Knowing without Thinking

Although it may not be a full and clear description of  an unconscious passion such as “love” — this article, Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible, highlights something I’ve touched on a few times recently, that science is a big tent. So often I hear people imply a scientific worldview disregards emotions or unconscious cues (read “intuition”) — it doesn’t. They insist there are “other ways of knowing” — but as I always respond, if we’re talking about emotional responses or unconscious intuitions, then, yeah, it may not be logical, but it sure as hell can be explained by science. Of course they usually mean faith as a “way to know”… but I think they’re a bit confused about what they really mean…

Those soft aspects of our lives, those seemingly unexplainable and fleeting insights we sometimes have — they are in the purview of our scientific quest. And yes, the language of science may seems to miss the “best parts” of such experiences… but to my mind that simply means we need better science writers…

UPDATE: Oh, and this was interesting too… Scientists discover true love

18 Responses

  1. i agree that better science writers are of the highest importance when bridging the gap between researchers and the “lay-person”. it seems to me that the article pointed out falls victim to our culture of “fast news”. it’s interesting but the headline jumps the gun. i like this last line of the article:

    “Pouget is now investigating how the brain sets this threshold for each decision, since it does not appear to have the same threshold for each kind of question it encounters.”

    i would say it’s unfair to declare a definitive about the human brain as a whole, pertaining to the whole human race and how it makes decisions.

    the “science finds true love” article also (in my opinion) generalizes to a few cases to make it’s declaration of science proving the existance of true love. i would equate it to this example. have you ever been driving and heard a song on the radio that sparks a recognition in your memory that you haven’t heard in a decade and you get excited to try to remember what song it is, to remember you hated that song so much from the over-playing by the radio stations. but it’s familiar, so you find yourself singing along with it.

    i bet science would say that you liked that song from the initial excitement you felt from the familiarity. and don’t get me wrong….i love science and the pursuit of knowledge, i just like to push back on premature findings.

  2. Hmmmm. . . I do not yet understand how science usefully addresses values or priorities; it’s descriptive, not prescriptive. Good science writers who delve into values and do it well are good science writers turned good philosophical writers; science is utterly neutral or amoral when it comes to values. I don’t see how a description of unconscious processing or of pair bonding brings us to meaning or significance or being able to prioritize between life events and lifestyles, because science can also give us accounts of how our minds process things consciously (like, say, looking at a mortgage closing document) or of mating occasions that are not based on a bonding response (say, I get drunk and hook up with someone in a one night stand, or I get raped — why do we care whether some people are swans, or whether some people are raped or hook up anonymously?)

    Maybe our unconscious mind under certain circumstances makes better decisions; maybe some people experience fabulous long-term true love, versus fabulous short-term erotic hook-ups. (Or if they’re lucky, they experience both!) And maybe science can describe the neurological and hormonal reactions with all of the above.

    My response to all that would be, “So what?” Science can describe neurological processes that occur with unconscious decisionmaking and with decisions through conscious analysis; science can also describe relationships based on pair-bonding, short-term hook-ups, and rape.

    Again, so what? What does science have to say, without bringing values into it, about why one might be preferable to the other?

    Either way, through true love or systematized war-crimes style rape, one has the potential to get descendants. And isn’t getting descendants the evolutionary point?

    The ‘soft aspects’ of our lives may be described to some degree by science, but I’m not sure where one gets values from science. This is not to say that I think one must have a religious view to get meaning or values; I don’t think that at all, but that’s a digression for another day. Re this thread, I do not think that anyone can claim that we derive meaning or values from science; those come from other observations and disciplines, but not from science.

    Or maybe I missed the point of the post? Entirely possible . . . a scientific brain scan might reveal that I had one too many glasses of wine tonight . . . 😉 . . . which is why I am so gabby.

  3. What “if like termites, we needed to dwell in darkness, eat each other’s faeces and cannibalize the dead… our minds would be strongly prone to extol such acts as beautiful and moral” — Michael Ruse

    It seems to me when we speak of values, we are speaking about what is valuable for us, for the kinds of beings that we are. Atop that rest what is valuable in achieving our goals and aspirations. A scientific understanding, then, of who and what we are — understanding why we do certain things, and understanding what is “good” for us (scientifically) goes a long way toward creating our mores (think of cigarette smoking as just one recent example).

