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James Brody
March 10th, 2006, 02:22 PM
Feynman died in 1988 after earning both a Nobel prize in physics on the topic of quantum electrodynamics. He was a showman, a bongo player, illustrator, safe-cracker (Los Alamos), bomb designer, and story-teller. He was also a supreme empiricist.
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Our shared problem is that of wanting "justice (Sowell, 1987) but not knowing how to measure it. (Our search for "justice" appears congruent with EP's "cheater detectors." See Barkow et al, 1992, Glantz & Pearce, 1989). Many cling to assumptions that we are biologically the same and will, therefore, barring accidents, attain the same outcomes. Failure to achieve equal outcomes implies unequal opportunities and unfairness. That failure elicits moral indignation, especially in hard times.

Interaction of genes and environments is one of the most salient, general fascinations in behavior genetics (Rowe, 1994; Cohen 1999). Beaver dams result from beaver genes in a pond. Reefs emerge from coral genes in the sea. And water tunnels result from worms in earth. As Richard Lewontin put it, neither individuals nor their environments exist alone. Nature makes a construction of the two. The expected outcome is that G&E interactions amplify the differences between individuals and between groups of them. And this amplification occurs quickly. (Cavalli-Sforza finds genetic differences between the human occupants of Albany and Ithaca!)

These interactions occur in academia.

Richard Feynman (2006, pp. 260-267, "Is Electricity Fire?") admits falling into one of the traps that both estrogen and middle age arrange: that of discussing philosophical problems instead of collecting data. He even attended a New York conference on the "ethics of equality." Feynman had not read a single one of the books recommended and understood few of the talks but decided to abandon his nature and sit quietly to listen. Feynman remained true to his nature and failed almost immediately when he questioned whether there was an ethical problem associated with "equality in education." "For instance, in education, you increase differences. If someone's good at something, you try to develop his ability, which results in differences, or inequalities." (pp. 261-262).

There may not be an ethical problem when education produces unequal outcomes but rather the opposite: education fails when it fails to increase individual differences. Feynman was, of course, ignored.

The ethical problem thus lies in the repression of individual differences that spring from our natures and the important outcome from experience is the magnification of differences, not their elimination. That is, personal explorations magnify differences. Practice the violin and achieve a reorganization of cortical areas devoted to your fingers. Go deaf or blind and the sensory areas for seeing and hearing reorganize. Starve yourself and your neural representations of food get larger. Use cocaine or alcohol and the triggers become more general and more sensitive for either of those habits: neural networks are self-interested exploratory systems that compete with each other and the results can be zero-sum. That is, your love for motorcycles doesn't particularly care that your taxes are unpaid or that the house needs a coat of paint! And Romeo's passion for Juliet implies that he would have ignored politics...

References:
Barkow, J., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (Eds.) (1992) The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. NY: Oxford.
Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi L. (2000) Genes, Peoples, and Languages. NY: North Point Press.
Cohen, D. (1999) Stranger in the Nest: Do Parents Really Shape Their Child's Personality, Intelligence, or Character? NY: Wiley.
Glantz, K., & Pearce, J. (1989) Exiles from Eden: Psychotherapy from an Evolutionary Perspective. New York: Norton.
Feynman, Richard P (2006) Classic Feynman: All the Adventurers of a Curious Character. Edited by Ralph Leighton. NY: Norton. With a CD. About $30. Great book, great mind, not to be marred by Leighton's sometimes PC notes. Sixty-three chapters and a CD of Feynman's adventures in Los Alamos.
Kauffman, S. (2000) Investigations. NY: Oxford.
Lewontin, Richard. (1998/2000) Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment. Cambridge, MA, Harvard.
Odling-Smee F.J., Laland, K.N., & Feldman, M.W. (2003) Niche Construction. The Neglected Process in Evolution. Monographs in Population Biology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rowe, D. (1994) The Limits of Family Influence: Genes, Experience, and Behavior. NY: Guilford.
Sowell, T. (1987) A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. NY: Quill.
Turner, J. Scott (2000) The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Copyright, 2006, James Brody, all rights reserved.

Fred H.
March 10th, 2006, 09:29 PM
JimB: There may not be an ethical problem when education produces unequal outcomes but rather the opposite: education fails when it fails to increase individual differences.
Well JimB, if that’s the way you feel, then you might as well forget about applying for Larry Summer’s old job at Harvard.


JimB: Richard Feynman (2006, pp. 260-267, "Is Electricity Fire?") admits falling into one of the traps that both estrogen and middle age arrange: that of discussing philosophical problems instead of collecting data.
Hmmm, might explain the behavior of several of the participants in “free will” threads—hope they’re paying attention.

TomJrzk
March 11th, 2006, 01:00 PM
Hmmm, might explain the behavior of several of the participants in “free will” threads—hope they’re paying attention.
In case I'm one "of several of the participants", you're way off base. I can do a repeatable experiment where I remove the regret module from your brain and you would no longer be morally responsible for your actions; your will is not free. And you've agreed with me. I AM following the data.

If you can do a repeatable experiment that supports your pov, then I'm listening.