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Thursday, September 12 - 8:22pmSanction this postReply
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I'm curious if anybody has come across this accusation before. I've had it levelled at me in a discussion this morning:

"Rand's philosophy is specifically pre-Darwinian. The human perceptual wetware already constitutes an innate theory about the world. The human body itself can be seen as a conjecture about its environment. And this is all consistent with the observation that toddlers invariably exhibit an innate sense of fair play. They do this long before they could have had the sorts of perceptions and conceptions imagined by Randian Objectivists. Any adequate philosophy is going to have to explain this."

When I asked for evidence for his claim about toddlers he said it is all over and cited this study

http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/20/even-babies-can-recognize-whats-fair/



Post 1

Thursday, September 12 - 9:36pmSanction this postReply
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The rebuttal to the claim about Objectivism being pre-Darwinian and unable to explain human behavior patterns is that Rand at least indirectly acknowledged that natural selection would have selected for a behavioral affinity toward altruism (or sharing, or "fairness") in prehistoric, tribal societies -- because she said that there was no other way to survive back then.(1) This critic makes a claim about Objectivism which doesn't hold much water -- and requires going out on a limb (regarding the genetic basis of the inter-generational transference, or simply the inheritance, or heredity, of a specific psychology).

Ed

(1) "Sefishness without a Self", PWNI, 61; p 50
It is obvious why the morality of altruism is a tribal phenomenon. Prehistorical men were physically unable to survive without clinging to a tribe for leadership and protection against other tribes. The cause of altruism's perpetuation into civilized eras is not physical, but psycho-epistemological ...




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Post 2

Thursday, September 12 - 10:17pmSanction this postReply
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I just realizied he's a Humean as well

"People have an innate moral sensibility much as they have an innate sensibility for language. This has evolved simultaneously with exogenous moral traditions in the same way that various languages have evolved. Thus our moral sensibility co-evolves with moral tradition. Outside of this matrix there is no morality, much less any objective morality. In particular, we cannot draw any normative conclusions from premises containing nothing but statements of fact."



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Post 3

Friday, September 13 - 8:48amSanction this postReply
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A social evolutionary force driving altruism under totalitarian regimes is its increased efficiency. Take two tribal nations where the members have no rights. One of them, like ancient Egypt, has to have a great many overseers - men with whips - to keep things rolling. But even then, they didn't rely solely on whips and chains - they made the pharaoh a god and made it a moral duty to support his projects.

As Rand pointed out, if you can get the men to whip themselves when they don't sacrifice enough, you need far fewer overseers with whips and fewer chains. Between any two totalitarian nations, all else equal, the more altruistic would supplant the other. Altruism replaces the person's goals with the goals of those receiving the sacrifice. They steal the motivation behind the human energy.

In the United States, convincing slaves that they were inferior, and not quite human, made it much easier to rule them.

The underlying engine of a person's individual success, all else being equal, is self-esteem. We won't fight very hard for our happiness if we don't believe we deserve it. Altruism and racism both attack at that level - trying to brain wash their subjects into believing they aren't worthy.

It is only when totalitarianism is up against a nation built on the belief that man's life is its own end that social evolution favors the freer nation, which will be more efficient than any altruistic totalitarian nation.

It is important separate genetic evolution from social or cultural evolution - different agents driving them - genes and memes aren't the same.



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Post 4

Friday, September 13 - 4:39pmSanction this postReply
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Huh. I know about the studies, read the cited article, and have watched documentaries involving the issue of babies displaying some moral preference (the appearance of moral preference, at least) for one character or another in play experiments.

Other studies show that time and again, babies will choose the "good" character over the naughty one.

I've never considered these research studies to be anything promoting proof of innate altruism, because what they appear to prove, at least to me, is how innate the virtue of justice is.

There's nothing "Pre-Darwinian" about that.



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Post 5

Friday, September 13 - 6:19pmSanction this postReply
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Good points all around.

Regarding Michael's last quote, where the author was prattling on about how morality is social and therefore evolves in a social matrix and, outside of this matrix (such as on a desert island), there would be no morality -- here's a quote from Galt's speech:

"You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island--it is on a desert island that he would need it most. Let him try to claim, where there are no victims to pay for it, that a rock is a house, that sand is clothing, that food will drop into his mouth without cause or effort, that he will collect a harvest tomorrow by devouring his stock seed today--and reality will wipe him out ..."

:-)

Ed


(Edited by Ed Thompson on 9/13, 6:20pm)




Post 6

Friday, September 13 - 6:31pmSanction this postReply
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And here's Rand driving the point home [proximate source ARL online**; ultimate source: VOS]:


"The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?"

...

"A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality."

...

"The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics ... is ... that which is required for man’s survival qua man.

Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil. Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work."


