Notebook Entries March 2007

Notebook entry, March 25th, 2007

I'll be going to California this coming week to see the kids. Last week they told me that "we'll be lucky to survive the week" in regards to their business. Of course, they have been telling me that for over two years now. Their brains have to mush from the stress of keeping the doors open. But, the real reason is not to cheer up the kids, but to see my granddaughter, Michala.....she will be four years old this week. Wow. I really am feeling old.

Notebook entry, March 15th, 2007

As I mentioned in my notebook entry of March 4th, 2007, there was a major piece in The New York Times Sunday magazine section dated March 4, 2007 and titled: "Darwin's God" by Robin Marantz Henig. I hope that The New York Times forgives me for borrowing so heavily from the piece, but I can not review it and pass the filtered "common person" information on to you unless I used the quoted sections. The evolutionary community is getting closer to an answer, but as usual, the religious community will demean and push back that knowledge in order to maintain is power and control over its flocks.

Time and truth is on the side of God and the evolutionists. Yes, you read that right. God wants the truth of the evolutionary perspective to come forth so that Her/His/Its children can evolve to the next higher step.

Actual quotes for the piece are in italics.

The article's main premise is that there is a major search "for an evolutionary explanation for why belief in God exists - not whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does."

The main path of inquiry, is of course, is that:

"…So many aspects of religious belief involve misattribution and misunderstanding of the real world. Wouldn't this be a liability in the survival-of-fittest competition?" So that leaves us with only one possible door to enter…if religious belief was not adaptive, perhaps it was associated with something else that was…maybe cognitive effort was precisely the point. Maybe it took less mental work than (one) realized to hold belief in God in one's mind. Maybe, in fact, belief was the default position for the human mind, something that took no cognitive effort at all."
The article then leads us to three possibilities:
Agent detection
Causal reasoning
Theory of mind.

"…agent detection … If you are a caveman on the savannah, you are better off presuming that the motion you detect out of the corner of your eye is an agent and something to run from, even if you are wrong. If it turns out to have been just the rustling of leaves, you are still alive; if what you took to be leaves rustling was really a hyena about to pounce, you are dead."
"Casual reasoning…the human brain has evolved the capacity to impose a narrative, complete with chronology and cause-and-effect logic, on whatever it encounters, no matter how apparently random…we automatically, and often unconsciously, look for an explanation of why things happen to us…It fits better with a person's casual reasoning tool (to explain from start to finish) that recovery from cancer appears to be a miracle, or a reward for praying, than for it to be just a luck roll of the dice."
"Theory of mind, or 'folkpsychology" is essential to getting along in the contemporary world. It allows us to anticipate the actions of others and to lead others to believe what we want them to believe…The process beings with positing the existence of minds, our own and others', that we cannot see or feel. This leaves us open, almost instinctively, to belief in the separation of the body (the visible) and the mind (the invisible). If you can posit minds in other people that you cannot verify empirically, …it is a short step to positing minds that do not have to be anchored to a body. And from there, it is another short step to positing an immaterial soul and a transcendent God."
"The bottom line, according to byproduct theorists, is that children are born with a tendency to believe in omniscience, invisible minds, immaterial sours - and then they grow up in cultures that fill their minds, hard-wired for belief, with specifics….We are born with an innate tendency for belief, but for specifics of what we grow up believing - whether there is one God or many, whether the soul goes to heaven or occupies another animal after death - are culturally shaped."

"…So trying to explain adaptiveness of religion means looking for how it might have helped early humans survive and reproduce. As some adaptationists see it, this could have worked on two levels, individual and group. Religion made people feel better, less tormented by thoughts about death, more focused on the future, more willing to take care of themselves. As William James put it, religion filled people with "a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life…an assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections."

"…Such sentiments, some adaptationists say, made the faithful better at finding and storing food, for instance, and helped them attract better mates because of their reputations for morality, obdedience and sober living. The advantage might have worked at the group level too, with religious groups outlasting others because were more cohesive, more likely to contain individuals willing to make sacrifices for the group and more adept at sharing resources and preparing for warfare."

"…There are costs to any individual of being religious: the time and resources spent on rituals, the psychic energy devoted to following certain injunctions, the pain of some initiation rites. But in terms of intergroup struggle, according to Wilson, the costs can be outweighed by the benefits of being in a cohesive group that out-competes the others."
I think that the attempt by the cognitive scientists to explain the behavior behind religious belief is pretty much on target. I don't believe that agent detection is part of the mix, but I would place bets on theory of mind, and in particular, casual reasoning.

