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Mukesh Adenwala

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Given that morality in humans is embedded, what rules can be laid down that would preserve and enhance such morality in society?

The `Blank Slate' argument now stands modified as the cognitive psychologists now claim. We are born with certain tendencies and proclivities, some of which are known. Morality is one of such tendencies we all are born with. We also know that such embedded morality is lost rather steeply in some societies and some individuals. It may be useful to ask under what circumstances our embedded morality takes a beating establishing a lower than `normal' moral order.

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    Apr 11 2012: THe answer to your question is quite easy .. getting it done is not so easy.
    The answer is to stop traumatising our children.

    The process of child-wrecking is taken as teh fundamental need of preparing them for a horrible hateful world, and in so doing we give them the tools and opportunity to become horrible hateful parents - who will do the same with their children.

    The biggest assumption underneath all this is that we teach our children.
    We do NOT teach our children - they are perfectly capable of teaching themselves.
    At best we can demonstrate models for tehm to adopt, if it suits them.
    And for the rest? SImply ease their path - get out of their way and let them get on with it.
    LIsten to them when they request assistance - and provide it as best you can.

    A child is massively more intelligent and motivated than an adult - they regularly perform mirracles that you have forgotten about - the task of breathing, the task of eating, the task of walking, the task of understanding the complex gibberish they hear... these are massive undertakings - regular mirracles performed by every single child in order to survive second to second, day to day.

    It is the sacred task of every child to attempt every single behavioural option they can conceive - some positive and constructive, some negative and destructive.
    If we as parents were doing our task, we would do no more than demonstrate the destruction in their choice, or the wonder of their construction.
    Instead, what do we do? We violate them with punishment and teach them how to violate, and we reward them with apathy and tokens like sugar candy and toys .. and teach them apathy, materialism, adiction and how to buy compliance from others.

    If we truly wanted the "moral" standards we wish, every single institution and custom we practice in teh name of "civillization" will have to change.
    And then our children will teach us what the word "morals" really means.
    Easy said .. difficult to do.

    Start with yourself.
    • Apr 11 2012: I see the situation more hopefully than you appear to have done. One way to understand our behavior is to see it as a result of our experiences. Basic premise of this model of behavior is that we come into the world as blank slate and our experiences etch on our mind our beliefs, biases, preferences and convictions.

      Another model for behavior forwarded by cognitive scientists and linguists implies that we are born with potentials, which gets allocated to various behavior traits. In terms of linguistics, it is that we learn language out of set of sounds that we hear, assigning meanings to sounds where none exist and we do that before we are capable of rational thoughts. Generalizing, we all acquire personal or subjective truths during our life times. These truths get increasingly organized, crystallized and calcified in some hierarchical order from fancies to our deepest convictions. And it is these truths that guide our behavior. Just as we never as easily learn second language as our first one, our capacity for making changes in our acquired meanings (our subjective truths) also gets diminished. In other words, what you term as trauma is not merely due to quality of external event. Also involved is interpretation of that event, as well as our inability to interpret the event differently.

      What we lament as loss or degradation of morality is, in a way, almost near absence of rational considerations in our behavior, our inability to revise our beliefs, preferences, biases and convictions in face of changing and evolving circumstances. Simply put, we cease to be moral once we acquire convictions and lose malleability to change them.

