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Fred H. September 13th, 2006 09:16 AM

Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

[MM to Todd]: That's the part of the puzzle that I'm still working on. How much rational restraint should we (can we) willfully inject into our emotional decision process - and when should we do it? Is it good to develop that ability to a high skill and use it continuously - or will that take all spontaneity from our life?

What I see now is the critical importance of holding rational beliefs in our minds. I believe that our beliefs are our most significant source for behavior decision emotions. If we populate our minds with rational, moral beliefs - then I expect that the emotions that proceed from those beliefs when we are faced with an important decision - will lead us to rational, moral decisions that will benefit our survival and our society's survival.
OMG Todd, it seems that you may, in your typical gentle fashion, have helped MM begin to see the reality that sane humans adults are indeed capable of choosing to hold “rational” and “moral” beliefs. That we humans aren’t necessarily preordained to “use our brains to justify” and believe only whatever happens to “feel good.”

I can’t wait until MM finally finishes her work on that “part of the puzzle” she’s still working on and fully realizes what most already know, that we sane adult humans do indeed have at least some freewill, that we have moral responsibility. O happy day.

Think of it Todd—you’ve been an active ecological cause in MM’s evolution! Who the hell needs natural selection when we’ve got the knowledgeable and gentle Todd?

Margaret McGhee September 13th, 2006 11:14 AM

Addendem re: the part about "parochial" science.
Thinking about this later - I think that parochial simply means part of a closed system - in this case a closed system of enforced rationality - in which all members of the system have ostensibly pledged to uphold that rational basis and disallow their emotions to guide their conclusions.

I note however, that even within this closed system, an essential component is the encouragement (necessity) of follow-on studies that either support or refute the original hypothesis. And I note the emotional conflicts that sometimes erupt over such studies where it is obvious that at least one side in the debate is using their scientific skills in fierce support of their emotional conclusions. This is especially true when the results either support or question existing belief systems - which as I have noted are probably the most significant source of our behavior decision emotions.

The "scientific method" seems to be a very good example of how humans have attempted to "inject reason into the behavior decision process" - despite the basically "emotional" nature of that process in us. It shows the power of human emotions to sometimes overwhelm that process in its careful design to allow offsetting emotions to cancel each other out - leaving a (hopefully) rational result. It's a tough job - but the payoff for succcess can be tremendous.


James Brody September 16th, 2006 04:58 PM

Rationality: A Fence & A Deceiver
Aside from a few talented exceptions, "rationality" only stabilizes tradition and impose conformity...the helper to mothers and old men who want things to remain as they were and to assure their own security.

And the "rational" who do not ratify conventional wisdom are shunned, excoriated, or burned.

Faith in rationality also leaves us vulnerable to direct attack by "irrational" people. The hordes defeated the Romans, Muslims are likely to defeat Catholics.


ToddStark September 17th, 2006 02:23 AM

Reasoning vs. its discontents
I'm just a consultant, not some great scientist or pundit. I probably have a selective view of the topic since it is a professional specialty of mine to apply systematic methods to locate and solve real world problems in business processes and computer systems. I can tell you truly from hard experience that rational methods, along with expertise and experience, can take at least some people a long way to solving real problems that other people using "emotional" or "irrational" or "intuitive" methods have repeatedly failed at solving. I guess I think those "talented exceptions" are very important.

One of the reasons people hire me is that most people don't understand the basic tools of science and mathematics well enough to use them effectively. They have "theories" (guesses) rather than skills and tools for investigation. Amazingly, in most cases no one has actually tested their theories yet when I come in, only argued for their various theories. By the time I am called in on a problem, they have acted on two or three wrong "theories" and now are in a crisis. They will then pay big bucks to actually solve the problem rather than waste more time and money chasing competing guesses. The first thing I usually do is go back and look at the problem without the benefit of all the theories, and at first they think I'm crazy. But then the data reveals its own hidden story, if I've identified the right place to start looking. I'm just using the basic tools of pattern recognition and reasoning built into us, and extended through mathematics and applied common sense. That's all a "scientific method" involves in practice. Using our built-in tools well. I think that's all we mean by "rationality" in practice, if you strip away all of the ideological baggage.

