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What Price Kindness?

Exposing the life and work of a visionary and troubled scientist opens a window onto the evolution of altruism.

By | September 1, 2011

W. W. NORTON & COMPANY, JUNE, 2011

A strange and solitary American living in a foreign country writes an equation that helps to solve a mystery going back to Charles Darwin. Destitute and reduced to skin and bones, mumbling about Jesus, he commits suicide in a cold London squat. Sounds like a rather fanciful screenplay, but this is no fiction. It is January 1975 and 10 or 11 companions have come to accompany George Price to his final resting place in an unmarked grave in Saint Pancras Cemetery. Among them are six homeless down-and-outs, and two of the century’s greatest evolutionary biologists—John Maynard Smith and Bill Hamilton. Price had come over from America to solve the problem of altruism, and now he was dead. Behind him, he left an amazing story about mankind’s quest to understand where kindness and, ultimately, sacrifice come from. And, of course, there was the equation . . .

My book, The Price of Altruism, which is out in paperback this summer, explores Price’s dramatic quest to solve one of the most intractable and long-standing quandaries in all of biology.

Here is the mystery: if evolution is a game of survival of the fittest, how to explain the persistence of traits which reduce individuals’ success at passing on their genes? Behold the stinging bee, the toilsome ant, the nurturing sterile mole rat. Consider the social amoeba, Dictyostelium discoideum, in which altruistic stalk cells give their lives so their brothers can climb them to the tip of the cooperative spire and be carried away to better fortunes by a felicitous wind. Darwin was mesmerized by the apparent paradox of altruism in a nature “red in tooth and claw,” and proclaimed that absent a solution, his entire theory was suspect. Ever since, field biologists, mathematicians, geneticists, game theorists, psychologists, and of course philosophers have been trying to crack the mystery of the origins of kindness.

Price was one of them, and a man who came to the problem late in his career. He had worked as a chemist on the Manhattan Project, as an engineer at Bell Labs, as a systems analyst at IBM, and as a writer living in Greenwich Village. In 1967 he left his job, family, and country behind and moved to England to try to solve the altruism conundrum. Within less than six months, untrained in the field and working entirely alone, he wrote an equation that would come to bear his name. Where science had offered either the narrowness of nepotism (kin selection) or the clannishness of the tribe (group selection) as possible explanations for the evolution of altruism, the “Price equation” would provide a multilevel selection approach that would allow for both, and more. By partitioning selection into its different components—particularly for traits like altruism where interests apparently conflict between different levels of biological organization—the equation would ultimately find a central role in social evolution theory. Altruism could come about in different ways and via different routes.

But of course this was biological “kindness,” measured by the result of an action rather than its intention, so was there any true bearing on humans? It was this question that would ultimately lead Price to the streets of London, where, like a guardian angel, he tended to the homeless. And this question remains a challenge today, as we use neurogenetics, endocrinology, mathematical modeling, and fMRI to try to “find” kindness, empathy, and altruism in humans. The Price of Altruism puts this lofty quest in historical context, going back to Darwin and a cast of colorful characters—the Russian anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin, the behaviorist B.F. Skinner, the mathematical genius John von Neumann, and many others—who also sought the origins of altruism. Ultimately, Price’s suicide, among the unfortunate homeless of London whom he had striven to save, sheds more light on how difficult it is to find scientific solutions to deep human mysteries. A window onto the majesty of the scientific method alongside its limitations is the legacy that this entirely unique and dramatic life leaves behind.

Oren Harman is Chair of the Graduate Program in Science, Technology and Society at Bar Ilan University, and the author of The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness, which won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the best science book of 2010. Read an excerpt from the book.

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Avatar of: dovhenis

dovhenis

Posts: 97

September 3, 2011

“evolution is a game of survival of the fittestâ€쳌 ?

 

Is Evolution Predictable

 

 

Of course it is.

Nearly. 
Approximation, proportional to extent of included factors.

And  AFTER  comprehending what evolution is…

 

A.

Is Evolution Predictable

http://news.sciencemag.org/sci...

 

 

B.

From DH comment on

http://www.sciencenews.org/ind...

 

Origin And Nature Of Natural Selection

 

Life is another mass format, a self-replicating mass format.

All mass formats are subject to natural selection.

Natural selection is the delaying conversion of mass to the
energy fueling cosmic expansion.

Cosmic expansion is the reconversion of all the Big Bang
singularity mass to energy.

 

Natural Selection Updated 2010, Beyond Historical
Concepts:

 

Natural Selection applies to ALL mass formats. Life, a
self-replicating format, is just one of them.

Natural Selection Defined:

 

Natural selection is E (energy) temporarily
constrained in an m (mass) format. Period.

 

Natural selection is a ubiquitous property of each and every
and all cosmic mass, spin array, formats, from the biggest black hole to the
smallest physical particle. Mass strives to increase its constrained energy
content in attempt to postpone its reconversion to energy and to postpone
addition of its constitutional energy to the totality of the cosmic energy that
fuels the cosmic expansion going on since Big Bang.

 

 

Dov Henis

(comments from 22nd century)

http://universe-life.com/

Avatar of: Rameshraghuvanshi

Anonymous

September 3, 2011

Simple answer to your question is kindness arises from self-pity. New research in neuroscience on mirror neutrons and empathy telling us that when we see some one is suffering  terribly by pain,same suffering arises in our mind.and to help to victim  try to reducing his suffering   we try our best .When we are unable to help him we suffer  from guilt feeling and we punish ourselves.
Dostoevsky`s mania of gambling is good exemple of self-punishment.There are many historical example of   great personalities who suffered from this kind of guilt feeling
.Another example is when our love one expire,we weep .Why,We weep thinking our own death,this is good example of self-pity.

Avatar of: Guest

Anonymous

September 3, 2011

There is, in some academic and research circles, an agenda by a few self-appointed save-the-world-from-Christianity zealots to paint the pot black -- that is, to take every opportunity to portray only Christians as zealots.

In my own life, I have come across no more than a handful of individuals who seem to want to deny and squelch hard, well-grounded empirical data and open-minded interpretation of same, citing "religious" reasons.  The number of periodicals I pick up, on the other hand, spewing anti-religionist vitriol (if you'll allow that coinage) is voluminous.

It is true that there are some individuals in society who could be characterized quite appropriately as "anti-science religionists."   One of the best kept secrets among the scientifically literates, I think it safe to say, is that a majority of them have religious beliefs.  There seems to be a climate of "official" hostility, however, of science toward religion, that can be read between the lines of some pop-science writing.  But, we all know of course, that much that is written about science, is not written by the individuals doing the "work" of science. 

One friend of mine, who holds a PhD in chemistry, tells me he finds it totally between the adoption of a belief in a deistically created universe and acceptance of any and all data produced by way of rigorous, controlled observation, measurement and experimentation (open-minded scientific interaction with that universe).

Let me suggest some food for thought on this matter.  Could it be that there are all sorts of bigots in the world -- some claiming religious grounds for their bigory, and some claiming anti-religious grounds for their bigotry.

Let me be bold in saying, count me among the front-line ranks of those who feel defensive upon being confronted by any bigotry that asserts itself to be founded on assumptions that have been neither proved nor disproved.  And count me as an ally of any who exercise a freedom to choose what they shall believe about such things?

My own intuition tells me -- and anyone is welcome to disagree -- that the only harm brought by those who choose one self-stance in regarding to what one interpretation or another is when they wish to bash or punish others for exercising their choice.

I am as quick to object to a bigoted anti-religionist as to a religionist.  But many people I know, who have some religious belief, are not opposed to taking hard data on its face, and adopting their world-view to it. 

But, now to the concept of "altruism."  Perhaps in another place, another time, when there is much, much more space for it, I would like to demonstrate that the term algorithm is grossly inadequate to the description of an enormous abundance of attitudinal, interpretive or predictive phenomena.  It embarrasses me, personally, as one  keenly fond of research and researchers and those who want to know and put to use what can be known, to see the term "altruism" used as something of a
catch-all for at least a hundred nuances.

Not a debating point.  Just an observation.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 3, 2011

“evolution is a game of survival of the fittestâ€쳌 ?

 

Is Evolution Predictable

 

 

Of course it is.

Nearly. 
Approximation, proportional to extent of included factors.

And  AFTER  comprehending what evolution is…

 

A.

Is Evolution Predictable

http://news.sciencemag.org/sci...

 

 

B.

From DH comment on

http://www.sciencenews.org/ind...

 

Origin And Nature Of Natural Selection

 

Life is another mass format, a self-replicating mass format.

All mass formats are subject to natural selection.

Natural selection is the delaying conversion of mass to the
energy fueling cosmic expansion.

Cosmic expansion is the reconversion of all the Big Bang
singularity mass to energy.

 

Natural Selection Updated 2010, Beyond Historical
Concepts:

 

Natural Selection applies to ALL mass formats. Life, a
self-replicating format, is just one of them.

Natural Selection Defined:

 

Natural selection is E (energy) temporarily
constrained in an m (mass) format. Period.

 

Natural selection is a ubiquitous property of each and every
and all cosmic mass, spin array, formats, from the biggest black hole to the
smallest physical particle. Mass strives to increase its constrained energy
content in attempt to postpone its reconversion to energy and to postpone
addition of its constitutional energy to the totality of the cosmic energy that
fuels the cosmic expansion going on since Big Bang.

 

 

Dov Henis

(comments from 22nd century)

http://universe-life.com/

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 3, 2011

Simple answer to your question is kindness arises from self-pity. New research in neuroscience on mirror neutrons and empathy telling us that when we see some one is suffering  terribly by pain,same suffering arises in our mind.and to help to victim  try to reducing his suffering   we try our best .When we are unable to help him we suffer  from guilt feeling and we punish ourselves.
Dostoevsky`s mania of gambling is good exemple of self-punishment.There are many historical example of   great personalities who suffered from this kind of guilt feeling
.Another example is when our love one expire,we weep .Why,We weep thinking our own death,this is good example of self-pity.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 3, 2011

There is, in some academic and research circles, an agenda by a few self-appointed save-the-world-from-Christianity zealots to paint the pot black -- that is, to take every opportunity to portray only Christians as zealots.

In my own life, I have come across no more than a handful of individuals who seem to want to deny and squelch hard, well-grounded empirical data and open-minded interpretation of same, citing "religious" reasons.  The number of periodicals I pick up, on the other hand, spewing anti-religionist vitriol (if you'll allow that coinage) is voluminous.

It is true that there are some individuals in society who could be characterized quite appropriately as "anti-science religionists."   One of the best kept secrets among the scientifically literates, I think it safe to say, is that a majority of them have religious beliefs.  There seems to be a climate of "official" hostility, however, of science toward religion, that can be read between the lines of some pop-science writing.  But, we all know of course, that much that is written about science, is not written by the individuals doing the "work" of science. 

