Language of Life

I want to write about this Quanta Magazine article: What Is Life? Its Vast Diversity Defies Easy Definition. but I’ve not got enough spare time. Too many irons in the fire or plates spinning or which ever metaphor you favour.

My interest in the insufficiency of language is what attracted me to the article, and is probably how it ended up in my feed. To highlight some aspects, in 2011, Russian geneticist Edward Trifonov reviewed 123 definitions of life and found as many definitions as authors. Although he discovered some core shared features. His version distilled to self‐reproduction with variations.

The article mentions Wittgenstein’s language games—and rightfully so. But it underscores the point that language is an approximation of reality. My working position was that naming objects is simple—in fact trivial—, but naming abstract concepts presents challenges. Now, I find that the challenge sets in earlier than even I expected. Language is truly insufficient.

The first step to recovery is to admit there’s a problem.

Hopeful Rhetoric

My base belief is that what people believe is their truth, and rhetoric is a primary way to convince them. Part of the rhetorical mechanism is to introduce evidence, but this, too, is shrouded in rhetoric.

I’m not talking about the evidence that ‘standard’ water boils at 100°C at sea-level. This is tautological. Water is defined as H₂O. Literally, 100°C is the definition of where water boils under these conditions.

But things that cannot be repeated in controlled environment with the ability to alter parameters within the environment rely on rhetoric. This is why Newton’s laws seemed som compelling until a new narrative (somewhat) supplanted it. Still, this is not the point I want to make. I want to concentrate on the socio-poliotical domain.

I feel that given two equally viable explanations, the one offering more hope will prevail. Donald Trump knows this. This is why in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he railed at a presser how he chastised a reporter for questioning his (false) narrative of hope. Politics relies on more than one rhetorical thread, and many already have the disposition of reviling Trump, so any messages from him are discounted at the start.* But, ceteris paribus, if a person assesses two equally probable outcomes—a typical door number 1 or door number 2 scenario—, and (for whatever exogenous reason) hope is associated to particular door.

In a survival scenario, perhaps you are one of three people lost in a cave and there are two possible paths forward. One person asserts that s/he feels that—without evidence—the left path is best way out but adds logically there is no way to tell, that you might as well flip a coin. The other person confidently conveys that s/he knows—without evidence—that the right path is the path to salvation. Being otherwise indifferent, you are likely to acquiesce to the second person, the one who offers hope over logic.

I fully admit that this is 100 per cent fabricated whole cloth from thin air, but the reason I come to this point is when you compare atheists to theists, anarchists to statists, nihilists to Existentialists, and any such analogic pair, the right side gets more traction and requires much more evidence to sway people to the left.

So when Occupy Wall Street (effectively anarchists) made demands, the status (read: the general population) asked ‘Who’s your leader?’ When the media-industrial complex broadcast this, the public was immediately sympathetic to the structured system. This is slightly different in that it’s not necessarily hope, rather a comfort zone—an endowment effect. It’s a benefit accruing to the incumbent.

My point is: hope floats. It acts to buoy otherwise rhetorically equivalent arguments. Or perhaps hope is simply an employed rhetorical device, so it’s unnecessary to call it out. Now, I’ve convinced myself to adopt this position.

* This is why ad hominem attacks can be effective, as persons swayed by the attack discount messages delivered by this person despite there not being a necessary connection between the grounds for debasement and the claim being asserted.

Cancer

Without considering the veracity of this article or the underlying methodology employed, what if it were true that cancer is a random event?

Setting aside that it is only a co-factor and there are other dimensions such as the type and virulence, what does this inform us about research funding? Is this a veritable cash cow for researchers and ripe with charlatans?

After examining 32 different kinds, researchers determined that 66% of all cancers were driven by chance, 29% were due to environmental causes, and 5% inheriting a mutation.

Op. cit.

Sure, different cancers have different correlative percentages, whether 35% for lung cancer or 95% for prostate cancer, and there may be different covariant factors, but, as might be the case for prostate cancer, we only have about 5% to address systematically, and we don’t even know that tweaking within this 5% will have ant material benefits to the health outcome of the patient. At least we have 65% of leeway for lung cancer.

Is there an inverse relationship between the proportion of randomness and positive health outcomes?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I am also aware that some randomness is probably due to methodology, approach, and simply not necessarily fully understanding the mechanisms behind cancer—or the cause of the seemingly random genetic mutation. I’m not sure how one selects a control group to limit other causes.

The Truth about Truth (Second Amend)

Please note that this content has been subsumed into the originating article: The Truth about Truth.

SECOND: We have no idea if any changes to our perception move us closer to or further from Reality.

Rather than being asymptotic, perhaps the relationship to is polynomial (or the result of some stochastic function). See the graph above. As we move into the future (in red) and look back, we may perceive that we’ve reversed against some notion of progress. Common wisdom is that progress is directly, positively related to time. But is it?

In my last post, I reference how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics, but in the future, this could be shown to be wrong. In our minds, what had seemed like progress may in retrospect turn out to have been a false assertion.* Moreover, we’ll dutifully accept this updated notion of truth if the rhetoric is sufficient to fit our concept of evidence, especially given humans’ propensity for pareidolia.

Taking our understanding of gravity as the fabric of space-time, we still have no idea what’s going on or how it operates, but this doesn’t prevent us from accepting it as a black box and making pragmatic predictions from there. So, for all intents and purposes, the ‘truth’ mechanism is less important than the functional relationship, just as I can tell time on a watch I have no idea how it operates.

I am no true Sceptic, but neither do I accept the prevailing meta-narrative whole cloth. Unfortunately, I am in no better position than the next to discern proximity to the underlying structure of reality.


