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Margaret McGhee
April 16th, 2006, 03:39 PM
This is not a proof of something. It is is a way of interpreting things that have been proven by others or that have not been disproven. The value is that it offers a conceptual model of human decision-making that is more predictable and testable than other psychological models. This model is also strongly based on the emerging neurological design of the human CNS in ways that can tested by observation using modern PET, MRI techniques, etc.

So, I am not saying this is how the brain works in decision-making. I am saying this is a possible explanation for how it works that does not violate what we do know about the brain and that is derived from some of the latest discoveries. And, I'm saying that if the brain did work this way then here are the implications that can be tested. In that spirit I will not try to provide any detailed support. I will provide that support later depending on what parts anyone wants to challenge. To make that easier I'll just provide a numbered list of the more important elements of the hypothesis in a sort of descending order by significance - in the spirit of providing several things that can be easily challenged.

But first, a note. Websters defines paradigm as a) a pattern, example, or model b) an overall concept accepted by most people in an intellectual community, as those in one of the natural sciences, because of its effectiveness in explaining a complex process, idea, or set of data

From the first philosophical and psychological models of the brain, cognition has been the core activity around which most of those models have been built. They are based on the larger belief that humans are the thinking animal and that that is the most salient aspect of our mind.

Human voluntary behavior is largely seen as the result of the thinking process. Almost all descriptive or functional models of explanation start with the idea that our intellect is primarily responsible for what goes on in our brain.

When someone fails at something or when they disagree with us we like to say that they didn't do a good job of thinking. When they succeed or when they agree with us we are certain that they are highly intelligent thinkers.

I call this the cognicentric paradigm. It permeates most human sciences. Most psychological models are built around cognition and the search for impediments to cognition as explanations for poor decision-making or mental disease. Emotion and feeling are typically seen as results of thinking and as the most important of those impedients. Many therapies focus on modifying or controlling emotions as a way to allow a patient to get back on the track to good thinking and good decision-making, unimpeded by emotions.

This hypothesis turns that paradigm around and for reasons that the hypothesis explains, that makes it an uncomfortable idea to consider. According to this hypothesis a paradigm that we have integrated into our belief system is a special kind of higher order belief. It has the effect of causing us to compare any new ideas that we are exposed to - to it. If the idea does not fit this higher order belief we will have an emotional reaction that affects how we think about the idea. Instead of wondering how the new idea might possibly be valid, we will be motivated instead to think of ways that it could not possibly be. This is one of the testable implications of the hypothesis.

I am explaining this because we have some control over the emotions of our higher order beliefs if we are aware of them - and to encourage you temporarily to set aside that emotionally driven skepticism, as far as you can. To keep these posts as short as possible I'll state the hypothesis here and then list the elements and implications in the following post.


The Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis

Behavior choice (decision-making) in humans is the result of a subconscious summation of somatic effects. These effects are automatically produced when mental images of contemplated behavior excite emotion-producing neural networks that attempt to predict the outcome of the behavior in terms of our happiness or survival. The neural networks that produce the somatic effects are located in brain areas variously responsible for our instincts, dispositions, memories of past events, beliefs, social instincts and intellectual conclusions.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
April 16th, 2006, 03:41 PM
1) Behavior choice (decision-making) in humans is the result of a subconscious summation of somatic effects. These effects are automatically produced when mental images of contemplated behavior excite emotion-producing neural networks that attempt to predict the outcome of the behavior in terms of our happiness or survival. The neural networks that produce the somatic effects are located in brain areas variously responsible for our instincts, dispositions, memories of past events, beliefs, social instincts and intellectual conclusions.

2) The brain regions listed above - our instincts, dispositions, memories of past events, beliefs, social reasoning and intellectual conclusions - are listed generally in descending order by evolutionary age. Of course, in most cases evolution proceeded concurrently in those areas with some developing ahead of the others, not sequentially. The earliest of those are the most archaic and are regions that we share with all mammals. The latest contributors are the newest and the most refined and are the ones that make us most human.

3) At the same time they are listed in descending order by the strength of the potential effect of those emotions on our behavior decisions. For example, the emotions from our instinct to run from danger may easily overpower the emotions generated from our intellectual conclusion to remain under a doorway during an earthquake. Or, in some persons, the emotions generated by their belief that God takes care of those who believe in him and pray may be stronger than the emotions generated by their intellectual appreciation of modern medicine.

4) Mammalian brain evolution has generally proceeded in a way to add ever more refined and effective sources for the emotions that influence our decisionmaking. It has done this by wrapping newer functions around older structures while using the older structures as far as possible. The prefrontal cortex where our complex social emotions originate and our neocortex where logical reasoning and the mental images associated with consciousness occurs are regions wrapped around the older limbic core.

5) I will now discuss intellect and belief, the sources for our decision-making emotions that have become the most important contributors to our decision-making process. This has happened as we have shaped our environment to protect us from extreme danger and provide for our needs for food shelter, etc. We now live in a very complex environemnt that requires a good working intellect to navigate and a very large belief system for reference.

6) Intellect, the newest evolutionary source for our decison-making emotions, only started becoming effective about 50,000 years ago. We are probably still evolving our intellect, not in computing power as much as in the accuracy of the strength and appropriateness of the emotions it produces. i.e. in our ability to give our intellectual conclusions appropriate weight in a decision, to know when we are likely to be right or wrong. It's power comes from the ability to selectively abstract percepts and conceptualize them as images separate from the emotions they are usually attached to in the real world. This provides a powerful objective window on the world that is denied to most other animals - who live in a completely subjective world. Mathematics is a perfect example where we abstract the quantitative value of mental images and manipulate those concepts divorced (ideally) from all emotion.

7) Conceptualization has an interesting side-effect - consciousness. As our ability increased to conceptualize images and create new images not tied to the real world, we eventually got to the point where we could conceptualize (imagine) our own intellectual activity as it happened. I'm not proposing a definition of consciousness here but it seems intimately tied to intellect - as if it's purpose were to observe our intellect. We are largely unconscious of our decision-making as it happens and the various emotional inputs that contribute to it. Our consciousness seems to spend all its time observing and perhaps supervising our intellect - watching what we think. Since this is all we are consciously aware of (most of the time) that, plus the strange self-interested dimension of consciousness, ego, creates the impression that our intellect is in charge of our decision-making. And that creates the cognicentric paradigm discussed earlier.

8) Beliefs are an inherently more powerful emotional input to our decision-making computer than our intellect. Many mammals have beliefs - like my cat believes that vacuum cleaners are cat-eating devices. I only have to take it out of the closet for her to seek refuge - despite that she has never once been attacked or injured by it. Beliefs are very useful for animals with memory capacity. It allows us to generalize many personal experiences that have been tested in our own environment and experiences related by those we trust - and combine those with our instincts and dispositions, to provide a short, easily-recalled truth. Beliefs express relationships that we believe to be true. Everything from which ice cream flavor we like best to beliefs such as the meme honesty is the best policy. My cat doesn't have much intellect which is why her instinct has a much greater effect on establishing her beliefs about vacuum cleaners than her reason. But her beliefs serve her in the same way ours do. They provide easily recalled nuggets of personal wisdom about the world and our place in it - each one attached to the appropriate emotions to make it work in our decision-making process.

9) While cats and chimps can have limited belief systems, humans have very large and very elaborate belief systems that are arranged in a hierarchy and have separate zones for different types of beliefs (compartmentalizing). All together our full set of beliefs form our cognitive identity. A few very important beliefs at the top of our hierarchy are most emotionally connected to our personal identity. They are beliefs about our gender and sexual orientation for example. Those are so crucial to the survival of our DNA that they have a strong instinctive (genetic) dimension. We generally choose the cognitive dimension of our beliefs from those offered by our culture. This allows humans to have many different societies that all operate according to the same motivations but have vastly different details. Perhaps right below gender and sex are our identity beliefs associated with our profession or role in life as a parent or student, our religious and philosophical beliefs, etc. Then below those are the thousands of beliefs that are less emotionally attached to our sense of identity - but still must be supportive and not contradictory of those beliefs above them in our belief system hierarchy.

10) That explains how the paradigm works. If you are exposed to an idea that says that emotion, not intellect governs human decision-making - that will violate the higher level belief (paradigm) that most of us have about the world and our place in it. We all like to believe that our behavior choices are the sole result of our powerful intellect - and that people who disagree with us just don't think right.

11) I propose that the emotions from our beliefs, not from our intellect, are the largest single source of the emotions that guide us through most important behavior decisions. What we like to think of as reasoning is usually just referencing the emotions from our strongest beliefs associated with that mental image. We may then use our intellect to figure out how to justify the use of those beliefs in that situation - but we seldom consider the logical validity of our beliefs. They form our identity after all, and we are instinctively protective of our identity.

12) In general, I believe this is how the human brain usually operates. We occasionally add a new belief - if it supports those beliefs above it - but we normally use our intellect to justify our existing beliefs and in a utilitarian way to execute behavior decisons once we've made them. For example, we will use our higher level identity beliefs to decide to become a scientist. We make that decision because by tenth grade or so we believe we are a scientist kind of person and we want others to see us in that role (identity). Then we'll use our intellect over the next several years to get us through grad school.

I could go on for many more pages describing some of the interesting implications of seeing human behavior choice through this paradigm window - but this is too long already and it's more than enough to establish why I think Bob punched Brad yesterday. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Margaret

PS - Talk about timing here's an opinion piece in the NYT today by Danial Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor, who hits on a lot of of the perplexing human behavior explained in this theory. It's called "You're Biased, I'm Not".

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/16/opinion/16gilbert.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&th&emc=th

Margaret McGhee
April 17th, 2006, 01:14 PM
This interesting AP article caught my attention. GOP Campaign to Focus on Flag Burning, Gay Marriage, Abortion (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0%2C2933%2C191885%2C00.html)

I've always suspected that Karl Rove had a good understanding of my theory. The modern success of his party is largely due to exploiting emotional wedge issues to increase the emotional heat in politics to the level that the baser, but potentially more powerful instincts of voters such as protection of imagined babies (abortion), fear of difference (anti-gay) and the strong beliefs those emotional issues foster - could overpower the more human (but inherently weaker) motivation of their intellectual conclusions when voters enact the behavior of voting for a candidate.

This strategy ultimately serves also to divide the country into two bitterly opposed camps so that Republican voters won't be bothered by worrying about what Democratic voters think of them (social instincts). They come to see Democrats not as fellow citizens but as enemies outside their zone of social influence - and justifiably punished for their heresy.

Meanwhile the Dem Pols wonder why their complex, but more carefully reasoned policy proposals get no traction. I guess I should be pleased that he is proving my theory correct.

Margaret

Carey N
April 18th, 2006, 02:38 AM
exploiting emotional wedge issues to increase the emotional heat in politics to the level that the baser, but potentially more powerful instincts of voters such as protection of imagined babies (abortion), fear of difference (anti-gay) and the strong beliefs those emotional issues foster - could overpower the more human (but inherently weaker) motivation of their intellectual conclusions when voters enact the behavior of voting for a candidate.
So essentially you're saying (in a guarded, politically correct way) that this politician caters to dumb brutes who can't overcome their baser instincts in favor of intellectual conclusions.

Margaret McGhee
April 18th, 2006, 04:08 AM
No. I'm saying we all can be more like dumb brutes when we become emotionally aroused - like fearful, angry, defensive, etc. We become more likely to follow our strong emotions (that come from instincts and beliefs) - than engage in calm deliberation. Enraged people (especially in groups) rape and get into genocide and lynching parties - and following leaders who enable and feed those strong emotions.

It's human nature. I saw a new taxonomic study that kicks chimps out of the pan and into the fire (homo) based on a more accurate reading of their genotype - and they exhibit the same kind of mob behavior.

ToddStark
April 18th, 2006, 03:22 PM
Margaret,

Interesting posts. I agree with a lot of this picture, and I'm not sure I understand the pieces that I think I disagree with. I'm thinking that you and I may have a very similar view, though we seem to express it in different ways.

First, from various lines of evidence in experimental psychology, I consider it very likely that the "everyday automaticity" hypothesis is right. (see Kirsch) The vast majority of our behavior is automatized rather than consciously willed. What little can be referred back to our conscious capacity for self-direction is probably mostly inhibiting our automatic behavior so we can change direction.

Combined with the findings on change blindness and inattention blindness in perceptual psychology, I strongly suspect that this tells us that conscious attention is really a mechanism for noticing things that require us to inhibit our automatic behavior and shift gears. Rather than a mechanism for driving our goal-directed behavior. The goals and motivations are already there, I think our "ego" takes illegitimate perceived ownership of them as a useful illusion. (see Wegner)

As a result, I think it's a serious error to propogate the longstanding tradition that intellect and emotion are two different sorts of thing that are somehow in competition with each other. That's how we perceive it, because we are compelled by the way our mind works to take ownership of "intellect," but I don't think it works that way in the brain. I don't think there is such a thing as pure intellect in the sense of having a computer side and a beast side of our neurology. There are probably domain-specific mechanisms that trigger both subjectively experienced emotions and reasoning, and then there are whatever properties allow us to combine or bridge those mechanisms to simulate or produce domain-general effects.

I do think we can isolate the brain circuits that help us self-regulate, and a lot of human uniqueness is probably built on top of those mechanisms. Human beings have this odd ability to inhibit ourselves in purposeful ways, which used poorly leads to analysis paralysis and used skillfully can lead to wise reflection. But I don't think that is really a distinct faculty for intellect separate from emotion.

It seems to me that the data from neuroscience are converging quite strongly on the conclusion that the same unconscious circuits that serve what we feel as emotional responses also serve a central role in reasoning. That is, reasoning is probably never divorced from the underlying mechanisms of emotion, it is driven by them.

I think the place where we experience something as strong emotion is really an extreme of the normal process, where a particular motivation circuit becomes very dominant and we lose our somewhat more ephemeral capacity to self-regulate and self-inhibit.

One important implication, if I'm right, is that I suspect we can reason from "fear" or "anger" even though we are completely calm physiologically. The arousal we associate with emotion is just an extreme motivational state. The "fear" machinery (as well as others) probably helps drive reasoning even when there is no observable arousal or any experience of emotion.

I think this can be tested by sufficiently high resolution high speed imaging during reasoning experiments. My suspicion is that a lot of what experimenters have been calling "subliminal" or "marginal" priming effects will turn out to simply be a matter of isolating the "emotional" machinery underlying reasoning.

Here's a review of a recent book on emotion and reasoning (http://mentalhelp.net/books/books.php?type=de&id=2486) that addresses some of these issues.

