Thursday, December 7, 2006

The Myth of Brain Function

Each human with a physically undamaged brain has a large inherent capacity for this rational kind of behaviour, very large as compared to the best functioning of presently observable adult humans.


There seems to be an assumption that people are not functioning to their full "potential", an idea which was devastatingly and amusingly sent up by Dylan Moran ("Your full potential is being able to eat less cheesy snacks."). The idea that the brain is underused is an old urban myth, which brain scans disprove

Darwin and Intelligence

This ability to create new, exact responses may be defined as human intelligence. It operates by comparing and contrasting new information with that already on file from past experiences and constructing a response based on similarities to past situations but modified to allow for the differences.


I would say that the response can also be identical if that is what is required. That is also intelligence – learning when a different response is not needed. Or it could be described as abstracting a common pattern, and being able to discern what is irrelevant "noise" (termed "making equivalence relations" in mathematics).


Another note is that responding to environmental pressures but with modification through descent (i.e. being flexible enough to change and survive in different ecological niches) is the primary factor in evolution -  "a response based on similarities to past situations but modified to allow for the differences" is a good definition of how organisms evolve. Living creatures are not clay, passive moulded by changing environments, but interact and respond to those changing environments. Those that didn't manage to do so, are extinct.


Checked various twin studies (there are masses!), and on the whole they confirm that temperament is largely genetic, i.e. any "patterns" are innate ones. Some samples and extracts given below; the web pages give fuller details. So while the form that "bossiness" may take may differ depending upon opportunity - i.e. class differences may come in - the trait itself is not something that comes from the class difference.

Twin research designs and methods are valuable tools for examining genetic and environmental influences on behavioral and medical characteristics.  A review of the biological bases of twinning and descriptions of 10 research designs are presented.  Findings from a selected sampling of twin studies of learning disabilities, personality and temperament, attitudes, psychopathology, and social behavior are summarized.  The findings are discussed with special reference to the activities of mental health practitioners and counselors.
...the shared environment has a very small effect on intellectual development and supports the position that individuals respond to environments in ways consistent with their genetic predispositions.
Evidence indicates that evolutionary theory (e.g., inclusive fitness theory) predicts patterns of social interaction (e.g., cooperation and bereavement) in relatives
Attention to factors influencing cooperation and competition during human social interaction has increased within recent years.  This study tested the hypothesis that higher levels of cooperation would be associated with increased genetic relatedness between interactants, and explored questions concerning the expression of cooperative behavior over time

Assessments of temperament, emotion, cognition, and language acquisition were obtained for 200 pairs of 14-month-old twins. Comparisons between the assessment correlations for identical and fraternal twins indicated an influence of genetics on inhibition, activity, temperament, empathy, negative emotion, spatial memory, categorization skills, and word comprehension. (BC)
In a study of 105 twin pairs, correlations for identical pairs were significantly higher than fraternal pairs on all but one factor: tough-mindedness. Data suggested several components and the total organization of those components of personality and temperament are genetically influenced.
Genetic influences largely accounted for the association between temperament and the sibling relationship. Using identical twin difference scores, sibling cooperation was one aspect of the nonshared environmental influence on temperament
Twin studies of child temperament using objective measures consistently suggest moderate heritability for most dimensions

Darwin and Rational Human Behaviour

The essence of rational human behaviour consists of responding to each instant of living with a new response, created afresh at that moment to precisely fit and handle the situation of that moment as that situation is defined by the information received through the senses of the person (other living creatures typically respond with preset, inherited response patterns--"instincts," or with conditioned, equally-rigid modifications or replacements of the inherited response patterns, acquired through experiences of stress).


This is, of course a nonsense, as anyone who reads Darwin's works and sees how animals actually behave when observed will know; it is an armchair theory which doesn't fit the facts. Actually, as Armand Leroi argued (I think convincingly, with experimental proof), the one thing other animals cannot do easily is copy and learn by imitation in the same way that we do (e.g. the monkeys and food test, where monkey 2 does not learn from monkey 1), but other animals can use ingenuity to discover ways of doing things they have failed to learn (again, monkey 2 worked out how to get the food but quite differently from monkey 1).  This means that we can build a culture independent of ourselves, and independent of our selves (Popper's World 3) which does not die when we do, and can be added to.  


Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Rational Human Behaviour

Rational human behaviour is qualitatively different from the behaviour of other forms of life. (It is not just more complicated).


This all depends on how you define "rational human behaviour"; I'm not convinced that the definition given (see below) is qualitatively different from other forms of life. Regarding the term, human behaviour is extremely diverse, and everyone seems to have their own definition. For example, in economic theory, economics is seen as a study of what constitutes rational human behaviour in the endeavour to fulfil needs and wants; it makes the assumption that human beings will aim to fulfil their self-interests. Rational behaviour can be either a term used to explain how people behave (i.e. to make a model that makes sense of their behaviour (since it makes sense to them), so that other people who do not behave that way can understand them) or behaviour that is based on reasoning (which suggests a Spock like Vulcan, devoid of emotions).  When the two are confused, we are tempted to say somebody is acting "irrationally", which usually means that we cannot understand the reasoning behind it, but also tends to suggest that there is no reasoning behind it; there is an element of judgement.


Remarks on complexity

"We exist in a real universe many billions of years old. We live on a planet several billion years old. The tendency existing within this universe to produce more and more complex relationships had reached the point here on Earth, after a billion or so years, of producing self-replicating compounds which came to have the characteristics of life. All forms of life share built-in goals of surviving, of reproducing, and of expanding their numbers. The universe's tendency toward complexity continued to operate within the field of living things, once they had appeared. With living things, this tendency took the form of evolution."

Harvey Jackins

Wonderful mysticism! It amuses me that in allegedly non-theistic movements, some kind of theism creeps in (or is it a "tendency to creep in") by the back door. Evolution, of course, is presented in the next paragraph as a ladder leading upwards to man (another potent idea of "progress"). I should congratulate him on his "field of living things", which seems to anticipate Sheldrake's "morphological fields" by some decades.
(Just in passing, I like the superfluous and amusing adjective "real" before "universe", which suggests there could be an artificial universe, or it could all be an illusion - reminds me of Peter Cook to Dudley Moore on the part of Tarzan, a part for which "two legs would seem to be the minimum requirement"!)

A link with this "tendency toward complexity" of the universe (makes it almost sentient) to evolution, and all the while, the old, old enlightenment idea of "progress" in the background. In fact, the Universe's "complexity" is actually an increase in disorder.
Schoedinger in his book "What is Life?" (extract below) took this more sophisticated view, the universe actually tends to disorder (entropy) and "complexity" in terms of stars burning themselves up; unfortunately he coined the term "negative entropy" in his discussion of life, which has had all sorts of bad effects in the popular mind, as it is assumed that life has some kind of "negative entropy" taken in isolation, and which is a kind of science fiction object like antigravity! Freud of course, managed to use the phrase in relation to sexuality, which is hardly surprising for someone with such an "idee fixe"!
In fact, what he meant was that life can make use of "free energy" to stave off the tendency to maximum entropy (in that case, death) - the free energy (which he terms negative entropy) coming from the surroundings, and ultimately from solar energy, so that overall the total entropy in the solar system (for instance) is still increasing, despite the areas where there is free energy available, mainly because the universe is random not ordered.
His views however were criticised by Popper as he took "negative entropy" to be a characteristic of life. When Schroedinger remarked "Thus the device by which an organism maintains itself stationary at a fairly high level of orderliness (=fairly low level of entropy) really consists in continually sucking orderliness from its environment", Popper countered that this was not only true of life:
Now admittedly organisms do all this. But I denied, and I still deny,  Schrödinger's thesis that it is this which is characteristic of life, or of organisms; for it holds for every steam engine. In fact every oil-fired boiler and every self-winding watch may be said to be "continually sucking orderliness from its environment".