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The brain's primary objective is to carry out certain adaptive behaviors. It is fine-tuned by evolution to safely govern its carrier through life and to achieve successful reproduction. There are two alternatives to accomplish this task: by innate behavior programs (e.g. reflexes, stimulus-response chains etc.) adapted by evolution or acquired behavioral traits, adapted by experience.
This distinction is not new: in the 18th century, part of the empiricist philosophy of Locke (1689) was the assertion that individuals were born with a tabula rasa and only experience could establish mind, consciousness and the self. On the continent, Leibniz envisaged the self as a monad carrying some knowledge of a basic understanding of the world. The discussion as to whether nature or nurture are the driving force shaping cognitive abilities was for a long time considered to be interminable. Until the 1960s this dispute was still very vivid in the behavioral sciences: in the tradition of the English empiricists, Skinner's school of behaviorism postulated general rules for all types of learning, neglecting innate differences or predispositions. Lorenz was one of the protagonists of ethology in Europe, which focused on the inherited aspects of behavior. It was Lorenz who ended these antagonistic views of behavior in showing that there indeed are innate programs ("fixed action patterns") and predispositions in behavior where only little learning occurs. Today, it is largely agreed upon that nature and nurture are intimately cooperating to bring about adaptive behaviors. Probably only in very few cases ontogenetic programs are not at all subjected to behavioral plasticity. Conversely, the possibility of acquiring behavioral traits has to be genetically coded for.
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