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Hello, from Illinois, Fellow Inquirers…
Posted: 11 January 2007 03:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Re: Hello, from Illinois, Fellow Inquirers…

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]This seems confusing to me. Could you help clarify for me, how an institution like government, which is predicated on the threat of force, can act as a “moderating influence” on a group of beings that you also seem to imply are naturally inclined to violent domination of one another - particularly, when that institution is populated by the same sort of beings?

Government can do these things by forcing people to be reasonable, and not use violence. You remember the old People’s Court slogan: “Don’t take the law into your own hands, take them to court.”

It can also moderate such forces by helping out the poorest and most downtrodden, by providing a support mechanism for people who have nothing or have lost all. And by providing good public education and healthcare. (We aren’t quite there yet in this country, which is a shame).

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Actually, my intent was not to imply either a “good” or an “evil” nature, in the sense that Rousseau used it. Apologies if I was unclear about that. What I’m trying to figure out, is what exactly is the “natural state” of a human being? And, extending from that, what sort of organizational principle could we institute, that would best reflect that natural tendency? Of course, my questions do imply that I don’t think the current situation is the best reflection of that “natural state”, but I have to be totally honest, and admit now, that I’m not quite sure what that “natural state” is.

Good questions, and I don’t have real answers for you. This is definitely something that cries out for serious study and discussion.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]If a given behavior is “natural”, how can we call it “evil”? What’s more, if “dominance hierarchies” (I presume this means hierarchies predicated on the use of, or threat of, violent aggression, to organize a given social group) leads to “evil” behavior, then how do you justify the presence of the world’s largest “dominance hierarchy” - namely, the state?

Some natural behaviors might well be evil. By “natural” I only mean something like “genetically heritable”, “societally universal” or the like (very vaguely). There is no obvious link between being natural and being good.

As for the state, I do believe that the whole point of democracy is to modify and minimize the link between “dominance hierarchies” and state power ... at least in the sense that (1) Those in power are chosen by and accountable to the entire populace. They are our employees and not our hereditary rulers. (2) Those in power are (or at least should be!) totally beneath the rule of law.

It is the rule of law that differentiates a government ruled by “dominance hierarchies” from one that is not. A government ruled by laws is not one ruled by particular “dominant” individuals. All individuals, even the most dominant, are open to prosecution by lowly lawyers and judges, if the lawbooks say so.

... or at the very least, that is the ideal we should strive for, and pay attention to when it doesn’t happen.

[quote author=“gmgauthi”]Is it possible to architect a “rule of law” that is predicated on anything other than the use of, or threat of, violent aggression, or force? For instance, could we not construct a society, in which the “rule of law” was based on our intellectual capacity for negotiation and mutual benefit? Or, would you say that only the threat of harm is capable of insuring conformity from the members of the group?

Well, at the extremes, of course law must assume some sort of threat of force. If it does not, then the powerful will disregard it: they are perfectly capable of buying protection.

As for negotiation and mutual benefit, absolutely! And that is probably 99% of what goes on in everyday society. Most people are content to negotiate, compromise and work together. It’s what we see around us every day. The threat of force is really only in extremis; most of us may go through an entire life without seeing it implemented.

Interesting questions. They make for good discussion.

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Posted: 11 January 2007 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]And, I realize that I’m demonstrating a supercilious attitude endemic among physical scientists that psychology is just barely out of the pseudoscience domain.  So, Doug, I can’t really accept your premises that developmental and cognitive psychology are all that credible.

Well ... yeah that does sound sort of dismissive to me. There’s a lot of great work being done in those fields. Take Kahnemann and Tversky’s stuff on human irrationality for one small example. (It won Kahnemann a Nobel, FWIW).

I think perhaps the nub of our disagreement lies there. If you dismiss everything after chemistry (or biology?), then you will find it hard to agree with the stuff I’m citing. But then one does have to wonder how you find any reliable evidence at all about how minds work.

I mean, if psychology, ethology, etc. can’t tell you about them, then what can? AI is certainly much less reliable about the workings of the human mind/brain than psychology. After all, computer scientists don’t even study the human mind. They are engineers, creating artifacts.

