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ToddStark
May 8th, 2006, 02:38 PM
Press Release from USC on the Damasios' latest job ...

When it comes to creativity, USC College has the market cornered.

In fall 2005, Antonio and Hanna Damasio, two eminent neuroscientists, will join USC as professors of psychology and neuroscience where they will lead a new institute devoted to the study of the brain and human creativity.

Scholars have long researched how creativity can be taught and nurtured, but the Damasios have expanded the definition of “creative” to include some unexpected concepts.

“Creativity is not just about the creation of an art object, or a piece of music, or a film, or the creation of a scientific project, but also about the creation of social relations and of cultural institutions,” says Antonio Damasio. “People rarely associate these latter areas with creativity, but anytime we produce something new, be it an architectural drawing, classroom curriculum, or a new approach to a business problem, the creative process is at work.”

Studying things like economics, education and governance from a neurobiological perspective has rarely been done. But pioneering something new, be it a concept, a research finding, or another best-seller, is what the Damasios are known for.

Their professional careers have been steeped in creative moments. A distinguished physician, Antonio Damasio’s research on the neurobiology of the mind has had a major influence on our current understanding of the neural systems that underlie emotion, memory, language, decision-making and consciousness. His work has shown that emotions play a central role in human decision-making. His books on the mind include Descartes' Error; The Feeling of What Happens; and Looking for Spinoza. They are widely read by the lay public as well as by scientists.

Through basic research, medical case studies and philosophical analysis, he has investigated the biological roots of consciousness and helped to reveal its role in survival. His work has spanned many fields and includes studies of Alzheimer’s and other human diseases.

And there’s his equally creative wife Hanna Damasio, a neurologist and neuroscientist acclaimed for developing new brain imaging techniques and imaging methods in the study of brain lesions. She is the author of the first atlas of the brain based on computerized images, Human Brain Anatomy in Computerized Image. A second edition is due for release in early 2005. Her award-winning book Lesion Analysis in Neuropsychology is widely used in brain imaging work.

They come to USC College from the University of Iowa College of Medicine, where Hanna Damasio, Distinguished Professor of Neurology, directed the Laboratory for Human Neuroanatomy and Neuroimaging and developed a prominent research center dedicated to the investigation of language and other aspects of behavior and cognition.

"The Damasios’ vision, scientific leadership and breadth of knowledge in modern neurobiology will allow us to ask and answer new questions about the human mind and behavior," says Joseph Aoun, dean of the College. “They will be vital catalysts in our quest to unlock the mysteries of the mind and to better understand higher brain functions, including creativity, learning, memory, consciousness and language."

Both Damasios are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; he is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the Neurosciences Research Program and the European Academy of Arts and Sciences. Individually and together they have received numerous scientific awards.

“USC College has the sort of vibrant academic environment where one can dream of brain science and the humanities coming together to produce a better future,” says Antonio Damasio, who will direct the USC Institute for the Study of the Brain and Creativity.

The interdisciplinary institute will examine how knowledge from modern neurobiology can contribute to the elucidation of the creative process and how such knowledge can assist individuals and institutions in the betterment of human affairs—namely through the resolution of human conflict and through education.

The core of the institute is a laboratory focused on mind and behavior. Hanna Damasio will direct the laboratory and work closely with the USC Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center, which she will co-direct.

"The new brain imaging methods offer unprecedented possibilities for the study of human nature,”she says. “But for those studies to succeed neuroscience must form partnerships with, for example, the social sciences, engineering, and psychology. The structure and faculty of USC are ideal for such collaborations.”

The institute will approach three themes from a neurobiological perspective.

By looking at the broad topic of governance, scientists will examine how social emotions contribute to the understanding of economic, business and political institutions, including their ethical dimensions in the age of globalization.

The theme of artistic and scientific creativity will analyze the creative process that goes into the production of films, music, literature, the visual arts and architecture. By approaching this area from a neuroscience standpoint, the Damasios may look at why some people are more creative in certain areas than in others.

Under the theme of education, scientists will investigate how neuroscience can be applied to improve the way classroom curriculum is designed. By studying the learning process from a neurobiological perspective, they may gleam new insights that teachers can then adapt to their educational technique and curriculum.

“The possibilities for exploration are practically limitless,” says Antonio Damasio.

Adds Dean Aoun, "Because the study of the mind and human behavior does not fall within the domain of a single discipline, scholars from across the USC campus, from neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience, and the schools of cinema, education and communication, will be actively involved in this cutting-edge area of research that has important societal implications.”

Both Damasios are graduates of the University of Lisbon Medical School and adjunct professors at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. They join USC as part of the College’s Senior Faculty Hiring Initiative, a drive to bring 100 senior level scholars to USC. Just two years after announcing the bold initiative, the College has recruited 55 senior scholars to campus.

“This highly interdisciplinary approach to brain science will no doubt lead to extraordinary discoveries,” says Aoun.

Margaret McGhee
May 8th, 2006, 03:10 PM
How very cool.

It was reading Descarte's Error for the first time about three years ago that I first started wondering about the possibility that emotions were the directing force in our minds - and intellect a newly evolved resource that ocassionally gets called upon in decision-making.

The story of Phinneus Gage blew me away.

Thanks for posting this, Margaret

James Brody
May 12th, 2006, 08:26 PM
"I first started wondering about the possibility that emotions were the directing force in our minds - and intellect a newly evolved resource that ocassionally gets called upon in decision-making."

Pinker beat you to it....but the limbic system is NOT our elevator's ground floor.

JB

Margaret McGhee
May 14th, 2006, 09:11 PM
JB: Your post seems to saying that I claimed first knowledge. My full statement was , It was reading Descarte's Error for the first time about three years ago that I first started wondering about the possibility that emotions were the directing force in our minds - and intellect a newly evolved resource that ocassionally gets called upon in decision-making. But aside from that, I am pleased that you believe that Pinker posed this possibility already.

I have not found it yet in his writings or in Robert Wright's interview of him. I am on Chapter 14 of Blank Slate. I skimmed through How the Mind Works but found no chapter headings or anything that seems headed in that direction. Do you have a cite?

It would be very cool if, as you say, Pinker had this same insight.

BTW - I am enjoying The Blank Slate immensely. Thanks for recommending it. I am finding some things in Chapters 11 thru 14 that I don't feel completely comfortable with. But I need to re-read those chapters carefully before I'd be ready to say that I agreed or disagreed.

You said, ...but the limbic system is NOT our elevator's ground floor. That's the kind of feedback I was hoping for. Why are you so sure about that? What have I missed?

Margaret

Fred H.
May 15th, 2006, 04:19 PM
MM: first started wondering about the possibility that emotions were the directing force in our minds - and intellect a newly evolved resource that ocassionally gets called upon in decision-making.

