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Does science confirm or contradict the tabula rasa theory?

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Does anyone here at OO.net know if any peer reviewed research dealing with the subject of human knowledge and where it comes from has formulated a well supported theory either confirming or contradicting the Objectivist claim that man is born tabula rasa?

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Does anyone here at OO.net know if any peer reviewed research dealing with the subject of human knowledge and where it comes from has formulated a well supported theory either confirming or contradicting the Objectivist claim that man is born tabula rasa?

Tabula rasa is very similar to the issue of Evolution. Ayn Rand proved "tabula rasa" just fine. We know where concepts come from, just as we know where species come from. 

 

Furthermore, we know that there is zero evidence for the alternative: the existence of a Creator, and abstract ideas inherent to the human biology. Both those alternatives are absurd claims, of about an equal level of irrationality.

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Does anyone here at OO.net know if any peer reviewed research dealing with the subject of human knowledge and where it comes from has formulated a well supported theory either confirming or contradicting the Objectivist claim that man is born tabula rasa?

We are born with a truck load  of reflexes and capabilities.  There is even some evidence that fetuses (at a late stage of development) can hear their mother's voices in utero  and can recognize the voice after they are born.   The brain starts to work somewhere in the fifth month.  Fetuses can be startled by loud noises,  which mean they can hear,  even in utero. 

 

On the other hand fetuses do not come into the world loaded with philosophical judgement and opinions.  That has to be learned gradually.

 

ruveyn1

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"-epistemologically, the base of all of man's knowledge is the perceptual stage".

[itOE]

Examining the foetus further, may reveal more of its preceding sensory stage.

But contradicts nothing about Rand's basic 'blank slate' assertion.

All one might conclude is that a newborn 'hits the ground running', with sensations already

in operation.

"Discriminated awareness begins on the level of percepts."

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Well, Noam chomsky may have proven humans have an innane INNATE LOL sense of language and thus the concepts behind them.

As to whether or not we inherit our parents' conditions/memories is probably yet to be proven.  I hope this could be of some help :thumbsup:

Are you the things you do or are you pure and simple your own existence?

Edited by My 99 are free

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Does anyone here at OO.net know if any peer reviewed research dealing with the subject of human knowledge and where it comes from has formulated a well supported theory either confirming or contradicting the Objectivist claim that man is born tabula rasa?

 

Well, I can tell you that the actual answer is that it hasn't been exactly proven, nor has it been explicitly disproven.

 

That was actually one of my initial misgivings about Objectivism, since my degree is in psychology - keep in mind when it comes to "tabula rasa" that Ayn Rand was writing when the cognitive revolution in psychology was in its infancy, and at that time, I believe behaviorism was still a big thing (B. F. Skinner's Walden Two was published in 1948), meaning that one of the prevalent ideas was that of "tabula rasa". So, she was basing her statements/theory on current knowledge - and our understanding of the "tabula rasa" idea hasn't been contradicted, but it has been clarified.

 

With later research, and the use of the software metaphor and systematic research, they found that people aren't necessarily a blank slate - it's more like there are some tendencies which you have (i.e., perception of causality, introversion/extraversion). But even those are subject to change over time/with willpower. So, basically, the mind is like a computer that comes with certain hardware (motherboard, graphics card, etc), and through childhood, you're basically finishing the install of an operating system, and after that it's mostly up to the user (volitional consciousness) - even the degree to which you exercise what power you have over your tendencies/scripts, etc. As ruveyn1 said, judgment and opinions on complex subjects happens later and are formed gradually, by layering more complex ideas/development on top of more basic concepts/groundwork, etc. 

 

The best example I can think of for a particular area that's specifically relvant to this, that is also peer-reviewed, is some of the BIS/BAS (Behavioral Inhibition/Activation Systems) research - it's much more focused on those systems as inborn tendencies, but there are a number of articles that mention/explore the fact that even those tendencies can be overcome/changes. Other areas you'll find relevant peer-reviewed research is in self/personality psychology - the journal Self and Identity is a good one for current research there. Anything in social cognition would touch on that as well, and one of the current leading journals is JPSP (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology).

 

So, the answer I ended up settling on with regard to 'tabula rasa' in terms of Objectivism is that, in the context given in some of Ayn Rand's writing, it's is true, scientifically. Basically, it's a nature vs. nurture issue, and in nearly all areas of life, volition wins out over tendencies/automatic processes - and in most cases, it influences and has a degree of influence/power over those processes if you're aware of them. Though THAT I'm not aware of any actual research on, only of anecdotal evidence.