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Posted: 11 January 2007 03:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]I can’t accept a moral radar that sounds even more metaphysical, although you gave the disclaimer that it was “designed” by natural selection.

The moral radar I am referring to are our emotions. This is what I’ve read in Moral Minds (pg. 46) by M. Hauser:

[Psychopaths] appear to deliver normal moral judgment, but due to the lack of appropriate emotions, behave abnormally, with morally inappropriate actions.

The psychopaths know right from wrong, but their moral radar (or emotions, or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t see it. They only(!) know the difference between right and wrong from what they have been taught…but that’s clearly not enough. Their genes have failed to form the necessary tool (in their mother’s womb) that would enable them to apply moral judgment in their future lives.

Sometimes we find it offensive to hear that women are “emotional”. Well, good for them, I say, that they are “more emotional” than us. Perhaps this is the reason why we find fewer women in a jail than men. Just a thought.

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Posted: 12 January 2007 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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[quote author=“gmgauthi”][quote author=“Occam”]I can’t really accept your premises that developmental and cognitive psychology are all that credible.

[quote author=“Occam”]The property that makes human brains unique is our lack of instinctive (genetically programmed) behavior in most of our activities.  We handle all the sciences, all the engineering, all the politics, and all the metaphysics (as silly as they may be) easily with our cognitive machinery,

Occam, apologies if I’m misunderstanding something here, but could you clarify these two statements for me? They seem contradictory, by my understanding of what you’re saying.

GM, I don’t see them as contradictory.  In the first I’m saying that I find developmental and cognitive psychology findings not as credible as Doug does.  In the second I’m saying that I don’t believe in genetic pre-programming or instinct.  Rather that our brains (cognitive machinery) can handle all sorts of things that are far outside what this supposed genetic programming could explain.

Occam

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Posted: 12 January 2007 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”] I think perhaps the nub of our disagreement lies there. If you dismiss everything after chemistry (or biology?), then you will find it hard to agree with the stuff I’m citing. But then one does have to wonder how you find any reliable evidence at all about how minds work.

It depends on how far back you want to go.  Psychologists have done a good job of the observational part of the scientific method.  Then they’ve come up with hypotheses, next theories, and a decent amount of predictability.  Biochemists and medical researchers are in the process of identifying which genes are responsible for which structures of the brain.  That’s all valid.  However, it’s a major leap of metaphysical faith to start defining behaviors in terms of gene differences.  Only a few of the most uncomplicated or disabled behaviors have been connected with specific genes.

[quote author=“dougsmith”] I mean, if psychology, ethology, etc. can’t tell you about them, then what can? AI is certainly much less reliable about the workings of the human mind/brain than psychology. After all, computer scientists don’t even study the human mind. They are engineers, creating artifacts.

I realize now that I should not have even brought up computers in my analogy.  I was drawing only one parallel in function, not in claiming any similarity.  I know brains and computers aren’t at all alike in structure and even in much of behavior.

Occam

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Posted: 12 January 2007 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]However, it’s a major leap of metaphysical faith to start defining behaviors in terms of gene differences.  Only a few of the most uncomplicated or disabled behaviors have been connected with specific genes.

Sure, well, there are a number of issues here. It’s one thing to connect a specific behavior with a specific gene. That is difficult, indeed almost certainly impossible in most all cases: behaviors are complex, and depend on large numbers of genes acting in concert. And during development, the environment plays a crucial role.

However, just as language must be “in the genes” in some sense, so may other complex behaviors. This doesn’t mean we will ever hope to find THE gene for language, etc., or even that we will be able to nail down each and every gene responsible.

But we do know that children naturally overinterpret linguistic data, and are able to construct fully formed languages from sparse inputs. We also know that people with specific genetic defects have specific linguistic deficiencies. So we know that language acquisition isn’t solely a matter of behavioral conditioning, and that it has genetic components. (Again, Pinker talks about a lot of this in his Language Instinct). We can say this even though we know that environmental cues are also crucial in language acquisition.