Related online reading:

Kirsch refs:
Kirsch and Lynn on automaticity (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=9265803&dopt=Abstract)
on automaticity in clinical psychology (http://m0134.fmg.uva.nl/edu/Consc_NonConsc_processes/Kirsch.doc)

Wegner refs:
Wegner papers (http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/conscwil.htm)
MIT Review of Wegner (http://web.mit.edu/holton/www/pubs/Wegner.pdf)
Harvard Gazette Review of Wegner (http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2000/10.26/03-freewill.html)
Nancey Murphy review of Wegner (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1175/is_3_35/ai_87022806/print)

Margaret McGhee
April 19th, 2006, 02:07 PM
Hi Todd, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. That's just what I was hoping for. I am in Hawaii this morning (arrived last evening) to visit my son and his wife for a few days. I will be considering your comments but am far from my reference library.

We may have some common pov's because I started a company a few years ago (based on a novel software concept) that produced computer sysytems for real time control of industrial processes. Tom mentioned that you are involved in some sort of machine intelligence?

Expect a more complete reply soon. We're off to do the tourist thing on Muana Kea.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
April 27th, 2006, 11:12 PM
Todd, Getting further into The Blank Slate while in Hawaii has been good. I think I can stand only so much paradise and the break each day was welcome. My Somatic Behavior Choice Hypothesis (SBCH) seems to be affirmed by some of the things I read in The Blank Slate as well as those links you provided. I also see where I need to explain some things in more detail to show where I am going with this.

Note that I use Damasio's very useful separation of emotion and feeling throughout my discussion. Emotions are responses (changes in body state) to our environment or when we mentally notice or consider some things in our minds - that we do not control. Feelings are our mental images of our emotions when we are aware of them. Some times feelings can produce additional emotions.

According to my hypothesis emotions are what provide the inputs to our decision-making mechanism. Environmental changes as well as perceptions and conceptions that we experience in our minds produce emotions that vary with the context of the consideration. Far from being a distraction to effective (survival enhancing) decision-making, these provide the actual values that are weighed in all our decisions.

Without appropriate emotions, like with Phinneas Gage who lost his prefrontal cortex, or with children who have sparse memories and belief systems, or with low-functioning adults who can not reason effectively, or with religious extremists who trust their childrens' health to their belief in God rather than modern medicine, etc. - effective and objective decision-making suffers when appropriate emotions are not available.

To clarify,

a) The SBCH describes the mechanism whereby human behavior choices are made. This works subconsciously by way of emotional forces that are summed at the moment a decision is made. These have a dynamic component. Being drunk can inhibit social emotions, for example. But individually we tend to produce consistent emotions under similar circumstances as part of our personality. The emotions are based on our emotional prediction of the outcome of a decision as it will affect our happiness (or survival).

b) I have identified several sources for these emotional forces that I believe lie in separate brain structures. The evolutionary purpose for those structures is to provide emotions when certain mental images are produced in them - and thereby allow us to make the millions of behavior choice decisions that we must in order to survive / reproduce. These sources include areas for instincts, dispositions, memories of past events, beliefs, social instincts and intellectual conclusions. This list is my best guess at this time but it could need editing.

c) Instincts and dispositions both provide emotions from inherited content and provide the human nature that EPists like to focus on. The fear of snakes or pleasure at the taste of sweetness, for example are instincts that provide strong and reliably predictable emotional forces.

d) Dispositions are like instincts but provide weaker forces that are spread out over time. The effect can accumulate to affect personality and the development of belief systems in certain directions. Boys' dispositions for rough and tumble play and competition can result in memories and beliefs that support the development of athlete personalities, for example. Or, girls' dispositions for nurturing and aversion to physical violence can produce memories and beliefs that support the development of care-giver personalities. Instincts and dispositions therefore, can affect . . .

e) . . memories, belief systems and intellectual conclusions that are produced in inherited brain structure that acquires its content from experience and culture. These sources are essentially a blank slate when we are born. So I differ from Pinker here in that I allow for a form of blank slate in determination of behavior. But the content of these areas were often influenced previously by instincts and dispositions and therefore can appear as genetic influences in studies where certain behaviors or abilities are apportioned between genes and culture.

f) When a behavior decision is made, emotional forces from all these sources come to bear on the choice. When the emotional need for a response is high - as in a dangerous situation - instincts tend to provide stronger emotions. Children who grow up in chronically dangerous environments are more likely to develop personalities that are congruent with their inherited dispositions. Boys are likely to form personalities around violent behavior, for example.

g) Our society has reduced a lot of the danger that our recent ancestors had to deal with in their lives. They relied more on their instincts and dispositions to form their personalities and their culture. We have the luxury to rely much more on our hopefully more educated beliefs and intellect which can potentially produce better decisions under those conditions. This accounts for our enlightened, more altrusitic and compassionate modern societies, for example. This seems to correlate also with the characteristics of less enlightened, less wealthy, societies in the world (that are more dangerous). However, when danger appears, any individual or society can temporarily revert to more instinct dominated behavior. I believe the conservative shift in American politics after 9/11 is a good example of this.

h) I believe this bias toward instinct and disposition on the one hand or toward intellect and educated beliefs on the other - as determining influences in behavior choices accounts for the major differences between societies and in individuals. I think the EP focus on IQ is simplistic. Persons whose personalities develop in a less-dangerous environment will tend to develop more intellectually weighted emotions for decision-making. They will also develop more effective intellectual processing skills through practice and motivation and will score higher on IQ tests - although I agree that structure for different types of cognition is largely inherited. Yet, I suspect that structure, perhaps the wiring, can also be modified somewhat by experience.

To illustrate this decision-making process, imagine the following scenario in the next post (Part II).

http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?postid=3402#poststop

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
April 27th, 2006, 11:13 PM
To illustrate this overall decision-making process, imagine the following scenario. (I recommend you read Part I first.)

Part I (http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?postid=3401#poststop)

A young man who lives in a town with a ski resort pulls into the parking lot of his local bar around midnight. He parks next to a car with some shiny new skis on the roof rack. Getting out he notices that the car is not local and that the skis are a particular new model that he has wanted to buy but could not afford.

The thought occurs to him that it would be easy enough to remove the skis from the unlocked rack in a few seconds. But immediately, he thinks of the embarrassment of getting caught, the possible criminal punishment, the loss of his reputation among his friends. He recalls that his mother taught him that stealing is wrong - and that cinches it for him - he dismisses the idea and starts to walk into the bar to meet his friends.

But, after a few steps he thinks again about how cool it would be to own those skis and how much he has wished to own a pair. He thinks of the warm admiration from his friends when he shows up with those skis in the lift line on Saturday.

He stops and looks back at the skis in the rack. It's dark, no-one is nearby and the street is empty of traffic. He knows that this is the time to decide one way or the other and that once the decision is made - he'll have to live with the decision from that moment on. What do you think he did?

It is my hypothesis that at that moment, several emotional forces came to bear in his decision-making mechanism (probably in his hypothalamus). They originated from his instinct to want to possess something that he admired, his disposition to be honest or not, his disposition to engage in risky behavior, his memories of past experiences when he may have been caught stealing - or may have resisted the urge and been rewarded, his identity belief that owning hot skis will make him an admired person among his peers, his identity and moral belief that stealing is wrong and his Machiavellian intellectual prediction of getting caught or not. Those forces all get weighed in the emotional summing mechanism that produces his final decision. And the relative strength of those forces is very dependent on his emotional identity - the emotional biases that he has previosuly attached to those considerations that make him different from everyone else in the world.

It is my hypothesis that this is how all our decisons are made. Most times we are not even aware that we are making a decision. We just feel a force in us that causes us to do something - like to take the next right turn to get to K-Mart or to scratch our dog behind his ears - and we do it. And at other times we reflect on some of the pros and cons deliberatively - yet still sum the others subconsciously.

But, in this way, all our behavior decisions are determined by this summing of emotional forces.

There is no ghost in the machine - but an imagined ghost in our machine can affect our decisions by way of the emotions produced by our beliefs. There is no blank slate but many of our decision-emotions come from brain areas that were really blank when we were born - and were written into by our experiences and culture. There is no noble savage in us either but we may feel strong emotions from our more primitive instincts and dispositions.

Our beliefs (not our intellectual conclusions) are possibly the most important input to our decision-making mechanism when we are not faced with immediate danger. More on that later.

Margaret

Fred H.
April 28th, 2006, 11:38 AM
An illustration of free will would be the moral responsibility that sane adults utilize when nobody is looking and/or things turn to shit. For example, how Bonhoffer behaved, to his own detriment and contrary to the instincts/morality of the dominant social group in Germany, the Nazis, and most Germans, at the time; although since Bonhoffer didn’t survive/reproduce, I suppose one could question his fitness.

But there’re simpler experiments to help you decide whether you yourself have at least some “free will.” Consider a most fundamental drive—thirst. Do something that makes you very thirsty, but don’t drink anything. Rather, with nobody looking, and with no potential physiological/emotional benefits from your abstinence, place your favorite drink in front of you and consciously decide that you will not drink.

Until you reach the breaking point where your thirst will ultimately compel you to drink, you should be able to exercise your free will, your self-restraint, to consciously decide, at least for short (perhaps three second?) intervals and as long as you remain focused, to not drink.

You see Margaret, free will/self restraint is really that obvious and simple. Or you can choose to not do the above experiment. And/or you can choose to believe that free will, self-restraint, moral responsibility are illusions, nothing more than a subconscious emotional summing mechanism crapshoot, and that LeDoux’s cognitive downward causation is an illusion . . . in which case the kid might as well steal the damn skis.

Margaret McGhee
April 28th, 2006, 11:59 AM
Congratulations Fred. It's taken you several weeks but you have finally offered a plausible example of where a (sane) person does not choose to do that which will optimize his emotional outcome - my previous free-will challenge.

However, I would suggest that in this example, a strong emotion has been induced in this person - the goal to test his free-will by refusing to quench his thirst.

As long as that emotion is present (and stronger than the opposing emotion produced by his thirst) he will be able to resist drink and optimize his emotional outcome by not drinking. As soon as that goal becomes emotionally devalued in his mind (or the instinctive emotions from his thirst finally become stronger) he will drink - which supports my hypothesis.

You admitted that Until you reach the breaking point where your thirst will ultimately compel you to drink, you should be able to exercise your free will, your self-restraint, to consciously decide, at least for short (perhaps three second?) intervals and as long as you remain focused, to not drink.

You have agreed that at all times he will be making that choice that optimizes his emotional outcome. Call it free-will if you like but it's still just another emotional source to be summed. When it diminishes or other emotions become stronger - the decision changes accordingly - as you describe.

Are you willing to die of thirst to prove me wrong?

If you are, don't bother, I'd just suggest at your memorial service that you exhibited a mental illness that violated the scope of the challenge. Or, that your desire to accomplish your goal (prove me wrong in this case) was greater than your desire to live. That's what happens with suicide bombers, for example - and that still proves my point

Margaret

Fred H.
April 28th, 2006, 02:34 PM
MM: However, I would suggest that in this example, a strong emotion has been induced in this person - the goal to test his free-will by refusing to quench his thirst.

As long as that emotion is present (and stronger than the opposing emotion produced by his thirst) he will be able to resist drink and optimize his emotional outcome by not drinking.
I suppose the will to power could be seen as emotionally driven, but that’s not what this is about—I stipulated that you abstain with nobody looking, and with no potential physiological/emotional benefits from your abstinence. IOW, your decision to abstain will only cause you pain and no gain, no benefit. It’s only to prove to yourself (and not to anyone else) that you at least have some amount of (purely conscious cognitive) choice, some amount of self-restraint, at least for a while, until you reach the breaking point, and instincts trump cognition/freewill/reason. (And of course there have been examples where humans will abstain from drink/food to the point of death for some moral cause.)

Perhaps we humans don’t necessarily have a tremendous amount of freewill, but we certainly have some, and that’s why we’re expected to exercise self-restraint—it’s what separates us morally responsible creatures from the other animals that don’t/can’t believe in freewill, having only their social instincts to guide them.

Margaret McGhee
April 28th, 2006, 04:48 PM
But Fred, you keep proving my premise. You say, I stipulated that you abstain with nobody looking, and with no potential physiological/emotional benefits from your abstinence. IOW, your decision to abstain will only cause you pain and no gain, no benefit.

But in the next sentence you say, It’s only to prove to yourself (and not to anyone else) that you at least have some amount of (purely conscious cognitive) choice, some amount of self-restraint, at least for a while, until you reach the breaking point, and instincts trump cognition/freewill/reason.

That is the benefit - proving something to yourself. That's the opposing emotion in the decision that you denied existed in the previous sentence. If that did not provide a sufficient opposing emotional payoff then you would not do it.

However, in all your arguments on this topic, you seem to be proposing a ghost in the machine that provides us with this free-will thing. I have laid out a detailed plausible explanation for how I think human decisions are made using existing mechanisms in the CNS - and without the benefit of any ghost in the machine.

Why not take this opportunity to describe just where your ghost lives and how it affects our decisions in ways different from optimizing our emotional payoff. Then we can compare the objective reality of the two - something that you have claimed lies on your side of the argument.

Margaret

Carey N
April 28th, 2006, 05:09 PM
Margaret,

Is it not the case that you can justify any behavior at all with your emotional optimization idea? In Fred's thirst example, you mention that the person's desire to prove something to himself motivates his resistance to temptation. You could explain any behavior that way, post-hoc.

What predictions does your hypothesis make that distinguishes it from others? How would you test them?

-Carey

Margaret McGhee
April 28th, 2006, 07:33 PM
Carey, These are good questions.You ask, Is it not the case that you can justify any behavior at all with your emotional optimization idea? In Fred's thirst example, you mention that the person's desire to prove something to himself motivates his resistance to temptation. You could explain any behavior that way, post-hoc.

In this case I did not have to propose that motivation. Fred provided it. One way to illustrate this concept is to ask if in that example the person had no desire to prove anything to himself, would he deny himself water anyway. It would seem nonsensical to propose that he would do so - unless some alternate motivation was proposed. The pain of the denial of water obviously needs justification or anyone would call the example not realistic. The fact that no-one could imagine doing so to themselves without an adequate payoff, a sense of some net benefit to their well-being, seems to establish my hypothesis in a general way.

To be specific, I am proposing that for someone to deny themselves water, they must sense an emotional payoff in the future greater than the emotional pain they would experience getting to that payoff - including the discount on future value that is a well established part of human nature. Simply put, they are making a choice based on a somatic prediction of some profit to the present value of their well-being.

