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Bloggingheads 10-18-2008 04:05 AM

Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Afterthought

No, this diavlog is not a poorly-dubbed martial arts movie (although viewers are invited to imagine otherwise). David's audio is out-of-synch with his video because of technical issues encountered in post-production. We apologize for any annoyance.

--BhTV staff

nkirby 10-18-2008 12:06 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Of course, groups of people who have historically intermarried exclusively share common genetics. In turn, members of the group share common physical characteristics. Why is this such a contentious issue?

This reminds me of people who are hung up on whether homosexuality is a choice or is predetermined (on both sides of the question). The point is, morally, it doesn't matter what the scientific fact about the world is. Morally, we should just stop being evil to each other.

ed fielding 10-18-2008 12:55 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
You post-pro guys!
Hey, the sound in general could use some informed attention, certny for us hearing-deficient sort.

Great diavlog. What bhtv is all about. Solid and deeply humane.
Probably it’s one of those things everybody else already knows, but it seemed like a fresh insight watching this; kind of a purloined letter thing: Science writing is a potentially a full contributor in the creative processes of science. Metaresearch maybe? Uncovering syntheses and leading the progress of an idea, a thesis, at points. Granted, not a universal model; many times they are ideal publicists for work that deserves wider attention.
Anyway, loved David’s careful, caring thoughtfulness; combined with his depth and attentive insight.
Big bravo; and thanks.

Me&theboys 10-18-2008 02:43 PM

There is no view from nowhere
 
Another great, thought-provoking diavlog. I think David did not press the implications of his points as strongly as he could have. And I think John says he gets it, but doesn't really get it. If he really got it, he would not have asked why liberals are the ones who always have to be so tolerant all the time. That sounds awfully tribalist.

Partisanship itself is us/them thinking. As is demonizing the other political party for flawed morality or any other pejoratively-viewed attribute that one consider's one's group to be free of. Belief in the the superiority of one's own group or in the inferiority of another group is tribalist thinking. I'm not convinced such thinking does not have some value, but I do think it is hypocritical to criticize it in others while engaging in it one's self. Something about casting the first stone..... We could all benefit from a little less stone casting and a litte more honest self-examination of our own behavior. David made this point at least once. I wish he had made it more forcefully.

Ocean 10-18-2008 03:19 PM

Re: There is no view from nowhere
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Me&theboys (Post 94508)
Partisanship itself is us/them thinking. As is demonizing the other political party for flawed morality or any other pejoratively-viewed attribute that one consider's one's group to be free of. Belief in the the superiority of one's own group or in the inferiority of another group is tribalist thinking. I'm not convinced such thinking does not have some value, but I do think it is hypocritical to criticize it in others while engaging in it one's self. Something about casting the first stone.....

I haven't finished watching this diavlog yet, but I'm pretty familiar with the concept. You bring up a good point, and perhaps the most important in practical terms. We do live in a world of us/them, good/evil, black/white dichotomies. If one could completely do away with that view, you couldn't function in society. In order to function you have to be able to switch from one framework to the other. One gives the direction, the other provides the tools, the balance between the two is the challenge. I'll better finish watching before getting carried away with the babbling...

Ocean 10-19-2008 12:08 AM

Re: John is redeemed!
 
Great diavlog!

Impeccable interaction, excellent in content and process. Lots of interesting points to expand and develop.

