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Ethologists are convinced that many animals survive through learning—but learning that is dictated by their genetic programming, learning as thoroughly stereotyped as the most instinctive of behavioral responses.

This seems very convoluted structure to me. can anyone explain what is the relation between two parts of sentence before comma and after comma in the part "but learning that is dictated by their genetic programming, learning as thoroughly stereotyped as the most instinctive of behavioral responses". This part starting with the word "learning" before comma and after comma as well, what is their relation here?

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  • I see why you think this is "convoluted" - it's not proper English grammar. It's more like conversational English or prose. This type of thing is actually pretty common in academic settings, and will be even more common if you look at historical texts (I.e. the declaration of independence or Ben Franklin's autobiography) Sep 23, 2016 at 20:51

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"verb - but verb" is a common expression with scientific and technical writing (and also sometimes in literary criticism). It's a way for an author to create a more precise definition of a common word.

Everything that follows "- but learning" is restricting the normal definition of "learning" to the more precise, technical definition that the author wants to use. In this case, the author provides two parts to that definition ("dictated by genetic programming" and "thoroughly stereotyped..."). The comma you ask about just separates those two parts.

"learning - but learning ..." is a shorter way to say "learning: however, learning only in the narrow sense of ..."

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