      I am hopeful that if we know more about the process by which our convictions are formed and established, perhaps we can make effective and useful interventions in our efforts ranging from parenting to public policies.
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        Apr 12 2012: You are on the right track Mukesh.
        Yes, we are each born with unique potentials - but this is deeply modified by early childhood.
        THe early "truths" we acquire are largely based on our first relationships - those with mother and father. If mother and father attempt to "teach" us, they, alomost always, inflict a local minimum that does not have an opportunity to resolve before it becomes myelinized - this is a main source of irrational biases and behavioural outcomes. If the parents merely demonstrate and support, then the local minima remain available for resolution.
        The only way out of local minima is through noise - such noise must be great enough to overcome the topological "walls" that contain the error - and that escaping the minimum must yield a reduction in noise. THe process can then follow the path of maximum noise reduction to the absolute minimum.
        In cases of behavioural local minima, it is the error of the fals minimum itself that creates the noise required to escape it. But if that behavioural noise is supressed, the error will never be resolved. And this is the basis of "trauma". And it is the process of behavioural supression that is the basis of what we call "teaching". And that model must be overthrown if we want rational moral outcomes.
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        Apr 12 2012: I will expand a little (apology for the double-post):
        What I am exploring is the question "What is it to be a social animal?"
        TO begin with, I'll state the conclusion that: "Morality is a state where personal advantage is exactly equal to mutual advantage."
        It is all done through resonant empathetic pairs.
        In early childhood, we begin with a topologically unique self that becomes developed and expanded through experience - symbolic language is acquired duriong this period.
        At a certain point the perceptive field will expand to accomodate resonant empathetic pairs - these are copies of self - one is proxy for self, and one is proxy for "other".
        The proxies undergo modification based on continual loops of:
        percieve/consult knowledge/forecast/act/error measurement/update knowledge/ ...
        There are 4 "selves" involved in this process - one pair for each person in the communication.
        With iterations of the loop, the pairs converge to a state called "understanding".
        In this way, communication is facilitated in teh social animal.
        The resonant empathetic pair is what we call "empathy" - all self proxies begin with all connections to proto-self - including body regulation.
        This is the basis of the resonance.
        Empathy is also the basis of reciprocity - the model offered by Frans de Waal is incorrect - it misrepresents the true cardinality.
        It is by the casting of resonant empathetic pairs that our perceptive field becomes massively expanded.
        Resonant empathy pairs are incredibly noise-reducing, but have to be allowed sufficient iterations to gain absolute minima. THey are also constrained by the protoself
        THat said, the topology of reality is dynamic - it moves, and our absolute minima can become obsolete.
        At this point they will begin to generate noise (error) - the resultant noise will overcome the old "truth" and move us towards the new truth.
        This takes longer as we age .. hey ho .. perhaps some new method will come along to help us old people catch up to the young :
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        Apr 12 2012: (post#3) - sorry dude - hadda be done ;)
        FRom what I have said - and you can check all this fom teh leading neuro/cognitive scientists who speak on TED - including the math.
        The proto self is the absolute basis of social success.
        And I say again - child wrecking has GOT TO STOP!
        Because it is the protoself that we make of our children that define every member of society in that child's life - because all "others" percieved by that human begin as a copy of the protoself he/she is stuck with.

        If we, as parents, make a good protoself for our children, they will have the opportunity to advance our genome - if we insist on making them carry forward our own mistakes, then there will be no morality - our proxies can be no better than our proto-self. And it is in the proto-self that all things are done. If our protoself is damaged, then damage is all we can express.
        I say again loud so you can hear - you asked the question, I have given you the answer - listen.
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        Apr 12 2012: LOL!
        You as a Hindi-Athiest, will understand that I am talking about "Maya".
        Me as Presbyterian-athiest say - let us converge - here's how to do it :)
        • Apr 12 2012: Thank you for such a detailed reply. I would need time to respond. Thanks all the same.
        • Apr 12 2012: What you have said can perhaps be summarized as under: Teaching by parents – perhaps because the parent-child couple does not form a resonant empathetic pair – results in injury to the budding ego (as an executive entity) of the child, which, if myelinated, would cause degradation of embedded morality of the child. If, instead, parents demonstrate and support their child, the chances of the child developing with the capacity for forming symbiotic relations with external reality are increased. Put succinctly, if parents manage the aggression of the child rather than conveying their own aggression to the child, the morality of the child has better chance to be preserved.

          To the extent this is true, I have two further points to make. First, one of the imperatives under which we grow is to develop a pattern of behavior by the time we reach adulthood. An integrated pattern of behavior is equated to healthy personality, absence of pattern is infancy, absence of integration in behavior pattern is recognized as fickleness or weakness of personality, and breaking up of pattern is identified with schizophrenia. Given that our protoself – the most prominent part in self of infants - is generally indifferent to most of the options available to the child – what to eat, what language to speak, and so on – and also given that parents, who by definition already have acquired such a pattern of behavior, I wonder to what extent parents can refrain from `teaching’.