JB: Pinker beat you to it....but the limbic system is NOT our elevator's ground floor.
Yeah, as did Damasio and LeDoux. Never really understood what exactly MM felt was so unique about her so-called hypothesis—that “we do that which we most want to do, emotionally”—except that it’s pretty much a useless oversimplification and circular explanation of the neuroscience that these guy discuss in far greater depth; and that she more or less ignores input from cognitive consciousness, reducing “choice” to a mere weighing of primitive instincts.

Regarding the “ground floor,” at the risk of rehash, if Max (father of quantum theory) Planck’s POV—that “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force [and that we] must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind [and that this] Mind is the matrix of all matter”—has any validity, then at bottom is mind—take the elevator down far enough, past the brain stem, and past the neurons, the molecules and atoms, and into the mysterious quantum world of wave-particles, timelessness, and non-locality, and maybe you end up where you started, full circle, although pi remains infinite . . . and maybe the world isn’t flat after all . . . but I digress….

Margaret McGhee
May 15th, 2006, 11:35 PM
JB, After thinking longer about your post . . . a couple of additional thoughts came to mind.

First you say that my idea is not original . . . even though I've never claimed it was. You say that Master Pinker himself was the originator of this concept. When I ask for a cite you give no response.

Then you say that the limbic system is not the elevator's ground floor. For someone so free with the metaphors you seem curiously unwilling to flesh out their meaning and eliminate the ambiguity they bring to the discussion.

Are you saying that emotions are not the data type that the limbic system was designed by evolution to process? Are you implying that cognition or something else is on the elevator's ground floor?

In the other thread Carey accused me of offering a throw-away comment about my cat. Within an hour of reading that I backed it up with an explanation that could be challenged and a link to further data.

Simply saying that I am wrong, even though Pinker seems to have had a similar idea about this, with no explanation as to why I am wrong - is the ultimate throw away comment. Was Pinker wrong too?

Margaret

Fred H.
May 16th, 2006, 11:05 AM
[MM to JimB:] Then you say that the limbic system is not the elevator's ground floor. For someone so free with the metaphors you seem curiously unwilling to flesh out their meaning and eliminate the ambiguity they bring to the discussion.

Are you saying that emotions are not the data type that the limbic system was designed by evolution to process? Are you implying that cognition or something else is on the elevator's ground floor?
JimB’s ground floor seems to be the brainstem.

Although, Margaret, you rarely seem to be appreciative whenever I’ve gone out of my way to provide you with useful info in your quest, here again, caring guy that I am, is more of what you’re asking about from an exchange in early 2003 where JimB briefly discusses this area in response to a “Glenn,” and I also comment (And wouldn’t you agree that I’ve provided you with far more meaningful info than say TomJ ever has, except that I don’t sugarcoat my evaluations of your various “hypotheses ?”)—

To Pithycus: About the Brainstem and TonyD James Brody · 01/17/03 at 9:18 ET

Glenn! Nice to see your name on the board! I hope that you and your family are well. Damascio...I think a short guy with very tall hair...has defined a niche for himself. He commits, however, the error made by cortical lovers, that of neglecting the brainstem.

The brainstem is laid out in segments like the thorax and belly of a fly and may, someday, be understood in terms of our non-cerebral anatomy. Hox genes and our anatomy have parallel, linear arrangements, that organization may be applied to our brainstem and cranial nerves.

The limbic system and cortex may be emergent gifts from the same architects that organize our mouths (labia) and foreheads...extra genes that paired with the anterior members (spiracle and antennadae?) of the Hox sequence to give us a more elaborate brain.

Yes, Tony is correct, there WILL be self-magnifying organizations within the limbic labyrinth but they are fed from below and from above. They may have semi-autonomy from cortex and brainstem but they are neither unfettered nor in charge of the neural triad.
JimB



Re:EMOTIONS Fred H. · 01/17/03 at 7:44 PM ET

Glenn: “Damasio is saying, in effect, that innate feelings motivate behavior.”

Hi Glenn: I’m a Damasio fan myself (in spite of his tall hair, and I think JimB has it wrong about Damasio being a cortical lover...Damasio struck me more a brain stem lover!)--I thought his ideas and explanation on what consciousness is and how it’s generated, and his explanations of the mechanics and neurochemistry of emotion, and especially the necessity of emotion in creating sense of “self,” were fabulous. However, I’m an even bigger fan of LeDoux (LeDoux’s “Synaptic Self,” 2002, is fantastic).

Any way, I don’t think Damasio ever says, or implies, that “feelings motivate behavior.” My simplified POV on all this is as follows: Stimuli trigger the primitive subcortical emotional neural circuitry which then activates the subcortical motivational circuitry which results in behavior, without and/or before conscious awareness of the stimuli. As you mentioned, maybe ½ second later, our higher cognitive consciousness then becomes aware of what’s going on and “feels” the and experiences the emotion and the behavior (believing it has been the author of the whole process). After becoming consciously/cognitively aware of what’s going on, we may then attempt to consciously (downwardly) manage our emotion/behavior; but of course at the same time we are consciously “feeling” the emotion(s) which then tremendously influence our cognitive perceptions and thinking. I’m convinced that, for the most part, emotion trumps “reason,” plus, “reason” (and consciousness) doesn’t seem possible without adequate emotional input.

LeDoux writes: “motivation can be thought of in terms of incentives without assuming that feelings are necessary to translate incentives into actions....In the presence of conditioned (learned) or unconditioned (innate) incentives [or stimuli], emotion systems are activated, placing the brain in a state where an instrumental response [where a behavior is instrumental in achieving/avoiding something] becomes a highly probable outcome...[and we thereby avoid] hypothetical concepts like drives or subjective states to explain motivated action. All we need to talk about is real brain systems and their functions.” He also notes that, “The brain can be thought of as having a variety of systems that it uses to interact with the environment and keep itself alive.” What’s important is the particular function these systems perform, whether they are labeled emotion systems or something else. “Included are systems that detect and respond to predators and other dangers, to sexual partners, to suitable food and drink, to safe shelter, and so on.” (Pg. 240 of LeDoux, Synaptic Self, 2002)

The bottom line as I see it: motivation is merely, primarily, behavior ordained by primitive neural structures performing their functions, with emotional feeling as a byproduct directing our higher cognitive resources to incentives/stimuli selected by the primitive functions. Let me know your thoughts….

You're welcome Margaret.

Margaret McGhee
May 16th, 2006, 03:25 PM
Fred, I have said before that you are a smart person. I enjoy discussing ideas with others who are respectful and honest in their motivation. I don't worry too much about their IQ as long as they meet those requirements. I'd say every one in this forum is smart enough to have valuable ideas worth considering.

Unfortunately, your smart mind is largely controlled by the strong emotions of your ideology regarding atheism and morality. Your personality has formed around those strong emotions of ideological identity. You can not have a discussion that you can not eventually turn toward affirming your ideology and / or falsifying competing ones. You are compelled to see every person in a discussion as either an ally, whom you will exhalt - or a bitter enemy, to be humiliated for their heresy.