 

Hopefully that answers the question a little and gives you somewhere to start, research-wise, and clears up the possible misconception that it's an all-or-nothing, "proven or disproven" issue at this time. And I've had to condense a lot of info into as short an explanation as possible, so if I've been unclear/incomplete, please let me know. :)

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I was just thinking about this topic. 

 

I'd be interested to hear what you all have to say, but it seems to me that science (logic, reason, empirical data) has shown that we are not born with a blank state. We are born with a brain, and DNA, and evolved reflexes and concepts. Further, evolutionary psychology has proven that certain concepts, like attraction, desire, fear, anger, are pre-programmed into our brains for the sake of survival and reproduction. The brain is an organ just like the lungs, and just as the lungs are pre-programmed to function (controlled by the brain), so too the brain is pre-programmed to function, pumping out emotions and beliefs. Some pre-programmed concepts may not show up until well after birth, but that doesn't mean you wrote them onto a blank slate. The sexual desire of a heterosexual young man for healthy girls of his age was not something he decided upon, they were part of his evolved biology, and though they didn't manifest fully until a certain state of biological growth, they were pre-programmed in his DNA code. 

 

To the degree that Rand argued for a blank state, I would have to (begrudgingly) disagree with her.

Edited by secondhander

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I was just thinking about this topic. 

 

I'd be interested to hear what you all have to say, but it seems to me that science (logic, reason, empirical data) has shown that we are not born with a blank state.

Eep, I've argued this point against you several times, evolutionary psychology is bad science. Also, blank slate by Rand's meaning is that knowledge does not exist at birth, and you didn't even suggest concepts which may exist without having actively formed a concept. I can expand further if you are interested about why there is better evidence to say that concepts *cannot* exist prior to learning. There is, however, good reason to believe there are inherent mechanisms to enable one to create a concept. There is no empirical data that I know of that makes Rand's version of a blank slate is wrong. Locke's version is wrong, but Rand's version isn't Locke's.

 

*edit* I missed earlier posts, I find it kind of amusing that you said science shows we aren't tabula rasa at all, while niapri basically said the opposite in that tabula rasa in Rand's sense has been clarified. So, at least provide some evidence. I can link papers if you dispute my claims, too. I do know quite a bit about cognitive psychology and cognitive science.

Edited by Eiuol

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So, the answer I ended up settling on with regard to 'tabula rasa' in terms of Objectivism is that, in the context given in some of Ayn Rand's writing, it's is true, scientifically. Basically, it's a nature vs. nurture issue, and in nearly all areas of life, volition wins out over tendencies/automatic processes - and in most cases, it influences and has a degree of influence/power over those processes if you're aware of them. Though THAT I'm not aware of any actual research on, only of anecdotal evidence.

 

This is not an accurate description of tabula rasa as Rand conceived it and argued for it.  Rand's issue was with the idea of innate knowledge, not innate tendencies, reflexes, or processes.  Certainly we are born with certain capacities, tendencies, predispositions, etc.  Rand was attempting to address a different question: are we born with innate knowledge?  Her answer to this was absolutely central to her philosophy, because she argued that we are capable of obtaining knowledge only though a volitional process of observing reality and forming concepts.  Furthermore, we can verify the truth of this knowledge through observation.  If we have some form of innate knowledge that is not subject to verification through observation of reality (as, for example, advocates of ethical intuitionism would argue), then her whole theory of knowledge is flawed.

 

The phrase 'tabula rasa' might be used differently in the psychology literature, but as Rand (and many philosophers) used it, it addresses the question of innate knowledge, not predispositions, tendencies, or capacities.  It's not a question of whether we can change our tendencies or predispositions through volition; we could be completely unable to do that, and still lack any form of innate knowledge.  If this were the case, tabula rasa as Rand conceived of it would still hold.

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This is not an accurate description of tabula rasa as Rand conceived it and argued for it.

 

How do you (or how would she) view a priori knowledge, including the laws of logic such as the law of identity? How would she view properly basic beliefs? She believed in the axiom that existence exists, correct? Isn't that a properly basic belief, known a priori without a need for observation? It seems to me that there has to be some sort of foundational understanding of the law of identity upon which all other observed knowledge, and the rationalization of that knowledge, can be organized. It seems also that if there is no properly basic belief then we would be left with subjectivism, not objectivism.

 

I'm not making a challenge here, I mean these as sincere questions and would love your input.

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Tabula rasa a blank slate, I'm baffled how some take the blankness as an isolated primary and then state that anyone who advocates it denies the existence of slates.

to produce ideas the brain needs data from the outside on which it performs its genetically fashioned integration processes.  Perceptions in,  Concept Out.

