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August 16, 2008


Doesn't this boil down to being able to "put yourself in another's shoes"? Are mirror neurons what are necessary to carry out moral reasoning?

This kind of solves the pie division problem. If you are capable of putting yourself in the other guy's shoes and still sincerely believing you should get the whole pie, perhaps there is some information about your internal state that you can communicate to the others to convince them?

IS the essence of morality that you should believe in the same division no matter which position you occupy?

We have quick muscles, so we do computation to decide how to organise those muscles.

Trees do not have quick muscles, so they don't need that kind of computation.

Trees need to decide which directions to grow, and which directions to send their roots. Pee on the ground near a tree and it will grow rootlets in your direction, to collect the minerals you give it.

Trees need to decide which poisons to produce and where to pump them. When they get chewed on by bugs that tend to stay on the same leaf the trees tend to send their poisons to that leaf. When it's bugs that tend to stay nearby the tree sends the poisons nearby. Trees can somewhat sense the chemicals that distressed trees near them make, and respond early to the particular sorts of threats those chemicals indicate.

Is all that built into the trees' genes? Do they actually learn much? I dunno. I haven't noticed anything like a brain in a tree. But I wouldn't know what to look for. Our brains use a lot of energy, we have to eat a lot to maintain them. They work fast. Trees don't need that speed.

I don't know how smart trees are, or how fast they learn. The esperiments have not been done.

I don't know how moral animals are that we share no common language with. Those experiments haven't been done either. We can't even design the experiments until we get an operational definition of morality.

What experiment would you perform to decide whether an animal was moral? What experiment would show whether an intelligent alien was moral? What experiment could show whether a human imprisoned for a vicious crime was moral?

If you can describe the experiment that shows the difference, then you have defined the term in a way that other people can reproduce.

If you look through a microscope you'll notice the only major difference between the nervous system and other tissues is that the nervous system exhibits network connectivity. Cells in tissues are usually arranged in such a way that they only connect to their nearest neighbor. Many tissues exhibit electrical activity, communication between cells, coordinated activity, etc, in the same way as neurons. If networks of neurons can be said to be performing computations then so can other tissues. I'm not familar with the biology of trees but I don't see why they couldn't be said to be 'thinking' if we're going to equate thinking with computation.

People don't believe that inanimate objects contain spirits any more but they do still believe that God can control such items which is almost the same thing. True rationality is realizing that they are not controlled by any mind - their own or God's - but they do what they do because of what they are.

When you try to predict what will happen it works pretty well to assume that it's all deterministic and get what results you can. When you want to negotiate with somebody it works best to suppose they have free will and they might do whatever-the-hell they want.

When you can predict what inanimate objects will do with fair precision, that's a sign they don't have free will. And if you don't know how to negotiate with them, you haven't got a lot of incentive to assume they have free will. But particularly when they're actually predictable.

The more predictable people get the less reason there is to suppose they have spirits etc motivating them. Unless it's information about the spirits you manipulate to predict what they'll do.

To the degree "thinking" or "deciding" actually exists, it's not clear to me that we as individuals are the actual agents, rather than observer subcomponents with an inflated sense of agency, perhaps a lot like the neurons but with a deluded/hallucinated sense of agency.

I think we have a definitional issue with "morality" and "should". I cant see why we seem to think it is so beyond the ability of any brain that can process millions of bits per second.*

The good news however is that if we could get a decent definition there is a lot of literature on studying animals for signs of complex human style behaviors.

"It's the point where you can look at a puppy, and say: "The puppy's parents may push it to the ground when it does something wrong, but that doesn't mean the puppy is doing moral reasoning."

err... obviously the puppy IS engaging in complex information processing, using neurons no less and we can prove that with microscopes. So somehow you have provided evidence that you are wrong on this point, and then, have come to the conclusion you are right.

on the other hand there is some validity in the ev psych argument - but only some. This is exactly the sort of story telling and leaping to the assumption that that proves facts that makes so many biologists hate evolutionary psychology.

*In fact in a certain sense I go with what HA seems to be saying about it being unclear if morality (thinking deciding etc) exists in the mystical sense we seem to be aiming for.

The puppy's parents may push it to the ground when it does something wrong, but that doesn't mean the puppy is doing moral reasoning. Our current theories of evolutionary psychology holds that moral reasoning arose as a response to more complex social challenges than that - in their full-fledged human form, our moral adaptations are the result of selection pressures over linguistic arguments about tribal politics.

Right, but dogs know right from wrong, even if they don't have something akin to language. Much as they can catch a ball - even though they don't know how to solve the differential equations that describe the ball's arc.

Dogs have pretty complex social lives - as a result of their pack-hunting ancestry. This no doubt came in useful when it came to their more recent symbiosis with humans.

I've spent some time online trying to track down the exact moment when someone noticed the vastly tangled internal structure of the brain's neurons, and said, "Hey, I bet all this giant tangle is doing complex information-processing!"

My guess is Ibn al-Haytham, early 11thC while under house arrest after realizing he couldn't, as claimed, regulate the Nile's overflows.

Wikipedia: "In the Book of Optics, Ibn al-Haytham was the first scientist to argue that vision occurs in the brain, rather than the eyes. He pointed out that personal experience has an effect on what people see and how they see, and that vision and perception are subjective. He explained possible errors in vision in detail, and as an example described how a small child with less experience may have more difficulty interpreting what he or she sees. He also gave an example of how an adult can make mistakes in vision due to experience that suggests that one is seeing one thing, when one is really seeing something else."

Eliezer: Our current theories of evolutionary psychology holds that moral reasoning arose as a response to more complex social challenges than that - in their full-fledged human form, our moral adaptations are the result of selection pressures over linguistic arguments about tribal politics.

You mentioned that explanation earlier, but neither there nor here did you give any reference to evidence for it. Is there any? I don't mean evidence for the general idea of evolutionary psychology, but evidence for this particular claim.

It is not clear just what you are denying of dogs. "In their full-fledged human form" implies that you think there are more rudimentary non-human forms, and you denied "moral reasoning" of the puppy rather than morality -- but it is not clear if you were making a deliberate distinction there. Is "moral reasoning" anything more than morality engaging language in its service?

What do fish enjoy?

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