Of course genes can't pull the levers of our behavior directly. But they affect the wiring and workings of the brain, and the brain is the seat of our drives, temperaments and patterns of thought. Each of us is dealt a unique hand of tastes and aptitudes, like curiosity, ambition, empathy, a thirst for novelty or for security, a comfort level with the social or the mechanical or the abstract. Some opportunities we come across click with our constitutions and set us along a path in life.
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The last 100 years of research into the human brain...sees the brain as an organ that works by physical principles just like the other organs in the body...our emotions and higher callings, such as religion, as well as our grubby low-level physical systems like stereo vision and motor control, are products of a machine...
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The indispensability of reason does not imply that individual people are always rational or are unswayed by passion and illusion. It only means that people are capable of reason, and that a community of people who choose to perfect this faculty and to exercise it openly and fairly can collectively reason their way to sounder conclusions in the long run. As Lincoln observed, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
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Trivers, pursuing his theory of the emotions to its logical conclusion, notes that in a world of walking lie detectors the best strategy is to believe your own lies. You can't leak your hidden intentions if you don't think they are your intentions. According to his theory of self-deception, the conscious mind sometimes hides the truth from itself the better to hide it from others. But the truth is useful, so it should be registered somewhere in the mind, walled off from the parts that interact with other people.
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The elegant study... is consistent with the themes of modern cognitive neuroscience . Every aspect of thought and emotion is rooted in brain structure and function, including many psychological disorders and, presumably, genius. The study confirms that the brain is a modular system comprising multiple intelligences, mostly nonverbal.
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Modern biblical scholars have established that the bible is a wiki. It was compiled over half a millennium from writers with different styles, dialects, character names, and conceptions of God and was subjected to haphazard editing that left it with many contradictions, duplications and non-sequiturs.
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The idea that boys want to sleep with their mothers strikes most men as the silliest thing they have ever heard. Obviously, it did not seem so to Freud, who wrote that as a boy he once had an erotic reaction to watching his mother dressing. But Freud had a wet-nurse, and may not have experienced the early intimacy that would have tipped off his perceptual system that Mrs. Freud was his mother. The Westermarck theory has out-Freuded Freud.
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If you aren't just brought up in your tribe but interact with other people either directly or vicariously, through journalism and literature, you see what life is like from other points of view and are less likely to demonize them or dehumanize others and more likely to empathize with them.
The doctrine of the sacredness of the soul sounds vaguely uplifting, but in fact is highly malignant. It discounts life on earth as just a temporary phase that people pass through, indeed, an infinitesimal fraction of their existence... the gradual replacement of lives for souls as the locus of moral value was helped along by the ascendency of skepticism and reason
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Feminism as a movement for political and social equity is important, but feminism as an academic clique committed to eccentric doctrines about human nature is not. Eliminating discrimination against women is important, but believing that women and men are born with indistinguishable minds is not. Freedom of choice is important, but ensuring that women make up exactly 50 percent of all professions is not. And eliminating sexual assaults is important, but advancing the theory that rapists are doing their part in a vast male conspiracy is not.
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Some people think that evolutionary psychology claims to have discovered that human nature is selfish and wicked. But they are flattering the researchers and anyone who would claim to have discovered the opposite. No one needs a scientist to measure whether humans are prone to knavery. The question has been answered in the history books, the newspapers, the ethnographic record, and the letters to Ann Landers. But people treat it like an open question, as if someday science might discover that it's all a bad dream and we will wake up to find that it is human nature to love one another.
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Evolution is central to the understanding of life, including human life. Like all living things, we are outcomes of natural selection; we got here because we inherited traits that allowed our ancestors to survive, find mates, and reproduce. This momentous fact explains our deepest strivings: why having a thankless child is sharper than a serpent's tooth, why it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, why we do not go gentle into that good night but rage, rage against the dying of the light
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The Rights Revolutions too have given us ideals that educated people today take for granted but that are virtually unprecedented in human history, such as that people of all races and creeds have equal rights, that women should be free from all forms of coercion, that children should never, ever be spanked, that students should be protected from bullying, and that there's nothing wrong with being gay. I don't find it at all implausible that these are gifts, in part, of a refined and widening application of reason.
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Nature is a hanging judge, " goes an old saying. Many tragedies come from our physical and cognitive makeup. Our bodies are extraordinarily improbable arrangements of matter, with many ways for things to go wrong and only a few ways for things to go right. We are certain to die, and smart enough to know it. Our minds are adapted to a world that no longer exists, prone to misunderstandings correctable only by arduous education, and condemned to perplexity about the deepest questions we can ascertain.