    We have developed as beings that have morals, as beings who consider some actions right and others wrong. I would assert that morality is what has allowed us to live together in increasingly large social structures — that our evolutionary success has depended on our development of morality rooted deep in our biology.

    Now interestingly, evolution has also made morality adjustable. We come with morality dials (both on an individual and social level). Some soldiers raped women at a time when rape was considered a spoil of war, some did not. Some people rape now at a time when rape is considered wrong, and most do not. Why do different individuals have their morality dialed up differently? The same reasons our body weights or heights are — different genes, different diets, different habits, different healthcare, etc. Why has the moral value of rape changed? Because we have become increasingly social, and that aspect of morality has become increasingly important. In order to maintain our society we simply cannot allow the physical violation of half the population. We cannot objectify and abuse women as we have in the past (though we still find many other ways to do so) — and the sciences of Sociology, Evolutionary Biology, Philosophy, and Political Science can explain (for the most part) why.

    Now I noticed you (Anna) do not consider philosophy to be science. Elsewhere you have questioned whether Evolutionary Biology is a science. I think that highlights our fundamentally different perceptions of “what is science”. I get the feeling for you science only means what you can grow in a test-tube or weigh to within a microgram. For me it does not. I am willing to call “scientific” many more propositions and explanations than you are — and maybe this is because I contend that science never proves anything. It simply gives us reasons to believe. It gives us reasons based on experiment, based on logic, based on intuition. Now some of those reasons are more valuable than others, they carry more weight, especially when they are repeatable, when they are measurable, and when they are predictive — and when reasons coincide, they make the best case of all. Still, I contend, it is only a case — and that science must always remain open to revision.

    The “other” way of knowing (the subject of the original post) depends not on a coincidence of evidence. In fact, I would say it depends on no evidence at all — for isn’t that what we mean when we say “faith”? To believe without or even against the evidence. That is anti-scientific, and I would say even dangerous.

    To Jesse’s point. I agree in your assessment that those headlines are misleading (I would say even deceptive or wrong). And perhaps that is part of the reason so many folks assume that science has such a weak explanatory power when it comes to the lived world.

  4. Wow — a lot to think about! just a quick response for now . . . I have never questioned evolutionary biology, and in fact I have objected publicly when people tried to sneak in creationism or ‘intelligent design’ into science curriculae. Evolution is extraordinarily well established science.

    I questioned evolutionary psychology, which seems to me to be highly speculative. I’m not sure how one would test the thought processes of australopithecines or falsify one’s assumptions; I would have to be convinced that it is more than just-so stories.

    And I definitely do not consider philosophy to be a science, any more than literature.

    More later, fwiw . . .

  5. Quick post back: Oops, you’re right! you didn’t question Evolutionary Biology, that was my mistake.

    I would say though, that Evolutionary Psychology does not try to get into the autsralopithecine mind — rather it looks for remnants of our evolutionary past in our psychology… and there seem to me many such remnants — from why we have altruism to why men like boobs…

    Do you consider Philosophy fiction or non-fiction? Do you consider Political Science a science?

  6. Ty wrote: “What “if like termites, we needed to dwell in darkness, eat each other’s faeces and cannibalize the dead… our minds would be strongly prone to extol such acts as beautiful and moral” — Michael Ruse
    It seems to me when we speak of values, we are speaking about what is valuable for us, for the kinds of beings that we are. Atop that rest what is valuable in achieving our goals and aspirations. A scientific understanding, then, of who and what we are — understanding why we do certain things, and understanding what is “good” for us (scientifically) goes a long way toward creating our mores (think of cigarette smoking as just one recent example).”

    — I disagree with the gist of the Ruse quote, but that’s a debate for another day. For today, how do we determine what is good by appealing to science without begging the question? In the case of smoking, you might make an appeal to “the good” being whatever fosters human health; therefore, since smoking endangers human health, smoking is bad. But let’s play with this smoking example: what if the greater “good” is what is good for the planet as a whole? Considering the tremendous damage people have done to the ecosystem, perhaps hardcore environmentalists are right in that what’s best for the planet is fewer people stomping around with their carbon footprints. In that case, smoking, and anything else that kills us off sooner is good, because millions of fewer humans would lower our environmental impact on the planet. Science tells us that smoking has a negative impact on human health, and it also tells us that tobacco fields are not biodiverse. It can’t decide the moral question of whether we ought to choose the good of promoting human health and pleasure, over the good of reducing the impact of burgeoning human populations on a strained planet. That’s something doctors, enviros and the rest of us have to argue out.

