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  1. #301
    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    To quote (and poorly translate) Christian Vogel, who was the founder of German sociobiology (and modern primatology): 'Culture is on the leash of nature'
    A good friend of mine is a PhD sociologist. He'd say the same thing about you he says about me: social darwinist! ;) He doesn't say that because he thinks I believe the weak should be left to die out so the strong can prosper - I don't - but because I tend to believe social phenomena have a natural/evolutionary explanation.

    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    This is a very hypothetical question. One which I don't think is really possible to answer, since I don't know whether or not we can imagine such a society. We're all socialised in a different way, and most of us probably have a different understanding of what 'equality' means. The problem also is that we are always formed by our surroundings. In order to create this hypothecical society we need to establich some kind of almost dystopian like society, where Children are not raised by their parents or families but through other means (maybe via some kind of 'evil' A.I.?)
    I agree entirely, and I was asking it as such. I still think it's worth asking/discussing though, even if it's impossible to disentangle our cultural sex-identity from our natural sex-identity.

    We're all victims of our upbringing, as they say. Our instincts about right and wrong are, in part, a product of our environment. If we were having this conversation 200 year ago, or 200 years in the future, the cultural background would likely be totally different. The baseline moral consensus we share would also, consequently, be totally different. For example, neither of us think it's ok to perform that experiment, and hand kids over to the evil AI :P

    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    What do we define as male and female phenotype? As I said, the phenotype can vary drastically and is influenced by numerous aspects. I think we need to be careful not to simply assume that what we see in our present day society is the 'normal' phenotype.
    Indeed. In fact I said as much in an earlier post.

    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    However recently I asked myself the same question. Are we really trying to achieve equality or do we simply want everyone to behave like men?
    But I am a man (although a very confused one) and I don't know how much I'm asking myself this just because I think I perceive this discussion in such a way.
    This is also one of the reasons I normally try to stay away from those debates. I don't trust my own judgement.
    I do have an opinion about this, it's mostly based on my general dislike of typology and the general tendency of humans to judge people based upon superficial characters rather then upon what they do. I don't think that anyone should ever have to justify themselves for doing what they want to do or even have to face adversity, just based upon things which lay outside their own control. But in regards to everything beyond that? There's just too much confusion in my head in order for me to formulate anything resembling an actual opinion. So I'm not even going to try.
    I don't trust mine either, which is partly why I'm asking all these hypothetical questions rather than expressing an opinion. I've bolded part of a sentence above which I strongly agree with. Ultimately, no individual should be told what they can or cannot do based on their sex (or any innate quality). If however, in an analysis of society, you discover trends amongst men and women, in terms of life-choices, behaviour, etc. what do you then do with that information?

    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    How do you define 'better'? In what context? Is biology even a good way to measure that? Isn't this also a completely subjective thing? Doesn't this change depending on what kind of society you life in, what kind of economical situation you are, how the society you live in is structured demographically?
    In the context of the conversation about this study, simply as "more" competitive. In general, better meaning "out perform" rather than "better for society". These are interesting questions though. Allow me to advance the discussion with yet another hypothetical:

    Suppose you create what you believe to be an equal society. Suppose you still measure different trends in the things men and women tend to prefer to spend their time doing. Suppose women tend to choose different sorts of careers, which tend not to pay as well. Then you have questions to answer. Are women being socialised by our historically patriarchal society to simply believe they can do less? Are they being encouraged to be less ambitious, to strive for a lower standard of attainment than men? Presumably if you've created what you believe to be an equal society, all these social pressures on women would have to be sub-text, rather than main-text. Either that, or, as we hinted at in the bit above this, we're simply ill-equipped to judge equality because we are ourselves the product or a patriarchal society - i.e. we can't tell when women are being socialised to be "less" because we're men.

    Or, is the way we infer value the problem? Is it that the careers which pay more, the ways we evaluate how useful the way someone chooses to spend their time is, are inherently patriarchal? Do we value male characteristics more than female characteristics in society? Does the system, which was designed and built by men, simply reward and encourage male behaviour rather than female? And thus, when we measure female attainment against this scale, of course they appear to underperform - the odds are tipped in mens' favour.

    This was really the crux of my point. How do we know when we have achieved an equal society? I believe we have to try to understand how much biology/nature comes into play in order to better understand that question, and to better measure equality.

    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    Don't get me wrong, I think evolutionary biology could tell us a lot about ourselves but in order to do that, we need to understand it better then we do now. As I said: We might know our Genome and it's possible for everyone with enough money to get his or her own sequence, but this sequence doesn't tell you much about who you are and it won't tell you much about how you became who you are.
    Agreed! I'm a scientist by education, so am firmly of the view that more information, greater understanding, is always better than less.

    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    You're also running at risk of commiting a natural fallacy by assuming that the 'natural' state is the ethically better one and it's best to avoid that completely. Nature is a very bad when it comes to moral guidance, since there is no moral in nature. We just happen to have the tendency to project these things into it in order to justify or own ideologies.
    I'm not, honestly. I'm just asking questions, not providing answers. I don't believe the more natural state is, by virtue of it being the more natural state, more ethical. It might also be more demonstrably ethical, but not because it's more natural.

    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    In regards to your other points. I think it comes down to whether you want a more individualistic or collectivistic society (the eternal struggle between freedom and equality, here it is again). I would like for people to be able to do what they want, irregardless of their predispositions; whether they're biological or cultural, or both or something else.
    Yeah, agreed. This conversation isn't about intervening in society directly to pigeon-hole people. It's more about trying to understand whether someone's choices are a consequence of their nature, or some sort of oppressive regime.
    Last edited by RandomTangent; 16-05-2013 at 10:44 AM.