Comments:

When John asked David to comment on evolutionary psychology, David said that his book/ ideas developed from finding that evolutionary psychology was reductionistic. He also explains how the status quo is (was?) to tend to explain phenomena with an either-or paradigm. I think that David is right in pointing out this all too common flaw. In social sciences there has been more emphasis in creating competing theories than in trying to integrate or supplement different ones. I agree with David, that evolutionary psychology can explain many aspects of who we are and what we do. It brings us back to our evolutionary ties to the past, to our origins. However, that's not all there is to it. Although I don't recall hearing him talk about cultural evolution, that is certainly the most significant missing piece. It's the story of nature and nurture. The human animal has evolved in a complex interaction between its nature, its past and origins, and the dynamic creation that we call culture. Moral evolution is a byproduct of this process. Later David reinforces this concept when he talks about the importance of people becoming aware of the manipulation exerted by political figures. This manipulation is possible due to our 'irrational' responses to external stimuli, which is mastered so well by the world manipulators. By becoming aware, we can engage in a process of dynamic creation that would lead to overcoming our proclivity to gullibility. I think that the greatest merit to this talk is the fact that it doesn't just offer an explanation of the problem but it also points at the solution.

Another interesting topic was the comment on John Gray's ideas. The historical flow of ideologies, and the paradigms from which they emerge, are probably among the most interesting subjects of study in order to understand where we are and where we think we are going. The idea of the two steps forwards and one backwards is also an essential concept. Unfortunately Gray, seems to overemphasize the backwards trends and somehow ends up drowning in regressive speculations and predictions. He seems to underestimate that the backwards movement has always preceded a jump forward. Many of us can draw some rational optimism from this concept alone!

Towards the end John and David talk about the ills of dogmatism and fanaticism. As discussed before the all pervasive propensity to dyadic tribalism can be modulated by tolerance. In a previous segment of the talk they discussed the difference between political leaders who offer a dogmatic view and those who offer options and look for commonalities instead of differences.

A question for John: have you been reading recently the old posts on the topic of war from your blog from about two years ago?

And finally, John's redemption from last week's gun extravaganza, came by his solid support for Obama in an enthusiastic and optimistic wind.

Thank you both John and David and perhaps you can come back in a few months when Obama is president.

Francoamerican 10-19-2008 07:37 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Henry Adams wrote in The Education of Henry Adams that "politics is the systematic organisation of hatreds." I think that when discussing religion and political ideology, and their effect on behavior, one needs to keep this rather disturbing fact in mind. As "political animals" human beings have a tendency to interpret disagreement about the common good as enmity, and to organize themselves into mutually antagonistic groups that aim, at least in intention, at the annihilation of the "enemy" (Hobbes' bellum omnium contra omnes). They are not simply expressing their "identity," whether biologically or culturally conceived; they are giving vent to their pride (or self-esteem), which is both natural to us as a species and molded by society (or by some subgroup within society). The common good matters less to the proud man than victory over a hated opponent who refuses to submit to HIS conception of the good. Hence the absurdity of so many political and religious quarrels throughout history.

Some might say that "pride" and "self-esteem" are just old fashioned ways of talking about identity, folk psychology in short. Perhaps, but it seems to me that this folk psychology is a useful reminder that we are all, underneath different skin colors and folkish ways, monotonously alike.

Ocean 10-19-2008 10:01 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Francoamerican (Post 94555)
Some might say that "pride" and "self-esteem" are just old fashioned ways of talking about identity, folk psychology in short. Perhaps, but it seems to me that this folk psychology is a useful reminder that we are all, underneath different skin colors and folkish ways, monotonously alike.

There are multiple ways of conceptualizing these group dynamics. Perhaps I would throw in the concepts of 'dominance' and 'supremacy' which are closely related to survival, to the concept of both individual and group identity. I agree that beneath the surface, once you remove the tribe markings, we are all ruled by the same set of primitive, inherited or conditioned, responses. It's up to us to move beyond them in a painfully slow and gradual process.

Ocean 10-19-2008 11:00 AM

Re: McCain Closes Within 5 of Ayers/Obama
 
Do you have any comments on the main topic of this diavlog?