Recap:
Because life is precarious, you have a natural and inescapable need to think and to produce something of value (an inescapable need of morality). Other people, being members of the species homo sapiens, also have this same natural and inescapable need. Therefore, you should work to discover how best to meet that need, and you should not attempt to undercut others -- such as by violating their individual rights -- as they attempt to do the same.

Ed

**http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html



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Post 7

Friday, September 13 - 7:41pmSanction this postReply
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Although it's important and useful to note the distinction between the descriptive and the normative, there is very little, if any, truth to a dichotomous relationship existing between the two. It's one of dogmas of contemporary empiricism. But if you are already convinced ethics come from God or social convention or evolved instincts then the is-ought problem is a reassuring rationalization to stop trying to make ethics make sense.

BTW Ed, I just spotted this in the article:

""Parents should take heed of these results and be careful not to label children as “selfish” simply because they haven’t yet developed the capacity to act on their innate sense of fairness"

Doesn't sound very innate to me...

It is like wanting to be loved but not knowing how to make yourself lovable; or wanting to eat but not knowing what to eat. The basic drives are insufficient for human survival, including morality: the mind is required.

When you see that Rand says man is born tabula rasa with no innate ideas or knowledge you can't then leap to a simplified general idea that for Rand to be right a newborn must have no innate characteristics at all.

If you look at reality you see that there is a vast process of development a human has to go through to reach conceptual functioning at an adult level. Whatever reflexes or tendencies we are born with, whatever details make up the identity of human consciousness, are are nothing compared to what we have to do once we are out in the world to fully develop our specific type of consciousness.

Furthermore, any reflexes or tendencies are background to the fact that percepts are the given and sense perception is valid and no attack can be made on them by means of knowledge of reflexes or what have you because such knowledge itself depends on the validity of the senses and our perceptual faculty.

AND

on the subject of the social matrix: The need for morality is an intensely personal affair long before it has anything to do with social interaction. One needs morality because one has the faculty of choice and is not born with the knowledge of what choices are the best ones to make. "It is on a desert island that man needs morality the most."

The proximity to others allows for a defaulting on morality by others shouldering the consequences of that default. But naturally, some defaults are less tolerable than others, and in response to that customary mores such as the Golden Rule arise...

2) The Golden Rule arises through trial and error in the context of social living. It is a pragmatic approximation (and an inadequate one at that) of what is an instance of there being no conflicts of interests among rational men. The fact that a great many societies have each independently stumbled on it and adopted it is simply a reflection of the ubiquity of scientific truth: all those who search for truth by experience and reason, to whatever level people are capable of, will in time arrive at the same discoveries made independently by others equally reasonable and diligent. The common discovery of the Golden Rule is an example of this at an intellectually simple but pragmatically far-reaching level.

having said that, morality is not exclusively a social matter. Morality only has value as a tool for *personal* success, which happens to include but is NOT limited to living well in the context of society.
(Edited by Michael Philip on 9/13, 8:30pm)




Post 8

Saturday, September 14 - 7:25amSanction this postReply
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Michael,

Post 7 was excellent.

Ed



Post 9

Saturday, September 14 - 12:08pmSanction this postReply
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Oh, I don't know about that... Over on MSK's OL, he referred to "The Weirdest People in the World"
"The Weirdest People in the World: How representative are experimental findings from American university students? What do we really know about human psychology?" by Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan (University of British Columbia)
linked here http://hci.ucsd.edu/102b/readings/WeirdestPeople.pdf

The professors assert that much (if not most) of what we claim to know about human nature comes from studying college undergraduates in and near psychology departments, and their young children.

It is a tough sell to say that a youngster of a year's age never understood being given something they want and also never saw anyone get anything they wanted. In other words, these youngsters are already acculturated when they arrive. By contrast, the Yanoamo boys are rewarded for aggression. (They see a lot of it.) And are especially praised for striking their fathers. We should get some of those toddlers in these experiments.

Among the many points in that paper is that other people simply do not perceive the world the way we have learned to. Basic optical illusions do not work. I add here as I have noted before that it is a rule in linguistics that people do not develop words for "purple" and "brown" until after they have differentiated "blue" from "green." Now you would think that it is "natural" to tell the sky from the trees. I caution against self-confirming assumptions.

Also, Ed is right on when he reminds us what "morality" is. It is not playing nice and sharing -- benevolent and praise-worthy as those might be in context. Progressives make certain behaviors essential determinants of "morality" regardless of context.

We might say that children who graciously share have been socialized to be victims. Just sayin...

Also, even if it were true that we have some "natural" tendency to share like rats, dogs, and chimpanzees, it is also true that they are terrified by fire and we learn to get along with it. We also learned to swim. And to fly.