  2. #302
    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Well that was interesting. Prepare for incoherent jamramblin:

    Tangentially: nurture doesn't seem distinct from nature. If minds are physical products of causal (if probabilistic and chaotic) systems, then all social phenomena are "nature".

    I've never seen "free will" formulated meaningfully even by eloquent compatibilists such as Dennett and Blackford. Individualistic or self-based shoring-up of the nature/nurture divide just isn't persuasive to me.

    It's comforting to conceive of oneself a special snowflake, as a distinct and uniform "me". I personally don't cherish that idea though; I picked up meditation and learned that if I'm mindful and quiet for a while "I" eventually stops being noticeable (along with attendant problems of the will e.g. joy & suffering, love & hate, etc). It's also become acutely obvious to me that the running conception I have of myself outside of meditation (my "I") is a constantly-morphing amalgamation of influences, some of which are internal but most of which are extrinsic to my body and indeed beyond my direct control.

    That may sound like woo but such a perspective doesn't require any nonsense or leaps of faith. There's plenty of ongoing (secular) research into mindfulness, for those interested.
    Both random and interesting - two of the most important qualifiers for any tangent :P

    I think they're only superficially distinct in the narrow-ish definitions the two terms take in the context of debates such as this one. I.e. nature being our genetic predisposition - our innate, programmed, behavioural tendencies; nurture being the influence on our minds of our environment, which constitutes events, people, relationships, things, etc. As has been touched on, our genetic makeup is guided by our environment and our environment - at least socially - is guided by our genetic makeup, so even taking these definitions, it's easy to see how hard the two are to separate in practice. Even if one assumes our behaviour is entirely deterministic - even if chaotically so - one can still make the distinction as to whether a particular behaviour has been predetermined by exposure to the environment, or by our genetic template (or, as is more likely, some weighted superposition of the two). But it is all one natural system, with essentially two natural processes which feed into one another.

    A few questions arise for me in your treatment of individualism above, and I suppose they naturally lead me to want to define "free will". If one takes a very simple definition, that it is the capacity for human beings to behave in a way which is NOT entirely deterministic, then you could argue a radioactive nuclei has free will, though is obviously not an "individual" in the sense that it is aware of its own existence (as far as we know!!). So, is it necessary or desirable to conflate free will with ego?

    I'm a natural scientist, so I would tend to take a natural science view of the questions of free will and the sense of self, rather than a philosophical one. There is scope in our understanding of nature for events not to be purely deterministic, and thus, some scope for the decision making to be probabilistic rather than an illusory predetermination. In other words, science doesn't necessarily tell us - yet - that there is no such thing as free will, or that decision making/choice is an illusion.

    I share your scepticism though. My instinct here is purely anecdotal, but if I think about being in exactly the same circumstances twice, can I envisage myself making a different decision each time? The answer "yes" would seem unscientific, but in quantum mechanics, that isn't necessarily the case.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Back OT: this is roundabout, but bear with me: should we force our modern dislike of capital punishment on foreign cultures which promote capital punishment? We must moralize to answer that question. The secular morality would look something like, "human lives have innate value and should not be forcibly ended". I don't think this claim is true in a strict sense, but nonetheless I think it has pragmatic value. But is it better than other competing ideas?

    I think secular moral notions are better than religious ones by a sort of Occam's Razor virtue; they make the fewest assumptions possible. The assumption in this case is "human lives are self-justifying" as opposed to "deities and/or dogmas justify human lives". So in a strict sense, the most stripped-down assumption about the value of life is superior to all others, therefore, yes, we should force the view on foreigners.

    Inevitably, though, one must decide between strict adherence to a moral principle and a utilitarian interpretation of it and this complicates the crap out of things. For example: is it preferable to intervene in foreign genocides if it requires killing of belligerents? Should we force our cultural values on foreign societies if it entails prolonged social unrest in said societies? More broadly: how much subsumption of the individual into the collective is proper?

    To me these sorts of things are take-them-as-they-come irresolvable issues, and (bringing things back to feminism) I think the same is true of our conception of gender. In other words, "what it means" psychologically to be a man or woman (as opposed to being physiologically male or female) is fluid and irresolvable in universal terms and therefore must be considered case-by-case in contextual frameworks. ofc physiology is also fluid but that only reinforces the point, to wit: some generalizations may be useful and prevalent in culture but we shouldn't treat them as universally or absolutely true (e.g. "killing is bad" and "distinct notions of gender are useful" and "females have vaginas and males have penises").

    That was a long way to say not a lot. I guess a concise formulation of the ethical prerogative would be: we should strive for a society in which sex and gender aren't unfair roadblocks and in which body types and sexual preferences are not unfairly shamed or discriminated against. That's not as succinct as "thou shalt not murder" but "sexism and puritanism are counterproductive" doesn't seem adequately illustrative.

    Apologies for blathering. This is a fascinating topic!
    The bit in bold is the nail on the head, I think. I suppose the question then comes back to: how do you know when you've satisfied that prerogative? You can create a society which isn't institutionally sexist, for example, but measuring whether sexism is an unconscious influence on society is a whole other ball game. As I mentioned in my reply to Mokka, you may well be left to wonder, after creating a society which does not discriminate based on sex, why one can observe differences between the choices men and women make. The question is, what do you do with that knowledge? Is the explanation that men and women are simply naturally different to some degree? Or is it that one sex has been effectively socialised to oppress itself? Are those different choices equally valued by society? Should they be?

