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hierarchy hardwired in the pleistocene, sez this guy

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petey
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Mar 13 2008 12:53
hierarchy hardwired in the pleistocene, sez this guy
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Human beings are naturally hierarchical and they like arranging themselves into hierarchies of skill, age, wealth, competence, experience, whatever. We can deny it if we want, but we all know that when the chips are down and the anarchists have formed the anarchists' association, the first thing they do is elect a governing committee.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23358497-27702,00.html

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Joseph Kay
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Mar 13 2008 13:36

plasticine's not rigid, he's talking shit wink

although i'm interested how we know pleistocene hunter-gathers liked to ridicule leaders, satirical cave paintings? (i suspect he's projecting modern hunter-gatherers back onto pre-history, and i note he's a philosopher by trade, seems like one of the ev psych ideologues defenders of EP's scientific credentials are always trying to distance themselves from).

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Choccy
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Mar 13 2008 13:56

Fuck sure in this month's Scientific American: MIND there's an article by Michael Shermer (who has done some alright stuff on creationism, paranormal beliefs and weird shit) based on his new book and evolutionary economics - evolutionary psychology as applied to the corporate environment. Fuck me, why bother understanding capitalism in any sort of nuanced way at all? :rool:

But yeah I'd guess EP defenders say this isn't "proper" EP.
Though even that claims rather spurious - if you go on the website of Evolutionary Psychology Journal they don't seem to mind the easily-pimped coffee-table EP that nauseates many, kinda confuses me.

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Anna
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Mar 13 2008 14:39

What a weird article...everything he borrows from EP contradicts the point he's making, and the rest is a bunch of non-sequiturs. If you look at the actual facts he presents, you're left with a picture of humans 'naturally' co-operating and organising themselves, but disliking and actually acting against authoritarian hierarchy. Dunno what point the guy writing it actually thinks he's making.

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Some general sense of fairness is intrinsic to hunter-gatherer hierarchies. Pure self-interest or the interest of your family is not all that counts. There is also fairness in, say, food distribution: the obligation of individuals to divide, rather than keep for themselves or their family, the kill from some successful hunting expedition.

These bands seem to be adjusted to create maximal success in terms of mobility, flexibility, skill specialisation and stealth. They required co-operation.

They were governed by what are called reverse dominance hierarchies. A pure dominance hierarchy is one in which the individual at the top of the heap dominates all those underneath him: likely a him, by the way, rather than a her. Such arrangements became practical on a large scale only in the modern age; that is to say, during the past 10,000 years, with the invention of agriculture and cities, which allow food to be stored and police forces and armies to be fed.

We do have pure dominance hierarchies in the modern world, and we have had them for the past 10,000 years. Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union was a pretty good example of a modern pure dominance hierarchy, from the boss on down. It makes me think of wolf hierarchies. I once observed a wolf hierarchy in a zoo and it was unbelievably brutal if you looked at the one or two animals at the very bottom of the pecking order. The final wolf, who's the weakest of the group, is tormented night and day, attacked, howling, constantly in pain and terror. Dominance hierarchies are brutal.

Of course, I say that because I evolved as a member of a reverse dominance hierarchy. We all did. Maybe if we'd evolved differently, which is the contingent part of this, we'd admire wolf hierarchies. But a human reverse dominance hierarchy is something that is led by an individual at the top who by dint of skill, talent or knowledge, or maybe just force of personality, becomes the corporal, the staff sergeant, the team captain, the platoon leader or the chairman, and the rest of the guys go along with it. It's called a reverse dominance hierarchy because the leader needs the co-operation of the led.

Attempts at dictatorial domination were likely to be responded to in the Pleistocene with exile, homicide, non-cooperation and, interestingly, ridicule.

It seems to be in our genes, if Pleistocene hunter-gatherer groups are indicative, to be suspicious or resentful of whoever is at the top of the heap. We like to think for ourselves and we demand autonomy and withhold co-operation if we don't get it.

As for hierarchies and elitism, our intrinsic resentment of leaders, our Pleistocene anti-elitism, may partly be explained by the fact that small-scale tribal societies were zero-sum economies. Everything that was owned by one person was something that someone else could not enjoy.

There were no dynasties in the Pleistocene.

The Pleistocene mentality tends to regard anyone who gets rich as having done so at the expense of someone else.