See also,Ayn Rand and Evolution" by Neil Parille here on RoR.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 9/14, 12:34pm)




Post 10

Saturday, September 14 - 6:27pmSanction this postReply
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Rand's entire system of epistemology is based on the proposition that man is born with cognitive capacities, mental abilities and most importantly, limitations. Traits are not knowledge, genes that may effect our mental lives are more dispositional than anything. They are capacities we have to a certain mental process or action, but they are not knowledge. We form concepts in particular manners. The way we class objects is certainly natural and based in neurobiology, but that does not imply innate knowledge.

The entire philosophical field of epistemology is premised on the notion that knowledge is about things that exist and can only be gained by a proper method. Knowledge that wells up from inside automatically such as innate ideas, 'instinct' (behaviors are not innate knowledge, but rather automatic actions having probabilistic survival value based upon our evolutionary history), "intuitions" (there is a real phenomenon here but the explanations fall prey to exactly the same objections that being born understanding "television" does), and a priori concepts (which are ultimately derived from something a posteriori) denies the very possibility of an epistemology and ultimately undercuts any attempt to explain language ability.

The charge of pre-Darwinism comes off from here:

"First of all, Chomsky, Gardner, and others of similar ideologies believe that infants are born with a significant prewired knowledge of how languages work and how they do not work. Views within this group vary slightly, but they all hold to this basic tenet and cite ample evidence in defense of this view. These proponents of the innateness of linguistic ability also believe that the genetic basis for language came about as the result of Darwinian evolution and by an extension of the "survival of the fittest" argument. Again, individual views vary slightly, but all supporters of this school of thought see language as a product of Darwinian evolution."

Chomsky has argued that there must be thousands of innate elements of meaning, thousands of categories that cannot be learned from the evidence of the senses and instead must be inborn. This is because his theories are a response to the stripped-down epistemology of the British empiricists as handled by the Anglo-American analytic approaches of the 20th century, which indeed on their own terms can be shown not to succeed at explaining human knowledge.

More generally, Chomsky’s theories are not convincing to a good number of linguists. Try Michael Tomasello’s Constructing a Language for an introduction to what is actually known about how children learn language–despite the guff of Chomskyan nativists, theories of language learning intended to tie Chomskyan theory down to the actual nuts and bolts of language learning (including Pinker’s technical work on language learning) all fail, whereas non-nativist theories actually work.

Similarly, Chomskyan views of innate principles of syntactic structure are frequently flouted by phenomena in many languages, including such well-studied languages as English–to the extent that Chomskyans actually put forward concrete proposals as to what is actually innate as opposed to being due to the operation of general cognitive capacities. (On the latter point, I’ll point you again to Michael Tomasello, one of whose critical articles is Chomsky’s Universal Grammar, which I prefer to call UGH, the Universal Grammar Hypothesis, but only used as an acronym)

http://www.psych.yorku.ca/gigi/documents/Tomasello_2004.pdf

“I think it is important that the oddness of the UG hypothesis about language acquisition be emphasized; it has basically no parallels in hypotheses about how children acquire competence in other cognitive domains. For example, such skills as music and mathematics are, like language, unique to humans and universal among human groups, with some variations. But no one has to date proposed anything like UniversalMusic or UniversalMathematics, and no one has as yet proposed any parameters of these abilities to explain cross-cultural diversity (e.g., +/- variables, which some cultures use, as in algebra, and some do not—or certain tonal patterns in music). It is not that psychologists think that these skills have no important biological bases—they assuredly do—it is just that proposing an innate UM does not seem to be a testable hypothesis, it has no interesting empirical consequences beyond those generated by positing biological bases in general, and so overall it does not help us in any way to get closer to the phylogenetic and ontogenetic origins of these interesting cognitive skills.”

This is a very nice counter-statement to the Chomskyan claim that the uniqueness of language to humans among species but its universality among humans shows its special biologically innate status. But this counter-blast and many others like it are rarely mentioned in such books as Ray Jackendoff’s Patterns in the Mind that are assigned in introductory linguistics classes, which just regurgitate the “poverty of stimulus” argument and the Nicaraguan deaf children and the like, without any indication to the reader that other interpretations and arguments from the same data are possible.


Another easily accessible example is a good review by Larry Trask of yet another of the plethora of pop science linguistics books from a Chomskyan viewpoint, showing how one-sided and illogical the argument is.

http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/trask.html

Another name that comes to mind in this discussion is Steven Pinker. None of his arguments about language are applicable: they either show a frankly unscientific trend to evangelism in leaping to conclusions not supported by the data (many of his claims about notions of structure, which it turns out are no longer believed by even the most ardent Chomskian nativists), or they are simply inapplicable to the tabula rasa debate- they pertain to the capacity to learn, not to the prior presence of knowledge. A version of tabula rasa which denies that people have bodies is of course incorrect. Pinker's target with his stuff seems to be a radical egalitarianism which denies all differences between people, and the possibility of such a thing as human nature.

