Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Chimps Don’t Name Themsleves

From Mansfield’s Jefferson lecture:

Hardly a day passes without a breathless science article in the press delivering to our waiting ears a fresh resemblance of chimp to man. But the discovery of chimapanzee religion has not yet been reported. Chimps receive names from human beings with equanimity, but do not give themselves names....Their greatest triumph, however, will be the achievement of science. For science, according to science, ought to be the most important attribute of human beings...[C]ollectively, science is the assertion of man over non-man, surely an unembarassed claim to importance and rule. Yet as individuals, scientists are anonymous factors in the scientific enterprise, each one substitutable for another. For all science cares, scientists could as well be numbered as named. We in the humanities will summon up the generosity to give them names.

Discussions - 42 Comments

I like: "The biology of Plato and Aristotle, unlike modern biology, takes account of the soul, the sense of human importance. Modern biology saves lives, but the old biology understands them better. The notion of thumos reminds us of our animality because it is visible to the naked eye when we observe animals. Modern biology uses the microscope and uncovers chemical and neurological counterparts to thumos, which actually distract us from analysis of the behavior they are meant to explain. We rest satisfied when we have pronounced the word testosterone and fail to observe as carefully as old-fashioned naked-eye science....Sociobiology reduces the human to the animal instead of observing how the animal becomes human. Thumos shows that we are self-important animals. Having eliminated the soul, modern science cannot understand the body in its most important aspect, which is its capacity for self-importance. Modern biology, particularly the theory of evolution, is based on the overriding concern for survival in all life. This is surely wrong in regard to human life. If you cannot look around you and must insist on indulging a taste for the primitive, you have only to visit the ruins of an ancient people and ponder how much of its GNP was devoted to religion, to its sense of the meaning of human life rather than mere survival."

"For all science cares, scientists could as well be numbered as named."

What a strange and/or unfounded claim. Strange if the implication is that "science" can care, or believe, or have feelings. I assume, rather, that he means "for all scientists care, their predecessors could as well be numbered as named." This would be an unfounded claim. While there are plenty of exceptions, I am thinking of the Hubble Telescope, Pasteurization, the Decibel, the Galvanic Skin Response, The Turing Test, the Salk Institute........

Another point: I expect that we should be glad that other species do not name us, at least in any way that we can recognize. What do you suppose they would name us?

I didn't believe in any thumos when I started reading Mansfield's address, and I was disappointed that he never argued for it. What was the point of that talk? He explained the implications of thumos, but gave no reason to believe in it. A scientist would be laughed out of a conference for giving a talk on a completely unsupported theory, and I -- frankly -- feel that should have happened to Mansfield. What use is there explaining the implication of an idea when the idea is itself groundless? Statements like "Sociobiology reduces the human to the animal instead of observing how the animal becomes human" merely beg the question. Is it possible that sociobiology views man as an animal because -- gasp! -- that's what all the evidence leads us to believe?

Incidentally, Mansfield's statement that "Modern biology uses the microscope and uncovers chemical and neurological counterparts to thumos which actually distract us from analysis of the behavior they are meant to explain" is simply ignorant and wrong. Neuroscience has explained things that philosophers and psychologists could never have before understood. To know what chemicals cause anger is to know anger's true cause, and sociobiologists apply that knowledge to human life. It is only a "distraction" if one prefers to have one's head in the clouds. Mansfield needs actual citations and examples before he can plausibly condemn the 21st century's most exciting new science.

Mansfield has an uneducated layman's grasp of evolution: "Modern biology, particularly the theory of evolution, is based on the overriding concern for survival in all life." NO! Evolution declares that all life that still exists still exists because it was able to survive and pass on its genes. It does not claim that all animals are primary concerned with survival or reproduction, only that life -- that is, life forms as a whole -- must be adept at such things if they survived the past millenia of natural selection. Thus, his whole straw man argument about a survival instinct being "demonstratably untrue" in humans doesn't hold up. Further, Richard Dawkins demonstrated way back in 1976 that the gene is the unit of evolution, not the individual or the species. Thus, it makes perfect sense, under an evolutionary picture, for humans to have an altruistic instinct (we share genes with other humans).

