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Carol Tavris (merged)
Posted: 05 August 2007 08:52 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A great episode.

Carol was eloquent, very easy to listen to and sounded genuinely happy to be interviewed by DJ.

However… (and you knew it was coming)

She used a phrase which I find incredibly irritating, she actually used it a couple of times and I was surprised that DJ didn’t pick up on it. Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive, but the use of “the human mind is designed to…” really bugs me. I hear it a lot from colleagues at work, saying things about the design of the human body. It’s always annoyed me. Lets face it, if we were designed, the designer wasn’t very good!

What do you think?

Am I just being over-sensitive? Did anyone else notice this? Did DJ notice but just let it go? Or is Carol a creationist?

Many questions. Few answers.

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Posted: 05 August 2007 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Many scientists refer to “design” when talking about natural phenomenon. However, most of them do not mean to imply the existence of some sort of supernatural designer when they make the reference.

For example, Daniel Dennett spends quite a bit of time talking about design space and design itself in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. It’s clear from the context that the designer is evolution——specifically natural selection. The design process is unconscious and unintentional. There’s nothing supernatural about it.

I suspect Carol Tavris means much the same thing and that’s why DJ let the reference go.

George

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“Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them.” Godless in America: conversations with an atheist

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Posted: 05 August 2007 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I agree with what garicker said. Form follows function, and even though most scientists believe natural selection is at least the proximate reason why, and most think it’s probably the ultimate reason, the language of “design” is pretty entrenched. I think the outdated connotations of the word are probably outweighed by its usefulness as shorthand for (the evolved function of the human mind is to….” Like the common “bless you” after a sneeze, I’d be just as happy to watch the word continue in use and lose its historical connotations as to try and replace it deliberately with something else, which is difficutl and seldom effective.

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Posted: 05 August 2007 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I have nothing but praise for Carol and DJ in this episode. I’m a recent arrival here, and have only listened to five interviews so far, but all have been superb and thought provoking.

I could list all the things I thought were insightful, helpful, etc., but the list would be quite long and wouldn’t contribute much. One additional strategy for dealing with cognitive dissonance that occurred to me, however, seems to have been very helpful to some of us (the interviews with Tom Clark and Susan Blackmore come to mind), and that is the realization that there is no free will, no “little self” in our brains making our decisions—neither those that seem correct nor incorrect. When I realized that all my decisions were just the playing out of natural forces, a great sense of relief arose. Of course, at first there was also incredulity and chagrin that I had been so wrong all my life, and not a little fear that a felicitous way to think about my existence without a decision-making self might not be forthcoming, but fortunately, the truth eventually set me free.

Whether the truth sets us free or not depends on our perspective, and I think Tavris was spot on in suggesting scientists present themselves as contributors to mankind rather than threats to believers. We can see ourselves as alone and defenseless in an uncaring universe, or as enmeshed in a vast and beautiful process, surrounded by human beings who have been endowed by evolution with compassion, empathy, and tendencies toward cooperation—not just competition and hostility. If scientists in general familiarized themselves with the science of Social Psychology as Tavris presents it, they might be more successful advocates of the scientific point of view. We need to present unscientific believers—whether in God, free will, or the paranormal—with an appealing, positive alternative before we pull the props out from under them; to present secular humanism in a more humane way. I think this was one of Philip Kitcher’s many good points.

It occurs to me several minutes later (this happens a lot), that Tavris might not have mentioned free will because of her understanding of social psychology, for reasons of efficacy. That is such a difficult pill for so many people—scientists included—that it might undermine her interest in conveying the insights of her discipline to bring it up. Better to make a little progress than to heighten animosity to no end.

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Posted: 05 August 2007 09:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I tend to think that the use of “design” introduces a normative element.  While saying something like the human eye was “designed” to see different colours than, say, a dog’s eye may be excusable on the grounds that “design” is being used in the way described above, the use of the word still introduces an “ought”, in that even if the eye is not designed by some supernatural entity, it is still conceived in terms of a teleology, i.e., a right and proper end or function.  That becomes normative because eyes which do not serve this ostensibly proper function become the subject of moral judgments.  These kinds of judgments are made all the time, so that people are chastised (or wose) for not using their bodies or minds for their intended purpose (and that is, in the end, what “design” is about: intention and purpose).

