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  #1  
Unread June 28th, 2006, 03:54 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

From http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?art...162&sc=I100322:
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During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men--half self-described as "strong" Republicans and half as "strong" Democrats--were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.
The neuroimaging results, however, revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning--the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex--was quiescent. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions; the anterior cingulate, which is associated with conflict resolution; the posterior cingulate, which is concerned with making judgments about moral accountability; and--once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable--the ventral striatum, which is related to reward and pleasure.
More evidence that this evolved brain has more control over our psychology than is obvious. There can be no 'free will' if our brains are subconsciously affecting our thoughts and decisions.
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  #2  
Unread June 29th, 2006, 11:59 AM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

Hi Tom, I'm pleased you picked up on this. I read it last week when my SciAm issue arrived in the mail. The sub-head for the article is:
Quote:
A recent brain-imaging study shows that our political predilections are a product of unconscious confirmation bias
Of course, I see this confirmation bias and the results of this study as a subset of my larger assertion - that Behavior choice (decision-making) in humans is the result of a subconscious summation of somatic effects.

It is becoming increasingly evident that emotions provide the only real force that causes direction and choice of activities in all living things. In humans, emotions also cause us to conceptualize and think about things - and come to conclusions (behavior decisions). They are part of a closed loop, the purpose of which is to make us feel good.

Emotions cause thinking - and emotions are the result of thinking. Thinking (conceptualizing) is a peculiar adaptation - an external subroutine that sometimes produces more useful results than behavior decisions based on more pure emotion - sans intellect.

But, the only reality that living things can truly experience is through our emotions. Our most profound thoughts only have value according to the emotions they foster in terms of their percieved survival value. What we think about the world is just a crude caricature of that emotional reality. And yet, we are so certain that our thoughts and intellectual conclusions are the only reality worth knowing - that we go to war and kill each other in the name of those conclusions (Gods).

Thinking may be useful - we have evolved to depend on it and can not now exist without doing a lot of it. But, the very objectivity that makes it useful, separates us from what is real on the emotional level - and that allows us to make bad decisions and reach unrealistic, self-destructive concusions.

Margaret
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  #3  
Unread June 29th, 2006, 12:47 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

Quote:
Originally Posted by Margaret McGhee
I see this confirmation bias and the results of this study as a subset of my larger assertion
Yes, I started adding a paragraph on how much this supports your hypothesis, but decided that I'd leave it up to you.

It's good to hear from you and I'm glad you're still monitoring...
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  #4  
Unread June 29th, 2006, 10:34 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

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TomJ: More evidence that this evolved brain has more control over our psychology than is obvious.
Old news. The neuroscience showing us that the primitive, subconscious, subcortical emotional/motivational mechanisms have much influence over human cognitive consciousness has been “obvious” for some time now, certainly since I’ve been posting to this forum, circa 2000.

The question is whether we humans are ever able to truly discern and evaluate reality and/or objective truth and make rational decisions and choices, that may be contrary to our emotions and/or preconceived beliefs/perceptions and behave accordingly—whether we can cognitively change/modify emotions/beliefs/perceptions through downward causation.

If indeed the primitive, subconscious, subcortical “emotions provide the only real force that causes direction and choice of activities” in us, as MM and Tom seem to be claiming, then the bottom line is that we all, ultimately, are merely automatons. In which case whatever any of us happen to think or believe, or whatever our POV, it’s all, at best, an illusion having no more meaning or reality than whatever any random chimp, or any other animal, might happen to “think” or “believe.” In which case none of us are right or wrong about anything—we simply experience our illusions and the blind physical forces of natural selection will select for the illusions that happen to result in survival and the most offspring . . . in an indifferent universe of electrons, selfish genes, blind physical forces, and genetic replication.
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  #5  
Unread June 30th, 2006, 12:13 AM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

Fred, you say that,
Quote:
The question is whether we humans are ever able to truly discern and evaluate reality and/or objective truth and make rational decisions and choices, that may be contrary to our emotions and/or preconceived beliefs/perceptions and behave accordingly—whether we can cognitively change/modify emotions/beliefs/perceptions through downward causation.
The question you pose is not possible if, as I suggest, emotions are how our bodies interpret the world, including our own contemplated actions, as either good or bad for us.

