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Unread April 11th, 2006, 07:15 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Pinker, Johnstone Prof. of Psychology at Harvard U gave a presentation "Can We Change Human Nature" focused on voluntary genetic enhancement, which may be constrained by the complexity of neural development and the rarity of single genes with large beneficial effects. "If we can't even find a single gene behind defects like autism or schizophrenia, it's even less likely that we'll find them for talents like music, intelligence and so on," he said.
The phrase complexity of neural development says to me that Pinker believes that questions about cultural and genetic influences on neural development are complex and not well understood at this time - which seems like a reasonable opinion that coincides with most other books I've read.

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

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

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


Last edited by Margaret McGhee; April 11th, 2006 at 08:22 PM.
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