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James Brody
January 14th, 2006, 06:54 PM
Margaret McG did some cutesy sexism when she referred to God as a "she." I've been polite, now I'm annoyed...

1) Males are more varied than females on nearly any trait measured. Genius and villany are usually male because of that variation that fills jails and supplies Nobel laureates. And the disproportion between male and female prize winners is a matter of merit rather than mere gender bias. Admitting more females to high acclaim means, in some disciplines, admitting 190 males who reach the same standards as that one female. (Check Charles Murray, Human Accomplishment)

It follows that God, as a solitary event, is probably male.

2) Females never occur in solitary states. There are, however, mosaic genders that have split gonads but emerge from high androgen levels. Female engineers (not the train drivers) often show those kinds of profiles. (See data by Patti Hausman (cited in Pinker: The Blank Slate)

Cheers to Larry Sommers...

JimB

Margaret McGhee
January 15th, 2006, 10:32 PM
JB: Margaret McG did some cutesy sexism when she referred to God as a "she." I've been polite, now I'm annoyed...

MM: First, I referred to Her as "She" not "she" and now I'm annoyed . . just kidding. Being annoyed is a feeling - a conscious awareness of an emotional state - that indicates in this case that one of your important beliefs has been threatened.

Such emotionally charged beliefs are always part of a web of mutually supporting beliefs that people do not change because of logical inconsistency. It discourages me that you are allowing your emotions to enter into your responses. It discourages me that you even have those feelings - because that means you are probabaly unable to consider my arguments objectively. I also suspect that I've tweaked some of your other important beliefs in that web that you haven't mentioned.

JB: 1) Males are more varied than females on nearly any trait measured. Genius and villany are usually male because of that variation that fills jails and supplies Nobel laureates. And the disproportion between male and female prize winners is a matter of merit rather than mere gender bias. Admitting more females to high acclaim means, in some disciplines, admitting 190 males who reach the same standards as that one female. (Check Charles Murray, Human Accomplishment)

MM: You actually cited the author of the "The Bell Curve"? OK, who runs this website? Do you know your moderators?

The only contest that matters is for who gets the most DNA riding around in the cells of future offspring - not who earns the greatest notoriety in their time according to the silly rules established in their patriarchal society. And the DNA contest does not really have winners or losers - species happen. Then they die out and are replaced by others. Only silly humans can see that as some kind of contest. If you want to see contests, try this one - we're all losers because we're not going to get out of this alive. :rolleyes:

Since human populations have always been very even sex-wise, it seems obvious to me that so far anyway, we need both sets of co-evolved male and female traits (whatever those objectively are) to survive as the species that we are in the environment that we inhabit. See, I'm not here to wage war with you on behalf of the forces of post-modernism.

But, subjective feelings like your annoyance at my use of "She" when referring to a fictitious God should be the subject of a debate in EP - not the means for waging it.

JB: It follows that God, as a solitary event, is probably male.

MM: Somehow, that statement fails to surprise me.

IMO it follows that God, as a solitary event (I'm doubting that even you know what that means in this context) is probably fictitious. But, if you choose to propose a God, even metaphorically, then He's your God, not mine - give your metaphors whatever gender you wish.

Note: Male pronoun use extended as a courtesy so as not to further annoy and risk making this discussion completely irrelevant.

JB: 2) Females never occur in solitary states. There are, however, mosaic genders that have split gonads but emerge from high androgen levels. Female engineers (not the train drivers) often show those kinds of profiles. (See data by Patti Hausman (cited in Pinker: The Blank Slate) Cheers to Larry Sommers...

MM: Darn - I hoped you were serious about this stuff.

At this point Margaret wonders if joining this discussion group was such a good idea. My time here may be just about up. If there are at least a few evolutionary psychologists here that value scientific inquiry into EP sans ideology please announce your presence at this time. Or, is that all evolutionary psychology really amounts to - as I've been warned?

James Brody
January 17th, 2006, 11:44 AM
MM,

Thanks for doing what I wanted you to do...

