Sunday, July 5, 2009

NOTES: Three Seductive Ideas by Jerome Kagan

Three Seductive Ideas by Jerome Kagan (Cambridge, MA, London, England: Harvard University Press, 1998)


p. 7 Those who feel minimal guilt recognize that something is wrong with them.

p. 8 Surprises motivate interpretations, and interpretations are the critical determinants of what will be felt, remembered, and done.

p. 9 Suppression of behaviors that bring on guilt and shame serves a motive––Thomas Aquinas called it an aptitude––for virtue that is the basis of human morality. … Humans experience guilt, shame, and pride, anticipate events far in the future, invent metaphors, speak a language with a grammar, and reason about hypothetical circumstances. No other species, including apes, possesses this set of talents.

pp. 10–11 four factors aid acceptance of a belief: relevant facts, logical explanation, imaginability, accordance with ethical standards; "Faced with the failure of facts, elegant logic and visualizability, scientists and nonscientists alike fall back on pleasing explanations that affirm their ethical standards."

CHAPTER ONE: A Passion for Abstraction

p. 13 What distinguishes scientific language from most conversation is the use of words to describe hypothetical events not perceived directly but intended to explain those that are.

p. 14 The contrasting view, held by Whitehead and Wittgenstein, insists that every description of a phenomenon should refer to both the event and the circumstances of the observation. … Wittgenstein's metaphor for the inexact use of language was a pair of tight shoes that deformed the object it was intended to fit.

p. 18 The belief that humans can and should be free of anxiety is one of the distinguishing illusion in Western thought in this century.

p. 19 Among the ancient Greeks… anger was of greater concern than anxiety because it interfered with societal harmony. n. 6

p. 20 …collapsed the varied forms of fear and anxiety into a single factor called emotionality. … When humans hear a tone that had been associated with electric shock, the frontal lobes are activated and the person quickly acquires control of the biological signs of fear after only two exposures tot he tone. That phenomenon could not occur in rats.

p. 21: It may be a conceptual error, therefore, to assume that the circuit which mediates the acquisition of a conditioned response like freezing, salivating, or engorgement of the vaginal wall is identical to the circuit that mediates the conscious emotional states of fear, hunger, or sexual arousal. I trust no one believes that being passionately in love is nothing more than a circuit involving the hypothalamus, autonomic nervous system, and engorged circulatory vessels in the genitals. It is not obvious that a conditioned freezing response in an animal is sufficient evidence to assume that the animal is in an emotional state of fear. The scientists who condition animals animals to freeze to a tone are treating fear as an essence, much like nineteenth-century physicists treated space.time, and matter. I suggest we replace the question "What are the brain bases of fear?" with "How do different species react, in brain and body, to events that signal danger?"

p. 24 One important reason why o single behavior, including potentiated startle, can be relied on the index a person's (or an animal's) state of fear is that each response is controlled by a variety of brain mechanisms and can serve more than one purpose.

p. 27 …a head containing eyes with a pupil-to-eye ratio that is slightly over 0.5 produces immobility in chickens. n. 17

pp. 27–29 /three sources of fear: 1. pre-wired threat-responses, 2. discrepant events, 3. classical conditioning/

p. 29 …the superior colliculus is to initiate eye movements that track a moving target. … The acquisition of conditioned fear responses is mediated by a well-delineated neural circuit that includes the thalamus, basolateral and central areas of the amygdala, and the amygdala's projections to target structures that produce the behavioral and autonomic signs of fear.

p. 31 …Sartre's Sketch for a Theory of Emotions… rejected the usefulness of emotional words that did not specify a target. n. 28

p. 32 In everyday conversation, words stuff dissimilar phenomena into the same drawer for the sake of efficiency. Scientists, by contrast, make advances when they open those drawers and separate the distinctive objects inside. … It is likely that a variety of events, some aversive and some discrepant, can activate the thalamus, amygdala, and its projections, even though the outcome of those activations need not always be a state of fear. A person would feel fearful if a large animal were about to attack but would feel annoyed by the noise of a jackhammer, disgusted by an unpleasant odor, and excited if he were about to make his first parachute jump. The thalamus, amygdala, and their projections could be active in all four states.

p. 33 …these [select nuclei in the hypothalamus] were actually the basis of a more diffuse state that led to different behaviors depending upon the immediate context.

