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  #31  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 08:17 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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Carey: Fred's recent insults have not been directed at me, but he's done it in the past. He and I had a running thread about morality and atheism that must have lasted 2 years and never moved more than a few yards . . .
My recollection is a bit different Carey—back in September 2003 when you, Todd, and I were passionately discussing this area (and perhaps trading benign “insults” ) and whether materialist ”atheists” “lacked the balls to be honest-to-god atheists” and “to acknowledge the implications of a cosmos lacking intrinsic meaning and value,” you eventually affirmed that:
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I agree with you [Todd] and Fred that an "accidental"…universe is not compatible with evolution. Moreover, I don't think an "accidental" universe is compatible with anything at all.
And since atheism more or less mandates an “accidental” (i.e. chance) universe, it was concluded that your and Todd’s “atheism” was not a consistent honest-to-god atheism (but more an agnosticism). So I’d say that we actually “moved more than a few yards”— TomJ’s honest-to-god atheism, OTH, is at least consistent enough to acknowledge that in the atheist’s world mass murderers can’t be “morally responsible” for their behavior and are “just following their [evolved] social instincts.”
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  #32  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 12:16 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

Hi Carey, I have reviewed the pdf files you sent. Those are interesting. Reviewing those and re-reading your recent posts I now suspect that we are not talking about the same thing.

You used an example where Bob hit Brad in the face. All human voluntary behavior begins with a choice. In fact making a behavior choice is itself a behavior, though not always voluntary. Bob could have walked away, yelled obscenities at Brad or could have kicked him the shins. Why did he choose to hit him in the face?

The part of behavior that I am most interested in is what happened in Bob's brain that caused him to consider several possible behaviors and then committ emotionally to one of them. I believe that the great mystery of human nature is what goes on in a central nervous system to cause us to choose a particular behavior from our repertoire - not how that behavior gets executed, however interesting that may be.

While science struggles with explaining behavior execution at the neuron / synapse level, as your papers illustrate, behavior choice seems even further from their grasp and is less likely (at least from what I have read) to yield to answers at that level - which seems to be your area of interest. Is behavior choice something you'd even like to discuss?

Margaret

Last edited by Margaret McGhee; April 15th, 2006 at 12:43 PM.
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  #33  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 12:26 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

Okay Fred - I hope you'll pardon my bad memory.


I would need to see the context in which I wrote down that quote you listed. Why was I putting the word "accidental" in quotation marks, for example? And what are those elipsis points replacing? At the moment, it just sounds wrong. Is that post still around, or do you have it saved somewhere?


Without intending to start this debate all over again, my position is that Occam's Razor would suggest that the universe was not created or inlfuenced by a Designer of any kind. Before you respond with your point about early low entropy, let me just say that no matter how complicated and remote the purely physical scenario might be for the beginning of the universe, it is vastly, vastly simpler than the position maintaining that some intelligent Being was there, instead. Hence my reference to Occam. In that sense, I don't see why an accidental universe, i.e., one not involving a Designer, wouldn't be compatible with evolution. In fact, the validity of evolution in the context of life on Earth doesn't even relate at all to the way in which the universe began. That's why I'm curious about the context and elipsis points in the quotation of mine that you posted.


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TomJ’s honest-to-god atheism, OTH, is at least consistent enough to acknowledge that in the atheist’s world mass murderers can’t be “morally responsible” for their behavior and are “just following their [evolved] social instincts.”
Like you, I don't agree with Tom's stance on this subject. On the other hand, I don't feel that it's inconsistent to say that morality exists in the interaction between people, even in the absence of a Deity of some kind watching over us like a referee.


Again . . . without meaning to start up the debate all over again, my stance is that morality is a human construct . . . it's part of our biology ("social instincts"), and it is also subject to cultural evolution. On the one hand, yes, this means that morality doesn't really exist; but in every important way, morality exists as a property of human interaction. That's the view i remember maintaining in our debate, which is why that quote that you posted seems foreign to me. However, maybe you trumped me in that one, and I selectively blocked out the memory to bury the pain of defeat. Somehow I doubt it, though.


I wrote that the debate did not move more than a few yards because I think that our views remained pretty much diametrically opposed, no matter what each party said in counter-argument. In that sense, the front lines didn't move very much. I did not mean that nothing interesting was written.