JB

Margaret McGhee
January 17th, 2006, 01:13 PM
And thank you for giving me hope. I'd much rather be part of your experiment to illustrate some larger truth than the alternative. This would account for the pretty outrageous nature of some of your statements. I actually thought of that while composing my last post. I figured there's one way to find out - so in that sense you're part of mine now too. Kewl! :cool:

So, is this the kind of experiment where once you've announced that I've been on candid camera you can explain the larger truth to us all? I'll bet it has something to do with evolved gender differences as they relate to boinking. Or, do I not only have to be the rat in the maze - but have to figure out what the experiment is?

Here's a guess - Men have evolved to seek status and power because that makes them attractive to women and that gives them more and better reproductive (boinking) opportunities. Women may appreciate the winners but we can hardly be interested in games where machismo is the currency in play.

And so, we resent finding ourself unwittingly drawn into them. That can threaten our identity. Just as failing to engage in such games at every opportunity can threaten some men's.

Margaret

Carey N
March 6th, 2006, 06:43 AM
And the DNA contest does not really have winners or losers - species happen. Then they die out and are replaced by others. Only silly humans can see that as some kind of contest. If you want to see contests, try this one - we're all losers because we're not going to get out of this alive.

This statement is false . . . there absolutely are winners and losers in "the DNA contest" because different genes contain different pieces of information, all of which are selected to maximize their chance of persisting in whatever pool of heritable information they happen to occupy. Genes converge within fleeting individual organisms, which in turn manifest the emergent properties of their genomes and attempt to reproduce. Some of those heritable pieces of information are passed on (the winners), and some of them aren't (the losers). .

-C

Margaret McGhee
March 7th, 2006, 01:40 PM
Hi Carey,

I think our disgreement is one of perspective. I was pointing out that winning and losing are concepts that only exist in human brains. They are particular mental images that result from human consciousness and ego.

No other living organisms exhibit the ability to understand the concept (have the mental image of winning or losing in their CNS).

Yet, the evolution of life proceeded very well for billions of years (at least) without the idea of winning or losing even existing in any form of consciousness.

I was not referring to the uderlying mechanism of natural selection - which I agree with. I am just proposing that it is a pecularly human thing to see evolution in terms of winning or losing. It seems as silly to me as hanging a sign over the cattle ramp leading to the killing room in a meat packing plant that says "Hooray for humans".

There is probably several orders of magnitude greater amounts of cattle DNA in this world than would have been the case if humans had not decided that breeding them was to our benefit. Or, if cattle had not already evolved characteristics that would allow humans to see them as animals that we would benefit from if they were protected from other predators until they had calved a few times to increase our security and wealth before we decided to eat them and make boots and jackets out of their skin.

Margaret

Fred H.
March 7th, 2006, 04:02 PM
MM: I think our disgreement is one of perspective. I was pointing out that winning and losing are concepts that only exist in human brains. They are particular mental images that result from human consciousness and ego.

No other living organisms exhibit the ability to understand the concept (have the mental image of winning or losing in their CNS).

Yet, the evolution of life proceeded very well for billions of years (at least) without the idea of winning or losing even existing in any form of consciousness.
Think of things this way MM: “winning” in this context simply means surviving and reproducing, and “losing” simply means not surviving and not reproducing. Interestingly, your preoccupation, perception, and seeming dislike of these terms, “winning” & “losing,” reveals more about you than perhaps you realize . . . providing, perhaps, more insight into what I’d see as an excessive amount of emotion and/or lack of reason in your perceptions. But hey, I could be wrong. ;)

ToddStark
March 7th, 2006, 04:40 PM
No other living organisms exhibit the ability to understand the concept (have the mental image of winning or losing in their CNS).

:confused:

If an animal has no "images" at all in the sense that humans do (by virtue of their unique form of language and imagination), obviously it has no "mental image" of winning and losing. Humans represent in a way that other known species do not. What's the argument from that? That because species X has no human-like mental image of something that it therefore doesn't exist?

On the other hand, if this claim is that other species do not represent winning and losing in their nervous system at all, then this is quite obviously false!

For example, it seems to me that you'd be hard pressed to find a better illustration or more meaningful illustration of winning or losing being represented in the nervous system of an organism than the primate status hierarchy.

An ape has its reproductive chances, its social relations and its entire future significantly altered as the result of how its nervous system represents the outcome of a fight. A win means a very different life than a loss, and without a doubt this is reflected in the nervous system of the individual. See Jane Goodall's or de Waal's work for persuasive examples.