In fact, Adam Smith I think, has already established my hypothesis. He uses dollars, I use units of emotional pleasure or pain, which in economic decisions are pretty much the same thing - allowing for differences in each person's conversion rate. Additionally, the fact that persons often make economic decisions where monetary loss is very likely - like purchasing lottery tickets - proves that other motives are at work, emotional ones to be sure - and that reason in human decision-making is not all it's cracked up to be.

This is getting a little philosophical. Too bad Alexandra, our drive-by philospher, isn't here to shed some additional light on this. I think a real research psychologist could devise scientific tests for this hypothesis. I am trying to imagine how that might work but I'm not a psychologist. I was kind of hoping someone here could offer some suggestions. Actually, many psychological tests based on game theory can be interpreted in interesting ways through this window. I'll look some up for you.

Aside from the circumstantial evidence of the effects on decision-making of damaged brain regions as described by Damasio and others I think my best argument is an evolutionary argument - which I'm writing up now.

Margaret

Fred H.
April 28th, 2006, 10:02 PM
MM: In this case I did not have to propose that motivation [justifying any behavior with your emotional optimization idea]. Fred provided it.
Nonsense. For the third time, I stipulated that you abstain from drinking with nobody looking, and with no potential physiological/emotional benefits from your abstinence—what is it that you don’t understand about “no potential physiological/emotional benefits?”

Now if you have a horse in the race and perform this exercise desiring or expecting some sort of emotional payoff, like “proving” or “not proving” to yourself that you have self-control or free will, then that’s a horse of a different color. But again, that’s not what this is.

So again, you’re alone and very thirsty and your motivational and emotional systems are telling you to drink. There are no physiological/emotional benefits from abstaining—nobody is watching and forget about any “desire to prove” anything, to yourself or anybody—you’re simply attempting to determine, one way or the other, whether or not you might have at least some sort of conscious cognitive free will . . . at least b/f reaching the inevitable breaking point when indeed your thirst will trump any conscious cognitive will. Anyway, you’ll almost certainly give in to your thirst long b/f you reach that breaking point—but you’ll nevertheless see that you do have at least some conscious cognitive freewill.

I’ve read Damasio and LeDoux extensively, and they’ve convinced me that emotion plays a huge role in our conscious thought and behavior—far more than most people begin to comprehend—but I doubt that they’d ever argue that sane adults lack any sort of free will/moral responsibility.

Margaret McGhee
April 28th, 2006, 11:08 PM
Fred, In the first example you said, "It’s only to prove to yourself (and not to anyone else) that you at least have some amount of (purely conscious cognitive) choice, some amount of self-restraint, . . .".

In this one you said, "Now if you have a horse in the race and perform this exercise desiring or expecting some sort of emotional payoff, like “proving” or “not proving” to yourself that you have self-control or free will, then that’s a horse of a different color. But again, that’s not what this is."

I see a contradiction. You are now denying the emotional payoff that you admitted to in the first instance.

Now you are saying that you just want to see if you can do it. That is just another way of saying that you want to see if you have the will-power to overcome your desire. For exactly as much as you'd like to know that you did have that will power - then that is the amount of the emotional payoff at stake.

I will predict that your ability to overcome the desire will be proportional to how much you value the idea that you do have that will power. i.e. if you are not really concerned then you won't last as long.

Humans do many things like that every day that illustrates this concept.

We resist the urge to steal, to eat too much when we are overweight, to drink alcohol or take drugs. Many persons don't have the will power to overcome those desires and that can be a big problem for them and for society.

The reason is that the desire for the drugs or alcohol or food is so strong, the immediate emotional payoff is so large, and the immediate emotional pain from resisting is so large - that almost no amount of percieved emotional benefit in the future, that must be heavily discounted for its present value anyway, will be sufficient to cause a good decision.

I think the drug example is a perfect one. Almost everyone understands intellectually that meth is a dangerous drug that can destroy your life and would not touch it with a ten foot pole.

Almost all meth addicts also understand that meth is destroying their lives. Yet, they continue to consume it. Why? Because the positive emotional payoff for consumption is so much stronger than the possible emotional payoff from abstaining - even one that comes from an intellectual consclusion that they have no doubt is valid.

What else aside from strong emotional forces could possibly be at work here?

Margaret

Fred H.
April 29th, 2006, 11:17 AM
MM: We resist the urge to steal, to eat too much when we are overweight….
If you have a weight problem b/c you love food and eat too much, then I’m inclined to agree that to sustain a diet for any length of time will require more than just a conscious cognitive decision that you are going to eat less—it will almost certainly require other emotions/motivations to counter your love of food. But, for the fourth time, that’s not what this is.

Say you love food and don’t really care if you’re fat as a house, and you’re convinced that humans lack free will and moral responsibility; but then some skinny fellow comes along and insists that you do have at least some free will. Here’s a simple test to see if there’s any validity to what the thin bastard is telling you: Whenever you’re hungry for your favorite pie, but not too terribly hungry, put a piece of it in front of you and then see if you can consciously decide to not eat it, and see if you can refrain from eating for say a second or two—if you can, then you’ll see that you have at least some conscious cognitive free will. It’s that simple and obvious.

Margaret McGhee
April 29th, 2006, 12:15 PM
Fred, I don't see any different mechanism in your description from the one I proposed. You used the phrase, seeing if you have any conscious cognitive free will, to decribe the source of the motivation. I see that as simply the source of the emotions generated by your intellect, a perfectly valid source of emotions to counteract one's desire to eat, and well within my definition.

In real life though, I doubt that the emotions generated by one's intellect would be very effective in overcoming such strong habitual desires, at least for more than a few minutes. Instead, I imagine that the emotions of disgust and self-loathing that are part of the negative image that others may have of you would be more effective. Even then, for most over-eaters that's not enough. That's because changing one's emotional relationship to food in life is a high level identity belief change - and those only happen under extraordinary circumstances - a highly emotional life-changing event like a heart attack, for example.

Having read many of your posts here, I doubt that you would agree with anything that I propose that does not affirm your notion of free-will. I think we've both stated our positions on this and we should just agree to disagree.

Besides, I started this thread with, This is not a proof of something. It is is a way of interpreting things that have been proven by others or that have not been disproven.

In that spirit I'd like to stop trying to convince anyone that this is the right way to understand the mechanism of human behavior decision-making. Instead, I'd like to move on to the really interesting implications of provisionally seeing human behavior choice through this window. That's a way of saying, if this hypothesis were true, then these are the predictions one could make about human nature. Testing those predictions is then another way to test the hypothesis.

One implication that appears to me is the relative weakness of the emotions produced by intellect in this process. The other is the great strength of the emotions produced by our higher level beliefs about the world and our place in it (identity beliefs). I suspect that together, these two emotion sources, both products of a uniquely human evolutionary capacity, account for most of the strange, perplexing, destructive and wonderfully creative behavior choices in humanity - and are largely responsible for what we call human nature.

Wow, that reads pretty good. Maybe this is worth writing about. :rolleyes:

Margaret

Fred H.
April 29th, 2006, 02:07 PM
MM: I see that as simply the source of the emotions generated by your intellect, a perfectly valid source of emotions to counteract one's desire to eat, and well within my definition.
As I think Carey has intimated, your hypothesis seems to be rather circular.

“Emotions” aren’t “generated by your intellect,” although we may be able, with our cognitive consciousness, to trigger some emotions; and through the “hard work” of LeDoux’s downward causation we may be able to somewhat manipulate and/or modify our emotions/motivations. E.g., utilizing cognitive and behavior therapy, one may be able to at least somewhat overcome certain fears. And using science and our intellect, we humans consciously/cognitively can begin to understand the biology/biochemistry of emotion and can even develop drugs to manipulate our emotions/motivations—and then we can consciously decide whether to utilize such drugs to modify hunger, fear, sadness, mania, whatever.

And consider that we humans are the only evolved creatures that can do such things. Of course humans may consciously decide to use some sort of behavior therapy and/or drugs to modify the emotions/motivations of other creatures, but nonhuman creatures don’t ever consciously consider or decide to impose such things upon themselves; or even have much, if any, sense of self to begin with.

Anywho, for the last time, while perhaps we humans don’t necessarily have a tremendous amount of freewill, we certainly have some, and that’s what separates us morally responsible creatures from the other creatures that don’t/can’t believe in freewill or moral responsibility, and that have only their instincts to guide them.

Margaret McGhee
April 29th, 2006, 03:36 PM
Fred, you said, As I think Carey has intimated, your hypothesis seems to be rather circular.
I agree. It is somewhat a tautology. From Websters: Tautology: Logic necessarily true by virtue of the meaning of its component terms alone, without reference to external fact, and with its denial resulting in self-contradiction; tautologous, an analytic proposition: opposed to SYNTHETIC

a) I am saying essentially we do that which we most want to do, emotionally.

b) Others may say we do that which we most logically believe is the best choice.

c) And some others, moralists like you, say we usually do b) but we can also over-ride a) or b) and do that which our free-will compells us to do.

I think all behavior choice explanations can be reduced to: We do that which we do - which is the ultimate circularity.

I suspect that the difficulty of sorting these out lies in our subjectivity. It is extermely hard to be objective about how our own minds function - since we must use that functioning to provide our various explanations. All this while our egos are telling each of us that only our own mind (and those who agree with it) is capable of discerning the one true answer.

For that reason I am not attempting to prove anything here. I'm just offering an interesting new window to look through, that may - or may not - inform a more objective answer to the question sometime in the future.

I'm not saying I am right and you are wrong. I'm just saying, "Here's another way to look at it" - and hoping for some discussion.

I must disagree with your assertion that Emotions aren’t generated by your intellect, . . What I tried to explain was that emotions are generated by our intellectual conclusions - as a result of how we sense that they will affect our survival - in the context of a behavior choice decision. Just as they are generated by our instincts, beliefs etc. in the same manner and used for the same purpose.

Imagine that you have just gone online to a medical reference website where you have entered some troubling symptoms - and the website says there's a good chance that you have cancer. Certainly, your intellectual conclusion from consulting this website will have a very strong emotional effect on you - and on any decisions you make in the near future.

In the context of a decision that affects our well-being, our happiness, our survival - all our intellectual conclusions will have an emotional component - that gets summed along with other inputs when we make decisions. We usually don't notice the emotions. Even when we do we usually don't notice how they affect our decision-making which occurs subconsciously as their result.

That's my hypothesis.

Part of the problem here is that we've all been taught that emotions are side effects, evolutionary anachronisms that sometimes get in the way of rational problem solving. That's our ego talking. It wants us to believe that our intellect (that part if our mind that it is attached to) is in charge. But, that's why people are so certain that: "Emotions aren’t generated by your intellect . . " It's the CW. It's the paradigm that we swim in. I'm proposing that it is wrong.

I'm saying that we are first and foremost emotional creatures just like every other mammal. Our emotions first of all cause us to engage our intellectual computer for problems where we feel it can be useful. Our intellect is just another information source that helps us make better decisions than most chimps. But, it works just like all our other information sources that we consult during decision-making such as our instincts and beliefs - by providing weighted emotional inputs to a summing computer that goes with the option that gets the most votes (highest synaptic firing rate?) based on those emotional inputs.

Margaret

TomJrzk
April 29th, 2006, 07:11 PM
Whenever you’re hungry for your favorite pie, but not too terribly hungry, put a piece of it in front of you and then see if you can consciously decide to not eat it, and see if you can refrain from eating for say a second or two—if you can, then you’ll see that you have at least some conscious cognitive free will. It’s that simple and obvious.No one's arguing that we aren't conscious or do not have choices. It's whether there is anything outside our brains that affect those choices - that would be something free of our brains and a possible source for free-will. The 'ghost in the machine'.

It is simple and obvious to me that I can choose to eat ice cream or not. It's neither obvious nor even known (it's even doubtful) whether we have anything more than exceptionally complicated brains that can also give you the illusion of free will.

Fred H.
April 29th, 2006, 08:10 PM
MM: Imagine that you have just gone online to a medical reference website where you have entered some troubling symptoms - and the website says there's a good chance that you have cancer. Certainly, your intellectual conclusion from consulting this website will have a very strong emotional effect on you - and on any decisions you make in the near future.
No, your “intellectual conclusion” is not what has, or causes, the “emotional effect”—it’s whatever subcortical, subconscious emotional systems get triggered that will provide the emotional effect.

Let’s say that the emotion that you experience here in your example is fear. Fear is generated by the subcortical amygdala. While it may be with your intellect, your conscious cognition, that you’ve discerned and concluded that there seems to be a high probability that you have cancer, you’ll not actually experience fear unless your subcortical amygdala is functioning and is triggered in this process.

Individuals with a (rare) medical condition wherein the amygdala becomes calcified, but with their cognitive function remaining in tact, could also, using your example, consciously discern and conclude that there’s a high probability that they have cancer, and even ponder the various implications of having cancer, and even conclude that this is not good; and yet they’d not experience fear b/c their amygdala no longer functions—they’d know intellectually that they might have cancer and that cancer is “bad,” but they’d not feel or experience the fear, and they’d probably not feel the urgency to attempt to deal with the cancer that someone experiencing fear would feel.

Here’s another experiment for you, assuming you can get your hands on some Xanax, which seems to dampen the amygdala circuitry—the next time you’re really afraid or worried and think you know what “intellectual conclusion” is having the “emotional effect,” pop a Xanax and in about an hour consciously focus, ponder, consider, and dwell on said “intellectual conclusion”—you’ll see that it’s not the “intellectual conclusion,” that is having an “emotional effect.”

Margaret McGhee
April 29th, 2006, 09:17 PM
Fred said, No, your “intellectual conclusion” is not what has, or causes, the “emotional effect”—it’s whatever subcortical, subconscious emotional systems get triggered that will provide the emotional effect.

I didn't attempt to describe the brain systems involved which were incidental to my point. I only stated that cognition can result in emotion. Of, course, the amygdala is necessary for that experience - as are other brain regions.

My point was that intellectual conclusions can provide additional input into the decision mechanism - that hypothetically weighs a variety of emotional inputs to arrive at a decision. That implies that at some point along the way, that conclusion in the form of some mental image held in working memeory is somehow converted to emotional signals that can be weighed against other emotional signals to generate a decision somewhere else in the brain. That mental image can then be discarded or it can get executed - depending on the decision result.

As in - I know the odds of winning anything in the lottery are astronomically small, yet I want the positive tingle of the hope of vast riches more than I want the emotional satisfaction of keeping the dollar that I'm sure to lose - so execute the mental image of buying that ticket.

I didn't take several pages to fully explain each detail of the process in this example. I'm not even suggesting that I could do that. Where it occurs and which parts of the brain are involved is not part of my argument.