-Carey

Last edited by Carey N; April 15th, 2006 at 12:43 PM.
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  #34  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 01:01 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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Originally Posted by Fred H.
perhaps TomJ (also an atheist who insists that mass murderers are somehow not “morally responsible” for their behavior and that they are “just following their social instincts”), who currently seems to be something of a self-appointed advocate for her, can explain how “Margaret's feelings were hurt for valid reasons,” this time by your comments (rather than mine).
Yes, I would have suggested that Carey's "smacks of nonsense" was a bit harsh and could easily be taken as an insult. And I agree with Margaret that her reaction was a bit much for that perceived insult. You see, Carey and Margaret, like reasonable adults, resolved the point themselves to their satisfaction.

And, yes, we have social instincts for altruism, cooperation, crime, etc. That's all we need for "morality" and you have yet to show the source for anything more.

I'm distressed by Carey's point of "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"; far too many intelligent people have already left this now tiny kitchen for that very reason. EP is not a subject that is widely known, much less widely supported, and the loss of even one mind is a terrible thing.

I'm even more distressed by Carey egging you on to spew years more of your rudeness. Apparently he does not share my views on why you're here.
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  #35  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 01:28 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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Originally Posted by Carey N
Like you, I don't agree with Tom's stance on this subject.

. . . it's part of our biology ("social instincts"), and it is also subject to cultural evolution. On the one hand, yes, this means that morality doesn't really exist; but in every important way, morality exists as a property of human interaction.
I agree with this statement so I don't understand your disagreement with me. True, I eliminated the term 'morality' from my argument since it's just a synonym for social instincts for me and I feel that it sends the religious on tangents.

Can you enumerate your differences with my views? Thanks!
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  #36  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 03:16 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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Carey: Why was I putting the word "accidental" in quotation marks, for example?
It was my quote of your post in my post, knowmsaying? Anywho, “accidental,” as I recall, was the word we were using to describe a universe lacking a first cause, having no intrinsic meaning or purpose, that was a result of some random uncaused happening—the atheist’s universe—all there ever was, is, will be.

I think the bottom line, Carey, is that these arguments ultimately boil down to whether you believe there indeed is such a thing as “objective truth,” whether objective truth exists (and perhaps also whether we humans can know it); or whether you believe there is only subjective “truth,” whether there are only subjective, mental and/or social constructs.

To me the evidence is overwhelming that there is indeed timeless, objective mathematical truth, that objective mathematical truth does indeed exist, that it exists independent of the human mind, independent of any evolved sentient being’s mind, and independent of the physical world that we currently find ourselves in.

For example, the four-square theorem: In the 17th century Bachet, a mathematician, conjectured whether every positive integer could be expressed as the sum of four squares of integers; e.g.: 31 = 52 + 22 + 12 + 12. In 1770 another mathematician, Lagrange, discovered the unassailable proof for this “four-square theorem.” That every positive integer can be expressed as the sum of four squares of integers is a timeless objective truth—it was true when Lagrange discovered the proof, it’s true today, and it was true before conscious beings evolved.

Although we humans can know and “see” this particular objective truth, the four-square theorem doesn’t actually “exist” in the physical world. Additionally, it is only with objective mathematical truths (e.g., integers, pi, etc., etc., etc.) that we humans are able to begin to truly understand the reality of our physical world.

Once one see the reality of objective mathematical truth, and it’s necessity to do science, the leap to objective beauty, and perhaps even objective morality, is not so difficult; and b/f you know it you’ll find yourself quoting Einstein: “Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man....” Or Max Planck: “There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.” Or Roger Penrose: "I would say the universe has a purpose. It's not there just somehow by chance."
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  #37  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 04:12 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

Hi Tom,

You and I agree on the biology of social interaction, and how morality is simply a tool in humans' repertoire (I think there's a solid argument that social instrincts evolved to reduce conflict and thereby increase the potency of selection at the group level - in our ancestral environment). Punishment is a kind of programmed apoptosis, but for people rather than cancer cells.