I think most people would agree that human concepts are special because human imagination is special, and human langauge is special. But it sure ain't true that we invented winning and losing or the biological significance of winning or losing!

True, natural selection is not about winning or losing, it is about variation, fecundity, and reproductive fitness. I would agree that viewing this as winning or losing requires an additional layer of abstraction. For example, I could win a fight, the victory could be represented as such in my nervous system, yet I could also be killed or sterilized in the process and unable to reproduce. In Darwinian terms, I would make no further genetic contribution to the population, even though I won. So "winning" can sometimes be a very different thing from contributing genes to the population.

Neither winning/losing nor natural selection depends upon human understanding or human concepts in order to be realities of nature!

kind regards,

Todd

Margaret McGhee
March 7th, 2006, 05:30 PM
Hi Todd,

You use primate social hierarchy as an example of winning and losing being important to their reproductive success.

I would suggest that your use of the terms winning and losing are out of place from an EP perspective of ape behavior - and that those are terms that humans might attach to ape behavior in a mistaken belief that apes think like us. At least I'd suggest that that's the case without some evidence that non-human primates understand the concepts of winning and losing - and not just that some chimps have the desire to intimidate other chimps and not be intimidated by them in social situations.

Is a red ant that attacks a predatory beetle thinking in terms of winning or losing? Or, is it simply doing what evolution has given it the behavior to do?

How is the red ant different from a pygmy chimp? Do you have evidence that the chimp understands what winning and losing means? Or, is the chimp just doing what evolution has given it the behavior to do?

I know chimps have exhibited some ability to develop abstract images of simple things like colors, toys and fruit. Also that they can learn to retrieve those things and ask for them. Recently, I read that a research chimp had communicated the complex message that it had a toothache and wanted it fixed. But I am not aware of any evidence that a chimp can hold a mental image of something as complex as the meaning of winning in their mind - as opposed to the evolutionarily understandable emotional hormonally driven desire to intimidate and not be intimidated in a social confrontation.

Are you suggesting that the chimp knows what the abstract meaning of winning is and it can be driven by a desire to not be seen as a loser among the band or that it wants to fulfill its own image of itself as leader among chimps - and not just by an emotional desire to intimidate other chimps? If so, can you provide a link to this research?

Todd: An ape has its reproductive chances, its social relations and its entire future significantly altered as the result of how its nervous system represents the outcome of a fight. A win means a very different life than a loss, and without a doubt this is reflected in the nervous system of the individual. See Jane Goodall's or de Waal's work for persuasive examples.
It seems to me that all that is possible without the ape understanding the meaning of the abstract concepts of winning and losing - as we are discussing them here. I see a huge difference between nervous system changes and the abiltiy to understand the meaning of winning and losing - and using those abstract concepts as intellectual decision-making inputs. In fact, I think the only apes that could understand those abstract concepts are the kind that are posting messages to forums like this ;) as we are.

Thanks, Margaret

Carey N
March 8th, 2006, 03:25 PM
Margaret,

You deliver this quote:

I would suggest that your use of the terms winning and losing are out of place from an EP perspective of ape behavior - and that those are terms that humans might attach to ape behavior in a mistaken belief that apes think like us.

. . . . after endorsing a book called "Almost Us", which appears to be devoted to anthropomorphizing primate behavior??




Neither winning/losing nor natural selection depends upon human understanding or human concepts in order to be a reality of nature!

Right on, Todd.

Margaret McGhee
March 8th, 2006, 06:18 PM
Carey,

I said: MM: I think our disgreement is one of perspective. I was pointing out that winning and losing are concepts that only exist in human brains. They are particular mental images that result from human consciousness and ego.

I saw nowhere in "Almost Us" where Calvin claims that non-human primates can hold complex concepts like winning or losing in their minds as mental images. He did note that orangs especially seem to conceptualize pretty well and can hide screwdrivers for later escape attempts, for example. That is pretty impressive. Planning is apparently one of the payoffs that comes with conceptualization.

Maybe the question is - would the orang hide the screwdriver so he could use it to escape because he saw his captivity as a contest with his keeper that he was determined to win? Or, did he just want to get out if that damned cage?

It seems like a pretty big leap in mental capacity between those two levels. It seems to me that a primate might need to develop the ability to communicate such complex concepts like that as they also developed the ability to hold them in their minds and were able to understand and share concepts like winning and losing with others.

