Thursday, November 12, 2015


Two good posts by Larry Moran at Sandwalk. One on the number of proteins created by genes in humans and the other on the cost of creating a new gene within an animal or species. The answers (cheating) are about 20,000 genes and not that great, according to the analysis.

Ed Yong explores more exotic sensory systems. This time he presents the mantis shrimp's ability to see polarized light. And then he presents how salmon and bullfrogs are able to switch their visual sensitivity to a different range on the electromagnetic spectrum, in order to see infrared.

Scott Bakker has a piece on Michael Graziano and his attention becomes consciousness proposal.

Michael Smith at Self Aware Patterns says we will eventually have a scientific theory of consciousness.

Lastly, Martin Rees claims if we ever find aliens they will have transitioned to an existence as robotic machines.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Nietzschean Morning

The Christian should be far more fearful of the atheist than of devil worshipers. Those who worship the devil confirm several important conceptual elements of the Christian world. First, that there is such a thing as the Devil, and consequently God. The devil worshiper also confirms the concept of the human faculty of choosing good over evil. The devil worshiper confirms that great power to choose that which is Holy.

The atheist just laughs at all this nonsense. And destroys every last vestige of Christian doctrine. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Some links. And the fulfillment of our telos.

More on genes and origins at Aeon.

Ed Yong, who is on fire with some good articles, has a piece on the 3-D structure of chromosomes.

Also Ed Yong on the electric eel. Exotic sensory systems are good gateways into how evolution proceeds and the diverse life forms and neuronal systems that can be created.

Ken Weiss on the unknowables of Biology

Two articles on free will. Greg Caruso has a new blog at Psychology Today. Jerry Coyne responds to his first post.

This New Yorker article, "The Strangers in Your Brain," about the expression of transposon genes in neurons, is rather fascinating. An aside on the article, Clancy brings in a study about measuring the behavior of genetically identical mice. I always find this study to be underwhelming. I read it as they released ten mice into the same cage or environment and then measured their behavioral programs. They then point to the expression of vast differences of behavior in genetically identical mice. It is underwhelming because once you release identical creatures into an environment together, you are already gearing up for significant behavioral differences. For instance, say we have bad tasting water over here. Well, the first mouse, by chance, goes and tastes it. His identical sibling is slightly behind and watches him (his facial expressions). These identical siblings just had a significantly different “environmental” experience. When you have multiple beings together, and they are not perfectly mirrored somehow (if such is possible), then you are already gearing up for a “significantly different environment” between them. That is, you quickly lose the idea that these identical creatures were released into the “same environment.” Now, if you release identical mice into their own banal environment, and you see significant behavioral differences, that may be more informative, but you would still have a great many confounds. 


Though it's a bit obsolete now, John Oliver had a good segment on the Canadian elections, urging people not to vote for the Conservative candidate Harper.

And lastly, humans have now fulfilled the purpose they were put on this planet to fulfill: Star Wars.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Humans, Nature/Nurture, The Future

An enjoyable article about cognitive enhancement and a changing social world has encouraged some parallel thoughts by me. The article, "Brain Gain" by Nayef Al-Rodhan, goes through possible social changes as we move into the ability for cognitive enhancement. He is mainly worrying about how cognitive enhancement will drive inequalities into even further extremes than today. 

My story below is not really a response to the article, more a side rant, but there is something a bit off in the article. This has to do with a belief by Al-Rodhan that going forward into ever greater enhancement of our cognition by medicine, that we will not eventual make significant alterations to social institutions. If our social dynamics stay the same, say nationalistic, highly-capitalistic social structures, then his worries make sense. But also, as he highlights, as societies in general come to accept a physicalist notion of the brain/mind, there should be changes to how we in general view human social encounters, such as agency. Having acknowledged that we should and will have different views of humans and the social beliefs surrounding humans, he turns back to standardizing our psychological and social beliefs of today going into the future. He assesses the impact of cognitive enhancement within societies and psychologies that look like our's today. If he is right and most people come to accept physicalism in the future, then the kind of psychological and social straight-jackets that make inequality such a given today, hopefully may change in the future. 

There is some reason to think a mechanization of the human means changes to our social beliefs and institutions, as we come to understand our psychologies and emotions to greater extents. I think our naive, folk psychologies and beliefs are one of the things that have us reifying the present order, the present gross inequalities. So, if he is right and people come to accept the "mind/brain identity thesis," then there is also reason to think we will deal with inequality and general societal structures differently in the future. Fears about cognitive enhancement only exacerbating inequality will therefore be shortsighted.

Or maybe Bernie Sanders will solve all our inequality problems before then.

A Different Self

Stories that disrupt our view of selves and our view of humanity.

We can imagine 2000 years in the future, the following procedure: A fetus is developed rather normally. We have standard DNA/epigenetic structure, perhaps slight cognitive enhancement, but still very much human.

Then at birth, we prepare the baby to become a half-mile wide, planet hopping space ship. We remove all limbs, and plug peripheral nerves into ship sensors and into thrusters and flaps. We carefully remove the eyes and ears and plug those sensory systems into new “eyes.” These can be sensory systems that see a great range of the electromagnetic spectrum, and plug other visual nerves into instrument converters that feed the brain with other information, about radiation for example. Our newborn human, our slightly enhanced brain, is now learning to govern the motion and sensory systems of the ship. Where brains once navigated through the body, they now govern a ship-body, that is hooked into their body/brain. For the most part, we can still imagine this brain as running through many of the thought processes of us today, including of the representations that it has of its self. We can allow it to still run on emotions, if we want. He could still have desires, fear, and doubt. He could still have many of the characteristics that we see in us today, at least within our brain/minds.

These kinds of thoughts remind us of several things. There is not some endpoint to evolution that was “Human.” There is not an endpoint that looks like our selves today, of us living in an updated, but still rather “normal” social environment. The above story is not an abomination to humans, because nature cares nothing for this false essentializing of the “human” or of the “environment.” All evolution did was end up with a DNA structure like the one that sits inside our cells, and that gives rise to the general body morphology, under certain given conditions, that we see in us today. Importantly, nature was not trying to create a “human” that lives in a standard earth and “pack-societal” environmental. Our DNA may have developed within such processes, but there was not some desire of evolution that humans/DNA remain within those environs.

Furthermore, there is not some genuine self sitting within our DNA just waiting to emerge into existence. Pretty much any kind of characteristic can be grossly changed given a radically different environment. Many of those characteristics can be radically changed through normal social environmental changes that we are capable of today (such as creating a monosexed society). Even today we can radically change, with certain environmental tweaks, the characteristics of our sexuality, our introversion/extroversion, and our general social institutional structures, such as the heterosexual monogamous matrix. As we get pills and oxytocin sprays (or something actual effectual), who knows the kinds of even more subtle changes we can make to the expression of our DNA in our bodies, even within a rather standard environment.