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Joseph Kay
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Mar 13 2008 14:55

that last bolded bit he uses to explain a dislike for the 'deserving' bourgeoisie - we evolved to dislike authoritarian usurpers and our genes can't tell the difference between saddam hussein and entrepreneurs (again, so surely our genes are 'anarchist'? what point is he making?)

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Anna
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Mar 13 2008 15:03
Joseph K. wrote:
that last bolded bit he uses to explain a dislike for the 'deserving' bourgeoisie - we evolved to dislike authoritarian usurpers and our genes can't tell the difference between saddam hussein and entrepreneurs (again, so surely our genes are 'anarchist'? what point is he making?)

He seems to be saying that we have an innate dislike for authority and wealth discrepancies, but that that proves that it must be us that are irrational, rather than authority and wealth discrepancies. Egalitarianism is just a hangover from the pleistocene. roll eyes

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Joseph Kay
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Mar 13 2008 15:13

so essentially, he's going to great (if somewhat tenuous and illogical) lengths to demonstrate that evolution has fashioned our nature to be... anarchist-communist. but then says this proves hierarchy is inevitable and the bourgeoisie are great. got it.

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Choccy
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Mar 13 2008 15:46

Actually Shermer's "evolutionary psychology of corporate environments" piece is online, I've only skimmed it and it sounds like shite.
He was on Penn n Teller's Bullshit a few times though laying into weirdos wink

petey
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Mar 13 2008 18:27
Anna wrote:
If you look at the actual facts he presents, you're left with a picture of humans 'naturally' co-operating and organising themselves, but disliking and actually acting against authoritarian hierarchy.

i think that nails it. he writes as if the action of a few, creating hierarchy, is inherent and hence natural, while the reaction of others, against it, is not.

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Joseph Kay
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Mar 13 2008 19:43

on the subject of hilarious psuedo-scientific EP, the beeb has this:

Quote:
"When studying social insects like ants and bees," said Dr Hughes, "it's often the co-operative aspect of their society that first stands out."

"However, when you look more deeply, you can see there is conflict and cheating - and obviously human society is also a prime example of this. It was thought ants were an exception, but our genetic analysis has shown that their society is also rife with corruption - and it's royal corruption at that."

jesus. apparently 'royal' ants are 'cunning' and have strategies to prevent rebellion by the commoners. projecting machiavelli onto genes much?

capricorn
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Mar 15 2008 09:20

Not all Skeptics are raving "evolutionary psychologists" though many are (Pinker and Dawkins for example). But here's one that isn't: Henry D. Schlinger who wrote "The Almost Blank Slate: The Case for Human Nurture" (http://www.facts4u.com/OffSite_Stored_Pages/pdf/TheAlmostBlankSlate.pdf) and "How the Human Got Its Spots. A Critical Analysis of the Just So Stories of Evolutionary Psychology" (http://www.facts4u.com/OffSite_Stored_Pages/pdf/HowtheHumanGotItsSpots.pdf)
If you can't access these addresses directly, copy them into a search engine and try again.
As another example of where the pseudo-science of "evolutionary psychology" leads see: http://www.amazon.ca/Sex-Science-Profits-people-evolved/dp/0434008249
Apparently we were "hard wired" to make money hundreds of thousands of years before money evolved.
"Evolutionary psychology" is clearly just a capitalist ideology, reading back into prehistoric times an idealised (not to say ideal) social behaviour pattern for people in capitalist society.

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 11:16

roll eyes

Pepe
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Mar 15 2008 13:08

I'd like to ask the ev psy haters if they think that the theory of evolution cannot apply to psychology?!

mel
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Mar 15 2008 14:18

are you all evolutionary psychologists confused

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 14:43
revol68 wrote:
Jess wrote:
I'd like to ask the ev psy haters if they think that the theory of evolution cannot apply to psychology?!

Between apply and subsume is a pretty big gap.

It doesn't subsume it, it supplies it with a consistent, objective theoretical framework.
I can't be bothered to get into all this again, your arguments are on a par with Sandra Harding's characterisation of Newton's laws as a 'rape manual'.

mel
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Mar 15 2008 14:43
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Evolutionary psychology's primary focus is to derive, especially through the deep analysis of hunter-gatherer culture and primate models, what is the most accurate description of general human predispositions (i.e. our innate "hard-wiring"). And as this understanding grows, it will become more and more feasible to redesign culture itself to be more "user friendly" to its human members.

sounds horrid.

innate 1 : existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth : native, inborn <innate behavior>

i might buy that we have innate predispositions I JUST DON'T KNOW.

mel
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Mar 15 2008 14:43

accidental dp sorry.

is it empirically successful?