p. 34: A useful maxim in the natural sciences [and Scholastic philosophy!] is: When you encounter a contradiction, make a distinction. … The brain does contain the number and quality of possible human emotions, but no brain state is linked in a deterministic way to any specific human emotion. … This possibility is analogous to isometric crystals that have exactly the same chemical composition but different properties. … Much behavior is punctuate, goal-directed, and influenced by feelings. None of these properties applies to neurons or circuits.

p. 35 The biology of the brain provides the basis for an envelope of psychological outcomes, just as a large outdoor pen constrains the animals inside but does not determine any one arrangement of the animals. … The psychological event has a structure that is derivative of, but different from, the structure of brain events. Moreover, a particular brain state… can be the foundation for more than one psychological state, just as a particular gene can contribute to more than one bodily feature or physiological process.

p. 36 diathesis: medicine: tendency to suffer from a certain ailment, a disposition; linguistics: 'voice'

p. 36 The meaning of all descriptions assumes, implicitly, a contrast.

p. 38 In a sense, types of personality resemble types of weather.

p. 40 Consciousness is best described as a set of emergent phenomena that require particular brain processes but are not equivalent to them. … Sensitivity to change is the key to an organism's survival, yet this quintessential quality is not inherent in its constituent atoms and molecules.

p. 41 …[subjects] did not report greater arousal when the aversive film was presented to their right rather than the left hemisphere. That is, their conscious emotional state was not at all correlated with their brain's physiological reactions. n. 39

p. 41 …dopamine has more to do with focusing attention on a novel or salient event than with the state of pleasure the event produces.

p. 42 Gestalt holism, Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Kohler, David Magnusson and Robert Cairns, n. 43

pp. 43–44 No matter how powerful brain scanning techniques become in the future, scientists will be unable to determine the specific content of a subject's thoughts… even though [they] might be able to infer that the person lying quietly in the scanner was generating mathematics rather than melodies. … …

p. 44 States of consciousness cannot be reduced to the language of physiology and must be described in psychological language. … [This mutual irreducibility is sometimes mocked as "dualist", but] biologists are not called dualists when they use the language of proteins rather than DNA base pairs to describe the constituents of a fertilized egg.

p. 45 All the phenomena of nature cannot be described in one language. … [Vernon Mountcastle:] "Every mental process is a brain process, but not every mentalistic sentence is identical to some neurophysiological sentence." n. 47

p. 46 When adults were exposed to two distinctly different tones––one 80 percent of the time and the other 20 percent of the time––they showed reactivity in the sympathetic nervous system only when they were consciously attending to the tones, not when they were ignoring them. However, the acoustic energy of the tones was processed by the brain whether the subjects were or were not attending to them. n. 49 … [The unconscious but adroit actions of infants show] why it is not necessary to attribute consciousness to animals who act adaptively with obvious perceptual and motor skills. … The awareness that we behaved a particular way in a particular place at a particular time in the past is a state that Endel Tulving believes is unique to humans. n. 51

p. 47 The ability of humans to generate ideas of events that might occur years in the future might explain why we are the only species to have populated so much of the world.

p. 48 We might call this aspect of consciousness awareness of control; nineteenth-century writers called it "will." [HAHAHA!] … Weiskrantz notes that "the ability to make a commentary is what is meant by being aware and what gives rise to it." n. 53 I suspect that apes cannot generate commentaries.

p. 49 The perception of color, shape, and motion involves activities in different parts of the brain. The neurons activated upon seeing the skyward motion of a red balloon are not the same as those activated when one looks at a stationary spot of light. This fact invites a distinction between two kinds of visual experience [based on differing purposes], even though activation of the thalamus and area V1 of the visual cortex is common to all visual experience.

p. 51 Alfred Binet, with Theodore Simon, 1905, origin of IQ tests

p. 55 epistasis: interaction among the individual's genes

pp. 56–57 [The problem with the concept of "general intelligence" is that children with lower IQ's have poor vocabularies but are not correspondingly deficient in other cognitive-perceptual tasks.]

p. 60 We can ask meaningful questions about human rationality only after we have specified the context.