    In respect of the rest of your OT section, I think you eloquently explain why morality is rarely a black-and-white issue. Context is almost always important, which is nicely elucidated by the Trolley problem. The truth is, sometimes we are forced to choose between two evils. In these circumstances, moral absolutism is of no utility in helping us to reach a decision. One must consider the relative consequences of each action, rather than the individual actions themselves in a vacuum.

    It is a fascinating topic!
    Last edited by RandomTangent; 16-05-2013 at 12:14 PM.

  3. #303
    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Well that was interesting. Prepare for incoherent jamramblin:


    Back OT: this is roundabout, but bear with me: should we force our modern dislike of capital punishment on foreign cultures which promote capital punishment? We must moralize to answer that question. The secular morality would look something like, "human lives have innate value and should not be forcibly ended". I don't think this claim is true in a strict sense, but nonetheless I think it has pragmatic value. But is it better than other competing ideas?

    I think secular moral notions are better than religious ones by a sort of Occam's Razor virtue; they make the fewest assumptions possible. The assumption in this case is "human lives are self-justifying" as opposed to "deities and/or dogmas justify human lives". So in a strict sense, the most stripped-down assumption about the value of life is superior to all others, therefore, yes, we should force the view on foreigners.

    Inevitably, though, one must decide between strict adherence to a moral principle and a utilitarian interpretation of it and this complicates the crap out of things. For example: is it preferable to intervene in foreign genocides if it requires killing of belligerents? Should we force our cultural values on foreign societies if it entails prolonged social unrest in said societies? More broadly: how much subsumption of the individual into the collective is proper?

    To me these sorts of things are take-them-as-they-come irresolvable issues, and (bringing things back to feminism) I think the same is true of our conception of gender. In other words, "what it means" psychologically to be a man or woman (as opposed to being physiologically male or female) is fluid and irresolvable in universal terms and therefore must be considered case-by-case in contextual frameworks. ofc physiology is also fluid but that only reinforces the point, to wit: some generalizations may be useful and prevalent in culture but we shouldn't treat them as universally or absolutely true (e.g. "killing is bad" and "distinct notions of gender are useful" and "females have vaginas and males have penises").
    Put as succinctly as I can, when asking "Should we try to impose our belief on others?" I think the question should be "Can a logical case be made for allowing this to continue?" and obviously, "Are many innocent people being harmed by this practice?"
    That can be applied to all the questions you pose here to give what I think is a pretty satisfactory answer to most of the questions you pose here:

    Capital punishment? Still practiced in many otherwise fairly civilized countries. There are rational arguments to be made defending it (it may deter crime etc.)

    Secularism? Many people even in secular countries still hold and take comfort in fundamentalist religious beliefs. Secularism in government should be at least encouraged but secularism in private is not something that can be effectively forced on people.

    Genocide? While attempts to be made to justify the morality of genocide it is pretty easy to dismiss those as mad ravings. I think we can confidently say that genocide is a terrible and evil thing and not a valid and cultural practice. The supplemental question you pose about under what circumstances we should intervene to stop genocide and other evil practices in other parts of the world is so morally complex that I don't want to even try to address it here.

    In the second part of your post:

    "Killing is wrong": Perhaps not absolutely universally true but in most cases it is. I would argue that very few people will ever be in a situation in their lives where it is morally right for them to kill another person so the very few exceptions don't stop this from being an assumption most people can safely make.

    "Females have vaginas and males have penises" In almost all cases a simple biological fact. I don't think the anatomical differences between the sexes are really being debated by anyone :)

    "Distinct notions of gender are useful?": And here is the crux of this debate. If you are going to say that distinct notions of gender are useful and expect others in society to accept and live by that then you have to justify that belief. Personally I can see a lot of harm that comes from arbitrary distinctions between genders in society and have never seen a good case made for why they are beneficial. I think notions of gender are far closer to religious choice than anything else you bring up, in that they should be a personal choice, not something that is arbitrarily decided upon and imposed on society as a whole.

    I don't see anything wrong with people emulating "macho man" or "girly girl" stereotypes if that makes them happy. I do , however, have a huge problem with those people trying to impose those beliefs on others in society. In the same way I think you can believe whatever you want about God but don't try to force that belief on me or others in society.



  4. #304
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    And I think you're overestimating the complexity of human societies in general. I think most of our behaviour (especially group behaviour) is very similar to what you see in other primates as well.
    But that's just it: It's not. It's not even close. The endless struggle between alpha/beta/omega males, the lack of cooperation or trade or social obligation... you're missing a lot if you think it all just stems from there. Our aboriginal culture and traditions are just aggregate Best Practices, but fundamentally the underlying system is far and away different than our evolutionary cousins and much more abstracted: Even before our inception of sedentary, hierarchical organizations, our structure simply never resembled theirs.
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  5. #305
    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    But that's just it: It's not. It's not even close. The endless struggle between alpha/beta/omega males, the lack of cooperation or trade or social obligation... you're missing a lot if you think it all just stems from there. Our aboriginal culture and traditions are just aggregate Best Practices, but fundamentally the underlying system is far and away different than our evolutionary cousins and much more abstracted: Even before our inception of sedentary, hierarchical organizations, our structure simply never resembled theirs.
    Out of curiosity, is it your view that human society and culture has no biological explanation whatsoever? If so, do you believe that the behaviour of individuals is not genetically influenced, or that these influences do not impinge on wider social/group/cultural behaviour?