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How do you (or how would she) view a priori knowledge, including the laws of logic such as the law of identity? t.

Since you asked what Rand thought of a priori knowledge: "Any theory that propounds an opposition between the logical and the empirical, represents a failure to grasp the nature of logic and its role in human cognition. Man’s knowledge is not acquired by logic apart from experience or by experience apart from logic, but by the application of logic to experience. All truths are the product of a logical identification of the facts of experience." http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/a_priori.html

 

That existence exists is basically based on observation, that the world is in front of you, as long as you open your eyes. Although it's not possible to prove that existence exists, a priori knowledge presumes some kind of valid reasoning that doesn't require any observation or contact with reality. The law of identity is the same way, because of the implication that anything that exists exists as something in particular. Keep in mind though I'm not presenting an *argument* per se, there is no proving this with say, a syllogism. All I can say is "look around you", that's how you'll know the axiom of existence. Lest that sound mystical, this is specifically about what is in front you. A priori knowledge to me is like saying "you don't need to open your eyes to know the axiom of existence; it is necessary for logic".

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Since you asked what Rand thought of a priori knowledge: "Any theory that propounds an opposition between the logical and the empirical, represents a failure to grasp the nature of logic and its role in human cognition. Man’s knowledge is not acquired by logic apart from experience or by experience apart from logic, but by the application of logic to experience. All truths are the product of a logical identification of the facts of experience." http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/a_priori.html

 

That existence exists is basically based on observation, that the world is in front of you, as long as you open your eyes. Although it's not possible to prove that existence exists, a priori knowledge presumes some kind of valid reasoning that doesn't require any observation or contact with reality. The law of identity is the same way, because of the implication that anything that exists exists as something in particular. Keep in mind though I'm not presenting an *argument* per se, there is no proving this with say, a syllogism. All I can say is "look around you", that's how you'll know the axiom of existence. Lest that sound mystical, this is specifically about what is in front you. A priori knowledge to me is like saying "you don't need to open your eyes to know the axiom of existence; it is necessary for logic".

 

Yeah, that's what Leonard Peikoff thinks.

 

I was already aware of his quotes there. Here is an interesting analysis of them: http://intothesophosphere.blogspot.com/2012/04/priori-peikoffs-misconception.html

Edited by secondhander

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Oops, my bad XD

 

I had other quotes in mind, I'll look, I still recall that elsewhere Rand said similar things as what I said in the second paragraph..

Edited by Eiuol

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Yeah, that's what Leonard Peikoff thinks.

 

I was already aware of his quotes there. Here is an interesting analysis of them: http://intothesophosphere.blogspot.com/2012/04/priori-peikoffs-misconception.html

In the interesting analyis from the link, what would happen if the caveman observed a deer? Would he have arrived at a truth , if the same methodology were used to seeing a deer approach from the east for a month? (and does the sun actually rise from the east?, it is a caveman so it would at least be pre-Galileo) Edited by tadmjones

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While you're looking for what Rand may say on a priori knowledge, I'll respond to what you said earlier, which I meant to get around to.

Eep, I've argued this point against you several times, evolutionary psychology is bad science.


I disagree. You don't believe that biological evolution is bad science, do you? Why then, if the various organs of the human body have evolved over time as species themselves have evolved, would the brain be any different? Do you believe the mating and survival behaviors of other animals in general are evolved behaviors?

I would find it odd if you were to say that you believe the behaviors of various animals have been shaped according to natural and sexual selection, and you would agree that the human species has evolved according to natural and sexual selection, and yet you would maintain that the human brain itself, with the psychology and behaviors therein, is somehow exempt.

I find that there are usually four reasons why evolutionary psychology induces such a strong negative reaction in some people:

1. The false notion that humans are somehow ontologically distinct from other animals, because of a mystical or religious special designation for humans. This cause people to believe that the same factors of natural selection that shape the traits and behaviors of other species somehow doesn't or can't apply to humans.

2. The natural law fallacy. This is the "is-ought" problem -- the notion that what is seen in nature is morally preferable. But that's incorrect thinking. What you see in nature simply is. It is not an ought. So, for example, if evolutionary psychology can offer up a reason why the human species experiences racism (that species tend to group together into tribes or communities for mutual protection and resource gathering, and look upon outsiders as potential threats to their survival), some people will mistakenly believe that EvoPsy justifies racism. But that would be a fallacy. Just because a natural cause for a behavior can be shown, it doesn't mean that that behavior is morally preferable. (As an aside: Ayn Rand shows how objective moral value can be derived from the real world, but she approaches the issue somewhat differently. Even with her solution for deriving an "ought" from the "is" of reality, the traditional is-ought problem still exists, and necessarily should.)