p. 61 …like IQ, vulnerability to disease, such as stroke, heart attack, and diabetes, is inversely correlated with social class. n. 76

p. 65 It follows that if intelligence does not name a phenomenon in nature, statements about its genetic bases are of uncertain value.

p. 67 When a scientific domain is young… its practitioners are vulnerable to thinking in ways that the human mind finds attractive but which, unfortunately, fail to fit nature very well. Three of the hardiest preferences are for ideas that imply stable essences, possess symmetry, and are simple. The notion of g, general intelligence, is graced by all three. … Darwin's great insight was to realize that there is no most perfect dog, just generations of animals that changed, albeit slowly, over time.
[But does not science itself seek essential invariables, symmetrical transformations [i.e., equations], and simplest elements?]

p. 68 "Biologists are less foolish. They do not suggest that humans differ genetically in a quality called general health and that people inherit either a high, moderate, or low vulnerability to all known diseases.
[But again, what are biologists and humans if there is no essence of "being a biologist" and "being a human"?]

p. 74 [cf. Peter Kosso: Seeing as aspen leaves are green in midsummer but yellow in October, we could rationally call them "grellow". Likewise, we could call kids "shynoshy".] But the leaves belong to the same tree and therefore possess the same fundamental biology. n. 92

p. 76 …the fact that an individual's (or animal's) prior history participates in a major way in its current functioning divides the life sciences from the physical sciences. … One of Darwin's cogent intuitions was that the histories of two animals species are a better guide to their classification than their current similarity.

p. 81 Many philosophers, but especially Gottlob Frege, have insisted that a complete statement, with agent, verb, and target, is the meaningful element in scientific prose. n. 99

CHAPTER TWO: The Allure of Infant Determinism

p. 87 The idea of a critical period [of imprinting and development] has a clear meaning in animals … [but] it has proven difficult to find critical periods in human development that are as robust….

p. 103 We perceive an American flag fluttering in the wind as a unity, but neuroscientists have learned that the shape, color, and movement of the flag are initially processed in different parts of the brain.

p. 104 …in the 1950s [it was common for psychiatrists to suppose] that a patient who perceived female genitals on Card 10 of the Rorschach ink blot test was a schizophrenic.

p. 107 If the rats had been returned to their natural environments, perhaps the products of their infant experience would not have been preserved; artificial conditions can create artificial facts. [**]

p. 110 …for many sequences in nature, the first stage can be altered without necessarily changing the final result.

p. 111 [cf. authors of a 30-year study of over 600 children on the island of Kauai] "…we could not help but respect the self-righting tendencies within them that produced normal development under all but the most persistently adverse circumstances." n. 40

p. 114 The mothers' social class, rather than differences in their treatment of infants, was the critical factor in predicting academic success.

p. 118 John Watson and Sigmund Freud replaced Locke and Kant.

p. 120 A small, isolated group in New Guinea [the Kukukuku? cf. M. Gladwell, Blink, p. 200] believes that males are born sterile. Thus, all boys must acquire sperm if they are to father a child in the future. … The preadolescent boys are brought to a clearing … and the older men, playing flutes, dance around the young boys. From that time until they are adolescents, the boys perform fellatio on older, unmarried adolescents in order to gain seed. When the young boys become sixteen or seventeen old, this practice stops. The young boys do not interpret this behavior as a sign of homosexuality….

p. 123 …later studies revealed that the primary cause of the altered hippocampus was not the stress induced in the pups by being removed from the mother but the tendency of the mother to lick and groom the pup more vigorously than normal after it was returned.

p. 124 [in 1830 the two most eminent French biologists, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Georges Cuvier, debated morphology:] Geoffroy suggested that all animals shared a basic body plan, even though this concept is not so evident when one compares bees and bears. Cuvier satirized this speculative idea…. But recent discoveries, 150 years after their debates, vindicate Geoffroy, for it appears that a set of genes called HOX that determine an animal's basic body plan have been preserved from bees to bears to baboons.

p. 125 Psychologists award slaps, chastisements, hugs, and kisses considerable formative power because they are perceptually salient events. But I suspect that the child's private interpretations of these events represent the more significant influence.

p. 126 The idea that the child's interpretation of experience is the key to the formation of character and personality is analogous to Whitehead's insistence that the idea underlying each symbol is the basis for its importance.