          Next, you equate morality with empathy. In my opinion, `warm personality’ or `zest for living’ more holistically describes morality. It is such this morality that can be protected, preserved and enhanced to its natural culmination when parents do not convey excess excitation to their children. However, given that economic organization of our society is competitive, how far parents can protect from excess aggression coming their way? Does this also not affect the level of aggression conveyed to the child by the parents?
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        Apr 12 2012: Very well put!
        Yes, it is in aggression that teh parent harms the protoself in the infant. Specifically when used to supress behavioural noise or limit behavioural options. But also in more subtle violations such as isolating the child and letting the child "cry out" .. so agression in both the active and passive senses.

        To what extent can the parent avoid this? .. given our own damaged proto-selves, only as a conscious choice, and then imperfectly. Perfect parenthood might only occur after a few successive generations of conscious empathetic nurture. And both parents would have to make that conscious decision. It would have to become a cultural ideal. DIfficult, but not impossible.

        You rightly identify the ambient competitive economic social environment. I regard it as insane. I would postulate that an empathic moral culture would have no need for money whatsoever. Nor would there be any use for law or religion as these things would already be intrinsic in the proto-self. What would remain to be solved is the competitive imperative of tribal competition in times of scarcity - but I believe an empathic moral culture would be more effective at solving such challenges.
        Other challenges would be presented in managing the psychopath and the sociopath.

        In terms of my own child, I simply removed him from the ambient insanity of general society. THis was necessary because he is high-functioning autistic, and I learned a great deal about this subject in the process. AS he re-integrates with general society, he will be large and skilled enough to deal with agression through natural fight/flight .. I would not like to annoy him at that point.
        • Apr 13 2012: Thank you for continuing lively discussion this far. After night's rest I think I should have used the word `excitation' in place of aggression. Parents can convey their unfulfilled wishes to the child through enticement, which would also have toxic outcomes.

          By the way, we have to find out ways of improving the situation within the given constraints. If we say that present economic organization is toxic for moral development of children it means that we are at dead end and nothing could be or would be changed. That hardly serves any purpose. Any ideas on how we can deal with the problem in given environment? Thank you once again.
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        Apr 13 2012: Mukesh - you honour me. I will do my best to honour you in return.

        I will firstly think of "enticement" .. I thank you for this lead .. it is important.

        I have to admit, that I am way off my intended path in this discussion .. My original purpose was to examine the structure of meta-space (all things symbolic) .. and how it interacts with physical space .. I wanted to get more understanding of the dimensions of time .. and I am drawn into the mechanics of social animals .. so be it, but I have to take it back to basics before I can say anything with confidence.

        The purpose of the social animal is to expand the perceptive field - because it is not the sensual field that governs agency (changing the environment for advantage) agency is NOT based on senses - it is based on perception .. thus, gaining massive expansion of perceptive field through communication makes the social animal superior - potential agency is greatly augmented! THis requires the ability to co-opt the sensual fields of others - in real-time. Hence the social animal.

        And I have identified the device as the resonant empathetic pair. It is noise-reducing .. noise is not exactl;y the same as error, because error is only one dimensional - noise can be multi-dimensional .. it produces "fluffy vectors" that have any number of fractal dimensions modulating the primary array.

        THis all occurs in meta-space. It is Maya - it is not space.

        You are exactly right - enticement is the "telling of stories" they are not real - and they need not be true, but they are taken for truth. If the story is not rooted in direct observation, it is false. Stories create a pattern - if the pattern does not resolve in reduced noise, it is false by observation, but if the story is cast such that observation is impossible, it will never resolve - a false noise reduction can be simulated by heuristic rewards. THis is the violation of the resonant empathetic pair.

        I thank you!
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        Apr 13 2012: CAn you see that a violation of the resonanant empathetic pair will result in a deliberate, unresolvable local minimum?

        Can you see how you just defined "religion"?