But, I'm ready to learn something new. I could be wrong about what level of conceptualization I think a non-human primate is capable of. I agree that this is a variable along a curve and not an all-or-nothing question - and that some non-human primates are pretty far along that curve from mammals other than humans. But also, I think it's a pretty large range of ability we're discussing.

You seem pretty sure that I am wrong and I could be - but I notice you didn't provide any evidence either. ;)

Margaret

Carey N
March 8th, 2006, 07:43 PM
Margaret:

I think I haven't been very clear in conveying my perspective on this topic:

I do not disagree with you that humans are capable of conceptualization that far exceeds that of other primates, and I would never contend that any of the great apes other than ourselves can conceive of winning, losing, etc.

In fact, I would go one large step further and say that even trying to determine what Chimpanzees, Orangs, or any species other than our own is mentally experiencing is a probably a fruitless exercise. We ourselves are too predisposed to infer agency in the behavior of other animate (or even inanimate) objects that an objective evaluation of other animals' conceptualization capacity (whatever that actually means) is impossible.

The title "Almost Us" is a bit off, I think. Chimps, Orangs, and Gorillas may share a very recent common ancestor with humans, but to say that they are "almost us" implies that apes are an earlier point on an evolutionary trajectory toward the human species, which is conceptually and factually false. 1) Evolutionary trajectories do not have pre-defined end-points; there is no teleological component to the history of life. 2) Chimps, Orangs, and Gorillas are separate branches on the great ape tree - they evolved from a very recent common ancestor with humans, but nevertheless they represent adaptive fits to different environments, and so to compare humans' and apes' cognitive capacities is tricky business.

In my earlier post, I spoke of winners and losers in the DNA contest. In no way did I mean that the concepts of winning and losing are relevant to that interplay between replicating entities and the environment - those concepts are simply a way in which humans can understand natural selection. I would agree with Todd that the process of natural selection, and the facts that some reproducing entities "win" (i.e., reproduce) and others "lose" (i.e. die without reproducing) are totally independent of humans' ability to conceptualize winning, losing, or anything else.

If you look further back in the forum pages, you'll see a fuller explanation of my thoughts on natural selection - in the context of a duel with my buddy/nemesis, Fred. I believe the thread was started by Fred and pertained to Richard Dawkin's proclaiming that evolution by natural selection is a belief in the same way that religion entails belief.

Hope this has clarified my position on matters,

Carey

Margaret McGhee
March 8th, 2006, 08:25 PM
Carey, Thanks for the clarification. Bill Calvin is a neurobiologist. He delights in seeing similarities and connections between different disciplines. Perhaps that's why I'm inclined to give him some slack when he finds intrigueing clues to who we are in similarities between primate species.

He is also quite critical of attempts to see connections where they are speculative and necessarily remote if they exist at all, like between quantum mechanics and mental imagery.

You said, Chimps, Orangs, and Gorillas may share a very recent common ancestor with humans, but to say that they are "almost us" implies that apes are an earlier point on an evolutionary trajectory toward the human species, which is conceptually and factually false.

I have read most of his books, I have attended one of his lectures and have had conversations with him. I can assure you that by noting the advanced and similar ways that some primate species like us seem to use our brains - he is not implying that they are on the path to be like us - or that we humans are the winners of the "great primate brain race".

I can see where those who don't really understand evolution could get the wrong impression from the title and I think you make a good point. He'd probably appreciate hearing from you on that topic before he submits the book to a commercial publisher. He's at Apes.WilliamCalvin.com

:) Margaret

Carey N
March 9th, 2006, 06:40 AM
Margaret,

Glad we're now closer to seeing eye-to-eye ...

Of course, I admire scientists with cross-disciplinary inclinations ... I'd like to be one myself. When broaching the fields of psychology and subjective experience, however, the risks seem to grow larger at an ever-accelerating pace.

Best,
Carey

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 08:58 AM
Since I have not read any of Calvin's work, I will take your word that he's a bright fellow and a solid scientist. However, I still think that the title of his book belies a problem in his perspective.

Brief off-topic comment ...