Your anti-Obama ranting may fit better other diavlogs/threads. It's just a turn off to have an intelligent and educated sequence of comments suddenly interrupted by your political racist child-like whining. I'm not asking you to give up your tribalism, which I'm obviously embracing as well, but rather to rise a notch or two above and contribute some intelligent thoughts. I mean, if you can... Just a suggestion.

grits-n-gravy 10-19-2008 12:11 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 94559)
I agree that beneath the surface, once you remove the tribe markings, we are all ruled by the same set of primitive, inherited or conditioned, responses. It's up to us to move beyond them in a painfully slow and gradual process.

To the extent that this is true, i.e. we are hardwired to hate those who aren't like us, it is pure folly to think we can 'move beyond' them as if we're going to evolve (upwards and onwards) out of it. Like learning disabilities, you do not overcome human aggression, you simply learn coping strategies to minimize its adverse impact.

Ocean 10-19-2008 12:21 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by grits-n-gravy (Post 94565)
To the extent that this is true, i.e. we are hardwired to hate those who aren't like us, it is pure folly to think we can 'move beyond' them as if we're going to evolve (upwards and onwards) out of it. Like learning disabilities, you do not overcome human aggression, you simply learn coping strategies to minimize its adverse impact.

How do you know? Why do you think that we are 'done' with evolution? Are we a dead end? I doubt you would think we are such perfect product that we can't get any better. So, why think we are at the end of a natural process, that as far as I know, is pretty steady and unrelenting?

grits-n-gravy 10-19-2008 12:56 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 94566)
How do you know? Why do you think that we are 'done' with evolution? Are we a dead end? I doubt you would think we are such perfect product that we can't get any better. So, why think we are at the end of a natural process, that as far as I know, is pretty steady and unrelenting?

What makes you believe human evolution is linear and progressive? Scientists don't view evolution in that way. Behavioral change is not always for the better.

Natural selection will no doubt continue. But don't expect the behavioral distance between us and chimps to change dramatically. If it does, why presume it will be us rather than the chimps moving 'forward'?

Ocean 10-19-2008 01:29 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by grits-n-gravy (Post 94568)
What makes you believe human evolution is linear and progressive? Scientists don't view evolution in that way. Behavioral change is not always for the better.

Natural selection will no doubt continue. But don't expect the behavioral distance between us and chimps to change dramatically. If it does, why presume it will be us rather than the chimps moving 'forward'?

Human evolution isn't necessarily 'linear'. In terms of 'progressive', I'm not sure how you are defining that term. If you mean, 'for the better', I don't think we have the data or the historical perspective to tell one way or the other. We can certainly speculate about that. It is certainly possible that 'evolution' could lead to a species that, for example, self destructs. That wouldn't be 'for the better', however, the changes involved that lead to that state may have been progressive to a certain point. I think that, again, it all depends on what you are defining as progressive. These are all very relative concepts. For example if a group evolves in the direction of 'progress', an improved group so to speak, but that change creates conflict with another group which hasn't followed that course, the end result of the conflict may prove to have a net negative effect, a positive one, or annihilation of both.

When you talk about the distance between us and the chimps shouldn't be expected to be dramatic, again, we encounter an issue of definitions. What would you consider dramatic? Would you think that where we are now is a dramatic difference or not?

Whether it's us or the chimps moving 'forward', is also an equivocal question. If you are talking about the classic understanding of evolution by natural selection, all species are or could be evolving simultaneously. The obvious appearance of a new 'species' or subspecies would be determined by the adverse conditions of the environment which would favor the survival of some of the individuals in the species (those with a better adapted genetic load) while the rest will perish. Otherwise, if all individuals survive, there will continue to be an intermix of the genetic material and the changes will be diluted.

But there are other mechanisms of evolution, which are pertinent to the human species predominantly. We have changed the rules of the game that Nature had established for natural selection. We are knowingly or not shaping evolution in novel ways. Unless we have a complete understanding of that process, we can't really accurately answer the questions that both you and I are posing here.

I do believe that cultural evolution and the evolution of morality are processes closely related to what you hinted at in your first post, of developing coping or adaptive strategies to curve our undesirable instinctive impulses. There is a possibility that over extended periods of time those intentional changes may be established genetically. But, I certainly don't know much about this and I'm basically speculating.

