TED Conversations

Adon Hsu

engineer in networks and telecoms , State Government

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How can we get the facts on what really makes humans tick?

The Venus project, Zeitgeist Movement, living in a cave all have one thing in common; they made the assumption that humans can change their minds through re-education, pain and suffering (from a crashing existing system). But can they? Seriously, is it biologically possible for the majority of the human race (average Joes) to embrace logic and reason over their baser instincts and emotions?

Genetic research (especially behavioural genetics and epigenetic) is in its infancy, we dont have enough facts to confirm or reject the hypothesis that humans act-react the way they do because of how genes structured their psyche. Human psyche development and research, due to nature and-or nurture, is the key to solving ALL of our problems.

I propose we go further than the human genome project, further than general anthropology, I propose we really look deep into the biological variables of our mind and body and confirm or reject once and for all this nature and/or nurture circus show and find out what we really want, need, desire as homo sapiens.

Once we do, we can proceed with the second phase of human development, change the way we think (through science and/or re-education) OR shape our future society around how we naturally are. There is no right or wrong, only facts and science to help us move along and cease the pseudo-science guessing game of what we want and what we should do for the future.

How can we plan for the future if we dont even know what we are-arent?

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    May 27 2013: Unlocking the complexities of emotion and instinct with logic is not possible.

    The human brain is vastly greater than the sum of its parts. All science can do, is to show us those parts - and that's it; it can go no further. The rest is down to emotion, instinct, spirituality, sense of being, consciousness (the list goes on) - which you seem to have dismissed as "base" and suitable only for coping with "living in a cave".

    In my opinion, you've got the hierarchy wrong. Moving humanity forward would entail creativity, and in the arena of creativity, science's role should be as servant to intuition.

    Inconceivable? Read this book "The Master and His Emissary" - it should be compulsory reading for anyone interested in how humans tick:

    http://www.iainmcgilchrist.com/brief_description.asp
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      May 28 2013: Even if said intuition is emotionally biased and dangerous? Science is an ever on going process of confirmation and rejection of our known world and universe, once cannot say it can or cannot do something until it does or does not do something, even if it couldnt prove anything now, doesnt mean it cant in the future when more tools and development are possible.

      Everything can be analysed and explained if given enough time, research and discoveries.
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        May 28 2013: Science can be politically and economically biased. Which do you think is the most dangerous?

        No matter how many tools and development we develop, human consciousness will forever be a chased rainbow. The more we know, the more it will be out of reach of the linear reductionism in the current era of science.
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      May 28 2013: Hi Allan,

      I read your link...and I wanted to ask, is the book hard to digest?
      I mean, do you need to have background knowledge in a particular field before launching into reading it?

      Mary.
      • May 28 2013: Hi Mary I have not read the book but know that the writer often lectures at the Swedenborg Society in London.

        All I think that is needed is an open mind to spirituality. Then it certainly will make sense.
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          May 28 2013: Hi Adriaan, thanks for this information.

          Are you saying that the book is more spiritual than scientific?
      • May 28 2013: As I said, I did not read the book, yet, but in the introduction it seemed to me there was made a difference between the mind and the brain.

        Also I'd like to think that a challenging book would be a more interesting and pleasant read than an easy one :)
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          May 29 2013: Thanks Adriaan......you know, I struggle sometimes with books.

          A friend recommended my reading Georgette Heyer....I now have more gray hairs as a result. LOL

          I think you are correct though, a challenging book would be more interesting.

          I'll see if I can get a copy of it.

          Thanks!!
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        May 28 2013: Hi Mary - sorry for the delay in replying to you.

        I found the book quite hard to digest at first. However it is well worth persisting, as there is incredibly powerful, life-changing wisdom in there. And I don't say that lightly - it really is that good.

        It may take several readings to take it all in. If I can manage to claim my copy back from my son, I will read it a second time - and possibly even a third!

        McGilchrist is an enlightened exponent of his own book title - the intuitive and the scientific in balance.

        Allan
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          May 29 2013: Great Allan...thanks for the honest reply.

          I like the fact you stated that the book has the intuitive and the scientific in balance.

          I'll try to find a copy.

          Mary
  • May 22 2013: Hi Adon,
    Great project, however we need more tools to get anywhere. When you say:

    "There is no right or wrong, only facts and science to help us move along"

    Science has no connection with anything spiritual. These are different realms. We think, love, feel, reflect etc. etc. all of which are spiritual activities. Science has no way to detect or measure what we love or think.

    Human beings are spirits visiting a scientific environment in order to grow, develop and shape our loves, or character. Most have heard the saying "We are what we love" and that is very much it. That is the soul reason for us to have free choice.
    Some people have to hit rock-bottom, come to the end of the road etc. before they decide to change or abandon what they love. Or commit suicide. Which does not help anything since we will face the same issues after death..
  • May 21 2013: I agree with your approach, but suspect that you underestimate the time line involved in your project.

