Innate Metaphysical Belief

The Development of Children’s Prelife Reasoning: Evidence From Two Cultures, by Natalie A. Emmons and Deborah Kelemen at Boston University. (That one costs money.  Here’s a free author copy.)  Here’s the abstract:

Two studies investigated children’s reasoning about their mental and bodily states during the time prior to biological conception—“prelife.” By exploring prelife beliefs in 5- to 12-year-olds (N = 283) from two distinct cultures (urban Ecuadorians, rural indigenous Shuar), the studies aimed to uncover children’s untutored intuitions about the essential features of persons. Results showed that with age, children judged fewer mental and bodily states to be functional during prelife. However, children from both cultures continued to privilege the functionality of certain mental states (i.e., emotions, desires) relative to bodily states (i.e., biological, psychobiological, perceptual states). Results converge with afterlife research and suggest that there is an unlearned cognitive tendency to view emotions and desires as the eternal core of personhood.

It strikes me that the source of metaphysical belief is both natural and a consequence of systemic enteroceptive-proprioceptive (EP) feedback. If that’s the case, then the only effective escape from belief in the supernatural is the same reasoning process that enforces a regimen of experiencing things beyond our selves. That means a regular embedding in science, including conversations with scientifically minded people. And it has to be actual science, not scientistic fanboism. If a person has any hope of swimming upstream against the continual onslaught of this EP feedback, constantly telling us that “I” is fundamental, we have to present our ideas for criticism, criticize others’ ideas, and participate in experiments.

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Runaway individualism and cancer

In response to this post and this post as well as a rather long email thread, I’ve come to the conclusion that an analogy between totalitarianism (or fascism) and cancer is a bad analogy.  My main criticism is that the treatments for cancer and the treatments for totalitarianism are unrelated.  The standard of care treatment for cancer is to kill as many cancer cells as possible, even at the risk of killing lots of healthy tissue in the process.  We have some specific interventions (antibodies).  But for the most part, the cure is to poison/damage the body and then let it recover, under the assumption that healthy tissue recovery is more robust than that of cancerous tissue.  And although some of us might claim that the state of the art intervention for totalitarianism is to swoop in and indiscriminately kill lots of people, under the assumption a healthy system of government will grow back, most of us would consider that an immoral intervention.  Hence, we cannot treat totalitarianism in the same way we treat cancer.  And if the analogy doesn’t help us with intervention, then what good is it?  I also have lots of lesser nits I could pick about it.  But the efficacy of intervention methods is the big one.

Anyway, I have an alternative analogy: (runaway) individualism and cancer.

I started top-down, wondering what -ism might survive a thought experiment: the scattering intervention.  It seems reasonable that merely scattering the asymmetrically powerful cliques in a totalitarian regime may well reduce or break the totalitarian grip on the society.  The scattering may come in the form of banning their symbols, breaking up their congregations, separating malignant family members from the others, wealth redistribution, etc.  That’s not so with cancer.  Merely scattering the cells in a neoplasm across the otherwise relatively healthy tissue of the rest of the body is likely to cause harm rather than health.

But what sort of -ism would behave more like cancer under the scattering intervention?  The important element of cancer that would make scattering harmful is metastasis, the ability for cancers to spread from their primary location to another.  Metastasis requires a degree of autonomy for the metastatic cells that do the traveling and seed neoplasms wherever they land.  The e-mail thread had covered more organic structures like low overhead organized crime or terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.  But these aren’t really systems of government.  For example, even though the Taliban might be associated with Al-Qaeda, it’s really a very different thing.  The Taliban is a proper example of an -ism.  (I’ll let you fill in the blank for what type of -ism.)

It seems to me that the individualist movements fit the bill, like the doomsday preppers, local militias, Duck Dynasty types ;-), apocalyptic types (with their beliefs they will be spirited away by their deities), Austrian School types, Mormons, etc. These cliques seem to carry a heavy emphasis on some sort of plan to survive a scattering event.  I’m not claiming that all their survival methods are effective, only that they have some idea that survival methods are needed in case of a scattering event … unlike the -isms that hold collectives/groups as a fundamental, necessary, premise.

In such an analogy, the “cancer” would be runaway individualism, rather than runaway collectivism.  Things like a declining middle class, crumbling infrastructure, increasing “lone wolf” style crimes (in which I include suicide bombers, school shootings, etc.), are the symptoms.  Like cancer, simply scattering the “cells” (be they humans, kinship groups, or memetically bound groups) shouldn’t work because many of those “cells” will have pathways for reestablishing themselves in other contexts.  Like cancer, an effective treatment for them is a) recruit the social systems in which they sit to neutralize them (antibodies) or b) neutralize them directly (chemo).

To some extent, this is what has happened in the case of Craig Cobb, his attempt to “metastasize” to Leith, including his recruitment of Kynan Dutton to move there, and the subsequent re-recruitment of Dutton to help neutralize Cobb.  Of course, we might associate Cobb with fascism because of his white supremacist views or association with Neo-Nazis.  But I posit that these people aren’t really fascists in the sense we mean when talking about government regimes.  They’re delusional morons who will use any handy label to preserve their “individuality”, their separateness from the things they fear or don’t understand. We can also apply the analogy to other populations that don’t consist of such morons, like the decidedly non-morons in the Chicago School and the metastatic neoplasm formed in Chile.  The point being that individualist tendencies, when run amok, can grow and spread like cancer.

So, what do you think?  Can you level some cogent criticism at my analogy?  I sure hope so, since I have a heavy bias toward libertarianism. 8^)

2 Basic Types of Atheist (arguments)

OK. I have a new way of classifying atheists, triggered by the arrival of my solstice present from my sister: Foundations Without Foundationalism. As a result of skimming through that book (on second-order logic), I was forced to re-acquaint myself with Paraconsistent Logic. And, since I’m always arguing with self-described atheists (perhaps usually antitheists), I couldn’t help but notice this potential conjecture.

When an atheist asks a normal person to provide evidence for the existence of (a) god, they are effectively asking for evidence of the supernatural. The word “supernatural”, is of course non-evidential. Asking for evidence for the supernatural is contradictory. The question reduces to: Can you give me evidence for something for which you cannot give me evidence for? I.e. P^¬P?

When someone asks that question, it seems they must be implying one of two things:

  1. They are claiming that the logic implemented by the real world is explosive, that P^¬P is absurd and they’re trying to get you to realize that, or
  2. They tolerate paraconsistency, perhaps the real world does allow some contradictions to be true, at least in some sense.

Most of the atheists I argue with fall into type 1, I think, likely because they’re the ones who are most outspoken and willing to get into an argument with a jerk like me. But I do find some type 2’s out there once in awhile, usually after finding a so-called “non-theist” and scratching them in the right way to reveal an atheist underneath. (I’m delighted when I find an actual agnostic underneath a non-theist. But that is quite rare. I usually find crypto-atheists and crypto-theists.)

In any case, I’m going to start presenting paraconsistency to my atheist friends to see how they react. Most of them have no math training. But I really don’t expect that to be a problem. The idea is relatively simple once you grok it. I do need an example candidate for a true contradiction, though. If anyone actually reads this and has a suggestion, please send it my way.