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Thinking is computation, I claim, but that does not mean that the computer is a good metaphor for the mind. The mind is a set of modules, but the modules are not encapsulated boxes or circumscribed swatches on the surface of the brain. The organization of our mental modules comes from our genetic program, but that does not mean that there is a gene for every trait or that learning is less important than we used to think. The mind is an adaptation designed by natural selection, but that does not mean that everything we think, feel, and do is biologically adaptive. We evolved from apes, but that does not mean we have the same minds as apes. And the ultimate goal of natural selection is to propagate genes, but that does not mean that the ultimate goal of people is to propagate genes.
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Perhaps the most extraordinary popular delusion about violence of the past quarter-century is that it is caused by low self-esteem. That theory has been endorsed by dozens of prominent experts, has inspired school programs designed to get kids to feel better about themselves, and in the late 1980s led the California legislature to form a Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem. Yet Baumeister has shown that the theory could not be more spectacularly, hilariously, achingly wrong. Violence is a problem not of too little self-esteem but of too much, particularly when it is unearned.
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You know that when Irving puts the dog in the car, it is no longer in the yard. When Edna goes to church, her head goes with her. If Doug is in the house, he must have gone through some opening unless he was born there and never left. If Sheila is alive at 9 A.M. and is alive at 5 P.M., she was also alive at noon. Zebras in the wild never wear underwear. Opening a jar of a new brand of peanut butter will not vaporize the house. People never shove meat thermometers in their ears. A gerbil is smaller than Mt. Kilimanjaro.
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I think that communism was a major force for violence for more than 100 years, because it was built into its ideology-that progress comes through class struggle, often violent. It led to the widespread belief that the only way to achieve justice was to hurry this dialectical process along, and allow the oppressed working classes to carry out their struggle against their bourgeois oppressors
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It's natural to think that living things must be the handiwork of a designer. But it was also natural to think that the sun went around the earth. Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity's highest callings. [Can You Believe in God and Evolution? Time Magazine, August 7, 2005]
Many textbooks point out that no animal has evolved wheels and cite the fact as an example of how evolution is often incapable of finding the optimal solution to an engineering problem. But it is not a good example at all. Even if nature could have evolved a moose on wheels, it surely would have opted not to. Wheels are good only in a world with roads and rails. They bog down in any terrain that is soft, slippery, steep, or uneven. Legs are better. Wheels have to roll along an unbroken supporting ridge, but legs can be placed on a series of separate footholds, an extreme example being a ladder. Legs can also be placed to minimize lurching and to step over obstacles. Even today, when it seems as if the world has become a parking lot, only about half of the earth's land is accessible to vehicles with wheels or tracks, but most of the earth's land is accessible to vehicles with feet: animals, the vehicles designed by natural selection.
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The task of evolutionary psychology is not to weigh in on human nature, a task better left to others. It is to add the satisfying kind of insight that only science can provide: to connect what we know about human nature with the rest of our knowledge of how the world works, and to explain the largest number of facts with the smallest number of assumptions.
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As educational standards decline and pop culture disseminates the inarticulate ravings and unintelligible patois of surfers, jocks, and valley girls, we are turning into a nation of functioning illiterates [... ]. English itself will steadily decay unless we get back to basics and start to respect our language again.
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Why give a robot an order to obey orders-why aren't the original orders enough? Why command a robot not to do harm-wouldn't it be easier never to command it to do harm in the first place? Does the universe contain a mysterious force pulling entities toward malevolence, so that a positronic brain must be programmed to withstand it? Do intelligent beings inevitably develop an attitude problem? (...) Now that computers really have become smarter and more powerful, the anxiety has waned. Today's ubiquitous, networked computers have an unprecedented ability to do mischief should they ever go to the bad. But the only mayhem comes from unpredictable chaos or from human malice in the form of viruses. We no longer worry about electronic serial killers or subversive silicon cabals because we are beginning to appreciate that malevolence-like vision, motor coordination, and common sense-does not come free with computation but has to be programmed in. (...) Aggression, like every other part of human behavior we take for granted, is a challenging engineering problem!