Teleology is an extremely dangerous way of thinking, despite being so deeply and readily felt.

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Posted: 05 August 2007 09:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Rsonin,
Fair point. What do you like as an alternative usage to describe the form/function relationship of such things as special sense organs?

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Posted: 05 August 2007 11:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Biological talk is normative. When we talk about design we are talking about adaptations to the environment, brought about by natural selection. These adaptations are normative in that there are certain modifications that are good (they tend to increase the probability of reproduction) and others that are bad (they tend to decrease this probability).

There is nothing at all occult or strange in this normativity, and indeed one cannot understand evolutionary biology without understanding what this sort of design amounts to.

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Posted: 06 August 2007 06:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I’m currently reading “Mistakes Were Made” so it was a pleasant surprise when I saw that Carol Tavris was the guest. I’ve listened to co-author Elliot Aronson discuss the book but this was the first time I’d heard Tavris discuss it. I really enjoyed the discussion.  It’s hard for me to understand why people can’t be accountable for their actions; what’s so hard about admitting that you are wrong? We are only human. How can humans learn from mistakes if we are so worried about our own feelings to admit that we’ve made any? 

I think of the political climate of this country and issues of social justice or lack of, and I just knew I had to read this book, that perhaps I would find some answers as to what makes people rationalize bad behavior. 

I’m big on empathy. So when people can’t say I’m sorry, or go into self-justification mode when they experience dissonance, then what about the person they’ve harmed? Are they less than human and therefore undeserving of humane treatment, or an apology even? Humans are fallible. Plain and simple.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book: “The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.” Thomas Carlyle gets it.

[ Edited: 06 August 2007 06:47 PM by T. Ruth ]
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Posted: 08 August 2007 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I think Tavris was terrific. 
I thought Grothe let his politicical biases get in the way and is classic example of some one with some scientific training getting very smug.

There are rational people who have real issues with the way global warming has become a means of imposing the will of a scientific, self selected elite.

I believe the evidence of warming trends is pretty solid although the idea of what warming is is a bit vague.  I also believe it likely that fossil fuel consumption may play a part, no part is inconceivable, a major part is hard to prove. (Water vapor is much more likely greenhouse gas than CO2) I strongly doubt that carbon and CO2 are the cause.  My religious conviction.  No it is the evaluation of the spectral absorption of the stuff and use of atmosphere transmission models and experiments done by Angstrom.  If you want to see cognitive dissonance global catastrophists and carbon sequestering advocates try to explain how CO2 can absorb significant energy.

From the days of my graduate school I have seen and experienced “scientist” after “scientist”  determine that expertise in one area makes them uniquely expert in all areas.  My advisor was a leftist activist and frequently stated that he did not think one coudl do physics without his point of view.

Not all disagreement is cognitive dissonance.  Not everyone who disagrees with you on matters of global warming or the war on Iraq is a fundamentalist or one so invested in it they can not see straight.  Perhaps second only in mendacity to religious leaders in funny hats lying for gain are those claiming to be scientists claiming special access to truth.

I thought Tavris did an excellent job especially when she chided DJ on this.

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Posted: 09 August 2007 04:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dr. JLW - 08 August 2007 07:19 AM

I think Tavris was terrific. 
I thought Grothe let his politicical biases get in the way and is classic example of some one with some scientific training getting very smug.

There are rational people who have real issues with the way global warming has become a means of imposing the will of a scientific, self selected elite.

I believe the evidence of warming trends is pretty solid although the idea of what warming is is a bit vague.  I also believe it likely that fossil fuel consumption may play a part, no part is inconceivable, a major part is hard to prove. (Water vapor is much more likely greenhouse gas than CO2) I strongly doubt that carbon and CO2 are the cause.  My religious conviction.  No it is the evaluation of the spectral absorption of the stuff and use of atmosphere transmission models and experiments done by Angstrom.  If you want to see cognitive dissonance global catastrophists and carbon sequestering advocates try to explain how CO2 can absorb significant energy.