    Ty wrote: “Now interestingly, evolution has also made morality adjustable. We come with morality dials (both on an individual and social level). Some soldiers raped women at a time when rape was considered a spoil of war, some did not. Some people rape now at a time when rape is considered wrong, and most do not. Why do different individuals have their morality dialed up differently? The same reasons our body weights or heights are — different genes, different diets, different habits, different healthcare, etc. Why has the moral value of rape changed? Because we have become increasingly social, and that aspect of morality has become increasingly important. In order to maintain our society we simply cannot allow the physical violation of half the population. We cannot objectify and abuse women as we have in the past (though we still find many other ways to do so) — and the sciences of Sociology, Evolutionary Biology, Philosophy, and Political Science can explain (for the most part) why.”

    — We may give women’s rights lip service in the U.S., but in practice our society tolerates a great deal of sexual violence. And American notions of women’s rights are very much social outliers, historically and today. The moral value of rape has changed little worldwide. Through most of the world, rape is still considered to be the woman’s fault, or in many cases, not even a crime (spousal rape is an outlandish concept in most of the world; it’s considered a wife’s duty to submit). If we here have the bizarre, modern, highly culturally localized minority notion that rape is wrong, our moral intuitions didn’t originate from scientific observations of what actually goes on in the lives and cultures of most women.

    Ty wrote: “Now I noticed you (Anna) do not consider philosophy to be science. ( . . . ) I think that highlights our fundamentally different perceptions of “what is science”. I get the feeling for you science only means what you can grow in a test-tube or weigh to within a microgram. For me it does not. I am willing to call “scientific” many more propositions and explanations than you are — and maybe this is because I contend that science never proves anything.”

    — I see you have ‘Respectful Insolence’ on your bloglist . . . Orac rocks. Like Orac, what I don’t want to allow room for, in scientific big tents, are pseudosciences like creationism or Lysenkoism, or quackeries like homeopathy. I do not want Intelligent Design people trying to shoehorn their ideologies into my kids’ science classrooms. I do not want my tax dollars funding homeopaths if we nationalize healthcare.

    I also agree that science doesn’t prove things. If we want proofs, we must turn to mathematics. Science deals in probabilities, not proofs. Setting aside dense tomes written about philosophy of science and what makes science science or the whole realist vs. anti-realist angle (hint: I think Alan Sokal rocks as well), here is my thumbnail, bumpersticker version: there are several scientific methods, not just one (i.e. astronomers do not use the same tools to examine the events around the Big Bang, that political scientists use to examine the events around an election). But what scientific methods have in common are these:

    1) Science bases its claims on systematic, methodical, repeatable observations of the natural world, which includes human social structures. We cannot appeal to deities or one-off events to explain something scientifically. Genuinely scientific data collection and results must be reproducible, even if the event under study (i.e. the Big Bang) is not.

    2) Scientific hypotheses are falsifiable; we can articulate what sorts of findings would disprove them.

    3) Scientific hypotheses make testable predictive statements (yes, I am a Popper fan).

    4) Science is conducted in intersubjective communities (i.e. peer review, the repetition of experiments by other researchers) – you can have a hermit researcher, but other scientists would have to agree that the lone wolf is actually doing science, which is sometimes debatable (see: the strange career of Margie Profet).

    I think these guidelines actually allow for quite a lot, though they do not allow philosophy to call itself a science, any more than mathematics.

    Ty wrote, “The “other” way of knowing (the subject of the original post) depends not on a coincidence of evidence. In fact, I would say it depends on no evidence at all — for isn’t that what we mean when we say “faith”? To believe without or even against the evidence. That is anti-scientific, and I would say even dangerous.”

    — Well, pop atheism’s definition of religious faith characterizes faith as a quasi-delusional state of blind assertion, impervious to reason. Unsurprisingly, that is not how religious people define faith. Furthermore, religious people claim that there IS evidence for their beliefs, as well as reasons for their beliefs. The argument is over what counts as acceptable reasons and evidence. (You see coincidence, a religious person sees providence. Etc.)

