Intelligent yet Incomphrensible

Two chapters today: the last of Adapting Minds and the 13th of The Blank Slate.

Buller’s eighth and last chapter, titled “Human Nature,” deserves a special place in non-fiction writing. Never has the intellectual quality of a book descended so far, so fast, as Adapting Minds does in Buller’s conclusion. Straw Men and logical fallacies glide through the pages, cheapening the rest of his work as surely as a gaudiness cheapens solemnity.

So while the notes are generally organized in a logical fashion, my first category is to remind me of the more insipid lines.
“Essentialism is the view that there are certain characteristics that define a kind, so that two different entities belong to the same kind just in case they both possess the characteristics definitive of that kind.” (Buller 429) (yet Pinker emphasizes fuzzy definitions, such as:

“conceptual categories come from two mental processes. One of them notices clumps of entries in the mental spreadsheet and treats them as categories with fuzzy boundaries… the other mental process looks for crisp rules and definitions and enters them into chains of reasoning.” (Pinker 203)

and he even gives animal classification as a classic fuzzy activity!)
“If Evolutionary Psychologists claim that we are not the same species now that we were 150,000 years ago, because 150,000 years ago our lineage did not possess the ‘qualities that define us as a unique species,’ then Evolutionary Psychology’s demarcation of Homo sapiens is directly at odds with the standard biological demarcation of our species.” (Buller 443) (stupid word games. that some branches of chemistry use a different definition of molecule doesn’t make them wrong. that’s like criticizing a lawyer’s court filing by looking up words in an actors dictionary. stupid, stupid, stupid. much of the chapter is like this. extremely disappointing)
“In field guides (or in dictionaries), you find species apparently defined by certain clusters of ‘field marks.’… These characteristics are merely markets, which aid in identifying the species a bird belongs to.” (Pinker 449) (inane. see above two comments)
“laws of nature apply only to instances of natural kinds.” (Buller 456) (this is part of a long passage in which Buller denies psychology can be a science because ancient humans with different psychological adaptions are nonetheless part of the same “natural kind” as modern humans. this seems a platonic, arbitrary, and anti-medical view)
“Taking those survey results as evidence of a universal human nature involves inferring psychological universals from cultural universals, which is a fallacy…” (Buller 459) (It it a method, possibly a faulty one, but I don’t think a fallacy. Buller later qualifies himself, but it close to channeling Durkheim’s Omnia cultura ex cultura)
“the incest taboo as a cultural phenomenon can’t simply be generated by an evolved aversion to sex with intimate childhood associates.” (Buller 469) (the weasel word in the sentence is “simply,” which robs it of meaning or relevance)


Topic: Particular Man
“there are [frequency-dependent] reasons why minds could exhibit adaptive differences when and where bodies don’t. So, even if there is a universal human antomy, it doens’t follow that there must be a universal human psychology.” (Buller 426)
“there is no single human antomy and physiology possessed by all humans around the world of which Gray’s Anatomy provides a detailed and precise description.” (Buller 427)
“the average percentago of loci at which individuals in a population are heterozygous [If an organism has the same allele in each opposing slot, if it has the AA or aa genotype, it is homozygote; and if it has different alleles in the opposing slots, if it has the Aa genotype, it is a heterozygote." (Buller 21)] is anywhere between 21 and 37 percent of loci, depending on the populatoin…” (Buller 437)

Topic: Culture
“evolved psychological polymorphisms could also generate cultural universals.” (Buller 467)
“the existence of a cultural universal may signal only a common origin of all the world’s cultures, rather than common psychological adaptions among all the world’s peoples (Buller 468) (but if a cultural trait is maladaptive, then why does it survive?)
“extent creation myths appear to be cultural homologies, rather than direct expressions of universal innate psychological adaptions.” (Buller 470) (more Durkheimism

Topic: Modularity
“The world is a hetergenous place, and we are equipped with different kinds of intuitions and logics, each appropriate to one department of reality. These ways of knowing have been called systems, modules, stances, faculties, mental organs, multiple intelligences, and reasoning engines.” (Pinker 219)
“list of cognitive faculties… intuitive physics, intuitive version of biology, intuitive engineering, intuitive psychology, spatial sense, number sense, sense of probability, intuitive economics, mental database and logic, language.” (Pinker 220-221)
“[Multiple] ways of knowing and core intuitions are suitable for the lifestyle of small groups of illiterate, stateless people…” (Pinker 221) (GG implications? SysAdmin?)