I disagree with you about moral responsibility - I think mass murderes and rapists are entirely responsible for their actions, based on the following interpretation:

Responsibility is not a matter of free will, but rather of establishing the consequences of cheating in a social system. Perhaps a given murderer did not have control over his behavior, but as far as the social group is concerned, he has broken one of the rules, and that's all that matters. The subsequent punishment (particularly if it is on publich display, which is often the case) serves as a warning to others, who may be on the brink of cheating, that the resulting punishment does not make cheating worthwhile. This is essentially the story of altruistic punishing, in which cooperative individuals incur a cost to themselves in order to hurt cheaters, which in the end increases the stability of the whole group by eliminating the benefit of selfishness. Responsibility is the link between behavior and its consequences, and that is maintained by a collective in order to instil a fear of cheating among its members.

I understand that this may be a semantic issue . . . what I call responsibility you may call something else, in which case our views on the subject aren't really different.

-Carey
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  #38  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 04:39 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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I think the bottom line, Carey, is that these arguments ultimately boil down to whether you believe there indeed is such a thing as “objective truth,” whether objective truth exists (and perhaps also whether we humans can know it); or whether you believe there is only subjective “truth,” whether there are only subjective, mental and/or social constructs.
I agree with you entirely on the matter of universal, objective, mathematical truths. They can be proven unequivocally and they remain true whether humans are here to appreciate them or not.

But moral truths don't work that way . . . do you think that there will ever be a formal, undeniable proof that it's wrong to steal stuff from your neighbors? Of course not . . . the word "wrong" doesn't even make any sense without a huge amount of information about the social environment. Without people, there's no social environment. Without social environments, there's no such thing as morality.


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Once one see the reality of objective mathematical truth, and it’s necessity to do science, the leap to objective beauty, and perhaps even objective morality, is not so difficult
Whoa, whoa . . . whoa. How on earth does the truth of objective morality follow from the objective truth of mathematics!? EVERYTHING about morality is context-dependent, the exact opposite of mathematical truths, which are valid no matter what the context.

There's an enormous difference between a mathematical proof for objective moral truths (never going to happen) and a genius mathematiciain remarking that he believes in the presence of a higher power.
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  #39  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 05:00 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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I'm distressed by Carey's point of "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen"; far too many intelligent people have already left this now tiny kitchen for that very reason. EP is not a subject that is widely known, much less widely supported, and the loss of even one mind is a terrible thing.
I haven't been around for a while and don't have a great feel for the forum's member turnover. It's not great to hear that people have been driven away, although based on my experience here, many tend to leave regardless of Fred's commentary, while the most thoughtful people stay. I'm not defending Fred's writing style, but this forum has never had a large membership, anyway.

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I'm even more distressed by Carey egging you on to spew years more of your rudeness. Apparently he does not share my views on why you're here.
I didn't encourage Fred to insult anyone, but I would defend the sentiment that aggressive criticism is okay. Otherwise, debates tend to become bogged down and equivocal.

Last edited by Carey N; April 15th, 2006 at 05:46 PM.
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  #40  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 05:15 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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The part of behavior that I am most interested in is what happened in Bob's brain that caused him to consider several possible behaviors and then committ emotionally to one of them. I believe that the great mystery of human nature is what goes on in a central nervous system to cause us to choose a particular behavior from our repertoire - not how that behavior gets executed, however interesting that may be.
I'm not so sure there's as big a distinction between behavior choice and behavior execution, and I'm kinda surprised you feel that way, given your disbelief in any kind of free will . . .

As I understand things, your interest is in the earliest part of behavioral execution . . . before signals are sent to muscles, etc. One of the messages from the papers I sent you is that the processing that occurs for even the simplest of behavior, like an escape response, is very complicated. Decision making (ie should I expend energy to try and escape, or is this a false alarm) occurs in these simple systems, and we only just have a grasp of the network interactions that govern them.

I agree with you that understanding basal network interactions is too primitive a level of organization to examine when trying to understand complex social behavior, but I want to make sure that your verbal models don't depart too far from a grounding in the way networks are constructed and operate, because non-quantitative models are limited in scope and can often be bent easily to fit whatever observations are made. The big problem in the context of humans is that we don't really know that much about the networks underlying our complex behaviors. This is not to say that it's not even worth thinking about, but rather than the limitations of our current exploratory tools are considerable and must be kept in mind.
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