    If humanity has any hope for a long term future, it is through learning about humanity, using a methodical approach to the subject. Frankly, I think the scientific method will prove to be inadequate for studying human nature. So before this serious studying even gets started, two things have to happen. First, the people who are attempting this study (psychologists of many stripes) must become convinced that their attempts to use the scientific method are futile. Second, they must invent and adopt a method that is effective in producing consistent progress.

    After they start making serious progress, they will realize that this question is much more difficult than any other ever attempted. Developing a reliable child development program will likely take centuries.
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      May 22 2013: Our current biological and evolutionary imperative is to survive and thrive, as far as we know, all living things do this. So what is the best method to survive and thrive indefinitely?

      Learn. We learn more about ourselves and our universe, use this knowledge to progress, to become stronger, survive whatever the universe can throw at us and seek out more knowledge to better understand EVERYTHING that exist. This is not a divine purpose or man made ideal, it is simply what living things on earth do, we may even find out why living things do this through learning.

      What is the best way to learn? Through Scientific research, discovery and development. Science is but at way to learn about everything, it is not someone or some specie's made up construct, it exist when sentient intelligent (humans, as far as we know) exist. In definition, EVERYTHING we do is science, our very existence is science, for the lack of a better word.

      The Venus project and The Zeitgeist movement is a good start, because it is by far the most efficient way to survive, thrive and learn by a large margin, compared to any existing systems. But in order to adopt these progressive systems, we must first know whether we (the majority) are biologically (mental and physical) capable of it or not, if we are not, what should we do about it? For all we know, greed, murder, selfishness, need to control, etc are genetically natural for most humans and what we should do about them is up to majority votes, because humans are social animal, we need group consensus.

      This is why I propose we get the facts on what makes us tick, reveal the findings to the public and let them decide how they want to go on, after knowing.
      • May 22 2013: I agree that developing knowledge about human nature could be critical to our survival and prosperity.

        In my opinion, your statements describing science are wrong. Science refers to the use of the scientific method. The scientific method was developed by men, and is a major achievement. There are other ways to gain knowledge, other than scientifically.
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          May 22 2013: We can agree to disagree on the semantics and definition of science, because it is only a word to represent something, subject to interpretation. I use the word because its the closest in meaning to what I want to describe/explain.

          Moving on. How can we convince people that the study of human nature is the first and most critical step towards future survival and progress? What tools/resources and man power do we need to get this done? What existing field of human studies can be improved upon and do we require a new field of study?

          Up to now, humans simply do whatever they do whenever they want to or feel like it, mostly for personal, emotional or instinctual gains, without knowing why, how or where it will lead them. Progress is but a side effect to our everyday lives, instead of the primary driving force, which is absolutely absurd.
  • Jun 20 2013: baser instincts and emotions always quell logic and reason, you only need to read some of the comments on here, youtube, etc to see that in action.

    what we really want, need, desire as homo sapiens has been know for a long time, and i'd task you to find out exactly what that is, and why we have not achieved it - even though it was clearly know to the ancient Greeks.

    As for there are only facts, I'd also challenge you on that, i'd say that science does not give us facts, rather it best understanding at any point in time. And that understanding changes with more learning, just like zooming into a fractal image. Just as a school child learns the matter moves constantly, then only later learns about friction, and so on. Where the fact's are constantly replaced as one has more understanding of any subject.

    I'd equally rephrase the last question - How can we plan for the future - if we can't accept what we are - and overcome it.
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    Jun 19 2013: You and your cat are so cool! You look alike.

    Also, I assume you speak English as a second language. I admire your use of the language. You are very skillful in expressing complex thoughts. I am not psychic. Are you?

    I ask this last for a reason. If it pans out, I'll share with you. If not, I still might share with you. But I add that question here for a valid, scientific reason.
  • Jun 9 2013: "Genetic research (especially behavioural genetics and epigenetic) is in its infancy, we dont have enough facts to confirm or reject the hypothesis that humans act-react the way they do because of how genes structured their psyche."

    Can it possible be true that your whole idea is based on you considering genetic research to be in its infancy?? It is not very rational to dismiss something just because it is new, as it is not reasonable to dismiss something only because it is old. But, I believe it is very interesting that you claim this to be an controversial in contemporary scientific community; I talked recently with a neuro-biologist and he told me that scientist have already passed on to deeper questions, i.e the community is in consensus. I can only refer to him and I do realise it is not enough for an argument but I still find it enough to doubt your proposition.

    Can it be the simple matter of inadequate information regarding genetic research?

    "Up to now, humans simply do whatever they do whenever they want to or feel like it, mostly for personal, emotional or instinctual gains, without knowing why, how or where it will lead them. Progress is but a side effect to our everyday lives, instead of the primary driving force, which is absolutely absurd."

    Well.... that was kinda like putting everyone over the same edge? I hate to be fastidious, but just dont use generalizations - next time just add a "many" and you'll avoid writing this kind of unscientific and erroneous statement.