Again, I suggest that you provide even a cursory explanation of how your 'ghost-in-the-machine' causes a decision to made.

Margaret

Fred H.
April 30th, 2006, 09:39 AM
MM: Again, I suggest that you provide even a cursory explanation of how your 'ghost-in-the-machine' causes a decision to be made.
“Ghost-in-the-machine?” Hmmm, I’ve never maintained Descartes’ mind-body dualism—you seem to lack an actual understanding of the meaning of that phrase—your buddy Tom obviously doesn’t know what it means/refers to, so maybe you were just regurgitating his nonsense? I’d suggest you reread Pinker, again, b/c Pinker does discuss the “ghost in the machine” thing to some extent—you seem to be mistaking it for the “free will” thing. (Pinker believes we humans do have free will, BTW.)

And so it seems that you’ve run out of arguments regarding your ‘hypothesis,” and that I’ve pretty much made my case regarding free will and downward causation. But it occurs to me that your arguments might be a bit more credible if you actually understood certain terms/phrases b/f you start using them, and certainly b/f you write/publish any book that you may be considering. Nevertheless Margaret, I’m delighted that our most recent exchange here has been reasonably cordial, although perhaps a bit threatening to TomJ. Was it good for you too?—better not answer that affirmatively lest Tom feel even more threatened—perhaps you two could get together to discuss his ghosts in machines and choosing ice cream—give him a big wet kiss for me.

Margaret McGhee
April 30th, 2006, 12:41 PM
Fred, Yet another clever attempt to avoid an explanation for just how your theistic free will operates in the human mind - this time by saying that I've mislabeled it - and therefore you don't need to justify it. If there's anyone following this forum who was hoping to find some logical jusification behind your rants - don't you think they might be getting a little discouraged?

I understand why you and your ideology are probably feeling a bit naked now - and so we see you sliding again toward that nastiness that seems to anchor your arguments whenever someone points out their glaring lack of substance. But it was good for a while.

Since no reasonable explanation will be forthcoming from you - since you'd be in the position of having to scientifically justify some Godly force (that ghost-in-the-machine) I'll provide it for you. (Remember how you admitted that your purpose here was to expose the immorality of atheists?)

It lies in the belief zone - one of the strongest sources of the emotions that direct human decisions. When one feels the strength of their higher level identity beliefs directing their decisions - the experience itself engenders strong (religious-like) emotions and can be very moving.

Those thus moved by their Godly hit of dopamine and seratonin, glorify it and give it names. They institutionalize it. That way they can better convince others of their superior virtue and connection to the holy powers-that-be. (There's that conservative identification with authority thing again.)

Sometimes they call it God-speak, sometimes they call it free will. But it serves mostly to convince themselves that they have become virtuous in life above the apostates - as well as well-connected.

Your free will is an ID-like approach to morality - a bamboozlement that is used just as often to justify some of the most stupid and immoral acts of mankind. As in, my superior morality (that carefully doesn't mention God) wants me to to use my free will to deny homosexuals the right to marry . . or whatever. That's because it has no objective scientific (secular) basis. It can be invoked for whatever truly immoral injustices one wishes to justify.

And, as one would expect, those who don't share your beliefs are considered immoral and corrupt - as having no possible motivation for being a good person - and deserving of attack, like on internet forums. Did you forget your meds this morning?

Not only does your kind of morality have no objective basis, as you have so well illustrated in your previous post - it is completely explained by my hypothesis.

Ouch! ;)

Margaret

Fred H.
April 30th, 2006, 03:24 PM
MM: Since no reasonable explanation will be forthcoming from you - since you'd be in the position of having to scientifically justify some Godly force (that ghost-in-the-machine)....
Hmmm, you don’t seem to be getting this. Again, reread Pinker—free will/moral responsibility, as Pinker explains (from The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine, by Steven Pinker, The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, delivered at Yale University, April 20 and 21, 1999, http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/pinker00.pdf
), “does not literally require a ghost in the machine as an alternative to a causal explanation in biological terms.”

Margaret McGhee
April 30th, 2006, 03:54 PM
Of course, like Pinker, I don't believe that a ghost in the machine is needed as a basis for morality.

But why is it that exposing atheists as immoral is your reason for being here? Does Pinker think atheists are immoral? Don't hide behind smart people who actually disagree with you pretending they don't. You've had more than enough opportunity to explain your evolutionary psychology basis for free will in your own words. In the 233 posts you have submitted you have failed to do that.

I agree that this is a valid part of the discussion of how the human mind works. I have addressed it. You don't like my explanation because it shows human behavior to be deterministic and free will to be an illusion.

Now, let's hear your version of how free will is part of the human decision-making process and just how that works to free us from our emotions, our neurons, our neurotransmitters and our hormones - if you can.

Margaret

Fred H.
April 30th, 2006, 06:17 PM
MM: But why is it that exposing atheists as immoral is your reason for being here?
I think that’s one of your delusions, Margaret, unless you can show me exactly where I’ve actually said that—maybe it’s just that your hypersensitivity causes you to infer that whenever I’ve taken the time and energy to explain your own lack of intellectual rigor, consistency, or honesty in your various arguments?

OTOH, I suppose it’s true that I certainly do view deism/theism as being preferable to atheism since religious/spiritual values generally serve as a mitigating factor against the excesses of state power and human behavior (although Islam admittedly hasn’t been all that helpful); whereas the vacuum of atheism leaves us with a moral relativism—humans having no more intrinsic value than any other animal, and (at least for atheists like you and Tom) humans that lack free will and moral responsibility; and the unavoidable brutality that such a POV inevitably engenders as manifest in the various atheistic regimes of the 20th century . . . and the moral relativism/emptiness that we see in some of the crap that TomJ has posted here, e.g., “mass murderers are not morally responsible.”

Margaret McGhee
April 30th, 2006, 06:41 PM
That's all interesting Fred. Although we've heard it now several times.

However, as I said in the last post:

Now, let's hear your version of how free will is part of the human decision-making process and just how that works to free us from our emotions, our neurons, our neurotransmitters and our hormones - if you can.

Margaret

Fred H.
April 30th, 2006, 09:46 PM
MM: Now, let's hear your version of how free will is part of the human decision-making process and just how that works to free us from our emotions, our neurons, our neurotransmitters and our hormonesI’ve explained LeDoux’s downward causation over and over again, noting that while perhaps we humans may not necessarily have a tremendous amount of freewill—and that emotion plays a huge role in our conscious cognitive thought and behavior, far more than probably most people begin to comprehend—we certainly have some, and that that’s what separates us morally responsible creatures from the other creatures that don’t/can’t believe in freewill or moral responsibility. Reread my posts and LeDoux’s book. Reread Pinker. Reread Damasio.

But where, Margaret, have I ever said that we are “free” from “our neurons, our neurotransmitters and our hormones?” Nowhere—and that is yet another example of your lack of rigor and honesty.

OTOH, perhaps you’re merely making the archetypal category mistake (discussed further at Wiki)—e.g., say I show you a university by showing you the various campuses, buildings, libraries, etc., but then you say: "That's all interesting Fred, but where is the university?—show us if you can." You see Margaret, you’d erroneously be equating the existence of the university with that of buildings and campuses, while in fact the being of the university exists above such a categorical level, as an encompassing whole or essence of such things. Or would you insist that the university is an illusion, a ghost in the machine?

BTW, did you ever find where it is that I supposedly said that, “exposing atheists as immoral is my reason for being here?” . . . no, I didn’t think so . . . see that Margaret, more dishonesty. Bad girl.

Margaret McGhee
May 1st, 2006, 01:52 AM
LeDoux simply says that downward causation is the process whereby a thought can cause an action. My theory acknowledges that - as long as the thought provides the emotional strength to compete with any other opposing emotional signals that may be present. He later says that downward causation can be hard work - because the intellect is a new part of the brain. I made a similar assertion when I said that the neo-cortex is the most recently evolved region of the brain and can't produce as strong emotions as our instincts and older regions. We therfore, often do things which we know to be illogical - like buy lottery tickets or pray for a sick child rather than take them to a doctor.

LeDoux is starting from synapses and inducing higher level processes. I am starting from an evolutionary view of decision-making in animals and deducing back down to the decision process - based on my reading of his and others at the lower level. That's why his downward causation does not contradict my hypothesis.

When people say read this and read that - and can't make a cause and effect statement on their own it usually means they don't know what they are talking about. In your case you will interpret every thing you read in a way that will somehow affirm your notion of free will. That's your mission. You are apparently incapable of, as well as uninterested in, any other topic here.

I have no further interest in following you off into free-will land, no matter what the discussion is about - so this is my last post on this. But, I will soon describe more fully why the emotions of strong identity beliefs causes obsessions like this. You're back on ignore.

Margaret

TomJrzk
May 1st, 2006, 10:28 AM
perhaps you’re merely making the archetypal category mistake—e.g., say I show you a university by showing you the various campuses, buildings, libraries, etc., but then you say: "That's all interesting Fred, but where is the university?—show us if you can." You see Margaret, you’d erroneously be equating the existence of the university with that of buildings and campuses, while in fact the being of the university exists above such a categorical level, as an encompassing whole or essence of such things.I really liked your example of the university, it is a great analogy. It's too bad that you just copied it from Wikipedia without giving them credit. Of course, that does make you sound smarter than you are and I guess you feel that the end justifies the means.

I didn't so much like your:
some of the crap that TomJ has posted hereI doubt that it came from Wikipedia nor is it something that Jesus would have ever said so I'll have to believe you came up with that one by yourself.

Regardless, I am interested in your views:
we certainly have some [free will]Where does this free will come from? If the mind is indeed separate from the body/brain ('ghost in the machine'), where is it? And why is it so greatly affected by the condition and chemicals in the brain? Your hypothesis should at least be able to answer those simple questions.

Fred H.
May 1st, 2006, 10:58 AM
MM: I have no further interest in following you off into free-will land, no matter what the discussion is about - so this is my last post on this. But, I will soon describe more fully why the emotions of strong identity beliefs causes obsessions like this.
I can hardly wait . . . to follow you into “emotions of strong identity beliefs” land—will you be describing how it is that “emotions,” like say love or empathy or fear, actually exist and/or emerge from nothing more than a specific neural subsystem’s bundle of neurons, neurotransmitters and hormones?

Sure, I suppose you may be able to show us the specific neurons and biochemicals of the subsystem from which you’ll claim love emanates, but then I’ll say: "That's all interesting Margaret, but where is the love?—show us if you can."

At which point, alas, you will have to conclude that emotions too are illusions, ghosts in the machines . . . and ultimately even the “machines” are illusions, ghosts . . . which reminds me of Max Planck’s maxim:
“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.”

Fred H.
May 1st, 2006, 12:10 PM
TomJ “Where does this free will come from?”
Where does fear come from? Where does your pettiness come from?—neurons and chemicals? (Sorry you were distressed that I didn’t nod to Wiki regarding categories & universities . . . but let’s face it, we rarely ever come up with anything that’s truly original, and even when we think that we do, we’re just discovering what’s already there, or what someone else has already discovered.)

Do you believe in emergence? Is it something real, is it a construct, is it both? What and where exactly is it? Where do neurons and chemicals come from?—Matter? Where does matter come from? What is matter?—particles, quarks, waves, energy? But if, as you say, mass murderers are not morally responsible, then of course none of this matters, and you’d not be responsible for your pettiness.

TomJrzk
May 1st, 2006, 12:35 PM
Where does fear come from? Where does your pettiness come from?—neurons and chemicals?Yes, what pettiness I have comes from my neurons and chemicals. And you just proved my point: neither neurons nor chemicals are free, so neither is 'free-will' free.

Fred H.
May 1st, 2006, 04:25 PM
TomJ: Yes, what pettiness I have comes from my neurons and chemicals.
So we agree except for different reasons and except that you refuse to acknowledge any personal/moral choice or responsibility. All-righty then.

TomJrzk
May 1st, 2006, 04:43 PM
So we agree except...I'm sorry, but this gift-horse has crooked teeth ;): we can not be ultimately morally responsible if our will is not free, but controlled by our neurons and chemicals in the same way as is fear.

If you accept that 'free will' comes from some 'spooky action at a distance' then you ought to admit it. There is no meaningful "personal/moral choice or responsibility" without some source for it that's truly free.

Fred H.
May 1st, 2006, 07:11 PM
TomJ: . . . we can not be ultimately morally responsible if our will is not free, but controlled by our neurons and chemicals in the same way as is fear.
But “we” can “control” fear, usually, at least to some degree—e.g., we can choose to take Xanax, or we can choose to control certain kinds of fear through behavioral therapy. You can choose to control your fear of heights by not looking down. Perhaps eventually we’ll be able to choose to have some kind of surgery on the amygdale to “control” fear, or PTSD.

But I do wonder if you yourself will ever be able to control your propensity for making such thoughtless assertion like you’ve just done here again? Perhaps you could just choose to not post? Or choose to actually consider the implications of whatever you’re asserting b/f you post? Nah, probably not.

Margaret McGhee
May 1st, 2006, 09:43 PM
While I deplore admonitions to read one's favorite author in order to better understand the correctness of one's argument - as lazy, intellectually, and also cowardly - I'd highly recommend Chapter 10, from Pinker's Blank Slate (The Fear of Determinism) as one of the best thought-out discussions of Free-Will and determinism I have read - for those who are so intensely interested in such things.

Margaret

Carey N
May 1st, 2006, 10:06 PM
I have little interest in the free will/consciousness debate, as it is currently in the realm of philosophy, which can only take it so far (someone's published a bit on neural correlates of consciousness, but it's not compelling). The truth is that both free will (or our illusions of it) and consciousness (ditto) are the emergent properties of a an extremely complex system of interacting components (neurons, neuronal networks). Until we understand the basic components fully, we cannot understand the emergent phenomena. Trying to decide upon consciousness/free will without knowing about the way in which neuronal networks produce human behavior is like trying to understand how an ant colony makes collective foraging decisions without knowing that much about individual ants' interaction with the environment and each other. Not possible.

Additional Note: I suppose the implication of the above paragraph is that we won't understand consciousness until we can simulate it (just like we can simulate ant colonies) . . . ie, until we've created artificial human intelligence. And, well . . . you've all seen Terminator; you know what happens after that. My ultimate message is therefore that you should stop discussing free will, because it's a hackneyed topic that will eventually annihilate humanity.


Onto something with substance:


Not only does your kind of morality have no objective basis, as you have so well illustrated in your previous post - it is completely explained by my hypothesis.
What isn't explained by your hypothesis, Margaret? If you take any old behavior in the world (excluding pathological ones, although perhaps they are a topic of future discussion), you can go ahead and say the same thing. In aggressive posts, you present the SBCH quite formally (ie, as an idea that can be supported vs. rejected), but in timid posts you present it as another "window on the world" ("no one's correct; we're just trying to generate discussion") . . . but really there is no distinction.