    And we must be careful when we deal with the place of evidence in rational thinking, because our evidence is so often incomplete. Many of the most startling scientific breakthroughs came from scientists’ intuitions that ran counter to then-known evidence. In other words, they put more faith in their own conjectures than in what the mainstream scientific community considered sufficient evidence for its dominant paradigms.

    Ty wrote: “I would say though, that Evolutionary Psychology does not try to get into the autsralopithecine mind — rather it looks for remnants of our evolutionary past in our psychology… and there seem to me many such remnants — from why we have altruism to why men like boobs…”

    — Well, I am fine with biological psychology, as long as we have testable, falsifiable hypotheses. Anthropologists would tell you that the sexualization of breasts varies quite a bit from culture to culture. In cultures where women bear a child a year and breastfeed children for several years, breasts are far less eroticized. In the U.S., breasts are seen less like udders and more like fashion accessories; in many parts of the world, we can reverse that. What I contend we cannot do is to claim that we know what people 20,000 years ago or 75,000 years ago (meaningless eyeblinks in evolutionary time!) thought about women’s breasts . . . did they think of them like the Maasai, or like a Hollywood producer? Very different perspectives . . . and all highly speculative, with no way to test it, that I can see.

    Ty wrote, “Do you consider Philosophy fiction or non-fiction? Do you consider Political Science a science?”

    — I consider philosophy to be philosophy; it is distinct from literature and science, although it can use both fictional techniques (i.e. thought experiments) and scientific references to build its arguments. Basically, I consider philosophy to be thinking about thinking: philosophers use all kinds of tools to examine the content of our thinking, through more thinking (as opposed to being neuroscientists analyzing fMRI scans). Wittgenstein talked about philosophy as a process of untangling thoughts. Science is based on experimentation and observations of the outside, natural world. Philosophy is based on the observation and analyses of assumptions, but we can do very fine philosophy without collecting data from the natural world or testing hypotheses about the natural world; which makes philosophy a non-scientific enterprise.

    I am also confused by what you are getting at here.

    Are you saying that fiction has no truth value? Something needn’t be factual to be true; we can recognize profound truths in Shakespeare’s plays or Dostoevsky’s novels, even though none of the events are factual.

    Or are you saying that something must be considered scientific in order to be considered reliable or true? Or did I miss your point?

    Re political science, when people study politics in ways such that they can make and test falsifiable hypotheses in an intersubjective scientific community, they are doing political science. Larry Sabato is a political scientist. Rush Limbaugh – though he bristles with political claims and assertions – is not.

  7. i’m big into “why” when it comes to breaking down any subject and this is no different. i would say that most thinkers are concerned about “why” 99% of the time. the 1% is when the obvious “why” goes against something they have already become comfortable with. you’ll notice fans of philosophy in place of religion with cite example after example as to why something is in order to prove their point. here’s a crude example, the best my feeble mind can offer:

    why is the sky blue? because our eyes decipher that color that reflects off the water (or something). why do our eyes do that? to distinguish different colors is important to any living being so that it may keep beniefical from dangerous. how are we to know benefical from dangerous? our bodies will either thrive or wither. why is it that way? ……it just IS, accept it, there is no higher concious power!

    also, speaking of rape. i’m a fan of football and it’s always fun to hear the conversation of what people think of Mike Vick. i was part of a conversation this past holiday where the general concensus was to inflict pain on him. because of what??? all because the media, in describing the grisly events that went down at his kennel, used the term “rape stands”, then everyone lost their minds! for the record, i’m a dog lover but i have no problem with Mike Vick any more than i have a problem with a bullfighter.

  8. Hmmm… I’m not sure I get your point about “values” and the ecosystem. I fully agree that people who are eco-conscious support efforts to control human population growth. They have likely arrived at this value based on a combination of emotion and logic and the utility of having a health planet. They probably see it as the best way to ensure a successful future for humanity (and perhaps beyond humanity). Are you saying this is somehow a non-scientific or beyond-scientific value? Are you saying that the ability to take the long view toward our own success is impossible to develop evolutionarily? Or are you saying that if we accept that science helps to dictate our values that we then must become slaves to it? That if we decide that fewer people might be better it demands we start killing? I’m really not sure.