A cheap shot, but you should hit over the head anyone talking about expression of their true self. We can give better descriptions of our selves than that. There are interesting tales to tell about how our DNA becomes what we are. Those stories are only coherent if we keep different environmental, different social structures firmly within grasp. Stories about why we are the way we are will require a rich combination of genes and environment. When we de-essentialize the human condition, when we de-essentialize our selves, we can begin to tell the interesting stories about why we are the way we are.

No, a half-mile wide semi-human controlled spaceship is not an abomination to nature, to humans, or to our selves. We did not create some monster. There are no monsters.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

More and CRISPR links

Gene editing:

Carl Zimmer has a must read on CRISPR pigs in the New York Times. He has a very quick video introduction to CRISPR here.

And for those scared of GMO foods, you should read this on CRISPR editing of plant genomes. For me, I say we need to shut the whole thing down right now, before people start editing human genomes.

Human ancestors:

At Why Evolution is True, Matthew Cobb has a good piece on the geographic spread of Neanderthal genes. From Nature, a finding of Homo sapiens teeth in China puts humans there earlier than thought.

Other links:

Scott Bakker has a short piece on mental functions

And a newer blog, Just More Philosophy, has many posts about ending much of philosophy, and telling philosophers to do more science. 


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Links: Brain, Genes, and Cancer

At Aeon, Joe Hibbert on the difficulty of repairing the brain. At the Brain Blogger, a new study shows how we can purposefully destroy your dendrites that are important to a given memory. 

CRISPR and the promise of editing our genomes is hot right now. Sara Reardon relays how the "Gene-editing record smashed in pigs." Ed Yong, in the Atlantic, gives a bit of a shrug at the news that this will help us create transplantable pig organs, though he says it is testament to the power of CRISPR. 

Also by Ed Yong, the search for unique human genes.

Turning to cancer research, Carl Zimmer relays new studies about why elephants may not get cancer that often, despite that they have a great many replicating cells. Ken Weiss, at the blog The Mermaid's Tale, suggests that the elephants cancer fighting activity might be mostly useful only to the elephant's biology. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Banning Niqabs

Three links on a problem that is baffling to almost all. And to those who it is not baffling, they are wrong:

Adam Gopnik, "Freedom and the Veil"

Peter Watts, "Squirrel!" (which is more a rant about contemporary Canadian politics)

Zunera Ishaq, "Why I intend to wear a veil at my citizenship ceremony"

These articles are about Canada's struggles at the moment, but they are of course pertinent to many countries, including the United States. The personal rebut by Zunera Ishaq is a few months old but it is moving. If you try to ban a piece of clothing for the good of another adult individual, you are almost guaranteed to have good, intelligent rebuttals saying "how dare you try to save me from my own rational, well-thought out choices." Our only move, for those who think burkas and niqabs are bad ideas, is to say that no, you are making a bad choice that you are not aware of. You are not aware of how drastically you are being oppressed by that face covering. Which is of course why you are almost guaranteed to get push back when you institute such banning of clothes. On a similar note, such a counter-move should have force within the marijuana debate, and it does to some degree, but the wearing of dress has a lot less need for excision than the possibility of brain-altering and life-altering drugs. 

The New Yorker article gets a couple of things wrong. Foreign women may wear a head covering in Muslim countries. Many times this is because it is the law or because of social evisceration. Conversely, as a society, we should not care about abnormal dress from foreign visitors, or socially ostracize such wearers. Obviously, we do have laws against public nudity but that is pretty much the minimum. As a good liberal society, and as an educated one, we should learn to shrug at dress, at least as far as aesthetics or social norms are concerned. That should be the hallmark of an enlightened society. Perhaps we try to fit into the norms of another society, but that does not mean we should embrace any kind of norms (of dress) in our own country.

We of course do enforce norms, but that is, generally speaking, at local levels. As a society we embrace pink mohawks as well as suits-and-ties, but that is not because we embrace either. We embrace a liberty of dress and style, at least at the widest level. Legally, we should embrace any manner of dress within wide limits, and for the most part we do. Socially and interpersonally we should see beyond whatever aesthetics tickle us and whatever social norms and experiences have shaped us. To cast judgment on others for dress is either an empty aestheticization, or its a power move of social normalization. Many of us, want little to do with the latter. I am more than willing to accept that you are a member of our society, and someone I do not mind having a conversation with or standing in line next to, even if you happen to like wearing green socks. That fact should have no impact on who you are as a person. Now, obviously, if you wear a t-shirt that says “I embrace Neo-Nazism,” I probably will not want to have a conversation with you, but that is because you are likely advertising a personal worldview that will clash with mine. We can and do read such underlying pretexts into dress, but little should hang on it. And certainly nothing that has us banning such dress itself. In the end, we need to rid the world of neo-Nazis, not t-shirts.

So, no, we do not embrace some normalized dress within our country and we should laugh at those who engage in such. And we should call Iranians, and others, idiots for not being more reflective of dress, social norms, and the development of aesthetic tastes.

This gets to another difficult part. There is oppression and social manipulation through dressing demands within certain Christian and Orthodox Jewish institutions. The argument over the niqab is often over the erasing of the face, but the line between it and the simpler head covering of some Christians, Muslims, and Jews is empty. They are clearly made of the same cloth. They all aim, for the most part, to desexualize females for fear of males.

Arguments against face coverings almost always slide into some (strange) belief about the sanctity of seeing another's face. But this claim, and the claim that it is some given cultural and social norm to see the face of another, is rather empty. There is not some society-wide special right or need to see the face of another in most interpersonal transactions. The article by Ishaq shows that such reasons are specious. There are of course certain needs for identification purposes that may be demanded. People should be forced to remove veils in such instances, which of course we can do respectfully. Ishaq agreed and cooperated with such.
Some general, all-purpose ban is not warranted for the reasons of “seeing the face,” and it is not warranted because of homogeneity of culture. It is not warranted.