Perhaps he was pointing out that the modern scientist cannot really explain the activity of the modern scientist.

Incidentally: why ought we to think that identifying the chemicals present when a man is angry explains the cause of anger? What causes the chemicals?

Modern neurology is coming closer every day to explaining the brain and why humans function as they do.

Chemicals, incidentally, are secreted by glands when the hypothalamus (usually it's the hypothalamus) signals for them. This is relatively well understood: a man perceives a certain situation and his brain reacts by telling certain glands to produce certain hormones.


Thus, it makes perfect sense, under an evolutionary picture, for humans to have an altruistic instinct (we share genes with other humans).

All members of every species share genes with their fellow species members. Why don't all species have an altrustic instinct?

Not all of them need one. Thus, not all of them happened to evolve with one.

Let me clarify: social organization does not necessarily result in a reproductive advantage. When it does we see social creatures evolving, but when it does not the animals evolve without one.

BOO, Would you say that the reason you love your wife or your girlfriend is because your hypothalamus has told your glands to secrete chemicals? Would you say that that explanation captures the experience? Would your girlfriend or wife be moved by that answer if she had asked you why do you love her?

Let me clarify: social organization does not necessarily result in a reproductive advantage.

It is either an advantage, or it is not. I don't see where equivocation comes in. Humans social organization is what has enabled them to exterminate other species. So it is clearly a reproductive advantage for us, and its absence is a reproductive disadvantage for those species without it.

Human social organisation does not in any case always manifest itself in an altrustic fashion. The opposite seems to be more common. To be more precise, peoples altruism is reserved for people within their own group. They display zero interest in preserving the genetic material of people in "out groups". I don't think human behavior can be explained by reference to DNA. This strikes me as attempting to employ Newtonion physics in describing the universe.

Are you familiar with the concept of neuroplasticity? The thoughts you think can change how your brain is wired. Counterintuitive, but it's well established.

John Colman - That's a pretty silly criterion for establishing the validity of an argument. I had a girlfriend once who asked me if her sweater made her look fat. The truth was not what she wanted to hear then, and the truth is not really what you "soul-searchers" want to hear, either. You have begun with a solipsistic premise and deductively look for signs of soul or spirit everywhere.

Until you can recognize the validity of an inductive scientific approach you will never recognize the validity of its outcome.

The same is true of the scientist, of course, regarding faith-based deduction. Until we recognize that fundamental difference, arguing about the issues is a fruitless as an argument to decide if a play on the field is a foul ball or a touch-down.

Dear Fung, you probably proved John Colman's (unstated or underlying) point, which I took to be: if your science can't really explain the human experience of the human, then we humans have evidential grounds for calling the adequacy of your so-called scientific presuppositions and tenets, as well as proffered "conclusions," into question. See, you presuppose a certain view of the canons of "valid argument," while we're trying to indicate that your canons contain a lot of petitiones principiorum. (I probably should add that as a professor of philosophy I'm not "against reason" or even science.)

Well, according to Uncle Remus, they call us Mister Man.

Paul, As a psychologist, I am not truly against playing around with the "self" or with the notion of a human experience, either. But, I think there is a big difference between (1) not explaining the human condition and (2) providing an explanation that people don't like.

Boo's explanation suggests that the human experience can be reduced to some dynamic between stimulus (light, sound, touch) and sensation and then perception (which of course is channelled by experience, a history of such S-R transactions.) That's a pretty good explanation, but some people don't like it, because it applies also to chimps and dogs and other species that lack a special relationship with God.