        Damn .. I wish a good mathematician would join this conversation!
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        Apr 13 2012: Oh - and the way out?Evolution is the only way - we must return to it.

        It is done by restoring the choice of fertility to the female.
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      Apr 13 2012: I couldn't said it better, in English that is.
  • Apr 26 2012: At halfway point I should refresh the dialogue with insights gained so far...
    There appear to be several overlaps on how the morality manifests itself. Humanities would highlight different aspects of behavior that can be called moral. Physiologically speaking, morality implies absence of excess excitation of the nervous system (excitation that transforms to anxiety and pain). Dr. Sherrington in his ‘Man on his nature’ had claimed that zest for life is an essential attribute of human life. I think that only a person who has capacity to be happy – who has successfully preserved during his growth the zest for life - has the capacity to become and remain a moral person.

    To the extent that this is true, one of the major requirements for happiness presupposes capacity for satiation. For everything we are or we have, we are not, or have not, millions of other things. A president of the country is not an artist, a lawyer, a professor, a sportsman and so on. The person without the capacity for satiation cannot be happy. Such a person would `burn eternally in the hell of jealousy’. Most of us have found and reached a point of satiation – we have called truce with our circumstances, at least to the extent that we do not become or remain abrasive because of our frustrations and shortcomings. We continue to remain motivated and pursue our wishes because that is `zest for life’, our embedded attribute.

    If happiness is the basis for preserving and enhancing our embedded morality, two points emerge: First, parents need to teach satisfaction to their child instead of driving their child to the next level of achievement. Next, governments, instead of blindly pursuing market-based efficiency and opulence, need to make the world less competitive and more enjoyable for their subjects who prefer it that way and for whom the excitement it produces reduces zest for life.
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    Apr 22 2012: I have to admit I have read your opening statement several times and I have no precise idea what you mean.
    Maybe this explains why people are just putting in comments that are triggered or loosely conencted to whatever your main point. Can you explain and expand in more straight forward and precise English. I get a sense you are pointing to something interesting but it is clouded in a mist obtuse language and words where the connotation or meaning you intend might be different from the norm for such as I.

    When you say embedded morality - do you mean the instinctive coded into us before birth? Or do you mean the experiential programming laid down after birth?

    When you say embedded morality do you mean the positive aspects of human nature - fairness, compassion.

    What is a lower than normal moral order?

    Your statement seems to ignore the other side of human nature - the instinctual competitiveness and drives to fight, feed, flee, make babies. You ignore that babies and toddlers are nearly completely selfish and self absorbed. They don't develop a working facility for effective empathy until their brains are more mature.

    Are you essentially saying we are born with some positive instinctual tendencies to fairness etc and that these can be overwritten by negative experiential of cultural/religious programming? And then are you asking what can we do to prevent this?

    If so then I suggest that programming is unavoidable as experience is unavoidable. This programming and experience either going to reinforce or link to the positive or the negative to some extent. if growing humans are treated well and surrounded by positive role models and experiences they are likely to act better themselves.
    • Apr 22 2012: I wanted to know thoughts of others and hence I did not submit any story of my own explaining my question. I begin with the established fact that we are born with a sense of fairness, empathy, etc. (it is evident from animal experiments mentioned in two talks) that overrides competitiveness, instinct for fight, etc., hence that part of human nature is not ignored. In short it means that we are born with capacity for morality and are not ruthless. Mainly owing to our experiences, several of us lose that capacity for morality. My question is what could be the possible reasons that some of us lose the capacity we are born with. Natural corollary to that is the next part of the question: What can we do to prevent such degradation of our embedded morality. Or, in other words, what can we do so that our embedded morality can flourish to its logical conclusion? How we can preserve compassion, fairness, empathy so that glue that holds society together remains intact.
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        Apr 24 2012: Thanks Mukesh.Most of the comments seems to be in the right space then.

        I agree we are not a blank slate. Suggest you may be underestimating the selfish side versus the selfless instincts.

        I agree that our experiences, education, role models, options, religious and other indoctrination etc are key factors that impact our moral behaviour and values. Not sure if expereince overwrites or links to and builds onto the positive and negative aspects.

