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  •  oh, i don't subscribe to determinism.... (1+ / 0-)
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    .... genetic or otherwise.  Human cognition is the outcome of a number of factors: genes, prenatal development, nutrition & brain development, enculturation and learning, and free will, the latter demonstrably an intrinsic property of the structure of our brains as well (Penrose/Hameroff, supported by Maye et. al.).  (And no ghosts or fairies needed, dammit!:-)

    When I say "emotions are chemicals," that's the logical conclusion from Pert et. al., re. the neuropeptide system (endorphins, scotophobin in rats, etc.), and Hoffer & Osmond re. endogenous psychoactive compounds (dimethyltryptamine, adrenochrome, adrenoloutin, among others), etc. etc.   That isn't to diminish the subjective value (or behavioral value, or intrinsic meaning) of certain emotions, any more than citing Newton's cosmic clockwork diminishes the awe of space exploration just because some guy with a beard isn't looking back at us via the other end of the telescope.

    Real change is certainly possible; and cultures either adapt and evolve or they don't and die off.  We are facing a Darwin test right now with the climate crisis: either we evolve into a culture of humans who can control their reproductive and consumptive drives, or we die off in a century or two.  


    Agreed re. those experiments.  Yes more emphasis should be placed on the fact that 40% of participants refused to administer fatal shocks.  

    I can tell you with certainty that I would have been in that 40%, because when I run it in my mind's eye, in a state of consciousness I use for running scenarios, what happens is I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and then race out of the building to the nearest payphone and call the police to report an attempted murder.  I could describe the whole thing as clearly as if it was a vivid dream.  

    For me and probably for a decent number of the 40%, it's a combination of the natural tendency to empathize and having been raised to "put myself in the other guy's shoes."  That much I understand first-hand; for others it might be ethical rules that establish bright red lines they do not cross, or something else.  

    It's highly likely that empathy (operationalized as the ability to accurately describe the feelings of another person in ways that would pass a blind matching test with the other person's description of their own feelings) is normally-distributed, and is susceptible to enculturation.  Those above normal can probably be enculturated out of their natural empathy out to two standard deviations above mean; and those below normal can probably be enculturated into behaving more empathically, out to one standard deviation below the mean.  That's my guess anyway, and it can be turned into a hypothesis or two and tested.  

    Empathy can also be modified with medications; we know this well from studies of entactogens (drug category defined as empathy-increasing compounds: MDMA, 2-CBR, and a bunch of others).  (BTW, FDA just authorized a large follow-up study on MDMA for treatment of PTSD, after a highly successful pilot study that was just published in J. Psychopharm.)


    So in answer to nature vs. nurture on this one, I would say that it's the same as anything else: nature sets the range, and nurture brings forth the development of the individual's potential from that range.  

    So imagine this:

    At present, our popular media are saturated in violence, and typically show people "solving" their problems through superior force.  

    Imagine a culture in which the media depicted people solving their problems by getting good counseling and reasoning them out.  

    Aldous Huxley depicted such a thing in Island, when one of his characters mentions their culture's local rendition of the Greek play Oedipus.  In the Palanese version, when Oedipus realizes he's fallen in love with his own mother, instead of gouging his eyes out and killing himself, he goes to a psychiatrist and gets the insight needed to overcome his distraught feelings and change his behavior!  

    That might be a bit tougher for Hollywood to chew on, but in the end we would be better off for it.  

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