From the days of my graduate school I have seen and experienced “scientist” after “scientist”  determine that expertise in one area makes them uniquely expert in all areas.  My advisor was a leftist activist and frequently stated that he did not think one coudl do physics without his point of view.

Not all disagreement is cognitive dissonance.  Not everyone who disagrees with you on matters of global warming or the war on Iraq is a fundamentalist or one so invested in it they can not see straight.  Perhaps second only in mendacity to religious leaders in funny hats lying for gain are those claiming to be scientists claiming special access to truth.

I thought Tavris did an excellent job especially when she chided DJ on this.

 

This was a very good episode, and in the spirit of it, I’d like to agree with one of the points given by DR JLW (since there is more here that I disagree with than I agree with): that of letting bias get the best of one in a medium, such as this show.  I also find that point that ‘disagreement doesn’t mean absolute ignorance or self-deception’ a very relevant one, because people can have such different values and experiences that color their views on reality. 

For example, I find outsourcing as it is generally done by organizations in the United States, a disgusting anti-free trade practice that parades around under the guise of free trade.  Nevertheless, I have seen a number of people who see it as beneficial to foreign countries in that it gives jobs and pays wages to many people who would otherwise perhaps be out of work, or be working for lesser wages.  I would call it wage-slavery, and an attempt to simply exploit others, but there are those who truly believe that it is good for the people that I believe are being exploited.  Both seem like very good points to one who has no good sources of knowledge on the subject.  To follow that, there is the argument that accepts the idea of exploitation and wage-slavery, but still, in the face of that, is of the view that the people are better off in that circumstance than they would be otherwise.  These beliefs all come from people having about the same amount of information on this particular subject, and they all make some sense to people who are neither irrational nor ignorant.  In this sense, I feel that there is much to be said about competing views.

I can’t help but add, however, that I find those who sell religion for profit and those who use science to put their knowledge on a pedestal very, very different cases.  Where science does have access to a variety of truths, religion has only its ideas (mostly borrowed from others), and therefore is only a group of opinions.  While it is true that some in both of these camps will sell themselves cheaply, and unethically, it is also true that religion will brainwash children into killing in its name, and the other will teach children how to explore mysteries with real tools (i.e. scientific method, critical thinking) that they may use independently and without fear of being tied to those who taught those tools to them.  That is, one allows people to think for themselves and to come up with thought of their own, the other forces them into dependent group-think where outside thought can be devastating to the ruling dogma that is so crucial to upholding it.  Religion, getting out of hand over the centuries, has killed millions at least; science getting out of hand simply gives tools to do that killing with.

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Posted: 09 August 2007 05:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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mckenzievmd -

“Human eyes see a range of light from red to violet” as opposed to “Human eyes are designed to see a range of light form red to violet”.  “Knee joints are not well adapted for twisting” as oppose to “knee joints are not designed for twisting”.  It is difficult to completely eliminate teleological or intentional thinking, because it is so much a part of how people think to begin with, and because there is so much cultural reinforcement of that tendency.

dougsmith -

What is the intermediate step between “tend to increase the probability of reproduction” and “good”?  It is some preference of yours that posits that reproduction is good, or the proper end of life, and that what tends to increase the probability of it must then be itself good.  But the means to achieve that good thing is not good in itself - it is just a means.  You have decided what is good independently of how to get it, and if I happen to disagee with you about what is good, then that which tends to increase the probability of reproduction may, from my point of view, be bad.  For example, that which tends to increase the probability of reproduction of the flu virus, from my point of view, is bad.  What is good is an entirely normative judgment, while what tends to increase the probability of reproduction is not.