I know Bill Calvin just a bit from neuroscience newsgroups he has participated on and of course his wonderful books. I will vouch for him as a very solid theoretical neuroscientist from my own perspective, a superb science writer and well worth reading. His theory of language syntax evolving from the capacity for fine movement sequencing is fascinating, as are his accounts of selective processes in the brain. His accounts of human evolution are interesting and plausible for the most part, I find. He has a good mix of speculation and empirical discipline in my opinion. I don't mind at all starting from his ideas as a launchpad for serious discussions.

Todd

Fred H.
March 9th, 2006, 12:06 PM
Carey: Margaret: I think I haven't been very clear in conveying my perspective on this topic.

Hi Carey. I think the last we talked I was providing my insights regarding relationships with the opposite sex (and TomJ provide some dreadful advice that I advised you ignore). I think this interchange you’re having with Margaret offers us an excellent opportunity for us to resume—

You’re probably aware of the ex Harvard President, Larry Summers, fiasco—after making valid statements regarding women’s inherent inability to compete with men in areas of math/science, the Harvard radical feminists went ballistic, Summers foolishly backed off his statements, and allowed himself to be blackmailed providing the feminists $50 million for some bullshit study to determine why there aren’t more women in math/science; within a year he was forced to resign. The huge mistake Summers made was that he never should have backed off his original statements—for which the science and evidence is overwhelming—b/c it showed weakness; and once the feminists saw blood, Summers was history.

The point is this—your statement above that you’ve not been clear is nonsense—you’ve been abundantly clear with Margaret. The simple truth is that Margaret simply has an irrational, emotional aversion for those terms, “winning and losing,” and it has nothing at all to do with the validity of the points you made. So don’t back off bro, knowmsayin?

How’s your love life?

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 02:16 PM
Fred,

I agree with you about Summers, his statement was awkward and not a particularly precise expression of the scientific consensus but not so terribly far off either that he couldn't have defended it better. I feel it is entirely supportable that we should study objective differences between genetic groups. It is unavoidable that this raises issues for policy, especially when the groups coincide with human identity groups. Obviously these issues are fraught with peril, but that doesn't negate the scientific and social value of understanding human differences. The fact that people tend to abuse biological knowledge doesn't automatically mean we shouldn't pursue it at all.

I think you may be unfair, or at least premature, in comparing this fiasco to Margaret's view, however. So far I see her view as much more reasonable than the way I perceive the radical feminist view, although it shares some similarities in principles.

Todd

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 03:03 PM
Hi Margaret,

Thanks very much for your thoughtful response.

Are you suggesting that the chimp knows what the abstract meaning of winning is and it can be driven by a desire to not be seen as a loser among the band or that it wants to fulfill its own image of itself as leader among chimps - and not just by an emotional desire to intimidate other chimps? If so, can you provide a link to this research?

In this partcular argument, I'm not trying to make any point about the mechanisms of the chimp's decision making. I'm just saying that it represents the outcome of a fight in its nervous system, and not terribly differently than we do in some respects. We share enough phylogeny that meaningful comparisons are unavoidable. You and I obviously agree that this representation takes different forms in humans and chimps. I'm just saying that the representation has some commonality as well, it is not entirely symbolic in humans. This is a fundamental premise in evolutionary biology, the continuity of faculties in closely related species, due to the conservatvism of evolutionary adaptation.

I think it was the perceived implication that winning and losing are entirely human social constructions that I was responding to. I think they take on additional meaning to humans, but are also partly a result of the realities of mammalian social life.

As for beetles, not I wouldn't say that winning and losing are the same in the beetle world as they are in the mammal world. Their social environment is extremely different. Jeff Goldblum's character says in a memorable moment in The Fly ... insect politics just doesn't happen.

Events take on different significance to different species, but humans add a whole additional symbolic layer to that significance. My argument is that significance is not unique to humans, it is special in humans. It is linked to my argument that consciousness and "free will" are not unique to humans, but are special (different) in humans.

kind regards,

Todd

Carey N
March 9th, 2006, 03:08 PM
Hi Fred

Your support is appreciated, but do take notice that I never backed down from my central message (i.e., that winning and losing are perfectly valid analogies for the way selection works); I just repeated my opinion to make sure Margaret understood what I was saying . . . the opposite of what Summers did.

It's hard to miss that you lose interest in a debate unless it's pretty vicious, and you escalate whenever possible. You, Fred, are a Hawk, while I'm a Bourgeois.

