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The true evolution of morality

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Evolution of morality

http://www.thestar.com/Comment/article/593720a

I am a scientist but havent had the opportunity to read the primary reference for the news article i link to above.

Things to note:

1. University of Toronto is a world reknowned university for it's research (I'm not sure about the authors of this research)

2. The journal it is published in, Science, is in the top 3 of scientific journals to have research published in. So, the peer review process of the research would have been scrutinized by experts in the field of the area of focus of the article.

Maybe someone who has access through a university proxy server can get the actual source article?

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Link does not work for me - I get the star web page, but no article of any kind.

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Go to the first link Evolution of morality

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This is what I get when I click on the Evolution of Morality link

Joseph Hall

Health Reporter

A filthy toilet bowl or foul play.

Both elicit the same, crinkle-nosed looks of disgust on our faces, according to a new University of Toronto study.

That common expression of revulsion suggests some of our moral judgments evolved alongside our distaste for physically repellent things, the study in the journal Nature suggests.

"People often think of morality as the height of human evolution. This is what our species does. It's the pinnacle of evolution and development," says Hanah Chapman, a graduate psychology student at U of T and the lead study author.

"What this research suggests is that our moral sense may be just as much guided by very simple emotional reactions as by complex thought," says Chapman, 27.

The familiar facial expression – it is caused by a contraction of the Levator labii muscle above our lips – is the best evidence yet that people actually feel the same disgust at unfair treatment as when they see, smell or taste revolting things, Chapman says.

"The capacity to feel disgust over social transgressions, that is something we would argue is evolved," she says. "We provide the best evidence for that."

The sneering look, Chapman says, likely finds its evolutionary origins in the quite natural need to avoid disease-bearing items or putting poisonous things in our mouths.

But the fact it's expressed when we encounter unfair or immoral behaviours could well mean that our touted sense of morality also has a primitive basis and that it is, at least in part, an evolutionary trait.

"Disgust is involved in regulating a very important thing. It's the entryway to the body: are you going to eat this or not?" Chapman says.

"And that this emotion, this very important function, is something that's become co-opted for regulating social and moral behaviour, we think that says something about just how important social life is for human beings."

Indeed, she says, being a fair, co-operative and "moral" person would have obvious evolutionary advantages for a species that relies on its fellow creatures for survival.

"It's about exchange, what is the norm for fairness in your culture, and I'm sure that is something that people have been confronted with ever since we lived in groups and co-operated with one and other," she says. "If I share my catch with you this time, or this food that I've gathered, are you going to reciprocate the next time?"

Being evolutionary, disgust at social transgressions likely crosses cultural lines, Chapman says. But the degree to which a given behaviour triggers the emotion is likely regulated by cultural norms, she says. "This code of fairness is very common in human societies. Almost every human society has some idea for what a reasonable or equitable exchange is."

"Where the set point (for fairness) is, that is something that will change a little bit. In Western cultures it tends to be 50-50."

For the research, Chapman's team wired sensors to the faces of 27 U of T students, to record their muscle movements when confronted with both physically and morally objectionable things. Subjects were asked to drink sippy cups of bitter, sour and salty liquids and shown pictures of dirty toilets and injuries and other disgusting matter. Their facial movements were then compared to those they made when being treated unfairly in a laboratory game and were found to be precisely the same.

In an accompanying perspective article in the journal, a trio of U.S. psychologists say the facial tick of disgust over tastes and such was transferred to more elaborate judgments about groups or behaviour during evolution.

"This process had adaptive value, because by making things or thoughts disgusting a culture could communicate their negativity and cause withdrawal from them," write psychologists Paul Rozin and Katrina Fincher of the University of Pennsylvania and Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia.

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Adam,

There is a whole body of research on facial expressions and emotions. See here for instance: Dr. Paul Ekman. (His stuff is studied in Hollywood for cartoons and animations.)

One interesting thing that he reported is that when he was mapping individual muscles, he did it with another person. They used a mirror and looked at each other and tried to move just one muscle at a time. When they studied facial expressions for emotions like disgust, both he and the other person reported having terrible days. When they studied the happier emotions, they had wonderful days.

So this is a two-way street. A facial expression is not only a reaction to an emotion, it can be a cause generating it. A weaker cause, maybe, but a cause.

This is probably why people who constantly sneer and put down others stay in a state of bad humor all the time. They are not only expressing their disgust, they are causing some of it.

Michael

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Michael:

Thanks. We did so much of this in the late 60's within the "science" of Kinesics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinesics

Critical listening is exceptionally enhanced by learning these techniques. For example, do you best to make sure you know which is their dominant hand/side.

When you ask a question that requires the object to "search" for information, invariably, they will "look up with their eyes into their brains for the data.

If they are right handed and look up and left, they are more than likely either lying or on the way to being misleading at a minimum.