One friend of mine, who holds a PhD in chemistry, tells me he finds it totally between the adoption of a belief in a deistically created universe and acceptance of any and all data produced by way of rigorous, controlled observation, measurement and experimentation (open-minded scientific interaction with that universe).

Let me suggest some food for thought on this matter.  Could it be that there are all sorts of bigots in the world -- some claiming religious grounds for their bigory, and some claiming anti-religious grounds for their bigotry.

Let me be bold in saying, count me among the front-line ranks of those who feel defensive upon being confronted by any bigotry that asserts itself to be founded on assumptions that have been neither proved nor disproved.  And count me as an ally of any who exercise a freedom to choose what they shall believe about such things?

My own intuition tells me -- and anyone is welcome to disagree -- that the only harm brought by those who choose one self-stance in regarding to what one interpretation or another is when they wish to bash or punish others for exercising their choice.

I am as quick to object to a bigoted anti-religionist as to a religionist.  But many people I know, who have some religious belief, are not opposed to taking hard data on its face, and adopting their world-view to it. 

But, now to the concept of "altruism."  Perhaps in another place, another time, when there is much, much more space for it, I would like to demonstrate that the term algorithm is grossly inadequate to the description of an enormous abundance of attitudinal, interpretive or predictive phenomena.  It embarrasses me, personally, as one  keenly fond of research and researchers and those who want to know and put to use what can be known, to see the term "altruism" used as something of a
catch-all for at least a hundred nuances.

Not a debating point.  Just an observation.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 3, 2011

“evolution is a game of survival of the fittestâ€쳌 ?

 

Is Evolution Predictable

 

 

Of course it is.

Nearly. 
Approximation, proportional to extent of included factors.

And  AFTER  comprehending what evolution is…

 

A.

Is Evolution Predictable

http://news.sciencemag.org/sci...

 

 

B.

From DH comment on

http://www.sciencenews.org/ind...

 

Origin And Nature Of Natural Selection

 

Life is another mass format, a self-replicating mass format.

All mass formats are subject to natural selection.

Natural selection is the delaying conversion of mass to the
energy fueling cosmic expansion.

Cosmic expansion is the reconversion of all the Big Bang
singularity mass to energy.

 

Natural Selection Updated 2010, Beyond Historical
Concepts:

 

Natural Selection applies to ALL mass formats. Life, a
self-replicating format, is just one of them.

Natural Selection Defined:

 

Natural selection is E (energy) temporarily
constrained in an m (mass) format. Period.

 

Natural selection is a ubiquitous property of each and every
and all cosmic mass, spin array, formats, from the biggest black hole to the
smallest physical particle. Mass strives to increase its constrained energy
content in attempt to postpone its reconversion to energy and to postpone
addition of its constitutional energy to the totality of the cosmic energy that
fuels the cosmic expansion going on since Big Bang.

 

 

Dov Henis

(comments from 22nd century)

http://universe-life.com/

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 3, 2011

Simple answer to your question is kindness arises from self-pity. New research in neuroscience on mirror neutrons and empathy telling us that when we see some one is suffering  terribly by pain,same suffering arises in our mind.and to help to victim  try to reducing his suffering   we try our best .When we are unable to help him we suffer  from guilt feeling and we punish ourselves.
Dostoevsky`s mania of gambling is good exemple of self-punishment.There are many historical example of   great personalities who suffered from this kind of guilt feeling
.Another example is when our love one expire,we weep .Why,We weep thinking our own death,this is good example of self-pity.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 3, 2011

There is, in some academic and research circles, an agenda by a few self-appointed save-the-world-from-Christianity zealots to paint the pot black -- that is, to take every opportunity to portray only Christians as zealots.

In my own life, I have come across no more than a handful of individuals who seem to want to deny and squelch hard, well-grounded empirical data and open-minded interpretation of same, citing "religious" reasons.  The number of periodicals I pick up, on the other hand, spewing anti-religionist vitriol (if you'll allow that coinage) is voluminous.

It is true that there are some individuals in society who could be characterized quite appropriately as "anti-science religionists."   One of the best kept secrets among the scientifically literates, I think it safe to say, is that a majority of them have religious beliefs.  There seems to be a climate of "official" hostility, however, of science toward religion, that can be read between the lines of some pop-science writing.  But, we all know of course, that much that is written about science, is not written by the individuals doing the "work" of science. 

One friend of mine, who holds a PhD in chemistry, tells me he finds it totally between the adoption of a belief in a deistically created universe and acceptance of any and all data produced by way of rigorous, controlled observation, measurement and experimentation (open-minded scientific interaction with that universe).

Let me suggest some food for thought on this matter.  Could it be that there are all sorts of bigots in the world -- some claiming religious grounds for their bigory, and some claiming anti-religious grounds for their bigotry.

Let me be bold in saying, count me among the front-line ranks of those who feel defensive upon being confronted by any bigotry that asserts itself to be founded on assumptions that have been neither proved nor disproved.  And count me as an ally of any who exercise a freedom to choose what they shall believe about such things?

My own intuition tells me -- and anyone is welcome to disagree -- that the only harm brought by those who choose one self-stance in regarding to what one interpretation or another is when they wish to bash or punish others for exercising their choice.

I am as quick to object to a bigoted anti-religionist as to a religionist.  But many people I know, who have some religious belief, are not opposed to taking hard data on its face, and adopting their world-view to it. 

But, now to the concept of "altruism."  Perhaps in another place, another time, when there is much, much more space for it, I would like to demonstrate that the term algorithm is grossly inadequate to the description of an enormous abundance of attitudinal, interpretive or predictive phenomena.  It embarrasses me, personally, as one  keenly fond of research and researchers and those who want to know and put to use what can be known, to see the term "altruism" used as something of a
catch-all for at least a hundred nuances.

Not a debating point.  Just an observation.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 5, 2011

Altruism and selfishness present dependent variables. IOW, you cannot have one without the other; for every "altruistic" giver there must be a "selfish" taker. Therefore the denigration of selfishness and the simultaneous  elevation of altruism as a superior morality is not reasonable. Without a defined constant,  dependent variables have nothing to remain relative to. For example, you cannot distinguish between the sea water rising, the sea floor sinking or a combination of both when only observing the level of the sea relative to the land. Similarly, without a falsifiable, constant frame of reference it was and remains empirically impossible to distinguish between an altruistic donation and a mutually selfish investment. Price never realized this and neither did Hamilton et al the creators of "Hamilton's Rule" and today's increasingly popular "selfish" genes allowed to produce "altruistic" organisms which however remain prohibited by Darwinism as a falsification.

It is possible to amend Hamilton's Rule rb>c with the inclusion  of a simple, falsifiable Darwinian fitness constant that I define to be the total number of strictly fertile forms reproduced per parent per population (Total Darwinian Fitness shortened to TDF).
For example, if two sexual parents reproduce 10 immatures that subsequently die only leaving 3 to be raised to fertile adulthood then their individual TDF's are 1.5 a piece. Immature forms can only have a zero fitness because they cannot pass on any of their genes. With the inclusion of TDF Hamilton's Rule becomes:  rb>K-c where K= TDF. For the first time a finite total is allowed within the rule acting as a critical frame of reference for all of Hamilton's variables restricting Hamilton's variable cost c to a maximum of K. The more Hamilton's actor donates limited resources increasing a group of Darwinian competitors TDF fitnesses via b, the lower that actors TDF so the LESS the number of altruistic actors and the MORE the number of selfish takes in the next generation. If the actor donates K then it becomes extinct allowing no altruistic actors to present themselves in the next generation denying satisfaction to all the selfish takers in that population.

When c represents an investment (not a donation) then the TDF of BOTH the donor and the recipients MUST rise, but not necessarily equally, allowing a positive feedback loop and Darwinian evolution without Hamilton's fitness altruism and fertile organism fitness altruism. TDF empirically represents a maximand fitness (a fitness that cannot be naturally selected to be reduced). Like Einstein's c forcing light to always travel the fastest possible in whatever medium it travels, TDF is always maximized within Darwinism. The best possible strategy for any parent is to always work to maximize their own TDF because all the other parents are doing so. Parents remain unconscious of the fact that natural selection is the simple comparison of every TDF per population so that only the largest TDF can be naturally selected for. When competing by default, all you can possibly do is maximize your own TDF in an unconscious attempt to win. Cooperating to achieve this while simultaneously competing with your cooperator is what nature is all about.

Regards,

John Edser
Independent Researcher
edser ozemail.com.au

Read More in the quality moderated discussion group:
sci.bio.evolution

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 5, 2011

Altruism and selfishness present dependent variables. IOW, you cannot have one without the other; for every "altruistic" giver there must be a "selfish" taker. Therefore the denigration of selfishness and the simultaneous  elevation of altruism as a superior morality is not reasonable. Without a defined constant,  dependent variables have nothing to remain relative to. For example, you cannot distinguish between the sea water rising, the sea floor sinking or a combination of both when only observing the level of the sea relative to the land. Similarly, without a falsifiable, constant frame of reference it was and remains empirically impossible to distinguish between an altruistic donation and a mutually selfish investment. Price never realized this and neither did Hamilton et al the creators of "Hamilton's Rule" and today's increasingly popular "selfish" genes allowed to produce "altruistic" organisms which however remain prohibited by Darwinism as a falsification.

It is possible to amend Hamilton's Rule rb>c with the inclusion  of a simple, falsifiable Darwinian fitness constant that I define to be the total number of strictly fertile forms reproduced per parent per population (Total Darwinian Fitness shortened to TDF).
For example, if two sexual parents reproduce 10 immatures that subsequently die only leaving 3 to be raised to fertile adulthood then their individual TDF's are 1.5 a piece. Immature forms can only have a zero fitness because they cannot pass on any of their genes. With the inclusion of TDF Hamilton's Rule becomes:  rb>K-c where K= TDF. For the first time a finite total is allowed within the rule acting as a critical frame of reference for all of Hamilton's variables restricting Hamilton's variable cost c to a maximum of K. The more Hamilton's actor donates limited resources increasing a group of Darwinian competitors TDF fitnesses via b, the lower that actors TDF so the LESS the number of altruistic actors and the MORE the number of selfish takes in the next generation. If the actor donates K then it becomes extinct allowing no altruistic actors to present themselves in the next generation denying satisfaction to all the selfish takers in that population.

When c represents an investment (not a donation) then the TDF of BOTH the donor and the recipients MUST rise, but not necessarily equally, allowing a positive feedback loop and Darwinian evolution without Hamilton's fitness altruism and fertile organism fitness altruism. TDF empirically represents a maximand fitness (a fitness that cannot be naturally selected to be reduced). Like Einstein's c forcing light to always travel the fastest possible in whatever medium it travels, TDF is always maximized within Darwinism. The best possible strategy for any parent is to always work to maximize their own TDF because all the other parents are doing so. Parents remain unconscious of the fact that natural selection is the simple comparison of every TDF per population so that only the largest TDF can be naturally selected for. When competing by default, all you can possibly do is maximize your own TDF in an unconscious attempt to win. Cooperating to achieve this while simultaneously competing with your cooperator is what nature is all about.