Dear Fung, a very courteous (and thus appreciated) response. I agree with your distinction in the 1st paragraph of your response. It certainly needs to be kept in mind. (BTW: Mansfield, in his Jefferson lecture, made a similar or comparable point, when he talked about what literature knows.) An important crux, you rightly indicate in your 2nd paragraph, is found how how to account for such experience(s). I've been trying on other threads to say that members of various "camps" or partisans of various approaches to understanding humanity and Nature can, and should, try to arrive at mutually-agreeable descriptions of phenomena - my preferred term - or facts - others'. I find both humans and other animals fascinating and think that a little less polemical efforts at depiction and, yes, marveling and wondering, would be a good use of everyone's time.
(As a professor of philosophy I'm well aware of "theory-laden" theories about "facts." I'm sure you are, too! But there are better-and-worse, more honest-and-credible and less, efforts to describe (and probably classify) organisms and behaviors, which should be one of the main bases of any explanatory endeavor. BTW: do you know the work of the psychologist, Erwin Straus?

Fung, the fact that Boo's explanation doesn't include or account for a special relationship to God is not the point. I don't like it because, as you say, it fails to distinguish us from chimps and dogs. The last time I checked chimps don't write poetry and the fact that we can domesticate dogs refutes your argument. The problem with sociobiology is that it doesn't understand us as human, or explain how we are different from the other animals.

Yes, Colman, I would say that my love expressions have a basis in biochemistry. Would I tell my girlfriend that? I would tell her why she evokes that response from my brain, yes. My brain responds to things like beauty. I really hate to always come across a condescending, but public understanding of science must be at an all-time low. Neuropsych does not "fail to distinguish us from chimps and dogs," in fact it -- exclusively -- has a rational explanation for why we are different: our frontal lobes. I apologize, but your statements are very ignorant: "The problem with sociobiology is that it doesn't understand us as human, or explain how we are different from the other animals" How you read any decent neuropsychologist? The very simple reason that we are different from animals is that we have a more advanced (in frontal lobe percentage) brain.

As for you, John, your black and white thinking -- "It is either an advantage, or it is not" -- is absurd. Of course grizzly bears would be better off if they were social, but they would also be better off with laser eyes. Evolution is not over, it has not produced any perfect organisms. The fact is that we cannot always explain the course of natural selection, but that does not invalidate it. I don't even understand your point about altruism -- if people are more apt to help those closer to them, then that only makes sense because family members and people in one area share more genetic data in common. Dawkins has a well-developed theory about altruism and early primate tribes: we preserve everyone because our genes cannot distinguish potential mates from other random members of our species.

As for neuroplasticity, that more shows that our environment effects our brain than anything else (that is, rats that must solve puzzles to get food will develop brains with thicker neuron tissue and/or more wires). In any case, it does not pose a problem for materialism. It almost establishes it, in fact, because it shows that our thoughts can be equated with our new neural wiring.

Paul, the problem with saying that "members of various "camps" or partisans of various approaches to understanding humanity and Nature can, and should, try to arrive at mutually-agreeable descriptions of phenomena" is that the scientist demands that one follow the evidence. People like John and Colman, however, prefer intuition and preference to objective evidence. There can be no mutually agreeable description when one side relies on empirical evidence and the other side on ghost stories.


it does not pose a problem for materialism. It almost establishes it, in fact, because it shows that our thoughts can be equated with our new neural wiring.

I'm not sure what article you read on neuroplasticity, but your characterisation of it is odd. No, it does not show that "our thoughts can be equated with our new neural wiring". The striking point, and one you seem determined to miss, is that the "new neural wiring" is a consequence of thought, rather than a cause of it. First the thought, then the new neural wiring. Which leads to the question, whence the thought? I think that does indeed pose a problem for materialism, or at least for the "Newtonian" model of human behavior.

I don't even understand your point about altruism

Fair enough. I don't understand yours. You say that "we preserve everyone because our genes cannot distinguish potential mates from other random members of our species". And also that "people are more apt to help those closer to them ... because family members and people in one area share more genetic data in common". To my reading these statements are contradictory. Does our altrustic impluse extend to all humans or not? Preserving everyone suggests that it does.

This whole discussion, which I have come to very late (unfortunately), strikes me as weird. Consciousness is an emergent property, rooted in the physiology of our brains but interactive with the external environment. Were this not the case, then maturation would be impossible. Moreover, were it not the case that consciousness is dependent on brain structure then brain damage would not be so catastrophic, nor would we have so many instances of "people" who become utterly different "people" upon injury.

