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Post Supporting literature
De Waal is deeply indebted to Darwin's The Descent of Man. De Waal mentions Darwin's belief that human morality is something that has its precedents in our evolutionary past and that such moral-type behaviours can be seen in animal behaviour. So I thought I would post a link to a digital copy of The Descent of Man and a few interesting snippets from the book as a further development of what De Wall had to say about Darwin in his book.

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2300


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Sat May 02, 2009 6:39 pm
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This is verbatim from the summary at the end of chapter 4 of The Descent of Man

Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals,
great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen
that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as
love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man
boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed
condition, in the lower animals. They are also capable of some inherited
improvement, as we see in the domestic dog compared with the wolf or
jackal. If it could be proved that certain high mental powers, such as the
formation of general concepts, self-consciousness, etc., were absolutely
peculiar to man, which seems extremely doubtful, it is not improbable that
these qualities are merely the incidental results of other highly-advanced
intellectual faculties; and these again mainly the result of the continued
use of a perfect language. At what age does the new-born infant possess
the power of abstraction, or become self-conscious, and reflect on its own
existence? We cannot answer; nor can we answer in regard to the ascending
organic scale. The half-art, half-instinct of language still bears the
stamp of its gradual evolution. The ennobling belief in God is not
universal with man; and the belief in spiritual agencies naturally follows
from other mental powers. The moral sense perhaps affords the best and
highest distinction between man and the lower animals; but I need say
nothing on this head, as I have so lately endeavoured to shew that the
social instincts,--the prime principle of man's moral constitution (50.
'The Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius,' etc., p. 139.)--with the aid of active
intellectual powers and the effects of habit, naturally lead to the golden
rule, "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise;" and
this lies at the foundation of morality.


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Sat May 02, 2009 6:41 pm
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From chapter 21 of The Descent of Man

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness: and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened.


With the more civilised races, the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality. Ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes the supreme judge and monitor. Nevertheless the first foundation or origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including sympathy; and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.

The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest, but the most complete of all the distinctions between man and the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal; and apparently follows from a considerable advance in man's reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder. I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture.


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Sat May 02, 2009 6:46 pm
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Post Richard Dawkins on The Selfish Gene
De Waal aligns Richard Dawkins with Veneer Theory implying that Dawkins doesn't allow for the goodness of animal nature.

Here is Dawkins speaking about The Selfish Gene.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciFe8JmR-nY&feature=related[/youtube]


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Sun May 03, 2009 4:27 pm
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In the documentary The Genius of Charles Darwin, in episode 2, Dawkins speaks directly to the issue of morality and whether or not it is a vaneer. The clip below is part 5 of episode 2. The question of "our misfiring selfish genes" is interesting. The conversation with De Waal and the segment about genetic reasons for altruism begins in part 4.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZiV7p5afkA&feature=PlayList&p=EBED5744B785F3DD&index=13[/youtube]

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETJnHiR4kTE&feature=PlayList&p=EBED5744B785F3DD&index=12[/youtube]


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Sun May 03, 2009 5:19 pm
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One critical argument that underlies de Waal's ideas is the disagreement in biological circles between group and individual selection. Stephen Jay Gould favours group selection and Dawkins individual selection.

Wikipedia has an article that discusses the disagreement. The paragraph immediately below is from the article.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Jay_Gould

Opposition to sociobiology and evolutionary psychology Gould also had a long-running public feud with E. O. Wilson and other evolutionary biologists over human sociobiology and its descendant evolutionary psychology, which Gould, Lewontin, and Maynard Smith opposed, but which Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker advocated. Gould and Dawkins also disagreed over the importance of gene selection in evolution. Dawkins argued that evolution is best understood as competition among genes (or replicators), while Gould advocated the importance of multi-level competition, including selection amongst genes, cell lineages, organisms, demes, species, and clades. Criticism of Gould can be found in chapter 9 of Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker and chapter 10 of Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Pinker accuses Gould, Lewontin and other opponents of evolutionary psychology of being "radical scientists," whose stance on human nature is influenced by politics rather than science.

