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  #41  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 06:06 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

What a delight to really explore some of these ideas.

You said,
Quote:
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 . . .
I am aghast. But, if your interest is biological rather than psychological then I understand. BTW - I see that whole free will thing as a distraction. I entered that debate because that's what was being discussed when I came here. Whatever caused Bob to punch Brad, I'm sure it involved neurons, synapses and neurotransmitters and perhaps hormones. I'm sure it was in his brain and it wasn't a ghost.

You said,
Quote:
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 can see we have a fundamentally different view of things. I am firstly interested in vertebrates with a CNS, not crayfish, especially mammals and of course, humans. I am not interested in the earliest part of behavior execution. I am interested in behavior choice. In the sense that until that choice is made there can be no behavior execution. There is a point before which Bob does not know what he will do - or better, before which, his mind does not know what it will do. After that point he is in the process of executing a decision. I can't see any way of describing those as other than two distinctly different states.

I want to know what went in in Bob's mind to make him punch Brad and not walk away - to cause that state change - not what happened after the state change. Like I said, that is probably not knowable at the neuron and synapse level at least for the foreseeable future - and if you weren't interested I'd understand.

You said,
Quote:
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.
Well yes, but that's pretty much the story of every model of the mind used in each of the many branches of psychology. None of those models are quantitatively provable, especially at the neural level. They can just be shown to work or not and be useful or not for making some predictions. That's the kind of model I have in mind. Some day neuroscience may catch up and prove or disprove the literal validity of those models - but meanwhile they can all be useful as windows that give particular views of human nature.

Margaret
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  #42  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 06:12 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

See, you don't need neurons and synapses to talk about this stuff.

Margaret
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  #43  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 07:19 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

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Carey: 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 . . .
Forget about my “leap to objective beauty, and perhaps even objective morality.” Let’s just focus on “objective mathematical truth.”

You say you agree “entirely on the matter of universal, objective, mathematical truths.” Are you sure? Did you read carefully what I said? I said that objective mathematical truth is timeless and 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.” IOW, the material universe is not all there is, ever was, or ever will be—there is also this other immaterial, timeless, objective world of objective mathematical truth, independent of our material universe, out there, somewhere, that “exists” in some way and that we humans are somehow able to consciously access, understand, and utilize in understanding our natural, material, physical world. Is that really what you’re agreeing to? B/c if you are then you’re conceding that there is indeed more than just the material, “natural” physical world.

OTH, if you don’t really agree, then where exactly do your “universal, objective, mathematical truths” “exist,” other than as subjective social/mental constructs of human emergent consciousness, and how could such “universal, objective, mathematical truths” “exist,” in any meaningful way, b/f human consciousness emerged, or b/f some other adequately complex consciousness existed?
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  #44  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 07:32 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

Quote:
I am aghast.
My message wasn't clear: I mean to say that it should be our goal to understand behavior choice at the most basic network level (because we know it must boil down to that, and it's going to be a truly extraordinary example of collective behavior), just as we understand a few examples of simple behavior choice (and execution) in model organisms at the network level.


Quote:
Well yes, but that's pretty much the story of every model of the mind used in each of the many branches of psychology. None of those models are quantitatively provable, especially at the neural level. They can just be shown to work or not and be useful or not for making some predictions. That's the kind of model I have in mind. Some day neuroscience may catch up and prove or disprove the literal validity of those models - but meanwhile they can all be useful as windows that give particular views of human nature.
This really cuts to the chase - I suppose my overall point is that I find psychological models a bit disturbing because they treat the processing machinery, which is mechanistically responsible for decision-making, as a black box. Not that psychologists have a choice in the matter . . . as you said, we just don't have the tools required to understand the networks in our brains to the last detail. It's questionable that we ever will, considering that some neurons have up to 100,000 connections with others, which in turn have 100,0000 connections, etc. . . The combinatorial possibilities for information processing are enough to make you cry. To top it all off, it's becoming apparent that information processing is bi-directional (i.e. real neural networks can send messages both forwards and backwards). Even if we knew precisely how the networks were structured, we wouldn't even have the computing power to model them.

Anyway, black boxes aside, I'm interested to hear your take on the behavior choice problem. Be sure to explain what a mental image is, though

-Carey

PS - I'm being picky, but crayfish certainly do have a CNS . . . it's just not wrapped in a vertebral column, among other big differences.
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  #45  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 08:04 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

OK - I'll work on that tonight to make it as concise as I can. Point taken on CNS's and crayfish.

Margaret
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  #46  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 08:45 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

Quote:
Originally Posted by Carey N
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.
Yet another great post, Carey. Thanks! And your response to Fred's 'objective mathematical truth' was exactly what I was thinking.

Yes, I believe ours is a semantic issue brought on by Fred's oversimplification of my views (though the one time I actually had to praise him was for adding my caveat "but should be punished" in one of his mentions that I don't believe people are 'ultimately' responsible for their actions).

I do believe people must be held responsible for their actions for just those societal reasons that you stated. I would just hope that the determinism of their crimes would better inform our choices for punishment. I believe I mentioned earlier that everyone should have enough of a stake in society that they wouldn't want to give it up to rob $40 from a convenience store and that criminals ought to be separated from their temptations rather than being demeaned and further hardened. Just something to think about for the distant future, if we survive that long.

