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Ch. 10: Genes and Thought 
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Ch. 10: Genes and Thought

Please use this thread for discussing Ch. 10: Genes and Thought. :bounce:



Wed Aug 13, 2008 6:31 pm
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The discussion of the genetic contribution to people's beliefs and personality seemed rather shallow uninspiring. After reading several excellent books exploring why people have differing beliefs, including Judith Harris's The Nurture Assumption, Matt Ridley's Nature via. Nurture, Stephen Pinker's The Blank Slate, and George Lakoff's Moral Politics, I feel like I know more about the subject than Burton does.

[I hope statements like that don't come across as arrogant. I've just read many books on related subjects, and they often come to mind when reading this book.]

While Burton postulates that different internal reward systems are the reason people reach different conclusions, I reached a different conclusion. In my mind, as Lakoff suggests, different conceptions of morality are a larger influence.

Burton didn't bring a more pertinent example about sound recognition. Different languages have different sounds that are treated as distinct. According to some experiments, very young children can distinguish those sounds, while older children are much better at distinguishing sounds that are relevant to their native language.



Thu Sep 25, 2008 10:17 pm
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I don't consider myself very knowledgeable on the the influence of genetics on behavior and personality. This could be why I got something from the chapter. Burton did a good job of synthesis, I thought, and he balanced the deterministic elements with the non-deterministic or environmental ones. His big task was to show how something we consider to be high-level--our religious beliefs or social behavior--could be strongly influenced by genetics. It is well accepted that mainly simple, discrete traits (especially those most necessary for survival) can reliably be traced back to genetics, but this doesn't mean that genetics doesn't act in more more complicated ways, and influence our style of belief or some behaviors. He sorts out the complexities of genetic expression of complex traits, leaving us appreciating the importance of not oversimplifying.

The feeling of knowing, though, is one of the basic traits needed for survival, so it can be reasonably assumed to be directly genetically influenced. Burton means that different people might be disposed to experience the feeling of knowing to different degrees. Those who have a weaker experience of it would be inclined toward a state of doubt.



Fri Sep 26, 2008 11:02 pm
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I forgot to mention the extraordinary vignette Burton presents about his mother. He's speculating about his own interest in existential questions from an early age; he wonders about the genetic influence on such tendencies. His parents, though, had always shown no inclination toward philosophical thought. Burton asked his mother at least twice--the last time on her death bed--what she had learned about life. She replied, "So what?", and "I am no one to be remembered. Nothing." It wasn't until he went back to her apartment to sort out her things that he found an old term paper he had written on Willliam James, about how we know what we know (the subject of his book). He didn't even remember writing the paper, but his mother had saved it and had underlined the key paragraph and written 'YES' beside it.

The conclusion we might draw is that genetic influence can be present even in the absence of behavioral expression.
DWill



Sat Sep 27, 2008 7:34 am
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