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Old 12-20-2011, 12:37 PM
Ray in Seattle Ray in Seattle is offline
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: NW Washington
Posts: 441
Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

Originally Posted by sugarkang View Post
If I reduce your argument to barebones, it seems to be something like this: "everyone acts in accordance with their desires; to want is the most natural of impulses."

I agree that we all have desires and those determine which goals we pursue. However, when I think of "natural impulses," I think of a special category of base instincts common to all people that transcend ethnicity, culture, time, etc. Basic physical desires, e.g., sex, food, companionship, etc., seem to fit; we might include Haidt's five moral foundations as well. But what about people with long term goals or abstract desires? I don't think those are aptly described as "natural impulses."
I see in your reply what I call cognicentrism. This is the belief that we humans effectively have two brains; an emotional brain that follows our primitive desires and an improved cognitive brain that's capable of guiding us to more enlightened behaviors - such as those based on morality, altruism, reasoning, etc. It follows from this narrative that our cognitive brain is where our humanity resides - which is what sets us apart from other animals. This is a pervasive cultural belief that almost every member of Western civilization has internalized to the extent that even thinking about other possibilities feels disorienting and uncomfortable. I am in a small minority that question this belief.

I suggest that our brain takes the result of our cognition - when we apply it to a behavior decision - and based on its past experiences it (intuitively) assigns an emotional salience appropriate to the situation at hand. It is then that salience that competes for its choice against any other perhaps less enlightened alternatives. I suggest that the final choice is left to that intuitive part of our brain - which I believe has evolved a very exquisite and nuanced ability to arrive at behavior decisions that will prove beneficial. The brain is predicting which choice will optimize our emotional well-being - which is what all mammalian brains do when choosing behavior. But in this case it has included the results of any human reasoning that we may have applied to the question - appropriately weighted to reflect its prior experience using cognition in similar circumstances.

Did evolution create a separate decision-making brain in humans over the last 200,000 years that can over-rule the older decision-making brain that evolved in mammals over the last 200 million years. (Actually, we share that older decision-making apparatus with all vertebrates, not just mammals, and similar mechanisms can be identified in almost all animal life. The basic mechanism of organisms making behavior decisions to optimize their well-being must go back to the first life forms on Earth - otherwise they would have died out.)

Or, did the human mammalian brain simply evolve along with its newly evolved cognitive apparatus to recognize that module's behavior-guiding outputs - using the same tokens (emotional salience) that the brain was already wired to recognize? I suggest this was the case. One reason I prefer this explanation is that it offers a more reasonable accounting for what you describe as an "unnatural impulse" such as your example of Harikiri.

Harikiri was an extremely potent cultural belief in the Samurai class in feudal Japan. It was a member of a set of identity beliefs centered around the notion of personal honor which was always subject to risking one's life to preserve. Based on a Samurai's identity beliefs - risking one's life in combat or taking one's life to preserve one's honor was the norm. And so the Samurai's brain gave such a choice - in a relevant context - more than enough emotional salience to overcome any "natural impulse" to avoid death.
Self determination for DNA

Last edited by Ray in Seattle; 12-20-2011 at 03:52 PM..
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