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Jeff Maylor

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Posts posted by Jeff Maylor

  1. LOL. That figures. Binswanger has a poor track record in philosophizing about the mind-brain-body relationship. Binswanger has also endorsed a version of dualism by hypothesizing a new physical force in the brain which is the causal mechanism of free will. See this reportage about Binswangers lecture course The Metaphysics of Consciousness which is still available at the Ayn Rand bookstore for some reason.

    Objectivism is what Ayn Rand wrote, not what Harry Binswanger wrote. Binswanger's embrace of dualism contradicts Objectivism and he cannot be taken as a spokesman for Objectivism on this issue. He might still be okay for explaining capitalism or egoism in ethics.

    Thanks, I appreciate the feedback and the link.

  2. It probably could be done, but again, the issue is mostly how long it would take. Depends on what causes the nervousness and anxiousness. That may take a lifetime, or maybe a few years. That's an issue for psychology to address. Still, that wouldn't be a matter of willing yourself to be better, medication might be needed to help things along, or may even be required in order to alter how the brain processes stimuli.

    Yes it is true that given enough time, more things might could be changed, but apparently our 70-80 years isn't enough to change dramatically. Also, I agree that a normal person might could learn everything Newton knew, given enough time (although I have my doubts because you have to keep so much going in your mind once you get to the advanced levels). But that issue of how long it takes you is important. IQ - which isn't a perfect measure - depends a lot of speed. So if it takes me a year to learn what it takes you a month to learn ... well you are probably smarter than me.

  3. By all means, name the offender. The war against rationalism continues in house-to-house fighting. That is a ridiculous statement that is obviously wrong and a PhD in this case does nothing except to embarrass whoever made the statement.

    And how can "an intuitive sense of physics" or "a theory of mind" possibly be held in a form which is not an idea? Being born knowing what a toothpick is is simpler and if that is not possible how can such abstractions be possible? The set of referents you propose that may be inborn characteristics are incommensurates, having a personality is not the same as having a theory of mind.

    The offender, so to speak, was Harry Binswanger.

  4. You really should finish reading the thread before replying, especially such a short thread. Objectivism has a precise reference for what is meant by "tabula rasa", and if you had read and understood the posts in this thread there would be no mystery warranting further exploration.

    "Tabula rasa" is a metaphor in which the contents of consciousness have the same relation to consciousness as what is written upon a slate blackboard has to the blackboard. The assertion that the slate starts blank is not equivalent to an assertion that there is no slate and no chalk. Clearly there is a slate and chalk, a human nature and identity which is given. It is the same distinction as between having a memory and having the ability to remember. Memories cannot be inherited, but the ability to remember can be.

    Honestly, you didn't really answer anything. I can look up things in the Ayn Rand lexicon and other sources as well. I'm not so much asking for a parrot as a thinker. Now, if you wish to practice the art of thinking, of dealing with facts and concretes, instead of merely quoting definitions, you may find life more interesting. As a first step, learn to expose yourself to the latest developments in the field you are discussing. And check the unearned arrogance at the door. You have no right to be huffy with anyone here asking honest questions.

    The challenge to what is commonly referred to as tabula rasa or the blank slate, is not that Man has concepts such as "toothpick" in his mind at birth, we've already addressed that. The issue is in what way the slate and the chalk may come preloaded, not with ideas as such, but with things such as an intuitive sense of physics, a theory of mind, a certain temperament, ability to delay gratification, a certain type and structure of IQ, and how these things may vary from person to person. If there is significant variance across human population in these traits, this could have implications for things like personality development and the potential of some populations to maintain certain political systems. This is what is called an interesting question by human beings, as opposed to parroting other people's quotes. And it could potentially prove a challenge to the way many Objectivists view personality. I was told my an Objectivist Phd and authority (not Peikoff)that genes have NO impact on personality. This seems a rather strong and unlikely claim.