    I think it is quite easy to see how an animal that evolved morality based both on emotion and logic would come to a conclusion that more people is not necessarily “better” but that killing innocents is not a “valuable” corrective — and I think it is perfectly reasonable for such a “moral impulse” to develop evolutionarily. In fact, as I stated earlier, I think it was likely the evolution of such a morality (or an earlier proto-morality) that lead to our species’ success. The insights we can gain from a scientific examination and the pointers we may gain toward new values are (to me) also quite easy to see.

    As for you assertion that science ought to be rigorous, hell yeah! But what confuses me is that my mention of intuition as having some kind of evidential weight, seemed to spur your warning of pseudo-science (something I agree we absolutely must guard against, fight, resist, and undercut), but then you later invoke, “Many of the most startling scientific breakthroughs came from scientists’ intuitions that ran counter to then-known evidence.” So I think we agree, but it’s hard to tell!

    As for philosophy and the fiction/non-fiction question, I wasn’t trying to make a point, I was just asking you a question! For the record I consider philosophy to be proto-science, a spawning ground for science — from philosophy we now have astronomy, psychology, chemistry, neuroscience, etc…

    And lastly I think we make a mistake if we do not recognize that humans have a human nature. It’s funny that we can readily agree there is a dog-nature or lion-nature but get all worked-up that we might be gene-machines blindly programmed toward some cold bio-mechanical slavery if we admit that in us beats the evolutionary past of our ancestors.

    Ok, so now the big question. What is it that the religious person sees as evidence that the “pop-atheists” do not? You mention “coincidence” as “providence.” Do you think there is a good reason to think that two unlikely events happening in close proximity really signal God or Angels or a need to be saved? In our busy and hectic lives with all the various events and non-events occurring in them, and knowing the capacity of the human mind to anthropomorphize, to see causation and agency where there really is none — why would you consider coincidence anything other than coincidence?

  9. Jesse, I agree… sometimes asking why just doesn’t make any sense… and I think the inability to stop asking that question (or should I say NEEDING an answer to it) is what leads to certain kinds of religious, paranormal, supernatural thinking…

  10. Ty wrote: “Hmmm… I’m not sure I get your point about “values” and the ecosystem. I fully agree that people who are eco-conscious support efforts to control human population growth. They have likely arrived at this value based on a combination of emotion and logic and the utility of having a health planet. They probably see it as the best way to ensure a successful future for humanity (and perhaps beyond humanity). Are you saying this is somehow a non-scientific or beyond-scientific value? Are you saying that the ability to take the long view toward our own success is impossible to develop evolutionarily? Or are you saying that if we accept that science helps to dictate our values that we then must become slaves to it? That if we decide that fewer people might be better it demands we start killing? I’m really not sure.”

    — Yeah, that came off confusing. Let’s hope I don’t make it even worse . . . . What I meant is that people with very different views can use scientific findings to defend opposite moral/political arguments (which are always arguments about value). Eco-conscious people use scientific findings to defend their views, usually selecting studies that bolster their claims that global warming is caused by humans, and studies that support the view that if we don’t make drastic changes we’ll be in dire straits. Their political opponents, whom we could perhaps call economy-conscious people, prefer highlighting scientific findings that bolster opposing claims that global warming is not caused by humans or that scientific models predicting disaster are unreliable, or sufficient evidence isn’t in yet, and so we ought to just keep drillin’ and drivin’ for the foreseeable future. And so it goes. 😉

    I think Hume was right in saying that reason is the slave of the passions, and I also like Jonathan Haidt’s related quip that reason is the press secretary of the emotions. (Actually Hume goes further. He says that reason is — “and ought only to be!” — the slave of the passions.)

    My point is that when it comes to values, people use scientific findings in the service of their moral intuitions and political and emotional agendas, not so much the reverse.

    But then science doesn’t give us value determinations. People using science do.

    Ty wrote: “As for you assertion that science ought to be rigorous, hell yeah! But what confuses me is that my mention of intuition as having some kind of evidential weight, seemed to spur your warning of pseudo-science (something I agree we absolutely must guard against, fight, resist, and undercut), but then you later invoke, “Many of the most startling scientific breakthroughs came from scientists’ intuitions that ran counter to then-known evidence.” So I think we agree, but it’s hard to tell!”

