robert_provine's picture
Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Author, Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond
Provine's Law


Provine's Motor Precocity Principle

Organisms spond before they respond (act before they react).

This principle of neurobehavioral development and evolution describes the tendency of the nervous system to produce motor output before it receives sensory input. Because motor systems often evolve and develop before sensory systems, sensory input cannot have the dominant influence on neural structure and function predicted by some psychological and neurological theories.

The evolutionary precocity of motor relative to sensory systems also argues against the classical reflex as a primal step in neurobehavioral evolution. Spontaneously active motor processes are adaptive and can emerge through natural selection unlike sensory processes that are not adaptive without a behavior to guide. Sensory systems evolved to control already existing movement.

Another argument against the primacy of reflexes is that they require the unlikely simultaneous evolution of a sensory and a motor process. The tendency of organisms to "spond before they respond" requires the re-evaluation of many other traditional neurobehavioral concepts and processes.

Provine's Self/Other Exclusionary Principle

The "self," the most basic sense of personhood, is defined as that which is not "other." "Other," the most primitive level of social entity, is defined as a non-self, animate stimulus on the surface of your skin.

Self is distinguished from other by a neurological cancellation process. These definitions are attractive because they permit a neurologically and computationally based approach to problems that are traditionally mired in personality and social theory. Although our sense of identity involves more than self/non-self discrimination, such a mechanism may be at its foundation and a first step toward the evolution of personhood and the neurological computation of its boundaries. For a demonstration of this mechanism, consider your inability to tickle yourself. Tickle requires stimulation by a non-self animate entity on the surface of your skin. Similar, self-produced stimulation is cancelled and is not ticklish.

Without such a self/non-self discriminator, we would be constantly be tickling ourselves by accident, and the world would be filled with goosey people lurching their way through life in a chain reaction filled with tactile false alarms. Developing a similar machine algorithm may lead to "ticklish" robots whose performance is enhanced by their capacity to distinguish touching from being touched, and, provocatively, a computationally based construct of machine personhood.