TED & Edge
Posted: 01 November 2007 08:00 PM   [ Ignore ]
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http://www.edge.org/

Three Talks from the vibrant “TED Talks” website, by Carolyn Porco, V.S. Ramachandran, and Steven Pinker [10.30.07]

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Plus, something that would fit with two other threads currently active:

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http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2007/10/neuroscience-and-moral-politics-chomskys-intellectual-progeny/

Neuroscience and Moral Politics: Chomsky’s Intellectual Progeny

Are humans “wired for empathy”? How does this affect what Chomsky calls the “manufacturing of consent”?

By Gary Olson

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Posted: 02 November 2007 05:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thanks for the links zarcus.  I particularly liked Steven Pinker’s optimism.  It almost makes me optimistic, and certainly keeps me hopeful.

I am under the impression that we are wired for empathy.  What do you think?

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Posted: 02 November 2007 05:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I have seen the one with Pinker. Very interesting. The only problem I found with Pinker’s observation of the decline of violence was when I imagined what another world war would look like. We would quickly return to the high number of deaths (or even bigger) from 10,000 years ago. Maybe we’ll avoid this terrifying catastrophe for the same reason the burglar might want to avoid breaking into a house: we know we are better off not doing it.  I love Pinker. And Porco and Ramachandran are great, too. Can’t wait to see their presentations. Thanks, Zarcus.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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You’re both very welcome.

I am under the impression that we are wired for empathy.  What do you think?

I do also. Reading your responses I realized there is a connection that hadn’t occurred to me when I post the links above.

It has to do with being “wired for empathy” and research by V.S. Ramachandran into Mirror Neurons (originally done by: In the 1980s and 1990s, Giacomo Rizzolatti was working with Luciano Fadiga, Leonardo Fogassi and Vittorio Gallese at the university in Parma, Italy).

Let me first say that the link for Dissident Voices offers quality research but I did not intend to offer it as much more then that, the politics, though mostly agreeable, veers off in disparate directions. I am still uncertain to where the science may lead us as social primates.

Here’s a good introduction to Mirror Neurons offered by Wikipedia - HERE

What is also striking (to me anyway) that I did not intend was the link with Steven Pinker’s work. I’ll quote a bit from Wiki to clarify what I mean by all this.

{Mirror Neurons}These neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Some researchers also speculate that mirror systems may simulate observed actions, and thus contribute to our theory of mind skills,  while others relate mirror neurons to language abilities.[4] It has also been proposed that problems with the mirror system may underlie cognitive disorders, in particular autism.

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Mirror neurons have been linked to empathy, because certain brain regions (in particular the anterior insula and inferior frontal cortex) are active when a person experiences an emotion (disgust, happiness, pain etc) and when they see another person experience an emotion.  However, these brain regions are not quite the same as the ones which mirror hand actions, and mirror neurons for emotional states or empathy have not yet been described in monkeys. More recently, Keysers and colleagues have shown that people that are more empathic according to self-report questionnaires have stronger activations both in the mirror system for hand actions and the mirror system for emotions providing more direct support to the idea that the mirror system is linked to empathy.

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In humans, mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal cortex, close to Broca’s area, a language region. This has led to suggestions that human language evolved from a gesture performance/understanding system implemented in mirror neurons. Mirror neurons certainly have the potential to provide a mechanism for action understanding, imitation learning, and the simulation of other people’s behaviour. However, like many theories of language evolution, there is little direct evidence either way.


Interesting avenue of study I think. Along with the studies offered in the Dissident Voices piece as well as other studies we may be coming closer to finding our “moral compass”.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 02 November 2007 05:09 PM

I am under the impression that we are wired for empathy.  What do you think?

I am not sure if this is the correct answer. We are wired for survival and reproduction before anything else. It just happens that now it is more convenient for our genes if we don’t murder each other. But that was not always the case and it can easily change again. We don’t care to be nice. We (our genes) care to make copies.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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So, Olsen thinks that our being “wired for empathy” is what makes us controllable, or at least something that makes us more controllable?  I wouldn’t doubt it.  Combine this idea with the monkeysphere idea and it spells us-vs-them all over the place, with tightly bound usses and thems under controlling governments… at least that’s a definite possibility.

