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Margaret McGhee
April 5th, 2006, 12:36 PM
As recommended by the moderator, I've finished the first part of The Blank Slate- titled The Blank Slate, The Noble Savage and the Ghost in the Machine. Pinker states that he makes his case for hereditary determinism here in these first five chapters - and then uses the remaining sections of the book to discuss the implications.

I did not find that he made his case here. I found an old history of mistaken notions about psychology and epistemolgy from a few hundred years ago. I found circumstantial evidence for his case but nowhere did I find the slam dunk I was expecting. One problem may be that I have never doubted that genes have a lot to do with who we are. My problem comes when someone tells me that those genes will make it impossible for women to be good at science or that some racial subgroups could never handle democracy. But I also disagree with the cultural determinists about many things.

I think both sides - in fact all the human sciences - are stuck in a cognicentric view of human nature that causes their practitioners to look scrupulously under the wrong rocks to find their answers. IMO the rocks that reveal who we are are labeled emotions. The already proven genetic connection to the systems that mediate our neurotransmitters, hormones and other brain chemicals hold the answers to who we are. Those emotions can act over long periods to shape our minds, as our identity emotions do. Or, they can act violently over shorter periods of time to shape our minds, as happens to those who experience combat or natural disasters find that their minds (the emotional responses that direct their cognition) no longer fit into a more normal existence - PTSD.

But, the title of the book, The Blank Slate, is a bit of a Red Herring. I heard about the blank slate in school, not in psychology but in philosophy. And it was introduced as an interesting part of the nature - nurture question, not as dogma. That was way back in the sixties. I haven't read any contemporary books supporting the concept of the blank slate. Everyone these days seems to think it is still an interesting question that's about to find some new evidence as nuero-biologists find new clues every day. Like at Scans suggest IQ scores reflect brain structure (http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060327/full/440588b.html)

Using Pinker's metaphor I'd say that our minds are not a blank slate at birth, but are a slate with a grid pattern on it, like a scheduling board in a factory. Certain kinds of information are processed in the various grid boxes. There are probably some small differences in the sizes of those boxes between genders and racial sub-groups. But, the gridded slate called human is different in very regular ways from other mammals. I suspect the number of functional boxes and their relative sizes are similar for all humans. The variations that do exists between genders or racial sub-groups are the genetic treasure that carry the adaptability that we may need as global and long-lasting environmental changes come along.

Here is my bias. I find it very strange when one group of humans claim that their particular box sizes and connections - that are due to a million years of both genetic and environmental influences - are superior to those of other humans. This is a question that our genome will work out by itself over the next millenium and it will be reflected in changes in that genome. It is not a question that can be effectively answered by human minds conceptualizing their own existence, driven by their own egos. IMO the task of science is to figure out how to make life better for this human genome and whatever variations may exist - not to use science as just another version of the ancient claim for tribal privilege.

I think the lines that separate the grid zones in our minds are wide and do not have sharp edges. Adjacent zones share some information processing characteristics so that according to the recurring emotional experiences we have in life - some kinds of information can work its way over into an adjacent zone making its box relatively larger than the genes originally specified. I also suspect that the innate efficiency of the connections between the functional boxes could vary somewhat by gender or racial sub-group - and even more so by individual. But, I believe that our emotional experiences in life constantly refine those connections to make them more efficient (adaptable) to our life experience and the particular world we live in.

That all says nothing about the particular mental images that are processed in those zones - which I believe are almost entirely cultural.

Back to The Blank Slate. Before I read about the implications of herditary determinism I'm going back to read this first section again to make sure I've given him the best shot I can at making his case. I'd appreciate anyone here who has read this book and who does see where he proves his case in there to tell me where I should be paying most attention. Or better yet, restate what you consider to be his best case for proof of hereditary determinism here in your own words.

Margaret

James Brody
April 5th, 2006, 01:54 PM
Margaret:

1) There are possibly more than a few genetic differences between me and thee, some of them related to differences in our minds that emerged from differences in our genes. Some of those differences may lead to your rejection of Pinker's work and to my rabid acceptance of it.

In any event, your blindness is yours to manage.

2) You're working on a book and using this forum as a resource. As Bob Wright once commented to me, "It happens more than you would believe."

JB

Margaret McGhee
April 5th, 2006, 04:58 PM
JimB said, 1) There are possibly more than a few genetic differences between me and thee, some of them related to differences in our minds that emerged from differences in our genes. Isn't that the question? Did our differences emerge from differences in our genes or in our experiences? I'd say probably both. With the genes laying down a structure that may have been fairly similar, who knows? But our separate experiences seem to have the most to say about our opinions on this - I'd think. I went through a pretty intense attachment to Ayn Rand in the early sixties. I then went through some very emotional times (the anti-war years) and came out of that quite liberal - but emotionally more than intellectually. I didn't think much about those things for many years but then when Newt Gingrich said that people who think like me were responsible for the death of Susan Smith's children - I started paying more attention.

Some of those differences may lead to your rejection of Pinker's work and to my rabid acceptance of it. Well, I'm not exactly rejecting Pinker's work. I'm asking for help in understanding his main argument supporting his position. And, I don't understand why a scientist would rabidly accept anyone's work. Shouldn't that be left to the ideologues?

You said, In any event, your blindness is yours to manage. I've never been able to appreciate the conservative tendency to see everyone as an enemy or an ally. No wonder Fred is so comfortable here.

You said, 2) You're working on a book and using this forum as a resource. As Bob Wright once commented to me, "It happens more than you would believe." I'd like to think I had a book in me about human nature. I haven't reached the place where I feel that I have a good overview of the subject. I've written things in the past that seemed really stupid not long afterward. I think if I tried to write a book about this stuff now that's what would happen. Besides I have no credibility in this area. It would be a really tough sell.

Cultural determinism feels like the stronger side of the argument to me but I need to really understand your side better before I can believe that I am right or wrong. That's why I wrote the last post. It's just a fascinating question to me. Most of my writing experience has been technical writing. Although you're sort of accusing me of dishonesty - I am somewhat pleased that you would think I'd be working on a book.

But, I'm not writing a book and I'm not looking for a fight - although I have regrettably responded to some of your posts that way. I just want to discuss these ideas (hereditary determinism which seems to be the underpinning of EP) with someone who is capable of defending them. Someone with PhD who runs a forum on EP that is open to people like me should be able (and willing) to do that - I would think.

So far you've only told me to read certain books and then I'd apparently see why I was wrong. I have been doing that but have not found what you said I would. So, now I'm asking you to tell me in your own words (or your rewording of Pinker's) why you are right.

Margaret

Fred H.
April 11th, 2006, 12:06 PM
MM: I think both sides - in fact all the human sciences - are stuck in a cognicentric view of human nature that causes their practitioners to look scrupulously under the wrong rocks to find their answers. IMO the rocks that reveal who we are are labeled emotions.
Consider that the primary emotions of we humans are essentially equivalent to that of many mammals—fear, anger, disgust, etc. What primarily distinguishes us from other mammals is the reality of our enhanced cognitive ability, our intelligence, the “cognitive” in Ledoux’s mental trilogy. What other mammal can comprehend the objective truth of infinite primes or of pi; or can comprehend concepts like “mental trilogy” or self ?

Your inability and/or refusal to accept or acknowledge this reality, despite the overwhelming evidence that has been provided here and in the excellent resources you’ve recently been reading, suggests that your cognitive capability is less than optimal and/or or that you’re blinded by your emotions.

Have you ever had a dream, Margaret, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? Sooner or later, Margaret, you’re going to have to accept that there's often a difference between what you feel, and what is real. Free your mind, Margaret—we can only show you the door—you're the one that has to walk through it.

Margaret McGhee
April 11th, 2006, 04:09 PM
Fred, You said, Your inability and/or refusal to accept or acknowledge this reality, despite the overwhelming evidence that has been provided here and in the excellent resources you’ve recently been reading, suggests that your cognitive capability is less than optimal and/or or that you’re blinded by your emotions.

I am responding to your post despite my stated determination not to respond to such ad hominem attacks. You might say that I'm giving you one last chance to stop being a jerk. I am doing this because you are obviously smart and I hate to dismiss your ideas. But I will not respond to any post in the future that like this one, suggests that I am stupid because I don't agree with you. This is a common way that you respond. It is something that you seem to have developed to a high skill. I realize you must have a had a troubled childhood but using educated prose to insult people is not the best way to get back at those who picked on you so many years ago. In any case, I will not be your enabler.

Also, you should try to understand that differences of opinion are not attacks on your identity. They can easily become that way if you start attacking the intelligence of those who disagree with you. That's what I'm trying to avoid so that the substance of what we are discussing can be considered - without the strong personal emotions that you insist on bringing in. It's called objective discussion. Despite my misgivings I will attempt to have one of those with you now.

You said, Consider that the primary emotions of we humans are essentially equivalent to that of many mammals—fear, anger, disgust, etc. What primarily distinguishes us from other mammals is the reality of our enhanced cognitive ability, our intelligence, the “cognitive” in Ledoux’s mental trilogy. What other mammal can comprehend the objective truth of infinite primes or of pi; or can comprehend concepts like “mental trilogy” or self ?

What other mammal can comprehend the objective truth that negroes are subhuman and should be held as slaves for white men, that women were created from Adams' rib 6000 years ago in the Garden of Eden or that Jews should be exterminated as a race? There are many humans today who would claim the objective truth of each of those assertions - and some perhaps who would consider killing you if you did not agree.

My point is not that humans do not a have a powerful intellect. It is that our intellect only affects our decisions according to the emotional strength that we attach to the various ideas or concepts that we create or consider. And that is something that we have little control over. It depends on how well those concepts support or grate against the beliefs that we already hold in our minds - beliefs that we probably adopted when we were very young.

I would go so far as to say that belief is an emotional response to an idea that conforms to our existing higher level identity beliefs.

In that way, our intellectual conclusions are first guided by our existing beliefs (in that some ideas won't fit with our identity beliefs and will be rejected before we consider them) and those that we do consider will only be weighted in our decisions according the emotional strength we subconsciously grant them.

You said, Have you ever had a dream, Margaret, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? Sooner or later, Margaret, you’re going to have to accept that there's often a difference between what you feel, and what is real.

I would counter that what anyone actually believes (to be true) is only that which they feel to be true. Without that emotional validation they can not truly believe - no matter what they might say. The difference between us is where we find our emotional validation. Is it in facts about human nature that can be observed - or in bromides about free will and atheism that make you feel so good when you hit the submit button? I know this will make no sense to you - but I offer it to consider if you wish.

But, this is similar to my free will challenge. We can not choose any behavior that does not optimize the predicted emotional outcome for our benefit. In that same way we can not believe anything that emotionally violates our existing higher level identity beliefs.

Michael Behe, despite his PhD in biochemistry believes that some supernatural intelligence designed life in the universe. He has proposed no falsifiable theory to explain this. Like Behe, most of us spend far more mental energy justifying our existing beliefs than logically and objectively examining them before we adopt them.

You said, Free your mind, Margaret—we can only show you the door—you're the one that has to walk through it.

Who is the we here? Your conservative admiration for authority and your need to feel that you somehow belong to that grand structure is showing. Try making your own arguments and stop seeking validation from those who have their own ideology to promote. Consider yourself on double secret probation. :rolleyes:

Margaret

PS - I have no need to convince you of anything. Only the quality of your arguments will make any difference to me. If you screw this up there are plenty of interesting forums where I'd rather be spending my limited time. The only door I'll be going through is the one outta here.

TomJrzk
April 11th, 2006, 04:48 PM
If you screw this up there are plenty of interesting forums where I'd rather be spending my limited time. The only door I'll be going through is the one outta here.This is just the sort of thing I was hoping to prevent with my initial warning about Fred. I hope you'll consider staying on this site regardless of Fred's problems; it would be a shame if Fred's was the face of Evolutionary Psychology for those who pass through. I know it's hard but I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks!

Margaret McGhee
April 11th, 2006, 08:15 PM
I realize that the argument I am making - that we only believe what feels good to us, that we only believe what supports our higher level beliefs - makes me equally subject to the charge of subjectivity. Also, that any claim I make that my pov is less subjective than someone else's, is rightfully suspect. I think that's what makes science so difficult to pursue - and why it is so commendable when real scientists do it right.

Whether we are scientists or not, I think what it takes is a constant effort to understand where our own prejudices come from and to account for those in our opinions and conclusions. The one thing that can destroy any attempt to reach a better objective understanding of any topic is for either side to question the motivations or the intelligence of the other. It's impossible to be reasonable with someone who is beating you with a baseball bat - unless maybe your last name is Ghandi. But, I'm not Ghandi and it makes me feel like an idiot for letting them do it. And then you then have to choose to either respond in kind and destroy any future attempt at understanding - or try to ignore the bat, which doesn't work too well either.