The reasoning from "universality" that Pinker (and other nativists) engage in is flawed for two reasons. First, at the level of basic research, the claims are often vastly overstated. Second, they fail to consider totally reasonable cognitive social-evolutionary reasons for volitional facts being universal. For example, it is a universal fact that while linguistic rules can involve factorization of language units into groups of two, no linguistic rule ever performs a prime factorization of those units. This could be reified into a universal genetic principle to the effect that rules of grammar cannot refer to prime numbers; but the real explanation is that it would be cognitively impossible to learn and perform such a rule in speech, because it is hard to do a prime factorization in your head.


Sooner or later, the linguistic analogue to Godel will come along and demolish linguistics. It will be interesting to see what happens then. Maybe the nativists will stop basing their arguments, at best, on long-ago refuted behaviorist notions.



Post 11

Sunday, September 15 - 10:36amSanction this postReply
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MP,

"Chomsky has argued that there must be thousands of innate elements of meaning, thousands of categories that cannot be learned from the evidence of the senses and instead must be inborn. This is because his theories are a response to the stripped-down epistemology of the British empiricists as handled by the Anglo-American analytic approaches of the 20th century, which indeed on their own terms can be shown not to succeed at explaining human knowledge."

Great point.

Ed



Post 12

Sunday, September 15 - 11:37amSanction this postReply
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The charge of pre-Darwinism comes off from here:

"First of all, Chomsky, Gardner, and others of similar ideologies believe that infants are born with a significant prewired knowledge of how languages work and ...  
...  also believe that the genetic basis for language came about as the result of Darwinian evolution and by an extension of the "survival of the fittest" argument. Again, individual views vary slightly, but all supporters of this school of thought see language as a product of Darwinian evolution."


Well, of course, they would have to stay within the Darwinian model - or claim to - whether it applies or not, lest they define themselves outside of mainstream science.

Music and mathematics are just other kinds of language.  Insects communicate by smell: their antennae grow out from their noses. Ravens have dialects.  The ability to learn language seems deep within animal life.

We say that nest-building is instinctive, but what happens if you raise wild birds in a natural-like stimulating environment with an artificial nest that they cannot possible build themselves?  Would the chicks know how?  Or is being raised in nest necessary to build one, i.e., it is not "hardwired" into the brain. It is not inherited.  But the ability to learn it is.

I know several languages, human and computer. I can read music and play some instruments (poorly).  I can do mathematics (up to some level).  But when I read the linguists - especially the 'natural language" theorists, I do not find a lot of evidence from facts.  They just make assertions, usually just from English. Chomsky's works in particular for their broad claims offer only English examples, when citing disparate languages would seem required to establish (if not prove) his claims.

To back up, also, this topic was about Objectivism being "pre-Darwinian" and we actually have some different threads now. 

Finally, just to note: most of your citations and arguments were beyond my level of understanding. So I cannot comment on the finer points.
Steve wrote: A social evolutionary force driving altruism under totalitarian regimes is its increased efficiency. Take two tribal nations where the members have no rights. One of them, like ancient Egypt,...  made the pharaoh a god and made it a moral duty to support his projects.
...
In the United States, convincing slaves that they were inferior, and not quite human, made it much easier to rule them.  


Steve, first of all, as you note, tribal altruism (so-called) can be survival-oriented in that the tribe survives to reproduce, even if an individual does not. Arma virumque cano. Everyone else lives to sing about dead heroes. We know that Neanderthals kept old people with injuries alive, apparently feeding them when they could not hunt or gather. Old people have valuable knowledge.  Or maybe they were just loved. 


That being as it may, in any conflict between two societies the more altruistic one will lose.

The distinction is between "voluntary" altruism of the primitive tribe and coerced collectivism. And it depends on what we define as "winning."  Basically, history shows that the more collectivized society loses to the more individualist one, time and time again.  No society was completely one or the other. In other posts, you have impressed me with your knowledge of ancient history. Can you show how the Battle of Kadesh between the Egyptians and Hittites 1274 BCE validates your claims about the efficiency of collectivism? 

And what of the Bronze Age Collapse that followed (coincidentally?) 1200-1150? "Between 1206 and 1150 BCE, the cultural collapse of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite Empire in Anatolia and Syria, and the New Kingdom of Egypt in Syria and Canaan interrupted trade routes and severely reduced literacy." -- Wikipedia "Bronze Age Collapse." 

I do know that the Persians could not defeat the Greeks.  That is a perfect example of a more collectivized society versus a somewhat more individualistic society. Greek soldiers provided their own weapons. As citizens they voted to goto war or not. They were paid in cash money for fighting.

