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A thought on Human nature
Posted: 09 March 2011 09:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I will jump into the fray. 

I would say that morality indeed has an evolutionary baseline, though it is a bit fuzzy and indistinct.  Similar to the way a hammer is not an evolved trait but the ability to conceptualize the need to beat on something and the cause and effect involved with driving a spike or crushing a nut is an emergent property of our ability to think.  There are very deep seated characteristics in humans (and likely most of the other hominids) that create a kind of notional ethic.  Houser talks a good deal about it in Moral Minds. 
From a strictly evolutionary standpoint it does add up.  You need to have some degree of instinctual altruism to function as a social group and survive.  If a small group of hominids, similar to the sized groups we evolved in, had no inherent qualms with overt dishonesty, murder and general mayhem, they would be unable to survive for long, particularly in the changing world of 150,000 years ago.  Extinctions were going on, ice ages jumping in and out and the fitness landscape was flopping around regularly, not to mention the pesky Neanderthals and other hominids trying to be all successful and junk!  Without a tight social cohesion a group will not be able to adapt to changes in weather, predation and general resource availability.

The component I see so often left out of this is the in-group/out-group mechanism.  The rules of social cohesion are defined by a psychological in-group definition.  You see clear vestiges of this in everything from politics to pets.  Tossing about the most horrific slurs (or violence) is easily justified by assigning the recipient to the Whigs, the Republicans, the Muslims, the Boy Scouts or the Atheists.  As long as you set up an “us” vs. “them” mentality, you can begin to justify all kinds of nastiness that you wouldn’t even consider otherwise.  Growing up a part of a southern, white family I have seen plenty of folks who were good friends with a black guy but hated black people!  It only makes sense in terms of a dynamic, fluxuating circle of in-group and out-group identities.

It isn’t even limited to species (which really lends credibility to an evolutionary heritage in my opinion), we think nothing in the US of having a burger with our beer but get righteously indignant if a Frenchman eats a horse or a Chinaman eats a dog!  These are our “pets” and have been taken into our in-group on a certain level.

That is my take on it anyway…

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Posted: 09 March 2011 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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bradthebard - 09 March 2011 09:55 AM

Without a tight social cohesion a group will not be able to adapt to changes in weather, predation and general resource availability.

Or, once again, without the changes in weather, predation or whatever else defines our evolutionary past, a group will not evolve social cohesion. Our sense of morality (or any other cognitive ability) just didn’t pop up in our brains, it had to come from somewhere. That somewhere is the environment, as Jared Diamond, for example, so brilliantly explains in his now famous book. Too bad Diamond failed to realize what his theory actually implied: our biology (including the biology of our brain) reflects our environment.

BTW, there is a new book coming out next month by Francis Fukuyama, called The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, where he (supposedly) attempts to merge political science and sociobiology. Let’s see how far Fukuyama will take it here.

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Posted: 09 March 2011 10:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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George - 09 March 2011 10:23 AM

Or, once again, without the changes in weather, predation or whatever else defines our evolutionary past, a group will not evolve social cohesion. Our sense of morality (or any other cognitive ability) just didn’t pop up in our brains, it had to come from somewhere. That somewhere is the environment, as Jared Diamond, for example, so brilliantly explains in his now famous book. Too bad Diamond failed to realize what his theory actually implied: our biology (including the biology of our brain) reflects our environment.

BTW, there is a new book coming out next month by Francis Fukuyama, called The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, where he (supposedly) attempts to merge political science and sociobiology. Let’s see how far Fukuyama will take it here.

Agreed.  I know it is a subjective question but how would you say that idea effects the value of those innate moral precepts?  Is the environmental influence a positive or negative (or a neutral observation…)

It seems a philisophical distinction that has little bearing on things on the ground, particularly as it is present in humans regardless of its origins.  Recognising it as environmentally directed adaptation, are we in a position to alter it if we decide it is crap?