        It seems a mix of nature and nurture to me. If your genes make you more aggressive, selfish, you have to work with that. The nurture part is all we have currently until we can genetically modify people to be less selfish and aggressive. Nurture is mostly what you experience. We know many environmental factors that make people more likely to do bad. Most child sexual abusers were abused themselves. A civil society has a virtuous circle and vice versa for more barbaric societies.

        So we can work on making societies and the laws better. From education to opportunity. One person at a time or as groups.

        I also think part of the mix is what individuals choose when they know they have options. You can choose to be less selfish. Like the twin example - what makes one a relatively good person and the other end up a ruthless killer. Seems to be a mix of environment, experience, and the unpredictable conscious or unconscious decision making process.

        Its not so much preserving compassion etc to me it is reinforcing these values and fighting against selfishness, and violence, and the root causes that exacerbate these in society.

        If we teach ethics and self discipline to our children etc that might be a good start
        And equality, and respect for all etc
        • Apr 25 2012: Thank you. My concern is about the` Macro-system' - a la Bronfenbrenner - that affect us. Here, in particular, I would like to include the goals that society generally pursues. In per-industrial world, such goals were servitude to aristocracy - perhaps before that people felt helpless against god or God and wanted to appease such god for keeping out of trouble. In the post-industrial world, it was to get freedom and maintain ties. The present day `Brave New World' thinks in terms of ever higher production and efficiency.

          My question is: Is it possible for society to pursue efficiency endlessly, and also nurture embedded moral values in children?
  • Apr 17 2012: Mukesh,

    It's like asking the question "Given that knowledge is embedded....."

    Morality is something that develops over time and changes.

    The seeds are there, .... but water, air, light and earth must be present for either to grow.
    • Apr 17 2012: Thank you. Would you like to elaborate on `water, air, light, and earth?' Please do.
      • Apr 17 2012: Murkesh,

        No ... not here. That would be off topic! You should start a new discussion on the four elements... that could be very interesting... bet a lot of people would check it out...!

        But if you give me a thumbs up... I can tell you where the link is to where I talk about freedom and morality.....

        I just love to get thumbs up...... you see I only have a10+ rating and I'm beginning to suffer from a terrible inferiority complex .... ;-(
        • Apr 18 2012: Thank you for your reply. If you take the discussion further, perhaps you can authentically win several thumbs up not only from me but from many other too. Think about it.
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    Apr 16 2012: Our ancestors have been living in groups longer than we have been homo sapiens.
    We see group behaviours in other species.
    It should be no surprise if there is an element of reasonable universal human group dynamics - conformance, hierachies etc.

    I would suggest that overlaying this is the cultural, societal or family values that may differ widely but be just as powerful.

    Our power to reason also adds a new depth and complexity. But we have not totally escaped our animal naturals to Feed, fight, flee, etc.

    Just a suggested refinement of what others have stated, perhaps we have evolved to be aware of when we are tresspassing either the instinctual, culturally programmed, or personally valued. ie what you might term conscience has evolved as it promotes individual and group survival, but now reflects a more complex set of instinctual and more complex human values.

    I suggest the mechanism is fairly universal in humans with socipaths and psychopaths the exceptions. However some of the rules are programmed rather than instinctual.

    Perhaps we also apply this conscience to judge the behaviour of others.

    When these values are impinged we can react as if physically threatened. The old amigdala gets going.

    But the cultural elements programmed can be weird or even dangerous.
    Taking offence or feeling guilty for not wearing an item of clothing e.g. a veil - slightly weird and uniquely human.
    Taking offence and killing someone for some perceived blasphemy is weird and dangerous.
    One group might find eating a particular meet sickening while happily sacrificing animals.

    We can be programmed to value certain things, oppose others, see some things as normal and react to others we are less familiar with.

    I suggest elements of religious programming reinforce some natural instinctual group dynamics, some broaden them positively, and explain them as god given. Unfortunately others programming is not so benign or positive.