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The universality of reason is a momentous realization, because it defines a place for morality. If I appeal to you do do something that affects me-to get off my foot, or not to stab me for the fun of it, or to save my child from drowning-then I can't do it in a way that privileges my interests of yours if I want you to take me seriously (say, by retaining my right to stand on your foot, or to stab you, or to let your children drown). I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can't act as if my interests are special just because I'm me and you're not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it. You and I ought to reach this moral understanding not just so we can have a logically consistent conversation but because mutual unselfishness is the only way we can simultaneously pursue our interests. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other's children when they get into trouble, and refrain from knifing each other than we would be if we hoarded our surpluses while they rotted, let each other's children drown, and feuded incessantly. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we'd both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one where we both are unselfish. Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games.
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Lewis Richardson wrote that his quest to analyze peace with numbers sprang from two prejudices. As a Quaker, he believed that "the moral evil in war outweighs the moral good, although the latter is conspicuous." As a scientist, he thought there was too much moralizing about war and not enough knowledge. "For indignation is so easy and satisfying a mood that it is apt to prevent one from attending to any facts that oppose it. If the reader should object that I have abandoned ethics for the false doctrine that 'tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner' [to understand all is to forgive all], I can reply that it is only a temporary suspense of ethical judgment, made because 'beaucoup condamner c'est peu comprendre' [to condemn much is to understand little]." (p. 200)
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Dear White Fella When I am born I'm black When I grow up I'm black When I am sick I'm black When I go out ina sun I'm black When I git cold I'm black When I git scared I'm black And when I die I'm still black. But you white fella When you're born you're pink When you grow up you're white When you git sick you're green When you go out ina sun you go red When you git cold you go blue When you git scared you're yellow And when you die you're grey And you got the cheek to call me coloured?
Semantics is about the relation of words to thoughts, but it also about the relation of words to other human concerns. Semantics is about the relation of words to reality-the way that speakers commit themselves to a shared understanding of the truth, and the way their thoughts are anchored to things and situations in the world.
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Institutionalized torture in Christendom was not just an unthinking habit; it had a moral rationale. If you really believe that failing to accept Jesus as one's savior is a ticket to fiery damnation, then torturing a person until he acknowledges this truth is doing him the biggest favor of his life: better a few hours now than an eternity later.
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Many moral advances have taken the form of a shift in sensibilities that made an action seem more ridiculous than sinful, such as dueling, bullfighting, and jingoistic war. And many effective social critics, such as Swift, Johnson, Voltaire, Twain, Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Tom Lehrer, and George Carlin have been smart-ass comedians rather than thundering prophets. What in our psychology allows the joke to be mightier than the sword? Humor works by confronting an audience with an incongruity, which may be resolved by switching to another frame of reference. And in that alternative frame of reference, the butt of the joke occupies a lowly or undignified status... Humor with a political or moral agenda can stealthily challenge a relational model that is second nature to an audience by forcing them to see that it leads to consequences that the rest of their minds recognize as absurd... According to the 18th-century writer Mary Wortley Montagu, 'Satire should, like a polished razor keen / Wound with touch that's scarcely felt or seen.' But satire is seldom polished that keenly, and the butts of a joke may be all too aware of the subversive power of humor. They may react with a rage that is stoked by the intentional insult to a sacred value, the deflation of their dignity, and a realization that laughter indicates common knowledge of both. The lethal riots in 2005 provoked by the editorial cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (for example, one showing Muhammad in heaven greeting newly arrived suicide bombers with 'Stop, we have run out of virgins!') show that when it comes to the deliberate undermining of a sacred relational model, humor is no laughing matter. (pp. 633-634)
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Hobbes's analysis of the causes of violence, borne out by modern data on crime and war, shows that violence is not a primitive, irrational urge, nor is it a "pathology" except in the metaphorical sense of a condition that everyone would like to eliminate. Instead, it is a near-inevitable outcome of the dynamics of self-interested, rational social organisms.
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Challenge a person's beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them-or worse, who credibly rebut them-they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.
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At first happiness might seem like just desserts for biological fitness (more accurately, the states that would have led to fitness in the environment in which we evolved). We are happier when we are healthy, well-fed, comfortable, safe, prosperous, knowledgeable, respected, non-celibate, and loved. Compared to their opposites, these objects of striving are conducive to reproduction. The function of happiness would be to mobilize the mind to seek the keys to Darwinian fitness. When we are unhappy, we work for the things that make us happy; when we are happy, we keep the status quo. The problem is, how much fitness is worth striving for?
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Once we have isolated the computational and neurological correlates of access-consciousness, there is nothing left to explain. It's just irrational to insist that sentience remains unexplained after all the manifestations of sentience have been accounted for, just because the computations don't have anything sentient in them. It's like insisting that wetness remains unexplained even after all the manifestations of wetness have been accounted for, because moving molecules aren't wet.