The crux of this debate is whether the emergence of "mind" is in any sense spiritual. The evidence at hand suggests that "mind" is deeply dependent on biology. All this other stuff about scientists, identity, etc., is just blather.

Paul, I've read some of Erwin Straus' work (I was a phil prof for a few years myself) and found it to be challenging and well worth the labor. Which of his writings do you find particularly useful to this discussion? (Thanks in advance).

"I would say that my love expressions have a basis in biochemistry." Boo, Yes I understand that it may have a "basis" in biochemistry. The fact that you have identified its apparent basis says nothing about why you love the one that you do. The explanation for the difference between chimps and humans that boils down to frontal lobes is essentially meaningless. All of humanity and its culture is to be defined by a little bit of more flesh. How profound! Tell me why your brain responds to things like beauty. Because it causes your glands to secrete?

I just checked in here from NRO, and just for the record, John Colman is not a misspelling of John Coleman (formerly of Lawler's Berry College). I am that John Coleman (although I agree with some of John Colman's points! Only the "e" keeps us apart!).

I think Mansfield's quote is very good. The funny thing is that while it appears to be a rather fundamentalist point of view, it is shared by the likes of Noam Chomsky, isn't it?

So, is John with the e-mail (i.e., Coleman) the same as John without the email (as in post #19 above)? This is gettin' mighty confusin'.

Hello to John ColEman, although I've also enjoyed John Colman. On Chomsky, who's a psycho on politics but the greatest of the linguistic experts, see Tom Wolfe's manly Jefferson lecture last year. But ColEman is probably thinking of Walker Percy's reliance on Noam's demonstration of the uniqueness of the human capability for language (as Percy says, the "daylight" of language that frees the "triadic" human animal from the world of stimulus and response for the joy of consciousness or knowing with others). All this human v. chimp talk--I think even Harvey's--comes from Percy: It's better to be a dislocated human being than a contented chimp (that may be Gnostic or Nazi or something, but what the heck). Somebody with big money out there needs to sponsor a conference of the three Jefferson lectures of Mansfield, Wolfe, and Percy.

Charles Darwin, THE DESCENT OF MAN:

"Articulate language is peculiar to man."

"No one supposes that one of the lower animals reflects whence he comes or whither he goes--what is death or what is life, and so forth."

"I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important."

"A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them. We have no reason to suppose that any of the lower animals have this capacity."

I agree about the conference. It's spooky about those three lectures. Makes you think they may be on to something...

Dear Paul Seaton,

As for Strauss, I am vaguely aware of him as an early phenomenological psychologist (or maybe psychiatrist) and as an early supporter of electro-convulsive therapy, but I have not read his work. Is there a phenomenological point that you were about to make?

I support your goal regarding mutually satisfactory ways to describe humans and other animals (I supplied the term "other") and yet I wonder if it is possible.

While I warn my students against a lazy eclecticism, I find myself approaching a strange combination of Humanism and Behaviorism, and I find more and more of human experience that can be described both mechanistically and yet with a nod toward the apparent uniqueness of subjective experience.

My problem, and the sticking point that I anticipate for your goal, is when participants reach a certain point in the description of organisms where they must appeal to the "ultimate" rule book. We can all pretend up to a point, and yet we are likely to bring different rule books to the game.

For players like me, (and, I think, like Boo) the specialness of humans is an illusion fed by our uniqueness and our closeness to the phenomena that we observe. That is, humans are certainly different from elephants, just as elephants are different from dogs. But, that is as far as I am willing to go.

Personally, I will fight to the death to protect my family, but I also recognize that an elephant will do the same for his family, and that neither one of us needs to claim any special relationship with God for those motivations to channel our behaviors.

For thinkers like John ("e-less") Colman, who said incorrectly that "it fails to distinguish us from chimps and dogs. " science both describes and explains the differences among species very nicely. But John C is apparently blind to that explanation because humans lose the "apple of God's eye" status.