Regards,

John Edser
Independent Researcher
edser ozemail.com.au

Read More in the quality moderated discussion group:
sci.bio.evolution

Avatar of: Edser

Anonymous

September 5, 2011

Altruism and selfishness present dependent variables. IOW, you cannot have one without the other; for every "altruistic" giver there must be a "selfish" taker. Therefore the denigration of selfishness and the simultaneous  elevation of altruism as a superior morality is not reasonable. Without a defined constant,  dependent variables have nothing to remain relative to. For example, you cannot distinguish between the sea water rising, the sea floor sinking or a combination of both when only observing the level of the sea relative to the land. Similarly, without a falsifiable, constant frame of reference it was and remains empirically impossible to distinguish between an altruistic donation and a mutually selfish investment. Price never realized this and neither did Hamilton et al the creators of "Hamilton's Rule" and today's increasingly popular "selfish" genes allowed to produce "altruistic" organisms which however remain prohibited by Darwinism as a falsification.

It is possible to amend Hamilton's Rule rb>c with the inclusion  of a simple, falsifiable Darwinian fitness constant that I define to be the total number of strictly fertile forms reproduced per parent per population (Total Darwinian Fitness shortened to TDF).
For example, if two sexual parents reproduce 10 immatures that subsequently die only leaving 3 to be raised to fertile adulthood then their individual TDF's are 1.5 a piece. Immature forms can only have a zero fitness because they cannot pass on any of their genes. With the inclusion of TDF Hamilton's Rule becomes:  rb>K-c where K= TDF. For the first time a finite total is allowed within the rule acting as a critical frame of reference for all of Hamilton's variables restricting Hamilton's variable cost c to a maximum of K. The more Hamilton's actor donates limited resources increasing a group of Darwinian competitors TDF fitnesses via b, the lower that actors TDF so the LESS the number of altruistic actors and the MORE the number of selfish takes in the next generation. If the actor donates K then it becomes extinct allowing no altruistic actors to present themselves in the next generation denying satisfaction to all the selfish takers in that population.

When c represents an investment (not a donation) then the TDF of BOTH the donor and the recipients MUST rise, but not necessarily equally, allowing a positive feedback loop and Darwinian evolution without Hamilton's fitness altruism and fertile organism fitness altruism. TDF empirically represents a maximand fitness (a fitness that cannot be naturally selected to be reduced). Like Einstein's c forcing light to always travel the fastest possible in whatever medium it travels, TDF is always maximized within Darwinism. The best possible strategy for any parent is to always work to maximize their own TDF because all the other parents are doing so. Parents remain unconscious of the fact that natural selection is the simple comparison of every TDF per population so that only the largest TDF can be naturally selected for. When competing by default, all you can possibly do is maximize your own TDF in an unconscious attempt to win. Cooperating to achieve this while simultaneously competing with your cooperator is what nature is all about.

Regards,

John Edser
Independent Researcher
edser ozemail.com.au

Read More in the quality moderated discussion group:
sci.bio.evolution

Avatar of: Guest

Anonymous

September 6, 2011

Perhaps trying to understanding altruism is no less complex than trying to understand George Price.  Were his altruistic activities on behalf of the homeless in London a way to prove or fulfill his theories?  Or to disprove them?  That a man of such intellect and energy would take his own life at age 52 further compounds the mystery.

I must confess that my curiosity is not energized by the thought of trying to understand altruism from an algorithmic perspective.  Personally, I find that actions can have many levels of motivation and trying to model them can seem a bit like trying to overcome the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  I am curious, however, to know whether there is a model for trying to understand/predict evil.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 6, 2011

Perhaps trying to understanding altruism is no less complex than trying to understand George Price.  Were his altruistic activities on behalf of the homeless in London a way to prove or fulfill his theories?  Or to disprove them?  That a man of such intellect and energy would take his own life at age 52 further compounds the mystery.

I must confess that my curiosity is not energized by the thought of trying to understand altruism from an algorithmic perspective.  Personally, I find that actions can have many levels of motivation and trying to model them can seem a bit like trying to overcome the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  I am curious, however, to know whether there is a model for trying to understand/predict evil.

Avatar of: Guest

Anonymous

September 6, 2011

Response to guest:  It seems you and I might be at risk of starting an interminable dialogue regarding semantics and popular science.  I would avoid that for one reason only, and that is inadequacy of expendable time to devote to the exchange which I feel sure would be delightful, if time did allow.  My main premise might surprise you.  It would be my view of an unavoidable contest between the organization of reasoning, at the one pole, versus the on-going homeostasis of irreconcilables.  (In this context I would intend the meaning of irreconcilables to be a special one, whereby two things, or actions, or forces or phenomena "dance" each with the other in a higher homeostasis, without ever merging into a new synthesis.  This is an enormously complex view, and might seem quite obtuse expressed without an abundance of examples.  It would pose, against a Hegelian dialectic, a multi-faceted interactivity in which outcomes vary.  In chemistry we see some things mix, while others chemically react, then too polarities that complement, repel, attract, detract.  Some simplistic thinkers have perceived a Darwinian dynamic to be one of winner take all -- the strong prevails and survives over the weak that fails and ceases to be.  But there are, as one of your intelligence (which I intuit from the nature of your response to my all-too-reductive comment) would appreciate, on access to my view as more fully expanded.

That you should introduce the issue of evil indicates to me that you appreciate as I do the dynamical "dance" that is in no way a contest between good and evil, but a homeostasis among irreconcilables, as interpreted from a coping bias.  What would be "evil" from the viewpoint of a genius cow, or from the viewpoint of a thinking weed, would be quite different than from the view of a meat-consuming human, or a human gardener.  Thus the very question of whether something is good or evil, must come from a specific focus of coping, and thence from a constantly changing perspective.  For example, a satiated diner would not view having another 12-oz steak served to him as would, say, one sitting down to dinner who has not taken any nourishment for the prior several hours.  A patient in need of a prosthetic knee would not have the same view of being sliced into as would a man in a knife fight.

As to the grossly simplistic view of a Darwinian contest, it fuels objections from some points of view that it does not address why some species do not appear to have changed much in millions of years and yet are deemed ancestors of some that have evolved in enormously complex ways.  But... here I must simply find a stopping place... even having perhaps raised more issues than resolved any.

But let me not omit to say that all contests in nature are not the same, and do not end the same way.  We end with both lions and tigers, with both elephants and voles, with both fish and fowl.  The head of a human does not contest with the heart such that one winner takes all, and the other, loses the contest and ceases to exist so that the other may survive.  And, nothing could be more absurd than the notion implied thousands of times in pop-science and even sometimes in research papers that living things adapt proactively... that they change in response to a need to change.  Elephants do not, for example, appear to be, evolution-wise, to be catching on to, or responding to, a need to get smaller or be obsolesced and eliminated.

But, as I warned at the beginning of this, you obviously are sufficiently intelligent to recognize that the nature of human thinking relies upon conceptualizations that reduce and extrapolate artificially in order to classify and thence analyze and compare things that have thus been altered for sake of our reasoning about them.  Yet there is much coping advantage in precisely just such artificially altered  conceptualizations... there is genius in it.  It is only by that distortion of the complexity of experience that we "deal" with it in an effective, coping way, and manipulate the very invironment we have distorted into something that can be made sense of. 

Enough... I must stop. 

Thank you for responding and demonstrating that you do see how the concept of evil and good as relating in a polar dynamic is an utter distortion of the complex dance of issues as seen from a single frame of interest, influenced by changes for that frame of interest over time, and combined with change and motion from the point of experience of other interest frames.

My contention is not that it is "wrong" for us humans to create artificial categories of phenomena and cram homogeneous things into -- cutting off, as it were, the corners of any shirtcollars or shirttails that protrude from the closed, crammed cognitive suitcase we humans travel with, and could not travel far (cognitively) without.  My extended contention, beyond that one, is that the more AWARE we are of how artificial categorizations are, the more capable we become of seeing the need, from time to time, to think outside the artificial boxes, and come up with new ideas, new approaches, new syntheses... that are based on alternative artificialities of organizing new observations and ways to measure, relate, organize, experiment...

Thank you again for the response.,   

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Posts: 0

September 6, 2011

Response to guest:  It seems you and I might be at risk of starting an interminable dialogue regarding semantics and popular science.  I would avoid that for one reason only, and that is inadequacy of expendable time to devote to the exchange which I feel sure would be delightful, if time did allow.  My main premise might surprise you.  It would be my view of an unavoidable contest between the organization of reasoning, at the one pole, versus the on-going homeostasis of irreconcilables.  (In this context I would intend the meaning of irreconcilables to be a special one, whereby two things, or actions, or forces or phenomena "dance" each with the other in a higher homeostasis, without ever merging into a new synthesis.  This is an enormously complex view, and might seem quite obtuse expressed without an abundance of examples.  It would pose, against a Hegelian dialectic, a multi-faceted interactivity in which outcomes vary.  In chemistry we see some things mix, while others chemically react, then too polarities that complement, repel, attract, detract.  Some simplistic thinkers have perceived a Darwinian dynamic to be one of winner take all -- the strong prevails and survives over the weak that fails and ceases to be.  But there are, as one of your intelligence (which I intuit from the nature of your response to my all-too-reductive comment) would appreciate, on access to my view as more fully expanded.

That you should introduce the issue of evil indicates to me that you appreciate as I do the dynamical "dance" that is in no way a contest between good and evil, but a homeostasis among irreconcilables, as interpreted from a coping bias.  What would be "evil" from the viewpoint of a genius cow, or from the viewpoint of a thinking weed, would be quite different than from the view of a meat-consuming human, or a human gardener.  Thus the very question of whether something is good or evil, must come from a specific focus of coping, and thence from a constantly changing perspective.  For example, a satiated diner would not view having another 12-oz steak served to him as would, say, one sitting down to dinner who has not taken any nourishment for the prior several hours.  A patient in need of a prosthetic knee would not have the same view of being sliced into as would a man in a knife fight.

As to the grossly simplistic view of a Darwinian contest, it fuels objections from some points of view that it does not address why some species do not appear to have changed much in millions of years and yet are deemed ancestors of some that have evolved in enormously complex ways.  But... here I must simply find a stopping place... even having perhaps raised more issues than resolved any.

But let me not omit to say that all contests in nature are not the same, and do not end the same way.  We end with both lions and tigers, with both elephants and voles, with both fish and fowl.  The head of a human does not contest with the heart such that one winner takes all, and the other, loses the contest and ceases to exist so that the other may survive.  And, nothing could be more absurd than the notion implied thousands of times in pop-science and even sometimes in research papers that living things adapt proactively... that they change in response to a need to change.  Elephants do not, for example, appear to be, evolution-wise, to be catching on to, or responding to, a need to get smaller or be obsolesced and eliminated.