  6. #306
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    There's a funny quote my partner relayed to me about evolutionary psychology a few days ago. 'Where men and women are different, but humans and chimps are the same.'

  7. #307
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Faldrath's Avatar
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    I've done the "nature vs. nurture" debate more times than I care to count, so I'll just sum up the point that solves the matter to me: "the only thing that's natural about human beings is: we can change whatever is natural about human beings".

  8. #308
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    Quote Originally Posted by RandomTangent View Post
    Out of curiosity, is it your view that human society and culture has no biological explanation whatsoever?
    None that can't and hasn't already been overcome many times over throughout history. Human societies are wide and variegated indeed, and there's something to be said for language and abstract thought.
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  9. #309
    Quote Originally Posted by Serenegoose View Post
    There's a funny quote my partner relayed to me about evolutionary psychology a few days ago. 'Where men and women are different, but humans and chimps are the same.'
    Ha! That's a funny quote, but probably a strawman.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    None that can't and hasn't already been overcome many times over throughout history. Human societies are wide and variegated indeed, and there's something to be said for language and abstract thought.
    I mostly agree with that, although "overcome" is a strong word, and I think it varies depending on the natural behaviour in question. I would argue what we call instincts are probably mostly natural/innate, and are still present/influential to varying extent even if their expression has been (in some cases) severely curtailed/moderated. To take a trivial example: sex drive. I also don't believe that simply because a behaviour is naturally derived, it is automatically desirable to override it socially. Another trivial example: a parent's natural instinct to protect and care for their children. This is an instinct most (all?) societies have selected for and adopted, and presumably most of us would want exactly that to happen.
    Last edited by RandomTangent; 17-05-2013 at 12:52 PM.

  10. #310
    Network Hub MOKKA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    But that's just it: It's not. It's not even close. The endless struggle between alpha/beta/omega males, the lack of cooperation or trade or social obligation... you're missing a lot if you think it all just stems from there. Our aboriginal culture and traditions are just aggregate Best Practices, but fundamentally the underlying system is far and away different than our evolutionary cousins and much more abstracted: Even before our inception of sedentary, hierarchical organizations, our structure simply never resembled theirs.
    I think we're very far apart on this one, which has probably to do with us coming from different backgrounds (at least that's what I assume here). But to be honest I think it would be interesting (and quite challenging) to actually discuss this much deeper than it's possible in this forum. I'm also not really an 'expert' on the evolution of human behaviour (I'm more into bones you know) and am very hesitant to commit myself further than what I've already said.
    I still think it's a fascinating topic though and one which is in desperate need of people who actually want to do science and not just tell stories.

    Quote Originally Posted by Serenegoose View Post
    There's a funny quote my partner relayed to me about evolutionary psychology a few days ago. 'Where men and women are different, but humans and chimps are the same.'
    Evolutionary Psychology is a huge pile of populistic garbage.* Never trust anyone who simply assumes that our ancestors lived in hunter gatherer groups, just because it happens that quite a lot of 'primitive' (please don't take this word literally, I'm just too bad at english and in desperate need of sleep) cultures today happen to be hunter gatherers.
    Always keep in mind that fossils do not talk, therefore about 99% of behavioural assumptions about our ancestors are just that: assumptions.

    I think I'm done with derrailing this thread any further. It's the second evening I spend answering here instead of playing Dark Souls. It was fun though.

    *I'm of course generalizing quite a bit here. Somewhere out there, there might be an evolutionary psychologist who knows what he's talking about.

  11. #311
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    Doesn't nurture alter nature?

    [edit] i have to go back through some pages and see why the topic has changed to this. ;-)
    Last edited by BillButNotBen; 18-05-2013 at 12:32 PM.

  12. #312
    Network Hub Jambe's Avatar
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    This meandering brain-fart of mine is mostly irrelevant to the ~women~ discussion and is mostly rehashed stuff from prior writings that I'm more or less constantly mulling over. Just a warning.

    Quote Originally Posted by RandomTangent View Post
    I think they're only superficially distinct in the narrow-ish definitions the two terms take in the context of debates such as this one. I.e. nature being our genetic predisposition - our innate, programmed, behavioural tendencies; nurture being the influence on our minds of our environment, which constitutes events, people, relationships, things, etc. As has been touched on, our genetic makeup is guided by our environment and our environment - at least socially - is guided by our genetic makeup, so even taking these definitions, it's easy to see how hard the two are to separate in practice. Even if one assumes our behaviour is entirely deterministic - even if chaotically so - one can still make the distinction as to whether a particular behaviour has been predetermined by exposure to the environment, or by our genetic template (or, as is more likely, some weighted superposition of the two). But it is all one natural system, with essentially two natural processes which feed into one another.
    Right, there's a basic problem of kind here. Our genetic template is as much a part of "the environment" as a quasar or a single photon or other people's templates. The supposed dichotomy of nature and nurture doesn't really seem to be a dichotomy but rather two different perspectives on one thing. In a sense this is self-annihilative, which doesn't bother me.

    Quote Originally Posted by RandomTangent View Post
    A few questions arise for me in your treatment of individualism above, and I suppose they naturally lead me to want to define "free will". If one takes a very simple definition, that it is the capacity for human beings to behave in a way which is NOT entirely deterministic, then you could argue a radioactive nuclei has free will, though is obviously not an "individual" in the sense that it is aware of its own existence (as far as we know!!). So, is it necessary or desirable to conflate free will with ego?