However we interpret those estimates, is how we are compelled to act, in my view. There is only one causation, that being in our own percieved interest. And our emotions are the barometer of that index. We could not have evolved any other way. i.e. we could not have evolved to produce emotions that lead us to actions that are, on aggregate, against our own interest, against our survival - on any objective scale.

The downward causation you speak of is really only a more refined method of generating more nuanced emotions - a way of elevating our emotional pleasure at contemplating those actions that you would consider more refined and less base. That's a perfectly human way to devolp. Our pre-frontal cortex seems to be the location where those emotional evaluations are made - and that is subject to learning as we grow.

Our behavior can not be a way of acting in opposition to our net emotional estimate of the results of our actions. Your downward causation is a way of considering what you would call more refined inputs. But, the result will always be to act in regard to the summation of those inputs we do consider.

You may call that downward causation. I would more accurately call it a summing of and greater appreciation for more refined inputs from possibly the social conscience but certainly the belief area of our brain into our decision mechanism.

Your belief in God seems to compell you to find a soul-like mechanism that some of us are supposedly endowed with that can act in opposition to our nature. As I don't labor under that restriction I am free to see our behavior as the result entirely of what is in us already - of both our inherited nature that we are born with and the social nature we develop as we mature.

I have no objection to you calling that the force of God as I believe I understand why you and others need to do that. But, you should not be offended when I and others see it simply as another facet of human nature. The mechanism operates the same for both of us. It will produce the same results given the same inputs. We do favor different inputs, however.

Margaret
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  #6  
Unread June 30th, 2006, 08:13 AM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

Quote:
Fred: The question is whether we humans are ever able to truly discern and evaluate reality and/or objective truth and make rational decisions and choices, that may be contrary to our emotions and/or preconceived beliefs/perceptions and behave accordingly—whether we can cognitively change/modify emotions/beliefs/perceptions through downward causation.

MM: The question you pose is not possible if, as I suggest, emotions are how our bodies [and minds] interpret the world, including our own contemplated actions, as either good or bad for us.
Bingo—and that’s why nonhuman, non-sentient creatures, that actually are automatons of a sort, don’t truly consider such questions.
Quote:
MM: Your belief in God seems to compell you to find a soul-like mechanism that some of us are supposedly endowed with that can act in opposition to our nature.
Nonsense. However, I’d guess that it’s your own belief in chance/randomness that compels you to see and interpret things as you do—that we humans are merely creatures “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it.” And that’s why one can never attach any meaning or significance to whatever you, MM, happen to believe or say here, since, as you declare and believe, you’re merely a creature “driven by emotion to do what we do . . . driven to seek an emotional payoff for it.” Hello?

(Although I find your incessant allusions to “God,” while mostly irrelevant and mildly annoying, somewhat amusing, and perhaps a bit revealing.)
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  #7  
Unread June 30th, 2006, 08:58 AM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred H.
In which case whatever any of us happen to think or believe, or whatever our POV, it’s all, at best, an illusion having no more meaning or reality than whatever any random chimp, or any other animal, might happen to “think” or “believe.”
Ah, but it means much, much, much more than that. We, alone, have the power to control the ultimate fate of our world and our own species. Through these studies, we CAN realize that most of our beliefs ARE pure emotion!!!

Then, we CAN realize that our faith in one pretend 'god' is no more real than the faith put into other pretend 'god's. Then, we CAN stop the killing that all this mislaid faith causes. Then, we can add REAL meaning to our lives.

Heaven, on Earth.
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  #8  
Unread June 29th, 2006, 10:54 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

Hi Tom, I don't want to overstate my case. It's just that we live in a society where left brain science is considered the only valid path to enlightenment. I see that view as a serious impediment. It's not that I don't appreciate the objective layers of reality that can become available through scientific pursuit. It's just that we don't understand how seriously un-objective that path actually is.

We are first of all, compelled to pursue scientific truth for emotional reasons - usually to do with identity. And that's good when the identity image we choose is actually to be an objective pursuer of truth - wherever it may lead. For many young scientists I'm sure that's the ideal.

The problem is that eventually scientists become even more strongly attached to some idea or concept that they then champion. Their fame and fortune becomes a product of the success of that idea - and they can no longer be the objective scientist they claimed to be - or imagined themselves to be.

