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Bloggingheads
03-29-2008, 04:06 AM

Eastwest
03-29-2008, 06:15 AM
Fascinating.

I thought Joshua such a breath of fresh air when he last appeared.

And now we get the bonus of an equally stimulating thinker in Paul Bloom.

Thanks to both.

EW

berger
03-29-2008, 08:00 AM
So babies seem to think that human beings are subject to different sorts of laws than inanimate objects - so what? How do we move from this simple observation to the idea that babies think that human beings are themselves divided between a soul and a body? Why would we assume that this dichotomy is the way in which a baby makes sense of the distinct functioning of human beings...?
I liked this conversation a lot, but it seems to me that anyone who is going to make an argument for some innate inclination to divide human life into bodies and souls would want to begin to account for the numerous cultures which have no such predilection. To assume that this dichotomy is religious as such clearly begs the question.
There's a not so fine line between inference and conjecture; things can "seem" a lot of ways. Why assume some natural propensity when a cultural propensity is so much simpler and clearer to diagnose?
More to the point: what is one really doing when one is simply asking lots of questions to a wide variety of people (even babies) about their moral inclinations? I don't see why this is hard science rather than social science.


BTW - it's distinctly Xtian to interpret the God of the "Old Testament" as "angry all the time" and esp Xtian to think that Adam and Eve "screwed everything up." These texts are read in different ways.

Brianimator
03-29-2008, 08:12 AM
Of course Google IS corporeal - that is, it has aspects of an organism and is comprised of cells (humans) such that one might intuit it as having a kind of human intentionality, or at least an abstract "sense" for its own self-preservation and self-improvement. If we view the mind as an emergent property of the brain it is not so great a leap view the "intentions" of Google as emergent properties of its human based corpus.

That, or Google is God!

JoeK
03-29-2008, 09:14 AM
I liked this conversation a lot, but it seems to me that anyone who is going to make an argument for some innate inclination to divide human life into bodies and souls would want to begin to account for the numerous cultures which have no such predilection.
And what would these cultures be? Isn't, for example, the idea of a "spirit" that continues with living even after one's death intuitive to people across cultures and religions?


More to the point: what is one really doing when one is simply asking lots of questions to a wide variety of people (even babies) about their moral inclinations? I don't see why this is hard science rather than social science.
I am surprised by your comment. Experiments that Paul and Joshua described sure didn't seem to me as "simply asking lots of questions".
Even if it is true that Psychology in reality is not a hard science, which I strongly disagree with, you have to admit that the picture of Science of Psychology that emerges from this conversation looks a lot like a hard science: empirical, experiment driven, every hypothesis tested, assumptions questioned and so on. If we compare the Paul Bloom's Psychology with the Sean Carol's Physics (of the recent Science Saturday Diavlog), the latter much more deserves a designation "soft".
So, if you allow me to analyze your motives, it is discomfort with your biases challenged that made you leave a comment so out of time and place.

StillmanThomas
03-29-2008, 10:31 AM
An interesting and charming discussion. Excellent!

Bloggin' Noggin
03-29-2008, 11:11 AM
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9785?in=00:35:46&out=00:38:30

I think Josh is wrong to think that people attribute minds to mindless things on the basis of some kind of moral judgment. It's because the cars are unpredictable that we start applying intentionality. A car that just never even started wouldn't have a personality attributed to it. Whisky that always tasted bad wouldn't have a demon attributed to it.

Garden of Eden and Childbirth. Josh's example is implausible. Childbirth is more painful for humans (because human heads have to be so big and inflexible) than for other animals. That is the fact that requires explanation. A story which started with childbirth being even more painful would not help.

