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Passions in Poetry

The State of Nature

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Brad
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0 posted 01-05-2003 01:36 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

quote:
As George Williams (1988) notes, not only is cannibalism (eating con-specifics, even close relatives) common, but in many species sibling-cide (we won't call it murder, since they know not what they do) is almost the rule, not the exception. (For instance, when two or more eagle chicks are born in a single nest, the first to hatch is very likely to kill it younger siblings if it can, by pushing the eggs out of the nest, or even pushing the hatchlings out.) When a lion acquires a new lioness who is still nursing cubs from an earlier mating, the first order of business is to kill those cubs, so that the lioness will more quickly come into estrus. Chimpanzees have been known to engage in mortal compat against their own kind, and langure-monkey males often kill the infants of other males to gain reproductive access to females (Hrdy 1977) -- so even our closest relatives engage in horrible behavior. Williams points out that, in all the mammalian species that have so far been carefully studied, the rate at which their members engage in the killing of conspecifics is several thousand times greater than the highest homicide rate measured in any American city.


Daniel Dennett, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," p.478.

This is the world without language.

Local Rebel
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1 posted 01-05-2003 08:45 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Agreed the world is not a nice place (which also tends against Einstein's "it's not malicious" arguement) but I'm not sure I'd make the statement "without language" Brad -- perhaps without written langauge would be more accurate -- but I'm not sure why you've used language to draw the distinction -- unless you're reckoning back to the "when thoughts and words are bygone" thread?
serenity blaze
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2 posted 01-05-2003 08:55 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

And to think that for all of these years I've been taking it personally.
Local Rebel
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3 posted 01-05-2003 08:58 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

And perhaps this is why I'm not my brother's keeper too Karen?
serenity blaze
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4 posted 01-05-2003 09:02 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Brad
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5 posted 01-05-2003 03:53 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Yep, I was, but I still think the big difference is language, not something we have beyond, above, or behind it, but language itself.

Phaedrus
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6 posted 01-05-2003 05:21 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus

Are you suggesting a correlation between infanticide and the ability to converse?
Brad
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7 posted 01-05-2003 06:48 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Yes.
Ron
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8 posted 01-05-2003 10:40 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

You're stretching it, Brad. Based on the evidence you've presented, I could as easily believe it's because we have less body hair.
Local Rebel
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9 posted 01-05-2003 11:19 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Is it not that we perceive the difference between what is -- that is to say -- the state of nature -- and what is possible.  That we can be, even should  be -- more?

It isn't language or even thought that distinguishes us -- it is what we do with it.

But also -- I think knowing the difference between the two (reality and ideality) brings dreadful consequences.

[This message has been edited by Local Rebel (01-05-2003 11:22 PM).]

Brad
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10 posted 01-06-2003 12:37 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Of course it's a stretch. But what I want to do (as soon as I can get my thoughts organized) is to use something Derrida said about all language, everything we say, being a kind of 'promise' and combine that with a Davidsonian twist. Davidson takes the idea of truth as fundamental to learning a language, the two go hand in hand, and from that he derives an account of meaning. In a sense, in order to speak a language (in an inner sense and when we talk to other people), the very idea of some kind of ethical system becomes, not just incidental, but necessary for any language to work. The reason I think this and don't worry about the loss of body hair or the development of bipedalism, is the creation of an "I" and of "others" far beyond that of an animal's instinctive reaction to others.  

In a nutshell, I also want to discuss Fractal 007's problem with evolution. If we are evolutionary creatures, if we have a selfish gene, why isn't it a war of all against all? The argument, following this description from Dennet, is that it is but what tones it down is the development of language as a social transformative process that, among other things, creates the idea of the self, the idea of others having a self, and that these selves are the same type of thing.

So, the move to the semantic world involves the creation of an ethical system by necessity, but while the explanation may be long and dreary, the proof is that we talk to each other as conscious agents.
winston
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11 posted 01-06-2003 07:21 AM       View Profile for winston   Email winston   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for winston

Yes, I see your point. Well, good luck with that.

"am a tourist not a terrorist, don't shoot, cause we are all on a journey to God" Michak

Phaedrus
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12 posted 01-06-2003 03:53 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus

If you want to prove a correlation between infanticide and language Brad youíll need to address two glaringly obvious facts.