I admit that Margaret's fixation on what concepts, etc. can be held by what animal minds is a bit perplexing. The prospect of trying to know what an ape or any animal other than ourselves can "conceptualize" strikes me as complete nonsense, which is why I'm suspect of this Bill Calvin. "Almost Us" . . . ? That's what the lunatic animal rights protestors chant outside the zoology department every day.

-C

ToddStark
March 9th, 2006, 03:55 PM
It's hard to miss that you actually lose interest in a debate unless it's pretty vicious, and you escalate whenever possible. You, Fred, are a Hawk, while I'm a Bourgeois.

I like Susan Haack's expression; "passionate moderate." I don't know if it describes you, but it works for me!


I admit that Margaret's fixation on what concepts, etc. can be held by what animal minds is a bit perplexing. The prospect of trying to know what an ape or any animal other than ourselves can "conceptualize" strikes me as complete nonsense, which is why I'm suspect of this Bill Calvin. "Almost Us" . . . ? That's what the lunatic animal rights protestors chant outside the zoology department every day.

I can't address Calvin's view either, since I have not read that particular book yet and it isn't as high right now on my list as a lot of other recent publications.

However, I will speculate on why someone in general might care about how concepts are represented in each species. It might matter because (1) it means that theories pertaining to animal data are less relevant to humans, or (2) it means that animal models are biased by using human terms. So for example we should not think of primate social behavior in terms of winning and losing fights because primates have a completely different way of representing such events.

I'll agree with some of the things Fred implied, that (2) seems to be related to epistemology of the social constructivist position, and one of the most common forms of social constructivism is found in the feminist epistemology. So maybe this is relevant to the current discussion or perhaps not. I'll chance it.

First, I again assert the position I took in another post, that of moderate scientific causal realism: we certainly might bias our stories by telling them in human terms, but our technical theories themselves are not narratives, they provide causal models. Part of the job of theory is to indicate where we've biased our explanations, and strip off the narratives and metaphors that we use so effectively in the context of discovery.

Second, addressing the feminist epistemology argument, our sex might bias us to see the sperm as a virile invader insinuating itself on the passive ovum, or conversely to see the ovum knowingly seducing the dimwitted swimmers. There is a reality beyond both these stories, specific things cause specific things. Either the ovum has signals to draw sperm in or it doesn't. The behavior of the sperm and ova can be objectively observed. The same is true for the behavior of animals and everything else.

We do tell stories about our theories and our stories do spin things in a particular way. I think it is entirely true that female scientists sometimes come up with a completely different way of thinking about something than male scientists, and that this sometimes leads to a new theory. My favorite examples are Lynn Margulis on symbiosis as a significant factor in evolution and Candace Pert on the role of neuropeptides in emotion. A reasonable claim could be made that the uniqueness of their theories is at least partly due to being women and seeing the patterns of evidence differently as a result.

However, the argument can only be taken so far. Feminist inquiry is not a different process than masculine inquiry, there is only human inquiry, approached by people with different talents and perspectives. In spite of differences, we share much more in the way our minds work than we differ in every way that matters epistemologically, in my opinion.

Stories are useful for thinking, and help formulate new questions to ask, but they are not logically required for explanations. Our causal explanations themselves are not inherently biased in the same way as the stories we tell about nature.

Sorry if this is a digression, it seemed to me to be one of the issues that people were circling around with all the comments about feminism and such.

kind regards,

Todd

Margaret McGhee
March 9th, 2006, 04:42 PM
Hi Carey,

Let me just jump in a bit to clarify a few things ;)

I think that the topic of conceptualization in non-human primates is relevant because I think that whatever is different about human brains that allows us to be self-aware may be present in more primitive forms in our closest genetic relatives. (Not that we evolved from apes, just that we had a common ancestor in the not too distant past and there could be valuable clues there.)

I suspect that the orang that hides the screwrdriver for later escape is exhibiting a level of brain behavior that humans probably experienced at some stage of our evolution. Some scientists suspect that a fortuitous modification of our vocal tract then allowed us to verbalize those primitive concepts as words that represented the real objects and communicate them to others.

Without words to store them and communicate them to others, most species have a limited ability to objectify (conceptualize) very may things in their world. So they have evolved in ways and/or remained in niches that don't require that.