(I’m new so let me qualify that.  I don’t have any answers in mind, I am just tossing out what comes to mind…)

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Posted: 09 March 2011 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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bradthebard - 09 March 2011 10:47 AM

Recognising it as environmentally directed adaptation, are we in a position to alter it if we decide it is crap?

Sure, why not? We are a part of the environment. We just need to be careful here to recognize what “altering” means in evolutionary terms.

As an example, let’s take the third-world countries (or rather some parts of those countries, like India) where the fertility rate has dropped below the replacement rate of 2.1 babies. How did that happen? Who and how exactly altered the environment here? Was it the sterilization of women in India by the International Planned Parenthood in the sixties? Was it the introduction of emancipation of women? The birth of democracy in India? Or was it much simpler than that? Could it be that once India started experimenting with similar structure of living that we have in the West, some of the people were biologically predisposed to respond accordingly to the new environment and their life now reflects that of the Western societies (i.e., the fertility rate being below 2.1)? What will happen to the rest, to those who don’t have what it takes to ‘walk like an Egyptian’? They might die out and only then countries like India will be able to compete with the West. Yes, death plays a big role in the “altering” by evolution.

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Posted: 10 March 2011 07:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Gnostikosis - 08 March 2011 03:03 PM

There are two areas in the brain which become active when we make decisions as in choosing how to act. The amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex.

Some say that our rational for decision always come down to a emotional response. The amygdala is the emotional basis of the brain. When making decision this area always shows activity. However in individuals who seem more rational in their decisions they’ve found a higher level of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.

It seems our emotional responses which cause the decisions we make can be overridden by this area of the brain. People experience a conflict of motivation. A choice to respond emotionally or rationally/analytically.

I wonder if this is perhaps the source of the experience of conscience. “Good” rational decisions vs “Bad” emotional decisions. Maybe one area of the brain develops a sense of ethics or morals that conflicts with the area of the brain that governs our emotions.

I recall reading that someone proposed that man developed his sense of consciousness when man developed a dualistic mind. One part of the brain aware of and determining/judging the effective response of the other.

Perhaps our sense of right and wrong to the actions we take is controlled by this other area of the brain. We are driven by our emotions but judge our actions and those of others.

Stuff like anger management may be an attempt to exercise, develop the area of the brain which controls our sense of right and wrong.

Many religions have “Prophets”. Individuals who claim to hear and speak for God. Maybe in times of conflict or stress people “search for an answer”. This activates the analytical area of the brain which reaches some threshold of activity and people experience thoughts, ideas that seem to come from outside their normal process of thinking. They seem to hear a voice in their head which they were not aware of before. Perhaps have dreams which seem to provides answers to questions. It’s not hard to imagine sometimes individuals who experience this think they may have communicated with some metaphysical being.

An emotional response is not always bad or inappropriate however often it is. It is instinct, not a rational, analytical decision. Perhaps people who make rational/good decisions are those who, from whatever circumstances of their life, have had a greater development of this area of the brain.