The first is that some humans who obviously possess the ability to communicate via language still commit infanticide. The second is that some animals that have no discernible language conspicuously donít.

You could argue that language acts to suppress such behaviour, that language makes infanticide more unlikely but I think you may be looking in the wrong direction. Language may very well nurture the feelings of self, such recognition may also contribute or allow the recognition of self in others but a clear connection is difficult to prove and seems more likely to produce even more pronounced tendencies towards anti-social behaviour, a more acute and easier path towards selfishness.

Why do male lions kill the offspring of dethroned dominant males while hyenas and humans on the whole donít? Language can only be the reason if hyenas and humans can both be proved to possess language and it can be proved that lions do not. I think there are more obvious and more likely reasons - social organisation, reliance and expediency all allow the existence of selfishness while suppressing, or even completely reversing the necessity towards infanticide. Strangely enough the move towards socialisation can also offer a reason why language developed in the first place, in such a scenario infanticide would have already been abandoned by our ancestors as a bad idea.

[This message has been edited by Phaedrus (01-06-2003 03:54 PM).]

Stephanos
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13 posted 01-06-2003 04:37 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

In addition, I know no animals whose ability to kill has been vaunted to the level of using weapons of mass destruction.  Language, in the long run, seems to allow for the more poignant expression of our morality, or immorality.  While I agree with you that a moral system and language are inseparable,  I do not see language as the source of moral awareness, but as the vehicle of it's didactic expression.  In short, we recieved the ability to talk and thus to talk of morality, from a common source.


Stephen.    

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (01-06-2003 04:38 PM).]

Phaedrus
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14 posted 01-06-2003 06:56 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus

Stephanos,

Itís true that chimpanzees donít use intercontinental ballistic missiles but isnít that simply because they donít possess the intellect to produce them. Put another way if a chimp is capable of killing another chimp with a rock would it not be equally capable of killing it with am M16 if it had the ability?

Iím not sure that morality and language are as inseparable as you make out, I can see where the justification and the philosophy of morality require language but morality itself is, in my view, a completely different animal closer perhaps to an unavoidable accident than a constructed system. The evidence to support this comes in several parts the basis of which is closely related to Brads original topic, whether language created morality. First you need to dissect morality and agree a model that defines a moral act, lets take an easy one, a human female finds a human baby, the options are to kill it, to leave it or to take it home and look after it. The morally correct thing to do would be the latter, if the human female took the child home we have the definition of a moral act. Now replace the word human with the word hyena, is the female hyena acting in a morally correct manner by taking the baby hyena home? We could say no, the hyena is exhibiting selfish tendencies acting in a manner that strengthens the hyena pack, with more hyenas in the pack the chances of finding food and the survival of the hyena group increase. Now replace the word hyena with the word human in the previous explanation, did the human act in a morally correct way or is morality simply an affirmative reinforcement of a pragmatic or expedient act depicted in language?

If morality is pragmatic expediency writ large several things become clearer, that selfishness can exist and flourish within a social group being the most obvious. We end up back with Brads statement that the self is aware of the selves (the group) but from a different angle, one which allows the selfishness of the self (individual) to be beneficial to the selves (the social group).


Thanks for the chance to read and reply

Brad
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15 posted 01-06-2003 07:14 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Phaedrus,

I don't want to get into a tit for tat, animal for animal debate (though why not? It might be fun for its own sake.), but hyena females, don't cross suckle their young, hyena males aren't allowed near the nest (at least for this species):
http://sailfish.exis.net/~spook/hyenatxt.html

The reason I don't want to get into different animal type of bahaviors is the question isn't that animals exhibit a variety of different behavior (they do), but whether they have the ability to judge the rightness or wrongness of their actions. Pragmatically, of course they can. If it hurts, it's bad, if it's helpful it's good, but can an animal make the choice between a moral sacrifice for the clan and a mistake?  Can they intentionally make a moral decision? Where does a moral decision come from?

Dennet says that we can't call it murder for they know not what we do, but should we equate infanticide between human beings and lions? Should we send a lion to jail for this act? The mistake most of us make when it comes to higher mammals is not that what many mammals do is ostensibly similar to many of the things we do (they are), but that we apply the same meaning, the same sense of charity (the benefit of the doubt), and not the sense of responsibility that we also ascribe to other humans.