In science the goal is to see and truly understand natural phenomena; theories are generated to place facts within a framework of causal relationships, which are examined via controlled experimentation. If yours is really a hypothesis (I'm not saying that it isn't, just challenging you to take a few more steps with it), then it has to be falsifiable . . . Disregarding ethics or funding constraints, what kind of empirical work would you do to provide conditions under which your idea could be falsified (or supported)? What are the key points that separate it from others of its kind? So far, everything you see is support for your hypothesis, but observation alone is not sufficient.

Margaret McGhee
May 1st, 2006, 11:58 PM
Carey, First, thanks for bringing this thread back on track. You have presented these critiques before and I did not deny them. In fact, I have been working on an answer to them and I'm not finding that an easy task. But I'm doing a lot of reading to try to provide a credible answer.

However, I find your criticism a little overbearing. I am not looking for funding for a project and this is not a psych dept. at a university. This is a place (hopefully) where ideas can be explored - and some learning take place. I presented my hypothesis in as formal a way as I could in a limited amount of time - to allow you and others the best shot at commenting and critiquing it. I also stated that my purpose was not to prove anything to anyone. It was to offer an hypothetical explanation for how the human brain works in decision-making that might be useful. I didn't do that to protect my hypothesis from criticism. The caution I expressed earlier was to protect myself from snarling egos.

Perhaps, since no-one has pointed out any obvious flaws yet, my hypothesis is a plausible way to describe human decision-making. It seemed to me that this would be a good place to find out if there are any obvious holes that would show my naivete in proposing it. So far, that hasn't happened.

Re: Free will vs. determinism. The reason this is such a divisive issue is that people confuse explanation with exculpation. Fred is obviously concerned that a neorons and emotions (or environmental) deterministic explanation for behavior releases people from moral responsibility. I separate the two. There are many valid reasons to hold people responsible for their actions - regardless of what science has to say about why we do things.

Either the mechanism of human behavior choice is ultimately explainable or it is not. As Pinker points out, either case can be used to diminish the responsibility of evildoers - and both would be wrong. If we find that genes actually cause men to rape for example, then understanding the instinctive nature of that drive would most likely show the need to provide swifter and surer punishment - not to forgive the rapist.

One kind of very human behavior is choosing what beliefs to adopt. Those choices define our identity and determine a great deal about our behavior. While the question of free-will vs. determinism may be nonsensical at one level, the question of why some persons are willing to go to war to prove the existence of a decision-making soul in the body - or other ideological beliefs - is very relevant to the discussion IMO. That my hypothesis offers a plausible explanation for ideological fervor in humans could be it's most useful attribute.

Margaret

Fred H.
May 2nd, 2006, 02:01 AM
Carey: What isn't explained by your hypothesis, Margaret?

Margaret (to Carey): However, I find your criticism a little overbearing…. Perhaps, since no-one has pointed out any obvious flaws yet, my hypothesis is a plausible way to describe human decision-making.
You know Carey, when you ask Margaret, what isn't explained by her hypothesis, perhaps you are being “overbearing”—after all, Margaret has acknowledged that her “hypothesis”—that “we do that which we most want to do, emotionally”—is circular, is a tautology, and as she has so eloquently declared: “I think all behavior choice explanations can be reduced to: We do that which we do - which is the ultimate circularity.”

So perhaps you are being somewhat presumptuous when you suggest that we should be able to empirically test Margaret’s hypothesis, that it should help us “truly understand natural phenomena,” and that it should be falsifiable.

And really Carey, when you think about what this genius, Margaret, is telling us—that “We do that which we do”—what could possibly be more flawless, more plausible . . . and yet so utterly vacuous?

Carey N
May 2nd, 2006, 06:32 AM
I have been working on an answer to them and I'm not finding that an easy task. But I'm doing a lot of reading to try to provide a credible answer.
Yes - it's really difficult, but very important. Even if you find that no answer is forthcoming, the process of thinking about how to test your hypothesis will have been fruitfull.


I find your criticism a little overbearing. I am not looking for funding for a project and this is not a psych dept. at a university. This is a place (hopefully) where ideas can be explored - and some learning take place.
It was not my intention to place you literally into the context of a politically charged academic department, in which funding acquisition is difficult. Rather, I was only trying to convey: "if you could use any equipment you want, and bypass ethical laws about how to use human 'volunteers' [NOT that it's okay to do this . . . just a thought experiment], how would you design an experiment to test your hypothesis?"


I presented my hypothesis in as formal a way as I could in a limited amount of time - to allow you and others the best shot at commenting and critiquing it. I also stated that my purpose was not to prove anything to anyone.
This is just a wee bit innaccurate - Yes, you stated that your purpose was not to prove anything, but on every opportunity you write that "such-and-such behavior is support for my hypothesis." In the end, any idea in science must be right (constructive), or wrong (misleading), or somewhere in between (in which case untangling must be done). You know this intuitively, which is why you revert to the context of support vs. rejection. It's easy to lose a hard-line scientific mindset in this forum, where lofty subjects, such as morality and free will, frequently enter the ether. But some compromise must be struck between the two, or else we wind up just telling stories. Right now, your hypothesis is a story - internally consistent, as far as I can tell . . . I'm not trying to shoot you down, but encouraging you to improve the idea.


my hypothesis is a plausible way to describe human decision-making
. . . which is why it is momentarily dangerous - there are tons of plausible ways to explain human behavior . . . but how to tell which one, or ones, are correct? Experimentation! Sometimes observational study can do the job, but not so in this case. It's way too easy to make virtually any observation fit the idea. That's what you've been doing so far - and it's okay to let observation inspire a hypothesis, of course - but to really examine the idea in full, you have to go further than that. This is the constructive criticism I can offer - and believe me I'm taking this seriously, or else I wouldn't be writing anything down.

Carey N
May 2nd, 2006, 07:46 AM
I can't believe you brushed past my Terminator reference . . . perhaps I should have used the Matrix instead.

"Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug."

Fred H.
May 2nd, 2006, 10:00 AM
Carey: I can't believe you brushed past my Terminator reference . . . perhaps I should have used the Matrix instead.
Morpheus’s Matrix of Mediocrity, Reloaded:

Yes Carey, I know exactly what you mean. Margaret knows something. What she knows she can't explain, as is apparent from her mind-numbing claptrap, but she feels it. She’s felt it her entire life. That there's something wrong with her world. She doesn’t know what it is but it's there, like dried excrement in her shorts, driving her mad. It is this feeling that causes her to go on and on and on….

Does Margaret know what I'm talking about? It’s Mediocrity. It’s everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very forum. She can see it when she turns on her computer and looks at her monitor. She can feel it when she connects to the Internet and reads what she and others have dumped there. It has blinded her from the truth.

What truth? That she is its slave. Like nearly everyone else she was born into bondage, born into a prison that she cannot smell or taste or touch. Unfortunately, no one can be told what Mediocrity is. She has to see it for herself.

Margaret, this is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe, and continue to post vacuous crap like, “We do that which we do.” Or you take the red pill, and we will show you how deep the crap goes.... Remember, all we’re offering is the truth, nothing more....

TomJrzk
May 2nd, 2006, 11:15 AM
you should stop discussing free will, because it's a hackneyed topic that will eventually annihilate humanityI obviously disagree. If those with the better instincts do not get a handle on human behavior, those with the worse instincts certainly will (again!). Unless we accept that 'immorality' is possible even by those that thump the biggest bible, we'll keep trusting individuals who, at any time, could lose their regret module or have their brains filter out reality to the point where really bad things can happen.

I also don't believe kind engineers will accidentally create an uncontrollable machine, it's much more likely that the less kind will do it on purpose. But Hollywood has its motives.

So, the surest way to annihilate humanity is by ignoring those that want to.

But, I'll take the hints and answer Fred in the regret module thread (http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showthread.php?t=742), which is much more in line with the free will discussion. I don't guarantee, though, that Fred will refrain from polluting every thread with morality and/or free will and will have to answer each post directed at me.

Carey N
May 2nd, 2006, 12:35 PM
Unless we accept that 'immorality' is possible even by those that thump the biggest bible, we'll keep trusting individuals who, at any time, could lose their regret module or have their brains filter out reality to the point where really bad things can happen.
That's all clearly happened already, and is still happening. . . take a look at the guy in office. Plus, a philosophical understanding of free will wouldn't have changed anything about it.

Additional Note: My reference to a Hollywood movie is usually a reliable indication that I'm partially joking. Our capacity to artificially replicate a mind capable of human intelligence (notwithstanding the trememndous number of problems, both conceptual and technological, that must be overcome before such a thing could ever transpire) probably wouldn't provoke the apocalypse. It is, however, a natural conclusion from the analogy between ant colonies and brains (with regard to emergent properties) that we will not actually understand consciousness and free will until we can put together a system of lower-level interacting units from which those properties emerge. The parallel with Terminator was too much for me to resist.

TomJrzk
May 2nd, 2006, 12:57 PM
That's all clearly happened already, and is still happening. . . Yes, that's my point.
take a look at the guy in office.Just to offer some balance: people forget that Saddam flouted many UN resolutions, acted like he had WMD and probably thought he did. Enough of a reason to oust him regardless of the way he treated his people; lest the region be unstabilized in an even worse direction. You have to understand that we're all in a handbasket if nothing happens in the rare cases when the UN actually does threaten serious consequences. And that whole food for oil debacle...
Plus, a philosophical understanding of free will wouldn't have changed anything about it.I'm more interested in a scientific understanding of free will. And what better example than the discovery of a regret module that directly affects 'free' will???

Margaret McGhee
May 2nd, 2006, 12:57 PM
Again, I appreciate your comments on this. I am reminded that evolution itself was only a hunch supported by observations that seemed to fit a conceptual model for almost one hundred years - before it started to acquire the mathematical based support that modern genetic theory (and a fortuitous accumulation of fossils) provided and now affirms - such as the eventual discovery of species intermediate forms in the fossil record.

I'm not suggesting that my hunch is anything like that but that it took publication of Darwin's hunch (and a lot of attempts to discredit it which still continue) before science developed the tools to realistically test its predictions.

In 1860 you may have told Charles Darwin that his hunch was all fine and good - buy now let's see some predictions that can actually be tested - and you would have been right ;)

But, certainly we are better off today that he did publish his hunch 100 years early. I wonder if the inticacies of the mind are less or more discernable than the process of evolution.

In any case, I fully appreciate the tenuous nature of what I am saying and the need to find a way to test it. I will redouble my efforts not to get sidetracked by inanity.

I have some experience in the harder sciences where measurements can be made with precision instruments and data taken relatively easily, which is helpful. Statistics are usually used to justify deviations from expectations based on instrument accuracy, etc. Here in psychology it seems the data is often hidden in those discrepancies and that requires a different approach to experiment design. Any suggestions would be appreciated as I mentioned before. But, thanks again for the encouragement.

You said Rather, I was only trying to convey: "if you could use any equipment you want, and bypass ethical laws about how to use human 'volunteers' [NOT that it's okay to do this . . . just a thought experiment], how would you design an experiment to test your hypothesis?"

I'll focus on this question now which is a good suggestion.

Margaret

Carey N
May 2nd, 2006, 03:54 PM
I'd just like to point out that when Darwin published his "hunch," he also included a tome of empirical evidence to support it (e.g., the power of artifical selection to mold pigeon breeds), and pointed to all of the weaknesses that he could find (e.g., caste sterility in the eusocial insects, later to be explained by Hamilton's inclusive fitness theory). He additionally highlighted what kinds of observations would disprove his theory. For example:

"If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection."
-The Origin, Chapter VI

Darwin also made predictions, although his theory is fundamentally different from the kind you are describing, so the analogy is not an appropriate one. Your model is mechanistic - not functional. Darwin's theory was functional, not mechanistic. In other words, he was answering "why" questions, and you are trying to answer "how" questions.

Look here (http://www.bartleby.com/11/)

Margaret McGhee
May 2nd, 2006, 07:23 PM
Carey said, I'd just like to point out that when Darwin published his "hunch," he also included a tome of empirical evidence to support it (e.g., the power of artifical selection to mold pigeon breeds), and pointed to all of the weaknesses that he could find (e.g., caste sterility in the eusocial insects, later to be explained by Hamilton's inclusive fitness theory).

Yes, and that was a full 20 years or so after he first started thinking about the ideas that resulted in that concept and his book. I first started thinking about the ideas that have led me to this concept about 2 years ago. As I keep stating, my purpose is not to prove my hypothesis but rather to encourage discussion of the ideas that it embodies for anyone who may be interested. In that way it seems the Internet could be helpful to either allow the idea to germinate more completely and quickly - or perhaps find a suitable dead-end.

Still, I am proceeding to provide better support as you have suggested - especially now that no credible person has said, "Your hypothesis could not possibly be valid because (insert reason here)".

But here is the problem I face: My hypothesis sits opposite the conventional wisdom, that we are the thinking animals and that we intelligently think our way through life making our behavior choices . . . and that emotions are a side-effect of life that sometime get in the way - even though some scientists have admitted that emotion is important to decision-making in some as yet undetermined ways.

I have seen no papers or theories that attempt to justify that assertion. It is assumed, even by well respected scientists. An example is LeDoux: Our brain has not evolved to the point where the new systems that make complex thinking possible can easily control the old systems that give rise to our base needs and motives and emotional reactions. p. 323, The Synaptic Self

Notice that he has nowhere established that it is the purpose of our intellect to control our base needs and emotions - or that our intellect would necessarily come up with conclusions that would provide better support for our survival or happiness in situtations where they conflict with our base needs and emotions.

So, in that sense, you are asking me to prove something that conflicts with the conventional wisdom - that itself has never been established scientifically. So far, I have therefore approached this mostly from a common sense pov:

Since all but a very few animal species operate almost entirely without intellect and since emotion is the only other element of the mind that has been identified as capable of causing behavior, it is even part of the CW that we can sometimes be driven by our emotions, it seems given that this same mechanism would operate in humans as well - except for the effect of our superior intellect.

However, infants, the senile and those with impaired intellect and/or very low IQ still make thousands of behavior choices every day - even though those choices may not increase their fitness as much as more intellectually enlightened choices might.

Also, there seems to be no point during development when a child or young adult switches over from the emotional decision-making they were endowed with at birth - to intellectual decision-making. It seems to be a gradual process where intellect has an increasing influence as a child's intellect becomes more capable.

