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Margaret McGhee May 11th, 2006 01:03 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice
In my post above I tried to claim some distance from liberal ideology. One of my favorite blogs is The Daily Howler where Bob Somerby each day has taken to skewering the pundit ideologues on the left. Today's issue is especially good.

While Bob is generally correct in his observations, I wish he'd try to understand the emotions that are driving this. This is where long ideological fights have to end up - as I mentioned above.


Fred H. May 11th, 2006 01:29 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice

. . . . our brains process information and 'make' decisions but our brains are completely dependent on their chemical state to make those decisions;
Yeah Eight-ball, your “huge point” is that human “decisions,” like the behavior/actions of algorithms and billiard balls, are dependent on, and simply the inevitable consequence of, the antecedent states of affairs—you’re an eight ball with algorithms generating illusions of understanding to an illusion of “self”—a “self” unable to understand that it’s unable to “understand”; a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

TomJrzk May 11th, 2006 01:39 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice

Originally Posted by Fred H.
a “self” unable to understand that it’s unable to “understand

I would understand scientific proof. That you're not offering any supports my point: you can't understand what you're missing because of the illusion. The regret module alone shows that the impetus for humans to do the 'right' thing is physical and fallible; there can be no free-will-morality as long as this is so. Even you said that the mentally impaired can not be held morally responsible; why not, if 'morals' are not dependent on the brain??????

I am sorry, though, that I made you so angry that you feel justified in being so rude.

Fred H. May 11th, 2006 01:54 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice

MM: In order to realize one's goals one does not disrespect or humiliate their opponent. It is called diplomacy. It requires acknowledging the goodness in your opponent's position and personhood. That can be difficult when they have a lot of badness as well.
Yeah, appeasement—worked great for Neville Chamberlain.

Actually, a key is discerning which “opponents” are truly a threat and dangerous, and which are just perhaps annoying, but not necessarily all that threatening. Understanding the biology of emotion and motivation is undoubtedly necessary in all negotiations, and is already intuitively, if not consciously, appreciated/understood by our more astute leaders/diplomats. My own view is that the Reagan Administrations generally negotiate more effectively that the Jimmy Carter Administrations.

Fred H. May 11th, 2006 02:10 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice

I am sorry, though, that I made you so angry . . .
Yet another example of another one of your illusions/delusions, and, alas, a reality you seem entirely incapable of grasping. Have you considered an anti-psychotic?

Fred H. May 11th, 2006 03:59 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice

MM: PS [to Carey] - I'm still looking forward to your restatement of your premise on equality and discrimination.
Interpretation of Margaret’s disingenuous request:
Oh boy, I just can’t wait for Carey’s restatement on equality and discrimination, so that I can then reveal the veiled racism of all white males, like him and JimB, deceitful enough to not overtly justify discrimination based on IQ differences, but instead they justify it in more politically acceptable ways, like by the scientific discussion of racial IQ differences and any other racial differences, and then justify their despicable discrimination using loftier means, like freedom of association and freedom of thought….
Well Carey, if you play her game, you lose. Anyway, you’ve already more or less provided your “restatement”—perhaps MM missed it, so I’ll cut-n-paste it for her: Carey noted:

[Everyone being created equal is perhaps a useful illusion, but apparently not reality] Yes, this is essentially my point . . . the government and social collective are responsible for granting "unalienable rights". This hasn't yet been reached in practice, and probably never will, but the goal itself has nothing to do with biological differences and should not be affected by them. It's meant to be an agreement that everyone receives the same rights and privileges despite the fact that we are born with different native abilities.

Margaret McGhee May 24th, 2006 06:07 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice
In a previous post I decried our culture's commercialization and fetishization of competition. This NYT article seems to bear out some of my worries about this:

Edmund Hillary Blames Climbers for Everest Death

I interpret this as a cultural influence that provides us with the belief that being seen as a winner by others is more important than being seen as a good and moral person - or perhaps, more important than knowing that you are a good and moral person even if others are not aware of it. It is a matter of the strong emotions produced by our social or personal identity beliefs, respectively.