A more involved treatment of the dispute between group and individual selection can be found at http://www.bbsonline.org/documents/a/00/00/04/60/bbs00000460-00/bbs.wilson.html
The paper is called "Re-Introducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioral Sciences" by David Sloan Wilson and Elliot Sober.

The abstract reads:

In both biology and the human sciences, social groups are sometimes treated as adaptive units whose organization cannot be reduced to individual interactions. This group-level view is opposed by a more individualistic view that treats social organization as a byproduct of self-interest. According to biologists, group-level adaptations can evolve only by a process of natural selection at the group level. During the 1960's and 70's most biologists rejected group selection as an important evolutionary force but a positive literature began to grow during the 70's and is rapidly expanding today. We review this recent literature and its implications for human evolutionary biology. We show that the rejection of group selection was based on a misplaced emphasis on genes as "replicators" which is in fact irrelevant to the question of whether groups can be like individuals in their functional organization. The fundamental question is whether social groups and other higher-level entities can be "vehicles" of selection. When this elementary fact is recognized, group selection emerges as an important force in nature and ostensible alternatives, such as kin selection and reciprocity, reappear as special cases of group selection. The result is a unified theory of natural selection that operates on a nested hierarchy of units.

The vehicle-based theory makes it clear that group selection is an important force to consider in human evolution. Humans can facultatively span the full range from self-interested individuals to "organs" of group-level "organisms." Human behavior not only reflects the balance between levels of selection but it can also alter the balance through the construction of social structures that have the effect of reducing fitness differences within groups, concentrating natural selection (and functional organization) at the group level. These social structures and the cognitive abilities that produce them allow group selection to be important even among large groups of unrelated individuals.


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Sun May 03, 2009 5:36 pm
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Post Damasio's Descartes Error
In "Morally Evolved," Part I of Primates and Philosophers, de Waal cites Antonio Damasio. On page 38 of my edition, de Waal links his perception-action mechanism with Damasio’s somatic hypothesis of emotion (next post) (and with mirror neurons, about which I will post later.)

I have been reading Damasio's Descartes’ Error. It is more than worthy of a discussion of its own. I find myself sneaking off from my desk at work to the Starbucks so that I can read bits of it. It is fascinating and I can see why it has been cited as a seminal work. (As an aside, I am definitely going to read more of Damasio.)

With respect to de Waal, Damasio’s general theory is that “the body, as represented in the brain, may constitute the indispensable frame of reference for the neural processes that we experience as the mind; that our very organism rather than some absolute external reality is used as the ground reference for the constructions we make of the world around us and for the construction of the ever-present sense of subjectivity that is part and parcel of our experiences; that our most refined thoughts and best actions, our greatest joys and deepest sorrows, use the body as a yardstick. Surprising as it may sound, the mind exists in and for an integrated organism; our minds would not be the way they are if it were not for the interplay of body and brain during evolution, during individual development, and at the current moment. The mind had to be first about the body, or it could not have been. On the basis of the ground reference that the body continuously provides, the mind can then be about many other things, real and imaginary.”

Much of the first part of the book is outlining how this works and this is not the place to report on that, but a few things Damasio says may help.

• “As far as one can tell…many structured specifics are determined by genes, but another large number can be determined only by the activity of the living organism itself, as it develops and continuously changes throughout its life span.”
• “The genome helps set the precise or nearly precise structure of a number of important systems and circuits in the evolutionarily old sectors of the human brain…for brain stem, hypothalamus, and basal forebrain, and quite likely for the amygdala and cingulate region…we share the essence of these brain sectors with individuals in numerous other species. The principal role of the structure in these sectors is to regulate basic life processes without recourse to mind and reason…yet there is another role for these innate circuits…(they) intervene not just in bodily regulation but also in the development and adult activity of the evolutionarily modern structure of the brain.”
• “The innate regulatory circuits are involved in the business of organism survival and because of that they are privy to what is happening in the more modern sectors of the brain; (2) the goodness or badness of situations is regularly signaled to them; and (3) they express their inherent reaction to goodness and badness by influencing how the rest of the brain is shaped, so that it can assist survival in the most efficacious way.”
• “The human evidence discussed in this section (In Colder Blood) suggests a close bond between a collection of brain regions and the processes of reasoning and decision making. Animal studies have revealed some of the same bonds involving some of the same regions. By combining evidence from both human and animal studies we can now itemize a few facts about the roles of the neural systems we have identified.
o First, these systems are certainly involved in the processes of reason in the broad sense of the term. Specifically, they are involved in planning and deciding.
o Second, a subset of these systems is associated with planning and deciding behaviors that one might subsume under the rubric “personal and social.” There is a hint that these systems are related to the aspect of reason usually designated as rationality.
o Third, the systems we have identified play an important role in the processing of emotions.
o Fourth, the systems are needed to hold in mind, over an extended period of time, the image of a relevant but no longer present object.