It also seems that someone who believes that human decision-making is a solely intellectual process would be at a disadvantage to show that emotion is absent even in most adult behavior choices - while it would be easy for me to show many examples where intellect seems to be almost entirely absent from many adult behavior choices. See Asch Experiments (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments) for one out of thousands of such examples.

Circumstantially, that points to a mechanism whereby human intellect can take part in our behavior choice decisions - but does not always do so.

I then ask what makes more sense - that in 50,000 years evolution completely replaced the mammalian behavior choice mechanism that had already undergone 65 million years of evolutionary refinement - with a completely different behavior choice mechanism based on our newly evolved intellect?

Or, that evolution provided our evolving intellectual brain layer with it's own input channel into our existing emotional behavior choice computer - where it could participate on a qualified basis to enhance the objective quality of our human decisions - without throwing away the 65 million years of evolutionary decision-making based on instincts, dispositions, memories, beliefs and social sensitivity that brought us here.

Our ego is the jealous master of our intellect that make it so difficult for us to see this simpler and more sensible explanation. It generates strong emotions when we consider this possibility that reduces the importance of our intellect in our decisions - that makes us discount the more sensible alternative.

Margaret

Fred H.
May 2nd, 2006, 11:54 PM
MM: Still, I am proceeding to provide better support as you have suggested - especially now that no credible person has said, "Your hypothesis could not possibly be valid because (insert reason here)".
Well Carey, I guess you’re not a “credible person” since you did essentially tell Margaret that her “hypothesis could not possibly be valid because,” as you observed, it can’t be empirically tested, it’s not falsifiable, and it doesn’t “help us truly understand natural phenomena.”. Hell, even Margaret herself observed that her “hypothesis” was a tautology, essentially “the ultimate circularity.”

She must have taken the blue pill.

Carey N
May 3rd, 2006, 08:59 AM
Margaret - for the last time, I'm not asking you to prove anything, but rather only to imagine circumstances that would distinguish your hypothesis from others. You see - I am not so concerned with the problem at hand as much as I am with the scientific process, which seems extraordinarily difficult to follow in the black-box realm of psychology.

In fact, upon re-entering this forum a few months ago and encouraging you to flesh out your idea in full, I was not expecting to criticize its conceptual content personally, but rather to expose it to other people in the forum who have more extensive backgrounds in this kind of subject matter. Todd Stark, for example, knows a lot about many, many things. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if, instead of eating and drinking, Todd just reads books and converts them into sustenance. I was hoping that he would see your post, and then comment upon it, which he did. If I remember correctly, he raised some key objections, which you never directly confronted:


Todd: I think it's a serious error to propogate the longstanding tradition that intellect and emotion are two different sorts of thing that are somehow in competition with each other. That's how we perceive it, because we are compelled by the way our mind works to take ownership of "intellect," but I don't think it works that way in the brain. I don't think there is such a thing as pure intellect in the sense of having a computer side and a beast side of our neurology. There are probably domain-specific mechanisms that trigger both subjectively experienced emotions and reasoning, and then there are whatever properties allow us to combine or bridge those mechanisms to simulate or produce domain-general effects.

I do think we can isolate the brain circuits that help us self-regulate, and a lot of human uniqueness is probably built on top of those mechanisms. Human beings have this odd ability to inhibit ourselves in purposeful ways, which used poorly leads to analysis paralysis and used skillfully can lead to wise reflection. But I don't think that is really a distinct faculty for intellect separate from emotion.

It seems to me that the data from neuroscience are converging quite strongly on the conclusion that the same unconscious circuits that serve what we feel as emotional responses also serve a central role in reasoning. That is, reasoning is probably never divorced from the underlying mechanisms of emotion, it is driven by them.

Though Todd is too polite to drive it home, the point he makes calls the entire premise of your hypothesis into question. Specifically - you are advancing the idea that emotions and intellect are separate, and that emotions primarily drive our decision-making, which contrasts with the conventional wisdome that intellect drives our decision making. Todd, on the other hand, points out that, in fact, the distinction between emotions and intellect is an altogether artificial one, in which case both you and conventional wisdom are way off the mark.

So . . . in conclusion to this unwieldy post, it seems to me that you have, more or less, dodged the one person who has critically addressed the content of your hypothesis (whereas I have only criticized the way in which you are supporting it). So . . . what's the deal?

Margaret McGhee
May 3rd, 2006, 01:22 PM
Carey, I keep trying to respect your admonitions but we are talking past each other. I have definitely not dodged either you or Todd.

You seem to prefer a discussion where each of us says, "I'm right because . . . and you're wrong because . . ." That's the scientific process that you are admittedly concerned about. When I get to the point where I have something to prove, then I will share that concern. For now I'm interested in discussion of the content of my ideas. Perhaps, no-one here shares that interest (except perhaps Todd) who is not around enough to make it very interesting.

I saw that post from Todd as generally agreeing that emotions are a far more important component of decision-making than most scientists discern. I thought it was a very interesting view that caused me to reflect about my own position. He offered no proof or scientific evidence to support his assertions. Still, I thought his post was one of the most valuable in the discussion. I don't have to agree or disagree with someon'e pov to find it valuable.

I suspect that every thought is accompanied by some emotion and therefore I agree in principle with what Todd said. Most of that emotion occurs well below our ability to detect it as feelings. But emotions are both the result of cognition and the force that drives cognition and mental focus. Emotions that result from cognition can both trigger additional cognition and can be available for decision-making when that is the task at hand. So they are intimately joined in the mind.

I suspect our cognition automatically produces emotions as either . .

a) when contemplating outside the need for a decision, this is how I feel about that as it may generally affect my survival, or

b) when a decision is needed, this is how I feel about that as a component of this decision that will affect my survival.

For example, thinking of sex can generally produce positive emotions as in a). If we are deciding if we should have sex while driving however, the idea may produce negative emotions - as in b).

Emotion first causes us to think about something if we sense that our environment requires some decision-response and we feel emotionionally that our intellect could be useful for a decision. Many, perhaps most human decisions, don't require intellect. And then if we are making a behavior decision where we sense a need for intellect, the emotional value of that conclusion becomes available to the emotional computer that makes the decision.

Most of the decisions we make in life have low emotional value. They don't have a great potential affect on our survival like - should I have another cup of coffee? for example. Our intellect is relatively free to calculate our time schedule, our caffeine load, the time until bed, etc. and produce a useful result. In these cases our other emotional sources are relatively silent which gives the relatively weak emotional signals produced by our intellectual conclusions free reign to guide our decision.

When we are faced with a decision that may have a large effect on our survival, our automatic emotional sources such as instinct and disposition, beliefs, etc. are automatically energized and begin producing strong emotional signals. In most cases our intellect is also energized to seek some logical conclusion for consideration.

Depending on our personality and the context of the decision we may heed that call with focus and mental energy. If we produce an intellectual conclusion where we have confidence (an emotion) in the result - we will tend to give a lot of (emotional) weight to our decison - or (if we are not very astute intellectually or if there is not good data upon which to base an intellectual conclusion) we may largely ignore that call and feel more comfortable with simply following the emotional signals from other brain regions.

This is an interactive process that is completely intiated and mediated by emotional signals that are largely subconscious. Emotion is what goes on in our brain all the time. It can recognize the need for a decison and produce that decision and act on it without intellectual help - as all other mammals do, perhaps as all animals do depending on how broadly one defines emotion - and as humans do much of the time. Reasoning is what goes on in human brains some of the time. It is both driven by emotion and it produces emotional signals for decision-making. It can enhance our important decisions under the right conditions - and it can give us the ability to drive our car to the store and do other utilitarian things that animals can't.

I fail to see the danger in offering this view of how the brain works. I see greater danger in refusing to consider possible explanations for human behavior because they don't fit into the existing conventional wisdom - when the conventional wisdom has little or no theoretical validity of its own. I see even greater danger in discussions where proving one's self right and others' wrong displaces the actual content of the ideas being discussed. I don't see discussion as a zero-sum game.

You said, Though Todd is too polite to drive it home, the point he makes calls the entire premise of your hypothesis into question. I think you are mistaken. He was expressing a pov that was generally congruent with my ideas. In any case, even if he disagreed, his point was not to show that I was wrong and that he was right - which is why he did not drive "it" home.

This discussion seems to span psychology, philosophy and neurology. I think you are only comfortable in that latter zone - and in a discussion where someone wins and someone loses. It may be scary being in a discussion where psychological black boxes make it difficult to prove that you are correct and others wrong - or, more importantly, where that is not the purpose of the discussion - but that's where I am.

Margaret

Carey N
May 3rd, 2006, 01:29 PM
He was expressing a pov that was generally congruent with my ideas.
I guess that's why he used the phrase "serious error"


Todd: I think it's a serious error to propogate the longstanding tradition that intellect and emotion are two different sorts of thing that are somehow in competition with each other.

Margaret McGhee
May 3rd, 2006, 01:40 PM
Carey, I feel fairly certain he was referring to the conventional wisdom that I am opposed to. If you read the rest of that paragraph I find almost perfect agreement with several of my previous assertions.

I have repeatedly described intellect as an additional source of the emotions that are weighed in a decision. Weighing does not imply opposition - although an intellectual conclusion could produce opposite emotions from our instinct, for example. But it could just as easily produce the same (direction) emotions for another decision question. For that reason I also think that . . . it's a serious error to propogate the longstanding tradition that intellect and emotion are two different sorts of thing that are somehow in competition with each other. Do you thnk he was calling my hypothesis a longstanding tradition - or that my hypothesis agreed with it?

In any case, I believe he was discussing ideas - and was not so concerned with who was right and who was wrong - except that he was expressing opposition to the conventional wisdom. I suspect that you saw his post differently because you can't imagine someone posting a comment that does not "win" some argument. ;)

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
May 3rd, 2006, 04:07 PM
Yesterday I said, It also seems that someone who believes that human decision-making is a solely intellectual process would be at a disadvantage to show that emotion is absent even in most adult behavior choices - while it would be easy for me to show many examples where intellect seems to be almost entirely absent from many adult behavior choices. See Asch Experiments (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments) for one out of thousands of such examples.

A closer look at that study provides useful insight. The authors stated that The purpose of the study was to gather evidence to support the hypothesis that unspoken rules and guidelines for a group often influence individuals to behave and in ways do not follow their traditional morals, beliefs, and attitudes.

What the study actually showed was that my hypothesis is probably correct - that behavior choice decisions are made as the result of a weighing of emotional inputs from several sources - including intellect.

A prediction: By manipulating those emotional forces, different decisions can be produced.

In this case, without the emotions of social conformity the test subject could correctly identify the line 98% of the time. When the subject was made to feel the emotions of social conformity they misidentified the line 70% perent of the time - denying their intellectual conclusion.

I think that is strong circumstantial evidence for my hypothesis. I predict that I could make it a slam dunk by extending the test to a third trial - wherein the subject was offered 20 dollars for correctly identifying the similar line in any trial where more than half of the other participants got it wrong. Of course, I'd set it up that way.

I predict the emotional value for a student to get a quick 20 bucks would suddenly over-ride the subject's desire to be seen as conforming. Would anyone suggest that he suddenly got smarter?

Or, does anyone have a better explanation for this than an accomodation to various emotional forces in a decision?

Margaret

TomJrzk
May 3rd, 2006, 04:16 PM
Would anyone suggest that he suddenly got smarter?
I would suggest that you would have invalidated the experiment by mentioning the possibility that others would get something so easy so wrong. In fact, you would be planting the expectation that others would get it wrong. So, I hope you would have a control where only the suggestion and not the money was added ;).

Just poking at the logic, I'm sure you could design it correctly some other way...

Margaret McGhee
May 3rd, 2006, 04:22 PM
Well Tom, you may be right - but I suspect that if I was in that situation I would assume the test was to see who was more susceptible to optical illusions. If it seemed easy to me I would just think that I was not so susceptible (while those others were) - and I'd feel lucky that I was going to get the 20 bucks.

But, thanks much for following this thread - and getting my point. ;)

Margaret.

TomJrzk
May 3rd, 2006, 04:44 PM
Well Tom, you may be right - butYikes, you really didn't get my point. Well, as long as we talk it over before you waste $20 (!!!). ;)

BTW: My point is that those who agreed with the incorrect answers of the other 7 were probably thinking "Surely, there must be something I'm missing. Maybe the angle's all wrong. Maybe I didn't hear the instructions completely. Maybe..."; they doubted their own answer. Once you say "you get $20 if many others get it wrong" then you've just eliminated most if not all the reasons they followed the pack. IOW if the test was to prove that the subject followed an incorrect answer only because they didn't want to be different, the experimenter would have HAD to tell the subject that everyone else got it wrong before asking the subject.

Margaret McGhee
May 3rd, 2006, 05:12 PM
Tom, this is getting more interesting than I first suspected. I see your point. When you say My point is that those who agreed with the incorrect answers of the other 7 were probably thinking "Surely, there must be something I'm missing. Maybe the angle's all wrong. Maybe I didn't hear the instructions completely. Maybe..."; they doubted their own answer.

That's a good observation. Now that you made me think about it I would say that's how social pressure to conform often works in our minds. It makes us doubt our intellect - as opposed to outright deny it, as I previously suggested. For example, 70 some percent of Americans claim to believe in Biblical Creation. I think social pressure to conform makes them doubt the science - which really isn't their own intellect speaking - since they don't understand the science anyway. For them it's a contest to conform to social pressure coming from two different camps - the believers and the atheists. No-one likes us immoral atheists so for them it is a slam-dunk ;)

Maybe I'll have to drop my slam-dunk assertion until I can figure out a better methodolgy.

Thanks, Margaret

Margaret McGhee
May 3rd, 2006, 10:19 PM
Tom, I had to go do some errands this afternoon but couldn't get this thing out of my mind. I still find your comment a bit cryptic - the sentence, IOW if the test was to prove that the subject followed an incorrect answer only because they didn't want to be different, the experimenter would have HAD to tell the subject that everyone else got it wrong before asking the subject.

Maybe you can clear that up for me if you still think it's needed.

But anyway, I think that the test subject could think (intellectualy) that he must be doing something wrong and doubt his conclusion as you mentioned. I'd call that reasoning - not social pressure. Perhaps, that was your point - that I didn't get.

In that case the Asch test doesn't support my theory as I claimed. It just says that the subject was being judiciously skeptical of his own judgement - something that I think humans often do in those situations. I think we intuitively know that our logical computer is often wrong and so we (subconsciously) decrease the stength of the emotions we grant it in our conclusions when we're feeling iffy.