  5. There is no validity to that opinion. Just how many engineers they think it would take? We still know how to make rocket engines, build rockets, make space suits. There is not a single technical hurdle that we cannot still do and in my opinion do better. I would point to the falcon 9 as evidence. This spacecraft is designed for a different mission, but it represents a refinement of the Apollo technology. The real question is why would you go? All apologies to George Mallory but because its there doesn't count for anything.

    I'm not arguing that we should go to the moon or even Mars. Manned space flight seems unnecessary most of the time. But it was a great achievement on its own terms. The counter-argument seems to focus on the idea that it's not all about technology. It is also about having a large team of highly motivated, intelligent, courageous men (and women) that can work toward a common goal. I don't really look around America and find people like that anymore.

  6. I answered yes, but you need to define to what degree. Objectivism rejects polylogism, the idea that different races or classes have different kinds of logic. Objectivism also rejects the idea of inherited knowledge or literal racial memory.

    Well I suspect that free will, while it exists, is more limited than most of us have thought. I used to have a very expansive concept of it, but everything seems to point to a crucial but limited role. Some of this may come from getting older and seeing how people struggle to change and can't. I believe Peikoff has said he has never seen anyone actually change personality, to any significant degree, in his whole life. Neither have I. So I can't give a specific answer as to how powerful free will is or isn't, just that it does not seem to be as unlimited as many used to think. Of course, volition would have to be finite, as everything that exists is finite.

    And as I understand it, Objectivism really only claims that free will is the ability to focus or not. Correct? And sense we can only focus on so much, there are bound to be limitations.

  7. If there is a premise or conclusion that amounts to: "everything that is open to our volitional control is not actually open to our volitional control", then that would be a problem. But I'm not sure what you are arguing for or how it would be affected by this.

    Let me try and be more specific. I'm not denying free will or volition, but what most people mean by 'free will' is probably too expansive. Most people literally cannot make themselves be like Isaac Newton, no matter how hard they try and how good their thinking methods are, they simply don't have the IQ. And while you can choose to ignore pain or anxiety, if you are a person that is in some sense "wired" to feel more anxious, it will probably impact your choice of activities in life. There have been studies that show self-control is finite, meaning that our capacity to 'force' ourselves to do something that is unpleasant is not unlimited.

    And on that point, this means I wonder about the claim of some Objectivists that every last bit of subconscious programming can be altered, such that a formerly nervous and anxious person can turn himself into an extrovert. Or maybe a more exact way of putting it is this: Are all those feelings and tendencies purely the result of conscious or subconscious programming? It seems like there is a growing evidence that aspects of our temperament are very genetic. I am thinking of all those dimensions of personality covered by the so-called Big Five.

  8. I can't believe I passed this up!!! Thanks to Grames for the alert.This is actually a bit of rationalism and burying of the conclusion in the premises. It is false that all languages have to have subjects, objects, verbs etc. (I wonder what the referent of etc. is here). These are quite specific grammatical constructs, and there is a good-sized literature on the irrelevance of subject / object in a number of languages (such as Chinese), or the specific category "verb" (I refer you to the seminal work of Jelenik on Salishan). A subject is not the same as an agent (the semantic notion "agent" has a vastly greater claim to linguistic universality than the syntactic notion "subject"), and the crosslinguistic incoherence of the concept "object" is legendary -- corresonding to the fact that we can't even say what is the predominant semantic role of syntactic objects.

    In the day, there were certain nativist theories that demanded that all languages had to have subjects in their sentences, but this was pure stipulation, necessitated only by arbitrary Platonist claims made about sentence structure. I wouldn't say that nobody believes anymore that subjects and objects are obligatory in language, but certainly that is no longer a credible claim and has never been an empirically well-supported claim. It has simply been a theoretical stipulation, and not a good one at that. Thus, of course, not evidence at all for any notion of a prior knowledge of language.

    Basically, Grames exactly identified the two sources of "universals" perfectly: historical common antecedent, and product of solving the same problem.

    Are you claiming there are languages that do not have subjects, verbs and objects? Are you saying Chinese is an example of one that doesn't?