More generally, it seems plausible that humans favor degeneration myths -- where there was once a Golden Age from which people have fallen away. I can certainly think of other examples -- and of course, we know from our own experience that every generation has a bias for believing that the age of its youth was better than later ages. It's easy to see how a parent who thinks things have gone to hell in a handbasket in his own life and who remembers his Dad saying the same thing could easily believe the world is on a downward course.
However, as far as I can recall, many of these myths just treat the falling off as "decay" -- a natural process rather than as intentional "sin". The story of Pandora's box does involve another wayward woman meddling in something she shouldn't have, but on the other hand, someone (Zeus, I think) had locked up the evils in the box in the first place (their being in the box was not itself just the natural state -- intentional action had placed them in the box. Without a lot more evidence, I'm not very inclined even to take Josh's speculations very seriously here.

Even in the case of his study concerning the attribution of intention to the polluting CEO and not to the environmentally helpful CEO, I think Josh is not accounting for conversational implicature (as I said in comments on the previous diavlog): when people are ASKED about intentions, they naturally "look ahead" to what they expect the purpose of such questions is.
If someone asks you if you have a watch, you tell them the time, even though they didn't ask for the time. In the examples in Josh'sthought experiment people are thinking ahead to practical questions of praise and blame.
If the point of the experiment is just to show that ordinary people approach questions asked of them as practical questions rather than as purely intellectual questions, then I guess it proves its point -- but it's not too surprising. If it is meant to establish that our attribution of mental states is dependent upon morality, I don't think it comes close to proving its point.
Anyway, back to the diavlog....

PS Isn't our own culture one in which we think childbirth has become somewhat less painful and a good deal safer as a result of certain intentional actions on the part of researchers and doctors etc.?

bjkeefe
03-29-2008, 12:16 PM
BN:

Very nice point about the attributing of intentionality being caused by unpredictability. I agree with you - - something which never fails to disappoint or which never works rarely gets assigned the same amount in malevolence, and in the few cases that it does, it probably has a lot to do with that thing being very similar to other things that do often deliver.

===============

I'm with EW, et al -- this was a great diavlog.

I'll also declare another affiliation: I see Paul and Josh's work as "hard" science, or at least, as real science. It's early days yet, and they might not be much farther along than alchemists compared to today's chemistry researchers, but at minimum, it sounds like they're piling up repeatable observations and developing testable hypotheses to tie those observations together.

bjkeefe
03-29-2008, 12:20 PM
berger:

... it seems to me that anyone who is going to make an argument for some innate inclination to divide human life into bodies and souls would want to begin to account for the numerous cultures which have no such predilection.

I'm with JoeK: Could you give some examples? Other than subcultures, like most scientists with the Western world, say, I can't think of a culture that doesn't have some predisposition to dualism.

BTW - it's distinctly Xtian to interpret the God of the "Old Testament" as "angry all the time" and esp Xtian to think that Adam and Eve "screwed everything up." These texts are read in different ways.

Isn't it also Jewish, at least traditionally? After all, the OT was their book to begin with. And it's probably not much of a stretch to include Islam in this belief in a wrathful God, either.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-29-2008, 12:39 PM
The whole thing about God and Google and bodies seems misconceived. The difference between Google and an individual is that Google is a collective thing whose actions and intentions supervene on the actions and intentions of individuals. Only individuals actually feel pain directly. (Josh should think about countries, by the way -- we do say that Korea is angry at Japan, though I agree we wouldn't be likely to say that it was FEELING angry at Japan.)
The problem for God feeling angry is largely a theological one: if God is perfect, it shouldn't be possible to hurt him. He shouldn't want or need anything that we could withhold. Yet of course most people want a God who loves us. If he loves us then he can be hurt by our not loving him. At least we expect God to be like us in having a personality, but a person who can't be hurt, who needs nothing seems very little like a person at all. Most religions seem to anthropomorphize without much difficulty when it comes to gods. It's only pretty sophisticated philosophical religion that starts to worry about God's perfection and power and whether or not such a being could suffer or have his desires frustrated.