Topic: Cognition
“We depend on analogies that press an old mental faculty [module, or multiple intelligence] into service, or on jerry-built mental contraptions that wire together bits and pieces of other faculties.” (Pinker 221)
“education is a technology that tries to make up for what the human mind is innately bad at.” (Pinker 222) (perhaps in general, but a good argument could be made that public education is a technology that tries to diminish what the brain is naturally good at)
“Students cannot learn Newtonian physics until they unlearn their intuitive impetus-based physics.” (Pinker 223) (similarity with methods of rational constructivism)

Topic: Education
“A family, peer group, and culture that ascribe high status to school achievement may be needed to give a child the motive to persevere toward effortful feats of learning whose rewards are apparent only over the long term.” (Pinker 223)
“most curricula have barely changed since medieval times, and are barely changeable, because no one wants to be the philistine who seems to be saying that it is unimportant to learn a foreign language, or English literature, or trigonometry, or the classics…. The question is not whether trigonometry is important, but whether it is more important than statistics.” (Pinker 235-236) (Compare to FedX’s defense of classical education)

Topic: Morality
“the key moral intuition that other people are worthy of moral consideration because of their feelings — their ability to love, think, plan, and suffer — all of which depend on a functioning nervous system.” (Pinker 226) (author later criticizes this view)
“Many kinds and degrees of existence lie between the living and the dead, and that will become even more true as medical technology improves.” (Pinker 227)

Topic: Environmentalism
“Plants are Darwinian creatures with no particular desire to be eaten, so t hey did not go out of their way to be tasty, healthy, or easy for us to grow and harvest. On the contrary,: they did go out of their way to deter us from eating them, by evolving irritants, toxins, and bitter-tasting compounds. So there is nothing especially safe about natural foods.” (Pinker 229)
“human material existed is limited by ideas, not stuff.” (Pinker 237)

Topic: Brain Anatomy
“If the mind is a biological organ rather than a window onto reality, there should be truths that are literally inconceivable, and limits to how well we can ever grasp the discoveries of science.” (Pinker 239)

Topic: Complex Dynamic Systems
“Al human transactions fall into four patterns… communal sharing… authority ranking… equality matching… market pricing.” (Pinker 233-234) (discussion about how the last two are about trade, but contradict each other’s assumptions)

Topic: Definitions
physical fallacy: the belief that an object has a true and constant value, as opposed to being worth only what someone is willing to pay for it at a given place and time. This is simply the difference between the Equality Matching and Market Pricing mentalities.” (Pinker 234)
culture as ‘the transfer of information by behavioral means, most particularly the process of teaching and learning [or] any mental, behavioral, or material commonalities shared across individuals” (Buller 423,459) (first is a very memetic differentiation, second much broader)
metaculture… universal psychological adaptions [generated by] universal cultural contents…interactions among psychological universals and… universal features of the nonsocial environment” (Buller 460-461) (immediately after Buller takes a straw-man, deterministic definition)
Natural State Model, ‘there is a distinction between the natural state of a kind of object and those states which are not natural. These latter are produced by subjecting the object to an interfering force.’” (Buller 430)
species… a group of interbreeding population [or, but Buller thinks "and"] group of reproductively lineages that lie on a single ‘line’ segment in the tree of life.” (Buller 439-440)
genealogical nexus in which [an organism] is situated [in the tree of life.” (Buller 441)
homologies… those traits derived, possibly with modification, from an equivalent trait in the common ancestor.” (Buller 454)
analogies (also known as homoplasies)… those traits have a similar structure or function, but evolved in those organisms’ lineages independently of one another.” (Buller 454)
natural theology… central focus on adaptions.” (Buller 472) (what follows is a bizarre genetic fallacy attack)
argument from design… the complex, purposeful design within organic form reveals the Creator’s works.” (Buller 473)
product theory, a theory designed to explain how certain products came into existence.” (Buller 478)
process theory… designed to explain the dynamics of that process… designed to explain change.” (Buller 479)

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