Monday, September 20, 2010

270: The Design of the Mind

Our world is full of supernatural beliefs. Do you hold supernatural beliefs and can you answer the question WHY you do so? Just this morning in my newspaper… a short report about the Norwegian royal princess Märtha Louise. She is 38.

In an interview she had revealed that she could talk with the dead and talk with angels, which caused a storm of criticism. And the criticism is from my perspective really funny.

The protestant bishop, Laila Riksaanen Dahl told on the Norwegian TV that the dead are the exclusive business of God and that they should be left in peace.
QUOTE: " To change this, can unleash dark forces, which we do not know."

I live with superstition in my own life too. Look at this picture. This object I have in my left pocket… yes definitely the left pocket. Nothing else may be in that pocket, no coins, no keys..only this object.

It has three parts. That coin with a hole in it is a so called age coin, used for instance in discos to prevent too young people to get access to cigarette machines. I found it on the stairs of the entrance of the institute I worked. I found it on the last working day before my retirement. I recognized its symbolic meaning and kept it.

The little animal may be hard to recognize, but it is a small elephant. When my wife was born her parents really picked her first name from the newspaper. It was the name of a little elephant born in a Dutch zoo on the same day.

The other part is St. Christopher.Christopher has always been a widely popular saint, being especially revered by athletes, mariners, ferrymen, and travelers. So, I guess that he helps to keep me on the right track.

Quite a lot of nonsense beliefs, isn't it. (^_^) Ok, I plead guilty, but before you throw the first stone (seems to be popular again these days;-) look at your own life, where you may feel uncomfortable on Fryday the 13th, with a black cat or deeply guilty when you have committed a real sin in eyes of your God in your opinion.

As we saw in our former lecture, this can not be simply attributed to our education or our culture. Especially because among other things, this does hardly explain why we are so WILLING to cherish our supernatural beliefs.

This willingness is just in our mind, or to use Hood's words, we find the explanation in the design of our mind. "Design" means the organized way how our brain is equipped to understand and interpret the world.

Just like our other body parts have evolved during millions of years, in the same way has our brain gone through an evolution to help us survive.

Most scientists nowadays agree with the conclusion, that our brain is equipped with a set of specialized, internal mechanisms, which make it possible for us to process our experiences. In other words: we posses a mental toolbox.

This makes me think of the epistemological debate about the origin of knowledge and how we discuss ontology. Can we conclude that Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) is the winner of the debate?

Kant believed himself to be creating a compromise between the empiricists and the rationalists. The empiricists believed that knowledge is acquired through experience alone, but the rationalists maintained that such knowledge is open to Cartesian doubt and that reason alone provides us with knowledge.

Kant argues, however, that using reason without applying it to experience will only lead to illusions and empty concepts, while experience will be purely subjective without first being subsumed under pure reason.

Then John Locke (1632 - 1704) is the looser. He postulated that the mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa. Contrary to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, he maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception.

It can no longer be denied that the brain is an active player in our existence and not just a passive organ that first has to be filled with sensory experiences before it is able to be of some use to us.

Now we are so smart and impressed by the complexity of the brain, that we have great difficulty to believe that it has been different so many million years ago. The brain did not simply dropped from the sky, ready and fully operational.

It is the result of a long evolution and the designer of this brain is natural selection. And here the battle begins, when we enter the field of evolutionary psychology.

The application of evolutionary theory to the psychology and behavior of other animal species is generally uncontroversial. However, adaptationist approaches to human psychology are contentious, with critics questioning the scientific nature of evolutionary psychology, and with more minor debates within the field itself.

Evolutionary Psychology is grounded on the theory that fundamentally our psychology is based on biology, the composition of our brains. This is a form of reductionism, a research philosophy according to which the nature of complex things can be understood in terms of simpler or more fundamental things (i.e. reduced).

Now just read the following sentence: "The debates regarding the validity of evolutionary psychology have been regarded as occasionally quite vicious, with a strong ad hominem component."

I found this statement in an article in Wikipedia and it did not surprise me at all. When Darwin published his evolutionary theory, the world was literally in shock. Was there a connection between an ape and the human being??? Impossible!

The response was that cartoons showed Darwin as an ape. We are now entering a very sensitive area of the human discourse about ourselves. So let's keep our debates as objective and focused on the subject as possible, and let's avoid any ad hominem arguments.