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Posted: 09 August 2007 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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rsonin - 09 August 2007 05:03 AM

What is the intermediate step between “tend to increase the probability of reproduction” and “good”?  It is some preference of yours that posits that reproduction is good, or the proper end of life, and that what tends to increase the probability of it must then be itself good.  But the means to achieve that good thing is not good in itself - it is just a means.  You have decided what is good independently of how to get it, and if I happen to disagee with you about what is good, then that which tends to increase the probability of reproduction may, from my point of view, be bad.  For example, that which tends to increase the probability of reproduction of the flu virus, from my point of view, is bad.  What is good is an entirely normative judgment, while what tends to increase the probability of reproduction is not.

Hello rsonin,

In your prior post you called into question all types of normative, teleological or value judgments. I was presuming that you did so because you considered them unscientific.

My point was to demonstrate that in fact there are value judgments in biology: biologists do talk about the function of behaviors or body parts, and function talk is inherently teleological. This has nothing to do with ‘my decision’, it is simply a fact of how biologists categorize things. ‘Tending to increase the possibility of reproduction’ is a completely naturalist property. There is nothing occult about it.

That said, I do not want to make a naïve equivalency between biological notions of teleology or function and standard human notions of moral value. Although I believe that our value judgments do, in the end, derive from such biological function, clearly they no longer depend upon it. We can now say, for example, that birth control is a positive social good, even though it minimizes reproductive capacity.

There has been a lot of work on the biological origins of morality, BTW. This has taken the form of a serious study of altruism in animals (not only human animals). For a quick intro to this field, check HERE for example.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 02:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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“Tending to increase the possibility of reproduction” may be naturalist, but “tending to increase the possibility of reproduction is good” is not.  “Birth control is a positive social good” is also normative, because it depends on what your idea of what a good society must be.  What you think a good society must be is your decision, and is only dictated by reason subjectively, according to your knowledge, intelligence, and interests.  There may exist values that virtually all people share, but I guarantee that you will not find a single one that all people share, and the fact that they do not share it may not be because they came to their value irrationally or ignorantly.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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rsonin - 10 August 2007 02:54 AM

“Tending to increase the possibility of reproduction” may be naturalist, but “tending to increase the possibility of reproduction is good” is not.

You misunderstand. “Tending to increase the possibility of reproduction” is an analysis of “good” in biology. (It is a naturalization of the term “good”). To put it another way, “tending to increase the possibility of reproduction is good” is true by definition in biology.

Now, we may have some disagreement about what sort of “good” this really is. It’s not obviously “good” in a moral sense, or an aesthetic sense. Perhaps we’d say it’s good in a biological sense.

rsonin - 10 August 2007 02:54 AM

“Birth control is a positive social good” is also normative, because it depends on what your idea of what a good society must be.  What you think a good society must be is your decision, and is only dictated by reason subjectively, according to your knowledge, intelligence, and interests.  There may exist values that virtually all people share, but I guarantee that you will not find a single one that all people share, and the fact that they do not share it may not be because they came to their value irrationally or ignorantly.

Sure. People’s opinions about what is good and bad differ.

I should add that people’s eyesight differs as well ... but that doesn’t mean that the eye wasn’t biologically designed. (This may be a somewhat separate topic, but it deserves to be repeated anyway).

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Posted: 10 August 2007 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Well, I loved the Carol Tarvis interview. Also liked her voice. I wonder if she could be induced to make “Mistakes” an audio book.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I think I understand where DJ was headed when he suggested that evil policies, like Global Warming denial, wasn’t drafted in cold blood by unscrupulous politicians in smoke filled rooms. Nonetheless, it’s a false statement, except for the fact that nowadays most buildings, including party headquarters, PR firms or think tanks are smoke free by law.
The fact is that the cold blooded, and often scientific, manipulation of public opinion is a multi billion dollar business which does exactly that: draft policies that they know are evil, cancerous, murderous, unjust, and immoral. Please don’t be naive! Ten years ago there were 3 people working in PR for every one working in journalism - today, I feel it’s hardly worth putting them into separate categories. No, this is not hyperbole, it’s documented fact that stands up to independent scrutiny. Just take the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists on the consciously evil machinations - to the tune of many millions of dollars - of ExxonMobil to falsely direct the public perception of climate change science. Or read the evidence against industry knowingly poisioning the population, and especially children, with lead in gasoline and paint.

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