As Paul points out, there's not that much difficulty imagining an angry ghost (where there is no worry about the ghost's perfection). And Paul is right that the issue is one of phenomenal vs functional states. It's not hard to imagine an angry ghost, but we do have some trouble imagining what it's like for the angry ghost to FEEL that anger, since our feelings of anger are closely connected to our bodies -- we feel hot in the face and we feel a pressure about the temples etc. But I think we can understand how an alien could be angry and we could understand how an alien with a very different body from our own could feel this anger in quite a different way than we feel our anger. Yet functionally, we could still identify it as anger by its causes and effects on behavior. Our minds surely are very deeply embodied, but how far is this self-knowledge just automatically part of common sense -- and how much is culturally determined?
I think we are drawn in different directions: we are prereflectively neither dualists nor materialists (corporealists?) -- or we are both. Homer's sense of mind in the Iliad is very deeply embodied and there's really no sense (as far as I can recall) in the Iliad -- the "soul" is conceived to be a body part essentially, if I am recalling my Humanities lessons correctly. I don't recall any mention of souls leaving the body. Yet in the Odyssey (which of course may well be by a different poet) a "shade" of the person remains after death.
I think we have a bunch of discrete intuitions about ourselves that can lead us in many different directions, and which need to be built up into different theories and tested against the world. We don't have a whole theory of ourselves just starting out.

bjkeefe
03-29-2008, 01:06 PM
BN:

Yet in the Odyssey (which of course may well be by a different poet) ...

Little-known fact: it was. By another ancient Greek of the same name.

berger
03-29-2008, 02:55 PM
The obvious example of a culture/religion which has no dualism between mind and body is Buddhism - though this is of course a complicated issue. While Mahayana Buddhism has a conception of something _approaching_ our conception of the mind/soul - "Buddha-nature" - such a "soul" is not at all individualistic or personal in the Western sense (it's the latent ability of all to awaken and become Buddha, and thus fundamentally impersonal).

But it's important to see that in the Bible you really don't get something approaching the idea of the soul these guys are talking about until you get to Paul. Sure, in Genesis, god breathes his "breath" into Adam but most early Jewish commentators didn't think that this created a soul - it animated some "dust." The idea of a soul somehow distinct from the body doesn't really appear until later Rabbinic interpretations.
Further, it's worth pointing out that the now widespread Xtian belief that a soul goes up to heaven after the death of the body is heterodox, at least according to the Apostle's creed, which maintains that the afterlife consists in the resurrection of the body.

I'm not saying that these guys are wrong (my earlier post was more combative than I meant - apologies) it just seems like these discordances are something they should try to account for - or at least acknowledge. Further, I certainly don't maintain that psychology is a "soft science" - I just think that the limits of these sorts of experiments should be considered.

Nate
03-29-2008, 03:17 PM
In the discussion about ghost's, a ghostly figure appears behind Paul:
http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9785?in=00:47:46&out=00:48:08

I think it may have just been his daughter, though.

ogieogie
03-29-2008, 03:18 PM
I just want to express my gratitude to these guys for existing, and for condescending to appear here, and for not conversing--unlike Plato's characters--in ancient Greek.

bjkeefe
03-29-2008, 03:19 PM
berger:

I don't know enough about Buddhism to debate your claim, so let me just ask a follow-up question: Isn't reincarnation in the form of a different being pretty much the same thing as a discorporate soul? In other words, isn't some coherent essence moving from one vessel to another?

I also don't know enough about what Jews believe in terms of a soul, but your description sounds plausible, as far as offering an example of a culture that don't have a strong dualist tradition. By my lights, anyway. I suppose someone else could argue something about their spiritual side as separate from their bodies and keep it within standard Judaic teachings.

Further, I certainly don't maintain that psychology is a "soft science" - I just think that the limits of these sorts of experiments should be considered.