Dennet said, "Because they know not what they do."

I suspect, "Because we know not what they do."

But we can know what other humans do. It is irrelevant that we get this wrong sometimes, we act on the whole as if this were true. We ascribe intent to anybody who speaks a language and make our decisions accordingly. How do we do this? We translate from their language to our language (language here is generally defined, it's not just words, but the assumption of using a language is a given in order to give this ascription.).

If we were wrong most of the time, we would be dead.

So, Phaedrus, you've correctly read my argument. The introduction of language compels some type of ethical system for any individual who speaks a language, but that individual is not compelled to follow every aspect of that ethical system.

Stephan,

The introduction of WMD doesn't change this attitude at all. If an animal were to use a WMD, even by accident, would they have the ability to feel remorse?

One of the arguments that I'm sure you get all the time is the problem of evil, how can God allow for evil? But that's easy to explain for a non-believer if we define evil in terms of bad things happening (We just say it results from indifference in Nature and/or the indifference to other people rather than evil.). The question is reversed for the non-believer then. How do we account for genuine moral belief and action? If we fall back on evolution (that's just the way genes work), I think we're dodging the question (We're trading one cure-all answer -- that's the way God set things us -- with another -- that's the way evolution works).

However, if we see or try to see what actually happens when two or more humans communicate, the necessary assumptions that we use to communicate to other humans (and then partially project on to animals and even things), we can see, I think, a basis for an ethical system beyond Nature and evolution.

And one that's thoroughly down to earth even if I'm probably not smart enough to get enough complexity into it that any useful theory might need.  

  
Local Rebel
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16 posted 01-06-2003 11:05 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

You pose some interesting questions Brad and I'm not saying that I disagree -- but I don't think that you think all the holes are filled in there....

Without going tit for tat -- the other state of nature is;

A pride of lions,
A gaggle of geese,
A herd of buffalo,
A flock of seaguls (um -- ok... bad choice)
A pack of dogs,
A school of fish...

Tis perfectly natural (and evolutionary) for species to recognize it's own kind (else they wouldn't procreate) and cluster for common defense from predators.  In order to live in communities these animals DO have a moral system (and a language) -- even if the only moral is don't mess around with the head lion.  It's a moral system.  If the language is as simple as a growl that anyone can understand in context means 'hey -- that's my bison meat' -- then it's language.

This does hearken back to Einstein's point that morality only applies to us -- and not to God.
jbouder
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17 posted 01-07-2003 05:47 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

Brad:

I think I agree with you here.  Language enables us to preserve traditions for generations.  To, basically, establish precedents to guide our morality.

This isn't to say that many if not all of our major decisions are not founded on self-interest.  It merely suggests that our moral, ethical and legal traditions, preserved by language, impose limitations or consequences on us if our self-interests cross the established boundaries.

Jim
Brad
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18 posted 01-07-2003 08:49 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Jim,

Yes, that's definitely part of it.

That also explains how written language would make us even more ethical. Though by saying that I don't mean to demean oral tradition.

Brad
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19 posted 01-08-2003 12:16 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

That's a mistake, written language doesn't make us more ethical in any basic sense, it expands, can expand but doesn't have to, the ethical bubble if you will.

By ethical I mean, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In order for language to be understandable, one must translate one's own language (the idiolect) on to another's speech, you have to see them as you see yourself. My contention is that this is impossible, inconceivable, without some type of complex language.

This is not the same thing as a group instinct though I have no problems in saying that only animals that group together could possibly have a language.

The group instinct, in sheep, birds, wolves, ourselves, or whatever can be explained by a pre-linguistic type of triangulation. The actions of one individual are reactions to a two-fold process: the object or world (feed, flee, fight, or procreate) and the reaction of another of your species, but no conscious awareness of being part of a group need be conceded.

This works fine with fish and birds, it may be a little more difficult to understand in higher mammals, but if accepted, it means we don't have to postulate some mysterious force for their actions.  
Local Rebel
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20 posted 01-08-2003 11:43 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Hmmm.... I'm ready to make the call on this one now Brad -- I see where you're coming from -- but I think I'd have to flip it.

An ethical/moral system is a necessity to survival -- the move to a semantic world helps to facilitate the ethical/moral system.  The need for ethics is a precursor to language.  It comes out of abstract thought -- and abstract thought is constructed without language.   I'm sure of it.