Ideology is not the same as ideas. Ideology is identity beliefs that are attached to very strong emotions and that have no inherent requirement to correspond to reality. The only value of non-ideological ideas is the relatively cool emotional value of their ability to accurately represent some reality.

Having any discussion with you requires either feeding your strong ideological emotions - or being attacked by them. Every time I have tried (discussing) I always end up with knots in my stomach. The ideas that I was interested in always become trampled in the dirt of your ideological battlefield.

I wish it was different - but I choose where in my life I compete. I do not compete with ideologues. I like ideas too much to debase them by using them to prove that I am more moral than someone else. Morality is exhibited with deeds, not words. My sense of morality requires that I respect others in a discussion, especially when I disagree with them. You make that impossible. Therefore you make discussion impossible.

I wish you luck on your mission but you need to find another enabler. ;)

Margaret

Fred H.
May 17th, 2006, 09:42 AM
MM: . . . I choose where in my life I compete. I do not compete with ideologues. I like ideas too much to debase them by using them to prove that I am more moral than someone else. Morality is exhibited with deeds, not words. My sense of morality requires that I respect others in a discussion, especially when I disagree with them….
The way you’ve respected JimB implying charges of bigotry, or Carey with charges of being a fawning undergrad psych student, or me for being an ideologue?

Try not to think of all this in terms of competition, or in terms of winning and losing.

From what I know of your history, I can perhaps understand why you’re as sensitive as you are, but then we all have had our tribulations. The flaw in your “morality” is that in practice it’s exceedingly conditional—you say that you “respect others in a discussion [even when you] disagree with them,” but from what I’ve observed, whenever you feel that your own ideology/beliefs are being the least bit challenged/threatened, or you perceive that someone is behaving contrary to the dictates of that ideology, you automatically go into attack/accusation mode. Objectively review your posts and perhaps you’ll see the truth in what I’m saying . . . but then of course I may be completely wrong about all of this.

Margaret McGhee
May 17th, 2006, 12:17 PM
Yes, the expected response. When someone get's called on being a bigot the most clever defense is to say, "See, by calling me a bigot aren't you being bigoted?" It's the same with ideologues (another form of bigotry), as you so well demonstrate - they will interpret any disagreement with them (or even an objection to bringing ideology into the discussion) as being equally ideological. After all, I am complaining about your ideology and participating in a argument with you that is ideological - and so you win either way.

And that's why I get angry with ideologues injecting their mission into a discussion- there's really no way to prevent that from wrecking the discussion. It will always lead to a raising of the emotional stakes until everyone is compelled to either leave (like Alexandra) or become ideological themselves in defense. But, I understand. You are psychologically compelled to do that. You are addicted to the neorotransmitters generated by the public discussion of your ideology. You can not live for a day without getting that chemical hit - and the angrier you can make any detractors, the stronger that hit is.

You said, The flaw in your “morality” is that in practice it’s exceedingly conditional—you say that you “respect others in a discussion [even when you] disagree with them,” but from what I’ve observed, whenever you feel that your own ideology/beliefs are being the least bit challenged/threatened, or you perceive that someone is behaving contrary to the dictates of that ideology, you automatically go into attack/accusation mode. What I actually said was, My sense of morality requires that I respect others in a discussion, especially when I disagree with them. You make that impossible. Therefore you make discussion impossible. But, you knew that. Your accusation was to score points with others.

And, here we are again discussing who said what and why that was so nasty and, "doesn't that prove that your ideology is wrong". I imagine you're quite satisfied. As anyone can see, there is no defense from ideological attack in a discussion that doesn't hihjack the discussion - and that's why I get angry.

As far as what you know about my history I assure you you have no idea what you're talking about. I have no problem discussing it. I'd invite you to flesh out your innuendos to expose your ignorance but then we'd again be doing anything but discussing EP and you win again. Your willingness to bring my gender identity in as a weapon for your mission is proof enough of the lengths that ideologues are willing to go, to campaign for their ideology. Perhaps you thought your clever google search had given you some kind of napalm to use on me. :rolleyes:

Did it not occur to you that if I didn't want anyone to know about my gender identity I could have simply used a fictitious name here? Gender identity does make for interesting discussions on its own (it is also part of evolutionary psychology) but it is definitely not a conversation I'd have with an ideologue.

It's becoming obvious that you have driven away anyone who has interesting things to say in this forum and wants to say them in a non-confrontational way. After this last exchange I can see that my days here are running short - so you will have eliminated yet another heretic. Too bad, the idea for this forum was a good one - and there were so many things I wanted to discuss.

But, enjoy your neurotransmitter hit, Fred. This is all about you now, as you so need it to be. Let's see what wonders your next post holds for us all - wonders that will show the world how clever you are and how your ideology represents ultimate truth in the universe.

Margaret

Fred H.
May 17th, 2006, 05:44 PM
MM: Your willingness to bring my gender identity in as a weapon for your mission is proof enough of the lengths that ideologues are willing to go, to campaign for their ideology.
Nonsense. The only reason I knew of the gender identity thing was b/c I belatedly became aware of it from your own reference to your own website. Perhaps you missed it, but here’s what I posted back in March—
P.S.—Margaret—I just read your interesting article, “Autogynephilia, a Narrative,” by Margaret McGhee, at http://www.geocities.com/margimcghee/Articles/AG.htm.

I’m a bit irritated with myself—I should have paid more attention to your web site and referenced articles when you first started posting here—I’d have had a better appreciation for where you’re coming from. I’d almost certainly have argued differently, or perhaps not at all. My bad. Maybe I need to up my Ritalin dose.

Anyhoo, I now actually have some empathy for your POV, why you see things as you do, and perhaps even your contempt of “conservatives,” and/or the “right.” In your article under “Our Gender Narratives Become Our Controlling Beliefs,” you write:

Trans-women on the female-essence side of this dispute generally hold the strong belief that they are in some sense female. I find myself in this group. We believe that in a better world we would have been born with the bodies of women and would have had lives to match our gender identity. That belief feels so right to us because it closely matches our emotional experience. Many of us also hold a high level belief that self-realization, as long as it doesn't hurt others, is every person’s right. We demand that right for ourselves.

I’m inclined to agree with much of what you say in this paragraph—I doubt that we humans have much “choice,” or free will, probably none, when it comes to this “gender identity” thing, and that it is more or less hardwired, or at the very least a propensity, at a subcortical emotional/motivational level.


And BTW Margaret, if anyone on this forum is a “heretic,” it’s me. And if you think that my absence really will allow you to pursue those “many things” you want to discuss, and will keep you and others from being “driven away,” hell, I’ll stop participating in these threads. But give Carey—you know, that fawning undergrad psych student—my love.