Contrarily, the general wearing of niqabs or head scarves should be done away with. It is steeped in an absurd treatment of females as part of a larger structure of parallel institutions and norms of behaviors. That larger structure exists in many Muslim countries, as well as in any country or culture until recent times. Those larger cultural structures, which the niqab is part of, are being carried by Muslims into new countries. But we have a history, at least in the United States, at shrugging at these kinds of things when they exist in Mormon culture, Jewish culture, and other Christian cultures, as well as in many other groups. We are slowly undoing all sorts of inequities that were established in our cultures, including in character developments that blind people to the non-reflection of the social culture upon which they are built. But, for the most part, we are doing it in a liberal way and in an organically developing way. Where equality must be enforced, such as schooling, we do not allow cultural exceptions. But, for most of cultural practice and character development, we let individuals and families make their own way. School and cultural exchanges will push most individuals and groups into taking social stances and character developments that many of us regard as important. To illegalize niqabs while shrugging at organizations that deny females the right to hold positions of power (for unnecessary reasons) is to make an unnecessary, illiberal move. All sorts of institutional and cultural inequities should be removed, and for the most part they eventually will be removed through our reflecting on them, as well as through standard social dialectical movement.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Ken Weiss at The Mermaid's Tale has a good article on unraveling Mendel's legacy.

Babel's Dawn, an interesting blog on language by Edmund Blair Bolles, has a piece on the flow of information. He is responding to a book by Nick Lane called the Vital Question which focuses on energy needs within cells. Also, see Bolles next post criticizing sloppy language when describing cognitive features.

Ed Yong on comparing DNA mutations in neurons.

An enjoyable rundown of where it is possible we will find life in our solar system.

Lastly, at BBC Earth, an article by Melissa Hogenboom on human development. The article explores how Homo sapiens outlasted Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo floresiensis (the hobbit people). She speculates, following others, on the possibility that Homo sapiens genetically developed characteristics that made them more socially adept creatures. She points to art, symbolism, and jewelry of early Homo sapiens as compared to the Neanderthals. I think it is difficult to separate some of those factors. If Homo sapiens gained greater language processing facility, then they may have created more complex social structures. But to say that these are strictly social developments may be a misinterpretation. For example, if dogs developed greater language abilities, for any variety of reasons, there social and pack natures may take a very different kind of look. This may be beneficial to the survival and dominance of canines, but it may not be the reason for those characteristic changes. Given canines or any species of hominin, many changes are likely to bleed into slightly different social interactions or into different kinds of clans and clan interaction. If you were to slide an irresistible taste for moon rocks into human genes in some way, then tomorrow you may have a massive trade in moon rocks and cultish groups that form around such consumption. So, certainly such a change would have social impact, and such a change may lead to greater or lesser flourishing of those people, but such a change is not strictly social in nature. Given that humans are social and reflective creatures, pretty much any change to human genes would mean changes to human social structures. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Jay Joseph at Mad in America has another good take on the state of behavioral genetics.

Jesse Prinz gives a good interview on social constructionism at Philosophy Bites (~20 minutes long). Also, see his book Beyond Human Nature which has some parallels to a lot that I write about on this blog. He has a more dense tome on consciousness, The Conscious Brain, which opened my eyes to a few things. He espouses an attended intermediate level representational theory (AIR) for consciousness. On social constructionism, see my post on gender and sexuality.

Coel Hellier at Coelsblog has a good post on morality and why subjective morals are the best we can hope for. I say discard moral language altogether and discuss the kinds of worlds and selves we can create and build. We can then shrug at those people who say, "That's all I ever meant and mean by morality!". Likely, they still wish to reproduce unnecessary discourses, and we should be wary, from a practical standpoint, of what they are sneaking into such discourses.

Joachim Krueger at One Among Many recounts some of the wrangling over the dual system model of cognitive processing. This is the fast versus slow thinking within Daniel Kahneman's work Thinking Fast and Slow.

More technical, an article by Steven Frankland and Joshua Greene on how the brain can form infinite meaning from infinite possible sentences.

At the cognitive level, theorists have held that the mind encodes sentence-level meaning by explicitly representing and updating the values of abstract semantic variables in a manner analogous to that of a classical computer. Such semantic variables correspond to basic, recurring questions of meaning such as “Who did it?” and “To whom was it done?” On such a view, the meaning of a simple sentence is partly represented by filling in these variables with representations of the appropriate semantic components.. . . Here, we describe two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments aimed at understanding how the brain (in these regions or elsewhere) flexibly encodes the meanings of sentences involving an agent (“Who did it?”), an action (“What was done?”), and a patient (“To whom was it done?”).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

How footprints came to have knowledge about feet


Brain/minds of adult humans are shaped by nature and experience to fit well into the world. Their models, representations, and response patterns do things unlike any object before. But this does not mean we need to posit that there is a world of knowledge and a world of objects.

It is like looking at a footprint and wondering how the footprint knows the shape of the foot that it represents. This is of course an idiotic way of looking at footprints. We are comfortable with the idea that a footprint was structured by the foot that previously landed in it. Such a foot left endless information traces on the dirt, ones that are relational to the foot itself. We should understand that brains are the same way. With our internal models and representations, our brains reflect many useful facts or facets of the world. They relate to the world in useful ways, and in ways that allow them to do remarkable things. But the story about brains and what they know, our epistemology if we must, should be seen similar to the epistemology of the footprint. They have been impressed by endless informational and relational structures about the world. This happens in neuronal assemblies similarly to the foot's physical indentations of the dirt.

We were fooled into thinking our epistemology was some category different from ontology because our first thoughts on the subject happened during fallow times. The story of human knowledge is merely the story of imprinting, whether through evolution or learning. As we deflate epistemology, we deflate knowledge. We take a mixture of pragmatic, eliminativist, deflationary, and realist accounting of the relationship between our knowledge and the world. By knowledge here we include both the structures within a brain and also our science and general beliefs. The real here may eventually come in where we are truly footprints of sand. Of course, it is questionable that our beliefs about knowledge were meant to be seen merely as such [see Rorty for much of this].

Our brains are limited however. They were not well designed to accurately reflect a large score of complex information about the world. The foot of universal knowledge was not meant to form a useful footprint on the brain. Our brains were designed to be flexible enough to take in enough information for surviving and thriving within our ancestors environment. That is (one reason) they cannot be imprinted with endless facts like Watson. It is why we imagine more easily particle behavior instead of wave behavior. If we were aware electron-bodies, we may be just as easily to be impressed by information about waves (given underlying evolutionary need for recognizing such behavior as atomic creatures). 

In the end, we are the only significantly aware object in the world. We have great impressions of worldly information, and we have it in a more usable and more self-reimpressing manner than any object we have seen elsewhere, including the robots we are now making. Our status, however mighty, does not pass mere impression. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Links and a bit more on conscious awareness

Two informative podcasts:

Pete Mandik and David Pereplyotchik at Spacetimemind trying to discuss pain but break into a far cooler argument about the reality of our scientific theories, or our ability to know what is really out there. Also see their earlier exchange.