And so scientists are accused of sounding condescending, since they can understand the solipsistic view, and can also play along with it, as a meteorologist will willingly forego the reductionistic explanation for rainbows while another enjoys the view. The scientist can also enjoy the view, but will always be accused of ruining the fun when acting true to the discipline.

What's driving all this nonsense is fear, plain and simple. Some of you folks are deathly afraid that science will eliminate the borderline between species, and that we will be reduced to materialist hell...Brave New World or 1984 stuff.

I agree that this can be a danger, but I don't think sticking your collective heads in the sand (btw, your screaming about "thumos" and other such drivel is muffled by the sand) will avert these potential dangers. Instead of denial and reference to moldy proto-scientific philosophies, you simply need to note the great complexity of human beings. We are quite a feat of evolution...materialism does not necessarily mean we have to treat ourselves like cattle. We should be looking to the future on this, not the past. How does a scientific understanding of humanity help us improve the future? It does, but you have to become a part of that dialogue. This stupid guerilla war against science is silly and counterproductive.

Fung, why do you presume that the only objection to your reductionist sociobiology comes from those of belief? The issue is not that sociobiology and Darwinism denies my place as the "apple of God's eye." Quite frankly if there is a God I doubt somehow I am the apple of His eye. The issue is that the explanations of human life that are offered fail to capture human life as it is lived, experienced, and observed.

As far as science's capacity to distinguish between the species, I don't doubt that it can and does. My only objections is that the distinctions are too shallow when it comes to humans. According to the Darwinian and sociobiological theories all those things that make us distinctly human are chalked up to be biological errors.

Fung, your recollection (#28) about Erwin Straus is correct. I'd recommend his classic essay, "The Upright Posture." In it he surveys our "physique," that is, the manifest fact that we are animals capable of standing or upright posture, and all ( - a good deal, at least - ) that that enables us to do and be. He correlates that to distinctive psychological attitudes and emotions. So he considers and correlates "physique" and "psyche" in and with the standing animal. (His use of "psyche" is descriptive, not metaphysical, or even Aristotelian.) The article as a whole is a nice specimen of what I proposed concerning looking at and attempting to describe relevant phenomena. Straus accepts the fact of evolution, but he also wants to look very directly at homo sapiens as he is or we are. I learned a lot about the human significance of standing upright, of being able to sit, or reclining (all postures made possible by our distinctive "bodily form", as well as the psychological correlates to the postures. He has fine observations about the "openness" and "freedom" that upright posture gives our arms and hands, since we're not on all fours (unless we're planning with the kids); etc. His great opponent - or one of his great opponents - was Cartesianism, insofar as it bifurcated man into res extensa and res cogitans (and reduces and denigrates the animal kingdom as well). (Another thinker I like, Hans Jonas, similarly critiqued Cartesian dualism - animals as merely material, humans as consciousnesses-in-machines.)

You're right to say that the task - the mutually agreed upon task - of description can only go so far, but I like Edmund Husserl's famous (?) remark: small change, first, then big bills. I, of course, like big theory as much as the next guy (probably less, truth be told: but I have my reasons!); but the "small change" of observation and collection and classification has always struck me as an attitude and enterprise that genuinely open minds should embrace.

John Colman- I guess I made that error because I took you at your word when you said that science fails to distinguish between humans and other species. You have also supported my "error" with your very recent statement: "According to the Darwinian and sociobiological theories all those things that make us distinctly human are chalked up to be biological errors." This suggests that you don't mind if biology explains how giraffes get their spots, but you don't want biology to explain how humans got their prefrontal cortex.

But, as for your second assertion, what you describe as "human life as it is lived, experienced, and observed." can be explained perfectly well in terms of familiarity. My experience seems much more complex and special to me than, say my dog's experience because it is mine, and not my dog's. I see it every day from close-up. I see the details, and I know its history the way my wife knows the histories of every character on "Days of Our Lives." She thinks DOOL is infinitely superior to General Hospital in the same way that humans think their internal experience is infinitely superior to, and more complex than, my dog's experience.