  9. Great question. Objectivists should investigate this issue more fully, it will bear fruit. There needs to be more exploration of the concept tabula rasa and what it actually means, not airy dismissal of all the science that is rushing forward. It seems to be a quirk of many Objectivists to affect an "arrogant and prideful" demeanor, and act as if they were characters in bad version of Atlas Shrugged.

    An important issue is the distinction between innate ideas and other factors that affect personality and psychology (and what we are referring to when we use those last two concepts). Clearly, the way many thinkers have used the phrase tabula rasa is not correct. It has been used to promote the idea that Man is a more or less a malleable lump of clay that can be molded into anything, either by his environment or by his own free will. This is clearly not true and certainly not how Rand meant it, but it is necessary to make that point clear in our culture. The Standard Social Studies Model (SSSM) has promoted this idea and it is dominant in the humanities and in education departments. We don't want to be associated with that because that idea is rapidly being undone (and it's false).

    We also need to make clear that being born tabula rasa (if the concept is to be valid) does not mean being born without a functioning brain that has certain tendencies. There is strong evidence that children have something like a Universal Grammar (so called language "instinct") that helps them learn to speak. This is encouraged by an innate tendency of the baby to babble from an early age and then develops as the child constructs sentences that he could never have been taught. Children born deaf have spontaneously created their own unique sign languages with deaf peers. So there is obviously a capacity and mechanism to do many mental activities that were not learned.

    So, we can say babies are not born with the concept of "airplane", for example. And babies don't seem to be born with a bias toward the Austrian school of economics. However, babies do in fact have an intuitive sense of physics. This has been demonstrated time and again and is available to anyone who googles for it. Children later develop something a like a "theory of mind" that allows them to think of other living creatures as agents, with a mind of their own. This not something that is merely learned. Notably, autistic children do not have this ability and it is severely limited in people with Asperger's syndrome. No amount of learning changes this.

    Doubt the "language instinct"? Well ask yourself this, why have we never found a group of humans that has forgotten how to speak? If it is purely cultural, then surely over the last 50,000 years, on all the continents of earth, we would find some group of humans that forgot how to talk. People get separated, children are abandoned, etc. There have been small bands of humans that lost the entire culture of their original group. But none forgot how to talk. And this is despite the fact that for at least the first 45,000 years of human language, it wasn't even written! It was all oral! All the easier to forget. So clearly, there is an inbuilt ability at work.

    When we begin to catalogue all the things babies and children do, it becomes obvious they are not simply empty computers, blank software waiting to be programmed. If they were, they would most likely never develop at all.

    And this point becomes more obvious when we reflect on that fact that Man is an evolved animal, not a creature plopped down by God in his present form. We must accommodate the last 100,000 years of human evolution, the fact that ape-men existed for even longer periods of time, and that they surely acted on various unlearned “instincts”. If a puppy has an intuitive sense of physics (and they do), why do we think every last bit of it was bred out of Man? Beyond that, humans have a fear of snakes and spiders that appears innate. Babies will react differently to snake or spider-like images than to sheep or frog images.

    And does anyone think our sexual urges were “learned”, in the crude sense it is often suggested? Sure, learning influences it – a little. But the images that excite boys at a certain age have little to do with some Skinnerian association. It is hard wired, straight up. Evolution would never have had time for every last individual to learn all these things. The more you reflect on it, it becomes impossible to view humans as merely blank computers ready to be filled.

    This whole field is fascinating and there are some great books on it. I recommend "The Language Instinct" and "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker, as good starters. In a related field, Evolutionary Psychology is emerging as the hottest topic in psychology, much to the consternation of feminists and socialists. David Buss has several books for the popular audience. If you google around you will find tons of websites.

  10. If you want your argument to be taken seriously, you need to first understand the "tabula rasa" claim, then secondly demonstrate (drawing on Pinker if you want) those scientific facts that refute this tenet of Objectivism. I don't believe that you have done the first, or that you can do the second.