Neuroscientist Joseph Ledoux gives a good interview at Roger Dooley's Brainfluence podcast. There is a transcript attached if you would rather read. Joseph Ledoux has a new book out on anxiety. Here is a passage which touches on my consciousness rant below. Ledoux says that the brain's baseline behavioral response to danger is different than the feeling of fear itself:

The person has all of those things together in their conscience mind, but when you take these things apart in the brain what we see is that the threat detection system is separate from the system that gives rise to conscience feeling. If that same person were in the lab and I presented those stimulus subliminally, so the person didn’t know the stimulus was there, it had no conscience feeling of fear of anything else in response to that stimulus, and yet the person’s heart is beating, their muscles are tensing and so forth. Their brain has detected and responded to a stimulus that they don’t know even exists. There’s no feeling involved. The amygdala is lit up light a lighthouse in the brain when you present those stimuli either liminally or subliminally, but that’s not what causes you to feel fear.
The conscience feeling of fear is a cognitively constructed process involving the highest centers of the brain. For example, the prefrontal cortex and areas like that, that put together the fact that the amygdala is activated and it’s causing the brain to be highly aroused, and chemicals are coming from the body back to the brain. All of those things are happening. The amygdala is contributing in an indirect way, but the conscious feeling of fear is the representation that all that stuff is happening as a result of the amygdala activation together with the fact that you see there’s a stimulus there that you know from memory that is threatening. You may also retrieve personal memories of having been threatened by that stimulus, say it’s a snake. All of that comes together as an immediately present state of mind that we all fear.

Other links:

Scott Bakker discusses neuroscience threatening art

Karen Neander at Philosophy of Brains on content pragmatism, a poor solution to the problem of intentionality

If you liked that, see Alex Rosenberg's eliminativists take on intentionality

Lastly, NOVA on PBS had a good video on Homo Naledi

Conscious Awareness

We are “aware” that we are here, that we are humans, that we live on earth, that that man over there wishes me to pay him money, that we are part of a complex social, national, and family web. We form representations and models of these different relationships of our world and our selves. When we need one of those representations or some facet of information, we can turn our attention on it, and it will readily be there. “This is who I am. I live in the United States.”

None of this awareness, again, is going to transcend a robot that represents its self as being at “this location on the factory floor, in this position on the assembly line.” If the robot senses/represents, “I am out of screws, roll to far wall and get more.” (however such robots will do that), it will have awareness in a similar way that any of us humanrobots do at this moment. When we form the representations/thoughts that “I am out of food, need to go to store,” the representations and sensations we are aware of provides a great deal of information. This includes information and representations such as the location of the car, to the hunger in our body, to the place of the store.
The kind of awareness (vast representational stores) that adult humans have surpasses what higher animals, babies, and what our new robots have. As in the previous post, we have representational stores in abundance about our selves and our relationship to external events. We have such in ways that lesser “conscious” entities do not have, such as IBM's Watson or a chimpanzee. There is good reason to believe that language acquisition allows adult humans to have this kind of global awareness about our selves and the world.

But this high level of awareness, the vast informational stores about self and world, is not consciousness as often defined. It certainly is not qualia as often brought in. As explained in previous posts, your representational structures for seeing red are unique. No one else has quite the exact representational or informational repertoire as regards particular shades of red, and also do not have the bodily processes like feelings/emotions that will hang onto any particular shade. The person who played Big Bird for a long time will have representations and bodily attitudes (feelings of pleasure from remembrance) towards that particular shade in a way far different than anyone else. This should not be a bewildering fact. The only way to get a creature to represent and respond to a certain shade of red in the exact same away as a certain individual is to create that exact individual. That there is a great deal of overlap in our representations and bodily responses to a shade of color, just goes into the fact that we share the same general sensory mechanisms and share a great deal of environment and developmental structures. So, many of our representations and emotional responses will be similar to other humans, even if each of us has certain unique differences. Also, it is not surprising that we are walled off from imagining the basic representational repertoires of other beings, such as the representational structures of a dolphin.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Quick hit on Consciousness

See my previous posts: Thoughts on Consciousness and Moving towards Eliminativism

There is no consciousness. We represent things. Mostly, our selves, worldly objects, and more complex (~abstract) ideas. The robust representations that are quickly presented in our brain do not give rise to a separate entity, “consciousness.” Those representational processes only give rise to more and more complex representations. This includes representations that we are mapping the world and our selves, representations that show we are in the process of representing.

If some definitions of consciousness only mean this, then so be it, but consciousness does not have ineffability and bizarre properties, say of the Chalmers-Nagel-Qualia kind. Our “consciousness” may be ineffable in a similar way that the only true representation of the United States is something that is exactly the United States. Any representation or map of the United States necessarily leaves off some kind of information (say the direct relationship between Nebraska and the moon of Io). There is a uniqueness to all of our programming, just as there is a uniqueness to all individual computers (assuming a minimal number of programs and word processing usage). If my computer looks inside its self, represents its self, it will be a unique representation. So, in that way we are unique and ineffable. Our representations (my deflated consciousness) are special in that way.

When I say our consciousness is only representation, I mean representation similarly to the idea that your computer right now is representing something. Or in the way that a Roomba (a computerized vacuum cleaner) will represent the world, so that it does not bump up against a vase, or in that it represents that “it takes up no more dust particles." The machine that is our brain/mind, including its forays into deep philosophical projects, never transcends those simpler kinds of representing processes. What it does do is have a whole lot more of them, and represents a self at the center of the world, at the center of action. It represents that self's immersion in social rules, in social relationships, and so on. But no single representation or series of representations (I am sitting here typing) moves beyond the more bare-boned representations of the Roomba.

The most important representations: "I am here. On earth. In the year 2015. There are many countries and mine is the United States. I exist . . . "

I see this as eliminativism of the concept of consciousness. Michael Graziano (The Social Brain, and his Aeon article) makes similar sorts of claims, and he struggles with whether he is presenting an outright elimination of consciousness or not. What has been called consciousness encompasses many things, so what remains under my best understanding of our world representing and modeling includes some of those things previously encompassed in definitions of consciousness. However, there has been too many claims that pit consciousness as something different and above representing and modeling that it is easier just to say we are eliminating consciousness as a robust concept. After this, we now can give a good accounting of brain/minds as they represent and interact with the world. We do so without claiming that some property of consciousness emerges. Though, with that said, creatures that represent the world in the complex ways we do obviously gain abilities that minimally representing forces would never achieve. Evolution can build cool structures like monkeys. It will not create the structures of many objects we see in modern society, at least it will not do so rather directly. So, some kind of accounting for what these more complex representational processes (adult humans) do that more modest representing processes (say bats) do not do, is still needed.

