episode #103 creatures of habits

Habits have been studied extensively in the behaviourist tradition. Behaviourists consider habit as repeated behaviour that is established through learning. The behaviourist view posits a direct relationship between situation (stimulus) and behaviour (response). Some behaviours turn quickly into habits, whereas others may require painstaking practice and frequent repetition.

Both rational and sub-rational animals are meant to have acquired capacities and acquired tendencies. The capacities of sub-rational creatures are mere habits. Thus skill and virtue are conceived as the rational species of two more general categories, acquired capacity and acquired tendency. They are meant to be more general because they also apply to sub-rational animals.  On the other side, Aristotle, Aquinas and Hegel see relation between capacity and tendency on the one hand, and habit on the other hand, is not the relation between a genus and a species. Rather, habit is a formal feature that properly belongs to the idea of a rational power. According to this doctrine, sub-rational animals cannot, properly speaking, have habits; only rational animals are creatures of habit. While mere animals possess their capacities “immediately” or “by nature”, humans equip themselves with a “second nature” through repeated actions. A human is the creation of her/his own activity.

We are animals. We’re very sophisticated and good-looking and all that, but let’s never forget that we’re made of flesh and blood. In particular, our brains are incredibly complex evolved machines. Our brains govern basic processes such as breathing and food intake, and also enable us to appreciate fine art.

Yet we humans suffer from an advanced case of self-delusion, according to Alex Pentland. We like to see ourselves as free-willed, conscious beings, self-governing and set apart from other animals by our capacity for reasoning. Yet watch people closely, says Pentland, and you find that we are more instinctual and a lot more like other creatures than we care to think. Habits are our brain’s way of increasing its efficiency. Our brain turns daily actions and behaviours into habits, so we would do them automatically and without too much thought – thus freeing up our brainpower for other more important challenges. This strategy of our brain has wonderful benefits for us. Habits help us through our day. When we are doing something that is habitual, we are not engaged in the task in the same way as when we are doing something that is not habitual.

For many creatures, the ability to learn unique motor behaviours is a crucial adaptation. That’s what allows humans to walk and talk, birds to sing, and predators to outsmart their prey. Virtually all of these behaviours are learned the same way, through trial and error.


Florence + The Machine: Rabbit Heart [Raise It Up]

Friendly Fires: Jump In The Pool

GoGo Penguin: Quiet Mind

Hit Chip: Re-Harmonize

Nostalgia 77: Beautiful Lie

Princess Chelsea: Cigarette Duet

Damon Albarn: Lonely Press Play

Nina Simone: Feeling Good

Lana Del Rey feat. The Weekend: Lust for Life

Massive Attack: What Your Soul Sings

Boards of Canada: Over the Horizon Radar

A community radio midnight show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass is aired Sunday, Tuesday and Friday night at midnight (GMT), that means you stay late on Saturday, Monday and Thursday. A new episode is aired every Sunday midnight (the night between Saturday and Sunday) on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.