    Non religious programming can be just as + or -
    • Apr 17 2012: Actually I am lost reading your argument. Let me try to summarize your major points and then you can take over where I reach my confusion. The first this you say is that yes our morality is embedded and that is [perhaps] because group living is in vogue much before evolution of humans. This instinctual drive changes form because of cultural and familial influences as well as on account or rationality. Because of our consciousness, which is universal in nature and which prompts us, we are aware of transgressions in the domain of instincts, culture or personal values [perhaps you are trying to say that this is the essence of our morality?].
      Then I find that you jump to physiological impact of transgressions or impeachment of instinctual, cultural and value domains. And claim that cultural values can be weird - from mundane rituals to something that for which we lay down our life.
      Yes, "We can be programmed to value certain things, oppose others, see some things as normal and react to others we are less familiar with." but then what is your point? Such values may have been colored by religion.

      The point that I raised was that whatever be the nature of morality [it is manifested variously as empathy, compassion, care, fairness, etc.] it is embedded in us and many of us do lose it so what social, familial, cultural and political steps would be necessary to convert the instinctual potential into actual behavior. I am sorry to state that from the above summary, I do not get much of an answer. Correct me if I am wrong.
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        Apr 20 2012: I was just exploring some concepts.

        We are not born a moral blank slate there are some instinctual factors
        We also have an almost universal facility to be programmed by our experience and absorb cultural values

        I think we agree on that.

        I point out this may be defective in some e.g. psychopaths. Hard to fix that.

        I then go off on a self indulgent tangent about what might be behind the offence and violence and hate when someone burns a koran etc.

        Back to the programming part I suggest we can also you our reason to conduct ethical analysis on different situations. Religious programming is deeply embedded with protective layers of taboo, faith, offence, virtue in not challenging, fear, risk of exclusion, shame etc. But this might make people think about things. Education about the basis of morality from a scientific perspective may help.

        I think programming can reinforce or leverage certain innate morales e.g. teaching love and empathy
        Or us and them tribalism etc. Fairness - cut hands off thieves etc.
        No sure if everything keys in.
        Some programmed values and customs are extremely complex on the surface.

        So the programming is the key and I think this is unavoidable unless you live in a bubble.

        I'm not we lose the starting morality or reinforce or leverage it in complex ways.
        Perhaps you think out instinctive morality is all good.
        Well it isn't. Without punishment some people will take the advantage.
        Group loyalty doesn't help inter group interactions.
        We are heirachical and may want to be boss.
        We can be selfish or compassionate or a mix of both depending on the situation.
        There is on going tensions in groups - challenges then reconciliation or acceptance or ganging up together. Our base natyre is good and bad

        Ultimately people might need to make a conscious choice about how they act even if their initial reactions are not as they desire.
        • Apr 20 2012: Thank you. We continue to have language problem but I will do my best to resume dialogue with you. You are right that religious programming is deeply rooted and lasts longer. The problem that I am considering is that why our belief systems differ not only when our religions are different but even when they are the same. I am sure that not all Christians have uniform set of beliefs because they believe in one god and nor do all Muslims. The problem more broadly is that though we may be exposed to comparable set of experiences we all derive different meanings out of such experiences. In simple terms, our subjective truths differ widely and we do not know how they differ and why they do. If we know about such things, perhaps we can better control the outcomes.
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        Apr 22 2012: Reply to your comment 3 indents in.

        You could even look at the example of twins - same DNA, similar environment but they end up being different people with different viewpoints. There experiences are not exactly the same.

        Show them the same video they may point our different things.

        We are not repeatable machines as individuals. It is a very complex system with a very complex brain device that is not entirely predictable at this stage of our understanding.

        Extrapolate this out to the billions of ideas floating around, variations in perception, memory, feelings, interpretation etc. The more they are seperated from time and space the more they vary.

        Ideas evolve. Human interpretations vary. It is amazing that with so little variation in DNA etc we get such a huge variation in humans, beliefs etc.
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    Apr 13 2012: Mukesh based on your amazing answers and knowledge I guess you d probably had read this book but just in case

    2nd Treatise of civil Government by John Locke .