I find writing such as yours on how the different parts of the brain/mind work fascinating.  Some of the words you are using have associations that are justified and some that are not justified.  Gnostikosis, I’m not sure if you are intending these associations or not.  I’m just trying to increase the level of clarity.  The association of amygdala with emotion and cold reasoning with pre-frontal cortex have been correlated.  We are trained in school that reasoning with emotion is a fallacy.  Motivation and emotion are strongly associated.  However, the Spock/McCoy dichotomy of reason/logic being purely unemotional and emotions being irrational is an association that has not held up.  Many times the amygdala will make quick decisions that seem to be lacking in rational thought.  This is because some decisions HAVE to be made quickly. In the past, some decisions were matters of life and death. Ex. fight or flight, friend or foe, dangerous or no threat.  The reactions to these quick decisions were motivated by powerful emotions such as anger or fear.  Later, after the pre-frontal cortex had time to unemotionally think, the signal was given of “all clear” or the threat was justified.  Even if the initial emotional reaction later turned out to be completely unjustified and irrational in this particular situation, in the long term what the amygdala was doing was rational in the sense that it was protecting the organism in the few cases where the threat was real.  However, other times emotions may be attached to thoughts that are well reasoned out, both with or without the help of the orbitofrontal cortex.  Instincts also are associated with strong emotions.  But conclusions reached as a result of moral reasoning not based on instinct also have strong emotions attached to them.  I’m not sure what part of the brain moral reasoning takes place.  Sometimes moral beliefs don’t even come from the individual at all, but from society and culture.  From my own personal experience I believe that moral beliefs and morality based motivation has some of the most powerful emotions associated with them.  Almost on a whole other plane of power.  You said that instinct is not the result of a rational analytical decision.  Sounds like you are defining instinct as like an inborn habit, trait, or preference. A lot of people confuse instinct with intuition.  Intuition may be very rational, just not a reasoning that takes place in the orbitofrontal cortex.  Intuition may seem like it is coming from outside the person.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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brightfut - 10 March 2011 07:20 PM

I find writing such as yours on how the different parts of the brain/mind work fascinating.  Some of the words you are using have associations that are justified and some that are not justified.  Gnostikosis, I’m not sure if you are intending these associations or not.  I’m just trying to increase the level of clarity.  The association of amygdala with emotion and cold reasoning with pre-frontal cortex have been correlated.  We are trained in school that reasoning with emotion is a fallacy.  Motivation and emotion are strongly associated.  However, the Spock/McCoy dichotomy of reason/logic being purely unemotional and emotions being irrational is an association that has not held up.  Many times the amygdala will make quick decisions that seem to be lacking in rational thought.  This is because some decisions HAVE to be made quickly. In the past, some decisions were matters of life and death. Ex. fight or flight, friend or foe, dangerous or no threat.  The reactions to these quick decisions were motivated by powerful emotions such as anger or fear.  Later, after the pre-frontal cortex had time to unemotionally think, the signal was given of “all clear” or the threat was justified.  Even if the initial emotional reaction later turned out to be completely unjustified and irrational in this particular situation, in the long term what the amygdala was doing was rational in the sense that it was protecting the organism in the few cases where the threat was real.  However, other times emotions may be attached to thoughts that are well reasoned out, both with or without the help of the orbitofrontal cortex.  Instincts also are associated with strong emotions.  But conclusions reached as a result of moral reasoning not based on instinct also have strong emotions attached to them. 

I’ll just point out that I did mention emotional response/reaction is not always inappropriate.
There have been times however that I was aware my actions resulting from emotions were not appropriate and even self-destructive however physically my body was reacting in a way I couldn’t control. So I struggled to gain control over my emotions and now I can.

Jealousy and hate I don’t see much need for. Sadness, occasionally anger and fear but I’m always in control. Joy and love seem much more effective in dealing with life.

I’m not sure what part of the brain moral reasoning takes place.  Sometimes moral beliefs don’t even come from the individual at all, but from society and culture.  From my own personal experience I believe that moral beliefs and morality based motivation has some of the most powerful emotions associated with them.  Almost on a whole other plane of power.

Yes, morality I’ve often wondered about. My own morality I’ve often questioned. I’m I a good person or bad? Can I choose? Do I care if others see me as a good or bad person?

I have no motivation to cause others harm however others sometimes feel harmed by my actions. Some people choose to see a person as bad regardless of their actions. Sometimes I think the moral pressure people put on each other is a result of their own fears.

My actions I choose according to what seems right to me at the moment. I don’t see any need to try and use concepts of morality to pressure someone else into behaving as I think they should.

You said that instinct is not the result of a rational analytical decision.  Sounds like you are defining instinct as like an inborn habit, trait, or preference. A lot of people confuse instinct with intuition.  Intuition may be very rational, just not a reasoning that takes place in the orbitofrontal cortex.  Intuition may seem like it is coming from outside the person.