Also, just a note on the slaves. They never believed that they were inferior by birth, but only accepted the brutality of their subjugation. The strategy of the slave owner was not to teach a doctrine to people who were legally prohibited from reading.  It was to take the leader, the strongest man (or woman) and break them, physically: beat them to death, tear them with horses, whatever it took, to show that no one could resist.  The racist literature was consumed by ("white")  people who could read. John C. Calhoun and Edmund Ruffin did not write for slaves but for slave-owners.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 9/15, 11:46am)




Post 13

Sunday, September 15 - 3:22pmSanction this postReply
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Mike,
The professors assert that much (if not most) of what we claim to know about human nature comes from studying college undergraduates in and near psychology departments, and their young children.
Okay, but you have to mentally separate human culture from human nature -- so that you know when to ascribe findings to culture, and when to ascribe findings to nature. For instance, a really neat study [Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment (Abstract)] was performed in 2010 wherein researchers offered a day's wage to poor people from all around the world -- for each and every round that they agreed to play with their peers in 3 different games:

 -----------------------
Dictator Game
One of two "players" gets a lump sum of money, a windfall (equal to 1 day's wage), and then chooses to either share it with his "opponent" or just take all the money and run. The opponent doesn't actually actively play, but merely passively receives money or gets no money whatsoever -- depending on the first player's individual decision about "spreading the wealth around."

Ultimatum Game (or Ellis Wyatt Game)*
One of two "players" (the proposer) gets a lump sum of money (equal to 1 day's wage) and can then choose to share it with his "opponent" or not. The opponent (the respondent) has "veto-power" over the whole round, so that if he or she feels slighted in any manner whatsoever, then he or she can force the loss of all money going to anyone in that round. Picture Ellis Wyatt burning up his oil wells.

*In this study, a version was used wherein the responder anonymously "pre-accepted" or "pre-vetoed" the offer -- by privately admitting how small of an offer he or she would still find acceptable, before calling the whole deal off (resulting in no $ for either player). An alternate version, more common in repeated (iterated) play, is to decide on the spur of the moment for each round.

Third-Party Punishment Game
One of two "players" gets a lump sum of money (equal to 1 day's wage) and then chooses to either share it with his "opponent" or just take all the money and run. However, there is a 3rd-party onlooker who automatically gets a lump sum equal to 1/2 day's wage, who can decide, before the fact, whether to expend 20% of it on punishing stingy proposers at whatever level (for example at, say, less than 20% of the windfall, or less than 30% of the windfall, etc.) of potential offers which he would believe is "unfair".

Think of vigilantes who risk their life and limb in service to their personal notions about what it is that 'cosmic justice' would entail. Risking 20% of money that you didn't even earn in the first place -- if it establishes cosmic justice in your mind -- is not too shabby a deal for many people. For instance, some people might be willing to spend almost 20% of their income if it could guarantee that shady dealing would be punished (and, therefore, minimized).

This is a reason people would be willing to pay for cops, courts, and a military.
  -----------------------

What these researchers found was that there are cultural factors such as 'market integration' or MI (estimated by proportion of calories obtained in a market; rather than being home-grown or self-foraged) that, taken together, can explain over 70% of the noted variance in offers, rejections, and costly punishments (e.g.,):
A 20percentage point increase in MI is associated with an increase in percentage offered ranging from roughly 2 to 3.4.
What this quote means is that if you do not engage in any market activity (0% MI), then you will be stingy to the point of being stupid about it (often resulting in less profit). However, if you get 20% of your food from a market (i.e., if you have the casual experience of trading/capitalism), then you will make and accept offers that are at least a little bit more equitable (2.0-3.4% in absolute percentage points). Take the Hadza, who have no market for food. They offer less than 30% (on average) of the windfall in the Dictator Game. Contrast that with people in the U.S., who get approximately 100% of their food by trade. They offer over 45% (on average) of the windfall.

The point is that the Hadza do not have a different "human nature" than do the people in the U.S., they merely have a different culture -- which explains the results of exploratory studies like this. What that means is that studying the 'weirdest people in the world' -- in order to tease out aspects of human nature -- is perfectly fine to do; as long as you are careful to ascribe results (to either nature or culture) correctly.

Ed

p.s., The full text of this study is available, from the link (in the upper right corner), with a free subscription to AAAS.

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 9/15, 3:42pm)




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Post 14

Sunday, September 15 - 5:19pmSanction this postReply
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Marotta, until you apologize for the racist slurs directed at me I'm not much inclined to participate in civil discourse with you. I'll just point out that your take on my post gets what I said wrong, drops the context I was using, and makes statements that confuse survival of a collective with biological evolution. I won't even go into the confusing mess you made of the other concepts.