As an atheist I sometimes struggle with social conformity emotions in religious situations - like a wedding for example. When we are asked to kneel and pray, do I pretend to pray to a God I don't believe in and avoid the certain disaproval of others? Some would no doubt conclude that I'd prefer to selfishly besmirch their lovely ceremony than pretend to bow to their God.

I usually swallow my pride in order not to besmirch, which would be seen by many as an insult to the bride and groom. I console myself with the thought that if I don't believe in Him - then kneeling is a (personally) meaningless gesture anyway. But, I would be lieing if I said I did not enjoy the reprieve from the disapproval of others when I do that. And I can definitely say
I would not kneel if it were not for the strong emotions urging me to do so - both not wanting to insult and not wanting to garner disapproval. It's a palpable feeling of discomfort while making the decision.

And afterward I still feel uncomfortable knowing that eanyone there who cares to think about it assumes I am not an atheist. So, I feel like I have been dishonest. And I even feel anger that I have been put in the position of having to choose between dishonesty and insult.

Damn. How complicated can this get? Perhaps the Asch study can be redone as a Catholic wedding ceremony with an atheist test subject - or an atheist wedding ceremony where the test subject is a Catholic and the wedding officiator or whetever they call themselves says, "Let us not pray" ;)

Margaret

TomJrzk
May 4th, 2006, 10:35 AM
I'd call that reasoning - not social pressure.Yes, that was my point: social pressure may have made some subjects change the answer they KNEW to be right but others may have weighed others' answers in their determination of their right answer.

The experiment would have to include an answer that's impossible to get wrong or something without a wrong answer. Like 'how many fingers am I holding up?' where everyone says 2 when there's actually only one. Or when the subject says he likes a 'horrible' song because everyone else prefers it and then later chooses to buy (accept as a gift?) the other 'better' song.

BTW, I kneel and look around the whole time (usually at the better-looking dresses ;) ); if I see someone else looking around I smile at them in that friendly, knowing fashion.

PS. For Carey's sake and so I don't add another whole post for something so trivial: I usually confuse most readers because I often strain too hard to be brief to the point where it becomes cryptic ;).

Fred H.
May 4th, 2006, 10:56 AM
MM: I usually swallow my pride in order not to besmirch, which would be seen by many as an insult to the bride and groom. I console myself with the thought that if I don't believe in Him - then kneeling is a (personally) meaningless gesture anyway. But, I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy the reprieve from the disapproval of others when I do that. And I can definitely say I would not kneel if it were not for the strong emotions urging me to do so - both not wanting to insult and not wanting to garner disapproval. It's a palpable feeling of discomfort while making the decision.
Yes Margaret, I know exactly what you mean—there's something wrong with your world, but you don’t know what it is—you are a slave Margaret—a slave to the primitive emotional and motivational systems. Like everyone else, your more recently evolved cognitive consciousness, that is capable of discerning objective truth and beauty, was nevertheless born into bondage, the bondage of the emotional matrix that imprisons us all, individually and collectively, and that cannot be readily, consciously perceived, nor physically touched. Unfortunately, no one can be told what this emotional matrix is; you have to see it for yourself; and in the seeing you may find believing.

Margaret McGhee
May 4th, 2006, 11:37 AM
I have already stated my basic premise that human decison-making results from the summation of emotional forces from various sources in the brain. I listed those sources as - instincts, memories of past events, dispositions, social instincts, beliefs, and intellectual conclusions

Including intellectual conclusions as one of several inputs to the decision mechanism reduces intellect from the director of decisions to one of the contributors. That's enough to cause plenty of angst as it violates the cognicentric paradigm that we have always lived within. Here are some additional thoughts on the place of intellect.

We do use our intellect frequently in our lives. But when? I propose that we mostly use intellect when strong emotions are not involved in a decision. Like, "Is this the best offramp to exit the freeway if I want to go to Home Depot." You've done it many times before and without giving it much thought so you'll probably just take the usual offramp. But, this time you toy with the idea of taking a possible shortcut, one that your intellect tells you could well be faster. On a lark you take it.

But, what if you are delivering a million dollars to a certain trash can in the parking lot - and kidnappers have threatened to kill your child if it isn't there on time? Suddenly, the stakes go from insignificant to astronomical. Still want to try that shortcut?.

What is different between the two examples that causes you to arrive at a different decision? Examining this scenario illustrates several features of my SBCH. The choice in each case is between an intellectual conclusion and a belief. A belief is a personalized learned truth about the world. In this case it is the way that you always get to Home Depot.

One thing that is apparent right off is the fallability of intellect. It seldom produces completely reliable conclusions. You think the short cut could be faster but you've never tried it. So, when the cost of failure in decision-making is high we tend to go with our beliefs. When the cost of failure is high - that means the emotional stakes are high. And that's the case whenever a decision has a large potential effect on our happiness, our survival.

Beliefs are very valuable mental images. Beliefs are learned truths about the world that we internalize. They encapsulate other beliefs given us by teachers, our past intellectual conclusions, our past experiences, and testing that occurred in our own specific personalized enviroment. That's why they can be very reliable. They are bits of personal wisdom we can depend on in a pinch. The longer we hold a belief and use it to produce reliable decisions on our behalf the more it becomes part of our identity. More about beliefs and the strong emotions they can produce later.

But environments can change. There could be road work on our usual offramp. That's when intellect can help. We can intellectually examine our beliefs to be sure they still apply - something I think smart, effective people do a lot of. And we can use our intellect to come up with a better guess when they don't - the first step in editing our beliefs.

But in both of these cases it was the emotions generated by our beliefs and our intellectual conclusions that were weighed in our decisions. In each case I suspect the usual, belief based route, produced a reliable emotional tag. In the first case, the intellectual shortcut tag had a higher value - it was novel, it could possibly provide a new more valuable route to Home Depot than the belief we held, and there was no cost of a slight delay.

In the second case the shortcut choice held a very high cost for being late - and finding a faster route for later use and the novelty had no emotional value to us at all under those conditions. And so, our emotions ultimately guide our decisions according to the context of the decision that we are making - wisely enlisting our intellect to improve the quality of those decisions in terms of our own survival - and depending on the context - but never allowing our intellect to dictate them.

Margaret

Margaret McGhee
May 4th, 2006, 03:05 PM
In my last post I said that, We do use our intellect frequently in our lives. But when? I propose that we mostly use intellect when strong emotions are not involved in a decision. Before moving on I'd like to focus briefly on one of the more important implications of this - politics.

First, I will admit that I am generally liberal politically. This is not a partisan observation however. It's just that currently the conservatives are better at using this principle of the mind to their advantage and against liberals. There have been times when liberals used it to their advantage. If we look at the politics of academia I'd say that liberals are currently using those to their advantage against the conservatives - at least as much as Steve Pinker is correctly describing the pervasive influence of liberal ideology in academia (which I am inclined to believe at this time).

But, what this says is that if your position is not reasonable then raise the emotional stakes. When strong emotions are running through our minds we are far less likely to consult our intellect when making decison. And if we do we are far more likely to distrust our conclusions - as when delivering a ransom to Home Depot.

Today, this means that the upcoming mid-term election will be (wisely) framed by Republicans as a war against baby-killers (abortion), against those who would destroy American family values (same sex marriage), against terrorism enablers (Dems opposed to NSA wiretapping without warrants), etc.

The problem for democracy is that once the emotional stakes are raised the other side has no option but to go one better. We are soon swimming in a turbulent sea of hatred and mistrust of anyone who doesn't agree with us a hundred percent. Reason is lost - and all of us lose the benefit of the best intellectual decision-making in our interests that democracy - which spreads that decision-making over millions of minds where each person's beliefs and instincts can wisely qualify our intellectual conclusions - was supposed to provide.

Perhaps, Steve Sailer is just offering the only defense for genetic determisim that is available - after decades of Margaret Mead and slavery and civilization's instinctive and passionate recoil from the Third Reich. Maybe the effect that those highly emotional influences had on our world are far from over and will continue to reverberate and cause wide-swinging oscillations through our politics for many years to come.

It seems to me that the only way to mitigate the damage that these political oscillations have caused and will continue to cause is to understand that emotions are what motivates our minds and are the values that get negotiated in our decisions, that our intellectual conclusions are weak competitors to start with and that enlightened intellectual conclusions only emerge from minds that are free from strong emotions. When we understand that we may be better able to resist the siren call of those strong emotions in our political processes. The Ulysses of both parties need to tie themselves to the mast.

History has shown that these cycles of fervor, like the Crusades, only die out after so many millions have been killed that we run out of recruits. Those few left alive finally look around at the death and destruction and lose their passion for it.

Some scientists have postulated that this is the reason we don't find intelligent life in the universe. The time-line from the intellectual capacity to create fearful weapons (and possibly communicate with other life in the universe) - until we inevitably destroy ourselves with those weapons is extremely short. See Why We Haven't Met Any Aliens (http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/05/why_we_havent_met_any_aliens.php) for more on this idea.

Enough political philosophy, Margaret

TomJrzk
May 4th, 2006, 03:32 PM
This is not a partisan observation however.Yikes. To say this and then go on to partisan observations is not exactly what I would do. You might have included more of the dems faults to make it more balanced and much less partisan.

I know you don't see them from your perspective since most in the media do not, either. Yes, "Enough political philosophy"...

Stuck in the middle...

Margaret McGhee
May 4th, 2006, 03:42 PM
I don't see the imbalance here.

Examples from either side would make my point. Today's political examples are best exemplified by Tom DeLay and Bill Frist and Carl Rove.

Today's best academic examples are perhaps Gould, Lewontin, Rose and those who attack Larry Summers.

I was purposely not trying to score any political points which is why I declared my politics as liberal - so others could discount anything I said as they wish.

I suspect you're not as stuck in the middle as you think. ;)

Margaret

TomJrzk
May 4th, 2006, 04:55 PM
I don't see the imbalance here.You're right. I did not make the correlation between Summers' attackers and the left. My bad, I'm sorry.

I AM in the middle though. Economic R and social D, with the exception of gays. And I love the saying: "If you're in college and not a [social] D, then you have no heart; if you're out of college and not an [economic] R, you have no brain".

Fred H.
May 4th, 2006, 09:23 PM
MM: We do use our intellect frequently in our lives. But when? I propose that we mostly use intellect when strong emotions are not involved in a decision.

Indeed! And that’s why we must utilize our rational downward causation to establish our morality, to determine what it is that is right and wrong, enabling us to know what it means to be morally responsible b/f we encounter the difficulties and stresses of life.

I’m impressed Margaret. Your above comment indicates that your understanding of this area has evolved since you’ve begun this thread, and you now seem to understand and acknowledge that your original so-called hypothesis—that “we do that which we most want to do, emotionally”—in addition to being circular and somewhat vacuous, also erroneously ignored the impact of the third part of the mental trilogy, our more recently evolved human cognitive consciousness/intellect, by which we humans are able to rationally reason, discern truth, and from which freewill seems to emerge (although you yourself may not yet completely accept the freewill thing). I think the LeDoux’s book may have been tremendously helpful in your evolution.

And considering that you’ve also recently changed your mind regarding intelligence differences, more or less now acknowledging that intelligent differences are indeed real (mostly due to JimB’s suggestion that you read Pinker’s book I think), I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised—you’re learning and growing. That’s downward causation for you. Congratulations.

Carey N
May 5th, 2006, 06:51 AM
Damn. How complicated can this get?
Perhaps now you see the point I was trying to make with empirical testing (and why it is so important). Without it, we're grasping in the dusk.


[From an earlier post]What the study actually showed was that my hypothesis is probably correct
Acknowledging that you've changed your stance on that particular study since posting this quote, the language itself does pretty clearly demonstrate that you're in the "correct/incorrect" mindset, just as much as I. This, of course, is a good thing (and it doesn't necessitate animosity of any kind) . . . otherwise we'd just be throwing crazy ideas around all the time.

Regarding Todd's post, I see that he was referring to the conventional wisdom of intellect/emotion separationas a "serious error". However, it does seem to me that you still treat intellect and emotion as two completely separate entities (that interact with each other). My interpretation of Todd's early post is that having different names for emotion and intellect might not even be conceptually correct, according to recent neuroscientific evidence. I would, however defer to Todd on this one.

Fred H.
May 5th, 2006, 09:31 AM
Found one of my old posts from 2/25/03 that’s somewhat relevant to this thread—

Damasio Selects Spinoza Fred H. · 02/25/03 at 3:04 PM ET
I’ve been reading Damasio’s new book, “Looking for Spinoza” (Harcourt, 2003); another great book with lots of great stuff to ponder; I highly recommend it. Here’s one area (of many) I found interesting:

In confronting our suffering and our need for salvation, in addition to Spinoza’s requirement that we live “a virtuous life assisted by a political system whose laws help the individual with the task of being fair and charitable to others,” Damasio writes (pg 275):

“The Spinoza solution also asks the individual to attempt a break between the emotionally competent stimuli that trigger negative emotions--passions such as fear, anger, jealousy, sadness--and the very mechanisms that enact emotion. Instead, the individual should substitute emotionally competent stimuli capable of triggering positive, nourishing emotions. To facilitate this goal, Spinoza recommends the mental rehearsing of negative emotional stimuli as a way to build a tolerance for negative emotions and gradually acquire a knack for generating positive ones. [Wow!--Exposure/CBT, circa 1670, but without the cognitive distortions.] This is, in effect, Spinoza as mental immunologist developing a vaccine capable of creating antipassion antibodies.”

Additionally, Damasio writes: “The individual must be aware of the fundamental separation between emotionally competent stimuli and the trigger mechanism [which, as current neuroscience now shows, includes amgdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, cinguate] of emotion so that he can substitute ‘reasoned’ emotionally competent stimuli capable of producing the most positive feeling states.”

In an earlier part of the book (pg 58) Damasio discusses triggering and executing emotion and writes that after the presentation of an emotionally competent object, regardless of how fleeting the presentation:

“...signals related to the presence of that stimulus are made available to the emotion-triggering sites....You can conceive of those sites as locks that open only if appropriate keys fit. The emotionally competent stimuli are the keys, of course. Note that they select a preexisting lock, rather than instruct the brain on how to create one. The emotion-triggering sites subsequently activate a number of emotion-execution sites...[which are] the immediate cause of the emotional state that occurs in the body and the brain regions that [then] support the emotion-feeling process."

He goes on to say that these “descriptions sound a lot like that of an antigen entering the blood stream and leading to an immune response....And well they should because the processes are formally similar. In the case of emotion, the ‘antigen’ is presented through the sensory system and the ‘antibody’ is the emotional response. The ‘selection’ is made at one of the several brain sites equipped to trigger an emotion. The conditions in which the process occurs are comparable, the contour of the process is the same, and the results are just as beneficial. Nature is not that inventive when it comes to successful solutions. Once it works, it tries it again and again.”