    This is exactly what John Locke asked and wrote a whole book about it and its the foundation of US constitution and almost entire western European countries

    Locke based his arguments on God , but it holds perfectly well even form atheistic point of view
    • Apr 14 2012: Thank you for the suggestion. I had not read the book and I intend to go through it in a short while.
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    Apr 13 2012: Did the notion of the blank slate apply to morality or epistemology?

    and I'm curious, what would a notion of a blank slate have to do with morality?

    Anyone's opinion is welcomed
    • Apr 13 2012: So far as I can think, notion of blank slate can apply only to the idea of morality. The way it has been argued in lecture of Jonathan Haidt and in this lecture, no matter how we define morality, be it in terms of reciprocity, empathy, taking care,fairness, piety, or whatever, animals have shown such tendencies. This shows that we have capacity for such behavior right at birth - in other words, such tendencies are embedded in us. As regards epistemology, one needs rational faculty and analytical capabilities to know whether something is true or not. Perhaps in the realm of sensory perceptions, we can differentiate between hot and cold, bitter and sweet etc., but beyond that, epistemology cannot function without rational faculty and hence cannot be embedded. In other words, notion of blank slate cannot possibly apply to the epistemology.
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        Apr 13 2012: Hi Mukesh,

        Well the notion of a blank slate started off as an epistemological concept. The great John Locke used it to prove that all knowledge derived from experience. Using the term blank slate as a epistemological concept would repudiate the entire notion of innate ideas, which before Locke's time was widely accepted (except for those who followed Aristotle). The notion of a blank slate does not state that humans are not rational. All it asserts is that humans learn from experience and many people that take this position realize that humans are born with certain facilities.

        What you say about the blank slate in terms of morality is interesting and based off what you said I can see why Steven Pinker would deem it be a bad thing if a blank slate was actually the case. I am in agreement that humans, like every other living organism, are born with certain traits and these traits influence our behavior.


        do you think epistemology plays a role in terms of morality?

        and thanks for answering my questions
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          Apr 13 2012: Orlando thanks for the answer and same here , I believe John Locke's idea of Blank slate was more about Epistemology and less about Morality per say

          As you said we born with certain traits but I think whatever that is, its called blank slate and that is why humans are equal and free by John Locke as a natural right

          If were unequal based on those traits then we could not have been possibly equal
        • Apr 14 2012: Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Sarajy, in my earlier answer I had voiced my opinion. I am not surprised that as so often happens, reality is counter-intuitive. Thank you for informing me about the history of the concept. However, I still am not convinced of the argument because I am still not sure whether anything can become knowledge without some interpretation of external reality. Such interpretations can take place only within the constraints and potentialities of the physiology as well as cognitive systems of the organisms. Take for example, dictates and preferences of the authority shaping the nature of learning that takes place in group of monkeys. Drawing a parallel to the Lockean reference, could we say that all truths follow from authority? Hardly, because it does not make sense. I would not like to lock horns with anyone, especially when I have not read the reference but still it does not make sense to me. I will be thankful if you inform me.
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    Apr 12 2012: Morality by definition is not embedded in anyone.

    Don't you think we have enough rules? What we need is more respect for the individual.
  • Apr 11 2012: I would agree with you that moral capacity seems to be an embedded feature, the related talk you have highlighted seems to provide strong evidence for this. Anthropologists have also found concepts of morality which seem to be universally shared amongst all humans. At least towards those in the same group... This I think is a very important point.

    Cultural/tribal influences do foster a strong sense of in-group loyalty and morality though they just as often foster a strong out-group hostility. This dehumanising of other peoples, tribes, religions is the prime cause of morality taking a beating as you term it. I think the stronger the dehumanising of out-groups the stronger the errosion of our inbuilt moral compass. Also a society with an emphasis on a dog-eat-dog worldview would lead to this errosion of morality as not even in-group loyalty would be valued. Another example of moral errosion would be specific cases where individuals are isolated either physically or through abusive relationships.
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    Apr 11 2012: Why should it be assumed that morality is embedded in us? I think it is product of culture, even in the case of primitive tribes. Without the knowledge and philosophical traditions bequeathed to us by our long line of ancestors, we would be similar to wolf packs at square one, trying to engender morality in each individual.