Our culture provides these weighted beliefs for us. If they are prevalent when we form our personalities then we have little choice but to incorporate them into our identities. Even fifty years ago, a climber who failed to provide assistance to another climber who was still alive, would have been soundly condemned by everyone in the sport - and would die a disgraced man.

Today, giving up the summit for the life of a climber in another party is seen as a foolish mistake - especially by corporate sponsors who would never fund another one of your expeditions. He would probably be accused of the mountaineering equivalent of political correctness.

These win at all costs values (actually emotionally weighted inputs to our decision mechanism) have so pervaded our culture that we even see them echoed in our foreign policy. The willingness to kill thousands of innocent civilians, and even a few thousand American soldiers, in order to obtain some political win - is seen by many Americans as pragmatic hardball politics. It's what you do if you want to keep your party and friends in power. Our full cultural embrace of these values is shown by the fact that Bush's handling of the war is getting low marks in the polls - not because he has used war for political gain, but because he isn't winning it.

One reason I find my hypothesis so compelling is that it provides such clear explanations for so much behavior (like this) that would otherwise seem perplexing or even unexplainable.


Margaret McGhee June 4th, 2006 04:26 PM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice
Somatic Behavior Choice is the hypothesis that behavior choice is mediated by a resolution of emotional forces in our minds - and not by intellect directly.

Intellect can participate in bahavior decisions but is not always called on for that purpose. When it is called upon it provides an emotional marker proportional to the confidence we feel for a particular logical solution, while we hold the conclusion in working memory. But, that marker must be strong enough, or be in concert with the other emotional forces impinging on a behavior decision - for it to prevail. i.e. our logical conclusions must compete with other, more primitive sources of emotion, for the control of our behavior.

One of the most important implications of Somatic Behavior Choice is that we often do not follow our reason when making important decisions. This should seem obvious to any observer of human behavior. Yet, due to the prevailing cognicentric view of human behavior choice, we vehemently deny this. (People even get mad at me when I suggest this might be the case.) When someone does something obviously stupid, or when they disagree with us about something important, we accuse them of not thinking properly or we like to say they do not possess critical thinking skills. When we do something stupid we say, "What was I thinking?"

These are not cases of persons losing their minds or lacking critical thinking skills. These are most likely cases where other emotional forces simply were stronger than the emotional markers from their logical conclusions. This can happen when a person doesn't have much confidence in a logical conclusion - such as when it is a very difficuly logical problem or when there is not enough data to have a lot of conficence in a conclusion. Or, it can happen even when one's logical confidence is high, but opposing emotions from other brain regions, like from instincts or beliefs, are very strong.

A source of very strong emotions for our behavior decisions is our personal belief system. Beliefs are things we learn about the world and integrate into our identity. They are arranged in a hierarchy with the strongest beliefs, those at the top that express the kind of person we believe ourselves to be and want others to recognize us as, commonly generating emotions strong enough to overpower almost any logical conclusion we might have.

For a vivid example, it seems that some American GI's in Iraq don't have too much problem with killing Iraqi civilians - because they hold the very strong identity belief that they are there to seek revenge for Iraq's role in 9/11. Revenge is an act of retribution for an assault on one's identity - or being. It is found in human nature as a preventative for such egregious acts in the future. It's effectiveness depends on others knowing that it (the revengeful act) happened.

An article in todays Guardian bears this out: Article The first paragraph:

American veterans of the war in Iraq have described a culture of casual violence, revenge and prejudice against Iraqi civilians that has made the killing of innocent bystanders a common occurrence.
There is no requirement that our beliefs be rational. This belief (that Iraq had something to do with 9/11) defies logic, yet it provides such powerful emotions for their behavior decisions that they can kill innocent civilians and not feel that they have done anything wrong. There is nothing wrong with their logic as I'm sure they know it makes no logical sense. After they return from the emotionally charged reality of combat, they will feel the guilt that their reason will place on them - and they will suffer for that - as many GI's still suffer now for things that happened in Viet Nam.