And finally, if 'we' were to evolve, it's understood it wouldn't happen overnight, and the legitimate question is whether the final product of this evolution should be labeled as 'us' or 'them.

grits-n-gravy 10-19-2008 04:06 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 94570)
In terms of 'progressive', I'm not sure how you are defining that term. If you mean, 'for the better', I don't think we have the data or the historical perspective to tell one way or the other. We can certainly speculate about that.

Yes, I mean "for the better". And I think there is ample evidence pointing to the conclusion that evolution is amoral. This is what is usually implied by the notion 'progress' in evolution. Bipedalism didn't evolve because it is morally superior to moving around quadropedally, for example.

Quote:

It is certainly possible that 'evolution' could lead to a species that, for example, self destructs. That wouldn't be 'for the better', however, the changes involved that lead to that state may have been progressive to a certain point. . . . For example if a group evolves in the direction of 'progress', an improved group so to speak, but that change creates conflict with another group which hasn't followed that course, the end result of the conflict may prove to have a net negative effect, a positive one, or annihilation of both.
It's not clear to me what you mean by 'progress'. What would be a concrete example of a group evolving for the better, morally speaking, yet having consequences that are morally problematic.

I can imagine how our distant ancestors evolved the prerequisites for the use of more sophisticated hunting technology only to discover that it's equally useful for clobbering your foe upside the head. But assessing whether more effective hunting technology is 'progressive' cannot be separated from its unintended social consequences, in my opinion.

nattering nabob 10-19-2008 04:33 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
A clear exposition on Us versus Them.
A dunderhead might think that Palin's talk of Obama's "palling around with terrorists" was a political attack on a man who wants to be President through his association with Ayers. It takes an intellectual to perceive that was an attempt to enslave Obama & all his descendants.
Palin with her moose-huntin', oil-drillin', public-official sacking ways is clearly beyond the pale. People like her want to divide & dehumanise. As Wendy Doniger pointed out in Newsweek, Palin is only pretending to be a woman...
Heavy sarcasm aside if I had a vote in the US election I'd vote Obama but sometimes the conformism & lack of self-reflection of the liberal elite is annoying, especially to us plumbers.

Ocean 10-19-2008 05:02 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by grits-n-gravy (Post 94579)
Yes, I mean "for the better". And I think there is ample evidence pointing to the conclusion that evolution is amoral. This is what is usually implied by the notion 'progress' in evolution. Bipedalism didn't evolve because it is morally superior to moving around quadropedally, for example.

Yes, I agree, but saying that it's amoral doesn't provide a definition of progress.

Let's start by defining progress. We are talking about evolution. From that perspective, progress would refer to any advancement in one's ability to survive and reproduce. From that perspective, if you look at evolution in the animal kingdom, there is no role for morality. I think we agree on that. Once we, human beings came around, we started to change the rules of the game of evolution. For example, one of the ways we changed the rules is by enhancing our environment to make it "easier" to survive in it. We are taking away the effects of an adverse environment and we are stalling natural selection mechanisms. For example, the use of clothes, houses with temperature control, would allow the survival of 'weaker' traits like thinner skin and lower tolerance to extremes of temperature.

If we agree that we can change evolution, then the next step would be to define what kinds of changes we have already made, and which ones we can make in the future.

Quote:

It's not clear to me what you mean by 'progress'. What would be a concrete example of a group evolving for the better, morally speaking, yet having consequences that are morally problematic.

I can imagine how our distant ancestors evolved the prerequisites for the use of more sophisticated hunting technology only to discover that it's equally useful for clobbering your foe upside the head. But assessing whether more effective hunting technology is 'progressive' cannot be separated from its unintended social consequences, in my opinion.
The obvious example is that our ability to acquire knowledge and create tools and technologies, can be applied for the good of humanity, to improve our living conditions, health, etc, or to create weapons.