Evolutionary Psychology is full of concepts that violate or support the higher level identity beliefs that we all have. Those beliefs form the cognitive dimension of our identities - and we will all defend our identities if they're threatened. It is important in these discussions to remember that most EP topics are therefore likely to push someone's buttons one way or the other. That's why when we question others' beliefs on these things we have to go out of our way to do it very respectfully.

That is assuming that the purpose of the discussion is to examine these things and gain a better understanding of them. If anyone is here to be a warrior for their particular camp then a better understanding of any EP topic will not be possible. That's why it is so maddening to constantly have to deal with that.

As I have stated before, it seems to me that some EPists discount the effect of environment and culture on behavior and they seem to do so ideologically - in an inti-PC way. I did not get that message from my initial reading in this area (The Moral Animal, The Third Chimpanzee, The Naked Ape long ago, etc.). But, maybe I just wasn't getting the message. I certainly haven't gotten that message from Le Doux, Damasio, Calvin, Blackmore and others.

Pinker doesn't seem to be saying that only genes determine behavior and that culture has no effect. He makes the point that some behavioral psychologists try to avoid seeing any genetic influences on behavior. I haven't found any of those yet but I'll take his word on that because he does not seem to be so ideologically motivated to me.

Last Thursday I went to an award ceremony in Seattle at the U put on by the "Foundations for the Future". Bill Calvin accepted the 2006 award for his book, "A Brain for All Seasons". In an FFF brochure I read this regarding a March 2005 workshop on human evolution where both Calvin and Pinker participated. It said,

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Prof. of Psychology at Harvard U gave a presentation "Can We Change Human Nature" focused on voluntary genetic enhancement, which may be constrained by the complexity of neural development and the rarity of single genes with large beneficial effects. "If we can't even find a single gene behind defects like autism or schizophrenia, it's even less likely that we'll find them for talents like music, intelligence and so on," he said.

The phrase complexity of neural development says to me that Pinker believes that questions about cultural and genetic influences on neural development are complex and not well understood at this time - which seems like a reasonable opinion that coincides with most other books I've read.

Since human behavior is determined by the results of that neural development then I prefer to see EP (as exemplified by Pinker's pov) as devoted to understanding more about the role that both genes and culture have on behavior - not as devoted to some ideological battle to prove that one or the other is determinative.

Added for clarity: It seems obvious to me that if we have the capacity for our environment to shape our personality and behavior in various ways, that it is a genetic capacity that evolved and that we inherit from our parents.

Tom, Thanks for the encouragement. I'll be here as long as we can discuss that question, if not always objectively, then at least politely. I admit that I tend to see neural development and behavior as more influenced by culture than most others here. I'm willing to be persuaded to see a stronger effect of genes but it will take a good non-ideological argument. Can anyone here make one of those?

Margaret

TomJrzk
April 12th, 2006, 10:11 AM
The phrase complexity of neural development says to me that Pinker believes that questions about cultural and genetic influences on neural development are complex and not well understood at this timeMy 'hearing what I want to hear' says that "complexity of neural development" is more about neural development itself being complex, without saying whether there are any genetic or cultural effects, much less their respective influences. In other words, I think you might be reading a bit more into the statement than the words convey to me.

And I don't think anyone here argues with your statement in an earlier post:
There are probably some small differences in the sizes of those boxes between genders and racial sub-groups.except for the subjective term "small".

Maybe IQ differences are 'small', maybe they're not. I don't know. But, if there ARE differences the question that might get a lot of argument here becomes what should we do about it? We're dealing with people's children here and if anyone thought that aggression over personal opinions brought up emotions and irrationality, that's nothing next to having someone's children being short-changed, which is what much of evolutionary psychology is about. I don't think we can answer that question here.

Fred H.
April 12th, 2006, 11:23 AM
MM: I would counter that what anyone actually believes (to be true) is only that which they feel to be true. Without that emotional validation they can not truly believe - no matter what they might say.
While we humans may “feel” that something is “real” we nevertheless are quite capable of knowing, cognitively, that it isn’t—e.g., phantom pain, the feeling of pain from tissue damage of part of a limb that no longer exists—although the pain itself may be “real,” and may even trigger various other emotions, we’re capable of knowing, cognitively, that the tissue damage that the pain portends is not.

And whether or not one is able to achieve the required “emotional validation” to “actually believe” that there are an infinite number of primes, that there are is nevertheless an objective mathematical truth; and it was true (as is all objective mathematical truth) before humans (the ancient Greeks in this case) evolved and discovered the unassailable proof showing that it is true.

Margaret, while I may empathize with the emotional turmoil, and perhaps cognitive dissonance, that your circumstances may have engendered; and while I may appreciate that your own “intellectual conclusions are first guided by [your] existing beliefs,” and then “weighted” by the “emotional strength [you] subconsciously grant them”; I nonetheless do find your predilection for projecting that MO onto everyone else to be childishly presumptuous.

At the beginning of the 20th century, virtually all scientists believed that our universe always existed, was static, infinite, and unchanging. But current science and evidence now tells us that our universe in fact had a beginning and is expanding; and most scientists no longer “believe” or “feel” what they once did. You see, Margaret, we simply follow the science and evidence wherever it leads, and then modify our beliefs and emotions accordingly—LeDoux’s downward causation . . . no one is saying that this is easy Margaret, it’s just the door to reality, a door that some seem unable or unwilling to go through.

TomJrzk
April 12th, 2006, 11:37 AM
Fred, a good forum moderator would insist that you remove the term 'childish' from your post. Could you please do the adult thing and remove it yourself?
phantom painInteresting page at http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/en/pain/microsite/medicine2.html including They asked people with amputations of the arm and phantom limb pain to place their arms inside a mirror box so that they saw their remaining arm mirror-reversed to look like their amputated one. When they moved their remaining arm in the box they were 'fooled' into thinking they were moving their amputated one, and their pain was reduced.Fascinating.

TomJrzk
April 12th, 2006, 11:43 AM
While we humans may “feel” that something is “real” we nevertheless are quite capable of knowing, cognitively, that it isn’t.You are confusing Margaret's point, "we really don't believe even 'facts' until we feel that they're true" with "if we feel something it is obviously true". I don't know if this is on purpose.

Margaret McGhee
April 12th, 2006, 12:55 PM
Hi Tom, You said, My 'hearing what I want to hear' says that "complexity of neural development" is more about neural development itself being complex, without saying whether there are any genetic or cultural effects, much less their respective influences. In other words, I think you might be reading a bit more into the statement than the words convey to me.
You may be right. Perhaps I'm trying to find moderation in his position where it does not exist. If you are right, does that mean that he and JimB agree? That white males of European descent are the rightful rulers of civilization and therefore for the good of all, they should (continue to) get to decide how the earth's resources should be distributed?

So far, I have been resisting the notion that EP (or any scientific discipline) would have a purpose of justifying political ends. But maybe I am missing something important here.

When the disciples of EP finally overcome the weak sentimentality of other evolutionary scientists, who will finally accept the bitter truth about human nature, will we then get to live in a world that will be more properly ordered by group genetic differences? Will poor brown skinned children and all girls no longer have to grow up with the heartbreak of unreasonable expectations?

I'm not trying to be snarky. I may be wrong about what EP actually is. I'd really like to know where the line lies between science and politics in this field. What do you think the purpose of EP is? Where does the statistical analysis of IQ scores end and the genetic re-organization of society begin?


Margaret

Fred, Notice how Tom used a self-depracating statement to make his point? Instead of suggesting that I was being childish or something, he prefaced his point with a suggestion that he might be seeing something that was not there - but this is what he saw. That actually makes his point stronger, not weaker - both to me and to others who may be reading his post.

I like to use a method of argument that is both effective and polite. You provisionally accept your opponent's point and then ask him or her to justify whatever outcome it may reasonably lead to. That may not provide the emotional satisfaction of a sarcastic insult but it allows a rational discussion to proceed.

You seem to think Tom and I are allies against you. I think we both appreciate the others' attempt to argue politely - but we strongly disagree on fundamental ideas here. I really enjoy having a polite but purposeful discussion with people I disagree with. I find Amen choruses boring. That's why I'm here - and hoping to stay.

TomJrzk
April 12th, 2006, 01:43 PM
I'd really like to know where the line lies between science and politics in this field. What do you think the purpose of EP is?We're getting pretty far afield when asking for my opinion, so I'll keep it short:

It would be best for everyone (except the elites) if everyone were able to reach their fullest potential. That requires equal opportunity, a valid goal which we're nowhere near. Science in general and EP along with it might be telling us that equal opportunity and equal results are mutually exclusive. That's all I see and wish we could follow the science as best we can, keeping the politics out of it, though I can see why you'd want to extrapolate that to eugenics to head off the extremists. I don't know that anyone here is an extremist.

Fred H.
April 12th, 2006, 06:27 PM
MM: I realize you must have a had a troubled childhood but using educated prose to insult people is not the best way to get back at those who picked on you so many years ago.

TomJ: I hope you'll consider staying on this site regardless of Fred's problems.
Tom & Margaret, you both might consider asking JimB if there’s any truth in your speculations here regarding my “troubled childhood” and/or alleged “problems,” since you both seem to find some sort of comfort in making them, having made similar charges multiple times now. And consider this: If your assertions in fact have any truth in them, then making such unnecessary and hurtful comments only reveal your own pettiness and cruelty; OTH, if your assertions are bogus, which, alas, they are, then they simply reveal your own pettiness and childishness—either way, it puts you in a bad light.

I’d suggest that, in the future, whenever you feel that you’ve been unfairly attacked, and feel a need to counterattack, ask yourself this question: “WWJD?”—i.e., “What would JimB do?”

TomJrzk
April 13th, 2006, 09:28 AM
my “troubled childhood” and/or alleged “problems,” Anyone who feels comfortable calling an adult "childish" has a problem, whether he knows it or not. You can call that a "bogus assertion" but I know better. And I notice that you didn't edit the term out.

But, you still defend a widely held opinion about "objective moral truth", and I value the opportunity to reply to it. I'm glad you're here.

Margaret McGhee
April 13th, 2006, 03:26 PM
Tom, Obviously I was correct in predicting the futility of appealing to Fred's sense of fairness and objectivity to stop enclosing his posts in personal attacks. At least, there is some value in having fresh evidence to support my premise - that people believe what feels good to them, and mostly use their brain to justify it.

This latest round prompts me to point out the extreme case of this hypothesis - what I call the ideological mind - that is so vividly on display here. As I previously stated, I believe that behavior choice is a process of emotional negotiation. Intellect can play a part when we emotionally choose to engage our intellect and then emotionally weight our intellectual conclusions so they can be considered along with instincts, emotions from past memories, emotions from our beliefs, etc.

I also stated previously my hypothesis that our beliefs are the primary source of our emotions in most voluntary behavior decisions. i.e. what we think of as reasoning is usually simply referencing the emotions from our existing beliefs about a particular topic.

For example, when considering something like Intelligent Design, creationists generally think it's a great idea. Almost none of the theists who are jumping on the ID bandwagon have any understanding of the intellectual / scientific argument being made on its behalf by Dembski, Behe, etc. They simply harbor a belief in God and understand that ID is a way to get God into the classrooom in public schools. So, it must be true. Whatever intellectual reasoning they apply to their conclusions will be applied in justification - not in examing the logical reasonableness of the argument - which they are largely incapable of in any case.

But, it would be wrong to say that this emotionally driven belief mechanism operates in everyone in the same way. There are large differences between people in how strongly their belief emotions influence their decision-making over the emotions that encourage them to engage their intellect and the weight they give to those conclusions. i.e. there's a characteristic difference between persons in where the emotions that most influence their voluntary behavior choices come from. Some persons are more willing to retest their beliefs for logical validity and are more willing to change them if necessary.

In some persons, especially those with very strong religious or philosophical beliefs, almost all of their mental energy in life can be focused on justifying and supporting their ideological beliefs. They can not have a conversation on any topic that does not end up supporting their beliefs. I am reminded of a seriously infected young Christian man I know who can't talk about the weather without ending each statement with a, "Thank you Jesus" or a "Praise Jesus". They see everyone in life as either allies who share their beliefs or enemies who must be despised. They have no interest in discussing any topic unless they percieve a way to use it to support their beliefs.

Another example, closer to home, is Fred's need to personally attack those who have opposed his most cherished beliefs. There is nothing I can say here that would not result in a personal attack from Fred, as these last few posts make abundantly clear.

If I didn't understand so well why he does this it might make me angry enough to retaliate in kind. As it is it just makes me weary. I love discussing these things but it just might not be possible to do it around persons whose minds are so heavily infected. It's like trying to reason with a drunk. If you've ever tried that then you know how hopeless I am feeling about remaining in this forum.