Margaret McGhee
May 17th, 2006, 09:12 PM
I'd forgotten I posted those links. My bad. Sometimes you sound so damned reasonable. If you'd just deal with ideas and not personalize things by questioning the honesty and the motivations of those who disagree with you you'd be a great person to have a discussion with. I don't mind disagreement at all. That's what forums are for. I only get angry when people start throwing their ideology at me and questioning my honesty.

Regarding free-will: You do have a problem with that. No-one here who disagrees with you about that is going to change their mind. Why keep attacking them? I'd even be willing to discuss the concept of free-will - if you could do that objectively - and not insist that only those who share your view of free-will are capable of being moral persons.

But, don't leave because of me. Unless something more interesting starts happening here I won't be around much anyway - and I seem to be the only one really bothered by your posts.

Margaret

Fred H.
May 18th, 2006, 10:05 AM
MM: I'd forgotten I posted those links. My bad.
Yep, your bad, among many—your likening of my expectation of at least some semblance of intellectual rigor/consistency/honesty in these discussions, with your “personalizing things,” is yet another one of your bads, especially since you yourself don’t hesitate to personalize things the instant you imagine that your ideology/beliefs are being threatened.

Regarding freewill, best I can tell, very, very few people, including most atheists, and including guys like Pinker, LeDoux, and Damasio, would argue or believe that we humans lack any freewill—in fact, I’d guess that most would consider the notion that sane human adults are somehow not morally responsible (the essence of free will) for their behavior to be ridiculous.

Perhaps the contention that we humans lack freewill/moral responsibility is a projection of sorts . . . regarding whether “something more interesting starts happening here,” I’m reminded, MM, of those lyrics by Eminim:

Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
Cuz we need a little controversy,
Cuz it feels so empty without me.

There's a concept that really works
20 million other white rappers emerge
But no matter how many fish in the sea
It'll be so empty without me….

Margaret McGhee
May 18th, 2006, 12:01 PM
Do you ever actually try to understand what other posters say? You said, . . . especially since you yourself don’t hesitate to personalize things the instant you imagine that your ideology/beliefs are being threatened. Almost my whole last post was devoted to a careful explanation of why, when you press an ideological attack in a public forum, the inevitable result is a spiral of escalating verbal violence that leaves the topic of the discussion in the dirt. That's what we are engaging in now.

I have not defended my ideology here. I have strongly and angrily criticised your ideological aggressiveness. Of course, to an ideologue any criticism is seen as an attack on their strongly held personal beliefs. But, I haven't revealed much of what I'd call my ideology here, other than an abiding distaste I have for bullies. And I really don't care about your higher level beliefs, except for your attempts to impose them in every thread and highjack every topic.

Note that one's ideology is a belief that they can not allow to be challenged. Yes. I think bullies are assholes and I will not hesitate to say that to their face. Call that my ideology if you like. But any logical proposition I have offered in this forum has been offered with an open invitation to show me where I am wrong. I have read papers and books that were suggested and I have encouraged different views, respectfully - except when others cross that line and personalize their disagreement. I precede almost every assertion with I suspect, or IMO, or it seems to me, etc.

Attacking someone's ideology (or throwing your own in their face) is questioning their self-worth at the most fundamental level. When you do that publicly they have to attack you back or be seen by others as admitting that their whole identity, their personhood, is a sham. That's why there are wars.

Most sane people understand this. They don't go around throwing sand in the face of others' beliefs. Knowing that no-one ever wins in these exchanges - and that everyone loses - they actually take some pains to avoid it in a conversation. Those who aggressively attack others' beliefs publicly are insecure people who have formed their lives around their ideological mission. Their self-worth depends on their ability to discredit others' ideology and champion their own. They need to do it every day and must take every opportunity. It's very much like a drug addiction - and I suspect it has a similar chemical etiology.

There are plenty of places on the internet where ideologues can gather and throw sand in each others' faces - try the alt news groups. This was advertised as a scientific forum which is a different thing. Or should be. When the moderator has a personal ideological agenda and repeatedly throws it in members' faces - that kind of sets the whole tone. I guess I can see why you like it here.

Your ego has you convinced that you are some brave warrior for the notion of personal responsibility and morality in a dangerous and atheistic world. I may disagree with your notion of free-will but that is only a technical difference, semantics. Every person in this forum has a sense of morality, most of them superior to yours, IMO. I make no claim that my notion of free-will makes me a better person than anyone else - nor that yours makes you any worse.

When I confront you over my dashed hopes for reasonable discussion in these already toxic waters I could care less whether you see free-will through a different window than I do. I am simply calling you out as a bully (and a coward for attacking others from behind the anonymous safety of the internet).

Margaret

Fred H.
May 18th, 2006, 04:43 PM
I don’t see how my stating the reality that very, very few people, including most atheists, would argue or believe that we humans lack freewill or that we are somehow not morally responsible for our behavior, is an ideological attack or necessarily makes me a “bully,” or a “coward,” or an “asshole”; although your rant suggests that those characterizations may apply to you.

Margaret McGhee
May 18th, 2006, 05:15 PM
Isn't this fun - calling each other nasty names. It's so intellectually fulfilling and I'm sure everyone reading this thread is learning so much.

</sarcasm>

THAT'S MY POINT FRED!

You have repeatedly suggested that people who don't see free-will the same way you do are immoral and you liken them to serial killers - you have called their arguments bullshit - you have called them intellectually dishonest.

You do it repeatedly - especially when a thread gets going in a direction of reasonable discourse. You can't stand that no-one is worrying about atheists and free-will and how immoral everyone is but you. You have to jump in and highjack it and start attacking. You initiate those attacks. Others don't start them. I am showing you what happens when you do that - and you are helping me.

Most people are too polite to raise the stakes on you. I'm not. I'm ready to go all-in when I'm faced with this kind of crap. Online or off. That's how I handle bullies. I may (foolishly) try to reason with you - but I will always be ready to come back stronger and more in your face if you choose the wrong path.

I've got a great idea. Let's both stop talking about this and focus on real ideas. Can you do that?

How long will it take you to again prove my point?

Margaret

PS - Gotta go now.

Carey N
May 19th, 2006, 04:48 AM
Jeeeze . . . . why don't you two just shut your traps and ignore each other already? Every post takes up space on this forum server, and entails an maintenance cost. In all likelihood, most of this energy is derived from fossil fuels; therefore, you two are needlessly contributing to global warming. Also, every time you make a post with the word "ideology" or "immoral" in it, God kills a kitten (example (http://www.babyanimalz.com/Images/cute_kitten.p.jpg)). So please, lighten up.