    My view is that we should educate - many philosophers in history have talked about the perfect education but it is yet due to come. The school of philosphers - lovers of wisdom - scientists.
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    May 31 2013: Science cannot explain the spiritual. Whether Man is a dichotomy or a trichotomy is debated, but no viable proposition has ever been put foward that he is a self-replicating, non-sentient biomass. What makes humans tick is their soul and/or spirit. If you deny the spiritual, non-material aspect of human existence you will never close the gap between belief and truth. I imagine all the myriad religious manuals offer some version of explanation of human behavior. I recommend the Holy Bible as a most worthy revelation of what you seek to know.
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    May 28 2013: Are you assuming that scholars are not studying these questions or do not realize the importance of that study? If so, I believe you are mistaken in this assumption.

    What is true is that those who work in neural science or the science of mind work on pieces of important problems with a strategy or in a sequence that reflects the best reach of their tools and push at the boundaries of important subjects as the reach of their tools is enhanced.

    In short, I believe what you propose in the way of study agenda is well underway.
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      May 29 2013: I believe you have not read the entirety of my proposition, otherwise you wouldnt assume that I'm not acknowledging existing research and study conducted on said subject.

      Summary of my proposition: I dont think enough study or funding are put on it, otherwise we wouldnt have so much confusion and conflicting information on the subject. Behavioural genetics and epigenetic has been pushed aside by society for far too long, despite its importance.

      The reason why we dont study it enough is due to profit, its not profitable to know the facts about human behaviour, there are no marketable product or services to be made out of the knowledge.
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        May 29 2013: I believe you are incorrect that this area is largely neglected in the field's research agenda and also that there is no profit in understanding human behavior.This area poses greater challenge as an area of study than some areas that have been more fully investigated, like circadian rhythms, because behaviors of this kind are multigenetic. If you are interested in this area, I think you may find further research interesting as to what is studied and the rationale for the path of inquiry..
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          May 30 2013: Well, consider this simple question:

          Why are the scientific community in general still debating the nature vs nurture subject without any convincing facts to support or reject the hypothesis put on by both sides?

          There are no convincing facts to support or reject to support alternative hypothesis either, such as the nature AND nurture premise.
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        May 30 2013: Much of the data regarding nature and nurture comes from studies of identical twins. There is a body of research on this question. There are also genetics-based studies that involve modifying genes to determine the connection between genes and simple behaviors that lead to findings about "nature."

        There is experimental evidence as well in which the effects of experience on various attributes are studied.

        There is an extensive research-based literature on this point, but until every mechanism is understood, the balance of importance between the two for different human features and behaviors is best presumed different. For example, you sometimes hear that a particular disease is 50% hereditary while another shows no genetic link.

        You might want to explore this literature yourself if you are taking someone else's word for it. There are good popular books on neuroscience and if you have a scientific background and determination to educate yourself on the matter, you can even tackle a modern science textbook through self study.

        The area that involves the study of complex human behaviors is called systems neuroscience.

        John Brockman edits an Edge compendium called The Mind, which is an entirely non-technical take on the subject.

        Eric Kandel's Principles of Neural Science is the leading medical school textbook in this field. The 2013 edition captures where the field is in the moment in terms of the big issues: cognition, perception, unconscious and conscious processing of neural information, development and emergence of behavior, and language/thought/affect/learning.

        I always try to go to the sources on matters such as this, because there is so much misunderstanding several stages removed from those who actually do this work.

        Good luck and great fun to you if you decide to pursue deeper understanding!
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          Jun 19 2013: What Fritzie said! He's one of the TED guys I always listen to. So should everyone else.
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        May 31 2013: Madison Avenue will disagree that there is no potential for profit in "knowing the facts about human behavior". The very essence of the multi-billion dollar advertising industry is precisely the ability that you say has no potential for profit. Which of us is wrong on this point?
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    May 22 2013: .
    .
    "We really want, need, desire"
    is to keep our DNA alive,
    knowing it or not.

    "We get the facts" from the well-proven common sense.
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      May 22 2013: The logical response would be to save the child because it would be an irrational waste of human resource to just let him/her die, provided that you are capable of saving the child instead of dying along with him/her. If we leave it to emotion and instinct, there will be those who WILL NOT save the child, even if it poses no risk to him/her due to whatever personal illogical/irrational reason they may have.

      Logic and reason come from science and facts that are continually being confirmed/rejected through research and discovery, they cannot be corrupted and will always dictate maximum efficiency due to the nature of our universe, which is to operate at the lowest possible energy configuration (look up quantum physic, I cant post them all here)

      Human emotions are a more evolved version of animal instincts and like all biological behaviours, they will change, be genetically turned on/off and even phased out from our biology if we let evolution and our living environment, both man made and natural to take their respective course.

      I do not propose we eliminate or suppress our emotion/instinct, I propose we study them in depth, find out how efficient they are in relevance to our current and future societal requirement. In natural evolution, there is no right or wrong, only what works and what doesnt, its like nature's version of logic and reason, but slow and error prone. Did you know all living things have parts of their body that doesnt work well with their environment and may actually kill the species off in the long run? (which happened to quite a few species that couldnt evolve fast enough)

      If we leave it to nature, we will be playing Russian roulette with our future, any numbers of environmental, natural or man-made elements-factors can lead us into an early grave.

      We have to know more about ourselves and our universe. Get the blueprint, then built the system, not the other way around.