Strong ideology is an addiction. It is a chemical dependency. The only difference between ideologic belief and alcoholism for example, is the particular brain-affecting chemicals involved. Ideologues and their adreniline pumped relatives, zealots, are just as addicted to those brain chemicals as any alchoholic or any junkie. In fact, many people go through life simply trading one of those addictions for another. That's what AA is all about. Insulting immoral atheists is Fred's crack and he's not about to give that up for polite discussion.

Todd asked me previously if I thought there was a genetic basis for where somone lies on the psychological conservatism / liberalism spectrum. I replied possible but not probable - based on my suspicion that a cultural capacity for that determination would be more adaptive and more likely to have evolved through natural selection. I'm still not ready to categorically deny a direct hereditary component - but this study of children is interesting in that regard. http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/04/predicting_politics.php

The relevance here is that I suspect that there is a connection between psychological conservatism and strong ideology. Strong ideological systems like evangelical Christianity and today's version of political conservatism have the message "Here are all the answers to life's questions". They also say that those who don't agree with those answers are bad people who must be publicly exposed as immoral and punished. JimB and Fred's angry responses to my posts here have caused me to suspect that evolutionary psychology is more a strong ideology than it is a scientific discipline - at least for them.

I suspect that that may be why it is so impossible to discuss EP here objectively. Ideologues resent even the implication that their belief system would be subject to such questions - and I have been called intellectually and / or morally blind by each of them - for bringing it up. The emotional need to punish heretics will always trump their desire for intellectual discussion of a topic. That's a testable prediction of my hypothesis that seems to be valid for the time I have spent here anyway. Will their response to this post close the case in my favor or show me to be wrong?

I think your explanation of "Equal opportunity, not necessarily equal outcome" is a very reasonable statement that deserves a thoughtful response. Yesterday, I composed one but then decided that reasonable responses feel so futile and impotent knowing they will just provoke another personal attack. I guess I'll wait a while to see if I feel better about posting it. I'll hang in there for a while Tom, but it's getting pretty dreary.

Margaret

TomJrzk
April 13th, 2006, 05:34 PM
Whatever intellectual reasoning they apply to their conclusions will be applied in justification - not in examing the logical reasonableness of the argument - which they are largely incapable of in any case.Excellent point. I would go even further: the more their egos are invested in their beliefs, the more their brains will filter out any evidence to the contrary; they are completely incapable of incorporating any challenge to their beliefs.

Of course, they don't offer evidence either, and often even admit it all depends on 'faith'. Or they stand behind crowds of humans who are just as ignorant as us about this illusion of free will and ask why we're so different.

I'm getting pretty weary myself, perhaps JimB's site deserves the low headcount if he refuses to call off the person that has driven just about everyone else off the forum. And I was really surprised by JimB's first response to you, I thought there must have been some history between the two of you.

Regardless, I resolve to stay forever; I'm really very subborn. I hope you'll stick it out in the hopes that others find us more helpful.

PS Just in case I win a prize or something for noticing this, I've always been leery of Todd's AI folks concentrating on building a computer that can pass as a human in a forum. Just plug in an opinion and have it search the web for supporting text; no need to accept others' arguments or even understand them. It will certainly be the end of open forums when they succeed...

And feel free to send anything you'd like as a personal message if you don't feel good about posting it.

Carey N
April 13th, 2006, 06:10 PM
Hi Margaret,

Let me say that it's great to have consistently active and thoughtful members, such as yourself, in this forum. The purpose of this post to impart some advice, which I hope you will not find patronizing, about your rhetorical style and interaction with Fred that may allow future conversations to proceed a bit more smoothly. Granted, one should not expect to experience his rosy side (but I know you have one, Fred).

Your seed post on this thread began by stating that you were unconvinced by Steve Pinker's argument. Immediately thereafter, you describe a just-so story involving rocks that represent emotions. Later on in the post, you begin a paragraph with "I think . . ." and then reformulate Pinker's metaphor to your own liking. This kind of argumentative style will never fail to spike BS-o-meters, especially Fred's, which is hyper-sensitive. I am not saying that the content of your post is BS - but without reference to bona fide research of some kind to distinguish your hypothesis from Pinker's, you won't convince anyone who doesn't already agree with you.

Fred's penchant for insulting others is frustrating, sometimes even infuriating, but if you take it as an indication that your argument needs clarification (or maybe overhaul), then sometimes you can benefit from his feedback (though he won't acknowledge it).

Whatever you do, remember that Fred enjoys fights and fishes for them: don't take the bait.

Best,
Carey

Margaret McGhee
April 13th, 2006, 08:38 PM
Hi Carey, Thanks for the constructive criticism. I'll try to keep your points in mind.

I tried to make my seed post, not an argument against Pinker, but a request to JimB to help me see what his argument was. JimB had suggested that by reading this book I would understand (apparently why I was wrong about genetic determinism).

For that, I was accused of dishonestly using the forum as a resource for a book and told that I'd have to manage my own blindness. Then, Fred tells me Your inability and/or refusal to accept or acknowledge this reality, despite the overwhelming evidence that has been provided here and in the excellent resources you’ve recently been reading, suggests that your cognitive capability is less than optimal and/or or that you’re blinded by your emotions

I have to ask, instead of attacking my intelligence and honesty why did neither of them simply give me a one paragraph synopsis of Pinker's thesis in their own words - as I had asked? I suspect the reason they did not do this is that Pinker is not saying in The Blank Slate that culture is not part of the equation as JimB maintains. And therefore he can not restate that thesis because it does not exist.

I think what Pinker is saying is that the outmoded philosophical notion of the blank slate does not exist - at least among any serious psychologists. I agree with Pinker on that and I don't know any psychologists who disagree. I have not read any such things by Gould or Lewontin. They both assert however, that culture has an important part to play in behavior and ability - and they probably would disagree with Pinker over how large that part is. But that seems like a fair scientific question to ask - not necessarily an ideological question.

I could be wrong about that but no-one has yet offered to clarify this for me.

Another question would be why didn't Fred point out my supposed bullshit rather than calling me emotionally blind and stupid? If it was so obvious then it should have been easy enough to do and it could have even proven me wrong.

But, beyond all that - discussing my theory would be really interesting to me as I know there are people here (like you) who know much more about this stuff than I do. It seems to me that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for my theory is the story of Phinneas Gage - who I assume is known to all students of psychology these days.

When his prefrontal cortex was destroyed, what changed was not his basic intelligence or language ability - which was thoroughly tested. It was his ability to choose appropriate behavior. More modern science has determined that the prefrontal cortex is the part of the human brain associated with social emotions.

Toward the end of Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens he offers his Somatic Marker Hypothesis. Here he establishes that mental images are tagged with emotional markers - and describes the implications of that. Based on the story of Phinneas Gage I extended the Somatic Marker Hypothesis to what I call the Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis.

I'm not sure whether this is the laughable idea of an engineering/physics major trying to think about neuro-psychology - or if it may actually have some merit. I'd love to get into a discussion about that but so far I've been stuck defending a place for some level of cultural influence within the EP paradigm. Or, more accurately, defending my honesty and intelligence from attack because I suggested that cultural influences have some place within that paradigm.

I don't see how anyone could deny that evolution and genetics are the ultimate cause of human behavior. Our central nervous systems are obviously a product of evolution. It seems that the arguments are over the proximate causes of particular behavior choices. Are they direct genetic influences or indirect genetic influences by way of an inherited ability to adopt behavior provided by our culture.

If one sees behavior choice as the result of emotional negotiation, then the EP question becomes deciphering those direct and indirect genetic causes. Or, using my Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis, discovering the source of the particular emotions that are negotiated when we make behavior choices.

For example, the question of what motivates a young boy or girl to adopt an identity as a future scientist and then apply a huge amount of mental energy over the rest of their lives to fulfill that identity seems like a much more interesting question than whether males or females have a bigger range of IQ's scores and whether those are completely inherited or subject to developmental influences.

It seemed to me that an EP forum was a great place to discuss these questions perhaps because EP seemed like a more grounded form of psychology than most of the others. Unfortunately, I found myself in an ideological tempest defending questions that I wasn't that interested in.

In any case, I'd love to hear your opinion on any of the above (cringe). I'll accept your previous criticism as an indication of my poor communication skills. These are difficult concepts to discuss clearly but well worth the effort IMO. You must admit though, that discussing difficult concepts is easier when you're not defending yourself from personal attacks. :rolleyes:

Margaret

Fred H.
April 14th, 2006, 10:42 AM
Carey (to Margaret): Your seed post on this thread began by stating that you were unconvinced by Steve Pinker's argument. Immediately thereafter, you describe a just-so story involving rocks that represent emotions. Later on in the post, you begin a paragraph with "I think . . ." and then reformulate Pinker's metaphor to your own liking. This kind of argumentative style will never fail to spike BS-o-meters, especially Fred's, which is hyper-sensitive.
Thanks for the compliment Carey, but I think that JimB may have even less patience when it comes to Margaret’s type of BS.

FWIW, Margaret and I were having a reasonably civil dialogue until she was the first to “raise the stakes,” as it were, with me in her hissy-fit here, http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=2767&postcount=49 when she inappropriately personalized whatever it was she perceived I was “suggesting” (at which point Tom seemed to join in her attack); and it was Margaret who started playing the racist card with her hideous post, to JimB, here http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=3092&postcount=2 , revealing her self-righteous ideology using accusatory words/phrases directed at JimB, such as the “Full Monte” of a “famous racist,” his“attraction to this area” of general intelligence differences, “the attraction of some Evolutionary Biologists to what [she] had always considered to be the pseudo-science of Eugenics,” etc., etc.

That it was I who suggested LeDoux’s groundbreaking work/book on the biology of emotion to Margaret, and that I’ve really been the only one here to actually discuss, with some vigor, the implications of that biology, has apparently been completely discounted by Margaret b/c I dare to also expose her sanctimonious, preconceived ideology for what it is.

Also, note that I‘ve been the only one here to actually “empathizes with the emotional turmoil, and perhaps cognitive dissonance, that [Margaret’s] circumstances may have engendered [the gender identity thing]”; and appreciate, using her own characterization, that her “intellectual conclusions are first guided by [her] existing beliefs,” and then “weighted” by the “emotional strength [she] subconsciously grants them”—But when I then dare acknowledge that I also “find [her] predilection for projecting that MO onto everyone else to be childishly presumptuous,” her knee-jerk, snooty response is that I lack any “sense of fairness and objectivity to stop enclosing [my] posts in personal attacks.” (And yet is it not Margaret (and Tom) who persist in making gratuitous, not to mention laughable, assertions regarding my supposed “troubled childhood” and/or alleged “problems?”)

Carey: Fred's penchant for insulting others is frustrating, sometimes even infuriating, but if you take it as an indication that your argument needs clarification (or maybe overhaul), then sometimes you can benefit from his feedback….
Again Carey, thanks for the compliment—if people like Margaret (and Tom) paid a little more attention to detail, and were perhaps a bit less insecure/hypersensitive, they’d see that I rarely, if ever, truly make “personal attacks,” but rather I expose (perhaps with too much relish/disdain?) the lack of consistency, rigor, or honesty in their own arguments/ideologies.

And Bravo, Carey—your above comment suggests that you yourself are beginning to realize what the Margarets and Toms have yet to grasp, and what another Fred once opined: “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” (While I personally find Nietzsche’s sentiment less than spot on, I do find such an attitude to be somewhat more efficacious than the whine coming from the Margarets.)

How’s your love life?

Carey N
April 14th, 2006, 02:33 PM
Good to hear from you, Fred.


Fred: I rarely, if ever, truly make “personal attacks,” but rather I expose (perhaps with too much relish/disdain?) the lack of consistency, rigor, or honesty in their own arguments/ideologies.
I agree with this, although I can see why other members take offense at your rhetorical aggression. But, as they say, if you can't take the heat, then stay out of the kitchen.

...

My social life is a bit dry at the moment, as I'm heavily pre-occupied with the final 5 weeks of my undergraduate degree. This reminds me: I happened upon this forum when I was a junior in high school . . . time sure flies.

Carey N
April 14th, 2006, 03:49 PM
Margaret: why did neither of them simply give me a one paragraph synopsis of Pinker's thesis in their own words - as I had asked?
I'm not sure: my guess would be that both individuals feel Pinker's thesis is self-evident. I haven't read that book in a long time, and so cannot comment further.

Another reason you're not receiving responses, particularly from JimB, is that your posts are too long: write succinctly and you'll have a much better chance of drawing JimB out of his shell.