    I'm a natural scientist, so I would tend to take a natural science view of the questions of free will and the sense of self, rather than a philosophical one. There is scope in our understanding of nature for events not to be purely deterministic, and thus, some scope for the decision making to be probabilistic rather than an illusory predetermination. In other words, science doesn't necessarily tell us - yet - that there is no such thing as free will, or that decision making/choice is an illusion.

    I share your scepticism though. My instinct here is purely anecdotal, but if I think about being in exactly the same circumstances twice, can I envisage myself making a different decision each time? The answer "yes" would seem unscientific, but in quantum mechanics, that isn't necessarily the case.
    There's scope in our understanding for decision making to be both probabilistic and illusory. Our consciousnesses seem to be downstream of – i.e. they only congeal after – biological processes, most of which we don't control and most of which we have little or no insight into. Since I've no reason to believe minds can retroactively alter the physiology on which they ride, I don't see where any meaningful "freedom" of the will can come from. In so many words, "we can do what we will but cannot will what we will." Put another way: our minds seem to be witnesses, not authors.

    Countless people over the years (both religious and non) have pointed out that this is trivially easy to notice if one just closes one's eyes for a bit and pays attention to what it's like to "be". Get to a quiet space and just let "whatever" come to mind, then take that experience itself as an object of attention and let it recede, and do this with each new thought or sensation. The critical thing to notice is that thoughts and sensations just arise in consciousness, and one never causes them to arise – they just do. That is true of anything one can ever think or feel. If consciousness is just a constant process of noticing thoughts and feelings that well up from beyond our control, whence freedom? Also notice that all external events (e.g. these words) were not "caused" by a mind, either; they simply "are".

    One could conceptually reduce any possible justification for any possible behavior all the way back to the singularity (or, if one craves a touch of woo, back to quantum fluctuations). But even if a random quantum event was the absolute, irreducible origin of some thought or behavior, one still wouldn't have "chosen" or "caused" the event. So we're not authors of our consciousnesses, we simply are our consciousnesses. The notion that we're authors of our minds is (apart from being logically incoherent) not even necessary, and thus, again, Occam's Razor minces it into irrelevance.

    I don't think association of ego with free will is a conflation; like with nature/nurture, they seem to be differently-worded perspectives on the same phenomenon. Descriptions of free will are subjective, yes? So they're of, as opposed to extrinsic to, egos. When people say "free" they tend to mean something like "unbounded" or "uncoerced", and the conception of ego is the same (it's something like "a self as distinct from other selves and the wider world"). Alas, again, nobody exists in a vacuum; none of us are perfectly uncoerced or distinct. Much of philosophy is overlapping and circular fluff of this caliber.

    Conceptually: if I locked you in a room and let you do whatever you want inside that room, would you be "free"? I don't think so. I think the universe is this room, and we can't not be in it (our minds themselves are part of it). I think a lot of nature/nurture talk is people trying to say "there's not really a room/spoon" or whatever via handwavy vagueness. I think (in the west, anyway) this is generally because individualism is so strongly embedded in culture and many people don't like the idea of fate; they like to think they're "more than mere iterative nature" or whatever. I don't have a problem with fate, though, I just don't think it entails fatalism (an important difference). One could use woo to bring pretty much any conceptual framework in line with various populist idealizations of humans as neatly-discrete forces-unto-themselves, but again, I like Occam's Razor.

    The probabilities defense of free will is like saying "we're rolling dice, and the dice might come up differently if we could reroll!" That's true but it's beside the point: even if one could reroll (we'll suppose that for purposes of argument), one would still just be rolling dice; one wouldn't have magicked the dice into dreidels or something. The point is that there's a bounded system there – a game with rules, so to speak – and we don't "choose" anything about the bounds/rules, we just inhabit the universe/play the game.

    I think this distinction is apropos and important: the world seems causal but hard determinism doesn't seem true (i.e. there seem to be no hidden variables). So, for example, "smoking causes lung cancer" is true. Nonetheless smoking doesn't always cause lung cancer; it isn't a "hard determinant". It clearly needn't be, though, in order for us to make meaningful and useful scientific and moral judgements about smoking.

    Quote Originally Posted by RandomTangent View Post
    As I mentioned in my reply to Mokka, you may well be left to wonder, after creating a society which does not discriminate based on sex, why one can observe differences between the choices men and women make. The question is, what do you do with that knowledge? Is the explanation that men and women are simply naturally different to some degree? Or is it that one sex has been effectively socialised to oppress itself? Are those different choices equally valued by society? Should they be?
    Well, suppose we did engineer such a society. Imagine we could alter the senses of humans such that they were unable to detect sex variation. This "society" wouldn't last long, would it?

    I can't envision how we could make "a society that does not discriminate based on sex" if it must be a human society, because sex seems a part of the human condition. I mean, if we bioengineered ourselves into asexual creatures, would we be "human" or some different species? This is fun semantic territory to me – Theseus' Paradox looms!

    Anyway, that's a roundabout way to say I think the questions you asked are irresolvable because they're innately moralistic (that was probably your point, but I can't be sure). I can't conceive of a scenario in which we shouldn't insert the word "unfair" before the word "discriminate", and that turns the questions into many endless moral mazes. Some discrimination is good and some is bad and we can't just assign an absolute "good" or "bad" label to the activity.