Not 100% accurate, but damn good.

My uncle wrote the police interrogation handbook for the Department in NYC in the late 50's so when you sat at our table, not only were you responsible to engage in healthy debate, but to be pressed and cross examined by "experts".

Our dinners were exceptionally enjoyable and extremely intense.

Newcomers were not prepared most of the time lol.

Adam

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If you let yourself be interrogated by the police they win you lose. Zip that lip. Get a lawyer. Don't say anything but "I want to speak to an attorney." Then move out of state so they won't bother you going forward.

--Brant

never had use for this advice

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Brant:

Yep - real simple - and keep it that way.

Keep quiet - answer calmly and courteously, but be clear about the attorney and do not think you are clever and chat about sports or the weather.

Shut up and stay focused.

Adam

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So this is a two-way street. A facial expression is not only a reaction to an emotion, it can be a cause generating it. A weaker cause, maybe, but a cause.

This is probably why people who constantly sneer and put down others stay in a state of bad humor all the time. They are not only expressing their disgust, they are causing some of it.

Biofeedback...

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That common expression of revulsion suggests some of our moral judgments evolved alongside our distaste for physically repellent things, the study in the journal Nature suggests.

Very well-placed observation. Yes, morality seems to hinge on basic emotional reactions. I believed I mentioned it elsewhere, but Rozin is one of the backers for the CAD Triad Hypothesis. Basically, we as humans experience moral judgments in 3 realms:

(C )ommunity : interpersonal and intergroup relations, affiliations, etc.

(A)utonomy: hard work, productivity, independence, and the like.

(D)ivinity: the way of the universe, the natural order to things.

Rozin also observed evidence that 3 distinct emotions arise from each domain, coincidently with the same acronym:

(C )ontempt : negative emotions against communal violations

(A)nger: negative emotions against autonomy violations

(D)isgust: negative emotions against violations of the divine order of things.

Now, it becomes even more interesting when looking at neurological studies by a guy named M*** (errr, I forget his name at the moment):

We have circuits oriented towards group/interpersonal relations and affiliations -- innate, unconscious, not shaped by cognition

We have circuits oriented towards egalitarian decision-making (and distinct from group circuits) -- innate, unconscious, not shaped by cognition

We have circuits that combine emotional and cognitive parts of the brain (perhaps divinity). -- innate, partially unconscious partially cognitive

In other words, that which cultures experience as divine is malleable to beliefs, but both the realm of affiliation and autonomy are unconsciously-driven.

Amazing stuff, isn't it!

Christopher

Edited by Christopher

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In other words, that which cultures experience as divine is malleable to beliefs, but both the realm of affiliation and autonomy are unconsciously-driven.

Amazing stuff, isn't it!

Christopher

So much for Rand's theory that humans have no instincts.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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"We have circuits oriented towards group/interpersonal relations and affiliations -- innate, unconscious, not shaped by cognition" This would be the hard wiring or the "Id" possibly.

(A)utonomy: hard work, productivity, independence, and the like.

(A)nger: negative emotions against autonomy violations

We have circuits oriented towards egalitarian decision-making (and distinct from group circuits) -- innate, unconscious, not shaped by cognition

The other two seem to match and follow.

The middle one ??????

Adam

P.S. Ba'al - the Rand on no instincts never "felt" right with me - it was a blink moment for me.

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From the comments at The Star website:

There is nothing in the article that was not clearly identified by Andras Angyal, and subsequently known to all. See, "Disgust and Related Aversions," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 36 (1941).

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So much for Rand's theory that humans have no instincts.

Bob,

This is a subject that I have tried greatly to understand. The more I try, the more I come to the conclusion that Rand meant different things at different times when she used the word "instinct." Either that, or she suffered from some pretty false premises. (In fact, I wonder what her premises—the ones she used to herself when she wrote—were on this topic.)

Here is a set of quotes from Rand's works compiled in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under "instinct."

From Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged:

An instinct of self-preservation is precisely what man does not possess. An “instinct” is an unerring and automatic form of knowledge. A desire is not an instinct. A desire to live does not give you the knowledge required for living. And even man’s desire to live is not automatic . . . Your fear of death is not a love for life and will not give you the knowledge needed to keep it. Man must obtain his knowledge and choose his actions by a process of thinking, which nature will not force him to perform. Man has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.

From “The Anti-Industrial Revolution”:

[Man] is born naked and unarmed, without fangs, claws, horns or “instinctual” knowledge.

From “The Objectivist Ethics”:

Man has no automatic code of survival. He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions—but his consciousness will not function automatically.

From “The Objectivist Ethics”:

Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments.

Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are “tabula rasa.”

Notice that Rand stated that not only man's cognitive mechanism contains no instincts, but man's emotional mechanism contains no instincts as well. This is contradicted by the slap on the behind of any reasonably healthy newborn at all and the ensuing emotional outburst.