Casual reasoning is explained as a narrative - or more commonly known as "a story." Like all stories, there is a beginning, a conflict, and solution to end the story. But if we look at story telling as a form of cognitive narrative, what is really occurring is that a problem is being presented, with a solution given. The ancestral brain has to solve problems that it is faced with, because failing that, the outcome could be fatal. Every step had to be careful.

A very interesting point: Did you know that there is a blind spot in the middle of your line of vision? That is because the optical nerve is at the back and middle of your eye. It's really amazing, but the brain "fills in" the blind spot. So why is there such a mystery about the brain "filling in" mentally the answers that plague us and "fill in" that answer with a non-body-like-person we call God? It does not mean that God does not exist, its just that we need immediate answers to a problem that we face and our ancestral brain's are adaptive and flexible enough to provide a "filled-in" answer.

God "fills in" many of the blind spots in our life that science, friends, or family can't answer. The brain needs an answer before it continues. Period.

The Theory of Mind is also correct in the belief system because it posits our understanding that there are other people out there that think like we do. And that's important because as I have taught before, we are mostly social creatures. In this grand argument between nature and nurture, nurture wins out by about 60% to 40% of the influence on our human behavior.

We live in groups that have evolved into complex interpersonal relationships, and one of the most important social functions within those social groups is that we as a species have developed a belief system that is "suitable" for our group at whatever longitude and latitude we are on the planet - and the specific timeframe we find ourselves in as well. These are called social norms - rules that our groups found beneficial to a dominant few, tolerable by most, and thus, able to form consensus on behavior that benefit the group the most.

Religion is a nothing more than public display of commitment to a certain set of rules of behaviors that have been passed down in the culture for generation after generation. And history has taught us that those communities with the most cohesiveness in their religious communities have survived the test of time. It does not mean that things will remain the same; it's just how we as a species have evolved our group developments up till now

When religion begins to become a negative force in our evolution, then the human behaviors will rise up and change those beliefs.

In regards to evolution and religion and the belief in God bedate of 2007, I believe we are approaching a new path to take. The religions of old will soon meet their maker. It is called - truth.

Once again, my thanks to The New York Times

Notebook entry, March 11th, 2007

There is a major evolution cover story just out with the March 19th, 2007 issue of Newsweek, titled: "The New Science of Human Evolution," by Sharon Begley. I estimate it to be about 10,000 words.

As an aside, the article celebrates the new Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I don't have the paper article with me, but the online article has 16 photos of the exhibit. One of my favorite authors featured in the article is Ian Tatterstal, head of the museum. I reviewed one of his books several years ago.

But the main premise of the article is that DNA testing is now becoming a major complement to the physical examination of fossil and bone remnants

"By analyzing the DNA of today's humans as well as chimps and other species (even lice), scientists are zeroing in on turning points in evolution, such as when and how language and speech developed, and when our ancestors left Africa. DNA can even reveal how many pilgrims made that trek.

"As the exhibits show, humankind's roots are sunk deep in the East African savanna. There, the last creature ancestral to humans as well as chimps - our closet living cousins - lived, standing at a fork in the family tree as momentous as it is contentious. Fossils never resolved when the lineages split. DNA might. Human Dan and chimp DNA differ by no more than 1.2 percent, and DNA changes at a fairly regular rate.

"The realization that early humans were the hunted and not hunters has upended traditional ideas about what it takes for a species to thrive. For decades the reigning view had been that hunting prowess and the ability to vanquish competitors was the key to our ancestor's evolutionary success (an idea fostered, critics now say, by the male domination of anthropology during most of the 20th century). But prey species do not owe their survival to anything of the sort, argues Sussman (anthropologist, Washington University, coauthor of the 2005 book "Man the Hunted") Instead, they rely on their wits and, especially, social skills to survive. Beign hunted brought evolutionary pressure on our ancestors to cooperate and live in cohesive groups. That, more than aggression and warfare, is our evolutionary legacy. (underlined emphasis, mine)

"Both genetics and paleoneurology back that up. A hormone called oxytocin, best-known for inducing labor and lactation in women, also operates in the brain (of both sexes) There, it promotes trust during interactions with other people, and thus the cooperative behavior that lets groups of people live together for the common good. By comparing the chimp genome with the human, scientists infer that oxytocin existed in the ancestor of both. But it has undergone changes since then, perhaps in how strongly the brain responds to it and in how much is produced. The research is still underway, but one possibility is that the changes occurred around the time our ancestors settle into a system based on enduring bonds between men and women, about 1.7 million years ago."
OK, all you evolutionary psychologists out there!!!! It is now time to dust off your copy of The Handbook of Social Psychology, and go back to studying groups, intergroup conflicts, class, hierarchies, social communication of groups, meme transmission, etc - and to see how all of it fits together -- to give us human behavior. For the past seven years, I've been writting that it is about 60% social, group behavior and 40% biological and evolutionary in nature. Nurture 60% plus Nature 40%.