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 14:47
revol68 wrote:
Anna maybe you should check out this Evolutionary Psychology documentary.

You're the one suggesting that hunter gatherers only had skills for hunting, and not for navigating complex social relations, politicking and the like, so your mockery is mistargeted.

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 14:50
mel wrote:
i might buy that we have innate predispositions I JUST DON'T KNOW.

What do you suppose content-dependent domain-specific learning mechanisms are if not innate? We have these in abundance, as can be demonstrated by arguments from 'poverty of the stimulus' and under-determination of the environment.

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 14:54
revol68 wrote:
hahaha those are two things that evolutionary psychology is certainly not, though your niave faith in it is touching.

EP is derived from evolutionary logic, which is consistent and objective. The hypotheses generated from EP theory may or may not be true, and as such may conflict with each other, but this occurs in every scientific field. When the hypotheses are judged rigorously against the evidence, the body of accepted theory one is left with is consistent.

mel
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Mar 15 2008 14:57
Anna wrote:
mel wrote:
i might buy that we have innate predispositions I JUST DON'T KNOW.

What do you suppose content-dependent domain-specific learning mechanisms are if not innate? We have these in abundance, as can be demonstrated by arguments from 'poverty of the stimulus' and under-determination of the environment.

because that's not to say that these domain specific learning mechanisms [i don't know what you mean by content dependent] "exist in" factors present from birth, or are "determined by" or "belong to" them.

they could be partly innate these things.

mel
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Mar 15 2008 15:04

imho you've got to be talking about genetic machinery if you mean purely innate.

cos i can't think of much that is entirely determined by your state at birth. not even the number of toes one has!

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 15:13
revol68 wrote:
Anna wrote:
You're the one suggesting that hunter gatherers only had skills for hunting, and not for navigating complex social relations, politicking and the like, so your mockery is mistargeted.

Not at all i'm asking why these skills would fall along the lines of sexual division of labour that exist in modern bourgeois societies as Wilson claims.

What Wilson claims is that some degree of division of labour is to be expected in a society that treats men and women the same, because men and women on average have brains specialising in different areas and will thus tend to enjoy and excel in different areas. So for example if given free reign you might expect that 'naturally' more men than women would choose to be engineers, say, and more women than men to be linguists. This follows from a recognition that men and women are not identical, and that the differences between them are not purely results of social conditioning. You can try and prove that they are the same if you like, but the science is against you.

In most animal species, the males are more concerned with power and dominance relations than are the females, (because the males compete for status in order to maximise their potential mates). You can try and prove that humans are an exception if you like, but it's for the evidence to decide.

One other thing - even if every hypothesis that Wilson or whoever makes is false (and some most likely are) this is in no way evidence against the validity of EP as a theoretical framework. In any scientific discipline, scientists make hypotheses, most of which will turn out to be false. If you really want to cast aspersion on EP, then it is useless to criticise this particular hypothesis or that (which is actually what EPists spend their time doing) but to show that EP's theoretical foundations are bad. So unless you develop a devastating critique of certain aspects of evolutionary theory, what you say isn't really worth listening to.

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 15:16
mel wrote:
imho you've got to be talking about genetic machinery if you mean purely innate.

Looks like we've got an Einstein here.
Obviously no factor of the phenotype is 'completely innate' because the phenotype is itself an interaction of the genotype with the environment, but the particular way in which the environment influences the phenotype is itself genetically determined.

mel
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Mar 15 2008 15:16
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what you say isn't really worth listening to.

the same could be said of EP ethicists?

do you think that some modules are purely innate confused it makes alot of different qualifying like that.

mel
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Mar 15 2008 15:17
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Looks like we've got an Einstein here.

SOMEONE ON THE INTERNET IS _WRONG_ !