See also:

Stanislas Dehaene, Consciousness and the Brain

Douglas Hofstadter, I am a Strange Loop

Michael Graziano, The Social Brain

Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Links and a prelude to Cryogenics Post


Larry Moran at Sandwalk has a good take on scientific realism and philosophy. Also see his previous take on what kind of knowledge that philosophy dwells in. The answer (mine but also Moran's) is that we should see and define science broadly, and see good philosophy as being an arm to asking appropriate questions within such a realm. And that philosophy that spends endless time talking about god, or the possibility of god directing evolution, or of all of the logical moves of schmess (very similar to chess), really is not important. Similar to the NFL symposium on "What constitutes pass interference?". At least it is not important as regards arriving at our best understanding of the world in general, as opposed to more mundane things like figuring out how to play schmess well or delineating pass interference.

In the Guardian, Robotic Hands. See the video and the birth of Darth Vader. Posthumanism is upon us.

Two videos on consciousness. A new one at the Economist, features just enough Dan Dennett to counterbalance the Chalmers' position.

And a better, older video by Nicholas Humphrey.


"The False Science of Cryonics" by Michael Hendricks is just a bad article all around. The comments underneath make most of the points I make below. The article had an ax to grind, but I've been meaning to write on this. 
My following post on cryonics will be more substantive and mostly a different track than the worries below. I more shrug at the idea of cryonics, and mostly that is because we have to deflate what consciousness is and the intrinsic value of any given consciousness. With that said, it is a bit of shrug, since also, there is nothing wrong with trying to make our conscious selves last as long as we can. But I will get into that later. Here are some of the bizarre excerpts from the MIT article. 
Synapses are the physical contacts between neurons where a special form of chemoelectric signaling—neurotransmission—occurs, and they come in many varieties. They are complex molecular machines made of thousands of proteins and specialized lipid structures. It is the precise molecular composition of synapses and the membranes they are embedded in that confers their properties. The presence or absence of a synapse, which is all that current connectomics methods tell us, suggests that a possible functional relationship between two neurons exists, but little or nothing about the nature of this relationship—precisely what you need to know to simulate it.
That is a nice summary of what we know now and what it looks like we will be able to achieve in the near future. But the dream of waking up one day hinges on the in-principle whether science could figure out that relationship between neurons (and the bigger picture). I am not sure he gives us good reason to think why in-principle we could not be able to do such in the future. Trying to speak of the in-principle as viewed from our standing on the ground today is the bizarre move, but we will get to that.
That means that any suggestion that you can come back to life is simply snake oil. Transhumanists have responses to these issues. In my experience, they consist of alternating demands that we trust our intuition about nonexistent technology (uploading could work) but deny our intuition about consciousness (it would not be me).
Many transhumanists do not hold that intuition. And they do not care so much about the “same as me” idea. And instead take a more deflationary and appropriate stance towards me-ness. (Again see the comments below the article)
No one who has experienced the disbelief of losing a loved one can help but sympathize with someone who pays $80,000 to freeze their brain. But reanimation or simulation is an abjectly false hope that is beyond the promise of technology and is certainly impossible with the frozen, dead tissue offered by the “cryonics” industry. Those who profit from this hope deserve our anger and contempt.
This article hinges on “promise of technology” to be a useful intuition. This argument is that our best present beliefs about what we will discover point to the idea that recovering information from these frozen neurons will be futile. But this is of course idiotic. Because those kind of conjectures can be very empty. Especially if we are talking about brain science 1500 years in the future, to go rather long. No, you may not wake up in a decade. And at first blush it is troubling that I will not wake up tomorrow. But the intuition usually holds, that as long as I wake up, I will be happy. That is what I want.
His worry may be germane if you have some wildly false hope that cancer will be fully cured in three days, because you know we have lots of people working on it and it seems eminently solvable. Then in such a case you have a poor belief in the “promise of technology.” But it seems a really stupid thing to say that humans will not have reached an exoplanet in 1,000,000 years in the future because current technology does not seem promising towards such. Anyways, it is a baffling argument. He might as well be Nostradamus. 

The main point here is that if you care about waking up one day in the future, just as you care about waking up in the morning, which we do not begrudge people wanting, then the only way that will be possible is through freezing. Even if it happens that the cryonics of today did not adequately preserve those connections or allow future scientists to reconfigure them, it is still the only chance. And it is becoming at least a little more plausible every year, both with knowledge acquisition and also with preservation techniques.
To go pragmatic, it may greatly help those scientists of the future if they had a good overview of who you are as a person. Say, especially, the language you spoke. We also cross over into the dangerous (or burdensome) identity talk. Since chocolate and vanilla are so ubiquitous a thought and desire structure, it may be relatively easily to “see” in your neuronal structures that you, your self, enjoy vanilla over chocolate and create that in you. Also, at this present moment you may have an inkling, a hint of a preference for oregano versus thyme, but it is a rather narrow memory and desire without as many representations. If scientists of the future fail to see “that connection,” they may just plug one in. Or if they don't give you a preference for oregano or thyme (even though one did exist) in your brain, if forced to choose a preference, you may conflate a desire preference from whatever limited knowledge they happened to encode about thyme and oregano in you.
The interesting thing (or not so much) may be that most of us would not practically care if such a trivial detail is not perfectly lined up. If somebody (or simply your brain/body) were to erase that desire preference while you slept, it may be rather uninteresting to you, something that you would shrug at. And you would not see it as a destruction of your self. And the far more important thing to you may be just that ~you~ wake up in the morning or in the future and have generally the same thoughts as before, even if a few things are slightly off.
Another point, on recreating “you” in silicon, is that if scientists had a good diary or video of “who you are,” I would think scientists would be greatly aided in putting you back together again. They would not need to recreate the exact wiring, but merely the general preferences and desires. And your body would tick on. If you go far enough in that direction many of us may get upset and say, hey, "that is not me”. Though, many of us also shrug at the thought that we could have selves that care slightly more for punk rock than classical jazz, and still see the basics of our selves in some more durable and lasting characteristics, instead of rather trivial or happenstance preferences. 
As one commenter put it, this article was both bad philosophy and bad science.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Self Expressions and Links

A good article on how language creates problems in conceptualizing the self:
I find the “your self” construction to be pleasantly playful and mildly useful. Often I cringe when I read it in pop-psychology, self-help, or other various instances. But I have written it in such a way for too long to stop now. I like it for two reasons. One is the best understanding of the self, including the idea of the self-model, as highlighted by Thomas Metzinger in The Ego Tunnel. Following that general understanding, Bruce Hood in his book, The Self Illusion writes the phrase “your self” continuously throughout. Hood's take on the self shadows my basic understanding of the self and also implements the rhetorical strategy of dividing “one's self” in language for similar reasons.
As the article avove highlights, inward looking metaphysics, “What is the self? What is consciousness?”, suffers from the general difficulty in assessing that inner world, especially from the way it simply appears to one's self, to one's consciousness. Furthermore, we have built theories and language structures around a poor understanding of that inward milieu. We did this because we overly trusted the inward looking eye to give us useful, relevant information. And now we are trying to unfold that cloth. So I find the “your self” construction both to help us continually question our given (or culturally embedded) description of the self, but also to remind us that we can play with our language and our discourses, and write ones that keep our descriptive positions a little more sanitized. And also a little more guarded.