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Well, suppose we did engineer such a society. Imagine we could alter the senses of humans such that they were unable to detect sex variation. This "society" wouldn't last long, would it?
    Except nobody but cynical republican racists would say something as puerile as "I don't see race," normally as preface to a rant about how ethnic minorities are "still playing the race card." Of course we see difference. The problem is in creating and maintaining a system where difference is held as inferiority, and that is not written in our genetic code.

    Culture is not a monolithic entity nor is it unassailable, and there are many, many instances of societies that have structured themselves differently, and with interesting results. To present a fantastically simple example, in some aboriginal cultures, women are "givers" because they grant birth, in others women are "takers" because they drain semen. In some, they hold political control because only they can determine lineage, in others they are removed from political control because they are mere recipients/vessels and the men steadfastly determine lineage.

    Hell, there are cultures where, because marriage was and is an inherently economic practice, polygamy works both ways. There are cultures were homosexuals were and are highly regarded because they provide one sex special insight into the other sex. There are cultures where clans - as a semi-abstract extension of the family unit - never formed and instead pre-determined individual interconnections were the basis of long-distance group relations: A system, consequently, where war cannot work because it'd be too complicated.

    Culture is not so biologically determined that these physical differences mean a jot nor twiddle because we live almost entirely in a made-up system based on layers and layers of idiosyncratic and ideological interpretations of ambiguous markers.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Except nobody but cynical republican racists would say something as puerile as "I don't see race," normally as preface to a rant about how ethnic minorities are "still playing the race card." Of course we see difference. The problem is in creating and maintaining a system where difference is held as inferiority, and that is not written in our genetic code.
    Sure. I don't think such puerile views are the norm; I was just parsing RT's questions reductio ad absurdum. I can do the same thing with your last sentence there: consider discrimination between murderers and non-murderers. Surely the difference between the two is indicative of what we might call moral or lawful inferiority, right? To address the thrust of your post: we can hold certain behaviors to be inferior without considering a human being in its entirety as inferior (that is to say, we can "hate the sin" and be compassionate towards the sinner).

    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Culture is not a monolithic entity nor is it unassailable, and there are many, many instances of societies that have structured themselves differently, and with interesting results. To present a fantastically simple example, in some aboriginal cultures, women are "givers" because they grant birth, in others women are "takers" because they drain semen. In some, they hold political control because only they can determine lineage, in others they are removed from political control because they are mere recipients/vessels and the men steadfastly determine lineage.

    Hell, there are cultures where, because marriage was and is an inherently economic practice, polygamy works both ways. There are cultures were homosexuals were and are highly regarded because they provide one sex special insight into the other sex. There are cultures where clans - as a semi-abstract extension of the family unit - never formed and instead pre-determined individual interconnections were the basis of long-distance group relations: A system, consequently, where war cannot work because it'd be too complicated.

    Culture is not so biologically determined that these physical differences mean a jot nor twiddle because we live almost entirely in a made-up system based on layers and layers of idiosyncratic and ideological interpretations of ambiguous markers.
    I find that all largely agreeable except perhaps for the last sentence. If our bodies are "nature", and if there is no apparent quantum of "self" or "mind" clearly distinct from "nature", then whence culture? Well, from nature, clearly. Our very ability to think – to invent "idiosyncratic and ideological interpretations of ambiguous markers" in the first place – is a biological feature, is it not? In what meaningful sense could it not be?

    One can dive into woo sinkholes trying to erect absolute barriers between nature and mind but I really like Occam's Razor there. Unless doing so produces remarkably super-useful ideas, I'd rather not. We can have all our morality and law and social order and so forth without deluding ourselves that we're some Physics-Transcendent Union of Boring Everyday Flesh with Spooktastic Mystery Not-Flesh. I think humbleness is, it at least some situations, a virtue.

    If social systems are either chaotically or probabilistically unknowable that doesn't mean they're abiological, it just means they're... either chaotically or probabilistically unknowable. I dislike thinking of culture as distinctly non-biological for the same reason I dislike thinking that human minds are discretely separable from the rest of the environment: it seems rather obvious to me that culture is a permutation of biology as much as minds are.

    I'd argue that not conceiving of selves as perfectly distinct can make one less likely to capriciously stop causal bucks (so to speak) at given individuals. It can make us more compassionate! Similarly, if one views culture as complex networks of biological behaviors one can be more accepting of change to culture, i.e. less likely to think of traditions as being self-justifying and more likely to think of them as being imperfect nebulous systems necessitated by never having the whole picture.

    That's how I think about these things, anyway. Lots of this is just me trying to reconcile my hateful superiority complex and egotism with the obvious fact that I am really kind of shit. For various reasons I'm a relatively judgemental person and I try to fight that tendency. Ironically it's some of my most religious relatives I most admire wrt lacking kneejerk assumptive blame-assigning behavior. They're progressive southerners – various of them involved historically in abolition and civil rights and contemporarily in LGBT issues – and are really slow to anger, quick to chat, helpful, etc. I can personally do without the bullshitty ideas about deities and souls and so on but... spice of life, I guess.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    I can do the same thing with your last sentence there: consider discrimination between murderers and non-murderers.
    I'm reminded of the furor over New South Books' whitewashed version of Huckleberry Finn, where all instances of "nigger" were replaced with "slave" to make the book more palatable to, well, the progeny of former slaveholders.

    The difference is simple: "Slave" is an occupation: The moment you're freed, you're no longer a slave. "Nigger" is a state of being: Even when freed, you're still a nigger.