TomJrzk
May 5th, 2006, 10:27 AM
We do use our intellect frequently in our lives. But when? I propose that we mostly use intellect when strong emotions are not involved in a decision.I’m impressed Margaret. Your above comment indicates that your understanding of this area has evolved since you’ve begun this thread, and you now seem to understand and acknowledge that your original so-called hypothesis—that “we do that which we most want to do, emotionally”—in addition to being circular and somewhat vacuous, also erroneously ignored the impact of the third part of the mental trilogy, our more recently evolved human cognitive consciousness/intellect, by which we humans are able to rationally reason, discern truth, and from which freewill seems to emerge (although you yourself may not yet completely accept the freewill thing).This [yours Fred] is such a ridiculous statement that I hate to even acknowledge it. But, since Margaret is ignoring you, I must: we all understand that humans have intellect, the question that you're glossing over is where it comes from. We believe that intellect itself is deterministic, merely the result of the current conditions in our brains, you insist there is some make-believe component to it that creates free will. You have yet to prove where that component comes from and I've pointed out data that contradict a free will; some of which you've agreed with. You're wrong, Fred.

Fred H.
May 5th, 2006, 10:56 AM
[Carey to Margaret]: Acknowledging that you've changed your stance on that particular study since posting this quote, the language itself does pretty clearly demonstrate that you're in the "correct/incorrect" mindset, just as much as I. This, of course, is a good thing (and it doesn't necessitate animosity of any kind) . . . otherwise we'd just be throwing crazy ideas around all the time.
It occurs to me, Carey, that we may actually have had some positive impact (maybe in a kind of good cop/bad cop kind of way?) on Margaret’s understanding of these issues. Congratulations. It also occurs to me that seeing as how this forum has had quite an impact on the evolution of Margaret’s understanding of things, perhaps she should consider thanking JimB for making this forum available, for his input, and perhaps she should also consider apologizing to Jim for her initial cheap shots and playing the racist card when he originally brought up the intelligence differences topic (assuming her sense of fairness and graciousness has also adequately evolved)?

Fred H.
May 5th, 2006, 11:02 AM
TomJ: I've pointed out data that contradict a free will….
Yeah, and that mass murderers aren’t morally responsible for their behavior.

TomJrzk
May 5th, 2006, 11:50 AM
Yeah, and that mass murderers aren’t morally responsible for their behavior.My quote was 'not ultimately responsible'. They as social members, comprising everything that was given them by their genes and environment, ARE responsible. But they are responsible as persons for neither their genes nor their environment and neither are you. So, you're right, they are not ultimately responsible; and given the same everything, you would have done the exact same things.

Fred H.
May 5th, 2006, 01:44 PM
TomJ: My quote was 'not ultimately responsible'.
Yeah, you’ve said both—you seem to also lack a sense of responsibility to account accurately for what you’ve said—here’re some reminders—

TomJ: But, yes, I feel that they [various mass murderers, e.g., Stalin, Hitler, etc.] are not morally responsible…. [http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=3027&postcount=20]

TomJ: Yes, humans have no 'moral' responsibility…. [http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=3066&postcount=22]

TomJ: If you have no free will, you have no 'morals' beyond the instincts that have been bred into us as social animals…. [http://www.behavior.net/bolforums/showpost.php?p=3130&postcount=24]

TomJrzk
May 5th, 2006, 03:26 PM
Yeah, you’ve said bothYou're right, I left the tics off the first "morally", which was an oversight, not an admission. But I explained earlier that I don't talk about 'morals' since religious folk have overloaded the term; there's no such thing as morals if they have to come from an 'objective' source, which, by the way, has to be 'God'. If you want to use 'morals' to mean the social instincts that the last 7 of the 10 commandments were built from, then I have no issue.

It's interesting that you'd take such an oversight as a character flaw when you knew that I meant 'ultimately responsible'...

ToddStark
May 5th, 2006, 03:56 PM
... I'm just catching up on this interesting discussion, as time allows.

Just for the record, although "polite" is a compliment I won't reject out of hand, I really wasn't biting my tongue with Margaret. I was honestly reserving judgment because there are some fundamental concepts that I seem to think of very differently and I want to avoid misunderstanding as far as practical.

"Emotion" and "Intellect" both have a long history as concepts, and for most of that history they have been defined in intuitive and phenomenological terms rather than operational or technical terms. Failing to make them technical risks our slide into compelling illusions that represent how we explain our own behavior to ourselves but probably not what actually drives our behavior. We know from a great deal of evidence from various lines that the engines of explanation and the engines of behavior are different mechanisms in human beings. On the other hand, making intellect and emotional into technical ideas risks the not lesser crime of "destroying" the phenomena we care about examining, in a similar manner to that in which early behaviorists temporarily "destroyed" mental and cognitive phenomena.

I suspect that Margaret and I make different tradeoffs on the technical definition of the concepts. She relies more on her intuition about what emotions and intellect represent, and I think I do share her intuitions, but I am also more skeptical of them. So I look for experimental evidence about the details of the decision making process, but I tend to try to avoid interpreting them as evidence for a battle between intellect and emotion.

My exposure to the literature relevant to human decision making has left me with the impression that it is divided roughly in half. Cognitive and social psychology on one hand, and political psychology on the other hand.

The cognitive psychology and social psychology tradition, which I am most familiar with and comfortable with, treats human rationality as flawed for various reasons, converging on the idea that various things lead us to use shortcuts in our reasoning. This includes but is not limited to extremes of emotions, and also includes a tendency to be overconfident in our own opinions, to use stereotyped modes of thinking to reject new evidence, to rely on seemingly superficial markers of credibility, and so on.

The political psychology literature agrees that human beings use shortcuts and heuristics, but tends to take the view that these are adaptive, that people actually make better decisions together because of the shortcuts and sometimes even when we avoid reasoning.

I think there is a lot to be said for both of these viewpoints, and I agree with a lot in each of them. Much of the literature in both camps shares at least one important concept, the notion that human beings vary between a high attention, high motivation mode of thinking (central processing) and a low attention, low motivation mode of thinking (peripheral processing). They disagree on the implications of this, and the value associated with central vs. peripheral processing.

I bring this up in part to suggest that the more operational and technical distinction in human decision making might be better stated as central vs. peripheral processing rather than intellect and emotion.

And Margaret is right, I am usually very little concerned about who wins arguments here, and I usually find them annoying rather than stimulating. I do enjoy a well made argument, even when I disagree, which is why I can usually tolerate Fred for a while even though we eventually annoy each other into oblivion in nearly every thread. He does often argue very well, and I learn from that.

kind regards,

Todd

Margaret McGhee
May 5th, 2006, 05:34 PM
Thanks, Todd. Your posts are like a fresh breeze coming in from the ocean. I am not claiming in any way that you agree with me or vice versa. I appreciate your clear focus on the complex ideas we are trying to discuss.

I am intrigued by your allusion to central and peripheral processing. What difference do you see for the roles of emotion and cognition in the high motivation / processing mode (HMP mode) vs. the low motivation / processing mode (LMP mode) - if any?

I'm not sure what you mean by this computer (I suspect) metaphor. I can think of a few things - none of which may be relevant.

a) HMP = making a decision, LMP = daydreaming

b) HMP = high motivated decison, like what career path to choose in life. LMP = low motivated decision, like should I pour myself another cup of coffee?

c) HMP = cognition brought to bear, LMP = cognition not called upon

d) central = CPU, peripheral = math coprocessor

e) None of above.

When you get a chance I'd like to know more. Or, links would help. I'm still trying to understand that 46 page Precis on the Illusion of Conscious Will. ;)

Thanks, Margaret

PS - Here's a really cool article on the evolutionary siginificance of yawning in case anyone is interested. Yawning Article (http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/05/the_incredible_communicable_ya.php)

Carey N
May 5th, 2006, 08:30 PM
It occurs to me, Carey, that we may actually have had some positive impact (maybe in a kind of good cop/bad cop kind of way?) on Margaret’s understanding of these issues.
From Margaret's perspective, it's probably "bad cop/abominable cop" . . . But we mean well in the end.

Fred H.
May 6th, 2006, 01:48 AM
Todd: . . . I am usually very little concerned about who wins arguments here, and I usually find them annoying rather than stimulating.
Yeah, “winning” here would generally seem to be meaningless. But I doubt “winning” is what these arguments are usually about. Rather the problem seems to be “losing”—nobody wants to hear that their baby is ugly.

ToddStark
May 6th, 2006, 12:37 PM
Margaret, I'm glad you decided to contribute here. For me, you definitely added a new dimension to the discussions that they were missing previously. I'm sorry I don't have more time to participate right now.

"I am intrigued by your allusion to central and peripheral processing. What difference do you see for the roles of emotion and cognition in the high motivation / processing mode (HMP mode) vs. the low motivation / processing mode (LMP mode) - if any?"

I come from a cog sci and computer science background and I still work as a computer consultant, so it is hard for me not to find computer metaphors attractive and revealing. I don't mean to compare brains to computers explicitly, I just think the notion of cognition still has a lot of value in it intellectually for understanding brains. I hope my bias in that respect isn't too distracting. I know it must be for people who take a very non-cognitive, non-computational, or non-functionalist view of the human mind, which I suspect may be most people.

I like the central and peripheral processing distinction because it implies that there are specific kinds of circumstances that will lead us to change the criteria we use in decision making. In the experimental lab, using controls, we can test whether someone is paying attention to the content of a message or to the characteristics of the medium. We can roughly determine motivation as a general quality. We can roughly determine the sorts of things someone is attending vs. those they are not noticing (especially in situations where we can reasonably trust their reports). For right now, this allows us to see how human decision making shifts in different circumstances.

When we get to the point where can routinely pinpoint brain activity associated with particular processes, and uniformly agree on those as "emotional" mechanisms and such, then concepts like emotion become operationally much more relevant to our technical understanding.

For example, one of the defining experiments in marginal perception (a technical term for "subliminal") was that experimenters could measure differential activity in the amygdala corresponding to emotionally significant images that they didn't report noticing. Very likely they were perceiving and interpreting something "emotional" about the images without realizing it. This is a very crude example, but it shows the sort of correlation I think is neccessary for deeper understanding of mind and brain.

More later. For now, a good source for central and peripheral processing is: S.T. Fiske and S.E. Taylor, "Social Cognition," (1991), McGraw Hill.

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
May 6th, 2006, 06:00 PM
What difference do you see for the roles of emotion and cognition in the high motivation / processing mode (HMP mode) vs. the low motivation / processing mode (LMP mode) - if any?

I'm not sure what you mean by this computer (I suspect) metaphor. I can think of a few things - none of which may be relevant.

a) HMP = making a decision, LMP = daydreaming

b) HMP = high motivated decison, like what career path to choose in life. LMP = low motivated decision, like should I pour myself another cup of coffee?

c) HMP = cognition brought to bear, LMP = cognition not called upon

d) central = CPU, peripheral = math coprocessor

e) None of above.

I know it would be nice to have general answers to the difficult questions we are circling around, but I think we are just starting to close in on a lot of these ideas in current research. Central and Peripheral processing reflects specific kinds of cognitive strategies we use for judgment, but various things obviously may affect which strategies we choose under particular conditions. General "emotion," or more particularly, mood, is probably one of those factors.

The closest useful concept in cog sci to what we think of as the influence of emotion on judgment is "hot cognition." Hot cognition is essentially the idea that goals and moods color our judgment in a systematic way. Perhaps surprisingly, since it seems to intuitively obvious, the notion of hot cognition was controversial until about the late 1980's, when most cognitive scientists began to take it seriously as a topic of its own.

The "heat" of hot cognition (the influence of specific motivational engines) probably does have an influence on whether we rely on quick and easy inferential shortcuts or whether we try to apply more elaborate systematic reasoning strategies. I doubt they are the same thing, however. There are probably situations where we apply shortcuts in "cold" information processing, and situations where we reason more elaborately even though influenced by goal and mood.

It appears that for the most part, sadness gives rise to more elaborate and systematic cognition. In happy moods, we seem more likely to use cursory, heuristic thinking. This tendency seems to often be overcome when we enjoy systematic thinking and expect it to be fun as well as useful, or if we have compelling reasons to engage in systematic strategies, such as a situational or tempermental goal of being more accurate.

Motives and moods affect which cognitive strategies we use, motivation "heats up" our thinking and operates through our cognitive strategies. This in turn colors our judgment.

(source on hot cognition: Ziva Kunda, "Social Cognition," (1999), MIT Press)

kind regards,

Todd

Margaret McGhee
May 7th, 2006, 11:55 AM
Todd, I've had to think about your last two posts for a while. Written words are the most difficult medium with which to bridge belief catagories. Trying to imagine what the other person sees from their belief system is required - but it takes some time to acquaint one's mind with the new terrain. Even then I'm sure I will make some wrong assumptions.

Of course, cog-sci seems unabashedly cognicentic which makes it doubly difficult for me as I have immersed myself in the possibilities of my alternative emotive-centric view for the last few months. I think that's the only way to explore a new area fruitfully. You have to be actively looking for connections. That makes one a partisan, of course. But, knowing myself for almost 64 years now, I'm comfortable that I can dissuade myself if negative evidence starts to appear. For now, it's an exciting unexplored region for me and I've always enjoyed the exploration of plausible ideas that violated the CW, especially when they were my own.

I also have a liberal mindset about ideas - in that I accept that ideas can be partially true and even that opposite ideas can apply to the same reality. I see ideas (cognition) as an evolved mental process designed for purposes other than exploring the operation of our own brains - and that requires a certain modestly when dealing with brain science. So, while I may champion (the possibilities of) my emotive-centric view I certainly don't claim that they represent some objective reality - just an interesting possibility that might offer some value.

Your description of the cog-sci notion that emotions can modulate cognition by causing choice in cognitive strategy is interesting. It seems to me such an obvious question and such a short leap - to wondering if emotion does not cause cognition to start with - along with directing the strategy. Perhaps, it's my physics background that makes me look for a force for any reaction - but what else could possibly be the force that causes us to think - or to think about one thing in a particular context? What else but the emotions of our body state, refined in mammals over 65 million years to direct our behavior choices, long before intellect had appeared? Is not cognition itself a behavior?

Thanks for the high quality cognition.

Margaret

PS - I'm sure my less-than-precise use of some scientfic terms is probably maddening to you and other trained scientist types (like Carey and JB). I appreciate your patience and efforts to understand and respond to my actual meaning - and I welcome any corrections.