I don't use "emotion" or "irrationality" to locate the source of an error or determine whether a particular action had a particular effect (that's what got them into the crisis in the first place), I make observations, get impressions from experience, then build an appropriate instrument, gather evidence, and analyze it. And the point is, this is very often domain-general impressions. I am usually not an expert in the situation where the problem is happening, I have domain-general problem solving skills and expertise in a narrow range of things.

If that's not applying a rational method, we must be using the term differently.

kind regards,


Fred H. September 17th, 2006 01:36 PM

Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

JimB: Faith in rationality also leaves us vulnerable to direct attack by "irrational" people. The hordes defeated the Romans, Muslims are likely to defeat Catholics.
I guess the “faith” in “rationality” that, say, atheists often seem to have, may leave them vulnerable to “irrational” people, but I’d say that’s only b/c those having such “faith” aren’t actually as “rational” as they believe they are, often lacking an adequate measure of humility and failing to grasp the reality of things and what we actually know and don’t know (e.g., the faith that some here have in what they believed was utterly rational, “natural selection,” which Provine now acknowledges is not even a mechanism). IOW, their “rationality” is often an illusion.

And while I’d agree that Muslims are likely to defeat atheists (e.g. much of today’s atheistic Europe), I’d not bet against Christians, Jews, etc., at least not the ones that keep reproducing and fighting.

Margaret McGhee September 20th, 2006 02:31 PM

Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple
Todd, I think you are confusing rationality with emotions again.

You are probably no more rational than your clients - although you do seem like a very smart person. You are just motivated by different emotions - that are more conducive to solving their problems.

Having a job within an organization provides many strong emotions involved with status, wages, promotion prospects, retirement benefits, stock options, allies and enemies within the organization, etc. That's to say nothing of the basic desire to benefit as much from your job as possible while doing the least amount of work. Creative problem-solving is hard mental work.

But, these powerful emotions are different from the ones that would guide decisions in the best interests of the company. Very few employees ever adopt beliefs about their job that align with the company's best interests. Almost all are more concerned with their own success than the company's success. That goes all the way to the top. Only insofar as the president of a corporation's success is tied to that of the company will he or she be motivated to make decisions in the company's best interest. That's also what makes some problems virtually intractable within any organization.

As a consultant, you are immune from such emotions (at first at least) - and therefore can apply your rationality in a mental environment not overwhelmed by those stronger emotions.

The longer you remain as a consultant for that company however, the more you are likely to ally yourself with certain factions there - the more likely that you will start to adopt some of their same decision-harming beliefs - and their accompanying emotions. As long as your allies do the consultant hiring then you will probably be able to transfer a lot of that company's money into your bank account - before another faction assumes control.

And all the while you will convince yourself that it's your superior rationality and creativity that makes them pay you - when it's actually the endemic emotional barriers preventing the employees who have similar inate skills - to apply them in the company's benefit. ;)

Best regards, Margaret

PS - Reading this back it seems like you could interpret this as me insulting you or your profession. I have worked as a consultant myself and my cynicism comes from that experience. The fact that an "outsider" can come up with solutions better and faster than existing employees speaks to the enormous effect that "employee emotions" have on their effectiveness. Those emotions simply work to stamp out creativity and views that are in the company's best interests.

IMO those stem from the relationship between the employer and the employee. Also, there are very strong emotions of acceptance by fellow workers that work against an employee making an extra effort at creativity - which is often interpreted by other employees as "kissing up to the boss". As long as those emotional relationships exists as they do - outside consultants will always be necessary and highly valuable resources. And consultants will always tend to be those who tried working for larger companies and found that they value their own creativity too much to subjugate it to those same stifling employer / employee emotions.

Perhaps it's just not reasonable psychologically to expect people to apply creative problem-solving skills to other people's problems - when they are basically being paid to spend a set amount of time at work each week. The consultant relationship is an arrangement that allows you to psychologically adopt those problems - on the company's behalf - while insulating you from the emotions that the employees must experience.

Fred H. October 17th, 2006 03:10 PM

Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple

[Carey’s Sep 9th response to Fred:] That's the thing . . . this guy Provine establishes that selection is an outcome (something we already knew and agreed upon) upon which adaptive evolution depends, and then proceeds to say that it is not a mechanism. I don't see why selection cannot be both an outcome (of an association between differential reproduction and heritable information) and a mechanism (of adaptive evolution) at the same time.
Well, if you’re still out there Carey, I doubt thinking of natural selection as both an outcome and a mechanism is really all that viable.