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Post 15

Monday, September 16 - 7:05pmSanction this postReply
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Addendum to post 13

In post 13, I said this:

------------------------------------------
Third-Party Punishment Game
One of two "players" gets a lump sum of money (equal to 1 day's wage) and then chooses to either share it with his "opponent" or just take all the money and run. However, there is a 3rd-party onlooker who automatically gets a lump sum equal to 1/2 day's wage, who can decide, before the fact, whether to expend 20% of it on punishing stingy proposers at whatever level (for example at, say, less than 20% of the windfall, or less than 30% of the windfall, etc.) of potential offers which he would believe is "unfair".
------------------------------------------

But that still leaves much to be explained. In the Third-Party Punishment Game, the proposer (Player 1) makes an offer to the respondent (Player 2), and the third-party onlooker (Player 3) decides if the offer was fair or not. The onlooker can punish unfair behavior or just let it slide, but punishment will cost him 20% of his loot, and it will lead to triple that amount being taken from the "unfair" proposer. Here is a quote from the article:
If punished, Player 1 loses triple the amount paid by Player 3.

Suppose the stake is $100; if Player 1 offers $10 to Player 2 (keeping $90), and Player 3 wants to punish this offer amount, then Player 1 takes home $60 ($90 $30), Player 2 gets $10, and Player 3 gets $40 ($50 $10). If Player 3 had instead decided not to punish offers of $10, then the take-home amounts would be $90, $10, and $50, respectively.


Now the really funny thing, really peculiar, is that when players had adopted one of these two world religions, Islam or Christianity -- then their offers increased and they were a lot more generous as a group ... but ... when these 'religious' players played this third-party punishment game -- then their offers dropped back to a baseline. All of a sudden, they got stingy, too -- just like those who weren't Christian or Muslim.

The intuitive explanation is that they were hedging their bets (because even if they get punished, they will at least still take home some cash) but that explanation is poor. The reason it is a poor explanation is because it leaves unexplained why non-religious -- or non-world-religion believers (those who may believe in tribal myths and tribal gods, but just not world religions like Islam or Christianity) -- did not do the same thing. Of course, non-Christian/non-Muslim participants did not start with an elevated baseline of generosity, so you could perhaps argue that they were always hedging their bets (in all types of games) ...

Actually, the first thing that came to my mind was a far-out, wacky and wild association regarding salvation religions such as Islam and Christianity. Let me see if I can express it in words. It is that only God or Allah (not humans) should be judging the behavior of others. Therefore, because a human was put into the position to judge others' behavior, and because judging others' behavior automatically makes you illegitimate as a judge, they felt they could run rampant over other players with impunity.

Like I said, it's a far-out, wacky and wild association!

:-)

Ed

p.s., I'd be interested in any other thoughts that attempt to explain this peculiar finding. So please: "Post 'em if you got 'em!" Why do you think that religious people almost completely stopped be generous (actually it wiped out their religion-associated boost in generosity) when someone else was sitting in judgment of, or was able to punish, them? 

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 9/16, 7:52pm)




Post 16

Wednesday, September 18 - 7:42pmSanction this postReply
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Here are a few hypothetical scenarios of the Third-Party Punishment Game (TPG):
---------------------------------------------------------
A.
Player 1 gives Player 2 nothing, keeping $100 for herself.
Player 3 blithely looks the other way, knowing that if he punishes Player 1, then he "loses" 20% of his loot.

Score
Player 1: $100
Player 2: $0
Player 3: $50
---------------------------------------------------------
B.
Player 1 gives Player 2 $20, keeping $80 for herself.
Player 3 punishes Player 1 for being "unfair", which costs Player 3 $10, but costs Player 1 $30.

Score
Player 1: $50 ($80-$30)
Player 2: $20
Player 3: $40
---------------------------------------------------------
C.
Player 1 gives Player 2 $40, keeping $60 for herself.
Player 3 blithely looks the other way, only punishing offers that are lower than $40.

Score
Player 1: $60
Player 2: $40
Player 3: $50
---------------------------------------------------------
D.
Player 1 gives Player 2 $40, keeping $60 for herself.
Player 3, acting under the pressures of a salvation religion, determines that anything less than equal shares is a 'crime against humanity', so he punishes player 1.

Score
Player 1: $30 ($60-$30)
Player 2: $40
Player 3: $40
---------------------------------------------------------
E.
Player 1 gives Player 2 $50, keeping $50 for herself.
Player 3 does not punish.

Score
Player 1: $50
Player 2: $50
Player 3: $50
---------------------------------------------------------

In the study, average offers, including all 3 types of games investigated, ranged from 20% all the way up to 51% -- depending on the game type and on the specific indigenous society investigated. Being Christian or Muslim bumped the offers up a whopping 6-10% (except for during TPG). A burning question is why did offers change -- upon the switch to TPG -- for Christians and Muslims, but not for those following tribal religions or no religion.

It just occurred to me that maybe I'm thinking in reverse. Maybe the burning question is:

Why, during the other 2 games (Dictator Game and Ultimatum), did the offers from Christians and Muslims go up from a baseline that had been similar across all groups?

Ed



Post 17

Monday, September 23 - 6:13pmSanction this postReply
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Ed, you did not read the paper; and you missed my point. While it is true that some studies extend beyond the campus, most do not, and certainly have not. Even studies of young children and infants take subjects whose parents are often are university students.  So, to assert that it is "human nature to share" as some here have claimed based on "university studies" is unfounded.  You and I agree on that much.