Intuition sounds more nefarious to me.  grin
I don’t trust intuition much without some solid reasoning behind it. Relying on feelings and intuition never seems to work out well for me. On the other hand, I know a few people who live by it.

[ Edited: 11 March 2011 11:34 AM by Gnostikosis ]
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Posted: 11 March 2011 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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I’ve avoided responding in this thread because of the great length of the posts.  However, to comment on the last, short paragraph above of Gnostikosis:  While I prefer the analytical to the intuitive approach, I’ve noticed that some who are intuitive arrive at the same conclusions as would be the case had the situation been carefully reasoned out.  I believe those people do their reasoning subconsciously but just as effectively.  They just don’t stop to think about how they arrived at their conclusions.

Occam

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Posted: 11 March 2011 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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For people wanting to examine this topic, I submit this as a valuable and instructive text. My favorite by Nietzsche:

On the Geanealogy of Morality

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Posted: 11 March 2011 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Nietzsche was a philosopher who lived a long time ago. The question of human nature now belongs to science; philosophers have had their chance.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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George - 11 March 2011 12:52 PM

Nietzsche was a philosopher who lived a long time ago. The question of human nature now belongs to science; philosophers have had their chance.

Is that a serious statement?

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Posted: 11 March 2011 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Is that a serious question?  grin

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Posted: 11 March 2011 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Yeah…I mean, it just comes off as intensely hubristic and a little ignorant to categorically dismiss philosophers (especially someone like Nietzsche) from a conversation about morals.

For a few reasons. For one, Nietzsche’s work (along with thinkers like Hume, Spinoza, etc.) helps form the basis of the framework for modern scientific inquiry. He was a rational and scientific thinker, regardless of when he lived. Secondly, you have rendered a dismissal, rather than a rebuttal. All I was saying is that that work could add some valuable and important perspective to people interested in the questions posed by OP. Thirdly, science is, most properly, a mathematical philosophical method concerned with naturalistic phenomena. It is philosophy. Have you taken the time to read Nietzsche? Especially that work (the full text is available upon following the link)? I just can’t believe that the rational, scientific thinkers in this group would want to exclude Nietzsche from discussions of morality, ethics, and human nature.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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The_Au_Mean - 11 March 2011 01:26 PM

I just can’t believe that the rational, scientific thinkers in this group would want to exclude Nietzsche from discussions of morality, ethics, and human nature.

I wouldn’t exclude him from the topics of morality and ethics—that’s probably because I don’t really care—but he (nor any other philosopher as far as I know) has added nothing to our knowledge of human nature.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 02:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Gnostikosis - 11 March 2011 11:32 AM

  Jealousy and hate I don’t see much need for. Sadness, occasionally anger and fear but I’m always in control. Joy and love seem much more effective in dealing with life. 

A person could go through the day and not experience or notice much hate.  Most of the actions during the day seemed to be motivated by positive emotions such as feelings of flow, engagement, and joy.  Hate seems to be unnecessary.  However, the THREAT of hate is still there.  “If I don’t do all the positive things I need to do, then my life will get very bad and I would hate that.”  Or to put it in a non self-centered way, “If I don’t help out my community, it would be very bad for the community and I would hate that.”  The positive to move toward has no meaning without a negative to move away from.  Sadness, often the result of social loss, forces a person to pause, step back, and reevaluate the effects of the loss on the current social network.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 04:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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brightfut - 11 March 2011 02:51 PM

However, the THREAT of hate is still there.  “If I don’t do all the positive things I need to do, then my life will get very bad and I would hate that.”  Or to put it in a non self-centered way, “If I don’t help out my community, it would be very bad for the community and I would hate that.”

That’s not really Hate hate,  cheese

That’s more like dislike. I’m not sure if like/dislike gets to be emotions.

Not saying there’s anything specifically wrong with emotions, I just hated being unreasonably controlled by them.  tongue rolleye

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