    Here, "murder" is an activity, and "murderer" a profession. One becomes a murderer by murdering people. Even expensive surgery does not genetically make one a woman.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    Our very ability to think – to invent "idiosyncratic and ideological interpretations of ambiguous markers" in the first place – is a biological feature, is it not? In what meaningful sense could it not be?

    [...]

    That's how I think about these things, anyway. Lots of this is just me trying to reconcile my hateful superiority complex and egotism with the obvious fact that I am really kind of shit.
    In a philosophical sense, sure, everything is biological. At our current level of understanding, however, that provides us hardly any insight at all. The level of complexity we've piled on our biological base over the last 50,000 years, to say nothing of the last 500,000 years, is staggering, to say the least.
    Last edited by Nalano; 22-05-2013 at 12:49 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    I'm reminded of the furor over New South Books' whitewashed version of Huckleberry Finn, where all instances of "nigger" were replaced with "slave" to make the book more palatable to, well, the progeny of former slaveholders.

    The difference is simple: "Slave" is an occupation: The moment you're freed, you're no longer a slave. "Nigger" is a state of being: Even when freed, you're still a nigger.

    Here, "murder" is an activity, and "murderer" a profession. One becomes a murderer by murdering people. Even expensive surgery does not genetically make one a woman.
    Well, expensive surgery can genetically make one a woman if that's what one believes, because ultimately womanhood is about gender, which is about how one identifies oneself in contrast to the wider world (whereas sex is just about comparatively concrete issues of physiology). This means one can be a male woman or a female man, of course, but that doesn't really bother me. It's weird to me because it's way outside my experience, but there's all kindsa weird shit that's way outside my experience...

    But my point was that these terms are not fixed or binding or universal. So one could be a murderer and a woman, but not merely or only a murderer and a woman (and that's the point – that there's more to a human than a single event or characteristic).

    I'd say "woman" and "nigger" are connotationally quite fluid, being sometimes accusative terms and sometimes notions of self-identification, and in some instances a smearing of the two. I've encountered "nigger" used as shorthand for, in so many words, "haha, your skin is black". I've also encountered it used to mean something like bigoted, intransigent, stupid, bad, etc. In my experience the latter sense is usually but not exclusively used by lower classes about lower-class people, often explicitly self-referentially (and no, I'm not talking about "nigga").

    I think one gets into super-dangerous territory when one treats things as absolutes. Semantic rigidity obviously has some benefits, though. Reaching back to our discussion of societal norms: I agree that censure can be very beneficial, and it demands a certain degree of rigidity. But I think that should come with awareness of extenuating circumstances. I mean, we'd surely treat a bullheaded MRA goon differently than somebody who was simply raised to be traditionally chivalrous but was open to changing their ways, right? We wouldn't universally condemn all instances of chivalry or boob-fetishism.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    In a philosophical sense, sure, everything is biological. At our current level of understanding, however, that provides us hardly any insight at all. The level of complexity we've piled on our biological base over the last 50,000 years, to say nothing of the last 500,000 years, is staggering, to say the least.
    Quite right, but so what? Lack of a clear 1:1 map of how biology leads to behavior doesn't mean there's otherworldly magic involved. One needn't speculate about the origin of a behavior to study it, and even when such speculation is the entire point of a study (god help such endeavors), one doesn't need woo ideas that minds or networks thereof are unmoved movers. Those "finite cause" ideas aren't explicative of anything. I'd go so far as to say the notion that individual people are irreducible progenitors of their thoughts and behaviors is an incredibly cheapening and uncompassionate idea...

    It seems economics and psychology and related fields have increasingly adopted the view that humans and their networked behaviors cannot be neatly quantized. So while behaviors can exhibit bounds and tendencies, they usually can't be perfectly generalized (that is to say, there is always significant noise in statistical analysis of behavior, and thus it's not exact like e.g. generic arithmetic).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    I think one gets into super-dangerous territory when one treats things as absolutes. Semantic rigidity obviously has some benefits, though.
    You're neatly sidestepping the fact that there is quite a difference between doing something and being something. Yes, nigger is a pejorative term with a lot of baggage, and Black isn't a race but a genetic predilection to melanin manufacture and sickle cell anemia. But if you're Black, you can't not be Black: You can't deny the genetic attributes, but just as importantly society will constantly remind you of this fact.

    A lot of people use skin-whitening cream - especially in Brazil - because of the connotations of being dark-skinned, but bleaching yourself doesn't change what you were born as, nor does it adequately explain or resolve the underlying societal problem in the first place. And that's what I'm speaking to: It is not natural, it is arbitrary. Your determinism is not only harmful, but wanton. Nothing in our biological history would lend credence to the idea that these differences are so important as to be immutable, nor can biology adequately predict the often contradictory circumstances we live in today.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jambe View Post
    One needn't speculate about the origin of a behavior to study it, and even when such speculation is the entire point of a study (god help such endeavors), one doesn't need woo ideas that minds or networks thereof are unmoved movers.
    And yet there is a facile attempt to bear a direct lineage from the biology we can explain to the social structures that are currently dominant, despite a very large leap between the two and in direct contrast to the actual study of said social structures. Quite frankly biologists don't know enough to draw these conclusions and are being brazen in allowing them to be drawn. I fully expect that another generation's interdisciplinary work will make hash of the precepts of the present just as we have buried the pseudoscience of phrenology.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MOKKA View Post
    Evolutionary Psychology is a huge pile of populistic garbage.* Never trust anyone who simply assumes that our ancestors lived in hunter gatherer groups, just because it happens that quite a lot of 'primitive' (please don't take this word literally, I'm just too bad at english and in desperate need of sleep) cultures today happen to be hunter gatherers.
    Always keep in mind that fossils do not talk, therefore about 99% of behavioural assumptions about our ancestors are just that: assumptions.
    I have nothing bad to say about evo-psych as a field in and of itself. I'm just not that informed. But I do have a problem with the way it's used, because I often see it used to try and defend certain behaviours and attitudes. Regardless of the scientific validity of evo-psych, evolution is an 'is', not an 'ought'. It describes the way things are, not the way things should be. It is completely morally neutral. The same goes in a more general way for the nature-nurture debate as a whole. The debate is about which of those two factors is more influencing on our brains, not about which one is 'better'.