It is my premise that such strong identity-based emotions are responsible for much of the tragedy in human affairs. Little progress will be made in reducing the widespread violence of war and crime in the world and the unhappiness that causes to millions - until we accept the determinative role that emotions from brain regions other than intellect play in human behavior choices. This can not happen as long as we incorrectly insist that behavior choice is an intellectual process - that just by "thinking correctly" people will make good behavior choices - or that education alone will produce wise or moral behavior.


Margaret McGhee June 5th, 2006 11:51 AM

One Stark Implication of SBC: Death
These vivid illustrations of the SBC hypothesis at work happen every day. You can go to any news site on the web, at any time of the day, and just about pick a story at random. But occasionally, you find something that so clearly shows this process at work - that it cries out for notice.


KIEV (Reuters) - A man shouting that God would keep him safe was mauled to death by a lioness in Kiev zoo after he crept into the animal's enclosure, a zoo official said on Monday.

"The man shouted 'God will save me, if he exists', lowered himself by a rope into the enclosure, took his shoes off and went up to the lions," the official said.

"A lioness went straight for him, knocked him down and severed his carotid artery."
The lesson that I would propose from this example is that behavior-causing emotions produced by identity beliefs are potentially far stronger than those produced by intellectual conclusions. It is crucial for parents and teachers to help children form identity beliefs around a respect for reason and rationality - as a core principle. From those can flow a complete moral view as well - rational and enlightened ways to treat others - without the need to invoke some supernatural God-daddy - who may not be there to protect you when reality imposes itself.

This particular example puts Christian belief (I assume) in a bad light. But, any non-rational belief system can cause the same kind of disfunctional (even suicidal) behavior. It's also good to remember that rational belief systems, such naturalism and scientific explanations, are no guarantee of happiness in life. It's a cruel world and none of us are going to survive it. But, belief systems based on irrational (non-natural) causation have little or no connection to reality - and are therefore the most likely to run afoul of it.

An irrational belief shared by many (perhaps most) psychologists and scientists is that humans generally make behavior decisions as the result of some intellectual process - and that if they make poor decisions - it is because they suffer from poor thinking.

This may be true for inconsequential decisions such as which off-ramp to take for Home Depot. That's because such decisions have little consequence for one's survival - and therefore generate almost no emotional forces from non-intellectual sources in the mind. This leaves the relatively weak force of our intellectual conclusions to take control of our behavior for these utilitarian decisions. It is certainly not true for survival-dependent decisions that subconsciously generate strong emotional forces - like whether to trust that God will protect us from lions.

Failure to understand that the emotions produced by identity beliefs (and other non-intellectual sources in the mind) are the key to understanding significant human behavior decisions - and that intellect is a weak bystander in those decisions (for probably 90 percent of humanity) - will result in continued scientific confusion and ineffectiveness in understanding and describing human nature and behavior.

Added on reflection: How dumb and/or intellectually disfunctional would an adult have to be to lower himself into a cage of lions? Even our instincts cry out that large carnivores with sharp teeth and claws can be dangerous to one's health. In this case this person's belief system produced emotions stronger than both his intellect and what must have been very strong instinctive protective emotions. The relative power of identity beliefs in one's mind can truly be awesome. All the more reason to work hard throughout one's life to keep them on a rational basis, IMO.


Carey N June 7th, 2006 08:49 AM

Re: Implications of Somatic Behavior Choice

But, belief systems based on irrational (non-natural) causation have little or no connection to reality - and are therefore the most likely to run afoul of it.
Belief systems don't have to be mechanistically correct representations of reality in order to provide an effective means by which to survive in it. Have a look at D.S. Wilson's "Darwin's Cathedral" for some good examples of this point.

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