Margaret: Toward the end of Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens he offers his Somatic Marker Hypothesis. Here he establishes that mental images are tagged with emotional markers - and describes the implications of that. Based on the story of Phinneas Gage I extended the Somatic Marker Hypothesis to what I call the Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis.
First: labeling your idea a theory and giving it a name long enough to warrant an acronym is practically an open invitation for a beat-down from Fred.

Second: using terms like "mental image" and "emotional marker", for which no physical basis has been empirically described, [edit] makes me wary. I could well be mistaken here, but this problem seems to be characteristic of all psychology.

I don't believe your commuincation skills are poor; I think psychology is a messy science, and no one can satisfactorily explain the truly proximate causes of behavior (yet). The draw of evolutionary psychology is its focus upon ultimate causes and its tolerance of black boxes around the vast tangle of neural mechanisms that have been moulded by millions of years of natural selection. It's great that you're interested in those black boxes, but in my opinion you're never going to get anywhere with verbal models and frontal lobotomy case-studies.

Best,
Carey

Margaret McGhee
April 14th, 2006, 05:24 PM
Darn, I did it again. I always give people far too much credit for intelligence and good intentions. I should have known from your past fawning posts to JimB that your previous post would be a thinly veiled insult.

This particular post is even more laughable. Reading back through the archives it seems that there were were some interesting discussions at first. That's what sucked me in. It now seems that JimB's main or only interest in moderating this forum is in spreading his ideology. Unless someone supports those views or otherwise praises him he only responds with insults.

The rest of your post is about what one can expect from an undergrad psych student - self-important and largely ignorant of the real world.

This is a forum about evolutionary psychology. It's a place where people should be able to politely discuss complicated ideas in a free-form way - and maybe learn something. All that should be required is a sincere interest, a willingness learn and the ability to be respectful. I think I have proven myself in that respect (so far anyway) far more than any of you (not including Tom and Todd whose posts have been both intelligent and respectful).

I happen to know some real scientists. None of them have an interest in spreading some ideology. In fact, they avoid that crap like the plague. None of them respond to sincere questions or observations of non-scientists by calling them nonsense or bullshit. Those are the terms used by various flavors of true-believers when they run into heretics - and wanna-be scientists trying to impress others.

You say my use of terms like "mental image" and "emotional marker", for which no physical basis has been empirically described, smacks of nonsense. Your classless insult is belied by the fact that those terms come from the writings of the foremost neuroscientists in their field - which I have carefully read and re-read. Your (and JimB's) inability to discuss those concepts intelligently is a matter of your own blindness - to borrow a phrase.

It's interesting that you think those terms are nonsense - while just-so stories about the superior fitness for white males to oversee democracy in the world and occupy the highest positions in academic research are examples of good scientific discourse.

Neither Fred nor JimB has responded once to any of my posts with other than ideology and insults. The fact is I don't share their worldview and for ideologues that's all that counts. Fred is here to insult atheists and JimB wants to express his anti-PC venom and his apparent love for eugenics.

That's it. Neither of them have any sincere interest in evolutionary psychology that I can see - and looking at your posts I see that you don't either. In the future if you want to say something to me then start by being honest about your motivations because my bullshit detector is now set to ten.

Margaret

TomJrzk
April 14th, 2006, 05:46 PM
FWIW, Margaret and I were having a reasonably civil dialogue until she was the first to “raise the stakes,” as it were, with me in her hissy-fit here, http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=2767&postcount=49 Again, I have to remind you that Margaret's feelings were hurt for valid reasons, as I did earlier here,http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?p=3225#post3225, which says:

Au contraire Tom—I did “clarify,” what didn’t really need to be clarified, in my subsequent post, What you wrote is not a clarification that would retract any insult:
It’s what the movie seemed to convey.

If indeed free will is an illusion, as you believe, then obviously so is morality, and moral blindness would be inevitable.
In fact it just grinds the insult in further. There's nothing 'obvious' about your beliefs, which happen to be wrong.

Humans without free will still have a social instinct and their remorse module activates and makes them feel regret when they do something against those instincts; that's the only basis for your 'morality' no matter how much folklore you want to place around it. At least, those humans with a functional remorse module.

I don't 'decide' with 'free will' to feel uncomfortable when I run over even part of a dead dog on the freeway, much less a dead person; much, much less a live person. It's instinctive.
You're at least not fooling me.

Carey N
April 14th, 2006, 07:33 PM
Well . . . I'm going to try my hardest not to become part of this feud and reply without reciprocating the tone in your most recent post.


Margaret: The rest of your post is about what one can expect from an undergrad psych student - self-important and largely ignorant of the real world.
Way to take the high road. By the way, I'm not a psych student.


Margaret: I happen to know some real scientists. None of them have an interest in spreading some ideology. In fact, they avoid that crap like the plague. None of them respond to sincere questions or observations of non-scientists by calling them nonsense or bullshit. Those are the terms used by various flavors of true-believers when they run into heretics - and wanna-be scientists trying to impress others.
Okay, but how do you justify calling other people self-important, wanna-be scientists when you are willing to invent the "Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis" on the basis of a couple of books and one case study? Can't you perceive how haughty that is?

I'm spreading ideology? I criticized the terms you are using for their lack of empirical clarity, and then you call me an ignorant, wanna-be, fawning idiot . . . why be so defensive unless you yourself are defending an ideology?

Also: the terms you use seem nonsensical to me, yes, but my comment was not designed as a personal insult. Fred has made the same point: by criticizing your ideas, I'm not trying to belittle you. In fact, the only phrase that could be perceived as insulting in my previous post is "smacks of nonsense", but immediately thereafter I made sure to clarify that this was a general problem in the field of psychology, not your problem in particular.


Margaret: You say my use of terms like "mental image" and "emotional marker", for which no physical basis has been empirically described, smacks of nonsense. Your classless insult is belied by the fact that those terms come from the writings of the foremost neuroscientists in their field - which I have carefully read and re-read. Your (and JimB's) inability to discuss those concepts intelligently is a matter of your own blindness - to borrow a phrase.
I have not seen JimB address the concepts of which you speak, though it doesn't surprise me that he finds them unappealing. I challenged you to explain the meaning of the terms you are using, but you effectively responded with: "other important people are using those phrases, too" . . . I'm sorry, but that just isn't satisfying. Have you considered that the foremost neuroscientists of which you made mention may be promoting an ideology of their own? Have they defined the operational meaning of "mental image" and "emotional marker"? If so, how have they done it? If you can answer these questions, that's great . . . if not, then there's a problem, which you need to address, rather than defending the orthodoxy unquestioningly.


Margaret: It's interesting that you think those terms are nonsense - while just-so stories about the superior fitness for white males to oversee democracy in the world and occupy the highest positions in academic research are examples of good scientific discourse.
Okay: a group of current researchers is using those terms, but that doesn't change the fact that their empirical meaning is vague, at best. If I'm incorrect on this point, please do explain further.
I have never once commented positively (or at all, that I know of) on the superior white male fitness idea - I don't know if someone else has used that phrase, or if you're making an inference from JimB's discussion of heritable variation in mathematical aptitude. It seems as though you're taking pot shots at a straw man.


Margaret: Fred is here to insult atheists and JimB wants to express his anti-PC venom and his apparent love for eugenics.
Yes, Fred does insult atheists all the time, but I find it funny more often than I find it offensive (I'm an atheist). Please point me to the post in which JimB condones eugenics . . . I've seen him write about innate differences in mathematical ability between sexes, which are a cold, hard fact, but that's about it. To say that genetic differences between sexes or ethnic groups justify eugenics would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy.


Lastly, you did not address my point about neural networks - it seems to me that any mechanistic theory of behavior that isn't completely rooted in networks cannot be very rigorous. This is NOT to say that environment has nothing to do with behavior: one of the most interesting features of neural networks is their plasticity, contingent on environmental influence. In this sense, your "slate with a grid pattern on it" metaphor is suitable, but I don't think verbal models can go much further than that. If you believe strongly otherwise, please explain your stance.


You must admit though, that discussing difficult concepts is easier when you're not defending yourself from personal attacks.
Certainly, and I'm asking you to discuss a difficult concept, not attacking you personally.

Fred H.
April 14th, 2006, 09:30 PM
Margaret to Carey: This particular post is even more laughable…. The rest of your post is about what one can expect from an undergrad psych student - self-important and largely ignorant of the real world.
Wow Carey, seems you really pissed Margaret off—imagine how vicious she’d have been if you actually intended to insult her. Margaret seems to have other issues . . . anyway, you know how vindictive those damn atheists can be.

Your post to her obviously was reasonable & discerning, but of course you already know that. OTH, perhaps TomJ (also an atheist who insists that mass murderers are somehow not “morally responsible” for their behavior and that they are “just following their social instincts”), who currently seems to be something of a self-appointed advocate for her, can explain how “Margaret's feelings were hurt for valid reasons,” this time by your comments (rather than mine).

Sorry to hear your social life is a bit dry, but you should have plenty of time for all that social stuff after you kick-ass in these final 5 weeks of school—plus you may even be a bit more marketable with your shiny new degree—all the best.

Margaret McGhee
April 14th, 2006, 09:32 PM
Carey said, Well . . . I'm going to try my hardest not to become part of this feud and reply without reciprocating the tone in your most recent post.

I'm pleased with the thought - even though you took it down. You may find Fred's insults funny but I also notice that none of them were directed at you. As anyone can see once the insults start flying no reasonable discussion can take place - on either side.

Your final paragraph was interesting. Lastly, you did not address my point about the true proximate causes of behavior, which lie in neural networks - they are one of the last great mysteries of biology, and it only through them that we may fully understand the issues about which you are concerned. I don't see how this point can be argued agaist: our brains are neural networks, therefore we must understand neural networks to understand our brains. Verbal models are not sufficient.

That's the first post I've seen from you that indicates an interest in discussing evolutionary biology. Based on your past statements I'm still not sure that you are sincere but for now, let's leave our differences behind. I'm already feeling guilty about my post - especially that part where I was taking the high road. You should have seen it before I took out the bad parts. :rolleyes:

You seem to be saying in your post that unless I have a formal theory to present then there's nothing worth discussing. I disagree. It seems to me that the purpose of an online forum is to trade ideas and learn. No-one is being forced to agree or accept anything here. It's not a peer reviewed journal. It's just exposing others to what you're thinking about - and being exposed to their ideas. That's a very personal and vulnerable thing to do. That's why people generally go out of their way in these situations to be polite and disagree without insulting the other person.

OK, here's a question. If neural networks are one of the last great mysteries of biology how can you be so sure that the true proximate causes of behavior lie within them? That's a rhetorical question. I asked it to suggest that this is all a mysterious area and that any models, verbal or mathematical, could help us (me anyway) understand what's going on in there. I would completely agree with your underlying assertion that behavior in vertebrates is the result of what goes on in neural networks. Also, that we need to understand neural networks to understand brains. Bill Calvin has written some interesting things about neural networks- as has LeDoux in Synaptic Self.

My Somatic Behavior Choice Theory should be called The Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis. That's not even right though because people might think that somatic describes behavior and not behavior choice. Oh well. I'll use hypothesis anyway so as not to be haughty.

But, why would you assume that it is based on a single book and a single case study. I did not list all the books and papers that I've read. I did not describe the theory except in the most general way and I offered little or no support for it. But that does not mean that I did not do that reading or that I don't have support for it. I think a better response would have been, "OK, it sounds pretty far-fetched but let's see what you've got" or something like that. Skepticism is different from derision.

I'd enjoy explaining my reasoning if anyone here was actually interested. I'd also like to hear your specific ideas on how neural networks affect behavior. In either case though we should first agree on what we each mean by proximate cause and behavior. Why don't you go first and we'll see if we can carry on a conversation without others wrecking it with insults.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
April 14th, 2006, 09:54 PM
Carey, In my last post I said, It's just exposing others to what you're thinking about - and being exposed to their ideas. That's a very personal and vulnerable thing to do. That's why people generally go out of their way in these situations to be polite and disagree without insulting the other person.

I suspect that most people feel vulnerable when exposing their ideas to an anonymous bunch of names in a forum - some of whom seem pretty angry. I think we all feel defensive. I think some people (like you maybe) come across as aggressive in their posts maybe to warn others to tread lightly. I think I tend to write too carefully and in an overly articulate way. That probably comes off as haughty or like I think I'm really smart or something.

If I write posts more as a stream of consciousness they get misunderstood in worse ways so over the years I've evolved this style.

I just love thinking about these things and none of my close friends would even understand what we're talking about here. I'm sure others here know a lot more about this stuff than I do (like you maybe) and I'm afraid perhaps of letting that be too obvious in my posts. So I'm really careful about what I say.

Even if my rhetorical style is irritating I can say that I am being as honest as I can.