p. 128 One of he few robust facts in the social sciences is that a person's social class predicts the probability of school failure, violent crime, choice of vocation, and physical and mental symptoms.

p. 130 American society has awarded women a dignity that surpasses that found in most countries in the world. Carl Degler has suggested that one reason for this ethos was the mutual interdependence of nineteenth-century husbands and wives as they settled the land west of the Appalachians. n. 69

p. 133 Frank Sulloway has accumulated stunning proof of [the claim that later-born children are more less motivated for academic excellence and, if they become scientists, more likely to agree with radically new theoretical conceptions that upset cherished scientific orthodoxy.] Most first-born naturalists who commented on evolution between 1860 and 1875 rejected Darwin's revolutionary ideas, while later-borns were three times more likely … to endorse them. n. 74 Both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace… were later-borns. … "… I am not apt to follow blindly the level of other men … This has naturally led me to distrust greatly deductive reasoning in the mixed sciences." [C. Darwin, autobiography, n. 75]

p. 133 …strong belief in the Big Bang rests on the implications of three facts: (1) the redshift of starlight [i.e., galactic recession]…; (2) the background cosmic temperature of three [2.7] degrees Kelvin [i.e., predicted rate of cosmic cooling]…; (3) the preponderance of the lighter elements hydrogen and helium….

p. 135 By seven to eight years of age, the concept "female" is linked unconsciously to the concept "natural." All cultures regard giving birth to and caring for young infants as prototypically natural events.

p. 137 Members of minority groups in every society are more strongly identified with their group that with those who belong to majority groups, especially if the former has some distinctive feature. That is why whites in South Africa are more strongly identified with their ethnic group than are whites in England or the United States. … A basic principle in human perception is that the mind is attracted to any place in an array where a locus of difference is detected. … [p. 138] A second robust perceptual principle is that elements that are proximate to each other, that are continuous, or that have a common fate seem to cohere to define a unitary object.

p. 140 No uniform psychological outcomes flow from absolute poverty, but many predictable, undesirable outcomes flow from a belief in one's relative poverty.

p. 141 shtetl: ?

p. 142 Ever since the end of World War II, middle-class mothers have been more restrictive and working-class mothers less, a reversal of the practices of these two classes of mothers during the first decade of this century.

p. 143 [on the dignity of lineage under oppression: George Homans coped with his childhood anxiety by recalling his link to John Adams; Darwin praised his father and knew about the power of inheritance from his work with animal breeding; Jews under the Spanish Inquisition emphasized their family lines for their children; Frank McCourt's alcoholic, unemployed father boasted of their Irish heritage]

p. 146 The persuasive power of ideas in mathematics, physics, and to some degree chemistry lies with the aesthetic nature of explanatory argument.

p. 147 But, sadly, the gut feeling that an idea is right is a poor guide to truth.

p. 149 The social class of a child's family is a better predictor of an adult's vocation and personal traits than the child's psychological profile at age two. [The myth of Infant Determinism is faulty in the same way trying to predict earthquakes is: "probably inherently unpredictable." n. 91]

p. 150 Both science and autobiography affirm that a capacity for change is as essential to human development as it is to the evolution of new species.

CHAPTER THREE: The Pleasure Principle

p. 152 No single biological state defines pleasure because it is, finally, a judgment.

p. 155 Humans are the only species that applies a symbolic evaluation of good or bad to actions, and personal characteristics and tries continually to choose acts that make it easier to regard the self as good.

p. 156 intercrural: ?

p. 157 …the universal desire to regard the self as good…. I am even tempted to suggest that the continuous seeking of evidence to prove one's virtues is, like Darwin's notion of natural selection, the most potent condition sculpting each person's traits over their lifetime.

p. 158 …violation [of one's own ethical standards, even when it harms a stranger and does not harm oneself directly] … threatens the rational foundation of the observer's ethical code. Not even the cleverest ape could be conditioned to become angry upon seeing one animal steal food from another. … Although evolutionary biologists insist that the appearance of humans was due to a quirky role of genetic dice, our species refuses to act as if good and evil are arbitrary choices bereft of natural significance.

p. 160 …I suspect, with Huxley, that feelings are more critical to human morality than language and reason.
[a false dichotomy?]

