“A Spoon is like a headache,” by Donald Hoffman, Edge: The World Question Center, 2006, http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_3.html#hoffman.
“Groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments,” by Steven Pinker, Edge: The World Question Center, 2006, http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_3.html#pinker
“On Judging the Past: Homosexuality Revisited Part Three in Homosexuality and Globalization,” by Curtis Weeks, Phatic Communion, 8 September 2006, http://www.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2006/09/on_judging_the.php.
“I remember other conversations between us…,” by Curtis Weeks, Phatic Communion, 10 September 2006, http://www.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2006/09/on_judging_the.php#c1423.
Curtis Gale Weeks’ latest foray into our discussion on homosexuality (see Historical Uniformism v Historical Positivism, or, Did Homosexuality Exist in Ancient Greece? and “Homosexuality (Only for the Trivia)) for some context) had a passage that initially confused me for because of its jargon of “abstract” and “concrete” processes
My reason for putting â€˜observationâ€™ and â€˜observationsâ€™ in single quotes above is simply that I have tried to minimize the confusion that the Revised OODA might create. Since genetic heritage is placed outside the internal Abstract OODA (thus, outside the Concrete Orient process), using the term observation to denote how genetic information enters into the abstract processes might confuse some readers who generally equate observation with the five senses. Here, observation is used broadly to denote how physical, concrete information from the World enters into the abstract processing; and, since genetic heritage can be altered, like sensations might be altered for the five basic senses, different orientations may result from whatever new physiological information enters into the process of abstraction.
However, in a comment, Curtis kindly explained what he meant:
For the purposes of easing this conversation and later conversations, I would note that my general thought on the matter is much like what I have given just above: thinking is a physical process that occurs in the brain and may be thought of as â€˜concreteâ€™. In another fairly recent series of comments to another post on PC, I replied to a question about memes by saying that, broadly speaking, I think they are merely certain arrangements of electrochemical conditions / physical particles within the brain. However, when you think of a white bunny rabbit, I do not believe that a small, furry creature with floppy ears and a cotton tail is hopping about in your skull. So conceiving of an â€˜abstractâ€™ process may be quite utilitarian. In truth, my general feeling is that thoughts and the thinking process are physical, but we may distinguish between those physical realities or conditions and the physical realities and conditions of the exterior world to which they relate; i.e., there are two sets of physical realities which are quite different but which interrelate in some manner (or, indeed, interact.)
In other words (if I understand him correctly), Curtis is saying that one’s own thoughts are “concrete” in that they are physically taking place within the neural system, but whenever they are compared to another (and so made meaningful) we can only describe some abstraction of that process.
I was still skeptical of the use of this distinction, when low-and-behold, some class readings backed up CGW:
Suppose I have a headache, and I tell you about it. It is, say, a pounding headache that started at the back of the neck and migrated to encompass my forehead and eyes. You respond empathetically, recalling a similar headache you had, and suggest a couple remedies. We discuss our headaches and remedies a bit, then move on to other topics.
Of course no one but me can experience my headaches, and no one but you can experience yours. But this posed no obstacle to our meaningful conversation. You simply assumed that my headaches are relevantly similar to yours, and I assumed the same about your headaches. The fact that there is no “public headache,” no single headache that we both experience, is simply no problem.
A spoon is like a headache. Suppose I hand you a spoon. It is common to assume that the spoon I experience during this transfer is numerically identical to the spoon you experience. But this assumption is false. No one but me can experience my spoon, and no one but you can experience your spoon. But this is no problem. It is enough for me to assume that your spoon experience is relevantly similar to mine. For effective communication, no public spoon is necessary, just like no public headache is necessary. Is there a “real spoon,” a mind-independent physical object that causes our spoon experiences and resembles our spoon experiences? This is not only unnecessary but unlikely. It is unlikely that the visual experiences of homo sapiens, shaped to permit survival in a particular range of niches, should miraculously also happen to resemble the true nature of a mind-independent realm. Selective pressures for survival do not, except by accident, lead to truth.
I think we can “abstract” this text to discuss the utility of positivism while admitting to the limitations of positivism. So props to Curtis.
* In January, Harvard president Larry Summers caused a firestorm when he cited research showing that women and men have non-identical statistical distributions of cognitive abilities and life priorities.
* In March, developmental biologist Armand Leroi published an op-ed in the New York Times rebutting the conventional wisdom that race does not exist. (The conventional wisdom is coming to be known as Lewontin’s Fallacy: that because most genes may be found in all human groups, the groups don’t differ at all. But patterns of correlation among genes do differ between groups, and different clusters of correlated genes correspond well to the major races labeled by common sense. )
* In June, the Times reported a forthcoming study by physicist Greg Cochran, anthropologist Jason Hardy, and population geneticist Henry Harpending proposing that Ashkenazi Jews have been biologically selected for high intelligence, and that their well-documented genetic diseases are a by-product of this evolutionary history.
This also reminded me of concepts by Curtis, in the same thread:
But thatâ€™s a little like saying that homosexuality is abstract (in the metaphysical sense) rather than concrete, isnâ€™t it, since an utter lack of genetic or concrete physiological processes that might lead to homosexuality is presumed if choice is the only determining factor? [emphasis mind — tdaxp] Then, we would have to wonder why some people choose it â€” with or without coercion â€” whereas others do not, and an assumption of an entire lack of any physiological process causing or modifying that choice is also therefore an assumption that some metaphysical or mystical element has led to the choice
A previous comment by Pinker shows the error of Curtis’ ways:
“The most risible pretexts for bad behavior in recent decades have come not from biological determinism but from environmental determinism: the abuse excuse, the Twinkie defense, black rage, pornography poisoning, societal sickness, media violence, rock lyrics, and different cultural mores” (Pinker 178)
More specifically, ignoring the supernatural, there are only two possible determinants for human action:
On most things these work together, though there are some that appear to be “exclusively genetic” (such as diseases which always occur with a certain mutation, and never do otherwise). or “exclusively environmental.”
- It is a fallacy to say if something is exclusively environmentally determined it is the result of free choice: this is obviously untrue, as it would be environmentally determined.
- Likewise, it is a fallacy to say if something is exclusively environmentally determined it is the result of free choice: this is obviously untrue, as it would be genetically determined.
- Likewise, it is a fallacy to say if something is exclusively determined by environment and genetics together it is the result of free choice: this is obviously untrue, as it would be determined by genetics and environment together.
The point isn’t to eradicate the notion of “free choice.” Rather, it is to say that “free choice” isn’t a concept that would vary meaningfully by environment, genetics, or environmental-genetic interactionism. Frankly, the notion of free choice is better treated as an a prior presumption or a supernatural phenomenon than something that exists or not depending on whether an observed state is the result of G, E, or G X E.