The role of morality has to do with making certain choices in spite of the fact that from an evolutionary perspective they may be detrimental. Again, our ability to increase the chances of survival and reproduction for all people even those that have genetic traits that are "weaker", is an example of a moral decision which goes against natural selection.

I'm not even sure this is what you are asking.

My initial point, though, had to do with our potential to overcome our violent instincts through evolution. I think it would be fair to say that we are the result of selection for violence. If we stop violence intentionally, we may allow the survival of the nonviolent lineages, so to speak.

grits-n-gravy 10-19-2008 07:19 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 94581)
Yes, I agree, but saying that it's amoral doesn't provide a definition of progress.

Let's start by defining progress. . . .

I thought we more or less started with the understanding that progress suggests evolution which is directional (linear) and purposeful (tending toward perfection or betterment). But in any case nailing down an acceptable definition of 'progress' here is a moot exercise since evolutionary biologists have abandoned any notion of progress in evolution long ago.

Quote:

My initial point, though, had to do with our potential to overcome our violent instincts through evolution. I think it would be fair to say that we are the result of selection for violence. If we stop violence intentionally, we may allow the survival of the nonviolent lineages, so to speak.
Even Vulcans recognize the limits of evolution. Meaning the best we can hope for are better methods of coping with our violent instincts; but the instincts themselves will always be with us.

Ocean 10-19-2008 07:44 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by grits-n-gravy (Post 94590)
I thought we more or less started with the understanding that progress suggests evolution which is directional (linear) and purposeful (tending toward perfection or betterment). But in any case nailing down an acceptable definition of 'progress' here is a moot exercise since evolutionary biologists have abandoned any notion of progress in evolution long ago.

It is interesting though that a notion of "progress" has been abandoned when, frankly it should have never been adopted to start with. Although we have been using this word in this discussion, it entered this conversation when you asked whether I thought evolution was linear and progressive and you asked whether it was for "the better". I tried to address your question by using the same terminology, although I don't particularly like the concept of progress because it's too vague for this kind of topic.


Quote:

Even Vulcans recognize the limits of evolution. Meaning the best we can hope for are better methods of coping with our violent instincts; but the instincts themselves will always be with us.
See, I don't talk to Vulcans very often. Next time I do, I'll strike this conversation. In the meantime, someone else will have to convince me by presenting some proof. Otherwise, it's all about speculation and I tend to like my own best!

Is there anything rational besides Star Trek wisdom that makes you think that violence is irreversible? Or are we talking about the irreversibility of the most minimal expression of a potential for violence such as self - defense? If that's the case we may agree.

grits-n-gravy 10-19-2008 08:37 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 94594)
It is interesting though that a notion of "progress" has been abandoned when, frankly it should have never been adopted to start with.

Your suggestion that natural instincts like hatred and violence are primitive relics we can evolve beyond clearly embraces a notion of "progress", though you now seem to be rejecting it.

Quote:

Is there anything rational besides Star Trek wisdom that makes you think that violence is irreversible? Or are we talking about the irreversibility of the most minimal expression of a potential for violence such as self - defense? If that's the case we may agree.
Are you aware of any human instincts that we no longer have? If so, we may want to begin there.

Ocean 10-19-2008 09:08 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by grits-n-gravy (Post 94605)
Your suggestion that natural instincts like hatred and violence are primitive relics we can evolve beyond clearly embraces a notion of "progress", though you now seem to be rejecting it.

Are you aware of any human instincts that we no longer have? If so, we may want to begin there.

I'm dropping the semantic discussion about "progress". We both know what we are talking about and it would be silly to continue this part of the discussion.