But, I suspect that that was such a powerful adaptation for early humans (almost defenseless on the savannah and out of the forest) that our brains quickly developed the ability to hold all these valuable new symbols (concepts) that we could communicate - and that we coincidentally evolved new circuits that could manipulate those symbolic mental images in even more valuable ways (reasoning).

And, since I think that conceptualization is a trick that, once started, can expand exponentially to higher levels with few additional evolutionary changes, I suspect that the ultimate result of all that over a half a million years was our eventual ability to think about (conceptualize) our own state of being and even our own thinking and communicating about conceptualizing - as we are here.

Many neuroscientists consider understanding the mechanism of consciousness as the holy grail and even though I don't qualify as a scientist I find it very intriguing as well. Certainly, our evolved ability to conceptualize and reason - and how that affects our decision-making - bears directly on EP.

Those are the topics that interest me the most here.

***************************

I know that Jarred Diamond, among others, has some strong feelings about our treatment of primates for research. I don't have such strong feelings myself. I am more interested in the science than the ethics. Perhaps I should be more concerned but I try to limit my ideological causes to the ways humans treat other humans - which seems to provide more than enough grist for my mill. I'll admit an insufferably liberal emotional attachment to fairness, tolerance and kindness in human and even animal relations. I am sure Fred will characterize that as evidence of my irrationality (rather than of my morality which he's sure I don't have since I don't believe in God or free will). Perhaps he's right.

On the other hand, I generally deplore unnecessary pain and suffering in any organism, but especially those closest to humans. I think it is important to conduct research on animals only for damned good reasons and as humanely as possible. While I am not overly concerned personally with where that line should be drawn - I am glad that others are because research is conducted with money and there will always be pressure to spend less of that to get the results.

I am aware of these irrational biases that I have and I try to eliminate them from my consideration of scientific questions. You can see from some of my past posts that I'm not always successful and I invite you or others here to point that out when I fail.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
March 9th, 2006, 05:28 PM
Hi Todd, You said In this partcular argument, I'm not trying to make any point about the mechanisms of the chimp's decision making. I'm just saying that it represents the outcome of a fight in its nervous system, and not terribly differently than we do in some respects. We share enough phylogeny that meaningful comparisons are unavoidable. You and I obviously agree that this representation takes different forms in humans and chimps. I'm just saying that the representation has some commonality as well, it is not entirely symbolic in humans. This is a fundamental premise in evolutionary biology, the continuity of faculties in closely related species, due to the conservatvism of evolutionary adaptation.
I fundamentally agree. However, I see these as layers of representation. The desire to intimidate and perhaps hurt the adversary is at the lowest level and is probably hormonally driven.

Then, there could be emotions attached to memories of past encounters with that particular individual. I'm sure both human and non-human apes can experience these lower levels.

Then, for those organisms that can conceptualize winning and losing and experience the emotional markers of those concepts (euphoria or pain) then the desire to win and not lose may be at a higher level of representation - and may reinforce or inhibit the fight response. (Maybe some non-human apes can do this.)

At an even higher level would be the desire to be a winner and not a loser - a different concept than just desiring the good feelings that would result from winning or avoid the pain from losing. These would be the good feelings and benefits that would result later from being seen and respected as a winner and avoiding the pain and disrespect from being a loser in the band. I'm not sure than non-human apes could do this. Maybe in a primitive way some can. Perhaps this is the precursor to self-awareness.

And then humans may also engage in some logical calculation of one's chances in the fight which would, by way of its own emotional markers of that logical calculation, constitute another set of inputs. Like perhaps realizing that one's adversary forgot his axe when you didn't.

But as you describe, I agree that humans can experience all of those - and not just one or another.

As an aside, this is congruent with my theory of a functionally emotional decision-making mechanism as it expects emotions from many different brain areas to converge in decision-making - the result going in the direction of the strongest net emotions at the moment the decision is made. I suspect that's how it works not just in humans but in all mammals and perhaps even all vertebrates. The differences between them being simply the levels of mental representation that are available to each species.

And it also conforms to . . the fundamental premise in evolutionary biology, the continuity of faculties in closely related species, due to the conservatvism of evolutionary adaptation
. . in this case the slow addition through evolution of ever more refined layers of (emotional) input to a simple and ancient decision-making mechanism - for those species whose survival depends on developing ways to make more accurate decisions in a highly variable environment.

Margaret