The Discusion

[13:27] herman Bergson: Thank you...
[13:27] herman Bergson: The floor is yours ^_^
[13:28] itsme Frederix: applause
[13:28] APPLAUSE: A Hearty round of applause bursts from the crowd
[13:28] Jozen Ocello: claps
[13:28] herman Bergson: thank you...
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: YAY! (yay!)
[13:28] : Qwark Allen joins the applause.
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: interesting
[13:28] herman Bergson: You surprise me..!
[13:28] itsme Frederix: some Quarcks are around
[13:29] herman Bergson: So nothing new in my are all ok with it? :-)
[13:29] Beertje Beaumont: yes
[13:29] herman Bergson: Great ^^
[13:29] Quizzle Mode beams
[13:29] Abraxas Nagy: yep
[13:30] AristotleVon Doobie: a mighty strength is required for most foslk to resist ad hominem argumentation
[13:30] itsme Frederix: Well if you persist?
[13:30] Qwark Allen: i believe that was a similar concept as natural selection that made the brain as it is
[13:30] Qwark Allen: the sexual selection
[13:30] itsme Frederix: I was triggered by this sentence "13:22] herman Bergson: It can no longer be denied that the brain is an active player in our existence and not just a passive organ that first has to be filled with sensory experiences before it is able do be of some use to us."
[13:30] Qwark Allen: was the choice of thousands of years, of the female, that got us in this direction
[13:30] Qwark Allen: not the natural selection
[13:31] herman Bergson: Evolutionary psychology is fascinating.....especially the controversies…
[13:31] AristotleVon Doobie: I would think with supernatural things it can only be ad hominem
[13:31] itsme Frederix: Which implies a separation between "us" and "brain" (and maybe body?)
[13:31] herman Bergson: Well Aristotle...
[13:31] itsme Frederix: we utilize the brain or ... vice versa?
[13:32] herman Bergson: the problem with beliefs is that people are in love with their own beliefs...
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: that is my suspicion itsme
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: oh my yes
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: the former
[13:32] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: LOL yes indeed they are
[13:32] itsme Frederix: first Ari (and I think mine is a little besides the topic - et)
[13:32] herman Bergson: and when you critizise their beliefs you critisize their beloved ones......the ones they cuddle every day
[13:32] AristotleVon Doobie: Hood I believe is one of them
[13:33] herman Bergson: Hood is a horror to believers
[13:33] Quizzle Mode: We come very close here to asking the unanswerable question of how can we know anything outside our own thoughts? Does anything at all exist outside one's thoughts/perceptions.
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: bergie
[13:33] herman Bergson: That is an old one Quizzle...sollipsism...
[13:33] Qwark Allen: you got to read about darwin's nightmare with the peacock
[13:34] Quizzle Mode: yes, and one we really just have to live with ;)
[13:34] herman Bergson: But we leave the epistemological debate out here for the moment...and decline sollipsism as a tenable stand
[13:35] herman Bergson: just a pragmatic point of view..^_^
[13:35] herman Bergson: Wel I guess we can move on then....
[13:35] Quizzle Mode: Sollipsism is the stand, not the question Prof, and I totally agree that we must leave the question aside for practical purposes.
[13:36] herman Bergson: thank you Quizzle...
[13:36] itsme Frederix: So to summarize: supersense is natural and gives way for supernatural thoughts/behaviour - and its all because it made (and makes)sense to survive.
[13:36] herman Bergson: You could say that Itsme....
[13:37] itsme Frederix: Well that is my interpretation of your speech and Hood's book
[13:37] herman Bergson: If I look at my own personal superstition…it is just fun....and in a way emotionally not just fun....
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: I just can not see any rationality much less empirical data to substantiate superstition except a feeling
[13:37] herman Bergson: yes Aristorle...
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: the human brain has a keen and evolved ability to see patterns and connections...a common element in "supernatural" perceptions
[13:38] itsme Frederix: Herman, more then fun because these things co-relate with some good things in life, and you made the correlation
[13:38] Beertje Beaumont: is supersense just for humans?
[13:38] herman Bergson: But dont fall into the pittfal of binary tinking...
[13:38] herman Bergson: that we are either rational or emotional...
[13:38] herman Bergson: we are one....
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: it seems,like religion, added to the list of unprovable notions
[13:39] herman Bergson: every thought has a rational and emotional dimension...
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: I have a 'feeling' we are not one
[13:39] herman Bergson: if you only reduce our behavior to a permanent struggle to survive...
[13:39] herman Bergson: we need it all..the rational and the irrational, it seems
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: well, yes....if we approach it as us being two selves
[13:40] itsme Frederix: Arie, the point is that supersense is NOT unprovable but that it is a theory based on observations and fitting in evolutionairy thoughts
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: it becomes much clearer
[13:40] herman Bergson: and there is no clear border between rational and irrational...
[13:40] herman Bergson: that is just an idea generated by our brain
[13:40] herman Bergson: a handy tool to understand the world around us
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: aa o
[13:41] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:41] herman Bergson: ok..
[13:41] itsme Frederix: Herman, better to say a handy tool to .. handle and deal with the world
[13:42] itsme Frederix: .. and ourselves in that world
[13:42] herman Bergson: Next Tuesday we'll look into the specifics of the it works and what consequences this has
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: ok
[13:42] herman Bergson: Ok Itsem..agreed!
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:42] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your particiaption....
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: :) thank you Professor
[13:43] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor ㋡
[13:43] herman Bergson: Class dismissed
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: was nice again Herman
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:43] Sartre Placebo: thx herman
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: thank you professor
[13:43] Jozen Ocello: thanks
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: interesting topic as usual ㋡
[13:43] Beertje Beaumont: thank you Professor
[13:43] Abraxas Nagy: as always
[13:43] itsme Frederix: thx, and we will look into the specifics of the brain as we think it as and how we think it works. I guess the brain keeps that secret for us.!
[13:43] Quizzle Mode: Thank you Professor
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: hope I can make it on time tuesday i will be out of town
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: with the computer
[13:43] Rodney Handrick: thanks Herman
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: so if internet works i will be here
[13:43] herman Bergson: Great you made is so early Rodney!
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: yes nice!
[13:44] bergfrau Apfelbaum: ty herman:-)
[13:44] Rodney Handrick: yes, why yes I did!
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: ok cu soon
[13:44] herman Bergson: Thank you all!
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye, Bye ㋡

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