We can talk about evolution as it has occurred until now and whether there's been any kind of progress or not in terms of the basic human instincts. First I guess that we still have the basic instincts that we share with other animals. However, as far as I know we don't have a way to measure if there has been a decrease in the intensity of those instincts. So technically speaking I don't think we can establish that there has been no change. You could argue that if there has been any change, it has been very slow and minimal, and therefore, even if this trend continues it would be negligible or way to far into the future.

So, if we talk about the future of evolution related to violent instincts, I think that it is possible that we can decrease or eliminate those instincts. And the rate at which such changes could occur, could be much faster since we have the capacity to affect our own evolution. This is speculation, and as far as I know we don't have any evidence that would demonstrate otherwise. Of course, your speculation may be different from mine.

Francoamerican 10-20-2008 08:01 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Ocean (Post 94570)
But there are other mechanisms of evolution, which are pertinent to the human species predominantly. We have changed the rules of the game that Nature had established for natural selection. We are knowingly or not shaping evolution in novel ways. Unless we have a complete understanding of that process, we can't really accurately answer the questions that both you and I are posing here.

I do believe that cultural evolution and the evolution of morality are processes closely related to what you hinted at in your first post, of developing coping or adaptive strategies to curve our undesirable instinctive impulses. There is a possibility that over extended periods of time those intentional changes may be established genetically. But, I certainly don't know much about this and I'm basically speculating.

And finally, if 'we' were to evolve, it's understood it wouldn't happen overnight, and the legitimate question is whether the final product of this evolution should be labeled as 'us' or 'them.

Not being an evolutionary biologist I hesitate to comment here, but I doubt that there are biologists who would endorse the notion that intentionally acquired traits (=culture) can become hereditary. That is usually dismissed as the Lamarckian heresy. I would also question whether evolutionary biologists would feel comfortable speaking in terms of "progress," which again is a purely human or cultural category. There were certainly scientists in the 19th century who thought evolution and progress were continuous (Herbert Spencer comes to mind), but the idea has fallen into general disrepute.

I am always a bit troubled by the tendency, especially strong in Anglosaxondom, to let Darwinian ideas infect the discussion of history. Human beings are the only animals, as far as we know, that possess self-consciousness and can therefore conceive of themselves under certain descriptions, for example as being members of collectivities with a conception of the common good. And no one, as far as I know, has been able to explain how the brain generates self-consciousness and language.

Francoamerican 10-20-2008 08:11 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by grits-n-gravy (Post 94605)
Your suggestion that natural instincts like hatred and violence are primitive relics we can evolve beyond clearly embraces a notion of "progress", though you now seem to be rejecting it.



Are you aware of any human instincts that we no longer have? If so, we may want to begin there.

Well, we may not "evolve" beyond them, but we can certainly create the social and political orders that tame or subdue them (or sublimate them, to use Freudian language). In fact, we have done so. As I pointed out in my response to Ocean, progress is not a category of evolutionary biology. It is a category that we have been using for a rather brief period of time (roughly since the 18th century) to describe social and political changes that seem to be for the better....

Ocean 10-20-2008 09:58 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Not being an evolutionary biologist I hesitate to comment here, but I doubt that there are biologists who would endorse the notion that intentionally acquired traits (=culture) can become hereditary. That is usually dismissed as the Lamarckian heresy.
Yes, you shouldn’t confuse Lamarck’s theories, with the concept I was discussing. I was referring to a somewhat indirect mechanism. For example, many illnesses have a significant genetic predisposition. The natural course of some of those illnesses would be to shorten life expectancy or to interfere with reproduction. If left alone, overtime the genes that transmit those illnesses would tend to disappear. However, when we provide medical treatments that counteract the effects of the illness, we may prolong life and improve the chances of reproduction for the affected individuals. This in turn facilitates passing those genes to the offspring and therefore perpetuating the illness.

Another example, this time hypothetical would be that you develop a society where all the physically strong young men and women are sent to fight in wars. Many of them are killed, and the number of survivors is really minimal compared to the young men and women who are not strong and are spared from their violent death. Since “strength” is a set of physical characteristics like good muscle development, optimal bone structure, certain height, etc, that is genetically transmitted, after a number of generations you would end up with a population of ‘weaker’ people.