Carey

Fred H.
May 19th, 2006, 10:56 AM
Carey: Jeeeze . . . . why don't you two just shut your traps and ignore each other already?
Well, that would seem to require freewill, which MM claims she doesn’t believe in. OTOH Carey, if you’d provide MM with your promised “restatement of your premise on equality and discrimination,” that MM is “still looking forward to,” perhaps that would get her off, so to speak, in another direction, enabling her to reveal how your premise justifies "discrimination" in “politically acceptable ways” and “loftier means,” such as by “freedom of association” and “freedom of thought.”

But maybe I was being insensitive when I suggested that the nasty (and needless) characterizations employed by Margaret—i.e. “bully,” “coward,” “asshole,” “ideologue,”—might apply more to her own rant rather than to my candid assessment of her post?

TomJrzk
May 19th, 2006, 11:51 AM
Well, that would seem to require freewill,No, it doesn't require freewill. It only requires the modules of your brains to have the chemical state where you each choose to ignore each other in the name of peace and fluffy kittens.

But, that assumes you want this to be a peaceful forum where atheists can trade ideas and strengthen their theories and ties. My chemicals doubt that this is the case so kittens will forever be the worse for it.

Margaret McGhee
May 22nd, 2006, 10:34 PM
In the interest of saving as many kittens as possible I will try to ignore Fred once again. He is good at pushing my emotional buttons though. That's one of the very interesting things about the power of the more primitively-derived, non-intellectual emotions. Even when you know something is really stupid - sometimes you just have to do it. :rolleyes:

Margaret

ToddStark
May 24th, 2006, 01:43 PM
Hi,

I just returned from a business trip in Seattle. Beautiful weather there, I happened to get 5 straight of the 60 rainless days they get per year. Anyway, when I got back and checked into the forum it took me aback a bit to see how interesting the discussion had gotten and then how rapidly it had degenerated from my perspective. I'd like to try to continue with the part I was finding interesting, and I'm not intending to slight anyone by doing that.

I think my own exposure to the cognitive neuroscience perspective has led roughly to a model that is domain-modular at a relatively low level of brain organization from perception/object recognition through social reasoning and domains of prepared learning (linguist Ray Jackendoff, "Patterns of the Mind" has one of the best developed arguments for this I think), then above that, a layer of something like conceptual blending (Mark Turner) that enabled us to construct images that crossed evolutionary adaptive domains, and rule-based heuristics such as the representativeness and availability heuristics that are so central to social psychoology and the various statistical heuristics that we apply under more limited conditions.

All of these layers happen effortlessly and automatically, meaning they represent our responses to things that we neither experience any effort in doing or any control over. Our first impressions, our intuitions, all of our "Blink" responses fall into this core, which I think is our default mode of responding to everything. I think hot cognitition is central to a lot of what happens, but I agree with JB that the limbic system is not at the core. I think it is engaged along with the heuristics as part of the massively parallel part of neurocognition that happens after feature analysis and perhaps some primitive object recognition (I say primitive because we seem to respond to typical "phobic" objects prior to noticing them and without a clear recognition of what we are responding to, and because some subliminal priming effects seem to require some degree of object recognition).

The dual process models in social cognitive theory (such as central and peripheral) seem to reflect one of the most recent changes in human cognition in our evolution, the point where we became able to learn to interrupt the application of heuristics under some conditions, and reassess our own thinking based on goals. For example, given the goal of accuracy, we often shift away from our default heuristics for the current situation to others borrowed from other domains. Pressed for an evolutionary rationale for this, I think my best guess would be that Bill Calvin has the right idea, that the accuracy goal became important for things like throwing weapons, and this helped shaped our subsequent brain evolution toward the more elaborately planned types of learned sequences that underlie uniquely human and primate behavior, as well as building on the mer fine grained sequencing of behavior that possibly underlies the capacity for syntax in the nervous system.

kind regards,

Todd

Margaret McGhee
May 24th, 2006, 03:13 PM
Glad to see you back. Did you get a chance to visit with Bill Calvin while in Seattle?

Your full post will take some time for me to digest to the point where I understand it. (I love these mini projects.) But, one statement jumps out that I'd like to comment on - perhaps because I've spent so much time thinking about this already - and because it's somewhat central to my thesis.

You said, Our first impressions, our intuitions, all of our "Blink" responses fall into this core, which I think is our default mode of responding to everything. I think hot cognitition is central to a lot of what happens, but I agree with JB that the limbic system is not at the core.

First, I assume we are still discussing the mechanism by which behavior choices are made in the human brain - and setting aside any differences we may have over the meaning of core . . .

Am I wrong in my understanding that the limbic system is where decision choices are made in all mammals (except perhaps in humans if you and JB are right)?

Doesn't your assertion imply that evolution would have somehow had to come up with a significantly different decision mechanism for humans alone among mammals?

Note that I have stated that the final nexus of decision choice for any behavior could even be located in the brain stem region since reptiles also make behavior choices and I suspect that early mammals added to that basic mechanism (by adding more refined emotional inputs) rather than replaced it.

Evolution seems to work gradually. Features are added or trimmed from existing physiology - but I've never seen an example of a complete replacement of function from one organ to another - especially for such a basic need as decision choice.

But if that happened, how do humans make behavior choices before their cognition first starts to become active - after mylenation of their neo-cortical nuerons occurs. Infants cry, smile, look at things, etc. Simlarly, how do humans who suffer from cognitive impairment or old age dementia still manage to make competent behavior decisions like eating and sleeping, to survive?

I ask these questions because they seem (to me) to so obviously lead to the conclusion that intellect is an evolutionary add-on to our basic decision mechanism and not a replacement - that it is basically the same mechanism that we share with all other mammals, just with an additonal data input path (intellect).

It seems reasonable to me that we would subconsciously create an emotional tag for our intellectual conclusions then, to be weighed in our decision computation along with our other emotional input channels - thereby preserving that basic mammalian mechanism. Smart people therefore, are not only good at reasoning, they have learned (developed a belief) that their intellectual conclusions are likely to improve their well-being and therefore they characteristically (and unconsciously) give those logically tested conclusions greater appropriate emotional weight than other sources in their mind.

I reiterate this here because it seems so unpalatable to you (and JB) that it causes me to wonder if I have missed something very basic in my understanding of the brain. If you could point me to that underlying misconception - that might save me a lot of time trying to support something that is not tenable.


Added on edit: After re-reading my post a few times, it occurs to me that my thesis is really not about where in the brain these things occur. I think what I am proposing is a model of behavior decision computation. I am describing the inputs, the outputs and the type of algorithm that I suspect lies at the heart of decision-making. There are many ways the circuits and regions of the brain-stem, the limbic system, neo-cortex, etc. could be wired to perform this decision-making function. I considered the where question because I wanted to be sure there was not something obvious about the known organization of the brain to preclude my thesis. But, where in the brain these things occur is not what I'm interested in proposing - it is this as if model of computation that I suspect is at work when we make behavior decisions.