Also, in the first quote from Galt's speech, she stated that "An 'instinct' is an unerring and automatic form of knowledge. A desire is not an instinct." So what is a desire if not an emotion?

I have heard it said that she was specifically referring to conceptual knowledge and emotions based on them, but I have never found a definition for instinct given by her that limits the term to conceptual knowledge only.

This is where I see a strong scope issue. Advanced cognition and volition are not instinctual. I fully agree with that. But they rely on an enormous amount of instincts to come about in the first place.

It would be instructive to try to arrive at a definition of what instinct generally means, and what Rand probably meant when she used the term. I doubt she would call "sucking," for instance, an instinct. Yet it is a volitional act (on a higher level of cognition), so knowledge is required. Yet nobody teaches an infant how to do it. There are countless examples. Sylvan Tomkins, for example, documented (by filming) similar automatic emotional reactions among many different infants.

I also have great difficulty separating what an "emotional mechanism" is from "instinct" (or even a "cognitive mechanism") the way Rand uses them. Is the "mechanism" part something that develops according to an automatic "growth plan"? I think there is no way to deny it. The similarity of functions and automatic actions/reactions in different human beings that can be observed at any time in any place prove it.

I try very hard to give Rand the benefit of the doubt on this, but if she means it as it sounds in some of her passages, I have to disagree strongly with her.

Another subject that usually gets glossed over in Objectivist literature that is highly pertinent to this idea is "memory." If memory is what Rand meant by instinct at times, on those occasions it is easier to see what she was getting at. Still, I have issues with it (but this post is getting too long to go into it).

Michael

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Michael:

I claim no great insights, but since I was so young, I think I possessed a closer link to the hard wiring and as I said before, a blink moment, it just did not make sense to my experiences.

Now, I do not know if there is a male vs. female view of Rand's, in my opinion, baseless concept of instinct. Without a modifier, which I believe you could not find either, she was wrong.

Adam

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the slap on the behind of any reasonably healthy newborn at all and the ensuing emotional outburst.

That is the stimulus/response initiation verification of life - of the activation of the mind on its own, separated from the 'assembly line' of the womb - nothing more, nothing less...

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Robert,

I agree that it is stimulus and response. Since when is an emotion not a response? Even Rand called it an "automatic response."

It's just that I—and just about anyone else who has not run into Rand's severing of innate operations that grow and mature from biology if they entail the mind—see this as an emotional expression of pain and outrage. I am unaware of any other system of thought promoting the notion that a newborn is not expressing emotion at that moment.

I have a real problem relating the following quote with the plight of the newborn (from “The Objectivist Ethics”):

Man has no choice about his capacity to feel that something is good for him or evil, but what he will consider good or evil, what will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on his standard of value.

I submit that the newborn will always hate (determine as evil) being smacked on the tail end and will always express not only pain, but outrage. I find "standard of value" to be a poor fit, especially as Rand usually meant "conceptual/volitional standard of value" with that expression, and I believe she is doing that here. With a little conceptual pretzel-making, I suppose, some words could be joined together to try to make this fit. I don't give it good chances of being anything but a forced fit, though.

Please take a look at the following thread, which is merely the tip of the iceberg:

The Wonderful Way Shmurak Faces Emotion

We have some values prewired in us from birth. Others we choose as our volitional faculty matures and we gain experience. Some of our values develop automatically with growth (like with release of hormones, etc.). We also can influence many of our automatic values with volition after a certain point of maturity and training. I see plenty of evidence for all this and see no reason to deny any of it.

Michael

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I agree she was mistaken about the emotions - they are innate in the newborn as a 'for me/ against me' , just as they are with all the higher animals, and from fundamentals of what the newborn endures in relating to the environment, are at that point the same respondings everywhere... but, from the point where the cognitive development is involved, it is parced, in increments, according to the degree of thinking done - and yes, you're quite correct, thinking or cognitating is in effect an automatic in that ALL living humans initially engage in it to some degree, as it is impossible not to in order to survive as a human [but i would add, I mentioned this stimulus/response bit as such in that it is at this point, the separation from the mother and womb, the organism on its own, that human life in terms of the brain consciously operating, begins - that organism life truly begins at birth]... my take on her viewing of all this has been her emphasis has always been on the person at the stage of being able to utilize the reasoning process and further on, that the initiating process was more or less negligible to her in comparison... the principles remain, tho the details err, in other words...

This is one of the things I keep trying to emphasize about this mind business - the animal forecessoring needed to bring a continuousness to the development of living organism complexity which has [to the degree we know] ended at humans... we are overlays of earlier mind developments, and cannot fully grasp how we are until understanding how they are, and the influences tghey bring to the organism...