But, as I warned at the beginning of this, you obviously are sufficiently intelligent to recognize that the nature of human thinking relies upon conceptualizations that reduce and extrapolate artificially in order to classify and thence analyze and compare things that have thus been altered for sake of our reasoning about them.  Yet there is much coping advantage in precisely just such artificially altered  conceptualizations... there is genius in it.  It is only by that distortion of the complexity of experience that we "deal" with it in an effective, coping way, and manipulate the very invironment we have distorted into something that can be made sense of. 

Enough... I must stop. 

Thank you for responding and demonstrating that you do see how the concept of evil and good as relating in a polar dynamic is an utter distortion of the complex dance of issues as seen from a single frame of interest, influenced by changes for that frame of interest over time, and combined with change and motion from the point of experience of other interest frames.

My contention is not that it is "wrong" for us humans to create artificial categories of phenomena and cram homogeneous things into -- cutting off, as it were, the corners of any shirtcollars or shirttails that protrude from the closed, crammed cognitive suitcase we humans travel with, and could not travel far (cognitively) without.  My extended contention, beyond that one, is that the more AWARE we are of how artificial categorizations are, the more capable we become of seeing the need, from time to time, to think outside the artificial boxes, and come up with new ideas, new approaches, new syntheses... that are based on alternative artificialities of organizing new observations and ways to measure, relate, organize, experiment...

Thank you again for the response.,   

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Posts: 0

September 6, 2011

Response to guest:  It seems you and I might be at risk of starting an interminable dialogue regarding semantics and popular science.  I would avoid that for one reason only, and that is inadequacy of expendable time to devote to the exchange which I feel sure would be delightful, if time did allow.  My main premise might surprise you.  It would be my view of an unavoidable contest between the organization of reasoning, at the one pole, versus the on-going homeostasis of irreconcilables.  (In this context I would intend the meaning of irreconcilables to be a special one, whereby two things, or actions, or forces or phenomena "dance" each with the other in a higher homeostasis, without ever merging into a new synthesis.  This is an enormously complex view, and might seem quite obtuse expressed without an abundance of examples.  It would pose, against a Hegelian dialectic, a multi-faceted interactivity in which outcomes vary.  In chemistry we see some things mix, while others chemically react, then too polarities that complement, repel, attract, detract.  Some simplistic thinkers have perceived a Darwinian dynamic to be one of winner take all -- the strong prevails and survives over the weak that fails and ceases to be.  But there are, as one of your intelligence (which I intuit from the nature of your response to my all-too-reductive comment) would appreciate, on access to my view as more fully expanded.

That you should introduce the issue of evil indicates to me that you appreciate as I do the dynamical "dance" that is in no way a contest between good and evil, but a homeostasis among irreconcilables, as interpreted from a coping bias.  What would be "evil" from the viewpoint of a genius cow, or from the viewpoint of a thinking weed, would be quite different than from the view of a meat-consuming human, or a human gardener.  Thus the very question of whether something is good or evil, must come from a specific focus of coping, and thence from a constantly changing perspective.  For example, a satiated diner would not view having another 12-oz steak served to him as would, say, one sitting down to dinner who has not taken any nourishment for the prior several hours.  A patient in need of a prosthetic knee would not have the same view of being sliced into as would a man in a knife fight.

As to the grossly simplistic view of a Darwinian contest, it fuels objections from some points of view that it does not address why some species do not appear to have changed much in millions of years and yet are deemed ancestors of some that have evolved in enormously complex ways.  But... here I must simply find a stopping place... even having perhaps raised more issues than resolved any.

But let me not omit to say that all contests in nature are not the same, and do not end the same way.  We end with both lions and tigers, with both elephants and voles, with both fish and fowl.  The head of a human does not contest with the heart such that one winner takes all, and the other, loses the contest and ceases to exist so that the other may survive.  And, nothing could be more absurd than the notion implied thousands of times in pop-science and even sometimes in research papers that living things adapt proactively... that they change in response to a need to change.  Elephants do not, for example, appear to be, evolution-wise, to be catching on to, or responding to, a need to get smaller or be obsolesced and eliminated.

But, as I warned at the beginning of this, you obviously are sufficiently intelligent to recognize that the nature of human thinking relies upon conceptualizations that reduce and extrapolate artificially in order to classify and thence analyze and compare things that have thus been altered for sake of our reasoning about them.  Yet there is much coping advantage in precisely just such artificially altered  conceptualizations... there is genius in it.  It is only by that distortion of the complexity of experience that we "deal" with it in an effective, coping way, and manipulate the very invironment we have distorted into something that can be made sense of. 

Enough... I must stop. 

Thank you for responding and demonstrating that you do see how the concept of evil and good as relating in a polar dynamic is an utter distortion of the complex dance of issues as seen from a single frame of interest, influenced by changes for that frame of interest over time, and combined with change and motion from the point of experience of other interest frames.

My contention is not that it is "wrong" for us humans to create artificial categories of phenomena and cram homogeneous things into -- cutting off, as it were, the corners of any shirtcollars or shirttails that protrude from the closed, crammed cognitive suitcase we humans travel with, and could not travel far (cognitively) without.  My extended contention, beyond that one, is that the more AWARE we are of how artificial categorizations are, the more capable we become of seeing the need, from time to time, to think outside the artificial boxes, and come up with new ideas, new approaches, new syntheses... that are based on alternative artificialities of organizing new observations and ways to measure, relate, organize, experiment...

Thank you again for the response.,   

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Posts: 0

September 6, 2011

Perhaps trying to understanding altruism is no less complex than trying to understand George Price.  Were his altruistic activities on behalf of the homeless in London a way to prove or fulfill his theories?  Or to disprove them?  That a man of such intellect and energy would take his own life at age 52 further compounds the mystery.

I must confess that my curiosity is not energized by the thought of trying to understand altruism from an algorithmic perspective.  Personally, I find that actions can have many levels of motivation and trying to model them can seem a bit like trying to overcome the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  I am curious, however, to know whether there is a model for trying to understand/predict evil.

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September 8, 2011

Dear Guest,

It is no secret that the morality play of "altruism" verses "selfishness" was co-opted by respectively, the political extremes of the old left and right. Evolutionary theory has never been immune to political bias, even from inception. For example, it was Herbert Spencer on the political far right  (not Darwin) who coined the ever popular "survival of the fittest" soon after Darwin published, enshrining selfishness over altruism within nature. His empty tautology had a devastating effect on political thinking underwriting National Socialist racism and the misuse of Muller's key discovery of mutation via state enforced eugenics (even within the USA).  It was no mere coincidence that both Price and J.B.S. Haldane (a founding father of population genetics) were communist while W.D. Hamilton remained committed to the far left. Not surprisingly, all of them worked tirelessly to incorporate altruism within nature. Dawkins made no secret of his hatred for the then free market conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the far right thought that evolutionary is "red in tooth and claw" so he was happy to underwrite organism fitness altruism via selfish geneism (based entirely on Hamilton's tautologous rule).  On the far right, both Muller and Fisher (another founding father of population genetics) were fascist working tirelessly to demonstrate that nature was naturally selfish.

 Since "selfishness" and "altruism" are dependent variables, striving to vindicate one or the other makes no sense (please refer to my comments). What Darwinism stresses is neither selfish or altruistic but simply, fitness mutualistic. Cooperation and competition are not self exclusive but simultaneous within nature.

Regards,

John Edser
Independent Researcher

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Posts: 0

September 8, 2011

Dear Guest,

It is no secret that the morality play of "altruism" verses "selfishness" was co-opted by respectively, the political extremes of the old left and right. Evolutionary theory has never been immune to political bias, even from inception. For example, it was Herbert Spencer on the political far right  (not Darwin) who coined the ever popular "survival of the fittest" soon after Darwin published, enshrining selfishness over altruism within nature. His empty tautology had a devastating effect on political thinking underwriting National Socialist racism and the misuse of Muller's key discovery of mutation via state enforced eugenics (even within the USA).  It was no mere coincidence that both Price and J.B.S. Haldane (a founding father of population genetics) were communist while W.D. Hamilton remained committed to the far left. Not surprisingly, all of them worked tirelessly to incorporate altruism within nature. Dawkins made no secret of his hatred for the then free market conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the far right thought that evolutionary is "red in tooth and claw" so he was happy to underwrite organism fitness altruism via selfish geneism (based entirely on Hamilton's tautologous rule).  On the far right, both Muller and Fisher (another founding father of population genetics) were fascist working tirelessly to demonstrate that nature was naturally selfish.

 Since "selfishness" and "altruism" are dependent variables, striving to vindicate one or the other makes no sense (please refer to my comments). What Darwinism stresses is neither selfish or altruistic but simply, fitness mutualistic. Cooperation and competition are not self exclusive but simultaneous within nature.

Regards,

John Edser
Independent Researcher

Avatar of: Edser

Anonymous

September 8, 2011

Dear Guest,

It is no secret that the morality play of "altruism" verses "selfishness" was co-opted by respectively, the political extremes of the old left and right. Evolutionary theory has never been immune to political bias, even from inception. For example, it was Herbert Spencer on the political far right  (not Darwin) who coined the ever popular "survival of the fittest" soon after Darwin published, enshrining selfishness over altruism within nature. His empty tautology had a devastating effect on political thinking underwriting National Socialist racism and the misuse of Muller's key discovery of mutation via state enforced eugenics (even within the USA).  It was no mere coincidence that both Price and J.B.S. Haldane (a founding father of population genetics) were communist while W.D. Hamilton remained committed to the far left. Not surprisingly, all of them worked tirelessly to incorporate altruism within nature. Dawkins made no secret of his hatred for the then free market conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the far right thought that evolutionary is "red in tooth and claw" so he was happy to underwrite organism fitness altruism via selfish geneism (based entirely on Hamilton's tautologous rule).  On the far right, both Muller and Fisher (another founding father of population genetics) were fascist working tirelessly to demonstrate that nature was naturally selfish.

 Since "selfishness" and "altruism" are dependent variables, striving to vindicate one or the other makes no sense (please refer to my comments). What Darwinism stresses is neither selfish or altruistic but simply, fitness mutualistic. Cooperation and competition are not self exclusive but simultaneous within nature.

Regards,

John Edser
Independent Researcher

Avatar of: Tomkamak

Anonymous

September 9, 2011

I believe the book's point of view/perspective is to understand kindness, altruism, and sacrifice from an evolutionary perspective---not religious. If you want to add to understanding of religion that goes beyond faith and belief, I would suggest the book, "The Evolution of God". Combining the two, religion and evolution, in developing a perspective on this book is a mistake, possibly even representing personal bias.

Avatar of: Tokamak

Anonymous

September 9, 2011

It's...

Avatar of: Guest

Anonymous

September 9, 2011

John Edser, you rascal you.  After all these years!  Hello again.