    — Right, well, none of these types of discussions fit easily into comment box ‘sound bites’ . . . It looks like we do agree. Intuition is sometimes a fascinating kick-start to the scientific process. However, intuitions without evidence are not science, or Shirley Maclaine, Darwin help us, would be a scientist. But data is not enough to make something scientific, either. Michael Shermer is fond of quoting Charles Darwin’s dictum: “About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize, and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of service!”

    I see science, philosophy and religion as mental constructs we use to make reality intelligible. We use them to orient ourselves. Bumper sticker version: Science deals with claims about the natural world, philosophy deals with claims about thought, and religion deals with claims about value.

    As for philosophy and the fiction/non-fiction question, I wasn’t trying to make a point, I was just asking you a question! For the record I consider philosophy to be proto-science, a spawning ground for science — from philosophy we now have astronomy, psychology, chemistry, neuroscience, etc…

    — LOL!!! Well, you definitely got me going there . . . 😀 I have had an ongoing debate with a relative who considers philosophy to be so much hot air, in part because it isn’t science and therefore can’t tell us anything ‘real.’ (So now we bond over watching “Lord of the Rings,” which we both agree is great, but for different reasons.) I agree with you that philosophy has a remarkable dialogue going with the sciences; we could add the arts and religion to that as well.

    Ty wrote: “And lastly I think we make a mistake if we do not recognize that humans have a human nature. It’s funny that we can readily agree there is a dog-nature or lion-nature but get all worked-up that we might be gene-machines blindly programmed toward some cold bio-mechanical slavery if we admit that in us beats the evolutionary past of our ancestors.”

    — Well, as I have said before, I consider evolution well established. But culture often thwarts the inputs of biology and evolution (i.e. thanks to birth control and dental fillings, my life is more pleasant than it would be if I were in a purely natural state). And our reflective capacities also matter; without those, we would indeed be more enslaved than we already are to our impulses and assumptions. (I think we can make a case that lions and dogs have cultures, in the sense of social structures and the use of environmental modifications like food caches; I think we’d be very hard put to make a case they have capacities for self-reflection.) But when we talk about human nature, how do we decide what we mean? I liked Greg Laden’s recent post on this:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/12/the_natural_basis_for_gender_i.php

    Ty wrote: “Ok, so now the big question. What is it that the religious person sees as evidence that the “pop-atheists” do not? You mention “coincidence” as “providence.” Do you think there is a good reason to think that two unlikely events happening in close proximity really signal God or Angels or a need to be saved? In our busy and hectic lives with all the various events and non-events occurring in them, and knowing the capacity of the human mind to anthropomorphize, to see causation and agency where there really is none — why would you consider coincidence anything other than coincidence?”

    –What could I possibly say to convince atheists (at least scientific materialists like Harris and Dawkins; a Buddhist atheist who accepted the doctrine of karma might be a different matter!) that coincidences can legitimately be seen as harbingers of a deeper order?

    A strict materialist is going to consider that claim to be epistemically and intellectually irresponsible. We all have baselines from which we reason. Using materialist baseline assumptions about reality, coincidences cannot be seen as anything but coincidences.

    Since my baseline assumptions do not start from the premises of Dawkins-style materialism, my reasoning accommodates claims about mind and meaning that would strike many materialists as dead wrong. It would not be convincing to people who don’t share my baseline assumptions about reality; just as I am unconvinced by claims that religious experiences are reducible to “the capacity of the human mind to anthropomorphize, to see causation and agency where there really is none.”

    What fascinates me is how people come to hold their various baseline assumptions.

  11. Ok, then let’s start with you! How did you come up with your baseline assumptions… and what are they?

    2nd, if values come from religion, how is it that so many non-religious people seem to have the same values as religious people? Do you not see many similar values regardless of religion and/or no religion? (e.g. murder is bad, fairness is good, reciprocity is good, stealing is bad, etc)

    Edit: And I agree with you (or Hume), btw. I am not saying that values are shaped by “cold logic.” But I am also saying that neither is science. Science is not only based in logic. Scientific insight leverages emotion, intuition, evidence, and logic.