In terms of violence, in the past those individuals who were more violent may have had an evolutionary advantage by establishing dominance over other individuals who were less violent. The same would apply to groups, where the more violent group would exterminate the less violent and therefore more defenseless group.
However, if there was significant cultural ‘progress’ in developing non-violent means of conflict resolution, that selection factor for violence would be rendered ineffective. Perhaps, the less violent individuals are better negotiators and therefore, their chances for survival may be greater.

Quote:

I would also question whether evolutionary biologists would feel comfortable speaking in terms of "progress," which again is a purely human or cultural category. There were certainly scientists in the 19th century who thought evolution and progress were continuous (Herbert Spencer comes to mind), but the idea has fallen into general disrepute.
I agree, the term ‘progress’ shouldn’t be used as it’s not appropriate in the context of evolution. The term slipped into this discussion from a reference made by grits-n-gravy to ‘progressive’ and ‘for the better’. These are terms which don’t have real scientific meaning except in a very loose way and should have been avoided in this discussion.

Quote:

I am always a bit troubled by the tendency, especially strong in Anglosaxondom, to let Darwinian ideas infect the discussion of history. Human beings are the only animals, as far as we know, that possess self-consciousness and can therefore conceive of themselves under certain descriptions, for example as being members of collectivities with a conception of the common good.
This is an excellent point, and certainly relevant to this diavlog. David explained how he felt that evolutionary psychology only explained one aspect of the story. I think that there is growing recognition that Darwinian evolution as applied to individuals is insufficient. The idea of group evolution needs to be added to the equation. As our societies have developed, the simple concept of tribe has acquired a more complex structure. “Tribe” can apply to many kinds of affiliations. People can group and “bond” around nationality, or religion, or ethnicity, or common interests, etc. These ‘collectivities’ as you call them can contain principles where the good of the group is more important than the good of the individual.

Quote:

And no one, as far as I know, has been able to explain how the brain generates self-consciousness and language.
I’m not sure whether you refer to ‘generate’ as the physiological production of consciousness and language, or if you refer to how they originated in the course of evolution.

One way or the other, I don’t think that we have a very clear understanding. Both language and consciousness imply the ability to form well organized mental representations of reality. This is a fascinating and vast topic that would deserve many diavlogs by experts. And I believe there have already been some in the past.

cragger 10-20-2008 10:34 PM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Francoamerican (Post 94659)
Well, we may not "evolve" beyond them, but we can certainly create the social and political orders that tame or subdue them

Absolutely. While we may not so much tame or subdue some of these ingrained and irrational tendencies, we need to take them into account, and compensate for them in generating social and political systems if we want to achieve a set of rational goals.

This idea has been touched on in several past diavlogs. Dan Airely pointed out in the "Predictably Irrational" Free Will episode that people can and do sometimes compensate for their known irrational tendencies giving the example of his students, allowed to pick the due date for a term paper setting a date a week or so before the end of the term, knowing that they will put it off until the last minute and will need the extra "past-due" time. The students effectively structure the rules to compensate for their known failings.

A more politically relevant example was suggested in one of the discussions of constitutional law, when Eric Posner said that accumulation of dictatorial power by the executive was an inevitable evolution of a republic such as ours, and Jack Balkan insisted that this is the reason we need to structure the system so as to prevent it.

The need to build socio-political structures that recognize these fundamental aspects of human behavior that are becomming better known grows more acute. The problem of getting widespread enough understanding so as to get agreement on the necessary changes, and to implement changes despite the resistance of those who currently manipulate these human tendencies for their own gain is formidable.