My chief concern is to stimulate thought as to the role of the concept of altruism in bio-evo thinking, only.  That alone is enough of a challenge.  To spin off of that into  political theory and practice, economic theory and practice, social theory and practice could take the rest of this old man's life.  And, actually, it would divert away from my
motive -- which is not to honor the term but, rather, to urge thought on how any such term can become a cop-out to genuine, useful scientific analysis.

My problems with the term are not a result of not having thought about it in attempted depth but, on the contrary, are a result of my having tried to, and found the experience akin to peeling an onion and finding nothing in there but more onion or, ultimately, as with any word (or any chemical element) a point beyond which it cannot be subdivided and still be onion.

I was enormously pleased that a guest commentator brought up the concept of "evil."
And I was delighted to enter through that door of metaphor to point out (see my prior comment) the relativity of evil (Einsteinian view) whereby, for example, the ONLY way light can have the same relative speed in every LOCAL frame of reference is for it to be the very opposite of constant as viewed from any EXTERNAL frame of reference.  Only to a local observer is it proportionate to that observer's local frame and, hence, scaler for every "foreign" frame.  Even so, what is evil in one frame of reference, might be defined as being quite eccentric to any other.  This, too, can be extrapolated into political, economic, social, psychological, philosophical... frames of reference.

Nothing personal, but you and I could go on forever with your skills as brilliantly spinning a subject toward infinity.  (A compliment to your genius at doing that, but a courteous "no thank you" on it, from me.)

Several philosophers/intellectuals have written some richly entertaining treatments of how one's rhetoric can act in such a way as to wag the dog of one's reason.  Chomsky comes to my mind, in his discussion of how certain expressions must be used in reference to certain political statements, lest their editors send them back to rewrite until they do.  Chomsky pointed out, for example, in one of his books, that any dictator who was cooperating with what U.S. foreign strategy during the Cold War was "moderate," whereas the most democratically structured nation that refused to cooperate with our agenda was "radical."  And this was not a mere chance remark, but was based on examination of any and every archive of any major U.S. news media.

Even so, using the term "altruism" as a catch all is -- as I would estimate -- no more productive than the use of such expressions "you know."  Indeed there are many earmarks in common between the two.  We could, if we wished to make a joke of it, combine the two and imagine two evo-biologists in a conversation saying to each other from time to time, "you know, altruism."

With utmost love and respect for who labor to learn something about natural things, and interpret their findings, I wish for them a more nuanced set of concepts (indeed a recognition that those nuances exist) as to what is an alleged example or representative sampling of what it means to be or not to be altruistic.  From my one old thinkers frame of reference, it has become an enormously over-stuffed catch-all of a word.  An term one can always fall back on in a pinch, assured that it will seldom provoke the question of:  "Just what do you mean -- altruism."

Great to know you are still out there somewhere down under, and kicking against the pricks, John (:> ).  

Avatar of: Guest

Anonymous

September 9, 2011

My pet bias is a bias against bias.

Yes, I have read that book.

I find it interesting you would use word to the effect of, "If you want to understand (whatever) read the book (whatever).

My recommendation is that if someone wants to understand something he should read many books on it, and then do the three things Newton recommended:  think about it, think about it and think about it.

That does not assure understanding, however.

It is noted with appreciation that your wording was not "... and then you will understand it."

My perception of knowledge is that if we could buy the most knowledgeable person who ever lived for what he knows, and sell him/her for what he/she thinks he/she knows, we could purchase the universe.

This is not to correct your advice but merely to acknowledge it and share my view.

My shelves are lined with many books many subjects, each so filled with notes and cross references to other books, agreeing and disagreeing on specific points, that they have no resale value. 

Long, long ago I reconciled myself to the internal stance that everybody's opinion is valuable, and may be more correct than my own.  But in a maze one is more likely to progress toward understanding -- though he never arrive -- by turning one way or the other, than by avoiding taking a chance on being wrong.  At a dead end, if time allows, one can backtrack and try the other option. 

Thank you for sharing name of a book.  Had I not already read it, it would have been helpful.  Today I am rereading Gilpin's Global Political Economy and Zakaria's "Post American World."  I'm wanting to go back and read much of Zarefsky's books on argumentation, especially his ideas on the limitations of formal logic versus the power of informal logic.  For me, Zarefsky's treatment takes issues of informal logic beyond the realm of what is more often termed "critical thinking." 

The most powerful writing ever I have found on the subject of clinical sociopathy is Cleckley's Mask of Sanity.  Though written half a century ago, it is among the books on the shelves of every Psychiatrist I have asked.  So it may be the best book available on the subject even to the present day.  It seems to me that any progress toward understanding of the emotional inclination toward what is one of the aspects of emotion and related behavior in humans would do well to include some recent research relating to sociopathy, psychopathy, and many other emotion and behavior variables.
Even some of Dale Carnegie's perceptions -- though rarely mentioned these days -- offer some insight.  And, though no one mentions it outside certain medical professional circles, transactional analysis theory can expand an understanding of how operant conditioning shapes personality orientation. 

Once one departs from conscious altruism, learned altruism, conditional altruism... and begins to speak of Kamakazi in bees (voluntary perhaps and not conscious), or apoptosis of cells in certain scenarios as being altruistic, that is as vast a chasm bridged by "stretching a mosquito's anus over the top of a rain barrel," to quote a PhD friend of mine who has some of the same issues with the word that I have.

But this sharing of thoughts on altruism is not intended to be critical of the book in subject, nor its author, nor the gentleman the book is about. 

To know me well would be to know that there is nothing so intolerable to me as intolerance, as well as nothing I am so bias against as bias... unless one is AWARE of one's biases, and is open to change them upon being provided sufficiently compelling grounds to tempt such a change. 
    

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Posts: 0

September 9, 2011

I believe the book's point of view/perspective is to understand kindness, altruism, and sacrifice from an evolutionary perspective---not religious. If you want to add to understanding of religion that goes beyond faith and belief, I would suggest the book, "The Evolution of God". Combining the two, religion and evolution, in developing a perspective on this book is a mistake, possibly even representing personal bias.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 9, 2011

It's...

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 9, 2011

John Edser, you rascal you.  After all these years!  Hello again.

My chief concern is to stimulate thought as to the role of the concept of altruism in bio-evo thinking, only.  That alone is enough of a challenge.  To spin off of that into  political theory and practice, economic theory and practice, social theory and practice could take the rest of this old man's life.  And, actually, it would divert away from my
motive -- which is not to honor the term but, rather, to urge thought on how any such term can become a cop-out to genuine, useful scientific analysis.

My problems with the term are not a result of not having thought about it in attempted depth but, on the contrary, are a result of my having tried to, and found the experience akin to peeling an onion and finding nothing in there but more onion or, ultimately, as with any word (or any chemical element) a point beyond which it cannot be subdivided and still be onion.

I was enormously pleased that a guest commentator brought up the concept of "evil."
And I was delighted to enter through that door of metaphor to point out (see my prior comment) the relativity of evil (Einsteinian view) whereby, for example, the ONLY way light can have the same relative speed in every LOCAL frame of reference is for it to be the very opposite of constant as viewed from any EXTERNAL frame of reference.  Only to a local observer is it proportionate to that observer's local frame and, hence, scaler for every "foreign" frame.  Even so, what is evil in one frame of reference, might be defined as being quite eccentric to any other.  This, too, can be extrapolated into political, economic, social, psychological, philosophical... frames of reference.

Nothing personal, but you and I could go on forever with your skills as brilliantly spinning a subject toward infinity.  (A compliment to your genius at doing that, but a courteous "no thank you" on it, from me.)

Several philosophers/intellectuals have written some richly entertaining treatments of how one's rhetoric can act in such a way as to wag the dog of one's reason.  Chomsky comes to my mind, in his discussion of how certain expressions must be used in reference to certain political statements, lest their editors send them back to rewrite until they do.  Chomsky pointed out, for example, in one of his books, that any dictator who was cooperating with what U.S. foreign strategy during the Cold War was "moderate," whereas the most democratically structured nation that refused to cooperate with our agenda was "radical."  And this was not a mere chance remark, but was based on examination of any and every archive of any major U.S. news media.

Even so, using the term "altruism" as a catch all is -- as I would estimate -- no more productive than the use of such expressions "you know."  Indeed there are many earmarks in common between the two.  We could, if we wished to make a joke of it, combine the two and imagine two evo-biologists in a conversation saying to each other from time to time, "you know, altruism."

With utmost love and respect for who labor to learn something about natural things, and interpret their findings, I wish for them a more nuanced set of concepts (indeed a recognition that those nuances exist) as to what is an alleged example or representative sampling of what it means to be or not to be altruistic.  From my one old thinkers frame of reference, it has become an enormously over-stuffed catch-all of a word.  An term one can always fall back on in a pinch, assured that it will seldom provoke the question of:  "Just what do you mean -- altruism."

Great to know you are still out there somewhere down under, and kicking against the pricks, John (:> ).  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 9, 2011

My pet bias is a bias against bias.

Yes, I have read that book.

I find it interesting you would use word to the effect of, "If you want to understand (whatever) read the book (whatever).

My recommendation is that if someone wants to understand something he should read many books on it, and then do the three things Newton recommended:  think about it, think about it and think about it.

That does not assure understanding, however.

It is noted with appreciation that your wording was not "... and then you will understand it."

My perception of knowledge is that if we could buy the most knowledgeable person who ever lived for what he knows, and sell him/her for what he/she thinks he/she knows, we could purchase the universe.

This is not to correct your advice but merely to acknowledge it and share my view.

My shelves are lined with many books many subjects, each so filled with notes and cross references to other books, agreeing and disagreeing on specific points, that they have no resale value. 

Long, long ago I reconciled myself to the internal stance that everybody's opinion is valuable, and may be more correct than my own.  But in a maze one is more likely to progress toward understanding -- though he never arrive -- by turning one way or the other, than by avoiding taking a chance on being wrong.  At a dead end, if time allows, one can backtrack and try the other option. 

Thank you for sharing name of a book.  Had I not already read it, it would have been helpful.  Today I am rereading Gilpin's Global Political Economy and Zakaria's "Post American World."  I'm wanting to go back and read much of Zarefsky's books on argumentation, especially his ideas on the limitations of formal logic versus the power of informal logic.  For me, Zarefsky's treatment takes issues of informal logic beyond the realm of what is more often termed "critical thinking." 

The most powerful writing ever I have found on the subject of clinical sociopathy is Cleckley's Mask of Sanity.  Though written half a century ago, it is among the books on the shelves of every Psychiatrist I have asked.  So it may be the best book available on the subject even to the present day.  It seems to me that any progress toward understanding of the emotional inclination toward what is one of the aspects of emotion and related behavior in humans would do well to include some recent research relating to sociopathy, psychopathy, and many other emotion and behavior variables.
Even some of Dale Carnegie's perceptions -- though rarely mentioned these days -- offer some insight.  And, though no one mentions it outside certain medical professional circles, transactional analysis theory can expand an understanding of how operant conditioning shapes personality orientation. 