FWIW, what I heard from both Paul and Josh was a real interest in being precise about what experiments could show, how to design new experiments to isolate variables of interest, and a spirit like that. As I said in my other comment, I think these guys sound like they're doing a commendable job trying to be scientific. It's just the field itself is very young.

bjkeefe
03-29-2008, 03:24 PM
Nate:

I vote for ZZ Top to rerecord one of their hits in tribute to you: "Sharp-Eyed Man."

Well done. I myself am too fidgety to watch these diavlogs with sufficient attention -- I have to be fiddling with something else while mostly just listening. I wonder what else I've missed?

On the other hand, maybe I've been less programmed than some others by the subliminal messages that Bob has been beaming: Be nice in the comments ... be nice in the comments ...

Wonderment
03-29-2008, 04:41 PM
I was not too impressed with the Google ideas.

When people say, "Google plans to take over MS," I don't understand them to mean that Google is an animate whole. It's just shorthand for saying, "There's a bunch of decision-makers (humans) who have embarked on a course of action." I find nothing weird about saying something like, "Google's really happy that Yahoo went bust." I don't imagine a gleeful building or set of computers somewhere; I imagine a board of directors, a CEO and a bunch of stockholders.

Just as when we say, "Florida would vote for Clinton if given another chance," we don't imagine a penisular blob with a mind. Likewise, when we say, "Florida is really pissed about being disenfranchised," we mean a percentage of voters.

berger
03-29-2008, 05:00 PM
I hear what you're saying and to some extent agree. The more I think about it, the more the example of Buddhism could be used to support Bloom's theory - simply because it could be understood as a critical response to our natural inclination to believe in the soul/body dichotomy, much like darwinism is.
The problem is that it's the dualistic self - not just the idea of the self - that Bloom in objecting to.
I agree with all that you say about this being a young science, and regret that I came out so hostile to it. I think there are some presumptuous elements to what's going on here though, of course, and think they should be a little more pronounced.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-29-2008, 05:19 PM
I agree with you that actually having the body wouldn't be necessary (if we can conceive of soul stuff) -- you just need to still have a spiritual version of the "body map" that we have in our brains. I even thought of mentioning this -- I think this is how we imagine an angry ghost (as one who feels hot in the face even though he doesn't really have a face), but I left it out.

Wonderment
03-29-2008, 05:25 PM
Isn't it also Jewish, at least traditionally? After all, the OT was their book to begin with. And it's probably not much of a stretch to include Islam in this belief in a wrathful God, either.

Yes, of course, God has the same tantrums in all the Big 3 monotheistic religions.

One interesting characteristic of God which they did not explore in this conversation is his aloneness. Unlike the gods of polytheistic religions, He has absolutely no one to play with, have sex with or fight. (He does have a Son in Xtianity, but it turns out to be Him.)

We apes are incredibly social animals, so just by God's aloneness he already is immensely differentiated from us emotionally, even if he has a big body in the sky.

It's true that he is conceived as wrathful, jealous and compassionate (although never fearful), but it's only because we're either doing as we're told (good) or not (bad).

Although He may sound like your run-of-the-mill patriarchal daddy for a perpetually infantilized humanity, and although it's true that He created people "in his image," the anthropomorphized God mostly is an idea reserved for children, at least in Judaism.

This is consistent with Joshua's idea that children and senile people have (or revert to) innate notions of primitive creationism, while the adults in the room tend to get philosophical and skeptical of the primitive notions.

For example, no rabbi will tell you that God is a big person in the sky. By the time the Big 3 religions get to the Middle Ages, they have all developed very abstract (and to my mind atheistic versions) theologies. You have Jewish and Muslim rationalists who attempt to prove the existence of God, you have Kabbalists who "explain" cosmology in a proto-scientific way, Sufis with a universal metaphysics, and "heretics" and mystics like Meister Eckhardt who sound like agnostic Buddhists.

Consider this 13th century Jewish hymn, Yigdal, which is known by heart by every Orthodox Jew in the world:

1. Exalted be the Living God and praised, He exists - unbounded by time is His existence;
2. He is One - and there is no unity like His Oneness - Inscrutable and infinite is His Oneness;
3. He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal - nor has His holiness any comparison;
4. He preceded every being that was created - the First, and nothing precedes His precedence;...