Margaret

Fred H.
May 26th, 2006, 11:34 AM
Todd: Anyway, when I got back and checked into the forum it took me aback a bit to see how interesting the discussion had gotten and then how rapidly it had degenerated from my perspective.
Yes Todd, I too have been somewhat troubled by Margaret’s lack of restraint. But then since she’s convinced that we humans lack freewill, I suppose her crudity—e.g., her utilization of gratuitous terms like “asshole,” “coward,” “bully,” “ideologue”—is really not all that surprising—It may primarily be a symptom of the moral vacuum resulting from her atheism (whereas your own “atheism” doesn’t seem to result in such a vacuum, probably due to your strong moral/spiritual background; plus your conviction that we sane adults are indeed morally responsible for our behavior).

Regarding “heuristics,” it’s interesting that the word is derived from the same Greek verb that “eureka” is derived; and that we humans, unlike other evolved creatures, are able to discover and utilize objective (mathematical) truth so as to thoughtfully comprehend the reality of, and even somewhat manipulate, our world.

As I’ve written elsewhere, there does seem to be an undeniable duality in our world—in computers it’s hardware and software/heuristics; and in humans we it’s organic matter and coding, some of which requires more than just algorithmic processes (since human understanding, unlike computer computations, isn’t constrained by Godel’s incompleteness theorem).

What seems to get confused in these discussions is that while the evidence suggests that primitive emotional/motivational/survival/instinctive systems do seem to exhibit a good deal of primacy, and do seem to be rather algorithmic, we humans are nevertheless unique in that we are capable of discovering and comprehending objective truth (certainly objective mathematical truth), which provides us with real autonomy and, it seems to me, real moral responsibility (and not some sort of incoherent “predetermined” “choice” that has recently has been hypothesize here).

ToddStark
May 29th, 2006, 02:01 PM
Hi Margaret,

I missed Bill Calvin, but saw Bill Gates. I think Calvin would have been more interesting for me, but my business depends more on Gates. The closest I got to Calvin was the University book store, unfortunately.

Food note: The Seattle area has wonderful seafood which often goes into inexpensive sushi, but from the several places I visited it seemed to suffer somewhat from differences in the rice mixture compared to what I'm used to in the East.


setting aside any differences we may have over the meaning of core . . .

In saying that the limbic system is not the core of the brain, I mean:

a. architecturally -- it depends upon phylogenetically earlier and functionally more primitive or more atomic functions, hence

b. chronologically and

c. functionally

In the same sense that neural function depends on more "core" cellular ionic chemistry, cognitive function and limbic function both depend on more "core" neurology. If Paul Maclean's triune model is at least roughly accurate as an "architecture," and I think it is as good a starting place as any, then primate neurology depends to a great degree on an earlier mammalian neurology, which in turn depends to a great degree on what is going on in much earlier animal adaptations. Especially since it seems that so many of the good tricks exploited by very early animals are still being exploited by more current ones.

Am I wrong in my understanding that the limbic system is where decision choices are made in all mammals (except perhaps in humans if you and JB are right)?

I guess I am finding it hard to think of "limbic system" as a coherent system for influencing behavior, it seems more like a layer of loosely related brain regions that served to differentiate early mammals from their predecessors. Mammals live a different kind of lifestyle than reptiles, and seem to have exploited a number of new tricks, but a lot of their behavior still depends on the same kind of tricks exploited by their predecessors.

My only disagreement with your idea is where I think it seems to imply that mammalian brain structures somehow took over the job from everything that came before, and I don't see that being likely. Similarly, taking it a step further, I don't see the expanded frontal cortex taking over decision making in primates, just adding new tricks suited to a further distinguished lifestyle.

Doesn't your assertion imply that evolution would have somehow had to come up with a significantly different decision mechanism for humans alone among mammals?

Like most people, I'm very interested in what humans might do differently than other animals (and each other). Aside from more elaborate planning and sequencing at various time scales, and speciallizations like syntax that are possibly built on fine sequencing ability, and enhanced primate speciallizations like visual imagination, I'm not sure what else really distinguishes humans completely from close primates "architecturally." Our social behavior is similar to but far more elaborate than close primate relatives, and it seems likely that some of this is "architectural" as well, and that the human moral sense is unique in some ways as a result.

Those sequencing, syntactic, imaginative, and social reasoning capacities seem fairly subtle individually but together I imagine they can play an immense role in some domains of behavior, such as making an entire new layer of representation possible in creating things externally that reflect our imagination.

Note that I have stated that the final nexus of decision choice for any behavior could even be located in the brain stem region since reptiles also make behavior choices and I suspect that early mammals added to that basic mechanism (by adding more refined emotional inputs) rather than replaced it.

Yes, that's where I suspect we are in agreement.

Evolution seems to work gradually. Features are added or trimmed from existing physiology - but I've never seen an example of a complete replacement of function from one organ to another - especially for such a basic need as decision choice.

Ok.

But if that happened, how do humans make behavior choices before their cognition first starts to become active - after mylenation of their neo-cortical nuerons occurs. Infants cry, smile, look at things, etc. Simlarly, how do humans who suffer from cognitive impairment or old age dementia still manage to make competent behavior decisions like eating and sleeping, to survive?

I guess I think of cognition as something that happens in layers from the ground up. I don't see it suddenly appearing at any point. A single cell does computation and engages in goal-directed behavior because, I suspect, feedback processes are fairly fundamental in nature right down into basic physics and chemistry.

Organisms with their own goal-oriented behavior exploit the behavior of individual cells and networks of cells acting on their own goals and their own simple rules. At a higher layer, the complex patterns that arise from massive numbers of simple rules at lower layers can be used to good effect. Actually. I don't think I thought much about this until I met Jim Brody, who pulled a lot of it together for me, but now it just seems to fit for me.

Given that framework of successive evolutionary exploitation of emergent behavior, I think the rest is details and testing particular hypotheses.

I ask these questions because they seem (to me) to so obviously lead to the conclusion that intellect is an evolutionary add-on to our basic decision mechanism and not a replacement - that it is basically the same mechanism that we share with all other mammals, just with an additonal data input path (intellect).

I think I pretty much agree with this, given a fairly loose definitions of intellect. If I were to try to pick it apart to distinguish it from my own perspective, I would say that I don't think of intellect as a discrete functional module, I think of it as a concept we define for the purpose of telling people apart in terms of their problem solving ability in domains that are important to us, and behaviors that cross those domains. I don't think intellect is located anywhere, it is a quality we intuit and look for correlations and tests to better understand, but not something that appeared at some distinct point in evolutionary history. If we separate intellect into natural domains for reasoning, I think I begin to agree with you even more.

It seems reasonable to me that we would subconsciously create an emotional tag for our intellectual conclusions then, to be weighed in our decision computation along with our other emotional input channels - thereby preserving that basic mammalian mechanism.