There are also clear behavioral programs that we share with other animals, fight-or-flight responses, courtship and sexual responses, parenting responses to infants, and so on, which are sufficiently important to our ability to survive and reproduce successfully that they are likely hardwired into us. (Not necessarily so, and they deserve study, but the behavioral repertoires are sufficiently complex, universal and necessary that they are likely to be genetically hardwired).

I think the great breakthrough in psychology and philosophy of mind in the past few decades has been to break down the implicit barrier between human and other animal minds, and to learn how the human mind functions by recourse to other somewhat simpler animals.

Now, when it comes to other animals we don’t have problems saying that “this species is very territorial”, or “this species is less violent than that” (let’s say we’re talking about Dobermans versus Collies), etc. Certainly in these cases we’re talking about genetic differences. I mean, it’s not as though the Dobermans were all being behaviorally conditioned to be more violent, and the Collies would have been just as violent if brought up the same way as a Doberman. Ergo, relative tendencies to violence, territoriality, etc., certainly can be “in the genes”.

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Posted: 13 January 2007 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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I agree about language, however, I see a wide gulf between linguistic capability being tied to genetices and more tenuous things like morality. 

To use a pretty sloppy analogy, I see our genes as supplying the containers and our environment defining what and how much goes into them.

While you feel your example of canine breeds is telling, I’m not very certain about how much is genetics and how much is training because the owners have a mental set about the characteristics and consciously or unconsciously lead the dog toward that kind of behavior.

I don’t think I’m going to convince you, and you aren’t going to convince me so let’s just agree that we have different views of the functions of genetics and environment in human behavior.

Occam

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Posted: 14 January 2007 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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I see a wide gulf between linguistic capability being tied to genetices and more tenuous things like morality.

Occam,
I agree there is a very tenuous link between genetics and evolutionary adaptations and complex behavior. The sociobiologists in particular go crazy trying to find an adaptive explanation for everything (including a quite frightening monograph I once read explaining rape as a reproductive strategy for “marginal” males). The concept of basic drives (physical needs, social needs, perhaps even more vague concepts as the drive to explore and spiritual needs) which are met through complex behavioral strategies that the environment (social as well as physical) encourage seems a better approach to me. I also find the concept of temperments as a bridge between innate predisposition and environmentally-conditioned behavior useful. There are some spooky twin studies showing remarkably specific behavioral similarity, but this is where I think temperment may play a useful heuristic role.

While you feel your example of canine breeds is telling, I’m not very certain about how much is genetics and how much is training because the owners have a mental set about the characteristics and consciously or unconsciously lead the dog toward that kind of behavior.

As a vet, as well as having a background in animal behavior, I have to say genes do seem to play a larger role in dogs than I think you suggest here. Remeber, very complex behavioral routines can turn out to have little or no conscious cognitive component, (e.g. the Sphex spp. wasp example Dennet uses in discussing free wil). There is a component of owners seeking out a specific breed for characteristics they imagine it has, which can then be a self-fulfilling exp;ectation, but on average breed expectations seem to hold up very well. Which makes sense since breeds have been heavily selected artificially for often very specific behaviors.
I don’t mean to nitpick examples at the expense of your general argument, but I do think this particular example is a bit of a stretch grin

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Posted: 14 January 2007 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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I agree that my dog rebuttal was probably weak, but as you point out, Mc, specific breeding protocols were followed, which we haven’t done in humans. 

I guess I was swayed by an article in a local paper a few years ago which reported a dogfight between a doberman and a full sized poodle.  The poodle just about destroyed the doberman.

And, again, while we’re both mammals, humans seem to rely less on instinct than any other mammal, including dogs.

Occam

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Posted: 15 January 2007 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]I guess I was swayed by an article in a local paper a few years ago which reported a dogfight between a doberman and a full sized poodle.  The poodle just about destroyed the doberman.

It is one thing to be naturally aggressive, and another to be able to fight well. :wink:

[quote author=“Occam”]And, again, while we’re both mammals, humans seem to rely less on instinct than any other mammal, including dogs.

Yes, I certainly know that this is the ‘received wisdom’ about humans. But I do wonder if it is really true, or if it is just a nice story we like to tell ourselves, along the lines of ‘libertarian free will’ ...

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