Consider looking at it this way: As human consciousness/understanding is obviously an outcome of evolution (and/or “emergence”?), so too is natural selection/adaptation; and as human consciousness/understanding is not a mechanism or active cause of evolution (although I suppose one might argue that the conscious “artificial selection” by human breeders is a cause of, say, the evolution of dogs), neither is natural selection/adaptation—rather human consciousness and natural selection are merely the results of many interacting causes. IOW Carey, we still don’t really know much regarding the actual mechanisms/causes of biological evolution. So if you turn out to be a half way decent scientist, and forget the nonsense about “natural selection” being any kind of meaningful explanation regarding evolution, then there’s a whole lot of opportunity for you to discover those still unknown mechanisms . . . hell Carey, maybe you’ll discover God.

Fred H. October 18th, 2006 09:44 AM

Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple
Just to finalize this thread, and perhaps rub it in a bit, let me summarize things by saying that William Provine, the distinguished evolutionary scholar who sits in an endowed Chair in biological sciences at Cornell, is one of the few Darwinians out there that has enough intellectual honesty/rigor/balls to acknowledge the obvious, that natural selection is not a mechanism or an active cause of evolution.

Here again is what Provine said/wrote last year regarding a debate that he apparently had with some ID guy (Stephen C. Meyer, apparently at the National Press Club), from :

Steve Meyer’s criticism of neo-Darwinism was surprisingly narrow, emphasizing natural selection acting upon mutations. I have a far deeper quarrel with the evolutionary biology of the 1960s. I no longer see natural selection as a mechanism, or an active cause of evolution. Natural selection (or adaptation) is a result of many interacting ecological and genetic causes and does not “work upon” individual genes. I reject random genetic drift and see the movement of neutral DNA by hitchhiking with pieces of chromosome with high or low survival rates. I reject gene pools, genetic homeostasis, am critical of the biological species concept and all hopes of generating robust phylogenetic trees older than 700 million years ago because of the wide exchange of DNA and RNA between one-celled organisms. Thus I turn out much more critical of neo-Darwinism than does Steve Meyer. None of my criticisms, however, suggest a ID creator, but a more lively and realistic view of evolution than I learned in graduate school.
So there you have it my atheistic Darwinian friends—a highly credentialed Darwinian acknowledging that he no longer sees natural selection as a mechanism. Now if Provine (and the other atheistic Darwinians) would just gain a bit of appreciation for the absurdly low entropy at the beginning of our universe, 14 billion years ago, then maybe he (and the others), in addition to having a “more lively and realistic view of evolution than [they] learned in graduate school,” would also see how current physics/cosmology does "suggest" a "Creator.” Oh happy day.

James Brody October 18th, 2006 03:51 PM

Mechanism or Outcome?
Fred, Carey,

I think of you guys often...

1) Reification is a necessity of human thought.

2) Things with 80/20 organizations often appear to "live" because our minds and other living organizations also approximate an 80/20 pattern.

3) Still love Will James and PW Bridgeman: a "thing" consists of whatever it is that we do to measure it.

but, I'm a finger-tips guy!

Thanks both of you for being on board...


Fred H. October 19th, 2006 09:45 AM

Re: Ann Coulter & Wm. Provine: Evolution's Odd Couple
I suppose there’s some truth to the 80/20 thing, which suggests that a minority of inputs/effort tend to cause most of the results—some things resonate and/or are important, many things don’t and/or aren’t. Perhaps the art is discerning, as best one can, the reality of things, and using that knowledge to one’s advantage.

Regarding “reification [being] a necessity of human thought,” I suppose that’s a reasonable assumption since it does seem to be a common trait among us humans. But to blame criticisms of the “natural selection” notion on any (inappropriate or otherwise) reification of that circular notion is, I think, unwarranted; and I’d add that Provine’s view, that “natural selection (or adaptation) is a result of many interacting ecological and genetic causes and does not “work upon” individual genes,” is about as much as we currently can say regarding that aspect of evolution, suggesting that there’s a whole lot more to discover.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a “finger-tips guy,” JimB, so long as one has a reasonable measure of discernment, which I think you generally have (or am I just kissing your ass?). And I’m honored to be here, delighted that I’ve not been banned.

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