge has led to many unanticipated inventions and discoveries that have dramatically improved the potential for self actualization.   Review the DEEP Ethology notes on Levels of Organization

DESCRIPTION — behavior defined — objective and mechanistic description of acts without reference to function. Cytology, morphology, morphometrics, anatomy; “structural phenotype.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ETHOGRAM.  An objective DESCRIPTION of all available units of behavior and behavioral patterns (BEHAVIOR INVENTORY) when examined in relation to each other (ETHOGRAM) provides clarity and a shared vocabulary on the nature of the phenomenon of interest.  Questions will certainly be raised, but invest your time in those which are at least in principle answerable. The ethogram enables us to discern patterns and  devise testable hypotheses.   Survey the intellectual and investigative tools and techniques available, and remain open to information or ideas from sibling disciplines that might enable creative new approaches as we pursue understanding.  (See Greenberg, N.  1978.  Ethological considerations in the experimental study of lizard behavior.  In: Behavior and Neurology of Lizards,  pp. 204‑224, Rockville, MD, NIMH)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ETHOLOGICALLY INFORMED DESIGN.  The foundation of subsequent research into causes and consequences of specific behavioral traits or patterns builds on a rigorously objective DESCRIPTION of all available units of behavior (BEHAVIOR INVENTORY)  and an organized representation of the ways in which units are organized with respect to each other (ETHOGRAM). This is powerful base evidence for the study of changes during individual development a d evolutionary history  Such a background, complemented by likely ECOLOGICAL variables that enable or challenge the expression of traits may or MAY NOT be easily extrapolated to provide important clues about comparable systems.

“There is a necessary relationship between research design, the welfare of research animals, and the VALIDITY of ensuing research data.  There are obvious limits to the ease with which findings from one species can be generalized to another.  Even closely related species may have important differences in their development or evolutionary history, or ways they are influenced by their environment.  Within a species, variations in development and sex-related physiology can have obvious influences on their responses to experimentally introduced variables.  

I argue that a well constituted RESEARCH DESIGN must take account of the manifest expression of evolutionary and developmentally influenced traits.

Considering the animal in context is, in other words, a key element in the development of an experiment involves an ETHOLOGICALLY INFORMED DESIGN.  

See notes on EXPERIMENTATION in ETHOLOGY

 (See Greenberg, N.  1994.  Ethologically  Informed Design.  In:  Health and Welfare of Captive Reptiles (Chapman & Hall, London)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

s, anatomy; “structural phenotype.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 DEEP is more than an acronym.  It is a powerful word that speaks to the layers of insight and understanding beneath superficial appearances.

The poet Rilke also looks deeply into experience