Just like the political partisans in that study, they seek the emotional rewards of charting new territory by using their intellect to confirm (justify) their position. It becomes the window through which they see the world.

For JimB it seems to be the emergent network stuff - which seems a useful window - though I don't fully understand it. For me, it is seeing behavior as the result of the emotion-mediated process that I have described. (Although, I certainly don't consider myself a scientist, as JimB is.)

But, scientist or not, I believe that this is simply a result of being human. We are driven by emotion to do what we do. And we are driven to seek an emotional payoff for it. Our brains and our grasp of objective reality are tools for that purpose - nothing more. Our ability to uncover reality depends on how much our identity remains attached to that thankless ideal - a pursuit that must produce its own self-contained rewards.

Because it is so difficult for humans to achive that idealistic state, we fortunately have a peer review system that serves to correct the inherent errors our emotionally driven intellects are certain to produce. That and the nature of funding for research means that science is largely a competitive ego-saturated pursuit. Perhaps it's the best system that can be realized, based on human emotion, as it is.

But, just knowing that one's biases are sure to be quickly and ignobly exposed is a force for the better. If anything, scientific progress is much more the result of the design and healthy operation of that system, it seems, than to any particular scientist's intellect.

Just some thoughts.

Margaret
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  #9  
Unread July 2nd, 2006, 04:02 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: The Political Brain - More Evidence of Evolved Psychology

Tom, As you know, my hypothesis is that behavior choice in animals, including humans, is an emotion driven process that attempts to produce a favorable emotional outcome. In humans, intellect provides another emotional input that's sometimes available for enhanced decison-making. I write this post, not to convince anyone or change their mind about this, but to clarify for myself some of the more important implications.

One of the human behaviors most susceptible to this emotion driven process is the opinions we form and hold about the world. We all love to believe that our own opinions are derived from the most rigorous logical and objective processes - and that those who don't share our opinions are just not very good thinkers.

From the article
Quote:
"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," Westen is quoted as saying in an Emory University press release. "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts." Interestingly, neural circuits engaged in rewarding selective behaviors were activated. "Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want, and then they get massively reinforced for it, with the elimination of negative emotional states and activation of positive ones," Westen said.

The implications of the findings reach far beyond politics. A jury assessing evidence against a defendant, a CEO evaluating information about a company or a scientist weighing data in favor of a theory will undergo the same cognitive process.
I interpret this as falling squarely within the predictions that my hypothesis makes regarding beliefs. I see beliefs as a primary source of the emotions we bring to bear on our conclusions and opinions about others and the world we observe. As we mature, our beliefs grow to form a set of mutually supporting opinions. We seldom expose our beliefs to logical examination - the results could be uncomfortable, negative emotional payback. Instead we expose them to our other beliefs - that we have already selected to support them - ensuring that good warm feeling of believing that we are alway right. The study vividly shows how this works in the brain. It also explains why we like to associate with those who share our beliefs.

By the time we are adults, when we are exposed to new information, our first instinct is to see if it fits in with our existing beliefs. If it does not, we may reject it out of hand. If asked, we will put our mind to work coming up with logical reasons why it could not possibly be true. If it does fit, we do the opposite. It feels so right. We have no trouble rationalizing reasons why it simply must be true.

However, some have worked hard to develop the ability to make rational judgements and think objectively about new information - to guard against emotion in that process. Good scientists strive to develop this ability - although not all scientists are so good at it.

The internet provides a wonderful lab to observe this in action. Almost all discussions about politics or philosophy (and psychology) are vivid illustrations of this. Most comments made in discussion groups like this are rationalizations for or against the beliefs that the commentors already hold in their minds. Some commentors are very intelligent and very skilled at making these rationalizations - disguising them as unbiased objective arguments.

Sometimes however, new information and new ideas are actually explored in online discussion. It's easy to see the difference between the two modes. In one, people question and offer observations - in the other, insults fly. Most often, and most unfortunately, the modes coexist - with some members trying to discuss human nature while others, whose beliefs may be threatened, throw insults at them.

There are differences between personalities in this online process. First, different persons have different areas of belief that they hold sacred. While one person may have no strong beliefs about God, for example, they may have strong partisan political beliefs - or vice versa. They may be quite capable of objective evaulation and comment in one of these areas but not the other.