  12. i don’t think that values come from religion, but it’s a good question to ponder. what drives us to have values? do we all agree that a diversity of values are needed by individuals to have a working reality?

  13. These comments have gone on entirely too long.

    Ty, I’m glad you’ve found true love. I always knew you would find it on the internet.

    Regards,

    Brain.

    PS: How did I know it? Intuition.

  14. Brain: yada yada happens.

    Ty wrote, “Ok, then let’s start with you! How did you come up with your baseline assumptions… and what are they?”

    — I think Brain would be forced to ban me from posting if we got into that potentially lengthy digression here. 😀

    Ty wrote: “2nd, if values come from religion, how is it that so many non-religious people seem to have the same values as religious people? Do you not see many similar values regardless of religion and/or no religion? (e.g. murder is bad, fairness is good, reciprocity is good, stealing is bad, etc)”

    — I don’t think values come from being religious.

    Let’s make a distinction between “value” and “values.” I think religion is about “value” as opposed to “values,” though moral propositions (“values”) make a part of it. Religions are systems people create to address questions of what HAS value, in the sense of what has ultimate meaning, truth, beauty, goodness: religions make claims about what is really good, important and lasting, versus what only seems important.

    But here’s the catch: When it comes to moral attitudes and actions, religion often perverts them. Jung once said that religion is an excellent defense against the experience of God. Religion is responsible for an appalling amount of evil. One of the errors of pop religion is that it doesn’t acknowledge the evil of religion, or the fact that one doesn’t need religion to be good, or that religions so often betray the good they claim to know. (I’ve always liked the bumper sticker that says, “Jesus, save me from your followers.”) Established religions also often oppose people — prophets, mystics, visionaries — who experience direct religious insights, because frequently those insights are critical of organized religion.

    But religion is also responsible for a tremendous amount of good, because religion is how cultures preserve and pass on those insights about ultimate value. Religion used well directly challenges people to get past their physical and psychological comfort zones and take risks (sometimes to the point of ostracism, prison, or execution) for creating good where it did not previously exist.

    Jesse wrote: “i don’t think that values come from religion, but it’s a good question to ponder. what drives us to have values? do we all agree that a diversity of values are needed by individuals to have a working reality?”

    — I hope I’m not misunderstanding you . . . I’m gonna refer again to psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who’s done really interesting research on moral diversity . . . bumper sticker answer, social groups don’t want values to be TOO diverse. Most of us probably don’t want to live next to a sociopath, whose value system would permit acts most would consider to be abusive or exploitive. otoh sometimes historically radical stances on values — i.e. the radical idea that persons can never be property, which led to the abolitionist, women’s rights and child welfare movements — become more mainstream. I also really like the philosopher Robert Kane’s work on morals, and his ideas about value experiments, which get back to Ty’s point that diverse cultures often arrive separately to moral concepts like murder (as opposed to killing).

    Ty wrote: “Edit: And I agree with you (or Hume), btw. I am not saying that values are shaped by “cold logic.” But I am also saying that neither is science. Science is not only based in logic. Scientific insight leverages emotion, intuition, evidence, and logic.”

    — I totally agree with that. Science is a deeply human, and often passionate enterprise; we use all our faculties with it. Even developing logic systems doesn’t rely entirely on ‘cold logic’ . . . 😉 I’m just saying that scientific findings (not the process, and not what we do with them once we get them) are value-neutral. Scientific findings can tell us, say, the consequences that will result if a developer paves over the wetland near my house; but we still have to decide whether it’s best (most valuable, brings about the most good) to keep the wetland as it is, versus develop it.

  15. Read my short comment here😉

    Tetris, it has long been known can solve all the world’s problems:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/4142908/Playing-the-video-game-Tetris-could-reduce-trauma-claim-Oxford-University.html

  16. Anna: “pop-atheism”, “pop-religion”…. you really don’t like the populous much, do you?!

  17. Brain: And judging by the headlines, it’s just in time!!! Neat article. Thanks.

    Tyson: I like pop art and pop music, especially when it’s repetitive. Fortunately, most of it is.

  18. […] lastly, a pair of posts have have wound us down into some moderately philosophical depths. Knowing without Thinking revisits the importance of emotion and intuition when it comes to making decisions, and Do […]

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