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but the particular way in which the environment influences the phenotype is itself genetically determined.

why do you dress it up like that, are you an evolutionary psychologist or something?

the way every single one of my actions influences "the environment" is purely determined by me. if you define environment as you have.

eta it also seems a bit unpleasant EP. did you see that quote from wikipedia?

capricorn
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Mar 15 2008 16:05
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I'd like to ask the ev psy haters if they think that the theory of evolution cannot apply to psychology?!

I think you've got to distinguish between the brain and the mind. The human brain as part of the physical human body was obviously subject to evolution (and in principle still is, but probably hasn't evolved since our species evolved). The mind, on the other hand, is a social product and its content depends on the social conditions with which the individual human being has to interact with since birth (and even, to some extent, in the womb). That's why human behaviour has differed so much over time and between different societies, suggesting that it is "human nature" to be able to adopt a wide variety of behaviour-patterns.
"Evolutionary psychology" is pure speculation since it is assuming that various human behaviour patterns are governed by some genes without being able to show what these genes are or might be, in effect at best suggesting lines of research for molecular biologists. These latter are making great progress in identifying what human genes govern what human physical characteristics but they have yet to discover any governing human behaviour (except in so far as some bodily defect, including of the brain, limits the behaviour of the individual concerns compared with the vast majority of humans who don't have this defect).
It is because they don't have to show what genes might be involved that "evolutionary psychologists" can speculate as much as they like suggesting genes for all sorts of things -- they can't be proved wrong, any more than they can prove themselves right (though normally the onus of proof should be on them). But their speculations turn out not be be all that imaginative in the end, just a reflection of widespread popular prejudices and religious myths about "human nature".
Incidentally, talking about "hard-wiring" , other research suggests that to the extent that this exists in humans it occurs not before birth but in the first few years of life, and is not determined by our genes but what we experience in those first few years.

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 17:17
capricorn wrote:
I think you've got to distinguish between the brain and the mind. The human brain as part of the physical human body was obviously subject to evolution (and in principle still is, but probably hasn't evolved since our species evolved). The mind, on the other hand, is a social product and its content depends on the social conditions with which the individual human being has to interact with since birth (and even, to some extent, in the womb). That's why human behaviour has differed so much over time and between different societies, suggesting that it is "human nature" to be able to adopt a wide variety of behaviour-patterns.

This dichotomy between brain and mind is just blank slate rubbish in modern garb. Please explain to me how exactly you suppose social conditions, by themselves, shape minds? ('Poverty of the stimulus' again.) Of course the environment influences brain development, and the particular contents of the mind, but the only reason it is able to do this is because we have many many sophisticated domain-specific learning mechanisms, which are themselves genetically determined, and have been produced by evolution. Take language for example - the only reason we are able to utilise this fantastically flexible and precise tool is because we have an innate grammar and specialised neural architecture for language acquisition. Although languages appear diverse at first glance, if you study them more closely you see that they all share a deep common structure. The modern view of language acquisition is not that the baby learns the language from the enormously under-determined environmental stimuli it receives by induction according to a general purpose learning rule, but that environmental cues have the function of setting switches on the babies internal specialised language learning mechanism (evolved by natural selection) that cement the specifications of the particular natural language it is surrounded by. The more 'genetic determinism' we have, the more flexible we are, not less. Learning is not opposed to nature, but part of it. Because humans have a highly specialised and variegated mental organ, it makes them 'free' but it does set constraints on that freedom. (Just as a structured grammar allows the freedom to construct sentences of any meaning, but also sets constraints on the type of sentences that can be constructed).
Yes, human behaviour has differed, and does differ, but this flexibility is entirely due to specialised, innate, evolved learning mechanisms that allow us to respond to our environment. It also varies only between constraints. These learning mechanisms and these constraints can both be studied by evolutionary psychology. Our genes provide every human (unless something goes wrong) with an incredibly complex species-specific neural architecture, and it is this that is studied by EPists, and considered to constiture 'human nature' (rather than any privileged subset of human behaviours produced by this mental machine).

Quote:
"Evolutionary psychology" is pure speculation since it is assuming that various human behaviour patterns are governed by some genes without being able to show what these genes are or might be, in effect at best suggesting lines of research for molecular biologists. These latter are making great progress in identifying what human genes govern what human physical characteristics but they have yet to discover any governing human behaviour (except in so far as some bodily defect, including of the brain, limits the behaviour of the individual concerns compared with the vast majority of humans who don't have this defect).