Another difference that I suspect true is that different persons develop (or are genetically endowed, perhaps) with a greater chemical need to attach their beliefs to strong emotions. Some persons tend to go through life seeking those attachments.

Strong passions were certainly a net benefit for early humans who faced death every day from an uncaring nature and other humans. Those who carried the most passionate clan loyalties and the religious instincts that cemented them in place were most likely rewarded with better mate choices and more offspring - who then were likely to be passionate believers in all that their clan held sacred as well.

I suspect that many of the problems of the modern world are the result of this inherited bias for passion in our beliefs. I am not saying that these are always counter-productive for human-kind. It would be easy to make that generalization but that's not my purpose. Instead, I would propose that there is another side to behavior choice that could be nurtured in society, generally, and in children so that it will be available to them when needed. That is the passionless practice of reason.

It is easy to imagine that the first humans had little ability for this - and that the advance of civilization is pretty well marked by a gradually increasing ability to reason without the passion of irrational beliefs getting in the way. Still, I can see many examples where passion is not only necessary but where good outcomes would not be possible without it. When someone attacks us there is no choice but to passionately defend ourselves. At some point we must stop trying to reason and defend ourself - by whatever means necessary. The Second World War was a good example where we as a nation, at some point stopped anguishing over the alternatives and got about killing large numbers of Germans and Japanese.

But even then, our success was at least partially due to our ability to manage the war more intelligently and rationally - than passionately. The passion was needed - but measured and applied skillfully - which is difficult to do. IMO the most admirable achievements of humanity have been examples of the skillful combination of passion and reason. I think that a successful strategy for life on the personal level - and for societies - is to be capable of both passionate competition and reason - but to develop the wise ability to choose when and where to apply each, and in what proportions. I'm sure I could use a lot of improvement here.

We all deal with this functional duality in our minds every day in terms of competition in society. Passion is good for advertisers, for example. People simply do not buy things unless they are emotionally committed to the purchase. Millions of dollars are spent every day to make us more passionate and more competitive - usually about specific products - but the aggregate effect is a general elevated competitiveness (and social stress) that comes to permeate our lives.

There are areas of life where passion and competition has deadly serious consequences. Religion is capable of generating the most ferocious passions as any world history book will show. The tragedy of 9/11 and the current state of religious war in Iraq provides a vivid example that will affect our lives for many generations to come. It's OK to hold passions regarding one's beliefs. But when those passions become competitive, religion invariably requires the demeaning of others' religions - and eventually, if left unchecked, attacking or killing members of other faiths.

I believe it is not the nature of religion itself, but the nature of the minds in which it dwells - as to whether religious belief can be a force for good or destruction. The passion for belief is inherent in all of us from our evolutionary past. It seems, no matter how strong or weak it may be, that capacity can be amplified culturally or by upbringing - to completely consume some lives.

At the same time, passion for belief I suspect has become less necessary as our species evolved. What was vitally necessary for the survival of small superstitious bands 100,000 years ago, has become an enormous wholesale destroyer of DNA in the modern world. And the most passionate believers - as in WWII - don't always win.

Has cultural evolution so outpaced genetic evolution that we are destined to reduce humanity to a more appropriate smaller number of more primitive bands again - that can better accommodate the passions of our belief systems and use them to advantage?

Possibly the greatest advance in the organization of human civilization was the secular US constitution and Bill of Rights that recognized the inherent right of all to happiness and equal treatment under the law - and the all-important notion of separation of the affairs of church and state.

The duality in society that reveals our liberal and conservative mind-sets is an indicator of this evolution-in-progress - the bitter struggle of passionate beliefs vs. a live-and-let-live approach - that allows people to believe whatever they wish as long as they don't impose their beliefs on others. The conundrum hidden in that struggle is that it's hard to live-and-let-live when someone is trying to put you in prison for smoking pot or having an abortion or trying to have a loving relationship with someone of the same sex.

The passionate religionists will therefore always have their way. They will get their belief wars - because they need them, because the chemicals in their brains demand them. And those who would try to avoid them, will always be the first to suffer the consequences of those chemically induced passions.

Such is the human condition. And I guess we are fortunate to have members here who illustrate the chemical determinism of the human mind, in all its wonderful permutations, so very well - including me.

Margaret

Last edited by Margaret McGhee; July 2nd, 2006 at 04:22 PM.
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