I was thinking this morning about your Comment 10, as I drove past the 100th dead possum/raccoon/fox on the road. I thought how sad each incident of road-kill would be if it HAD been my dog. But, in the general scheme of things, the only thing that would make it a special event would be the amount of "humanity" that I have projected onto my dog. I would submit that we do the same thing to each other. We project onto each other a humanity that is a combination of (1) our own internal experience, (2) our need to invest our energy into a valuable project, and (3) the reinforcement that we get from our loved ones.

Paul - I will look for Straus. I have already found that our library does not have him, but more and more, we carry little that was written before 1995. Your description of his treatment of psyche/physique reminds me of the "coevolution" literature of the 70's. I was a huge fan of Gregory Bateson back then, and enjoyed his writing about consciousness and purpose.

For now, I am about to begin "Why God Won't Go Away," by Newberg, D'Aquili, and Rause. A colleague thought I might like it. Someday, I may write an article entitled "Why people who want me to believe in God won't go away."

Off to senior banquet and other pre-commencement festivites! Thanks for the discussion.

Fung, you do not weep for the road kill not because you haven't invested it with humanity but because you are not attached to it. You mourn the loss of a pet not because you have rendered it more human than it is but because you are attached to it because you appreciate its nature. On what Darwiniam or sociobiological grounds do you explain pets anyways?

Pets? Why, they are child-surrogates for the most part. I believe Desmond Morris explains all this in either The Naked Ape or The Human Zoo.

You will notice that we like puppies more than dogs, etc. We are hardwired to like big-eyed, cuddly creatures (aka babies). Some cultures (e.g., the Chinese) try to anthropomorphize their dogs (flat faces, big eyes). And we seem to make pets of predators with stereoscopic vision. Interesting, isn't it?

in fact it -- exclusively -- has a rational explanation for why we are different

Hey, it took until post number 18 for some neo-epicurean to tell us why his reductive materialism is "exclusively" rational. It usually happens much sooner...;)

John Colman- All you have done is to re-phrase what I said, but you have not negated it. To "appreciate" a pet's nature is to project characteristics onto it that help to justify the energy and money that I put into it. As Dain suggested, certain pet characteristics are more likely to help me like them than others are: puppies are cuter than dogs, dogs are more "human" than lizards, and so on. But, note that I love MY puppy more than all its siblings as soon as I select it from the litter. That is simply cognitive dissonance reduction.

We do that with our kids, spouses, pets, houses, any "object" that represents a choice that we are not likely to reverse: Why didn't I choose the other one? Why didn't I marry my high-school sweetheart? Why didn't I buy the house down the street? Why did I defend my child from the teacher/neighbor/coach who just told me what I've always known about my child?

Answer: Because we have evolved into organisms that persist in caring for our offspring/mate/home/resources, and the best way to keep us doing that is for us to value those objects independently of their universal worth.

Put another way: behaviors shape environments, including other organisms, and those environments shape and select for and against behaviors. Children survive when they exhibit characteristics that keep parents focussed on them. So do marriages survive that keep participants invested in them. So with cultures, societies, and so on. Of course, that means that the participants must evolve in such a way that they can then select for those "valuable" characteristics.

"To "appreciate" a pet's nature is to project characteristics onto it that help to justify the energy and money that I put into it." What nonsense! This is not to appreciate the nature of the pet it is to project a nature upon it. As far as I can understand, one cannot really ascribe a nature to anything on evolutionary grounds, except if that evolution has stopped.

All our decisions are made "Because we have evolved into organisms that persist in caring for our offspring/mate/home/resources, and the best way to keep us doing that is for us to value those objects independently of their universal worth." Ok, so how do we decide which objects are to be valued and on what grounds do we value them? If you stick with your evolutionary principles then all these decisions must somehow contribute to the permanence of your genes in the struggle for the continuation of your bloodlines.

There really is little point continuing the discussion because you have made genes into gods. The genes are the new immortals. You're no longer talking science, but theology.

I agree with you. If you persist in distorting, denying, and deliberately misunderstanding what I say, then there is no point in continuing this conversation.