Once one departs from conscious altruism, learned altruism, conditional altruism... and begins to speak of Kamakazi in bees (voluntary perhaps and not conscious), or apoptosis of cells in certain scenarios as being altruistic, that is as vast a chasm bridged by "stretching a mosquito's anus over the top of a rain barrel," to quote a PhD friend of mine who has some of the same issues with the word that I have.

But this sharing of thoughts on altruism is not intended to be critical of the book in subject, nor its author, nor the gentleman the book is about. 

To know me well would be to know that there is nothing so intolerable to me as intolerance, as well as nothing I am so bias against as bias... unless one is AWARE of one's biases, and is open to change them upon being provided sufficiently compelling grounds to tempt such a change. 
    

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September 9, 2011

I believe the book's point of view/perspective is to understand kindness, altruism, and sacrifice from an evolutionary perspective---not religious. If you want to add to understanding of religion that goes beyond faith and belief, I would suggest the book, "The Evolution of God". Combining the two, religion and evolution, in developing a perspective on this book is a mistake, possibly even representing personal bias.

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September 9, 2011

It's...

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September 9, 2011

John Edser, you rascal you.  After all these years!  Hello again.

My chief concern is to stimulate thought as to the role of the concept of altruism in bio-evo thinking, only.  That alone is enough of a challenge.  To spin off of that into  political theory and practice, economic theory and practice, social theory and practice could take the rest of this old man's life.  And, actually, it would divert away from my
motive -- which is not to honor the term but, rather, to urge thought on how any such term can become a cop-out to genuine, useful scientific analysis.

My problems with the term are not a result of not having thought about it in attempted depth but, on the contrary, are a result of my having tried to, and found the experience akin to peeling an onion and finding nothing in there but more onion or, ultimately, as with any word (or any chemical element) a point beyond which it cannot be subdivided and still be onion.

I was enormously pleased that a guest commentator brought up the concept of "evil."
And I was delighted to enter through that door of metaphor to point out (see my prior comment) the relativity of evil (Einsteinian view) whereby, for example, the ONLY way light can have the same relative speed in every LOCAL frame of reference is for it to be the very opposite of constant as viewed from any EXTERNAL frame of reference.  Only to a local observer is it proportionate to that observer's local frame and, hence, scaler for every "foreign" frame.  Even so, what is evil in one frame of reference, might be defined as being quite eccentric to any other.  This, too, can be extrapolated into political, economic, social, psychological, philosophical... frames of reference.

Nothing personal, but you and I could go on forever with your skills as brilliantly spinning a subject toward infinity.  (A compliment to your genius at doing that, but a courteous "no thank you" on it, from me.)

Several philosophers/intellectuals have written some richly entertaining treatments of how one's rhetoric can act in such a way as to wag the dog of one's reason.  Chomsky comes to my mind, in his discussion of how certain expressions must be used in reference to certain political statements, lest their editors send them back to rewrite until they do.  Chomsky pointed out, for example, in one of his books, that any dictator who was cooperating with what U.S. foreign strategy during the Cold War was "moderate," whereas the most democratically structured nation that refused to cooperate with our agenda was "radical."  And this was not a mere chance remark, but was based on examination of any and every archive of any major U.S. news media.

Even so, using the term "altruism" as a catch all is -- as I would estimate -- no more productive than the use of such expressions "you know."  Indeed there are many earmarks in common between the two.  We could, if we wished to make a joke of it, combine the two and imagine two evo-biologists in a conversation saying to each other from time to time, "you know, altruism."

With utmost love and respect for who labor to learn something about natural things, and interpret their findings, I wish for them a more nuanced set of concepts (indeed a recognition that those nuances exist) as to what is an alleged example or representative sampling of what it means to be or not to be altruistic.  From my one old thinkers frame of reference, it has become an enormously over-stuffed catch-all of a word.  An term one can always fall back on in a pinch, assured that it will seldom provoke the question of:  "Just what do you mean -- altruism."

Great to know you are still out there somewhere down under, and kicking against the pricks, John (:> ).  

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September 9, 2011

My pet bias is a bias against bias.

Yes, I have read that book.

I find it interesting you would use word to the effect of, "If you want to understand (whatever) read the book (whatever).

My recommendation is that if someone wants to understand something he should read many books on it, and then do the three things Newton recommended:  think about it, think about it and think about it.

That does not assure understanding, however.

It is noted with appreciation that your wording was not "... and then you will understand it."

My perception of knowledge is that if we could buy the most knowledgeable person who ever lived for what he knows, and sell him/her for what he/she thinks he/she knows, we could purchase the universe.

This is not to correct your advice but merely to acknowledge it and share my view.

My shelves are lined with many books many subjects, each so filled with notes and cross references to other books, agreeing and disagreeing on specific points, that they have no resale value. 

Long, long ago I reconciled myself to the internal stance that everybody's opinion is valuable, and may be more correct than my own.  But in a maze one is more likely to progress toward understanding -- though he never arrive -- by turning one way or the other, than by avoiding taking a chance on being wrong.  At a dead end, if time allows, one can backtrack and try the other option. 

Thank you for sharing name of a book.  Had I not already read it, it would have been helpful.  Today I am rereading Gilpin's Global Political Economy and Zakaria's "Post American World."  I'm wanting to go back and read much of Zarefsky's books on argumentation, especially his ideas on the limitations of formal logic versus the power of informal logic.  For me, Zarefsky's treatment takes issues of informal logic beyond the realm of what is more often termed "critical thinking." 

The most powerful writing ever I have found on the subject of clinical sociopathy is Cleckley's Mask of Sanity.  Though written half a century ago, it is among the books on the shelves of every Psychiatrist I have asked.  So it may be the best book available on the subject even to the present day.  It seems to me that any progress toward understanding of the emotional inclination toward what is one of the aspects of emotion and related behavior in humans would do well to include some recent research relating to sociopathy, psychopathy, and many other emotion and behavior variables.
Even some of Dale Carnegie's perceptions -- though rarely mentioned these days -- offer some insight.  And, though no one mentions it outside certain medical professional circles, transactional analysis theory can expand an understanding of how operant conditioning shapes personality orientation. 

Once one departs from conscious altruism, learned altruism, conditional altruism... and begins to speak of Kamakazi in bees (voluntary perhaps and not conscious), or apoptosis of cells in certain scenarios as being altruistic, that is as vast a chasm bridged by "stretching a mosquito's anus over the top of a rain barrel," to quote a PhD friend of mine who has some of the same issues with the word that I have.

But this sharing of thoughts on altruism is not intended to be critical of the book in subject, nor its author, nor the gentleman the book is about. 

To know me well would be to know that there is nothing so intolerable to me as intolerance, as well as nothing I am so bias against as bias... unless one is AWARE of one's biases, and is open to change them upon being provided sufficiently compelling grounds to tempt such a change. 
    

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September 10, 2011

A friend of mine who is advanced in both the study of bio-physiology and the study of engineering tends to try (at least) to reconcile everything to the laws of thermodynamics.  The two in concert, he tells me, will get you a cup of cold, stale, quick-stop coffee, providing an employee is about to toss it out and make another batch.  Also, it requires, he tells me, a considerable amount of compartmentalized conceptualization to keep the two from coming together and mutually annihilating, whereupon he would be left in a state of senile dementia (:>).

What I enjoy most about him, next to his superb sense of humor, is his intellectual humility.  He defines graduate study as "that regimen whereby one is enabled to resign oneself to the fact that everything he learned as an undergraduate is at best a conglomeration of half-truths and uncertain close-enoughs." 

In teaching undergrads, he says, you have to give them something they can hang onto until they, hopefully, can be brought to a level of being able to deal in positive and useful ways with unrequited uncertainties, and still maintain the ability to think.  (Any similarity to F. Scott Fitzgerald, or any other, purely intentional.)

In our latest conversation, I ventured the possibility that many post grads seem capable of being logical positivists, and making statements as though they had somehow obtained a license to be right, when less highly schooled individuals happen to have chosen some other unprovable/undisprovable stance than their own.

"Absolutely something I have perceived to be so, too!" he exclaimed.

Then I proceeded to lay out my reasoning as to how desperately we humans are upon taking some kind of stance on many an unprovable/undisprovable, even as a person who does not know how to swim, does well to try something, as opposed to merely doing nothing.  Not only that, I said, but it seems to me that it is better that we do not consciously keep track of each step in rationalizing and interpreting the data on any issue, be it science or otherwise, lest we end up like the centipede in a nursery rhyme, which, upon being asked he kept track of which leg to move next, the centipede not only could not explain it, but became so disoriented he was unable even to demonstrate he walked by walking.  He concurred. 

How does that relate to gentle, caring, sharing, even self-sacrificial behavior sometimes referred to as "altruistic" behavior?

Think of it this way, if you will:  We humans are fortunate indeed that whatever forces and circumstances brought us with so little certainty about anything to where we are physiologically.  We muddled along and things worked out so that we are still muddling.  But our brains and our not-so-brain-centered homeostastases (yes, they are multiple) enable some things, such as signal transformations even from one category to another -- chemical, electrolytic, electromagnetic, permiability gates of various kinds... -- we would be quite like that centipede, I fear, if we had to do all that consciously... if, among other things, two cells could not communicate without going through command central, as it were...

Even so, I maintain, we must process THOUSANDS of, I'm-not-certains-but-feel-safe-in-presuming (whatever), even in the process of going about a mundane day of decisions.

Not only do I ponder what some would quickly and unthinkingly toss into the pigeon hole called "altruism" (a very, very large-capacity one, it seems to me, for some biologists who use the term profusely.)

But, could I be wrong?

Wrong about what?  I haven't deceived myself into thinking I have the details all sorted out and organized and could teach it to persons of advanced familiarity (knowledge certain?) in the field of bio-evo or any other.  Neither do I understand why it would emotionally upset anyone at all.  That it does, and why it does, is another matter entirely.  My main focus of puzzlement is why anybody would object to anyone else's set of best guesses or opinionations following therefrom.

What was that remark about... Oh, yes.  About thinking.  Fitzgerald again, I'm guessing... something to the effect of, "Either we think, or someone else does out thinking for us."

Where so many things are neither provable nor disprovable, why do some feel threatened, or obligated to set straight, one of our fellow centipedes, if he thinks?

With much respect and affection for all thinkers.

           

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September 10, 2011

This is not on altruism, but on my issue with logical positivism.  I've just now called my engineer friend, who got out of biology and went back to college and became an engineer, and asked him to give me feedback on my today's sequel.  He said he needed to review what logical positivism is about.  He called me back laughing and said, "I've got mixed feelings," to which he responded, "You've got a lot of philosophers to argue down."