The work I cited in Post Number 9 was this:
"The Weirdest People in the World: How representative are experimental findings from American university students? What do we really know about human psychology?" by Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan (University of British Columbia)
linked here http://hci.ucsd.edu/102b/readings/WeirdestPeople.pdf

In the bibliography of that paper are these from the researchers you cited above in Number 13. Note that the very paper the abstract of which you cited is listed here as "unpublished manuscript." In other words the authors of "The Weirdest People" read that paper before it was accepted by a journal.  Thus, if you had read "The Weirdest People" you would have seen this research.


  • Henrich, J. (2008) A cultural species. In: Explaining Culture Scientifically, ed.^eds. M. Brown, University of Washington Press.
  • Henrich, J., Boyd, R., Bowles, S., Camerer, C., Fehr, E., Gintis, H., McElreath, R., Alvard, M., Barr, A., Ensminger, J., Henrich, N., Hill, K., Gil-White, F., Gurven, M., Marlowe, F. W., Patton, J. Q. & Tracer, D. (2005) 'Economic Man' in Cross-cultural Perspective: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies. Behavioral & Brain Sciences 28: 795-815.
  • Henrich, J., Ensminger, J., McElreath, R., Barr, A., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., Cardenas, J. C., Gurven, M., Gwako, E., Henrich, N., Lesorogol, C., Marlowe, F., Tracer, D. & Ziker, J. (n.d.). Market, religion, community size and the evolutio nof fairness and punishment.Unpublished manuscript, Vancouver.
  • Henrich, J. & Henrich, N. (under review) Fairness without punishment: behavioral experiments in the Yasawa Island, Fiji. In: Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective ed.^eds. J. Henrich & J. Ensminger, Russell Sage Press.
  • Henrich, J. & McElreath, R. (2002) Are Peasants Risk-Averse Decision Makers? Current Anthropology 43(1): 172-181.
  • Henrich, J., McElreath, R., Ensminger, J., Barr, A., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., Cardenas, J. C., Gurven, M., Gwako, E., Henrich, N., Lesorogol, C., Marlowe, F., Tracer, D. & Ziker, J. (2006) Costly Punishment Across Human Societies. Science 312: 1767-1770.
  • Henrich, J. & Smith, N. (2001) Culture matters in bargaining and cooperation: cross-cultural evidence from the Machiguenga, the Mapuche and Americans. In: Cooperation, reciprocity and punishment: experiments in fifteen small-scale societies; Manuscript, ed.^eds.
  • Henrich, N. S. & Henrich, J. (2007) Why Humans Cooperate: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation Oxford University Press.
"The Weirdest People" explains how different cultures have played the Dictator Game and the Punishment Game.   It is not a surprise that in Russia and Saudi Arabia, for example, more people will give up winnings of their own just to altruistically punish someone else.  That is why the authors called us "the weirdest people": they found other studies of other people from around the world.The paper "Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment" by Joseph Henrich, Jean Ensminger, et al., as a PDF (without a subscription to Science) here.

You assert that being willing to give up 20% of your winnings with no benefit to oneself in order to punish someone else whom you regard as "unfair to others" somehow validates the establishment of government as an overseer of "fairness." It may. That is not the same thing as the government as a protector of rights.

The reason that we have such massive government regulation of the economy is expressly because of these primitive religionist urges to punish other people who have not harmed you.  "We must have a level playing field." Why?  And what business is it of yours?  MYOB.  Where is the harm to you if someone else pays what you consider "too much" for a car or a stereo or suborbital rocket ride?

And how can you even feign surprise that Christians and Muslims are happy to altruistically punish others?

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 9/23, 6:34pm)




Post 18

Tuesday, September 24 - 7:03amSanction this postReply
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I read "Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishments" by Henrich, et al. 

I also just requested from the UT library their book Foundations of Human Sociality

Caution is highly recommended here.  Milton Friedman and other free market economists stand apart from Ayn Rand in endorsing (limited) government intervention in the marketplace to ensure "fairness." 

According to my understanding of this model, Michael Milken was punished specifically and only because his earnings were deemed "unfair."  The technical violation of the law was irrelevant according to this model: anthropologically, Milken's punishment was a consequence of the world religions that make large communities possible.

I add that the largess distributed by Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, and others (following in the tradition of Rockefellar, Carnegie, W. T Grant, and many many more), is exactly the behavior predicted by this model. The very wealthy are giving away "fair shares" to anonymous others in order to not be punished by Third Parties.  At least, that is one way to look at it...

Myself, I believe that as interesting as these studies are - as important as they are in dispelling claims of "human nature" - they miss something.  I suspect that they have a spurious relationship caused by intervening variables or hidden variables. 