What I’m wondering is if the “empathy” hardwiring is not just some other kind of hardwiring processed differently, such as our mimic instinct through a different color glass, so to speak.  (In that case both the mimic instinct and that color glass would be hardwired, the glass to whatever extent it is formed being the empathic instinct… sorry if that’s a really tricky way of looking at it.)  Whatever it is, it is by no means a perfect system.  There’s a huge spectrum where ability to read other people is concerned, as well as the ability to empathize with other people, not to mention the ability to effectively communicate.  But, as Olsen seems to think, whatever it is it has this nasty side effect stated above, which is why I am thinking the empathic instinct might just be a different way of processing some other, more primal instinct.

Also, real empathy takes a long time to develop.  Kids largely can’t understand that people have different perspectives until, what, 6?  Even after that it’s hard not to take a self-centered view, especially over things that really dug into you and stay with you forever seemingly.  That’s not saying that good things can’t come out of trying to do something about things that hurt you, because they may hurt others, too.  But, actually walking a mile in another man’s or woman’s shoes is really hard.

Here’s the monkeysphere concept for those unfamiliar with it:

http://www.pointlesswasteoftime.com/monkeysphere.html

The concept is pretty basic, but the article is… um, interesting?  Yeah, interesting.

[ Edited: 02 November 2007 06:43 PM by godblessgeorgecarlin ]
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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Hmm, I could be wrong about what I just said in my previous post. If a WWIII was to happen tonight, and tomorrow’s world (whatever would be left of it) would be in chaos, would we go back to raping women the way we probably did thousands of years ago? Or would our current wiring prohibit us from acting this way?

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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godblessgeorgecarlin,

What I’m wondering is if the “empathy” hardwiring is not just some other kind of hardwiring processed differently, such as our mimic instinct through a different color glass, so to speak.

Would this relate in any way to my second post pertaining to Mirror Neurons?

Also, just as I caution when using metaphors such as “evil”, “altruistic” or “selfish” genes, I do also with “wiring”. Wiring (in the brain metaphor) appears to have the status of gene in that they appear determinant or acting in a sole capacity when there are layers to the story, some of which we haven’t discovered the links.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I don’t think our wiring has changed much over the past several thousand years.  Without all this current weird culture around us, if we were born in the wild, I don’t think we’d behave much differently from the humans 10k years ago, except we’d have these stories about the marvels we built and how we lost them.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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And, there are people out there raping women the way that humans did thousands of years ago.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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zarcus - 02 November 2007 06:45 PM

godblessgeorgecarlin,

What I’m wondering is if the “empathy” hardwiring is not just some other kind of hardwiring processed differently, such as our mimic instinct through a different color glass, so to speak.

Would this relate in any way to my second post pertaining to Mirror Neurons?

Also, just as I caution when using metaphors such as “evil”, “altruistic” or “selfish” genes, I do also with “wiring”. Wiring (in the brain metaphor) appears to have the status of gene in that they appear determinant or acting in a sole capacity when there are layers to the story, some of which we haven’t discovered the links.

Good point.  I guess I liken wiring to programming, ie take what’s there and in certain situations, like society for instance, it gets scrambled in such a way that it fits somehow with society.  Is the term “situational phenotype” a stretch?

And, yes, I was actually thinking about mirror neurons when I wrote that!

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Posted: 02 November 2007 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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godblessgeorgecarlin,

I did a quick google search on Mirror Neurons and Mimicking and came up with many interesting starting points for me to look into.

One is this NPR piece - HERE

July 5, 2005 · Thanks to a brain cell called a mirror neuron, watching Tiger Wood’s golf swing can actually improve your golf swing. Mirror Neurons make it possible for people to learn complex motor skills simply by seeing others perform them. These neurons are also thought to be involved in empathy and early language development.

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Posted: 02 November 2007 07:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Time to Amazon mirror neurons.  Is “to Amazon” a verb? like “to Google”?

Aye, they’re all expensive…, thanks zarcus, I’ll stick to npr for now

[ Edited: 02 November 2007 07:39 PM by godblessgeorgecarlin ]
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