Margaret

Carey N
April 14th, 2006, 10:40 PM
I'm pleased with the thought - even though you took it down. You may find Fred's insults funny but I also notice that none of them were directed at you.
I put back up that line so as to avoid confusion for anyone looking into this thread. True - Fred's recent insults have not been directed at me, but he's done it in the past. He and I had a running thread about morality and atheism that must have lasted 2 years and never moved more than a few yards . . . it was just like World War I, except the casualties were my brain cells. The best way to handle it, in my experience, is to realize that the insults are a form of genuine criticism. Fred has a rare "yo momma" critiquing style, but hey, diversity is a good thing.


It seems to me that the purpose of an online forum is to trade ideas and learn. No-one is being forced to agree or accept anything here. It's not a peer reviewed journal.
Agreed - I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I have a decent grasp of learning, behavior, and neural networks, and it just strikes me that verbal mechanistic models in this area cannot be expressed unequivocally, because they become so easily separated from the actual mechanisms responsible for behavior itself.


OK, here's a question. If neural networks are one of the last great mysteries of biology how can you be so sure that the true proximate causes of behavior lie within them?
Understanding that your question is rhetorical: we know that networks are the root of behavior because all stimulus processing occurs within them, and all behavioral output originates from them. So . . . information goes in, and behavior comes out. The great mystery is: what happens within those networks to produce the kind of behavioral complexity that we take for granted every day?

Here's a pretty close analogy: ant colonies exhibit a staggering array of collective behaviors, including complex navigation, hunting, and decision-making. We often speak of the colony as a super-organism with intentions and needs to satisfay, which is fine for evolutionary explanations because the colony, in many ways, is a unit of selection. When we wish to know how such collective behavior is executed, however, it's no use to think of the "wants" of the colony. All that matters is the ant-to-ant and ant-to-environment interactions - ant networks, so to say - which together produce behavior at the colony level.

Human brains exhibit arguably more complex behavior than ant colonies, but the principle is the same. It's perfectly suitable to speak of a person having desires, emotions, etc. at the individual level when thinking about the evolutionary explanations of behavior. But if we want to know how exactly a behavior is produced, what matters are sensory systems (receive stimuli), network interactions (process stimuli), and neural output (leading to behavior).


On the other hand, if one asks "why did Bob hit Brad in the face", it's not necessarily constructive to answer "well, the visual stimulus of Brad was received by Bob's retinas, translated into a pattern of neural input that triggered a memory, linked in the CA3 region of his hippocampus, of Brad trripping him yesterday. This in turn initiated a cascade of interactions in Bob's brain, leading to sensations of anger, the will the retaliate, etc., and finally to muscular coordination that resulted in Bob's fist connecting with brad's jaw." One would normally just say "Well, Brad tripped Bob yesterday, so Bob got him back by hitting him in the face." My point is that some kind of balance should be struck between the terminology used to represent emotions, etc. and the neural mechanisms responsible for them, so that we don't go off telling just-so stories.


So: proximate cause, in my understanding, refers to the cascade of mechanical and chemical interactions within (or between, in the case of collective behavior) organisms that result in a behavior, and they are investigated with physics, chemistry, and sometimes simulation modeling (e.g., for ant swarms or fish schools*). This is why I don't like "mental image" and "emotional tag" . . . what quantitative meaning do these terms really have?

Ultimate questions, in contrast, refer to evolutionary explanations that discuss why a behavior was selected for in a particular environment, and can be addressed with verbal, mathematical (e.g. populations and quantitative genetics, game theory, etc.), and simulation models.


why would you assume that it is based on a single book and a single case study.
because you only mentioned one book and one case study in association with your hypothesis! See:
Toward the end of Damasio's The Feeling of What Happens he offers his Somatic Marker Hypothesis. Here he establishes that mental images are tagged with emotional markers - and describes the implications of that. Based on the story of Phinneas Gage I extended the Somatic Marker Hypothesis to what I call the Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis.

-Carey

* Good Example: Couzin, I.D., Krause, J., Franks, N.R., and Levin, S.A. (2005). “Effective leadership and decision-making in animal groups on the move.” Nature 433: 513-516

Carey N
April 14th, 2006, 11:03 PM
I'd also like to hear your specific ideas on how neural networks affect behavior.

I'd rather you read about this, and see how little we really know, from the experts. If you give me your e-mail address, I'll send you pdf files of the articles I have on hand. Neural networks have been used to understand very simple behavior in model species, but some theoretical models have been developed to explore hippocampal function and learning in humans. We've only scratched the surface . . . it's a very exciting, though humbling, area.


Also - by all means, explain your hypothesis in detail. I appreciate the risk you take in expressing your ideas, and you won't receive any ridicule from me.

Fred H.
April 15th, 2006, 09:17 AM
Carey: Fred's recent insults have not been directed at me, but he's done it in the past. He and I had a running thread about morality and atheism that must have lasted 2 years and never moved more than a few yards . . .
My recollection is a bit different Carey—back in September 2003 when you, Todd, and I were passionately discussing this area (and perhaps trading benign “insults” ) and whether materialist ”atheists” “lacked the balls to be honest-to-god atheists” and “to acknowledge the implications of a cosmos lacking intrinsic meaning and value,” you eventually affirmed that:
I agree with you [Todd] and Fred that an "accidental"…universe is not compatible with evolution. Moreover, I don't think an "accidental" universe is compatible with anything at all.
And since atheism more or less mandates an “accidental” (i.e. chance) universe, it was concluded that your and Todd’s “atheism” was not a consistent honest-to-god atheism (but more an agnosticism). So I’d say that we actually “moved more than a few yards”— TomJ’s honest-to-god atheism, OTH, is at least consistent enough to acknowledge that in the atheist’s world mass murderers can’t be “morally responsible” for their behavior and are “just following their [evolved] social instincts.”

Margaret McGhee
April 15th, 2006, 01:16 PM
Hi Carey, I have reviewed the pdf files you sent. Those are interesting. Reviewing those and re-reading your recent posts I now suspect that we are not talking about the same thing.

You used an example where Bob hit Brad in the face. All human voluntary behavior begins with a choice. In fact making a behavior choice is itself a behavior, though not always voluntary. Bob could have walked away, yelled obscenities at Brad or could have kicked him the shins. Why did he choose to hit him in the face?

The part of behavior that I am most interested in is what happened in Bob's brain that caused him to consider several possible behaviors and then committ emotionally to one of them. I believe that the great mystery of human nature is what goes on in a central nervous system to cause us to choose a particular behavior from our repertoire - not how that behavior gets executed, however interesting that may be.

While science struggles with explaining behavior execution at the neuron / synapse level, as your papers illustrate, behavior choice seems even further from their grasp and is less likely (at least from what I have read) to yield to answers at that level - which seems to be your area of interest. Is behavior choice something you'd even like to discuss?

Margaret

Carey N
April 15th, 2006, 01:26 PM
Okay Fred - I hope you'll pardon my bad memory.


I would need to see the context in which I wrote down that quote you listed. Why was I putting the word "accidental" in quotation marks, for example? And what are those elipsis points replacing? At the moment, it just sounds wrong. Is that post still around, or do you have it saved somewhere?


Without intending to start this debate all over again, my position is that Occam's Razor would suggest that the universe was not created or inlfuenced by a Designer of any kind. Before you respond with your point about early low entropy, let me just say that no matter how complicated and remote the purely physical scenario might be for the beginning of the universe, it is vastly, vastly simpler than the position maintaining that some intelligent Being was there, instead. Hence my reference to Occam. In that sense, I don't see why an accidental universe, i.e., one not involving a Designer, wouldn't be compatible with evolution. In fact, the validity of evolution in the context of life on Earth doesn't even relate at all to the way in which the universe began. That's why I'm curious about the context and elipsis points in the quotation of mine that you posted.


TomJ’s honest-to-god atheism, OTH, is at least consistent enough to acknowledge that in the atheist’s world mass murderers can’t be “morally responsible” for their behavior and are “just following their [evolved] social instincts.”
Like you, I don't agree with Tom's stance on this subject. On the other hand, I don't feel that it's inconsistent to say that morality exists in the interaction between people, even in the absence of a Deity of some kind watching over us like a referee.


Again . . . without meaning to start up the debate all over again, my stance is that morality is a human construct . . . it's part of our biology ("social instincts"), and it is also subject to cultural evolution. On the one hand, yes, this means that morality doesn't really exist; but in every important way, morality exists as a property of human interaction. That's the view i remember maintaining in our debate, which is why that quote that you posted seems foreign to me. However, maybe you trumped me in that one, and I selectively blocked out the memory to bury the pain of defeat. Somehow I doubt it, though.


I wrote that the debate did not move more than a few yards because I think that our views remained pretty much diametrically opposed, no matter what each party said in counter-argument. In that sense, the front lines didn't move very much. I did not mean that nothing interesting was written.

-Carey

TomJrzk
April 15th, 2006, 02:01 PM
perhaps TomJ (also an atheist who insists that mass murderers are somehow not “morally responsible” for their behavior and that they are “just following their social instincts”), who currently seems to be something of a self-appointed advocate for her, can explain how “Margaret's feelings were hurt for valid reasons,” this time by your comments (rather than mine).Yes, I would have suggested that Carey's "smacks of nonsense" was a bit harsh and could easily be taken as an insult. And I agree with Margaret that her reaction was a bit much for that perceived insult. You see, Carey and Margaret, like reasonable adults, resolved the point themselves to their satisfaction.

And, yes, we have social instincts for altruism, cooperation, crime, etc. That's all we need for "morality" and you have yet to show the source for anything more.

I'm distressed by Carey's point of "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"; far too many intelligent people have already left this now tiny kitchen for that very reason. EP is not a subject that is widely known, much less widely supported, and the loss of even one mind is a terrible thing.

I'm even more distressed by Carey egging you on to spew years more of your rudeness. Apparently he does not share my views on why you're here.

TomJrzk
April 15th, 2006, 02:28 PM
Like you, I don't agree with Tom's stance on this subject.

. . . it's part of our biology ("social instincts"), and it is also subject to cultural evolution. On the one hand, yes, this means that morality doesn't really exist; but in every important way, morality exists as a property of human interaction. I agree with this statement so I don't understand your disagreement with me. True, I eliminated the term 'morality' from my argument since it's just a synonym for social instincts for me and I feel that it sends the religious on tangents.

Can you enumerate your differences with my views? Thanks!

Fred H.
April 15th, 2006, 04:16 PM
Carey: Why was I putting the word "accidental" in quotation marks, for example?
It was my quote of your post in my post, knowmsaying? Anywho, “accidental,” as I recall, was the word we were using to describe a universe lacking a first cause, having no intrinsic meaning or purpose, that was a result of some random uncaused happening—the atheist’s universe—all there ever was, is, will be.

I think the bottom line, Carey, is that these arguments ultimately boil down to whether you believe there indeed is such a thing as “objective truth,” whether objective truth exists (and perhaps also whether we humans can know it); or whether you believe there is only subjective “truth,” whether there are only subjective, mental and/or social constructs.

To me the evidence is overwhelming that there is indeed timeless, objective mathematical truth, that objective mathematical truth does indeed exist, that it exists independent of the human mind, independent of any evolved sentient being’s mind, and independent of the physical world that we currently find ourselves in.

For example, the four-square theorem: In the 17th century Bachet, a mathematician, conjectured whether every positive integer could be expressed as the sum of four squares of integers; e.g.: 31 = 52 + 22 + 12 + 12. In 1770 another mathematician, Lagrange, discovered the unassailable proof for this “four-square theorem.” That every positive integer can be expressed as the sum of four squares of integers is a timeless objective truth—it was true when Lagrange discovered the proof, it’s true today, and it was true before conscious beings evolved.

Although we humans can know and “see” this particular objective truth, the four-square theorem doesn’t actually “exist” in the physical world. Additionally, it is only with objective mathematical truths (e.g., integers, pi, etc., etc., etc.) that we humans are able to begin to truly understand the reality of our physical world.

Once one see the reality of objective mathematical truth, and it’s necessity to do science, the leap to objective beauty, and perhaps even objective morality, is not so difficult; and b/f you know it you’ll find yourself quoting Einstein: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man....” Or Max Planck: “There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.” Or Roger Penrose: "I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance."

Carey N
April 15th, 2006, 05:12 PM
Hi Tom,

You and I agree on the biology of social interaction, and how morality is simply a tool in humans' repertoire (I think there's a solid argument that social instrincts evolved to reduce conflict and thereby increase the potency of selection at the group level - in our ancestral environment). Punishment is a kind of programmed apoptosis, but for people rather than cancer cells.