Quickly, I will also point out that something similar goes for free will discourse. We can give our best description of humans, and best scientific accounts of human behavior, and there is no reason to think that we will be using the phrase “free will.” If we need to draw distinctions between when a brain or computer makes choices/moves from internal processing (as opposed to external compulsion or manipulation), it is a rather easy distinction to describe without possibly entering the foolish discourses of free will. Ontologically, the concept is dead. If we find it necessary to usefully separate green rocks from brown rocks within a narrow pragmatic discourse, most of us are going to find a better word than grue (or free will). Again, sanitizing our best descriptions from social stupidities (and social desires) is how we will eventually speak. Brain science (et al) is overthrowing, rewriting folk psychology. It is teaching that the descriptions we created from simply looking inside of us, inside our own heads, created some significant issues blocking our best understanding of those very entities.

A bibliography of various self books. Some of these are ones that I have read in the past and that informed my thoughts on the subject, but Hood's, Ravven's and Ananthaswamy's books are more recent takes that share much of my understanding. (I have only browsed Ravven and Ananthaswamy, but they both seem well done)
Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel
Bruce Hood, The Self Illusion
Anil Ananthaswamy, The Man Who Wasn't There
Owen Flanagan, Self Expressions
Antonio Damasio, Self Comes to Mind
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, Social Construction of Reality
George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self, and Society

Other Links

Via Three Pound Brain, a paper on the inherence heuristic, where we give quick but often misleading characteristics and explanations to events.

And last, are all neurodegenerative diseases prion?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Poor discourses on sexuality and gender

ElinorBurkett, What Makes a Woman?
MassimoPigliucci, on Nature/Nurture
RichardFriedman, How Changeable is Gender?

(See my earlier post Defining Sexuality for more information)

Two of the more ubiquitous phrases about sexuality and gender identity are “trapped in the wrong body” and “born this way.” With the first phrase you can sidestep the developmental and nature/nurture structure to some degree, such that it does not particularly matter the way in which one has arrived at being trapped in the wrong body. But much of public thinking on the issue has the second phrase flow into the first. One is “trapped in the wrong body” because one was “born a certain way.”

The born this way narrative is problematic for several reasons but the main problem is just that much of what is usually encompassed when we think of sexuality and gender is in no way directed by genes in such a way. Thus making it impossible that one was literally born that way, any more than the idea that certain individuals were born to exhibit slave behavior. Within certain social worlds certain genetic factors may determine that one is a slave. Given a certain social world, one with a vagina (genetic) may always wear a hat. Or behaviorally, given a certain social world, one with a penis may always cross their legs when they sit. From a descriptive point of view, the “born this way” narrative creates difficulties for imagining the social constructing of one's identity and behaviors from the given genetic entity. You may be able to skip the nature/nurture question if “trapped in the wrong body” is some stand alone thought, but there is good reason to think that it is not. 

A good deal of the trapped in the wrong body discourse is going to show the problem with discussions that pass over the sex/gender distinction. The saying “trapped in the wrong body” often encompasses, or seems to encompass, something like “my body was meant for a dress.” When we have conflated the phrase “trapped in the wrong body” to include the idea “my body was meant for a dress,” we have reified and passed beyond reflection the idea that certain bodies just correlate with certain contingent social structures. So, trying to rescue the concept of trapped in the wrong body as a useful descriptive project, such that it is doing useful work in describing our selves, is bizarre. 

Furthermore, whatever work the phrase or idea is doing in the development of our thought and belief processes is going to be equally bizarre. There comes a time when you should realize that you root for the Yankees because of the random social contingencies that have developed your self and your social world (such that your social world has lots of people rooting for baseball teams). Whereas most of us readily accept the social contingencies and accidentality of our selves as regards team and sport affiliation, when it comes to other equally contingent behaviors (the social convention of baseline gender relations, for instance), we seem to be unable to readily maintain our awareness of those influences on our identity. It is simply who we are. And of course the latter contingency has far more impact on our lives, as compared to whether we choose to continue caring about our society's sport or our hometown team.

As with our slave example, if we take the social world as some rigid given, then it may make sense to derive socially contingent behavior or identity from genes. One was a slave because one had black skin (or any other kind of narrow genetic marker). Of course there was no necessity to one being a slave because one had black skin, it was merely a contingency of the social world (but also one where a heritability study may show meaningful value). Within sexuality and gender discussions, embracing our cultural and institutional world as it is given takes away from the possibilities of imaging a different world, and thus from creating a different world. And we must accept that as individuals and as collectives we can greatly change such a world, ignore such a world, or that we can create microworlds. In all of these cases we are not playing by the baseline cultural and institutional milieu of what we see around us today. And it will necessarily turn out that the set of genes that make us up would turn into widely differing individuals than the ones we see today. Most of our desires and our identity positions can radically change given a different cultural milieu. Most of our public discussion of gender and sexuality issues has a poor understanding of that complex dance about the creation of our selves within the world that we find.

On a broader level, our poor gender and sex discourse mirrors much of our identity and characteristics discourses. Especially important to me is our inability to appropriately analyze socialization/education of knowledge as regards the development of skills and knowledge. An individual's skills and knowledge are part of their identity, and they can be created very differently within individuals, as Malcolm Gladwell hinted in Outliers. We can of course do sex and relationships (etc.) far better as well, probably even for people who do not dance by societal norms or who ignore the general moralizing of sex. On that note, we can start by biologizing sex and seeing it as the simple, stupid act that it is.

 One example: The antipathy of many U.S. heterosexual men towards the kissing of and body contact with other men may be very ensconced in the character of these individuals. Such behaviors and feelings may be a given to their identity. Even if the U.S. homosexual/heterosexual structure flows from (or sits on top of) some innate biological differences, and the now present antipathy of some males towards certain kinds of contact flows from the erecting of that matrix, it is questionable what is gained politically, socially, or personally from the closing off of that explanation. What is lost by seeing the cultural instigating of these psychologies (dislike of kissing other males) by contingent social structures? I am confident that one could create societies where intense antipathy was not created in some people by the mere thought of kissing another man. Such a world would create a different developmental structure within those individuals. It would socially construct different identities, it would create different individuals. We should be able to tell useful stories about how different social worlds create different individuals. Obviously, I think such great antipathies towards male-male contact are absurd, but again we do not have to moralize or problematize such. I believe all we have to do is imagine different ways of being and most people will agree that those different social worlds may be useful. I do not believe people enjoy imagining their selves in societies that are repressive, or ones where if they happened to have been a slightly different person they would have been repressed for very bad reasons.