    None of his arguments about language are applicable: they either show a frankly unscientific trend to evangelism in leaping to conclusions not supported by the data (many of his claims about notions of structure, which it turns out are no longer believed by even the most ardent Chomskian nativists), or they are simply inapplicable to the tabula rasa debate -- they pertain to the capacity to learn, not to the prior presence of knowledge. This is the fundamental problem that opponents of tabula rasa fail to grasp -- that the claim is that man is born without specific knowledge of reality; it is not that man is born with no mental ability and must learn how to have mental ability.

    I suggest digging deeper, looking at the actual research literature, to see what these experiments establish, rule out, and simply "hint". What, for example, is there about a baby being surprised at having multiple toys emerging on the other side of the screen that proves that man has genetically-wired knowledge of thenature of the universe? What fact of the experiment establishes that this is not something that children learn, from observation of the world about them? How, by the setup of the experiment, were the children prevented from getting the notion of "motion" before the experiment?

    The fact that brain damage can lead to aphasia in no way establishes any genetic knowledge: it establishess that language is in the brain, not in the foot (in case there is any doubt). So please, look back at your brain-damage argument, and try to understand how that is simply not relevant to the question of tabula rasa. The nativists seem to not understand what the actual claim is -- they are basing their arguments, at best, on long-ago refuted behaviorist notions. So let's see some arguments that actually establish that babies have concrete knowledge of the world which precedes any experience with the fact. Arguments that "language is in the brain" is clearly irrelevant.

    Twin studies, similarly, do nothing to establish knowledge. Objectivism does not hold that your nature, in terms of your consciousness, is entirely independent of your brain. Show me the twin study that establishes actal knowledge prior to experience shared by identical twins.

    Well David, I take his arguments seriously and so do many prominent researchers. Methinks Objectivism best be informing itself on the new science of genetics and personality, not haughtily dismissing every new finding with a wave of the hand and implying the person who brings it up is somehow deficient.

  11. Just curious if there are any scientists and engineers (or knowledgeable armatures)out there that have an opinion on whether we still have the ability to successfully go to the moon and return? I have recently heard some engineers say they doubt it, despite all the computer advances over the last 35 years.

    The crux of the argument seems to be that we could no longer assemble a high quality team of people on a large enough scale to pull it off. We simply don't have them, plus the culture has changed such that the best people would no longer be in key positions. Thoughts?

  12. I would add that there is a difference between a 'right to live' and a 'right to exist'. A right to live is the right to take life sustaining actions, to pursue a certain course of action. But I don't see how there can be such a thing as a 'right to exist'. To exist is the payoff of a successful living, but it is also an outcome, and there can be no such thing as a right to an outcome. We have a right to pursue wealth, but not a right to wealth.

    Rand admired the intellectual precision of the Founding Fathers when they said Man has a right to the pursuit of happiness, not a right to happiness. We have a right to pursue something, to take action, but no right to the outcome.

    Does that help?

  13. Please take a moment to take the poll. I am a fan of Ayn Rand and I have an interest in psychology, personality and behavioral traits. In recent years, I have been impressed with growing evidence that aspects of personality may be influenced by biology and genetics. In a fundamental sense, this seems undeniable. We wouldn't even have brains without biology and genes, and without brains it is hard to see how we could have minds.

    People like Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt have written books that counter the 100% environment only view of personality. This culture only view, sometimes referred to as the SSSM (Standard Social Studies Model), has been dominant in the humanities. This model denies any role for genes. This position seems completely unsustainable. Objectivists usually add the importance of free will to the problem of psychology and personality, but I don't hear much with regard to genes.

    Twin studies seem to support a big role for genes in personality, at least 50%. This also includes items such as political and cultural preferences. In addition, IQ seems to be between 50% and 80% genetic. This alone is provocative, but in addition there are implications for various human populations on a large scale. Because while it is true that group patterns tell you little about a specific individual, it could in fact be useful information when considering large groups.

    Studies suggest significantly more individualism among some populations than others. Some groups score higher on conscientiousness, within the same culture, than other groups, and so forth. Of course, culture is important, but there seems to be evidence that some of the variation is genetic.

    In addition, the burgeoning field of evolutionary psychology seems to offer fresh insight into human behavior.

    And is there any reason Objectivism would be opposed to this position, from a philosophical view?

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