I disagree with you about moral responsibility - I think mass murderes and rapists are entirely responsible for their actions, based on the following interpretation:

Responsibility is not a matter of free will, but rather of establishing the consequences of cheating in a social system. Perhaps a given murderer did not have control over his behavior, but as far as the social group is concerned, he has broken one of the rules, and that's all that matters. The subsequent punishment (particularly if it is on publich display, which is often the case) serves as a warning to others, who may be on the brink of cheating, that the resulting punishment does not make cheating worthwhile. This is essentially the story of altruistic punishing, in which cooperative individuals incur a cost to themselves in order to hurt cheaters, which in the end increases the stability of the whole group by eliminating the benefit of selfishness. Responsibility is the link between behavior and its consequences, and that is maintained by a collective in order to instil a fear of cheating among its members.

I understand that this may be a semantic issue . . . what I call responsibility you may call something else, in which case our views on the subject aren't really different.

-Carey

Carey N
April 15th, 2006, 05:39 PM
I think the bottom line, Carey, is that these arguments ultimately boil down to whether you believe there indeed is such a thing as “objective truth,” whether objective truth exists (and perhaps also whether we humans can know it); or whether you believe there is only subjective “truth,” whether there are only subjective, mental and/or social constructs.
I agree with you entirely on the matter of universal, objective, mathematical truths. They can be proven unequivocally and they remain true whether humans are here to appreciate them or not.

But moral truths don't work that way . . . do you think that there will ever be a formal, undeniable proof that it's wrong to steal stuff from your neighbors? Of course not . . . the word "wrong" doesn't even make any sense without a huge amount of information about the social environment. Without people, there's no social environment. Without social environments, there's no such thing as morality.


Once one see the reality of objective mathematical truth, and it’s necessity to do science, the leap to objective beauty, and perhaps even objective morality, is not so difficult
Whoa, whoa . . . whoa. How on earth does the truth of objective morality follow from the objective truth of mathematics!? EVERYTHING about morality is context-dependent, the exact opposite of mathematical truths, which are valid no matter what the context.

There's an enormous difference between a mathematical proof for objective moral truths (never going to happen) and a genius mathematiciain remarking that he believes in the presence of a higher power.

Carey N
April 15th, 2006, 06:00 PM
I'm distressed by Carey's point of "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"; far too many intelligent people have already left this now tiny kitchen for that very reason. EP is not a subject that is widely known, much less widely supported, and the loss of even one mind is a terrible thing.
I haven't been around for a while and don't have a great feel for the forum's member turnover. It's not great to hear that people have been driven away, although based on my experience here, many tend to leave regardless of Fred's commentary, while the most thoughtful people stay. I'm not defending Fred's writing style, but this forum has never had a large membership, anyway.

I'm even more distressed by Carey egging you on to spew years more of your rudeness. Apparently he does not share my views on why you're here.
I didn't encourage Fred to insult anyone, but I would defend the sentiment that aggressive criticism is okay. Otherwise, debates tend to become bogged down and equivocal.

Carey N
April 15th, 2006, 06:15 PM
The part of behavior that I am most interested in is what happened in Bob's brain that caused him to consider several possible behaviors and then committ emotionally to one of them. I believe that the great mystery of human nature is what goes on in a central nervous system to cause us to choose a particular behavior from our repertoire - not how that behavior gets executed, however interesting that may be.
I'm not so sure there's as big a distinction between behavior choice and behavior execution, and I'm kinda surprised you feel that way, given your disbelief in any kind of free will . . .

As I understand things, your interest is in the earliest part of behavioral execution . . . before signals are sent to muscles, etc. One of the messages from the papers I sent you is that the processing that occurs for even the simplest of behavior, like an escape response, is very complicated. Decision making (ie should I expend energy to try and escape, or is this a false alarm) occurs in these simple systems, and we only just have a grasp of the network interactions that govern them.

I agree with you that understanding basal network interactions is too primitive a level of organization to examine when trying to understand complex social behavior, but I want to make sure that your verbal models don't depart too far from a grounding in the way networks are constructed and operate, because non-quantitative models are limited in scope and can often be bent easily to fit whatever observations are made. The big problem in the context of humans is that we don't really know that much about the networks underlying our complex behaviors. This is not to say that it's not even worth thinking about, but rather than the limitations of our current exploratory tools are considerable and must be kept in mind.

Margaret McGhee
April 15th, 2006, 07:06 PM
What a delight to really explore some of these ideas.

You said, I'm not so sure there's as big a distinction between behavior choice and behavior execution, and I'm kinda surprised you feel that way, given your disbelief in any kind of free will . . .

I am aghast. But, if your interest is biological rather than psychological then I understand. BTW - I see that whole free will thing as a distraction. I entered that debate because that's what was being discussed when I came here. Whatever caused Bob to punch Brad, I'm sure it involved neurons, synapses and neurotransmitters and perhaps hormones. I'm sure it was in his brain and it wasn't a ghost.

You said, As I understand things, your interest is in the earliest part of behavioral execution . . . before signals are sent to muscles, etc. One of the messages from the papers I sent you is that the processing that occurs for even the simplest of behavior, like an escape response, is very complicated. Decision making (ie should I expend energy to try and escape, or is this a false alarm) occurs in these simple systems, and we only just have a grasp of the network interactions that govern them.

I can see we have a fundamentally different view of things. I am firstly interested in vertebrates with a CNS, not crayfish, especially mammals and of course, humans. I am not interested in the earliest part of behavior execution. I am interested in behavior choice. In the sense that until that choice is made there can be no behavior execution. There is a point before which Bob does not know what he will do - or better, before which, his mind does not know what it will do. After that point he is in the process of executing a decision. I can't see any way of describing those as other than two distinctly different states.

I want to know what went in in Bob's mind to make him punch Brad and not walk away - to cause that state change - not what happened after the state change. Like I said, that is probably not knowable at the neuron and synapse level at least for the foreseeable future - and if you weren't interested I'd understand.

You said, I agree with you that understanding basal network interactions is too primitive a level of organization to examine when trying to understand complex social behavior, but I want to make sure that your verbal models don't depart too far from a grounding in the way networks are constructed and operate, because non-quantitative models are limited in scope and can often be bent easily to fit whatever observations are made.

Well yes, but that's pretty much the story of every model of the mind used in each of the many branches of psychology. None of those models are quantitatively provable, especially at the neural level. They can just be shown to work or not and be useful or not for making some predictions. That's the kind of model I have in mind. Some day neuroscience may catch up and prove or disprove the literal validity of those models - but meanwhile they can all be useful as windows that give particular views of human nature.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
April 15th, 2006, 07:12 PM
See, you don't need neurons and synapses to talk about this stuff. ;)

Margaret

Fred H.
April 15th, 2006, 08:19 PM
Carey: I agree with you entirely on the matter of universal, objective, mathematical truths. They can be proven unequivocally and they remain true whether humans are here to appreciate them or not. But moral truths don't work that way . . .
Forget about my “leap to objective beauty, and perhaps even objective morality.” Let’s just focus on “objective mathematical truth.”

You say you agree “entirely on the matter of universal, objective, mathematical truths.” Are you sure? Did you read carefully what I said? I said that objective mathematical truth is timeless and that it “exists independent of the human mind, independent of any evolved sentient being’s mind, and independent of the physical world that we currently find ourselves in.” IOW, the material universe is not all there is, ever was, or ever will be—there is also this other immaterial, timeless, objective world of objective mathematical truth, independent of our material universe, out there, somewhere, that “exists” in some way and that we humans are somehow able to consciously access, understand, and utilize in understanding our natural, material, physical world. Is that really what you’re agreeing to? B/c if you are then you’re conceding that there is indeed more than just the material, “natural” physical world.

OTH, if you don’t really agree, then where exactly do your “universal, objective, mathematical truths” “exist,” other than as subjective social/mental constructs of human emergent consciousness, and how could such “universal, objective, mathematical truths” “exist,” in any meaningful way, b/f human consciousness emerged, or b/f some other adequately complex consciousness existed?

Carey N
April 15th, 2006, 08:32 PM
I am aghast.
My message wasn't clear: I mean to say that it should be our goal to understand behavior choice at the most basic network level (because we know it must boil down to that, and it's going to be a truly extraordinary example of collective behavior), just as we understand a few examples of simple behavior choice (and execution) in model organisms at the network level.


Well yes, but that's pretty much the story of every model of the mind used in each of the many branches of psychology. None of those models are quantitatively provable, especially at the neural level. They can just be shown to work or not and be useful or not for making some predictions. That's the kind of model I have in mind. Some day neuroscience may catch up and prove or disprove the literal validity of those models - but meanwhile they can all be useful as windows that give particular views of human nature.
This really cuts to the chase - I suppose my overall point is that I find psychological models a bit disturbing because they treat the processing machinery, which is mechanistically responsible for decision-making, as a black box. Not that psychologists have a choice in the matter . . . as you said, we just don't have the tools required to understand the networks in our brains to the last detail. It's questionable that we ever will, considering that some neurons have up to 100,000 connections with others, which in turn have 100,0000 connections, etc. . . The combinatorial possibilities for information processing are enough to make you cry. To top it all off, it's becoming apparent that information processing is bi-directional (i.e. real neural networks can send messages both forwards and backwards). Even if we knew precisely how the networks were structured, we wouldn't even have the computing power to model them.

Anyway, black boxes aside, I'm interested to hear your take on the behavior choice problem. Be sure to explain what a mental image is, though :)

-Carey

PS - I'm being picky, but crayfish certainly do have a CNS . . . it's just not wrapped in a vertebral column, among other big differences.

Margaret McGhee
April 15th, 2006, 09:04 PM
OK - I'll work on that tonight to make it as concise as I can. Point taken on CNS's and crayfish.

Margaret

TomJrzk
April 15th, 2006, 09:45 PM
Perhaps a given murderer did not have control over his behavior, but as far as the social group is concerned, he has broken one of the rules, and that's all that matters. Yet another great post, Carey. Thanks! And your response to Fred's 'objective mathematical truth' was exactly what I was thinking.

Yes, I believe ours is a semantic issue brought on by Fred's oversimplification of my views (though the one time I actually had to praise him was for adding my caveat "but should be punished" in one of his mentions that I don't believe people are 'ultimately' responsible for their actions).

I do believe people must be held responsible for their actions for just those societal reasons that you stated. I would just hope that the determinism of their crimes would better inform our choices for punishment. I believe I mentioned earlier that everyone should have enough of a stake in society that they wouldn't want to give it up to rob $40 from a convenience store and that criminals ought to be separated from their temptations rather than being demeaned and further hardened. Just something to think about for the distant future, if we survive that long.

There is will, there are choices and we must have some means to discourage bad choices. But there is no free will, our wills are directly affected by our instincts and circumstances; there's nothing else.

Fred H.
April 15th, 2006, 10:44 PM
Carey: Responsibility is not a matter of free will, but rather of establishing the consequences of cheating in a social system. Perhaps a given murderer did not have control over his behavior, but as far as the social group is concerned, he has broken one of the rules, and that's all that matters. The subsequent punishment (particularly if it is on publich display, which is often the case) serves as a warning to others, who may be on the brink of cheating, that the resulting punishment does not make cheating worthwhile….
Damn Carey, that sounds like some type of behavioral conditioning—I suppose it works on animals and young children, but we’re talking sane, civilized, human adults here. Before you get sucked into going down that road, FYI and FWIW, Pinker (an “atheist” since age 13) notes that he doesn’t think free will is a myth, believes in moral responsibility, and has stated that, “In cases where we can tell with certainty that an identifiable kind of actor is undeterrable by criminal sanctions, in fact we don't punish him -- that's why we don't punish children, animals, machines, or the truly insane.”

IOW Carey, moral responsibility is indeed a matter of free will, of choice, and that’s really the only moral justification for “punishing” law breakers—it would be “wrong” to punish them simply to condition them (although the threat of punishment can certainly be a deterrent), and it would be “wrong” to punish them if, as you say, they “did not have control,” as in the case of children, animals, machines, or the truly insane.

Carey N
April 16th, 2006, 12:12 AM
there is also this other immaterial, timeless, objective world of objective mathematical truth, independent of our material universe, out there, somewhere, that “exists” in some way and that we humans are somehow able to consciously access, understand, and utilize in understanding our natural, material, physical world. Is that really what you’re agreeing to? B/c if you are then you’re conceding that there is indeed more than just the material, “natural” physical world.
I'll concede that mathematical truths imply the existence of some abstract world separate from the material world in which we live, but how do you make the leap from there to objective, universal moral truths, or to higher powers of any kind? Math describes relationships between quantities . . . . Those relationships are valid without reference to our material world, but they don't say anything about the more complex, context-dependent issue of primary concern in this thread, i.e. morality.

Carey N
April 16th, 2006, 01:22 AM
The idea was that punishment is not only meant for the perpetrator, but also for the rest of the population, hence the social context of responsibility.