You are completely wrong with this. In order to determine that some trait is controlled by genes it is not necessary to know precisely which genes produce it and how. Do we need to know exactly which genes built the eye in order to work out that it is a product of evolution, or to understand its 'design'?
Genes regulate other genes, some of which make proteins. These proteins are the building blocks of cells, which are the building blocks of organs, one of which, the brain, responds to environmental input by producing behaviour. Understanding the molecular structure of the genes that 'built' it, or even the molecular structure of neurons tells us little about the functions of the brain, which are better looked at from a few levels of abstraction higher. Just like when we try to understand the function of the eye, we do not look at the molecular structure of the proteins in its cells, but we use a level of abstraction to talk about the lens, photoreceptors, and all the rest. Since human mental function and behaviour is the farthest removed aspect of the phenotype from the original genetic causes, it makes little sense to try and understand it by looking at genes, if this is even possible.

Quote:
It is because they don't have to show what genes might be involved that "evolutionary psychologists" can speculate as much as they like suggesting genes for all sorts of things -- they can't be proved wrong, any more than they can prove themselves right (though normally the onus of proof should be on them).

Again, this is false. In order to prove an evolutionary hypothesis one does not need to show which genes are involved. (In the case of mental function we would be talking about the combined effects of hundreds of thousands of genes interacting in complex ways, anyway). The acceptance of a hypothesis in EP requires rigorous empirical verification - you only exhibit your ignorance of the field's methodology with ungrounded assertions like this.

Quote:
But their speculations turn out not be be all that imaginative in the end, just a reflection of widespread popular prejudices and religious myths about "human nature".

A lot of EP findings are quite 'imaginative', but we are talking here about a discipline that studies human universals - which you can hardly expect to be that surprising, right?

Quote:
Incidentally, talking about "hard-wiring" , other research suggests that to the extent that this exists in humans it occurs not before birth but in the first few years of life, and is not determined by our genes but what we experience in those first few years.

'Hard-wiring' is not a helpful phrase, but to the extent that environmental cues cement 'hard-wiring' then this is better characterised as the cues 'toggling switches' on genetically determined neural mechanisms designed by evolution to respond to particular environmental stimuli. Flexibility and genetic 'determinism' are not opposed to eachother - precisely the opposite.

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Anna
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Mar 15 2008 17:40
revol68 wrote:
yes all very good but there is no actual evidence for these overly specialsed modules in the mind that Evolutionary Psychology assumes, infact most neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists reject such a simplistic compartmentalisation of the mind.

Hahahahah

1) There is plenty of evidence for them (evidence from brain damaged people who lose particular skills but retain others is one example). EP doesn't 'assume' them, it looks at the facts.
2) You're doing 'most neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists' a disservice there. And who's saying anying about things being 'simple'? Surely having a few general purpose learning mechanisms is 'simpler' than having many incredibly complex domain specific neural mechanisms all interacting and communicating.

mel
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Mar 15 2008 17:43
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cues 'toggling switches' on genetically determined neural mechanisms designed by evolution to respond to particular environmental stimuli.

partly!

capricorn
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Mar 15 2008 21:39

Anna wrote (of course):

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This dichotomy between brain and mind is just blank slate rubbish in modern garb. Please explain to me how exactly you suppose social conditions, by themselves, shape minds?

Well, there's the social theory of mind put forward by George Herbert Mead in Mind, Self and Society which has been summarised as follows:

Quote:
In Mind, Self and Society (1934), Mead describes how the individual mind and self arises out of the social process. Instead of approaching human experience in terms of individual psychology, Mead analyzes experience from the "standpoint of communication as essential to the social order." Individual psychology, for Mead, is intelligible only in terms of social processes. The "development of the individual's self, and of his self- consciousness within the field of his experience" is preeminently social. For Mead, the social process is prior to the structures and processes of individual experience.
Mind, according to Mead, arises within the social process of communication and cannot be understood apart from that process. The communicational process involves two phases: (1) the "conversation of gestures" and (2) language, or the "conversation of significant gestures." Both phases presuppose a social context within which two or more individuals are in interaction with one another.
(see http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/m/mead.htm)

In other words, the mind is a social phenomenon. As opposed to a biological one, though of course to have a mind humans have to have the biological capacity to speak and to think abstractly.