Notebook entry, March 10th, 2007

The Economist online had a very interesting article about the new "land reform" policy changes that are being attempted in China. We must remember that the old way of reform held that all property belongs to all the people. What we seeing in China, that the New China is very carefully attempting to establish a new economic climate in which it still has its feet in the old communistic philosophy yet is being torn apart in a new "capalistic" direction by an emerging "middle class" of wealth. But what it really is all about is that resources are being sucked upward into a wealthly elite at the expense of the poor. Just like what is happening in America under the currently conservative administration. The following selected paragraphs that I picked out (it is quite lenghtly) are in italics -- and a few choice comments from me are in default script. But before you read parts of the article and my comments, please re-read my 2005 essay: The Resource Differential Intolerance Ratio Theory: The gap between the very rich and the poor, do we see the evolutionary connection?

Caught between right and left, town and country
Mar 8th 2007 | BEIJING
From The Economist print edition
Here's my break down of The Economist article the way I see it emerging. The revolution and put down of the peasant revolt is on schedule.
See the last paragraph in The Economist article. As I have taught you, "resources" are being shifted to a middle class and elite at the expense of the poor. The gap between the rich and poor will reach intolerable flash - "tipping points" ( who says you get to live and I get to die?) The military gains resources as the "beta male" force to protect the resources of the elite, and as always is used as a club to "beat down" the poor and keep them away from the resources of the rich.

"...The debate has raised embarrassing questions about whose side Mr Wen and President Hu Jintao are really on. Do they support China's left wing, which fears the country is turning too capitalist, or the right,...

Who usually (but not always) wins? The poor left, or the greedy rich right?) As I have written, (in regards to evolution and politics, 'It's all about the resources.") The ultimate question, is how far can the rich screw the poor before the poor rise up and destroy the rich? Where is the tipping point?

... which sees market forces as a sometimes painful but necessary cure to developmental problems? Since Mr Hu took over as Communist Party chief in 2002, and Mr Wen as prime minister the following year, the two men have shifted official rhetoric and policy to the left and have boosted central-government support for the poor and marginalised. Last month the official media published a speech by Mr Wen on the need for "social justice"-a term dear to the left which believes that the poor are being trampled upon.

"...For all its pro-left rhetoric-Mr Wen's speech to the NPC was suffused with it-the leadership realises that it also has to keep on side a growing urban middle class whose tolerance of party rule is particularly vital to its grip on power. On this, Mr Hu and Mr Wen are of one mind with their predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Deng Xiaoping. It was Mr Deng who decided in the early 1990s that only rapid growth, fuelled by the unfettering of the private sector, could save China from the fate of the Soviet block. In the final years of his presidency, Mr Jiang invested enormous political capital in promoting the abolition of the party's ban on recruiting private entrepreneurs. In 2002, when he stepped down as party general-secretary in favour of Mr Hu, Mr Jiang secured-despite strong complaints from the left-a revision to the party's charter that, in effect, legitimised his welcoming of capitalists.

"...Neglecting the middle class would be even more perilous for the current Chinese leadership than it was perceived to be by Mr Jiang and Mr Deng. Sweeping privatisation of housing since the late 1990s has radically changed the social and political fabric of urban China. Property rights have become a topic of critical interest to urban residents anxious to protect their new assets from the whims of the state.

"...Farmers, too, are finding property rights of rapidly growing interest (and their concerns matter more to the left). The large-scale appropriation of farmland in recent years for housing and factory construction has rendered millions of farmers landless. Many have been given little or no compensation. In the countryside and in the cities, property and land disputes have become a leading cause of social unrest. A senior official said in January that the number of "mass incidents" in China had fallen to about 23,000 last year from 26,000 in 2005. But such figures are ill-defined and subject to political distortion. Since 2004 leaders have vowed to build a "harmonious society", making it risky for low-level governments to report data suggesting that unrest is growing.

"...The left was irritated in 2005 and remains so. A recent petition to the NPC by influential left-wingers says privatisation is accelerating and causing a widening gap between rich and poor. It says the sale of state assets to corrupt officials, the super rich and foreign multinationals is illegal and unconstitutional. Among the more than 3,200 signatories are seven former government ministers or deputy ministers, five former provincial leaders, a sprinkling of retired senior military officers and about 50 professors at the party's Central School, an academy for top officials.