    We have the moral capacity, but not the concepts stored in our brains. John Locke and Machiavelli embraced different accounts of human nature; I tend to believe it children's actions have no moral meaning at all. They eventually take on a moral dimension because their brains have the capacity for it, just as it has the capacity to go from 2D to interpreting 3D.
    To protect such a tradition, it is first important to treat this as a fact.

    There are all kinds of social undercurrents at work that cause children to develop a distorted worldview. Apart from the extremities of violence & sexual abuse, I have seen other examples of bad behaviour which rubs off on kids in a really bad way. If we can get society to be highly sensitive towards such influences, things will get better.

    1) Saving Face
    - Adults in a heated argument don't care whether they are right or wrong, they just want the last word/winning argument. Children absorb these mannerisms.

    2) Class/Racist/Sexist undertones
    - Ever recall the teacher who, when faced with a crying kid, says "Are you a boy or a girl? boys don't cry." These are the kinds of stereotypes that try to tell children what is the social norm, even if there is no moral basis in it.

    3) Religious indoctrination
    - Religious texts may once have been useful in converting and taming barbarians, but its absolute morality as defined by adherence to God's laws doesn't give much space for moral debate.
    • Apr 11 2012: It has now been established that we are not born as Blank State and develop (or fail to develop) various traits, including morality, in accordance with our experiences. It has been shown that primates and even mammals have capacity as well as tendencies for moral behavior displayed in the form of empathy, fairness, reciprocity, care, purity, loyalty, etc. That we are born, inter alia, with these tendencies or "first draft" of morality - which gets revised with experiences - is evident from lecture of Jonathan Haidt at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html Thus we do have moral basis for behavior at birth.

      Thank you for rightly pointing out some of the valid reasons for degradation of our embedded morality. The point as well as the problem is that one can find all sorts of behavior outcomes when experience of an individual encompasses or excludes any or all of the factors that you mentioned. It is not at all necessary that people who as children (and even later) are exposed to warring parents, or nagging or assertive or biased teachers, or various religions are necessarily or even generally moral or otherwise. It seems that during our growth some kind of transformation of our emotions as well as our understanding takes place. One thing is certain that as we grow, we end up acquiring and organizing our preferences and biases in hierarchical order and only some of them are revised to a limited extent during our life times. I do not know of any certified method that can direct this transformation in the general direction of given ends. Till the time such research can more authentically inform us, we need to find our own answers through debates and discussions.
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        Apr 14 2012: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I do agree that we all have a "first draft" of morality embedded within us. I just think it is a very primitive version of morality, one that could not possibly stand on its own, just as no man (well, for most men anyway) is an island. We certainly need more debates and insights to further drive our understanding of morality.
        • Apr 14 2012: Thank you for reply. You are right on two counts. First, as my friend put it: `what we possess is not a codified rule book of morality but and innate sense of morality. An ability to intuitively sense what is right and what is wrong.' Next, yes, we need to discuss this at length so that as many nuances there of are understood. Only then we may be able to integrate such a knowledge in our actions.
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    Apr 11 2012: Morality, and whether or not a person displays traits one would consider moral, is one of those elements of the human experience that is more or less a matter of opinion. The real problem is not whether or not morality is preserved and enhanced, but whether (and where) it should be a part of the process through which we all make decisions.

    When we make a decision, should it be based solely on the moral attributes we assign the action, or should we make sure that the decision we have made stands on its own, absent of the perception of moral value we place on it? If the decision is made solely on our scale of moral judgement, we are at the mercy of all the unknowns which exist beyond morality. Yet if we fail to weigh a decision against our moral judgement, we are at the mercy of our own guilt. Morality is a tool, not a solution. Morality cannot be enhanced, but there are those who elevate morality (often their own sense of it) to a place in the process of decision making that comes before other necessary factors in the process, often making it difficult to view a problem as objectively as is humanly possible.