3. The fear that free will is destroyed if evolution has shaped our desires and behaviors Two things I'll say about this: A.) Free will is not destroyed. Just because you might be naturally predisposed and have little initial control over certain desires (your sexual desires for example) does not mean you have no control over those desires or the decisions you make. B.) The fact that you are naturally predisposed with certain desires is no threat whatsoever to objectivist morality. That is because objectivism shows that morality is founded on objective realities that do not change, no matter what your predispositions may be. So, that means that you might be predisposed to murder and steal. But just because you are predisposed for that, it doesn't make it morally OK for you to do them. That would be a subjective approach to morality, and it would commit the natural law fallacy.

4. EvoPsy is psuedo-science and pop-science. This is a somewhat valid criticism. EvoPsy is a "new" scientific field of study, and as such the processes for test-ability of hypotheses has not always been scientifically rigid. Add to that the fact that popular mainstream culture has jumped on EvoPsy and has rushed to produce popculture books that play fast and loose with the scientific data and method. And there is a temptation to "go fishing" and try to find a EvoPsy explanation of cultural beliefs and norms, where those explanations beg the question instead of follow a valid scientific approach. But this sloppiness by some in no way refutes the truth that the brain is part of biology, and that the sexual and natural selection process shapes the psychological traits, as well as physical traits, of species.

EvoPsy is good science, and it should be easy to see why. If you believe that biological evolution is good science, and explains how the physical traits of species developed due to the forces of natural and sexual selection, then it's illogical not to apply evolution's selection process to the whole of the species, brain and body.

Edited by secondhander

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As used rigorously and objectively then, EvoPsy contains no contradictions to Objectivism?

With your explanation I am more certain of it, while tending in that direction already..

Basically it is the collectivists and other charlatans who have hijacked it for their own agendas, it seems.

(No: free will won't be destroyed - natural proclivities are the test of it, and finally the absolute validation of it.)

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I'll read the link tonight and respond later. Let's start here :

"It seems also that if there is no properly basic belief then we would be left with subjectivism, not objectivism."

Now what do you mean by "belief". This is important to a proper response. Do you mean that the axioms must be a type of non empirical, faith based choice one makes?

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That link is based on straw men and assumes what is being contended by Peikoff. I'll say more later.

Edit: Euiol, there is no reason to go looking any further because the quote is from ITOE which was written by Rand and Peikoff's exegesis on the A-S dichotomy therein was approved by Rand.

Edited by Plasmatic

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Secondhander:
I doubt that behaviors can be a result of evolution, at least for complex behaviors of animals like dogs, eagles, or frogs. My reasoning is not based on a mind  being above or beyond science, but I am skeptical that there is a mechanism to do this, unless we buy into behaviorism where stimuli leads to a corresponding reaction. Evolution is really just some traits helping survival, but that pertain to things like height, strength, or even immune system antibodies. Having these traits help. In a corresponding way, a brain helps a lot. But how would it be that *evolution* applies to beneficial *behavior*? I do not think behavior is explained much by the theory of evolution to the extent that evolution isn't about behavior anyway. Certainly, beneficial behaviors leads to propagating a species, but I don't think that means behaviors can be passed on from one generation to another. I'm talking about behavior and all the processing that goes with it, not traits relating to epigenetics.

As far as I know, EvoPsych does not explain how behaviors actually are passed down, just that they are passed down. For instance, to use the EvoPsych explanation of racism that you presented, how do you know that such behavior isn't just a strategy that allowed some social groups to last longer as opposed to a strategy that was *also* passed down into offspring and into today? The next step is to gather empirical data on those old civilizations. But that requires time travel! There are of course tribes in the Amazon, I just have no idea conclusions can be made with EvoPsych even still. What? Tribal people acting in tribalistic ways? How surprising! =P With evolution, it's possible to explain traits like height, but behavior is a different type of aspect that is more about how cognitive processing happens than evolution. Your 1-4 points are good, and I'd use similar reasoning for why cognitive science is so good as a science, but my issue is with the methodology of EvoPsych, not that the conclusions have bad implications (that is, there are pro-morality ways to interpret EvoPsych). I just think it's wrong.

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Plasmatic:

I'm actually curious if Rand mentioned "a priori" specifically in her own writing, outside of just ITOE. I know a priori ( *rimshot* ) that a priori knowledge is incompatible with Objectivist epistemology, but I'm curious about additional examples.

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