"...The armed forces, however, get a bigger boost. The budget presented to the NPC calls for a nearly 18% increase in military spending this year to 347 billion yuan. Most analysts believe this is far less than China's true spending. The armed forces have enjoyed double-digit budget increases for most of the past 15 years. The leadership knows well whom it really needs to keep happy.
A bit more equal than others

"...Mr Wen and Mr Hu may have swung to the left in their words, but they have kept the party's doors wide open to capitalists."

As always, trust only movement. It is not what people say, but what they do that "signals" their true intentions. It is only a matter of time before the majority of people realize that they are getting screwed.

"...In 2005 the party recruited 1,512 private-business owners, an increase of 170% over the previous year, according to a recent publication by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The government's desire to keep all constituencies happy-but the middle class a bit more so than others-is reflected in the property- rights bill. Mr Gong says the drafters have added provisions on the protection of state property. But he dismisses these changes as superficial. "It would be a very shameful page in China's history" if the law is passed, he says. He is appealing for it to be delayed again. But Mr Hu and Mr Wen seem unenthused by their party's ideological baggage."

What we must realize is that China has "revolution" by the poor "in their DNA."

As for America - the rich elites had better start "trickling down" soon before the American poor and middle class "take lessons" from China and the revolt that is brewing.

Notebook entry, March 4, 2007

Just a quick note before I run off and shower in preparation for work, The New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a lengthy article titled: "Darwin's God" by Robin Marantz Henig, a contributing writer. It is a article, not "whether God exists, which is a matter for philosophers and theologians, but why the belief does."

I will absorb it as soon as I can, and report back.

Have a grand day.

Notebook entry, March 1, 2007

Well, my favorite, pink-shirted-pseudo "I want to be a tough guy," de-evolved, knuckle-crawling neo-conservative, David Brooks had another column in The New York Times on March 1, 2007, ("A Critique of Pure Reason") in which he makes reference again to human biological behavior. (See my Notebook entry, February 19th, 2007) Mr. Brooks is on a tear!!

Now, this piece is very confusing because he writes like a liberal - yet, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, by reading years of his New York Times articles that he is conservative.

These are the confusing two paragraphs:

"The conventional ones (presidential candidates), though they don't know it, are prisoners of the dead husk of behaviorism. They will speak of education as if children were blank states waiting to have ideas into their brains with some efficient delivery mechanism.

The creative ones will finally absorb the truth found in decades of research: the relationships children have outside school shape their performance inside the school."

Now, "conventional ones" mean - stuck in tradition - like men and only women can get married to save the "institution" of marriage (while ignoring divorce laws). And, "the creative ones" mean - out of the mainstream - out of the box? Free to think what they think" Like free = liberal, right?

Mr. Brooks then goes into all of his evidence that "outside environments" - like when students "do not feel emotionally safe tend not to develop good memories"…and…"Students from less stimulating environments have worse language skills."


You mean, when a single mom on minimum wage with no health care or a Wal-Mart refugee with minimal benefits is so stressed in her life that she exports her "emotional insecurity" to her young progeny? Or, because she doesn't make much money, she can't live in a "stimulating environment?"
And what is our esteemed conservative's solution? Or as Mr. Brooks asks:

"What can government do about any of this?" The answer is that there are programs that do work to help young and stressed mothers establish healthier attachments. These programs usually involve having nurses or mature women make a series of home visits
Home visits?!!!!!!! You mean, take government money and "waste" it on poor people????? Grandmothers and elders???!!! David Brooks, you are no longer a conservative!!!!! Doesn't the "pitch-in with the elders" bit imply a equalitarian society??? Must you be reminded, over and over again the mantra of the right as Louis Lapham has taught us?

"In the glut of (conservative writings over ten years) paper I could find no unifying or fundamental principle (of conservatism) except a certain belief that money was good for rich people and bad for poor people. It was the only point on which all the (conservative) authorities agreed, and no matter where the words were coming from…the authors invariably found the same abiding lesson in the tale - money ennobles rich people, making them strong as well as wise; money corrupts the poor people, making them stupid as well as weak." Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's magazine, "THE TENTACLES OF RAGE," September, 2004 [pp. 40 & 41].

Maybe your're just trying to save your ass in the upcoming upheaval of the coming class warfare. If the republicans and the rich conservatives fail to "trickle-down" as they promised in their perfect world scenario where when the rich rule all aspects of society then the poor will benefit in the long run.

Perhaps, you're just doing this to make sure that you get invited to Washington DC dinner parties or to make sure you get a seat on future TV shows.

But, you're not fooling me David Brooks with your confusing crossover rhetoric from conservative to liberal suggestions.

I know that it is conservativesp like you who helped put these assholes in power whose philosophies are ruining our country - and we liberals will not forget.