There is will, there are choices and we must have some means to discourage bad choices. But there is no free will, our wills are directly affected by our instincts and circumstances; there's nothing else.
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  #47  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 09:44 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

Quote:
Carey: 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….
Damn Carey, that sounds like some type of behavioral conditioning—I suppose it works on animals and young children, but we’re talking sane, civilized, human adults here. Before you get sucked into going down that road, FYI and FWIW, Pinker (an “atheist” since age 13) notes that he doesn’t think free will is a myth, believes in moral responsibility, and has stated that, “In cases where we can tell with certainty that an identifiable kind of actor is undeterrable by criminal sanctions, in fact we don't punish him -- that's why we don't punish children, animals, machines, or the truly insane.”

IOW Carey, moral responsibility is indeed a matter of free will, of choice, and that’s really the only moral justification for “punishing” law breakers—it would be “wrong” to punish them simply to condition them (although the threat of punishment can certainly be a deterrent), and it would be “wrong” to punish them if, as you say, they “did not have control,” as in the case of children, animals, machines, or the truly insane.
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  #48  
Unread April 15th, 2006, 11:12 PM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

Quote:
there is also this other immaterial, timeless, objective world of objective mathematical truth, independent of our material universe, out there, somewhere, that “exists” in some way and that we humans are somehow able to consciously access, understand, and utilize in understanding our natural, material, physical world. Is that really what you’re agreeing to? B/c if you are then you’re conceding that there is indeed more than just the material, “natural” physical world.
I'll concede that mathematical truths imply the existence of some abstract world separate from the material world in which we live, but how do you make the leap from there to objective, universal moral truths, or to higher powers of any kind? Math describes relationships between quantities . . . . Those relationships are valid without reference to our material world, but they don't say anything about the more complex, context-dependent issue of primary concern in this thread, i.e. morality.
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  #49  
Unread April 16th, 2006, 12:22 AM
Carey N Carey N is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

The idea was that punishment is not only meant for the perpetrator, but also for the rest of the population, hence the social context of responsibility.

However, I understand your message that punishment is also meant to change the future behavior of the perpetrator, and so in that sense it's not much use punishing someone who can't make the connection between his actions and the consequences.
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  #50  
Unread April 16th, 2006, 02:09 AM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: Pinker's Blank Slate

I took a slow dinner at the local diner to re-read Chapter 7, Emotion and Feeling, of Damasio's Descarte's Error, in preparation for laying out my hypothesis. From some of your comments, Carey, it almost seems like you have not read that seminal book on neurology (1994). Not that I assume you agree with him, just that it's important to be aware of his generally well-accepted findings. I'll offer a few gems as an intro for my hypothesis.

For example, from the jacket:
Quote:
Far from interfering with rationality, his research shows us that the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decision-making almost impossible.
From Chapter 7:
Quote:
The evidence on biological regulation demonstrates that response selections of which organisms are not conscious and which are thus not deliberated take place continuously in old brain structures. Organisms whose brains only include those archaic structures and are devoid of evolutionarily modern ones - reptiles, for instance - operate such response selections without difficulty. One might conceptualize the response selections as an elementary form of decision-making, provided it is clear that it is not an aware self but a set of neural circuits that is doing the deciding.

Yet it is also well accepted that when social organisms are confronted by complex situations and are asked to decide in the face of uncertainty, they must engage systems in the neocortex, the evolutionarily modern sector of the brain. There is evidence for a relation between the expansion and subspecialization of the neocortex, and the complexity and unpredictability of environments with which such expansion permits individuals to cope. Relevant in this regard is John Allman's valuable finding that, independently of body size, the neo-cortex of fruit-eating monkeys is larger than that of leaf-eating monkeys. Fruit-eating monkeys must have a richer memory so that they can remember when and where to look for edible fruit lest they encounter fruitless trees or rotten fruit. Their larger neocortices support the greater factual memory they require.(1)
To dispense with any confusion about mental images - from page 96 of my paperback edition,
Quote:
If you look out the window at the autumn landscape, or listen to the music playing in the background, or run your fingers over a smooth metal surface, or read these words line after line down this page, you are percieveing and therfore forming images of varied sensory modalities. . . Perhaps you are now thinking of your Aunt Maggie or the Eiffel Tower or the voice of Placido Domingo, or of what I just said about images. Any of those thoughts is also constituted by images, regardless of whether they are made up mostly of shapes, colors, movements, tones, or spoken or unspoken words. . . . These various images - perceptual, recalled from the past, and recalled from plans of the future - are constructions of your organism's brain.
There's much more in this very information-rich book that I'd recommend for every library - despite the sometimes hard to read sentences.

It is also important to understand Damasio's useful separation of emotion and feeling. Emotion is a changed body state in response to some input. Feeling is our awareness of that emotion in the form of images like those above. i.e. feeling is thinking about the emotions we are experiencing which we might report as in, I feel hungry.

I'm enjoying the discussion of free-will which has become interesting again. High quality arguments from all participants.

Margaret

(1) Brain weight and life-span in primate species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 90:118-22

Last edited by Margaret McGhee; April 16th, 2006 at 12:19 PM.
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