As I explained to my friend, I can more or less offer my entire problem with logical positivism in a few sentences.  That's not to say I can put down all arguments, it is merely to say that my view is quite easy for me to explain.  For him, and for anyone else who would like to know:

My view (and please know I encourage you to arrive at your own) of so-called knowledge and learning is that we humans have an incomplete exposure to all that "is."  What percentage of imcompleteness?  How would I know.  I arrive at that stance only by way of history, with full understanding that a man who has jumped off the top of a skyscraper and is passing one of the lower floors has a "history" in that regard of not ever having come to a sudden stop.  But, as most humans do, I would think, I rely heavily upon an averaging out of what we commonly call "so far."  History of mankind, perhaps we can agree, is all about "so far." 

So far, science has never arrived at a destination wherefrom nothing new is ruled in or ruled out.

And my own internalized stance, based on "so far," is that all the so-called scientific "knowledge" in the minds and annals of humans has "so far" turned out to be subject to need of on-going upgrading, as it were, and from time to time, at least, a whole new operating system shake-up... paradigm shift... synthesis... whatever.  My best guess is that, with all the new data pouring in from so many research sources, there are some surprises in store...  If I had to bet one way or the other, I would put my money on the square, so to speak, that says, "Empirical science is going to have to re-adapt its rationalizations and its hypotheses to some more unexpected surprises.

Maybe not.  You see, that's one of those unprovable/undisprovable things we sometimes call unknowns. 

As to methodologies of coming up with hypotheses, I sometimes am amazed that so many who deem themselves expertly science literate INSIST that everybody be on the same page:  a consensus.  Some insist that Occam's Razor assures our rationalization that offers the least complex story made up after the facts available at any given juncture is "most likely to be correct."  Space here does not allow how many times "so far" that has turned out to be contradicted.  The history of science is so replete with examples of how things we could rule in contained so many factors never before dreamed of, that it is safer to say, if history is any indicator, the answer to even the simplest question in science is going to be enormously more complex that we have any way of foreseeing.  Everybody knows what up is and can point it out for us.  How simple is that?  Unless you ask why its direction is not the same for any two points on Earth.  Who is right.  Some of the biggest lies in history, so far, have been things "everybody knows."

But, in a nutshell, my approach to epistomology resolves around a mere handful of questions:

What can we observe, measure analyze;
What have we missed that can be observed, measured and analyzed;
What, if anything, have we missed that we may never be able to observe, measure or analyze;
What can we RULE  IN, based on CERTAINTIES we have "so far;" and, finally,
What can we RULE  OUT, by any and every means and experience we are aware of?

It is the last question on that list which, for me, departs from logical positivism.

And, moving on from the point of that dilemma, comes what I like to think of as "the coping question," which is more general than philosophy of science alone.  It is this one:

Who has the right to say he has ruled out anything, whatsoever, on basis that someone else cannot rule it in.

A very intelligent friend of mine, when I told him this, said, "You believe in fairies, then."

I thanked him profusely for that.  "No, I answered, but if I wanted to I would."

"So you just believe in what you want to, no matter what," he said.

"I only believe in what I want to that nobody, to my knowledge has ruled in or out on an empirical basis."

I went on to explain to him that Dr. Einstein had an open mind about God or god.  Among physicists the word "god" with lower case "g" can be somewhat crudely defined as, "... what is, and what's going on with what is."

If there is a heaven, and I get there, I do hope Dr. Einstein will be there waiting to meet me.  If so, and if he is willing, we are going to have a wonderful time discussing why, if God with a capital "G" exists and existed, he chose to put us humans in the awkward position of being unable to rule him, or Him as the case may be, OUT.

Meanwhile, while I live and think, I choose to take entertain my choice to view the universe as having a higher intelligence than that of any human, that the higher intelligence is mindful of me and you, that he,she or it, or He, She, or It is not sociopathic insofar as humans are concerned, and a few things like that.

To me the universe, so conceived, is a friendlier, more enjoyable one in which to live, and the story of mankind does not end, when the sun goes supernova or, prior to that, when we blow ourselves us, or die in our own excrement (human and industrial) like yeasts in a brewing vat.

It's a choice between many other unprovables/undisprovables.  But, what the heck.

Why do I choose something I can't rule in and nobody can rule out?

I know, I know.  It's trite to say it, right?  But WHY  NOT?

P.S.  As I stated earlier, my stance on this matter, is biased only if a bias is defined as being a mind open to embrace any proof to the contrary, any personal preference to the contrary not withstanding.  I WELCOME any empirical proof, either way, and invite anybody who has same, to provide it.  Go for it.

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September 10, 2011

A friend of mine who is advanced in both the study of bio-physiology and the study of engineering tends to try (at least) to reconcile everything to the laws of thermodynamics.  The two in concert, he tells me, will get you a cup of cold, stale, quick-stop coffee, providing an employee is about to toss it out and make another batch.  Also, it requires, he tells me, a considerable amount of compartmentalized conceptualization to keep the two from coming together and mutually annihilating, whereupon he would be left in a state of senile dementia (:>).

What I enjoy most about him, next to his superb sense of humor, is his intellectual humility.  He defines graduate study as "that regimen whereby one is enabled to resign oneself to the fact that everything he learned as an undergraduate is at best a conglomeration of half-truths and uncertain close-enoughs." 

In teaching undergrads, he says, you have to give them something they can hang onto until they, hopefully, can be brought to a level of being able to deal in positive and useful ways with unrequited uncertainties, and still maintain the ability to think.  (Any similarity to F. Scott Fitzgerald, or any other, purely intentional.)

In our latest conversation, I ventured the possibility that many post grads seem capable of being logical positivists, and making statements as though they had somehow obtained a license to be right, when less highly schooled individuals happen to have chosen some other unprovable/undisprovable stance than their own.

"Absolutely something I have perceived to be so, too!" he exclaimed.

Then I proceeded to lay out my reasoning as to how desperately we humans are upon taking some kind of stance on many an unprovable/undisprovable, even as a person who does not know how to swim, does well to try something, as opposed to merely doing nothing.  Not only that, I said, but it seems to me that it is better that we do not consciously keep track of each step in rationalizing and interpreting the data on any issue, be it science or otherwise, lest we end up like the centipede in a nursery rhyme, which, upon being asked he kept track of which leg to move next, the centipede not only could not explain it, but became so disoriented he was unable even to demonstrate he walked by walking.  He concurred. 

How does that relate to gentle, caring, sharing, even self-sacrificial behavior sometimes referred to as "altruistic" behavior?

Think of it this way, if you will:  We humans are fortunate indeed that whatever forces and circumstances brought us with so little certainty about anything to where we are physiologically.  We muddled along and things worked out so that we are still muddling.  But our brains and our not-so-brain-centered homeostastases (yes, they are multiple) enable some things, such as signal transformations even from one category to another -- chemical, electrolytic, electromagnetic, permiability gates of various kinds... -- we would be quite like that centipede, I fear, if we had to do all that consciously... if, among other things, two cells could not communicate without going through command central, as it were...

Even so, I maintain, we must process THOUSANDS of, I'm-not-certains-but-feel-safe-in-presuming (whatever), even in the process of going about a mundane day of decisions.

Not only do I ponder what some would quickly and unthinkingly toss into the pigeon hole called "altruism" (a very, very large-capacity one, it seems to me, for some biologists who use the term profusely.)

But, could I be wrong?

Wrong about what?  I haven't deceived myself into thinking I have the details all sorted out and organized and could teach it to persons of advanced familiarity (knowledge certain?) in the field of bio-evo or any other.  Neither do I understand why it would emotionally upset anyone at all.  That it does, and why it does, is another matter entirely.  My main focus of puzzlement is why anybody would object to anyone else's set of best guesses or opinionations following therefrom.

What was that remark about... Oh, yes.  About thinking.  Fitzgerald again, I'm guessing... something to the effect of, "Either we think, or someone else does out thinking for us."

Where so many things are neither provable nor disprovable, why do some feel threatened, or obligated to set straight, one of our fellow centipedes, if he thinks?

With much respect and affection for all thinkers.

           

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September 10, 2011

This is not on altruism, but on my issue with logical positivism.  I've just now called my engineer friend, who got out of biology and went back to college and became an engineer, and asked him to give me feedback on my today's sequel.  He said he needed to review what logical positivism is about.  He called me back laughing and said, "I've got mixed feelings," to which he responded, "You've got a lot of philosophers to argue down."

As I explained to my friend, I can more or less offer my entire problem with logical positivism in a few sentences.  That's not to say I can put down all arguments, it is merely to say that my view is quite easy for me to explain.  For him, and for anyone else who would like to know:

My view (and please know I encourage you to arrive at your own) of so-called knowledge and learning is that we humans have an incomplete exposure to all that "is."  What percentage of imcompleteness?  How would I know.  I arrive at that stance only by way of history, with full understanding that a man who has jumped off the top of a skyscraper and is passing one of the lower floors has a "history" in that regard of not ever having come to a sudden stop.  But, as most humans do, I would think, I rely heavily upon an averaging out of what we commonly call "so far."  History of mankind, perhaps we can agree, is all about "so far." 

So far, science has never arrived at a destination wherefrom nothing new is ruled in or ruled out.

And my own internalized stance, based on "so far," is that all the so-called scientific "knowledge" in the minds and annals of humans has "so far" turned out to be subject to need of on-going upgrading, as it were, and from time to time, at least, a whole new operating system shake-up... paradigm shift... synthesis... whatever.  My best guess is that, with all the new data pouring in from so many research sources, there are some surprises in store...  If I had to bet one way or the other, I would put my money on the square, so to speak, that says, "Empirical science is going to have to re-adapt its rationalizations and its hypotheses to some more unexpected surprises.

Maybe not.  You see, that's one of those unprovable/undisprovable things we sometimes call unknowns. 

As to methodologies of coming up with hypotheses, I sometimes am amazed that so many who deem themselves expertly science literate INSIST that everybody be on the same page:  a consensus.  Some insist that Occam's Razor assures our rationalization that offers the least complex story made up after the facts available at any given juncture is "most likely to be correct."  Space here does not allow how many times "so far" that has turned out to be contradicted.  The history of science is so replete with examples of how things we could rule in contained so many factors never before dreamed of, that it is safer to say, if history is any indicator, the answer to even the simplest question in science is going to be enormously more complex that we have any way of foreseeing.  Everybody knows what up is and can point it out for us.  How simple is that?  Unless you ask why its direction is not the same for any two points on Earth.  Who is right.  Some of the biggest lies in history, so far, have been things "everybody knows."

But, in a nutshell, my approach to epistomology resolves around a mere handful of questions:

What can we observe, measure analyze;
What have we missed that can be observed, measured and analyzed;
What, if anything, have we missed that we may never be able to observe, measure or analyze;
What can we RULE  IN, based on CERTAINTIES we have "so far;" and, finally,
What can we RULE  OUT, by any and every means and experience we are aware of?

It is the last question on that list which, for me, departs from logical positivism.

And, moving on from the point of that dilemma, comes what I like to think of as "the coping question," which is more general than philosophy of science alone.  It is this one:

Who has the right to say he has ruled out anything, whatsoever, on basis that someone else cannot rule it in.

A very intelligent friend of mine, when I told him this, said, "You believe in fairies, then."