How many times a day do people look for, um,  the, um... right word?  They know what they want to say but have to encode it into language.

Recent studies of dreams suggest the same.  The reports that showed people dreamed in black and white back in the 50's yeilded dramatically different results at present -- people report dreaming in color -- psychologists suggest the reason was black and white film in the 50's influenced people to encode their dreams in black and white -- that they actually didn't have contextuality until the person wakes up and starts remembering/encoding the dream.

100% agreement that oral and written language expands the moral system -- why would there be a need for 'truth' without language?  how does the system evolve if there isn't written language?
Phaedrus
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21 posted 01-09-2003 04:06 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus

Brad,

The hyena example was not supposed to be a reflection of reality but a non-human alternative to highlight the possibility that morality may not be what it may seems. I picked it out of the air I could have used unicorn or dragon in that respect, I was aiming more at why one has to be a moral act and the other anything but. I suppose I could have found a more factual alternative, still can if you like.  


My thinking is not a million miles from where LR is, with the obligatory couple of minor amendments.  

I was a little worried about the ďan ethical/moral system being necessary for survivalĒ bit though if weíre not talking about the animal kingdom as a whole but in the context of human survival I can see the correlation.

Ethics as a precursor to language is a little harder to swallow, I think one is definitely reliant or interconnected with the other but I think both stem from necessary social interaction. Ethics and language, as I see it, being both a consequences and a natural progression of socialisation but language requiring the additional prerequisite of mental capacity, the greater the capacity the more complex the possible communication system.

I also agree 100% that oral and written language would tend to expand any moral system.


[This message has been edited by Phaedrus (01-09-2003 04:08 PM).]

Local Rebel
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22 posted 01-09-2003 11:16 PM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

Phaedrus

I say that an ethical/moral system is a necessity to survival because one can exist in a clan without gossip -- but -- it would be hard for the clan to survive if the members were worried that when they went to sleep someone else in the cave was going to bash in their skull.

Similar ethics are required for other species that group together -- although -- calling them ethics/morals is pretty darn close to anthropomorphizing their behaviour.

I say that ethics/morals is a precursor to language because some anthropologists now believe the devopment of language was prompted by mothers needing a way to communicate to thier son's the fidelity or infidelity of their daughter's in law whilst the son was out on the hunt.

It only makes sense -- if there is an ethical/moral system -- unless the whole clan is an eyewitness to an infraction how would they know about it?  For the sole witness it's hard to communicate it to the rest of the clan without a language.

I think the two are reticulant in development but the real survival need is for the ethics.

[This message has been edited by Local Rebel (01-09-2003 11:19 PM).]

Phaedrus
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23 posted 01-10-2003 06:57 PM       View Profile for Phaedrus   Email Phaedrus   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Phaedrus

quote:
Similar ethics are required for other species that group together

Which seems to infer that ethics may not be required for species that donít group together, so which is it all species require ethics or only those that group together?
quote:
I say that ethics/morals is a precursor to language because some anthropologists now believe the devopment of language was prompted by mothers needing a way to communicate to thier son's the fidelity or infidelity of their daughter's in law whilst the son was out on the hunt.

Some people believe in the tooth fairy but without proof Iím still sceptical.

[This message has been edited by Phaedrus (01-10-2003 06:58 PM).]

Local Rebel
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24 posted 01-11-2003 12:47 AM       View Profile for Local Rebel   Email Local Rebel   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Local Rebel

quote:
Some people believe in the tooth fairy but without proof Iím still sceptical


True on both counts.  

Anthropology, particularly paleoanthopology, relies on a combination of empirical research and speculation based upon the research -- considering as little as a decade ago it was thought that we descended from Neanderthals and that it is now more likely we were merely cousins is reason enough to preserve skepticism -- however -- even though the weatherman sometimes gets it wrong -- I check in the morning before I leave the house.

Science is science -- some branches have to do more guessing than others -- but -- I'll give a tad more trust to people speculating in a highly organized process than in children believing in the tooth fairy.

quote:
Which seems to infer that ethics may not be required for species that donít group together, so which is it all species require ethics or only those that group together?



Don't worry about it -- it's not going to be on the test.

[This message has been edited by Local Rebel (01-11-2003 01:04 AM).]

 
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