Bobby G 10-20-2008 11:11 PM

Re: McCain Closes Within 5 of Ayers/Obama
 
I like to derail threads, so what do you think Wright and Ayers tell us about Obama? As for Rezko, I don't know the issue well. Has all the Rezko drama finished, or is there still stuff in the pipeline?

Wonderment 10-21-2008 05:12 AM

Re: Obama is, at best, a cynic of the most loathsome sort.
 
Quote:

I'm not sure of the details.
To put it mildly.

Francoamerican 10-21-2008 06:06 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Thank you Ocean for your thoughtful and thought-provoking reply. You are one of the few posters on these boards who isn't always raring to pick a fight. You clearly illustrate that evolution is not only "red in tooth and claw." (Just joking).

I take your correction on Lamarck. It certainly seems reasonable to assume that certain traits, such as a predisposition to disease or a love of violence, may become more common or less common in the long course of evolutionary history if human beings (or their primate ancestors) deliberately act to shield individuals who would otherwise perish from disease or exclude those who are habitually violent. Yes, this sounds plausible. I just don't know whether it is true. I haven't read enough in the field of evolutionary biology. It would be interesting if Bloggingheads could bring in an expert on this subject. Well, I suppose Bob Wright is an expert!

In saying that we have no understanding how the brain (a physical entity) generates self-consciousness and language, I only meant that nothing I have read comes even near to solving the mystery of how neurons etc. give rise to our power to reason and think about ourselves.

Francoamerican 10-21-2008 06:28 AM

Re: Science Saturday: Tribes and Prejudices
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by cragger (Post 94717)
Absolutely. While we may not so much tame or subdue some of these ingrained and irrational tendencies, we need to take them into account, and compensate for them in generating social and political systems if we want to achieve a set of rational goals.

A more politically relevant example was suggested in one of the discussions of constitutional law, when Eric Posner said that accumulation of dictatorial power by the executive was an inevitable evolution of a republic such as ours, and Jack Balkan insisted that this is the reason we need to structure the system so as to prevent it.

The need to build socio-political structures that recognize these fundamental aspects of human behavior that are becomming better known grows more acute. The problem of getting widespread enough understanding so as to get agreement on the necessary changes, and to implement changes despite the resistance of those who currently manipulate these human tendencies for their own gain is formidable.

Interesting point: "Compensation" for shortcomings and the possibility of abuse seems to me a basic mode of moral and political reasoning. Certainly the authors of the Constitution were very conscious of the need to counter the tendency of power seekers to accumulate more and more power, whether for their own advantage or simply because power, as Henry Kissinger once said (I believe), is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Hence the "separation of powers" and "checks and balances."

Unfortunately, the American system often seems to have been designed to thwart any coherent policy formation...

Ocean 10-21-2008 07:40 AM

Re: Obama, the B- student without honors, crashes Harvard.
 
Would you mind informing us about McCain, and Palin's (since it's seriously questionable that, in case McCain was elected, he would make it to the end of his first term) academic accomplishments? I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.

Ocean 10-21-2008 10:27 AM

Re: Whaa-mbulance: Ministry of Truth Arrives
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by kidneystones (Post 94758)
Oops!!! Talking about the complete lack of vetting, bogus academic history and nutty associates of George Bush III and the borg arrive demanding we 'change the subject.' Time to talk about McCain/Palin.

When people have to decide between two options, it's always helpful to compare side by side the virtues and shortcomings. Considering you are so invested in digging into the past in such fine detail about one party, you must have done the same for the other. I'm not really interested, though, in Palin's pre-school art work or how long it took her to speak in complete sentences, unless that is relevant for her current candidacy. In terms of McCain, it isn't even an issue since whatever he learned or accomplished is now being lost by his cognitive deterioration.

But, of course, you don't have to change the subject if the main goal of such detailed scrutiny is to release your frustration. Feel free. But don't resent if others wonder from time to time about the purpose of your trashing. If you are suspecting Obama's victory in the election, what are you trying to achieve here? Just curious...


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