I will go talk with my dog, to whom I ascribe more willingness to learn than I do to you.

Mr. Colman, you show a profound ignorance of evolution. Many of the traits we have evolved over time (e.g., sex drive, reproduction, social status) tend to carry over into other realms of life. Just so, this transference of one drive to a completely different realm of our lives means that we treat pets like infants (but only those pets who remind us of humans -- stereoscopic vision, warm, cuddly, playful). As an additional example, our love of competitive games, everything from gladiatorial combat to games of Monopoly, comes from our hardwired struggle for social status (which made an enormous contribution to genetic survival in the past).

Finally, many have argued that our biological or physical evolution has ceased. We are now smart enough to shelter most of our population from environmental selection pressures (at least in developed countries). What evolutionary psychologists and sociobiologists are studying is evolutionary baggage (i.e., how naturally-evolved drives/proclivities shape the modern world). It's natural history...and so long as environmental (or increasingly social) selection plays no role in actual reproduction, we are stuck with our current natures.

Fung and Dain, If I show a profound ignorance of evolution and am not a good student, as you suggest, your failings as teachers appear as stark. I ask questions and you do not offer answers. I accept that evolution has contributed to who we are as human beings. My objection is that it does not capture and explain everything. I asked how evolutionary theory explains our attraction to beauty (both in the opposite sex and inanimate objects) and you didn't offer an explanation. I asked on what evolutionary grounds we choose to value the things that we do? And why we value the things we do. Again, you did not answer. As far as I understand evolution, the intial principle remains the same. That is, our actions are determined by what will contribute to our own survival or that of our genes. However, as it appears to me we behave in ways that do not contribute to that survival. If these are biological errors, why have they persisted for so long? An explanation of human life that chalks up so much of what is intersting about us to errors sounds like a theory that needs rethinking. Finally, my objection from the beginning is that evolution reduces us to, and explains, our animality but does not explain to my satisfaction those things that distinguish us from the chimps. You say that evolution explains how the Giraffe gets its spots and we get our frontal cortex. Fine. But how does it explain all that we have managed to do with that frontal cortex? By saying that all that humanity has done, that the other animals have not, is the product of the frontal cortex sounds to me like theology. Is it upon evolutionary grounds that you hide behind those names, Fung and Dain?

John, I think you were asking Fung those question. I have some answers, if you are open to them. First, beauty. There are actual experiments that show people PREFER pastoral scenes with trees and accessible water -- this is a culture-free preference (it's found among people around the world). Now, since I think we can agree that such a scene would NOT be the preference of a desert lizard or a whale, it is clear that selection operates on our sense of beauty. Also, there are studies on what we find beautiful in the opposite sex. Facial symmetry is apparently extermely important, as is (shiny) hair, clear skin, and so on...all signs of HEALTH in a potential mate. Again, this appears to be free of cultural bias, suggesting we are hardwired in this respect.

As for the basis of valuation in general, it's pretty obvious. We value things that we think will improve our survival. We appreciate the friendly dog, but avoid/despise the madly barking attack dog. We are happy to receive praise, but not so happy to receive criticism (even when it is constructive). We value close-knit families because they offer us comfort and support, but disdain long-term single status and childlessness (and even those Bohemian types who claim to hate the family etc. tend to create tight bands of friends and/or become crazy 'dog' or 'cat' people). The "inner ape" is inescapable.

And I think that's my final answer to people who insist that our greater brain mass and ability to create vocal and visual symbolic abstractions make us qualitatively different from other animals. We have greater abilities, but to what service do we use them? Our biology dictates our goals in this life, and for the most part we use our higher abilities to attain the very same things that other animals strive for: sustenance, status, belonging, security, survival. Very little of our "braininess" is dedicated to distinctively "unnatural" pursuits, for even art and science are status games (I can give you some citations on that if you are interested).

The one thing sociobiology may not be good at explaining is our longing to become "more" than we are. Perhaps there is a spiritual side to our being...having no empirical information about this, I can't say. It would be nice if we were more than just meat, but wishful thinking must never overcome our empirical judgment. That's my basic point.

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