The key here is open, useful description. We do not need empty tag lines like “born this way” or “trapped in the wrong body” that make such basic descriptions quite muddy. Reflecting on the structures of the self has enough structural obfuscation without ensconcing identity positions in dubious ways. Also, it is questionable that such shallow tag lines are where our social and political gains are coming from, though we do live in an idiotic social climate. Seeing the social contingency of our desires or dislikes should not dissuade the argument that we should be much more accepting of most identities, of most people, of most behaviors. It also does not prevent us doing the work of undercutting the moralizing of nature in empty ways. 

On the transgender argument, we can embrace that Jenner wants to play a different role, believes her self to be different than what she has portrayed previously, but we can do so without closing off the complex formation of identities or closing off understanding the contingencies of our cultural and social structures. Gender and sex is precisely a place where socially contingent factors get intertwined with previous biological structures in an inexorable way. It becomes even more inexorable when we allow discourse obfuscating ideas to proliferate. Such socially contingent factors as wearing a dress and appropriate bodily contact are a large part of our identity, our brains, and our desires. Ideas such as being born this way, where “this way” seems to include dress wearing, does not help clear thinking. The phrase being “trapped in the wrong body,” where it seems much of what is meant is gender expression, is a strong reinforcing and closing off of the body/gender givenness of our present time. That present is one where we act and perceive within those discourses, almost always without seeing the contingent links therein. Which is precisely the reason why when we turn to describe that world, we need discourses that do not continue such seamless portrayals of the given sex/gender correlations. We need those contingencies to be ripe within the brain. Or else we end up with bad claims, like our boys just always loved blue. Parsing identities that are immersed in a social world, especially from within that world and interacting with such people, is immensely difficult.

To clarify, there is good reason to think these discussions themselves flow into our psychologies and development. To speak of the body (sex) and have it assumed that one means the wearing of dresses is to blur the gender/sex distinction, and to create it as given within our thoughts. The standard idea about sexing the body of someone you meet, that is, how we immediately try to categorize the person before us as male or female (~man or woman), is something that seems correct for most of us. And for much of that process we take the social coupling of gender/sex for granted. If such identification markers are significantly disturbed, if we have less context and less categories to interact with, we have less behavior that we can express. This is especially true for those of us who have been raised in a rather ordered world, where our behavior towards others can be helpfully ordered by having other people marked, either by sex or any of the other stereotypical markers that we rely on. On some kind of social program level it may make sense that one wishes to revel in the order that we created. Females wear dresses and are to be treated and spoken to and desired in certain ways (or not so, and vice versa). Even if one likes such order and argues we keep it going, when it comes to actually describing human beings (identities, desires, bodies, etc.), descriptions are going to be hopelessly tangled if we continue to use such political language. In the end, shortcutting our best descriptions of our selves leads to the creation of poorer worlds and poorer selves. It's also just bad science/philosophy.

Monday, August 24, 2015


I am writing a response to several of the gender and sexuality articles here but I will go ahead and link to them.

Also I am giving the link to the created petri-dish brain which is roughly equivalent to a 5 week fetal brain (minus vascular structure, etc.). I am still a little baffled on the claim they created 99% of the genes (expressed genes) and cellular types. Cellular types makes sense but I do not know exactly what the expressed genes entails and how we came up with that number. I have not found many more detailed explanations on what exactly they have done and what exactly this entity is representative of. For instance, as they grow it further are sensory systems becoming active? And how much intracellular communication is happening? (I assume a good amount)

Food for thought:

Scott Bakker gives a couple more good takes on his brand of overthrowing philosophy and embracing eliminativism and scientism.

Anne Fausto-Sterling gives a good overview of CRISPR. However, see my response to some of the more unprincipled naysaying about genome editing.

Growing (very young) brains from stem cells.

An earlier article on growing brain spheroids.

Massimo Pigliucci on nature/nurture and gender identity

A fat gene and a shift in what exactly it does.

Jay Joseph critiques more of the heritability paradigm, this time on crime genes. Focusing on how certain genetic elements contribute to whether a person is a criminal takes focus off all the far more salient environmental structures that created such a criminal. There may be genetically inclined dispositional differences in temperament, and given an exact set of social structure those with these dispositions may be the ones that take up credit card fraud. In the end, there are going to be far more robust things to say about the environmental structures that lead to the behavior of credit card frauding.

NYTimes article on gender identity.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Don't Edit that Genome!

There has been a bit of upturn in talk on scientific ethical questions, from stem cells to fetal body parts to sex selection.

I have found far too much of the bioethical complaints come from a position of poor social structures, and not from simply the science itself. Perhaps that is necessarily true but ethicists spend far more time contemplating the science side instead of engaging in social theorizing or social critique.

A case in point is fetal selection and genome editing. This can be seen quite clearly with the simple tool of recognizing the sex of a fetus. Given a society that believes that males have greater worth than females, the technique of identifying the sex of a fetus along with the simple tool of abortion (or genome editing) may lead to some people using these technologies to select for a greater number of males. Assuming that we all accept this is problematic, the lesson here should be that we have significant social questions to be asked about sex and gender, not that there are scientific questions to be asked or scientific discoveries to limit. For one thing we are talking about rather simple techniques that should get easier with time and with new technologies. Bioethicists would create far greater good in the world by social critique than by trying to worry that a group (of idiots) over here will use this technology in this way. If we had solved gender and sex relations in the 1920's then our eventual technological achievement of fetal sexing would be moot as regards ethical concerns.

Baldly stated, there was immense social danger when individuals discovered they could sharpen a stick, but the answer to such dangers was not to shield people from the knowledge of stick sharpening. It was instead to build safer, globally connected societies, which we did not begin to accomplish for tens of thousands of years after inventing stick sharpening.

Too much of bioethics fits the above mold: complaints and restrictions on scientific advances and not due concern with our social institutions and structures. Was the scalpel a dangerous tool in the hands of Nazis? Yes, but the problem was always Nazis and not the scalpel. Similarly, genetic understanding is a basic insight. It was dangerous when it was blossoming within racist and classist societies. That does not mean we are better off by trying to curb our best understanding of genes, even during the messy beginning of such knowledge. The problem was always racist societies and our inability to reflect on such.