The hymn does go on to repeat standard dogma, but it's not an anthropomorphic conception.

bjkeefe
03-29-2008, 07:24 PM
Wonderment:

I was not too impressed with the Google ideas.

I agree. Some of their thoughts in this area were not without plausibility, but most just seemed like examples of synecdoche.

dankingbooks
03-29-2008, 10:11 PM
Google has a stomach ache? No wonder their stock has gone down.

Mr. Wright - I'm not able to find the diavlogs of Plato on Bloggingheads? Where did you put those?

Do women wear clothes so that men will think of them as moral beings?

I saw a ghost in the background - around 47 minutes in. It went away while yelling "Mom!".

Google is like God? I thought Microsoft was like God. Does that make Bill Gates like the Wizard of Oz? How come people love God, but hate Microsoft? Makes no sense to me.

www.dankingbooks.com (http://www.dankingbooks.com)

bjk
03-30-2008, 10:29 AM
The problem with contrasting "folk" or "naive" and scientific views of, for instance, the soul is that there is no scientific view of consciousness. It's not as if Knobe is coming down from the mountain and observing these quaint folkways, he's got no better explanation. And he's also historically illiterate, which when combined with the arrogance of somebody who imagines himself terribly up to date, makes some of the things he says painful to listen to.

Jay J
03-30-2008, 02:23 PM
Brendan,

I can see how it looks that way about Buddhism. And of course there are varying kinds, but the main strands which go back thousands of years don't accept the notion of the "self."

It's not that I'm asserting that this answer is necessarily completely whole in terms of working out all the details, and many may not find it satisfactory at all, but most of the schools of Buddhism I've come into contact with eschew dualism, and see everything as interconnected.

When Buddhists say that we lack inherent existense, and that reality is an illusion, some of them may mean it very literally, but the safer bet is to assume that they mean the appearance of parts of reality which are separate, independent, and self-constained, is illusory.

It's true to the Buddhist that our bobies are here, and that we feel like individuals, but they would say that the self is an aggregate of feelings, habits, dispositions, cravings, etc. If we granted that as true for a minute, than it would seem natural that these constituencies could persevere for a while, clinging onto what it perceives as itself. It's considered to be an improvement, however, to be blown out, like a candle, and to release all these constituencies.

A dualist may say that the above doesn't sate their worries, but Buddhism is like many forms of monism which more or less asserts one-ness but hasn't sovled, in any discursive or analytic way, the relationaship of mind to body.

I'm not a Buddhist scholar, so I'm not sure what all the points and counterpoints would be regarding what I've written...suffice it to say that Buddhism is not compelled to believe in a "soul" because of the doctrine of reincarnation. What's reincarnated is an aggregate. Now Buddhism would certainly be compelled to adobt a position of non-reductionism when it some to the mind, meaning, mentality appears to simply be a fundamental property of what abides.

So if you were meaning something like..."soul-stuff" then OK maybe so. But if you were meaning a self which is a soul which has indepedent existence, then no. And the word "essense" to most Buddhists, when attributed to the self, would be rejected.

bjkeefe
03-30-2008, 02:42 PM
Jay:

... everything as interconnected.

I forgot about that part. Thanks for the explanation.

Anyuser
03-30-2008, 06:00 PM
Why couldn't sexual revulsion be hardwired, just as sexual attraction is? It would be easy to hypothesize an evolutionary explanation for such revulsion, to wit, a male not only attracted to sex with females but also revolted by sex with males is a bit more likely to pass his genes on to the next generation than a male not revolted by sex with another male.