To summarize with direct attention to what de Waal is working to establish, Damasio shows that the very systems which make primate social networking possible (i.e. emotionally driven concerns for self and others) are the very systems which underpin what we call reason and/or rationality. In humans, reasonable behaviour is inextricably linked to emotional dispositions and to these same neural systems present also in apes. So it becomes a matter of some import to establish what our emotional dispositions actually are. And this is where de Waal’s animal studies bear the greatest fruit.

The next post will be dedicated to Damasio’s somatic-marker hypothesis.


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Sat May 16, 2009 2:35 pm
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Post Damasio’s Somatic-Marker Hypothesis
Verbatim (page 173-174) Descartes' Error the 2005 Penguin books version:

“Consider again the scenarios I outlined. The key components unfold in our minds instantly, sketchily, and virtually simultaneously, too fast for the details to be clearly defined. But now, imagine that before you apply any kind of cost/benefit analysis to the premises, and before you reason toward the solution of the problem, something quite important happens: When the bad outcome connected with a given response option comes into mind, however fleetingly, you experience an unpleasant gut feeling. Because the feeling is about the body, I gave the phenomenon the technical term somatic state (“soma” is Greek for body): and because it “marks” an image, I called it a marker. Note again that I use somatic in the most general sense (that which pertains to the body) and I include both visceral and nonvisceral sensation when I refer to somatic markers.

What does the somatic marker achieve? It forces attention on the negative outcome to which a given action may lead, and functions as an automated alarm signal which says: Beware of danger ahead if you choose the option which leads to this outcome. The signal may lead you to reject, immediately, the negative course of action and thus make you choose among other alternatives. The automated signal protects you against future losses, without further ado, and then allows you to choose from among fewer alternatives. There is still room for using a cost/benefit analysis and proper deductive competence, but only after the automated step drastically reduces the number of options. Somatic markers may not be sufficient for normal human decision-making since a subsequent process of reasoning and final selection will still take place in many though not all instances. Somatic markers probably increase the accuracy and efficiency of the decision process. Their absence reduces them. This distinction is important and can easily be missed. The hypothesis does not concern the reasoning steps which follow the action of the somatic marker. In short, somatic markers are a special instance of feelings generated from secondary emotions. Those emotions and feelings have been connected, by learning, to predicted future outcomes of certain scenarios. When a negative somatic marker is juxtaposed to a particular future outcome the combination functions as an alarm bell. When a positive somatic marker is juxtaposed instead, it becomes a beacon of incentive.

This is the essence of the somatic-marker hypothesis. But to get the full scope of the hypothesis you must read on and discover that on occasion somatic markers may operate covertly (without coming to consciousness) and may utilize and “as if” loop.

Somatic markers do not deliberate for us. They assist the deliberation by highlighting some options…which acts, whether you want it to or not, to evaluate the extremely diverse scenarios of the anticipated future before you. Think of it as a biasing device.”

This is my analysis viz the connection to de Waal's theory:

So somatic markers function as the core framework of our capacity-for and content-of our moral systems. Non human primates possess these somatic markers. There are many instances where these somatic markers act to alter our behaviour (toward or away from an instance). If we call these unconscious human aversions to specific acts (say the infliction of pain on an infant) moral acts, why cannot we call the same acts in non-human primates moral acts?


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Sat May 16, 2009 3:12 pm
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Post Mirror neurons
From Mirror Neurons and the Brain in the Vat by V.S. Ramachandran presented by “Edge the Third Culture.”