That's essentially what the hypothesis of "hot cognition" says, and closely related to the concept of "online processing" from social cognitive theory. One interpretation for example is that we put affective tags on internal representations, and then when we try to decide how we feel about something, we activate the internal representations, including their affective tags, which are then integrated into a summary impression which we use to make decisions. This becomes our "gut feeling" about the situation.

The thing that social cognitive theory emphasizes is that the activation and summary impression are automatic processes that happen before we realize we are making a decision, so they guide our reasoning in a particular way even to create our initial impression. A lot of the experimental work goes into showing different aspects of this, such as what rules we seem to apply and how they are affected by different factors in the situation.

So in effect, we seem, according to social cognitive theory, start out with a conclusion, whereas we feel as if we are starting out from a blank or neutral position. The place where we might then use "intellect" in the way we like to think of that capacity, is to reassess our initial summary impression.

This view is why cognitive psychologists tend to share the normative goal of something like "active open-mindedness" where we distrust our initial impression and instead try to actively reasses important decisions. This sometimes leads to an emphasis on formal procedures for decision making.

An opposing view is that the summary impression is better than our formal procedures. This is where the two views are at odds according to their different ways of thinking about the same "dual process" model of cognition.

It approaches being a legitimate dilemma because there are good reasons to distrust the summary impression in many situations, and other situations where it outperforms even our best formal procedures.

Most of what we think of as intellect seems to be our ability to apply formal procedures well and systematically, but I think of intellect as something practical that we measure by outcome rather than what particular skills or talents we are using.

Smart people therefore, are not only good at reasoning, they have learned (developed a belief) that their intellectual conclusions are likely to improve their well-being and therefore they characteristically (and unconsciously) give those logically tested conclusions greater appropriate emotional weight than other sources in their mind.

I don't find this idea 'unpalatable' so much as seeming less than useful, it appears to be a sweeping claim about the relationship of smartness and belief with no weight placed on things like the accumulation of knowledge, the significance of understanding, or differences in different kinds of reasoning or different domains of reasoning.

There's a huge literature on learning, competence, and expertise that emphasizes the domain-specificity of practical smartness along with a lesser significance for general procedures. For example, in most complex subjects, the specific way we represent the information makes a big difference in how well we can solve problems in that domain.

kind regards,

Todd

Margaret McGhee
May 31st, 2006, 02:21 AM
Hi Todd, Your posts are very information rich and they take some time to digest - but I think I'm ready to partially reply to this one. Just to be sure you understand my purpose, I'm not interested in agreement as much as a chance to explore your (and others') view of these things. My replies are the impressions I get from seeing your view through my own window. I don't have anything to prove here - but I suspect you knew that.

Seattle Sushi I used to travel a lot and have looked for good Sushi in most US major cities. Now that I've lived in the Seattle area for a while, Nikko's, now in the ground floor of the Westin Hotel downtown is still my favorite.

Limbic system Again, my interest is in the nature of the inputs and the algorithm more than locus. But I like to think about location to be sure that what I envision functionally could exist in that physical space and in accord with what we already know about the organization. Generally, I think LeDoux's downward causation descriptor is partially useful - although my definition of it is more elaborated. I am impressed by the refined emotional inputs that seem to be available to mammals vs. most other classes of vertebrates and all other living things.

Since all living things must be able to respond to their environment with behavior - then it seems that some final go, no-go decision ability must be present as an enabling element for that behavior. For any behavior to occur, a behavior candidate must be produced and a behavior decision, or perhaps a chemical equivalent of what we call a CNS mediated decision, must have been made within that animal - to execute that behavior.

Important stuff, As species evolve and ecological niches are occupied, it seems that there has always been a built-in need for a sort of evolutionary one-upsmanship. It seems reasonable that evolution would find the easier solutions first and would generate the more complex solutions to problems of survival most recently. The first life forms just responded in set ways to specific environmental inputs.

At some time an organism evolved the ability to select the most appropriate from two possible behaviors in its repertoir. I see this as a singular evolutionary event - a meta-strategy that greatly enhanced the survival of its organsim's DNA. That has led to all advanced life forms including us, where that ability has reached its apotheosis.

Basically, I see humans as an animal with extremely advanced abilities to choose from a very wide range of behaviors - by using a large set of weighted, qualitatively-different inputs and allowing a kind of outcome optimizing negotiation among them. Just how this works is what this discussion (and evolutionary psychology) is about IMO.

I think generally that more refined inputs in more advanced animals are processed at the highest levels (in the most recently evolved brain regions) and reduced to successively simpler emotional forces as they work their way down to that place (wherever it may be) where that go or no-go decision is made. This is a type of downward causation I can appreciate.

Note that I see emotions not just as synapse activity but as changes in body state. In the CNS these brain state changes are due to chemical neurotransmitters that are produced along with and in response to synaptic activity. The activation of a particular mental image can produce a flood of serotonin in one brain area, for a simplified example. There are dozens of chemicals that can act as neurotransmitters and much remains to be learned about how they all work. But, I suspect these chemicals are responsible for what animals with a CNS experience as the emotional forces that a) produce a candidate behavior from our repertoir, b) sometimes consider it in context and then c) execute it - or not.

Our decision-mechanism is designed to support our survival and ultimately our ability to reproduce. We are designed to respond emotionally to threats and opportunities we come across in our environment. We can't avoid that. The greater the threat or opportunity, the stronger the emotion produced.

Many of our behavior decisions are made without intellectual assistance (cognition). It's easy to see how the emotions produced by various subconscious inputs could be used to produce behavior decisions. Thousands of psychological tests have been done that have verified and mapped the existence of this subconscious mechanism.

In humans, I believe intellect provides the most refined inputs, furthest from that final arbiter device. I think we subconsciously and emotionally choose to engage our intellect for certain classes of decisions. We need to recognize the decision as one where our intellect can provide useful input - and we must be free from very strong emotions (like great fear or sex) that can inhibit our intellect - and we must also have some time available for a decision because our intellectual computer is restrained to sequential operation. Logical steps must follow one another so we must reason through a problem step by step generating partial solutions that feed into the next step and so on.

Our basic decision mechanism though is not sequential. It is designed to accept emotional inputs from a variety of excited brain regions and produce an effectively instantaneous output.

For the basic mechanism I imagine a threshold detector with several op-amps connected to the non-reference input representing the various input channels. Each signal is generated by a common mental image representing a candidate solution to a problem - instinct, disposition, beliefs, social instincts, etc. acting on different brain regions designed to generate those signals. But this basic circuit is representative of the function that I imagine occurs in there.

I think we inhibit that instant decision output for those behavior decisions where we engage our intellect - although we may still feel its pull. Then, after we have produced that slower intellectual conclusion we automatically reduce it back to an emotional value, weighted appropriately for the context and our emotional confidence in the calculation. Once we produce that weighted emotion, which is the effective value of that intellectual calculation to our survival as best as our CNS can determine - the final behavior decision is produced as a summation of all inputs, now applied.