p. 162 The vast majority of animal species––perhaps all––have no conscious intentions. For that reason, it is misleading and theoretically regressive to describe the animal behavior with words which have intentionality as a primary feature.

p. 163 The human sensitivity to changes in the face and gesture of another may be on a continuum with a disposition present in our primate ancestors. But the human moral motive is qualitatively distinct because it contains symbolic and emotional elements that are not present in any primate.

p. 164 Unique characteristics are totally consistent with Darwinian theory.

p. 166 An editorial in The Economist… criticized the imperialistic attitude held by some who insist that animal behavior can explain most human action: "Darwinism is good… but not that good." n. 24 … De Waal concedes… that he has never seen a guilty chimpanzee. He will never see one, because guilt requires an agent to know, simultaneously, that a voluntary act has hurt another and that he could have suppressed it.

p. 167 …no scientist has ever observed a chimp in its natural habitat point to a distant object when another chimp was nearby, suggesting that they do not infer that another individual can learn something from their actions. Moreover, chimps who see a person point to a place where a desirable object has just been hidden fail to conclude that they should reach to that location. Two-year-old humans make that inference at once. n. 28

p. 169 The human capacity for moral motive… [adds five unique abilities to primate sensitivity to face, voice, etc.]: (1) to infer the thoughts and feelings of others, (2) to be self-aware, (3) to apply the categories good and bad to events and to self, (4) to reflect on past actions, and (5) to know that a particular action could have been suppressed.

p. 175 …the ability to integrate past, present, and future in a seamless structure…, which Piaget called reversibility, is the heart of the developmental stage he called concrete operations. … [Louis Menand, n. 35:] "Go ahead, ask your genes what to do. You might as well be asking Zeus."

p. 179 …spontaneous activity in muscles, heart, arteries, gut, and skin … passes first through the medulla… is sent to the amygdala… to a part of the frontal lobe called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. If the information pierces consciousness, it motivates an interpretation of the change in feeling.

p. 180 Depression… dysphoric bodily tone…

p. 182 Wittgenstein: "…I was thinking about my philosophical work and saying to myelf, I destroy, I destroy, I destroy." [On 1 April 1942:] "It is as though I had before me nothing but a long stretch of living death. I cannot imagine any future for me other than a ghastly one. Friendless and joyless."

p. 187 The appeal of this argument [i.e., that humans are little more than hairless gorillas] rests in part on our need to rationalize the conditions of our daily lives. The ethics of a society must bend a little to accommodate to the behaviors most people are forced to display. If not, each person will be vulnerable to terrible tensions during every day.

p. 188 …because self-interested behavior is seen throughout nature perhaps humans need not feel so ashamed of their narcissism and greed. The appeal of this argument resembles the seventeenth-century belief that a very tine person lay quietly in each egg. The early naturalists had been puzzled by the enigma of the fully formed newborn and posited a solution that was easy to imagine. Contemporary scientists are equally frustrated by the extraordinary variety in human social behavior. They have tried to solve this problem by arguing that our troublesome tendencies were present in our phylogenetic past–– a form of behavioral preformationism. … Anyone with a modest knowledge of animal behavior and only minimal inferential skill can find examples of animal behavior to support almost any ethical message desired.

p. 189 …second marriages with stepchildren exist in no species but our own…. …humans are qualitatively different from their ancestors, for they are the only primate to give benevolent care to juveniles who are not genetically related to them.

p. 190 It is an error to assume that any human ethic is a clear derivative of some class of animal behavior.

p. 191 Although I do not doubt the essential correctness of modern evolutionary theory, some Americans have become too accepting of the view that we bear the indelible stamp of their lowly origins.


[Kagan makes four pleas: 1. abandon free-floating words like fear, intelligence, consciousness, etc. in favor of specific observational parameters; 2. employ a plenitude of procedures, not merely observe-and-compare; 3. consider categories, rather viewing all differences as lying on a single continuum; 4. acknowledge minds, ask how the person-subject interprets experience.]

p. 198 The first three sentences of the Gettysburg Address will produce different patterns of activity in the sensory receptor cells on the basilar membrane of the inner ear cortex, as well as in the ensemble of neurons in the auditory cortex. But the meanings of those sentences will not be discernible from the patterns of neural activity. Meaning transcends its elementary foundations.

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