“Researchers at UCLA found that cells in the human anterior cingulate, which normally fire when you poke the patient with a needle ("pain neurons"), will also fire when the patient watches another patient being poked. The mirror neurons, it would seem, dissolve the barrier between self and others. [1] I call them "empathy neurons" or "Dalai Llama neurons". (I wonder how the mirror neurons of a masochist or sadist would respond to another person being poked.) Dissolving the "self vs. other" barrier is the basis of many ethical systems, especially eastern philosophical and mystical traditions. This research implies that mirror neurons can be used to provide rational rather than religious grounds for ethics (although we must be careful not to commit the is/ought fallacy).”

In a related article Ramachandran says, “The discovery of mirror neurons in the frontal lobes of monkeys, and their potential relevance to human brain evolution — which I speculate on in this essay — is the single most important "unreported" (or at least, unpublicized) story of the decade. I predict that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments.”


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Sun May 17, 2009 8:49 am
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MaryLupin wrote:
From chapter 21 of The Descent of Man

With the more civilised races, the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a potent influence on the advance of morality. Ultimately man does not accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled by reason, afford him the safest rule. , as in the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.

The belief in God has often been advanced as not only the greatest, but the most complete of all the distinctions between man and the lower animals. It is however impossible, as we have seen, to maintain that this belief is innate or instinctive in man. On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal; and apparently follows from a considerable advance in man's reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder. I am aware that the assumed instinctive belief in God has been used by many persons as an argument for His existence. But this is a rash argument, as we should thus be compelled to believe in the existence of many cruel and malignant spirits, only a little more powerful than man; for the belief in them is far more general than in a beneficent Deity. The idea of a universal and beneficent Creator does not seem to arise in the mind of man, until he has been elevated by long-continued culture.

Thank you, first, for giving us this supporting material. You must be a teacher in real life. I won't comment now on what you posted from D'Amasio, but just to agree with you that he deserves to be discussed at length some other time. I found Descartes' Error to be a difficult but fascinating book. I also hope to get a hold of De Waal's book at some point so I can join in.

Darwin's perspective above is interesting when compared to what might be called the common atheist view. Darwin credits our growth in reasoning ability for the emergence of belief in "all-pervading spiritual agencies." I sense that atheists do not emphaisze such a connection, rather tending to see such belief as an atavism that reasoning must then overcome and master. Belief and reason are fighting a battle for dominance in the atheist view, if I can venture that generalization. I think Darwin is probably right--just my view. I think he is also right about God defintiely not being innate, but a specific, cultured concept stemming from basic receptivity to spiritual agencies. I'm more skeptical, though, of the cast he puts on "primitive" religion. He implies that a "beneficient deity" is a product only of "elevated' cultures. But do we see such benevolent concepts of deity in, for example, American Indian concepts of the Great Spirit? I wonder.



Sun May 17, 2009 9:56 am
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DWill wrote:
I won't comment now on what you posted from D'Amasio, but just to agree with you that he deserves to be discussed at length some other time. I found Descartes' Error to be a difficult but fascinating book.


Agreed. Maybe sometime soon we can start up a Damasio discussion. His work (and work like this) is critically important to coming to grips with thinks like "what does it mean to decide." There is another author I would suggest too. Benjamin Libet.

DWill wrote:
I also hope to get a hold of De Waal's book at some point so I can join in.


Hope so too.

DWill wrote:
Darwin's perspective above is interesting...


In the section you quoted my favourite bit is: "On the other hand a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies seems to be universal; and apparently follows from a considerable advance in man's reason, and from a still greater advance in his faculties of imagination, curiosity and wonder." A "still greater advance in his faculties of imagination..." how droll. He is my kind of atheist.

The thing that I think is so wonderful about Darwin was his seeming prescience. The idea that a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies follow from an advance in the capacity to reason, seems to me to be just what Damasio's work implies. The primate capacity for empathy (related to mirror neurons) becomes in humans (and chimps?) a ToM. Once that happens our capacities to empathetically read the face of another like us gets wings and can suddenly "read" all "others" including trees, cloud shapes etc. That combined with our certainty that our species is the center of the universe (just like the certainty of every other social species), you get the imaginative invention of deities.