While it sounds compelling and easy to accept I question whether fairness in cash transactions really do attempt to mimic the trust of a small group society. In these studies are tribes whose ethos is that you never have to share what comes to you by good fortune. Also in these studies are tribes whose members learn "perfect self interest" in being willing to accept any gift no matter how small, rather than decline an "unfair" gift.  So, given those two, I have to question the premise because it is not clear that small group local tribe society is inherently "fair."

Also, I do nod to their claim that "world religions" - Islam and Christianity - may indeed impel toward "fairness" with their promise of a Judgment in the afterlife.  But that would have to be compared and contrasted, say with Buddhism and Confucianism, especially in China, which in its long history had several notable periods of mercantile expansion and explosions in literacy.  And today, such families both at "home" and here in the USA, have other attributes of stability that seem important to successful commercial society. 

And finally we have no centuries-long tradition of an Objectivist society to which to compare all of those.




Post 19

Tuesday, September 24 - 8:01pmSanction this postReply
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Mike (reply to your post 17),
Ed, you did not read the paper; and you missed my point. While it is true that some studies extend beyond the campus, most do not, and certainly have not.
I confess I haven't read it yet, but if you think I missed your point, then you missed my point (that studies of "non-representative" populations are fine to perform -- if you are a "smart cookie" about it). There are 2 hurdles here:

1) jumping over the hurdle that normally prevents you from extrapolating general truths from particular sets of data (data of any given kind and data on any given subject matter)
2) jumping over the hurdle that normally prevents you from ascribing effects to their correct cause

My point was that you can bypass (1) -- which is the issue or problem taken up by the paper** -- by taking really good care of (2). It might seem impossible to do, but it can be done. It is possible to know the cause of some effects. If you can pull it off, it makes advice on methodology less relevant. Here is an easy example:

Researchers hit subjects over the head and note that there is a certain kind of response to something like that. The subjects wince in pain and hold or check their head almost "instinctively."

Now, let's say that we want to generalize from this finding. What questions do we need to ask? My first question -- which, after merely skimming the paper, Heinrich et al. seemed to miss -- is to ask if the noted reactions to getting hit over the head could even primarily be a cultural phenomenon in the first place, or if they are something more general than mere culture variation could alter or affect.

I would not start by asking "Which people [were getting hit over the head]?" though I would be generally interested to look over the results of all studied people, and I would become specifically interested in doing so after ascertaining that culture is something that might alter the responses.

You assert that being willing to give up 20% of your winnings with no benefit to oneself in order to punish someone else whom you regard as "unfair to others" somehow validates the establishment of government as an overseer of "fairness." It may.
I didn't go that far -- and I wouldn't. You're reading things into my words. I was just trying to relate the types of dynamics (moral funding of government, rule of law, monopoly of jurisdictional force, retributive justice) which integrative investigation of the game strategy "aims at." Here's what I said:

Risking 20% of money that you didn't even earn in the first place -- if it establishes cosmic justice in your mind -- is not too shabby a deal for many people. For instance, some people might be willing to spend almost 20% of their income ...
The first sentence -- while a statement of fact rather than one of opinion -- is about a subculture of vigilantes (in spirit, if not in deed), and I did not claim they were morally correct or even merely a numerical majority in any population on planet earth. You can't get too far from a premise like that. The second sentence is a mere hypothetical about "some people". You can't get too far from a premise like that, either.

That is not the same thing as the government as a protector of rights.
I agree (and I'd be surprised if that surprises you).

The reason that we have such massive government regulation of the economy is expressly because of these primitive religionist urges to punish other people who have not harmed you.  "We must have a level playing field." Why?  And what business is it of yours?  MYOB.  Where is the harm to you if someone else pays what you consider "too much" for a ...
Okay, but I wasn't going that far. You seem to be implying that if we let people punish others then we will end in a totalitarian dictatorship. I think oppositely. I think that if we refrain from punishing injustice, then we will have unrelenting terror visited on us by supreme leaders who say we need to give them more power to keep us safe from ourselves. Think back to what Rand had to say about moral impartiality, disinterest, neutrality, or agnosticism (and who it is that "wins" when there is no, or almost no, moral judgment in a society). That's where I'm coming from.

It can be viewed as a teleological argument or an evolutionary one: What kind of a social system would allow for the production and trade of values? Where are the limits on that kind of a thing?

And how can you even feign surprise that Christians and Muslims are happy to altruistically punish others?
My surprise was actually about the difference noted in "generosity" across game types -- but still within the Christian/Muslim groups. It's not that Christian/Muslim participants performed "generosity", it's that they did not always perform it (in one game, there was an unexplained exception to this general rule).


Ed

**Heinrich et al.: The weirdest people in the world? [from your link above]
The widespread practice of subtly implying universality by using statements such as "people's reasoning is biased..." should be avoided. "Which people?" should be a primary question asked by reviewers.

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 9/24, 8:40pm)




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