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I am sometimes asked, "How do you know there won't be a war tomorrow (or a genocide, or an act of terrorism) that will refute your whole thesis?" The question misses the point of this book. The point is not that we have entered an Age of Aquarius in which every last earthling has been pacified forever. It is that substantial reductions in violence have taken place, and it is important to understand them. Declines in violence are caused by political, economic, and ideological conditions that take hold in particular cultures at particular times. If the conditions reverse, violence could go right back up.
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People do more for their fellows than return favors and punish cheaters. They often perform generous acts without the slightest hope for payback ranging from leaving a tip in a restaurant they will never visit again to throwing themselves on a live grenade to save their brothers in arms. [Robert] Trivers together with the economists Robert Frank and Jack Hirshleifer has pointed out that pure magnanimity can evolve in an environment of people seeking to discriminate fair weather friends from loyal allies. Signs of heartfelt loyalty and generosity serve as guarantors of one s promises reducing a partner s worry that you will default on them. The best way to convince a skeptic that you are trustworthy and generous is to be trustworthy and generous.
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Can reason lead us in directions that are good or decent or moral? After all, you pointed out that reason is just a means to an end, and the end depends on the reasoner's passions. Reason can lay out a road map to peace and harmony if the reasoner wants peace and harmony, but it can also lay out a road map to conflict and strife if the reasoner delights in conflict and strife. Can reason force the reasoner to want less cruelty and waste?
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Reason is overrated. Many pundits have argued that a good heart and steadfast moral clarity are superior to triangulations of overeducated policy wonks, like the best and brightest and that dragged us into the quagmire of Vietnam. And wasn't it reason that gave us the means to despoil the planet and threaten our species with weapons of mass destruction? In this way of thinking, it's character and conscience, not cold-hearted calculation, that will save us. Besides, a human being is not a brain on a stick. My fellow psychologists have shown that we're led by our bodies and our emotions and use our puny powers of reason merely to rationalize our gut feelings after the fact
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Reason is up to these demands because it is an open-ended combinatorial system, an engine for generating an unlimited number of new ideas. Once it is programmed with a basic self-interest and an ability to communicate with others, its own logic will impel it, in the fullness of time, to respect the interests of ever-increasing numbers of others. It is reason too that can always take note of the shortcomings of previous exercises of reasoning, and update and improve itself in response. And if you detect a flaw in this argument, it is reason that allows you to point it out and defend an alternative.
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For one thing, before the 20th century, there were plenty of genocides. We tend to forget about them, partly because they weren't as well documented and partly because, until recently, people didn't care. We used euphemisms like 'sackings' and 'sieges' instead of calling them 'genocides.'
What a dull universe it would be if everything in it conformed to our expectations, if it held nothing to surprise or baffle us or confound our common sense. A century ago no one foresaw the existence of black holes, an expanding universe, oceans on Jupiter's moons, or DNA. What could be more enriching than to know that we share a common origin with all living things, that we are kin to chimpanzees, redwoods and mollusks? And isn't it a source of wonder to realize that the iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones were created in the bellies of supernovas?
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But the 20th century suffered "two" ideologies that led to genocides. The other one, Marxism, had no use for race, didn't believe in genes and denied that human nature was a meaningful concept. Clearly, it's not an emphasis on genes or evolution that is dangerous. It's the desire to remake humanity by coercive means (eugenics or social engineering) and the belief that humanity advances through a struggle in which superior groups (race or classes) triumph over inferior ones.
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I spent 20 years doing research on regular and irregular verbs, not because I'm an obsessive language lover but because it seemed to me that they tapped into a fundamental distinction in language processing, indeed in cognitive processing, between memory lookup and rule-driven computation.
In many Muslim countries, witchcraft is not only on the books as a crime, but is commonly prosecuted. In 2009, for example, Saudi Arabia convicted a man for carrying a phone booklet with characters in an alphabet from his native Eritrea, which the police interpreted as occult symbols. He was lashed three hundred times and imprisoned for more than three years.
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It's the old idea that the process of evolution is some push in the direction of greater complexity--in particular greater intellectual complexity. In one twig of the tree of life, namely ours, having a big brain happened to have advantages. But that's just what worked for a particular species of primate 5 to 7 million years ago.
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Space and force pervade language. Many cognitive scientists (including me) have concluded from their research on language that a handful of concepts about places, paths, motions, agency, and causation underlie the literal or figurative meanings of tens of thousands of words and constructions, not only in English but in every other language that has been studied.
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