About the Darwin's ethnocentrism...his reaction to the people living at Tierra del Fuego was an education for me. "It was without exception the most curious and interesting spectacle I ever beheld: I could not believe how wide was the difference between a savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a domesticated and wild animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement." For all his capacities he was still an upper class white guy. He was still a man raised with a belief in the "savage" races. So I read his stuff to do with "civilization" with a bag (not a pinch) of salt.

And about the battle between reason and emotion or reason and superstition...part of the problem with all this is that the words "reason," "emotion" and "superstition" are really big words. They contain so much that it is difficult to have a conversation with them in it without tripping over trailing meanings. Damasio addresses this in Descartes' Error. Still, neurological work most definitely shows that the existence and use of reason depends upon emotion so they cannot be simply opponents. It is a more complicated relationship than that. Following Wittgenstein, I think the real battle is between those whose basic conceptual structures favor empirical evidence as the systems control and those who favor narrative (otherwise known as faith) as the systems control. Arguing those two against each other is a waste of time.

Then I don't think that what Dawkins' book (or Hitchens etc) is doing really. What they are accomplishing is pointing out to those who have only ever used the narrative form that there is another option for human beings. This, I think, is a good thing.


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MaryLupin wrote:
There is another author I would suggest too. Benjamin Libet.

Haven't heard of him. Thanks for the recommendation.
Quote:
The thing that I think is so wonderful about Darwin was his seeming prescience. The idea that a belief in all-pervading spiritual agencies follow from an advance in the capacity to reason, seems to me to be just what Damasio's work implies. The primate capacity for empathy (related to mirror neurons) becomes in humans (and chimps?) a ToM. Once that happens our capacities to empathetically read the face of another like us gets wings and can suddenly "read" all "others" including trees, cloud shapes etc. That combined with our certainty that our species is the center of the universe (just like the certainty of every other social species), you get the imaginative invention of deities.

You're making a lot of sense. These are neat connections.
Quote:
About the Darwin's ethnocentrism...his reaction to the people living at Tierra del Fuego was an education for me. "It was without exception the most curious and interesting spectacle I ever beheld: I could not believe how wide was the difference between a savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a domesticated and wild animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement." For all his capacities he was still an upper class white guy. He was still a man raised with a belief in the "savage" races. So I read his stuff to do with "civilization" with a bag (not a pinch) of salt.

And though not a believer himself, he thought that the Church of England God was a better sort than what the Tierra del Fuegans had.
Quote:
And about the battle between reason and emotion or reason and superstition...part of the problem with all this is that the words "reason," "emotion" and "superstition" are really big words. They contain so much that it is difficult to have a conversation with them in it without tripping over trailing meanings. Damasio addresses this in Descartes' Error. Still, neurological work most definitely shows that the existence and use of reason depends upon emotion so they cannot be simply opponents. It is a more complicated relationship than that. Following Wittgenstein, I think the real battle is between those whose basic conceptual structures favor empirical evidence as the systems control and those who favor narrative (otherwise known as faith) as the systems control. Arguing those two against each other is a waste of time.

I think you are right to insist on being wary of loaded words, especially the ones we usually don't recognize as loaded. I don't know anything about Wittgenstein, but the dichotomy of his you present is something for thought. D'Amasio does address the essential unity of emotion and reason as you say. I think it is in Descartes' Error that he talks about the famous case of Phineas Gage, how after he had some of his frontal lobe destroyed, though without a measurable loss of cognition, he was nevertheless unable to live a"reasoned" life due to the disruption of the connection between emotion and thought.



Sun May 17, 2009 7:38 pm
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DWill wrote:
I don't know anything about Wittgenstein, but the dichotomy of his you present is something for thought.


If you're interested, Wittgenstein talks about this in what has been published as his "Lectures on Religious Belief". You can look here and here - chapters 5 and 6.

DWill wrote:
D'Amasio does address the essential unity of emotion and reason as you say. I think it is in Descartes' Error that he talks about the famous case of Phineas Gage, how after he had some of his frontal lobe destroyed, though without a measurable loss of cognition, he was nevertheless unable to live a"reasoned" life due to the disruption of the connection between emotion and thought.


Exactly.


_________________
I've always found it rather exciting to remember that there is a difference between what we experience and what we think it means.


Sun May 17, 2009 11:53 pm
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