I live in a community (a suburb of gay heaven itself, San Francisco) where adults would sooner bite their tongues off than say anything derogatory about gays, and where kids are taught in schools to accept gays, yet my observation is that teenage boys are repelled by gays. "Morality" doesn't have anything to do with it. I'm dubious that such revulsion is culturally conditioned.

bjkeefe
03-30-2008, 07:56 PM
Anyuser:

There's probably something to your thinking, in that the majority of any species is attracted to members of the opposite sex, and that this gives them a genetic advantage, but I think actual revulsion (in humans) regarding homosexual activity is mostly cultural. Don't forget that there have been cultures where same sex partners were not only tolerated, they were a normal part of life, and even, in some cases, a status symbol. Ancient Greece is the most notable case, but I'm sure I've read about others.

It's also worth noting that cultures which became dominated by early Christianity and Islam were not just revolted by homosexual interaction, they had a whole lot of twisted attitudes about heterosexual interaction as well.

To complicate things further, there are some recent studies out based on observations of other animal populations which show that homosexual interaction can actually enhance a group's success (which leads to genetic success, too). For example, apes that spend more time grooming each other (and since this is a family forum, "grooming" is partly a euphemism) spend less time and energy fighting. This is true for both males and females, in some species.

I don't think your example of high school kids says much. Adolescents are variously creeped out, and curious, and unable to talk sensibly, about all aspects of sex. To illustrate, ask yourself how many boys between 12 and 18 in your neighborhood would admit to you that they masturbate.

daveh
03-30-2008, 10:58 PM
Every time I see one of these Victorian-age village atheists like Paul Bloom, I am always left cold by their shallowness.

Did he actually say that it was "crazy" to afford people different moral status because of biological attributes of their brains? Now, I realize that these things can be taken to the extremes that we don't agree with such as the so-called "Twinkie defense" offered by the assassin of the Mayor of San Francisco and Harvey Milk. But, I take it that Mr. Bloom would not disagree that every mental disorder is simply at bottom a biological disfunction. Does he propose to hold the profoundly retarded to the same standards we hold people of normal intelligence? Should we hold children to the same standards? Obviously, the law has considered this and tried to come up with answers -- with varying degrees of success. In the end we consider essentially the person's ability to conform his will to the requirements of the law -- if they don't have it, they get a break, although not necessarily a complete one. If Mr. Bloom has a better answer I would like to hear it.

Furthermore, I don't understand how two highly educated people could talk about the problem of bodies and suffering in connection with God without mentioning the Passion. Easter was less than one week ago. Now, even if you don't, or especially if you don't, believe in this it would seem that there are centuries of reflection on the nature of bodily suffering to moral status and the divine. Especially if you believe that this is some product of our own minds, it seems that the Easter story would be fertile ground to examine.

AemJeff
03-30-2008, 11:19 PM
Dave, do you think that two Jews really needed needed to discuss Easter in that context?

eskinol
03-30-2008, 11:50 PM
As far as I can tell, all Bloom said was this: it's crazy to decide that an activity isn't morally blameworthy merely because corresponding brain activity is observed. As in, there's no such thing as human activity that doesn't involve the brain, so this style of thought can't be right.

I think you basically saw two village atheists spouting off and decided to run off on a personal hobby horse :)

aatish
03-31-2008, 05:16 AM
Thanks for a very insightful and thoughtful dialogue. Science saturdays have become a weekend must for me! You both raised many questions that I hadn't even thought to consider, such as the possible connection between moral judgements and intentionality. Joshua's previous appearance here also raised some of these interesting questions.

I must admit, I've explicitly fallen victim to the this line of thinking myself. Once during a semester when I was taking a cognitive neuroscience class, I told my friend, 'It's not your fault that you're clumsy, it's just that your brain is wired funny'. (She took it relatively well, all things considered) But I doubt that, even in jest, I would have ever said something like, 'you're not responsible for acing that test, it's just that your brain is wired well'.

aatish
03-31-2008, 05:16 AM
Sorry that last comment was in the wrong thread!

daveh
03-31-2008, 06:34 AM
Jeff,

I don't care if they worship the man on the moon, but I don't see how you could talk about the question of the necessity of a body for suffering and moral status could not draw your attention to the fact that the world's largest religion has put this question at its center and recognized the event a week ago. Look, they didn't even talk about animals, which seems to be more obvious subject matter for this question than robots or androids or whatever.