I thanked him profusely for that.  "No, I answered, but if I wanted to I would."

"So you just believe in what you want to, no matter what," he said.

"I only believe in what I want to that nobody, to my knowledge has ruled in or out on an empirical basis."

I went on to explain to him that Dr. Einstein had an open mind about God or god.  Among physicists the word "god" with lower case "g" can be somewhat crudely defined as, "... what is, and what's going on with what is."

If there is a heaven, and I get there, I do hope Dr. Einstein will be there waiting to meet me.  If so, and if he is willing, we are going to have a wonderful time discussing why, if God with a capital "G" exists and existed, he chose to put us humans in the awkward position of being unable to rule him, or Him as the case may be, OUT.

Meanwhile, while I live and think, I choose to take entertain my choice to view the universe as having a higher intelligence than that of any human, that the higher intelligence is mindful of me and you, that he,she or it, or He, She, or It is not sociopathic insofar as humans are concerned, and a few things like that.

To me the universe, so conceived, is a friendlier, more enjoyable one in which to live, and the story of mankind does not end, when the sun goes supernova or, prior to that, when we blow ourselves us, or die in our own excrement (human and industrial) like yeasts in a brewing vat.

It's a choice between many other unprovables/undisprovables.  But, what the heck.

Why do I choose something I can't rule in and nobody can rule out?

I know, I know.  It's trite to say it, right?  But WHY  NOT?

P.S.  As I stated earlier, my stance on this matter, is biased only if a bias is defined as being a mind open to embrace any proof to the contrary, any personal preference to the contrary not withstanding.  I WELCOME any empirical proof, either way, and invite anybody who has same, to provide it.  Go for it.

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Anonymous

September 10, 2011

A friend of mine who is advanced in both the study of bio-physiology and the study of engineering tends to try (at least) to reconcile everything to the laws of thermodynamics.  The two in concert, he tells me, will get you a cup of cold, stale, quick-stop coffee, providing an employee is about to toss it out and make another batch.  Also, it requires, he tells me, a considerable amount of compartmentalized conceptualization to keep the two from coming together and mutually annihilating, whereupon he would be left in a state of senile dementia (:>).

What I enjoy most about him, next to his superb sense of humor, is his intellectual humility.  He defines graduate study as "that regimen whereby one is enabled to resign oneself to the fact that everything he learned as an undergraduate is at best a conglomeration of half-truths and uncertain close-enoughs." 

In teaching undergrads, he says, you have to give them something they can hang onto until they, hopefully, can be brought to a level of being able to deal in positive and useful ways with unrequited uncertainties, and still maintain the ability to think.  (Any similarity to F. Scott Fitzgerald, or any other, purely intentional.)

In our latest conversation, I ventured the possibility that many post grads seem capable of being logical positivists, and making statements as though they had somehow obtained a license to be right, when less highly schooled individuals happen to have chosen some other unprovable/undisprovable stance than their own.

"Absolutely something I have perceived to be so, too!" he exclaimed.

Then I proceeded to lay out my reasoning as to how desperately we humans are upon taking some kind of stance on many an unprovable/undisprovable, even as a person who does not know how to swim, does well to try something, as opposed to merely doing nothing.  Not only that, I said, but it seems to me that it is better that we do not consciously keep track of each step in rationalizing and interpreting the data on any issue, be it science or otherwise, lest we end up like the centipede in a nursery rhyme, which, upon being asked he kept track of which leg to move next, the centipede not only could not explain it, but became so disoriented he was unable even to demonstrate he walked by walking.  He concurred. 

How does that relate to gentle, caring, sharing, even self-sacrificial behavior sometimes referred to as "altruistic" behavior?

Think of it this way, if you will:  We humans are fortunate indeed that whatever forces and circumstances brought us with so little certainty about anything to where we are physiologically.  We muddled along and things worked out so that we are still muddling.  But our brains and our not-so-brain-centered homeostastases (yes, they are multiple) enable some things, such as signal transformations even from one category to another -- chemical, electrolytic, electromagnetic, permiability gates of various kinds... -- we would be quite like that centipede, I fear, if we had to do all that consciously... if, among other things, two cells could not communicate without going through command central, as it were...

Even so, I maintain, we must process THOUSANDS of, I'm-not-certains-but-feel-safe-in-presuming (whatever), even in the process of going about a mundane day of decisions.

Not only do I ponder what some would quickly and unthinkingly toss into the pigeon hole called "altruism" (a very, very large-capacity one, it seems to me, for some biologists who use the term profusely.)

But, could I be wrong?

Wrong about what?  I haven't deceived myself into thinking I have the details all sorted out and organized and could teach it to persons of advanced familiarity (knowledge certain?) in the field of bio-evo or any other.  Neither do I understand why it would emotionally upset anyone at all.  That it does, and why it does, is another matter entirely.  My main focus of puzzlement is why anybody would object to anyone else's set of best guesses or opinionations following therefrom.

What was that remark about... Oh, yes.  About thinking.  Fitzgerald again, I'm guessing... something to the effect of, "Either we think, or someone else does out thinking for us."

Where so many things are neither provable nor disprovable, why do some feel threatened, or obligated to set straight, one of our fellow centipedes, if he thinks?

With much respect and affection for all thinkers.

           

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Anonymous

September 10, 2011

This is not on altruism, but on my issue with logical positivism.  I've just now called my engineer friend, who got out of biology and went back to college and became an engineer, and asked him to give me feedback on my today's sequel.  He said he needed to review what logical positivism is about.  He called me back laughing and said, "I've got mixed feelings," to which he responded, "You've got a lot of philosophers to argue down."

As I explained to my friend, I can more or less offer my entire problem with logical positivism in a few sentences.  That's not to say I can put down all arguments, it is merely to say that my view is quite easy for me to explain.  For him, and for anyone else who would like to know:

My view (and please know I encourage you to arrive at your own) of so-called knowledge and learning is that we humans have an incomplete exposure to all that "is."  What percentage of imcompleteness?  How would I know.  I arrive at that stance only by way of history, with full understanding that a man who has jumped off the top of a skyscraper and is passing one of the lower floors has a "history" in that regard of not ever having come to a sudden stop.  But, as most humans do, I would think, I rely heavily upon an averaging out of what we commonly call "so far."  History of mankind, perhaps we can agree, is all about "so far." 

So far, science has never arrived at a destination wherefrom nothing new is ruled in or ruled out.

And my own internalized stance, based on "so far," is that all the so-called scientific "knowledge" in the minds and annals of humans has "so far" turned out to be subject to need of on-going upgrading, as it were, and from time to time, at least, a whole new operating system shake-up... paradigm shift... synthesis... whatever.  My best guess is that, with all the new data pouring in from so many research sources, there are some surprises in store...  If I had to bet one way or the other, I would put my money on the square, so to speak, that says, "Empirical science is going to have to re-adapt its rationalizations and its hypotheses to some more unexpected surprises.

Maybe not.  You see, that's one of those unprovable/undisprovable things we sometimes call unknowns. 

As to methodologies of coming up with hypotheses, I sometimes am amazed that so many who deem themselves expertly science literate INSIST that everybody be on the same page:  a consensus.  Some insist that Occam's Razor assures our rationalization that offers the least complex story made up after the facts available at any given juncture is "most likely to be correct."  Space here does not allow how many times "so far" that has turned out to be contradicted.  The history of science is so replete with examples of how things we could rule in contained so many factors never before dreamed of, that it is safer to say, if history is any indicator, the answer to even the simplest question in science is going to be enormously more complex that we have any way of foreseeing.  Everybody knows what up is and can point it out for us.  How simple is that?  Unless you ask why its direction is not the same for any two points on Earth.  Who is right.  Some of the biggest lies in history, so far, have been things "everybody knows."

But, in a nutshell, my approach to epistomology resolves around a mere handful of questions:

What can we observe, measure analyze;
What have we missed that can be observed, measured and analyzed;
What, if anything, have we missed that we may never be able to observe, measure or analyze;
What can we RULE  IN, based on CERTAINTIES we have "so far;" and, finally,
What can we RULE  OUT, by any and every means and experience we are aware of?

It is the last question on that list which, for me, departs from logical positivism.

And, moving on from the point of that dilemma, comes what I like to think of as "the coping question," which is more general than philosophy of science alone.  It is this one:

Who has the right to say he has ruled out anything, whatsoever, on basis that someone else cannot rule it in.

A very intelligent friend of mine, when I told him this, said, "You believe in fairies, then."

I thanked him profusely for that.  "No, I answered, but if I wanted to I would."

"So you just believe in what you want to, no matter what," he said.

"I only believe in what I want to that nobody, to my knowledge has ruled in or out on an empirical basis."

I went on to explain to him that Dr. Einstein had an open mind about God or god.  Among physicists the word "god" with lower case "g" can be somewhat crudely defined as, "... what is, and what's going on with what is."

If there is a heaven, and I get there, I do hope Dr. Einstein will be there waiting to meet me.  If so, and if he is willing, we are going to have a wonderful time discussing why, if God with a capital "G" exists and existed, he chose to put us humans in the awkward position of being unable to rule him, or Him as the case may be, OUT.

Meanwhile, while I live and think, I choose to take entertain my choice to view the universe as having a higher intelligence than that of any human, that the higher intelligence is mindful of me and you, that he,she or it, or He, She, or It is not sociopathic insofar as humans are concerned, and a few things like that.

To me the universe, so conceived, is a friendlier, more enjoyable one in which to live, and the story of mankind does not end, when the sun goes supernova or, prior to that, when we blow ourselves us, or die in our own excrement (human and industrial) like yeasts in a brewing vat.

It's a choice between many other unprovables/undisprovables.  But, what the heck.

Why do I choose something I can't rule in and nobody can rule out?

I know, I know.  It's trite to say it, right?  But WHY  NOT?

P.S.  As I stated earlier, my stance on this matter, is biased only if a bias is defined as being a mind open to embrace any proof to the contrary, any personal preference to the contrary not withstanding.  I WELCOME any empirical proof, either way, and invite anybody who has same, to provide it.  Go for it.

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Anonymous

September 11, 2011

My engineer read it, and made up a little story:

Shroedinger is standing by a box.
Mrs. Shroedinger is facing him, pistol in hand behind her back.

Mrs. Shroedinger:  I've got some good new or some bad news, too.
But first, open the box and let's see how Tabatha is doing.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 11, 2011

My engineer read it, and made up a little story:

Shroedinger is standing by a box.
Mrs. Shroedinger is facing him, pistol in hand behind her back.

Mrs. Shroedinger:  I've got some good new or some bad news, too.
But first, open the box and let's see how Tabatha is doing.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

September 11, 2011

My engineer read it, and made up a little story:

Shroedinger is standing by a box.
Mrs. Shroedinger is facing him, pistol in hand behind her back.

Mrs. Shroedinger:  I've got some good new or some bad news, too.
But first, open the box and let's see how Tabatha is doing.

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