Edited by anonrobt

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Physiologically, what makes humans quite different from animals is the large cerebral cortex and it is this structure that enables man to use complex symbolism and delay reactions (ie. think) The growth of the cerebral cortex continues into our 20's, from what I understand, and this is why it is so important to use our brains when we are young because then the "thinking" can actually help new neural pathways evolve.

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Robert,

Here is a thought for you.

Do you think it is possible for an infant to choose to refuse to learn language?

The proof of a capacity of choice is in practice. So if conceptual activity were volitional only, as Rand claimed (in places), the infant would be able to refuse to integrate and develop language. (I speak about healthy human beings, not mentally impaired ones.)

The reality is that an infant learns language (and concepts) because he cannot do otherwise. He has no choice in the matter.

What he can later choose is what standards he uses. He can also choose to take charge of his mental discipline or let it float on automatic pilot as it does for the first stages. But his initial standards and the normative thrust to make him form concepts and learn language are all prewired.

What's interesting in Rand's literature is that I read several places where she acknowledged this, but denied it in other parts. I will have to look it up. It usually took the form of "man cannot choose whether... but he can choose..." Then later she made the sweeping statements about tabula rasa.

There is a "seed" concept that is missing at these moments. The truth is that branches and leaves are inherent in the acorn. An acorn cannot produce a zebra. It can only produce what is inherent in it. But it does produce that inherent stuff if planted in soil, and the branches and leaves come about through growth and maturity of the acorn. In like fashion, there are mental capacities that develop automatically in human beings as growth takes place from infancy. Learning how to initially form concepts and language is like this. This happens irrespective of what a person chooses.

Our volition and volitional conceptual activity sit on top of non-volitional capacities and development and are intertwined with them. Volition does not exist apart from them.

I harp on this at times because I wasted an enormous amount of time in life trying to take charge and impose my will on mental things that cannot be influenced by direct willpower. And I spent an enormous amount of time feeling guilt because I would not deny the mental operations I observed inside myself, but I could not get rid of the bad stuff by volition.

Nowadays I use indirect methods on my bad habits. Since I know many are automatic, I try to influence what triggers them, not blame myself for their having developed almost without me noticing.

Michael

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The reality is that an infant learns language (and concepts) because he cannot do otherwise. He has no choice in the matter.

Only if exposed to it... and only within an early and short frame of time - if after that time, language cannot be achieved... and no, the being cannot on his/her own devise a language in the absence of a 'template', an example... the infant has a strong inducement to do this, yes, and in surviving, it is achieved, this language learning - but that does not mean there is not per se a choice which could have been made... mark, now, communicating is not language - chimps and others, for instance, communicate, but they do not have a language...

Edited by anonrobt

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Robert,

What little I have read about stranded infants, they do develop their own concepts and language (idioglossia). There are studies, but I would have to look them up and I don't have the time right now.

Between trying to fit reality to a principle, or derive a principle from reality, I will always look at observable evidence first unless I have to guess.

At any rate, I see no evidence to suggest that the mind does not obey the growth patterns inherent in the rest of biology. On the contrary, I see plenty of evidence to suggest that the mind grows and matures as an inherent process of its nature just like everything else living.

Your suggestion presupposes that the prefrontal cortex has no cognitive nature until the being having one chooses for it to. If I am wrong, then what have you observed as to how the prefrontal cortex matures? What does it do in maturity that is different from infancy? What replaces the activity of forming concepts (qua maturation) if they are only chosen from being exposed to them?

What's more important, is man a freak of nature or not? Does his existence observe biological laws or does his mind set him above them or apart from them?

These are questions I have asked myself and then read about when I decided to check all my premises. I think you already know my answers.

Michael

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Well, we will grow a cortex no matter what kind of environment we find ourselves in but not the complex network of neurons necessary for higher level thinking, the way I understand it.

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GS,

Do you have something you can point to that we can observe that substantiates this understanding?

I'm not asking with prejudgment. I am truly curious where this idea comes from in your thinking.

I agree that "neural pathways" exist and develop with experience, and the more you make them, the more they become complex (i.e., networks). But we are discussing a point on a very primitive level—the start of language in an infant.

Maybe the question is when does a mold become a pathway, but that seems like begging the question in terms of deriving a principle. (On a humorous level, P. J. O'Rourke asks when does an intestine become an asshole... :) )

Incidentally, the "neural pathway" concept is used with great practical effect by one of the weirdest sources on earth: Scientology. I don't know if they came up with the idea or merely got it from somewhere else. I do know (from my readings on addiction) that they use this concept in their drug treatment efforts and they have pretty good results with it compared to other systems. I do not like citing them because of all the other boneheaded stuff that comes out of that "religion" (as they define themselves), but when you see something work, it is foolish to say it doesn't work or ignore it because you don't like who is doing it.

Michael

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