It's not so much that these guys need to discuss Easter, it is the narrowmindedness that I see from the parade of free thinkers like Paul Bloom. The discussion of religious belief is always a caricature centered on that quintessential 19th century question of Darwinism which separates the reasonable from the "fundamentalists". Also, the appropriate subjects to study for the origins of religious belief are children and Alzheimers patients, as apparently religious belief is more native to these specimens than healthy, content adults.

These sort of Bertrand Russell Jr. types need to work some new schtick.

bjkeefe
03-31-2008, 08:10 AM
... the narrowmindedness that I see from the parade of free thinkers ...

I myself am bothered by the spiciness of bland foods, the loudness of silence, and the rigidity of elastic bands.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-31-2008, 06:07 PM
Furthermore, I don't understand how two highly educated people could talk about the problem of bodies and suffering in connection with God without mentioning the Passion.

I thought about mentioning it, but then I realized that it wouldn't contradict Knobe's thesis --which was that you needed a body to feel pain (or apparently any phenomenal quality). In the Christian story, God (the Son) did have a body.

a Duoist
03-31-2008, 06:12 PM
It's wonderful to hear a professional psychologist find dualism to be pervasive and interesting. Duality is everywhere, but in the West we see duality as the Greeks did--as the clash (the 'agon') of opposites--while in the East, duality is perceived as complementary opposites, those that cannot exist without the other (the Yin and Yang).

As for the car with a 'mind,' we humans anthropomorphise virtually everything; it's a form of mental 'short-cut,' allowing us to attach emotionally to what we approve of, or kill what we dislike. We mentally make everything living or human, in order to personalise our reaction to the object under consideration. Hence, the 'hate' for this, or the 'love' for that.

And the 'big booming voice': what a wonderful description for a very common human experience: the sense of religiosity when all rational thought argues otherwise. Great diavlog.

fedorovingtonboop
03-31-2008, 11:06 PM
damn! great discussion. i rememeber Pinker mentioning a few of the "universal taboos" like incest, rotten meat, etc. in his NYTMag piece but i didn't understand this topic the way i do after hearing you guys talk. thanks! really good stuff, lotta substance and thought provoking research.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-01-2008, 11:29 AM
Why couldn't sexual revulsion be hardwired, just as sexual attraction is? It would be easy to hypothesize an evolutionary explanation for such revulsion, to wit, a male not only attracted to sex with females but also revolted by sex with males is a bit more likely to pass his genes on to the next generation than a male not revolted by sex with another male.

This is far from clear. If a male mates often enough with females, he'll get his genes into the next generation whatever else he mates with. You'll point out that if a male mates with a male in preference to a female on some occasion, he will thereby fail to maximize his offspring. But here all you need is that the males should all always prefer sex with (available, ovulating) females to sex with males. This could be achieved without revulsion -- just make sure that males have a substantial preference for ovulating females when they are avaiable.
Suppose that the best way to make sure males maximize their offspring is to make them very "horny." When females are unavailable (perhaps because they all belong to your dominant silverback), this horniness might make males very aggressive if they can't find some release. This tendency could wind up killing a lot of males before they get a chance to mate. Better to let the males "get their rocks off" with each other until they are in a position to mate with a female. Situtational homosexuality among humans seems to bear this out.
There might be further benefits in some cases for homosexual sex -- if sex decreases tensions and increases attachment, for instance. The cost of a few male-female mating opportunities might well be evolutionarily justified by other benefits. Bonobos don't seem to have the revulsion that your argument suggests ought to be ubiquitous in the animal kingdom.


