|Among the important issues surrounding the study of animal behavior are those of
- Levels of Organization, from the subcellular to the social, inform and are informed by each other. Although necessarily connected, the traits identified at each scale are different, evoke different questions of researchers, and their study utilizes different technologies. Descriptions or understanding of processes at the smallest and largest scales are not, and may never be available.
- Needs must be met if an organism is to survive and thrive. Maslow's "need hierarchy" can be adapted to represent five critical needs that a sexually reproducing organism must meet: physiological, safety, sociality, esteem, self-actualization
- Balance. Balance between the activities of dynamic (continually active) processes (say, in maintaining homeostasis) can be achieved by feedback mechanisms, but some states of an organism can be viewed as the outcome of simultaneous processes that have counter-balancing effects. Processes of cell growth and apoptosis (death) are balanced in a well adapted organism, but circumstances can lead to one or the other processes prevailing. This is common in neural control systems where the influence of apparently "competing" pathways can shift rapidly as one or the other gains or loses metabolic resources. "The Golden Mean" of Aristotle has developed into concepts of disorders of excess and disorders of deficit. Balance invites concern about "The Essential Tension," the idea that only contrast can evoke the full realization of the phenomena contrasted.
- Nature and Nurture? a non-issue that won't go away? or at the heart of our enterprise? Usually an issue of FIXED versus FLEXIBLE traits -- An issue of DETERMINISM
- Causation and Determinism. Causation is often considered in "proximate" or "ultimate" terms. "Proximate" (immediate --such as physiological-- causes for a specific behavioral act) or "ultimate" (forces --such as those considered in evolution-- that affect the origin of the specific act possibly in ancestral history). The "determination" of a manifest trait can sometimes be so remote, so removed in time or space from the trait, that it is virtually undetectable. more on causation. Determinism refers to the relative influence of the many forces that might converge on the expression of a specific act. What is extent to which a specific trait is more-or-less biologically (internally, genetically) or environmentally (externally, ecologically) determined. Controversies about causation often invoke the "innate vs acquired" or "instinctive vs learned" debate (of course most things are usually a combination) more on determinism
- Models and Systems; information flow and complexity. Information that flows through an organism is more-or-less valuable to it in meeting survival needs. It can rapidly become very complex as different streams of information diverge as the substrate is more-or-less irregular and offers differing degrees of resistance [more on information flow]. Such a perspective is often best managed with "SYSTEMS THINKING," a particularly vivid way of visualizing and understanding the relationships between individual elements in a more-or-less complex system. Systems diagrams or thinking shows the direction and significance of influences within the system including feedback from affected elements to the element acting on it -- such feedback can be negative or positive. IN DEEP ETHOLOGY we can begin with information from the external world "entering" an organism (input), then consider how that information is "managed" (integration), and how that information works to affect output . An example of FEEDBACK would be when an organism's response to the environment changes the environment that evoked the response in the first place -- if the feedback evokes an even greater response from the animal it is positive, if it reduces the response, it is negative. In general, negative feedback fosters stability, and positive feedback pushes a process to the limits of its capacity. more on "systems thinking" FEEDFORWARD is less commonly discussed, but are represented by anticipatory responses
- INPUT, INTEGRATION, and OUTPUT, identified in discussion about PHYSIOLOGY, represents information flow. It is characteristically described in terms of the biological sites involved in the way energy is TRANSFORMED: it can be discussed in terms of COMMUNICATION (information transmitted between environment & organism, or between CELLS or tissues or organs or organisms... ). "biophysics" and "psychophysics" how environmental information is transformed to a form the organism can communicate
- Epigenesis is the term that is used for the process of the interaction of internal and external forces in causing behavior. Studies of genetic influences on the expression of a trait can often be clarified when genes are considered in terms of their sequences of action (programs) being more or less "open" or "closed." An "epigenetic analysis" considers the points in the cascade from gene activation to final manifest trait at which the genetically determined physiological events are more-or-less subject to environmental conditions. more on epigenesis
- Manifest and Latent traits. The morphological and behavioral characteristics of an organism --what it manifests, what we can measure and document with confidence-- is the organism for most purposes of analysis. We might suspect that t organism may have potential to manifest a trait, but it cannot be known with confidence until it is seen. "Phenotype" is the manifest organism, "genotype" are those potentials presumed to reside in the genetic code. Manifest phenotype and traits latent in the genotype are related to the ideas of "surface" and "deep" structure. A consideration is the varying accessibility of the trait to scrutiny, measurement, documentation. Many traits (including specific behavioral patterns) may be long latent, awaiting the right "releaser." more on phenotype and genotype
- Methods and Tools. Devising testable hypotheses is the first intellectual skill which is richly informed by the tools and methods available to address them differ at every level of organization [more about methods and tools]
- BIAS. there are countless CONGENITAL and ACQUIRED BIASES --habits of perception-- that intrude between phenomena in the world and our mental representation of them: [more]
- Ethics. Ethical thinking is arguably the highest form reasoning that can be applied to a specific field. Can there be a DEEP ETHOLOGY of ethical behavior? [more on ethics]
- Aesthetics. Phenomena the knowledge of which is dominated by the senses. Specific variables are of greater "meaning" to an individual (including a researcher) because of experience much of which may be unawares and cannot be objectively shared; a sense of meaning beyond the mechanistic emerges which cannot be easily shared, although artists often try. Our thinking is guided by a vast matrix of interlocking BIASES (more on biology of art)
- Dysfunction. “We humans have to grant the presence of some past adaptations, even in their unforgivable extremes, if only to admit they are permanent rocks in the stream we’re obliged to navigate.” (Barbara Kingsolver (1995:8; epigraph to Mark Schaller et al. 2003)