I will grant that we live in a messy world and country, one where a great many still cling to their tribalistic instincts, but the answer to these problems is generally a cultural/social one, and not one that should have us holstering science in any significant way. If we have a social problem that the introduction of a new technology will greatly exacerbate, then we should easily recognize that we have a serious social problem. Lastly, our best scientific understanding, say of the brain and genes, should help us understand our selves better and to further such social changes.

In other news, complaints on stem cells and the use of dead body parts are inane. If as a religious person you believe that your body needs twenty days of decay for some one to bless it, that is fine. We can, for the most part, accommodate your carrying out such. But if you wish to come before our society and claim that your (empty) belief should hold for all dead bodies, then you must give the rest of us useful reasons for such.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Moral Tribes

Opening of chapter 7 in Joshua Greene's Moral Tribes:

[Obama] Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion specific values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or [invoke] God's will- I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

[Greene] "As Obama's remarks suggest, modern herders need a common currency, a universal metric for weighing the values of different tribes. Without a common currency there can be no metamorality, no system for making compromises . . .

The most fundamental challenge comes from tribal loyalists. Obama urges religious moral thinkers to translate their concerns into 'universal' rather than 'religion-specific' values. But what if you firmly believe that your specific religion delivers the universal moral truth. In that case, the distinction between universal and religion specific values makes no sense. (Obama is aware of this problem.) Santorum, declared that Obama's position makes him sick to his stomach. “What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?' Santorum is overstating. No one said religious people can't make their case. Instead, says Obama, they must make their moral cases in secular terms. But to many religious moralists, that's like telling a ballerina to dance in a weight-suit. Try translating 'The gay lifestyle is an abomination against God 'into secular terms. No wonder Santorum feels queasy.”

I liked much of Greene's book, and this was an enjoyable anecdote of U.S. Politics. There are things that are missing in the book, generally speaking, of which much of this blog is a counterpoint to. 

The idea, Obama's here, that democracy as a whole should be based on secular reasons as agreed upon by the public, instead of on shared values of the majority, shows that what we (most of us) mean by democracy is really secularism. That is, we mean a politics devoid of cultured or religious positions. The idea that anyone's belief systems or political positions can surpass that kind of cultured washing, such as the way in which many of our values are just given by our culture or by religion, seems a far stretch. Not to mention that it is a stretch that Greene is trying to come to grips with throughout much of his book. It is also to worship at the altar of Reason, where we believe that hyper-rationality is a consistent and appropriate stance that can soak through our decisions. In the end, there may be nothing else to believe or no way for two people to come to discuss broad social issues other than through some kind of secular reasoning, but it is questionable whether it makes sense to try to define what is happening in our societies or our political systems as working within such.

The moral of this story is that if you really want to be a good utilitarian, you have to forego not only religion but culture and social institutions in a larger respect. Likewise, it was something that Rawls's original position did not do very well, nor did socialism or communism do very well. Neither reached into the fabric of our socially mediated identities to then make judgments about the kind of beings that we are and thus the kind of social structures we could erect or would want to erect. They left off the difficult part about the interplay between our social structures and who we are, and thus even the rationality and discourse framing that we would find moving. Where they held useful political positions, it was not from a sacredly-removed understanding about the nature of human beings, but was instead a parochially positioned structure given the embedded culture that they were arguing within. There were many other equally moving social positions or rationalities that one could take (say gender and sex institutional makeovers), but such positions were not considered.

As we start delving into more of our identity and our social institutions, we can then use even broader positions to ask appropriate questions about what we want. Which again, given the tenor of much of Greene's book, say a broad-based progressive-liberal-utilitarianism, there are places of our identities that he is unwilling to ask about. He is unwilling to come to grips with certain social contingent facts about our identity and the kind of social structures and political reasoning that we may embark upon, once we lay such social contingencies on the table. There are important reflections that he, like Rawls, is unwilling to engage in.

On a further note, some of Peter Singer's work pushes a hyper-rational utilitarianism to the extreme. One example is the idea that we should ignore natured/cultured emotions when our own 1-year-old is dying and instead save two foreign 10-year-olds (or even one other 10-year-old). Many naysayers believe that natural identity structures (say the emotion that nature has provided us of impassioned love for our own children) is a good thing, helps society tick, and is impossible to reflect upon or change. Again, much of this blog is counterpoint to the notion that such a nature exists within our identities, and that often subtle cultural structures are erected upon such emotions or body structures. 

I believe that a culture and identities that were awash in our best understanding about the self-awareness of 10-year-olds versus 1-year-olds, understood the structure and reasons of our natural inclinations, were more capable of prying apart social institutions that nestle onto such genetic structures; such selves would be more capable of making the more appropriate, utilitarian judgment about how to structure societies and how to make such judgments. And they would be more capable of making decisions that supposedly cuts against such indelible natures. Outcries like “I would do anything to save my child” or “I think my emotion to want to thoroughly harm some one who has hurt my child is a good thing” are outcries from positions that are weak at reflecting on who we are and what we can be. Such positions buy into a socially conservative position that cannot imagine selves or societies structured very differently. Many of the claims from evolutionary psychology (etc.) help bolster this unthinkable idea about the existence of different selves and different reactions to events. Lastly, it is one thing to say that for the time being we need to continue allowing these emotions to guide us, or to say that politically this is what I think best for us to continue to reproduce in society and identities. It is an entirely different thing to believe that we have found a basis of human nature or have something upon which we can erect moral responsibility.  

Importantly, in the end, all children would lead far better lives if we came to embrace such a cold understanding of who we are. There would be better focus on socialization and education of every last member. Accepting the kinds of machines that we are, individuals who can see beyond “death-to-my-child's-murderer” are individuals who know that individual love is an insane position to allow for the arising of the kind of disparate environments we allow around different developing machines. This includes not just between the haves and the have-nots, which disparity is of course absurd. But it also gives us better focus on the vastly disparate developmental programming we put around most adequately wealthy children. That is, when we take arbitrariness of differential developmental programs off the table, ignore the emotionally-structured belief about parent-child guided arrangements, we will see the basic necessity of appropriate programming for every last individual. As we move into our best naturalistic understanding of our world, I am confident that this is the understanding that we will eventually embrace. It will erase U.S. processes of socialization/education and familial structures, but it will also erase other social systems that believe they are erecting a fair meritocratic program of achievement, one where everyone has the “opportunity for success.”

So, when our best and brightest cling to their supposedly natural or culturally-induced emotions, and say this is just how humans are suppose to be, we have good reason, that in the end, our world will see beyond such people. We will see beyond the social structures (moral responsibility, e.g.) and the selves that such people think necessary to erect or to reproduce.