I live in a community (a suburb of gay heaven itself, San Francisco) where adults would sooner bite their tongues off than say anything derogatory about gays, and where kids are taught in schools to accept gays, yet my observation is that teenage boys are repelled by gays. "Morality" doesn't have anything to do with it. I'm dubious that such revulsion is culturally conditioned.

The very notion of a "gay" is cultural. In ancient Greek culture and (I understand) in modern Latin culture, you can mate with men without being considered "gay" so long as you take the "active" (penetrative) role. There's no stigma in that case. Your biological argument can't account for this, since such active sex with another male is more sure to be a "waste" in terms of reproduction.

Furthermore, there's a big difference between being revolted by something personally and imposing a stigma on others who indulge in it. There are lots of people of our preferred gender each of us would personally be revolted to have sex with. But when these people have known sexual partners, we don't stigmatize them or their partners. We just try not to imagine them in bed together. To keep you from mating with Nancy Reagan, all you need is the personal revulsion -- you don't have to disapprove of or hate Ron for doing it.

Anyuser
04-02-2008, 10:08 PM
Furthermore, there's a big difference between being revolted by something personally and imposing a stigma on others who indulge in it. There are lots of people of our preferred gender each of us would personally be revolted to have sex with. But when these people have known sexual partners, we don't stigmatize them or their partners. We just try not to imagine them in bed together. To keep you from mating with Nancy Reagan, all you need is the personal revulsion -- you don't have to disapprove of or hate Ron for doing it.

Agreed. I'm personally very much opposed to stigmatizing gays.

Ollock
04-07-2008, 01:37 AM
In the discussion about attribution of emotions, I thought about Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Data has a humanoid body, but through the series, but he was unable to feel emotions without a special emotion chip. However, though he didn't have abstract emotional states, he was obviously capable of making goals, forming beliefs, and having desires and preferences. Some fans think that he actually does have emotions because he is capable of having desires and preferences. Perhaps the writers had this sort of "partial dualism" that you were talking about, that a machine cannot have true emotional traits (at least without extraordinary intervention), but it can still have phenomenological consciousness and can *want* to have emotions.

I also remember that many people consider demons as being jealous of humans because we are able to truly feel. Usually this seems to be an idea of sensuality -- demons and angels do not have bodies or sense organs, so they do not percieve the finite human world the way we do -- but sometimes it seems to extend to emotional states as well.

This is of course rather fuzzy. These are just two examples, and not clear ones. But it might show that it could be difficult to draw lines between phenomenological beliefs/goals/desires, emotional states that are in the mind, and emotional states that require a body.

Danniel
09-08-2008, 01:09 PM
I find quite interesting the subject of what leads to the instinctive attribution of personhood. I've never really read much about it, so it was specially interesting to see this concurrent proposals of body or mind as the key factor, since sometime ago I thought about something somewhat in between, heads, the specific body part enclosing the mind.

My rationale is just a sloppy mixture of thought experiment and some random observation of what people seems to feel about abortion. Whereas there's strong opposition to abortion, I think it tends to decrease considerably with abortions in case of anencephaly (some observation about it, but still there are pro-lifers who will still stand for the rights of brainless baby bodies), and I believe, to drop nearly to zero in cases of acephaly (never heard of any pro-lifer defending the life of a headless baby, but in the other hand, I've never heard of a case of acephaly striking the news to begin with, I don't know how frequent it is), to raise somewhat again in some eventual rare case of something like a somewhat organized teratoma that happens to have something resembling a face, convincingly enough (I've heard of an instance, from a source I don't find particularly trustworthy about some native [south] American woman being pregnant with a "ball with a face", and if I recall it was regarded as someone rather than some thing). And, of course, the more rational instance on abortion is also the "perfect" in-between, the brain activity criterion.

And I've read and heard about things that marginally may agree with it, such as people being willing to donate more when they're donating on ballots standing near "fake staring eyes", that are clearly painted or just made up, in no way fooling someone to actually think that there's someone real there.