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Truth Claims Are Instruments: A Comprehensive Theory of Behavior

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Document pages: 19 pages

Abstract: This paper draws on biology, evolution and cognitive science to formulate a mechanistic and consequentialist explanation of human behavior that resolves the traditional conflicts between behaviorism and cognitivism. Animals are biological information processing systems that input environmental data through their senses, interpret it, and output behaviors that advance their goals. Communication extends the capabilities of individual organisms by serving an input (sensing) function for receivers and an output (manipulating) function for senders. Higher animals build internal models of the physical world that are collections of representations of, or truth claims about, its contents and its cause-and-effect rules, which they use as guides to manipulating the world to induce desired physical effects. They use other animals as agents by sending them truth claims intended to influence their behavior selection. Humans (at least) also selectively accept and reject truth claims to manipulate their own affective states. Sensory and cognitive restrictions limit the completeness and accuracy with which our internal representations can mirror their physical referents. These impediments to faithful representation, along with functional biases, make representational errors and omissions resistant to correction and enable latitude in the construction of social reality (the shared models of the world that govern the distribution of social rewards and penalties). The displacement of unmediated physical effects in the human environment by anthropogenic effects over the course of social and technological evolution reduced the general frequency with and degree to which truth claims need to be true in order to lead to effects intended by their claimants.

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