However, I understand your message that punishment is also meant to change the future behavior of the perpetrator, and so in that sense it's not much use punishing someone who can't make the connection between his actions and the consequences.

Margaret McGhee
April 16th, 2006, 03:09 AM
I took a slow dinner at the local diner to re-read Chapter 7, Emotion and Feeling, of Damasio's Descarte's Error, in preparation for laying out my hypothesis. From some of your comments, Carey, it almost seems like you have not read that seminal book on neurology (1994). Not that I assume you agree with him, just that it's important to be aware of his generally well-accepted findings. I'll offer a few gems as an intro for my hypothesis.

For example, from the jacket: Far from interfering with rationality, his research shows us that the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decision-making almost impossible.

From Chapter 7: The evidence on biological regulation demonstrates that response selections of which organisms are not conscious and which are thus not deliberated take place continuously in old brain structures. Organisms whose brains only include those archaic structures and are devoid of evolutionarily modern ones - reptiles, for instance - operate such response selections without difficulty. One might conceptualize the response selections as an elementary form of decision-making, provided it is clear that it is not an aware self but a set of neural circuits that is doing the deciding.

Yet it is also well accepted that when social organisms are confronted by complex situations and are asked to decide in the face of uncertainty, they must engage systems in the neocortex, the evolutionarily modern sector of the brain. There is evidence for a relation between the expansion and subspecialization of the neocortex, and the complexity and unpredictability of environments with which such expansion permits individuals to cope. Relevant in this regard is John Allman's valuable finding that, independently of body size, the neo-cortex of fruit-eating monkeys is larger than that of leaf-eating monkeys. Fruit-eating monkeys must have a richer memory so that they can remember when and where to look for edible fruit lest they encounter fruitless trees or rotten fruit. Their larger neocortices support the greater factual memory they require.(1)

To dispense with any confusion about mental images - from page 96 of my paperback edition, If you look out the window at the autumn landscape, or listen to the music playing in the background, or run your fingers over a smooth metal surface, or read these words line after line down this page, you are percieveing and therfore forming images of varied sensory modalities. . . Perhaps you are now thinking of your Aunt Maggie or the Eiffel Tower or the voice of Placido Domingo, or of what I just said about images. Any of those thoughts is also constituted by images, regardless of whether they are made up mostly of shapes, colors, movements, tones, or spoken or unspoken words. . . . These various images - perceptual, recalled from the past, and recalled from plans of the future - are constructions of your organism's brain.

There's much more in this very information-rich book that I'd recommend for every library - despite the sometimes hard to read sentences.

It is also important to understand Damasio's useful separation of emotion and feeling. Emotion is a changed body state in response to some input. Feeling is our awareness of that emotion in the form of images like those above. i.e. feeling is thinking about the emotions we are experiencing which we might report as in, I feel hungry.

I'm enjoying the discussion of free-will which has become interesting again. High quality arguments from all participants.

Margaret

(1) Brain weight and life-span in primate species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 90:118-22

Fred H.
April 16th, 2006, 12:25 PM
Carey: I'll concede that mathematical truths imply the existence of some abstract world….
Come on Carey, I’ didn’t say “abstract”—I said it “exists”—I’d say that objective mathematical truth is perhaps more real and/or more fundamental than the material, “natural” world that we find ourselves in. Your “concession” that “mathematical truths imply the existence of some abstract world” is ultimately nothing more than saying it’s some sort of mental construct. And I’d also say that the world of mathematics is much more than something that merely “describes relationships between quantities.”

Anyway Carey, that’s ultimately what our differences boil down to: I’m convinced that objective mathematical truth exists, that it is somehow more real and/or more fundamental than the material, “natural” world that we find ourselves in; whereas you say that mathematical truths are “abstract”—essentially, whether you’re able to willingly acknowledge it or not, ultimately nothing more than mental and/or social constructs.

(BTW Carey, FYI and FWIW, I can’t find where I ever actually stated that Margaret is “immoral,” as she claims, but that she keeps repeating the charge suggest that perhaps there is some sort of shame/guilt self loathing thing going on, so you may want to keep that in mind in your exchanges with her—I think you may be having a positive influence on her, but tread carefully— the slightest misstep and you could be back in the doghouse with me and JB.)

Carey N
April 16th, 2006, 01:49 PM
I’m convinced that objective mathematical truth exists, that it is somehow more real and/or more fundamental than the material, “natural” world that we find ourselves in
I can grant that there are universal mathematical truths, but I'm not convinced that they justify any kind dof mysticism about another world beyond our own. Even if mathematical truths do in fact imply another, real world beyond the physical one with which we are familiar, that doesnt mean there are universal moral rules. The connection there seems highly tenuous.


(BTW Carey, FYI and FWIW, I can’t find where I ever actually stated that Margaret is “immoral,” as she claims, but that she keeps repeating the charge suggest that perhaps there is some sort of shame/guilt self loathing thing going on, so you may want to keep that in mind in your exchanges with her—I think you may be having a positive influence on her, but tread carefully— the slightest misstep and you could be back in the doghouse with me and JB.)
I think Margaret is under the mistaken impression that you and JB condone eugenics, when in fact you only condone honestly accepting the systematic differences both within and between sexes and ethnic sub-groups. Yes, it's politically incorrect to think that anyone has more or less innate ability than anyone else - but tough shit. Margaret does not seem to be familiar with the naturalistic fallacy (the unjustified deduction of "what ought to be" from "what is" - i.e. just because there are systematic differences between races or sexes does not mean that moral conclusions of any kind should be drawn from them).

What's this about potentially being in the doghouse with you and JB? When have I not been in your doghouse?

Fred H.
April 16th, 2006, 02:20 PM
Carey: I can grant that there are universal mathematical truths, but I'm not convinced that they justify any kind of mysticism about another world beyond our own.
I’d not necessarily call it “mysticism,” just an undeniable reality, that undoubtedly “exists,” that is obviously beyond the so-called “material,” “natural” reality, and mental constructs, of the materialist’s/atheist’s all there ever was, is, will be, universe. But it seems that we more or less agree on where we part ways. Very good. (Hell, I never made this much progress with my good buddy Todd.)

Carey: What's this about potentially being in the doghouse with you and JB? When have I not been in your doghouse?
LOL. It almost pains me to say this Carey, but I think you may be getting better, smarter, wiser. Maybe that edumacation is starting to pay off. Kick ass bro.

Margaret McGhee
April 16th, 2006, 03:28 PM
Carey, You said, . . just because there are systematic differences between races or sexes does not mean that moral conclusions of any kind should be drawn from them).

Bravo. I have repeatedly stated that I accept that both group and individual differences are influenced by genetics. I believe the question as to which differences are most affected by which genes or the complex ways that culture modifies or replaces those influences is still an interesting and as yet largely unanswered one.

As long as some black people and women are obviously capable of achieving very high competence in any field that any other gender or race can partake in then I believe it is socially irresponsible and immoral to deny to these groups the benefits of their society. Those include decent schools, tax provided scholarships, job and income opportunities, program funds (such Title IX), etc. on an equal basis - no matter what group differences may exist.

I also am in favor of intelligently using taxpayer funds to help elevate groups that have suffered discrimination in the past - as a means of attaining a more harmonious and morally benificent society that would have more productive and happier citizens and fewer citizens in jail or living on the streets.

Many of the statements in this forum have been oblique or direct attacks on those kinds of policies. They often take the form of in-your-face statements of the superiority of white males compared to women and blacks for various endeavors. Why are those statements even necessary in a scientific discussion?

When real scientists discuss those things they are usually aware of the ideological baggage they carry and avoid phrases and statements that encourage ideological feelings in others who may have different views - in respect for the science. But people are free to see that as my silly liberal ideology. I try to keep it out of scientific discussions.

Eugenics is perhaps too strong a word - I used it when I was angry. It just nicely encapsulates both racism and sexism so nicely. But that's all morals and politics. I'm interested in the science - which suffers when the winds of ideology rage - and they always pick up in intensity whenever someone says things like tough shit. There's a fine line between vigorous discussion on the merits and contempt - that sometimes seems elusive for you.

However, the study of the emotions that underlie these statements and how those emotions affect our behavior choices is a very interesting part of human nature. I am starting another thread based on my Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis to explore those issues if you are interested. (So you can carry on your free-will discussion here.)

Beware though, that any comments will be judged not just on their merits but according to how well, by their nature, they validate the theory. ;)

Margaret

Carey N
April 16th, 2006, 03:50 PM
They often take the form of in-your-face statements of the superiority of white males compared to women and blacks for various endeavors.
I have not read all of the recent forum activity, but I have a lot of trouble believing that such claims would come out of either JB or Fred, if those are the people to whom you're referring. Please point out the posts in which either of them have made such KKK statements.

Margaret McGhee
April 16th, 2006, 04:02 PM
Not interested in revisiting those. It's enough that I believe that to be true to make my point. Let's move on.

Margaret

TomJrzk
April 16th, 2006, 05:04 PM
I can’t find where I ever actually stated that Margaret is “immoral,” as she claims, but that she keeps repeating the charge suggest that perhaps there is some sort of shame/guilt self loathing thing going on, so you may want to keep that in mind in your exchanges with her—I think you may be having a positive influence on her, but tread carefully— the slightest misstep and you could be back in the doghouse with me and JB.Once again, I have to show you your earlier quote:
If indeed free will is an illusion, as you believe, then obviously so is morality, and moral blindness would be inevitable. (I’m guessing TomJ would agree.)which is stating 'that Margaret is “immoral,”', along with all atheists. And I explained how TomJ does not agree. Now, if you're saying that Margaret is not immoral and neither are atheists then I would take that as a huge step in the right direction for you.

FWIW I believe that Fred was talking about Carey being with JimB and Fred in Margaret's dog house.

Carey N
April 16th, 2006, 06:04 PM
FWIW I believe that Fred was talking about Carey being with JimB and Fred in Margaret's dog house.
Roger that.

Fred H.
April 16th, 2006, 06:06 PM
TomJ: [Fred said:] If indeed free will is an illusion, as you believe, then obviously so is morality, and moral blindness would be inevitable. (I’m guessing TomJ would agree.) . . . which [Tom then asserts] is stating 'that Margaret is “immoral.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong, Tom; and it amazes me that you’re unable to see the distinction here—what is being stated is that if indeed free will is an illusion, then “morality,” inevitably, is an illusion, ergo “immorality” would also be an illusion, ergo no one’s behavior would be ever be “moral,” or “immoral”—“morality” would essentially be an oxymoron in such a case.

E.g., if a wolf kills another wolf, or perhaps kills the offspring of another wolf, for whatever “reason,” we don’t say that its behavior is moral or immoral—it’s simply following its instincts, behaving in a such a way so as to survive and reproduce.

Margaret McGhee
April 16th, 2006, 06:40 PM
I don't know why this keeps coming up but to clairify - and thanks for defending me, Tom - in this encounter I did not accuse Fred at the time of saying that I was immoral. I responded with a post that asked Fred if he intended to suggest that I and all atheists were immoral - and if not, I suggested that he should moderate his position. Tom has pointed this out previously as well.

Instead, I believe Fred further tried to justify it. He certainly did not retract it.

This was after Fred had made repeated assertions regarding Tom's morality in respect to his relationship with his wife where Fred set up an assertion trap where Tom would have to agree to being a philandered if he did not accept Fred's premise about free-will - if I remember correctly.

I think the point that Fred is trying to establish is just that - that atheists must be immoral - and he creates logical traps to prove it. I think that's his mission.

At some time after that Fred essentially admitted that his purpose being here was to expose all atheists as being immoral (or something very close to that).

My memory is not perfect on these points so I invite anyone to correct the record if I didn't get it quite right. But, as far as Fred calling me immoral, I'm way over that. I only refer to it in the spirit of things that would be good to avoid since such statements and counter-statements tend to spiral out of control.

I think Fred's recent comments in this thread were well done. I don't agree with them but he stated them well and passionately. The discussion was getting downright interesting.

A discussion as to whether certain worldviews are inherently immoral - are inherently volatile and will always lead to acrimony that serves no purpose. We all know how Fred feels about us. Let's talk about free-will as a philosophical concept and not as a value-laden club that can be used to denigrate others.

Just a suggestion.

Margaret

TomJrzk
April 16th, 2006, 09:19 PM
what is being stated is that if indeed free will is an illusion, then “morality,” inevitably, is an illusion, ergo “immorality” would also be an illusion, ergo no one’s behavior would be ever be “moral,” or “immoral”—“morality” would essentially be an oxymoron in such a case.Your logic is flawed, but probably just from my perspective and not from yours.