    Any claim that equates 'natural' with 'good' is fallacious. They are independent concepts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    You're neatly sidestepping the fact that there is quite a difference between doing something and being something. Yes, nigger is a pejorative term with a lot of baggage, and Black isn't a race but a genetic predilection to melanin manufacture and sickle cell anemia. But if you're Black, you can't not be Black: You can't deny the genetic attributes, but just as importantly society will constantly remind you of this fact.

    A lot of people use skin-whitening cream - especially in Brazil - because of the connotations of being dark-skinned, but bleaching yourself doesn't change what you were born as, nor does it adequately explain or resolve the underlying societal problem in the first place. And that's what I'm speaking to: It is not natural, it is arbitrary. Your determinism is not only harmful, but wanton. Nothing in our biological history would lend credence to the idea that these differences are so important as to be immutable, nor can biology adequately predict the often contradictory circumstances we live in today.
    I'm not deliberately sidestepping anything, nor would I, because I think that's conniving and unnecessary in random chats.

    The fact that there's something rather than nothing is entirely arbitrary, isn't it? It follows that being itself is arbitrary, too, let alone being human or black or female or phenylketonuric. And that's before you consider all the "doing" phenomena of behaviors and social networks (which seem exactly as arbitrary, and which don't seem meaningfully separate from "being"). Again, I think recognizing this arbitrariness, this fundamental absurdity, can engender compassion.

    In any case, it's not as if there exist non-causal frameworks which do a better job of explaining culture than causal frameworks (I'm not aware of any, anyway). Consider any scenario in which we must explain "why she did it". How does positing souls or final causes or any other such Cartesian woo explain things better than physical observations? (e.g. she had parents of a-f characteristics, peers of g-p qualities, genetic configurations q-t, educational experiences u-z, etc)

    The alternative to acceptance of causality's absurdity is dangerous absolutism. "I'm neatly distinct from you because you're this color and I'm that one!" and "Your chest is shaped like this and mine is shaped like that so we're just totally unique!" And so on and so forth, until arbitrary differences are so intently focused upon that arbitrary similarities – which might otherwise unite us – are forgotten or ignored. Surely there's a balance to be attained somewhere in there.

    I've explicitly argued against determinism and I don't see why my views are wanton. In fact, as I've said, I think rejecting causality is, in a sense, the root of all evil. I don't think anything can adequately predict this crazy world. Every age will have its economists and its populist science-bastardizing future-mongers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    And yet there is a facile attempt to bear a direct lineage from the biology we can explain to the social structures that are currently dominant, despite a very large leap between the two and in direct contrast to the actual study of said social structures. Quite frankly biologists don't know enough to draw these conclusions and are being brazen in allowing them to be drawn. I fully expect that another generation's interdisciplinary work will make hash of the precepts of the present just as we have buried the pseudoscience of phrenology.
    Well, people will see themselves (and their fears and wants and so on) reflected in study from now until the end of time; we can't eradicate subjectivity and confirmation bias. I wasn't advocating wild correlation/causation leaps in wishy-washy nascent fields of study, you understand. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    Clearly we don't have a 1:1 map from abiogenesis to modern human culture, but are there good reasons to assume culture is anything but natural? If so, what are they? Also, I didn't get to this up top, but natural != good. Cyanide and hemlock are perfectly natural, but not exactly "good" for humankind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by thegooseking View Post
    I have nothing bad to say about evo-psych as a field in and of itself. I'm just not that informed. But I do have a problem with the way it's used, because I often see it used to try and defend certain behaviours and attitudes. Regardless of the scientific validity of evo-psych, evolution is an 'is', not an 'ought'. It describes the way things are, not the way things should be. It is completely morally neutral. The same goes in a more general way for the nature-nurture debate as a whole. The debate is about which of those two factors is more influencing on our brains, not about which one is 'better'.

    Any claim that equates 'natural' with 'good' is fallacious. They are independent concepts.
    Very well said! I wished I was able to be so consise.

    I once wrote some posts which are (tangentially) related to this whole topic on one of my blogs (which I haven't updated in almost a year...). Just keep in mind that those are translations I made from posts I wrote in German and that my english was even worse than it (still) is today. To make things worse I couldn't be arsed to properly spellcheck them. But I still find them interesting, especially the first one, since it is based upon a long term 'study' I'm conducting since I was 15.

    http://affenglisch.blogspot.de/2011/...door-what.html

    http://affenglisch.blogspot.de/2011/04/i-dont-want-to-be-bonobo.html


    Feel free to take a look if you're interested, also the rest of the blog (although it's not much and mostly about dead primates). I'm pretty uncomfortable with this whole process (someone could even read it!), but I recently decided that I have to do everything which makes me feel uncomfortable in order to feel less uncomfortable.

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