I'm sure that's over-simplified but I suspect this is the same kind of thing that is happening in our minds when you describe, So in effect, we seem, according to social cognitive theory, to start out with a conclusion, whereas we feel as if we are starting out from a blank or neutral position. The place where we might then use "intellect" in the way we like to think of that capacity, is to reassess our initial summary impression.

I hope you don't mind that I am responding to your posts by painting more detailed pictures of what I am seeing. Your word pictures are valuable and have changed my view. I no longer see the final decision occuring in the limbic system, for example. I was just uncertain before. Now I'm pretty much dissuaded. I'm just pointing out areas of our respective views that seem significant or even just interesting. If I find something that seems significantly incongruent I'll focus on that - but so far things seem to fit OK.

For example, you said, My only disagreement with your idea is where I think it seems to imply that mammalian brain structures somehow took over the job from everything that came before, and I don't see that being likely. I didn't mean to imply that. I saw (and see) the limbic system wrapping around older structure and adding some new specialized inputs to the same basic behavior choice mechanism.

Also, Similarly, taking it a step further, I don't see the expanded frontal cortex taking over decision making in primates, just adding new tricks suited to a further distinguished lifestyle. This is exactly what I did mean to imply in my description. Most psychological brain models seem to start from the premise that our frontal cortex or some other human cognitive structure is where our special human decisions are made. That's LeDoux's downward causation that I strongly disagree with.

There are some other things in your post that I need to think about further but I thought I'd comment on where I am now.

(Anyone who wants to reply to this should read my addendum to this first, in the following post.)

Thanks much, Margaret

Margaret McGhee
June 1st, 2006, 12:43 PM
Addendum:

After re-reading my last post I see a potential hole in my proposed explanation that appears most obviously in behavior decisions where intellect is not used. I don't think I have clearly shown the difference between a go, no-go choice for some possible behavioral response to a threat or opportunity - and the selection of one behavior from two or more candidates. Are these two different problems for the brain to solve? Or, are they part of the same problem.

For example, a nesting bird in the grass hears an animal approaching. Does it freeze and depend on its camoflage? Or, does it fly and leave its eggs exposed to the hunter? Freezing and flying can be seen as two possible responses to the bird's avoiding predators while nesting behavior that could be selected by the circumstances and provided by instincts. A predatory bird flying overhead could induce freezing while loud rustling in the grass nearby could induce fleeing to draw the predator away from the nest. Some birds have even evolved a faking an injury behavior to make that more likely.

In any case, it seems to me that the instinctive behavior selection mechanism doesn't have much creative ability to select from a menu of options - other than simply matching perceived threats with responses - like a lookup table. In computers those can take up a lot of space but they are fast and deterministic. Their utility is dependant on a good ability to discriminate between different threats and probably works best for threats that are easily recognized by the organsim's perceptual tools.

Some advanced behavior selection takes place however in some animals that we would classify as non-intellectual. Baby birds are known to freeze at the sight of any bird flying overhead. As a chick matures it learns that only some overhead outline shapes, flying patterns, wing beat frequency, etc. are dangerous - I'd conclude that a form of belief is developed in their mind (learning) that can be used to provide more effective behavior selection by over-riding instinctive responses in some cases.

I see this belief mechanism as the probable evolutionary predecessor to intellectual reasoning. It was added to make instinctive responses more discriminating - which means that more effective and less costly behaviors could be selected in some cases, while still preserving the greater safety of immediate instinctive response to danger offered by the lookup table. I suspect also that it operates in a similar way in that any overhead outline probably induces a freeze response for a nesting bird - but a short time later, if it's a safe outline, that response is cancelled.

So, to provisionally answer my own question - right now I'd say that . .

a) Instinct works in a way that specific recognizeable threats that reach a threshold for action induce set responses - like from a threat / response list. The first one that reaches that level takes over the organism and probably inhibits any others that may be almost at that level. Fight or submit responses, for example, in dogs. Once one is selected it is very hard to get them to switch. There may be a lot of hysteresis in instinctive behavior choice.

b) More advanced animals have some ability to modify or cancel those responses, even before they are executed, according to learned beliefs about the world - which makes them more efficient organisms. In simpler animals these are simple emotional associations but perform the same function that actual beliefs that have both cognitive and emotional dimensions do in humans. In both cases, animals with decision mechanisms sensitive to the emotions of beliefs, are better able to thrive in the face of threats and opportunities, and expend less energy to do it.

c) Even more advanced animals have an emotional ability to ask what if questions about their possible responses that are generated by instinct memory and belief - an emotional version of deductive reasoning. A dog's instinct may call for fighting another menacing dog - but they may decide (emotionally feel) after an initial threat response (that typically preceeds the fight response), that it is too big and menacing and therefore switch to submit mode. This seems also to be a form of belief mechanism (association) at work. Growing dogs learn that they get their butts kicked by the bigger, meaner adversaries.

d) And even smarter animals can create new behavior candidates for consideration - inductive reasoning - and then ask what if questions about each one and arrive at a conceptual best choice. This, even while their instincts, beliefs, etc. may be emotionally urging them to a different response.

So, behavior choice probably isn't quite as simple as I described in my last post - but is still plausibly mediated by emotional forces from instincts, beliefs and intellectual inputs.

I'm interested in these questions for the same reason that I am interested in locus - just to be sure there is some plausible explanation for these observations and that there isn't any premise-killer in there. My real interest is in understanding how inputs such as instinct, belief and reason participate in human behavior decisions - especially, to explain my suspicion that we use d) above, far less than we think we do.

Margaret

Fred H.
June 1st, 2006, 04:06 PM
MM: My real interest is in understanding how inputs such as instinct, belief and reason participate in human behavior decisions - especially, to explain my suspicion that we use d) above [“inductive reasoning” and “what if questions” although “instincts, beliefs, etc. may be emotionally urging a different response”], far less than we think we do.
I’d agree that your “suspicion” is almost certainly the case for most. And even for those of us who have some appreciation for the primacy of emotion, and that have developed at least some aptitude for discerning truth/reality from belief/emotion, it is an ongoing struggle—downward causation—human freewill and moral responsibility—is not easy . . . isn’t it amazing how close our POVs seem to be, and yet you allow your emotions and competitiveness to blind you to that reality?

TomJrzk
June 9th, 2006, 12:58 PM
for those of us who ... have developed at least some aptitude for discerning truth/reality from belief/emotion, it is an ongoing struggleThis implies that you think you're one of the 'us'. Look again and see that you're firmly planted in the 'belief' camp. You have not shown a mechanism for your 'truth' and it's obviously wishful thinking. Your free will is still an illusion, no matter how long my vacation was ;).