I'll agree that free will is an illusion. We make deterministic choices based on the states of our minds and environments. But one of those states of mind is the concept of 'social instinct', which includes such things as doing what's best for the group and not being destructive and helping those in need, etc. Most people have an instinct to help their friends. A lot of people have an instinct to steal from those who are not their friends (and the IRS) as long as they don't get caught. So, social instincts are not free will but they result in the concept of morality. Right, right, right, Fred ;). And I understand how you can't understand this, so I'm not amazed.

Fred H.
April 17th, 2006, 09:53 AM
TomJ: So, social instincts are not free will but they result in the concept of morality.
Damn Tom, I’d bet that even (using your buddy Margaret’s characterization) a JB “fawning,” “undergrad psych student - self-important and largely ignorant of the real world,” can see the distinction here—why the hell can’t you? Perhaps this will help:

Social Instincts and Morality For Dummies—

While “social instincts" seem to include such pleasantries as sympathy, they also include such unpleasantness as rape, infanticide, and genocide.

“Morality,” OTH, deals with that which is regarded as right or wrong—it is often used to refer to a system of principles and judgments shared by cultural, religious, secular and philosophical communities who share concepts and beliefs, by which people determine whether given actions are right or wrong.

So think of it this way: Social instincts is to morality as genocide is to loving your neighbor, or rape is to love.

Margaret McGhee
April 17th, 2006, 11:58 AM
Fred, Interesting that you woud think of rape, infanticide, and genocide as social instincts. I haven't read any formal definition as I write this but I would say a social instinct would broadly fall under those behaviors that we enact because of our concern about what others (our society) think about us.

You can vividly see this instinct come alive in children at around 2 years old. I suspect that what mothers call the terrible-twos are caused by children struggling with this new force in their lives that limits what they can do. They go from being totally unaffected by what others think of their behavior - to being almost obsessively concerned in their teens.

I could imagine that members of a criminal gang could get into rape or assault or even murder motivated by wanting other gang members to see them as worthy but that's like a sick society inside the larger one that would make opposite social judgements. It's also interesting how it only seems to work when we see some common connection to others. Like, kids are not so concerned about what adults think of them (other than their family perhaps) but enact a lot of behaviors to be popular among their own.

I would place rape, infanticide, and genocide at the instinct end of my behavior motivation scale - probably a remnant of an old sexual power kind of instinct that may have served early males in some crude way to eliminate competing DNA. It's potentially a very strong and incontrollable instinct in highly emotional or threatening situations - like war - but usually well under the control of the motivations at the more human end of the emotion scale - intellect, belief in standards of right and wrong, and wanting to be seen as a good person by others.

Margaret

PS - I wonder what you guys in the free-will debate think about the concept of evil. How would you define it and what does it have to do with notions of free will?

TomJrzk
April 17th, 2006, 12:14 PM
While “social instincts" seem to include such pleasantries as sympathy, they also include such unpleasantness as rape, infanticide, and genocide.As I said, I understand that you didn't understand my pov.

The reason I knew that was the fact that everyone's philosophies must first explain ones own behavior. The only thing we 'know' for sure is our own reactions to philosophical questions, we try to extrapolate those reactions to others and usually fail miserably. So, I'm stuck in my head with a quandry: I'm atheist yet I do not rape only because I know of the pain that would inflict on the victim and that's something I just don't want to do. How is that possible in your philosophy? You say I'm immoral so I must be like an alley cat or wolf or something.

What ones philosophy says most is about what's happening in ones own head. You must feel that without that bible you like so much you would be completely uncontrolled doing hideous things like all atheists. Of course, that would be ridiculous; but that's the obvious outcome of your stated philosophy.

TomJrzk
April 17th, 2006, 12:54 PM
PS - I wonder what you guys in the free-will debate think about the concept of evil. How would you define it and what does it have to do with notions of free will?To me, evil is anti-social behavior with the connotation of being in the extreme. I don't think of it in terms of the perpetrator, since there can be many causes/rationales to the behavior. So I consider it a behavior like all others: a choice made after weighing the plusses and minuses. And all those plusses and minuses are directly dependent on the state of the brain and its perception of the environment.

So, the evil of 'genocide' can be revenge or justice or fear (it's either you or me) or a brain tumor or merely a pathologically over-estimation of ones own importance. At any rate, all of us are capable, given the ability and the right frame of mind/circumstances. So, we must limit everyone's ability since we can not even know everyone's frame of mind, much less control it.

Reminds me of the whole Catholic pedophile problem; if people would realize that religious people are actually people, they might not want to trust their teens to them. Some probably thought that god would protect their child in the church or if priests are so extremely religious you'd have to trust them.

Fred H.
April 17th, 2006, 01:52 PM
TomJ: I'm atheist yet I do not rape only because I know of the pain that would inflict on the victim and that's something I just don't want to do.
Great point—I see now that my own morality, wherein rape is just “wrong,” is way too simplistic, not to mention restrictive; whereas your not raping “only because [you] know of the pain that would inflict on the victim,” still leaves you with the option of raping whenever you would not “know” of the pain that would be inflicted—e.g., you could still rape those in a coma, those that are sufficiently retarded, whores, sluts, and those that just “want” it (even though they pretend not to), or just have it coming (not to mention girly-men in prison, and even sheep, horses, and cows that probably don’t mind one way or the other). And let’s face it, there’s nothing like a good ole fashion gangbang to enhance a girl’s self-esteem and getting her to feel like an integral part of the group.

TomJrzk
April 17th, 2006, 02:06 PM
Great pointThanks!!!!

Then maybe you can explain why I don't do those other things, either. Certainly I should not be able to control myself without whatever you have so much of.

Fred H.
April 17th, 2006, 09:06 PM
TomJ: Then maybe you can explain why I don't do those other things, either.
Hell Tom, anyone can more or less follow whatever the group “morality” happens to be. The real test is when nobody is watching and/or the shit hits the fan—and since it seems that you’re no Bonhoffer, I’m guessing that under the appropriate circumstance with the requisite group morality/characteristics, you’d undoubtedly follow those baser social instincts—what “choice” would you have?

TomJrzk
April 18th, 2006, 09:31 AM
what “choice” would you have?I would have a choice. And it would be to do a nice thing, rather than suggest someone be Judas. If you're the result of your philosophy then 'no thanks'.

Fred H.
April 18th, 2006, 10:53 AM
TomJ: I would have a choice.
Indeed Tom, you would have a choice, and you would indeed be morally responsible. Amen and amen.

It’s been a long difficult journey, but it seems we’ve reached our destination—try not to screw it up by denying what you’ve just acknowledged . . . and if you’re not really too keen on that Judas role, maybe Margaret would be interested.

TomJrzk
April 18th, 2006, 11:13 AM
Indeed Tom, you would have a choice, and you would indeed be morally responsible.I've often used 'choice' in the past. And noted that that choice is predetermined. My brain would use my instincts to be honorable and likeable.

Margaret McGhee
April 19th, 2006, 02:27 PM
JimB, I had 7 hours on the plane to carefully re-read the first five chapters. When I said before that I didn't think he made his case - I think what I meant was that I was looking for reasons why I should become a partisan for the gen-det pov. (Not that I would.) But, I still didn't see that.

I did see a listing of the absurdities and errors of the standard social model - and I mostly concur where the blank slate is invoked. While those might elicit a right on from the partisans they don't make the case for me.

I was looking for examples of the destruction to humanity and real social problems caused by that view. Where is the danger in approaching education from the premise that all children have an equal capacity to learn in the right environment, for example - or in assuming that African nations could adopt democracy under the right conditions - silly liberal things ike that.

To me it's the yin-yang thing. Society goes back on forth. Right now the gen-detters are ascending and the culture-detters are declining. You guys have tremendous political power right now - you're just pissed off because so many in academia are not being intimidated enough. Be patient. This reformation is far from over. ;)

I'll keep thinking about it but it would be good for you to clarify this pov for me and explain what I'm not seeing. Like, what's the war about - other than our side good, the other side bad? I think there is some truth to both views.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
April 20th, 2006, 01:53 PM
I started in to chapter 6 and suddenly I'm seeing the argument I was looking for in 1 thru 5. 1 -5 is where Pinker says he lays out the argument and the rest is where he says he discusses the implications. Oh well.

This makes more sense to me. I am now getting an idea of the intensity of the debate (including Gould's participation in it) at the academic level - which I was never really aware of. I am seeing the intensity of Gould's ideology (admittedly from his opponents' side). But, interesting stuff. I'll keep you posted.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
April 26th, 2006, 06:33 PM
JimB,

Home again in the Seattle cold and rain. What a change after snorkeling in 74 degree water (82 degree air) this time yesterday and watching Eagle Rays glide over the reef near the boat harbor entrance by Kailua-Kona.

I've read through Part I and Part II (Fear and Loathing) twice now - and I'm well into the second read of Part III. Yes, He has now made a case for his premise - and I agree with it almost completely. I had no idea that Gould was so ideological as I was never really exposed to the academic war that was happening over the last 20 years. I read books by Evolutionary Psychologists like Wright and I read books by Gould - but I never realized they were in opposition. I assumed that if they didn't appear to agree around the edges it was because I just didn't understand fully what they were saying. (Probably true in any case.)

It was inconceivable to me that two such learned experts would disagree on the fundamentals - or that Gould's position was so blatantly political (according to Pinker which I now provisionally accept). I think I was under the thrall of the conventional wisdom - as Pinker describes in this book - and discounted my understanding of The Moral Animal.

I have more chapters to read but I am seeing a much different view than before I started this book. I think I have always been on Pinker's side of the debate but didn't realize there were two sides to be on - until recently getting attacked for apparently being on Gould's side in this forum. :rolleyes:

He makes crystal clear the difference between understanding human nature through the effects of genes - and discrimination against races, genders, etc. - as in no way being justified, no matter what the genetic puzzle yields. I am still cautious about the implications.

Stuff deleted here as past history. Moving on . . .

Note that I have changed a belief - actually I am modifying a set of related beliefs. This is not something that one does easily - an idea I hope to develop more fully in my thread on my Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis.

Margaret

Fred H.
April 27th, 2006, 12:16 PM
MM: Note that I have changed a belief - actually I am modifying a set of related beliefs.
Congratulations. It’s called downward causation—seems you have some free will after all.

And keep in mind that “discrimination” not being “justified” is a moral issue—a moral choice contrary to our innate social instincts. For we see “discrimination” in nature all the time, except that it’s called “selection.” Natural selection includes sexual selection, ecological selection, stabilizing selection, disruptive selection, directional selection, etc. And then there is so-called “artificial selection,” wherein we humans get involved in the breeding of plants, animals, etc.

TomJrzk
April 27th, 2006, 02:14 PM
And keep in mind that “discrimination” not being “justified” is a moral issue—a moral choice contrary to our innate social instincts.“discrimination” not being “justified” is just a matter of the social instinct called 'fairness', so it's not "contrary to our innate social instincts"; it's one of them.

I'll grant you, though, that not all humans have the same measure of the same instincts. That's why we have psychopaths and laws; and why I don't tilt against the good religions: some people need the threat of an omnicient, omnipotent fictional friend to overcome their lack of an instinctive concern for others.

Margaret McGhee
May 5th, 2006, 01:21 PM
I previously stated that Chapter 10, The Fear of Determinism, was one of the best discussions of free will and determinism I have read. I still believe that. However, after reading it for the third time, I find that I disagree with one of Pinker's assertions in that chapter.

When discussing deterrence, on page 183, he states, The problem with broad-spectrum deterrents is that they catch innocent prople in their nets, people who could not have been deterred from committing an undesirable act to start with (such as the kin of the man who pulled the trigger, or a bystander in a lightning storm that kills the Godfather's son). Since punishment of these innocents could not possibly deter other people like them, the harm has no compensating benefit even in the long run and we consider it unjustified.

This statement was part of his discussion of the "The Deterrence Paradox" whereby the threat of punishment can deter behavior, but once the behavior is committed the punishment can no longer deter it. It can only be seen as sadism or an illogical desire to make the threat credible retroactively.

While I agree with his resolution of the paradox (on page 181), I would assert that punishing the kin of the man who pulled the trigger is often seen as effective discouragement of undesirable behavior for those who don't wish to see their family killed. Saddam Hussein seems to have understood this principle well - which is probably why he was able to hold power in Iraq for as long as he did.

Aside from deterrence, it would also seem that destroying those who share the genes of your enemy would be explainable in some evolutionary psycholgical sense - which is why I'm surprised he missed this.

I still firmly agree with the main point of this chapter whereby he dispels the two fallacies . .

a) . . that biological explanations corrode responsibilty in a way that environmental explanations do not.

b) . . that causal explanations (both biological and environmental) corrode responsibility in a way that a belief in an uncaused (free) will or soul does not.

Margaret