* I am not versed well enough in the history of science, but I’d be interested to know which, if any, scientific advances have been a step ‘backward’, that a belief had overtaken a prior belief only to have reverted to the former.

I am aware of the slow march of science and the ignorance of possibly valid assertions simply because the rhetoric was not strong enough or the PR just wasn’t adequate. An example might be the debate of theoretical Democracy versus Communism: which is better than the other. Of course, there are too many dimensions to consider, and the adoption or exclusion of one dimension over another might be enough to tilt the outcome.

In the real world—see what I did there—, the US spend billions upon billions of dollars to interfere with Communism—and I am not taking a position whether it would have succeeded or failed on its own terms—, just to be able to knock down the strawman some century later though propagandising and disinformation campaigns.

The Truth about Truth

The notion of Truth is not as cut-and-dry as it might appear at first glance. As a non-cognitivist, I don’t believe in the notion of objective Truth, so I am not entirely sure why it matters enough to me to continue to talk about it. I suppose I’m an Emotivist and Prescriptivist, if these terms capture the essence of my feelings. The Emotivism is what attracts me to an issue whilst Prescriptivism is why I feel the urge to transmit my beliefs. I’ll also suppose, if I adopt an evolutionary survival framework, that people do this to enhance probability of survival by minimising otherness. It also identifies me to those with a similar perspective. The inherent risk is that this attempt at community-building also broadcasts my potential—and let’s be real here, actual—otherness.

In practice, I’d venture that most people simply take the notion of truth for granted, and given an inquiry would defend it with an ‘of course it’s true‘ response with no need for additional justification. But as with human language more generally, Truth is an approximation of a notion. I like to categorise it as Archetypal.

The issue with Truth and other virtues (and pretty much everything else not analytically tautological), is that people don’t seem to believe that they operate asymptotically. They believe there is a truth, it’s objective and accessible, with enough inquiry, can be discovered.

I am self-aware that employing the language of maths and science is a problem adopted for many in philosophy, as they attempt to legitimatise a position by explaining it relative to the currently adopted metanarrative framework. I also know that by adopting this frame, I (or anyone in a similar position) am (is) twisted into convoluted knots. This is how science had been forced into retrograde motion models to explain a geocentric model of the universe, but when the paradigm was shifted to a heliocentric model, these off behaviours fell by the wayside. I suppose a superior approach would be to redefine the language and deposition the frame, but that’s easier said than done.

Graph: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Asymptotic Curve)

The common assumption is that, over time, scientific inquiry will lead us closer to the truth. Correspondence theory supports the notion that more observations and perspectives will lead to a closer approximation, and eventually tools at our disposal will lead to more granular definitions, until we reach a point that and differences in the tangency to reality will be insignificant, a veritable rounding error. But there are several problems with these assumptions.

FIRST

We have no idea how close or far we are from Reality on the Y-axis, representing Truth.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is truth-correspondence-1.png
Graph: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Asymptotic Curve)

Assuming for the time being that there is an approachable truth, we have no reference to understand how close to reality we might be. In practice, we seem to operate on a basis of always being within some level of statistical significance of where Truth = Reality, and when new information is introduced, we say, “Hooray for Science!” Aren’t we glad that science is self-correcting. Empiricism has its own issues.

Historically, we’ve had ‘wrong’ correspondence between Truth and Reality, but then we got it ‘right’—until we didn’t. Rinse and repeat.

We may all be familiar with the story of how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics. What Einstein did is to create a new narrative—a synchronous shift of paradigm and rhetoric—, which has been accepted into a revised orthodoxy. In our mind, this feels like progress. But how close are we to the real truth?

Taking our understanding of gravity as the fabric of space-time, we still have no idea what’s going on or how it operates, but this doesn’t prevent us from accepting it as a black box and making pragmatic predictions from there. So, for all intents and purposes, the ‘truth’ mechanism is less important than the functional relationship, just as I can tell time on a watch I have no idea how it operates.

SECOND

We have no idea if any changes to our perception move us closer to or further from Reality.

Rather than being asymptotic, perhaps the relationship to is polynomial (or the result of some stochastic function). See the graph above. As we move into the future (in red) and look back, we may perceive that we’ve reversed against some notion of progress. Common wisdom is that progress is directly, positively related to time. But is it?

In my first amendment, I reference how Einstein progressed and refined Newtonian physics, but in the future, this could be shown to be wrong. In our minds, what had seemed like progress may in retrospect turn out to have been a false assertion.* Moreover, we’ll dutifully accept this updated notion of truth if the rhetoric is sufficient to fit our concept of evidence, especially given humans’ propensity for pareidolia.

I am no true Sceptic, but neither do I accept the prevailing meta-narrative whole cloth. Unfortunately, I am in no better position than the next person to discern proximity to the underlying structure of reality.

THIRD

Rhetoric is a primary driver to fashion our sense of how close or distant we are from reality. Rhetoric shapes and focuses the frame.

War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength

1984, George Orwell

I’ve already commented at length about the primacy of rhetoric. To recap for the purpose of this disquisition, the only meaningful arbiter of truth is rhetoric—the ability to persuade the larger populace to accept something as true.

Here, I’d expect someone to counter with, ‘Just because people are convinced that something is true doesn’t make it so’, and they’d be right. However, as we cannot access the underlying reality accept through our admittedly fallible senses, who’s to argue?

Moreover—departing on a tangent—, we know that other lifeforms—let’s stick with the animal kingdom—have different senses than humans, and some humans perceive things differently to the normie (if I may adopt a spectrum term) .

Sharks have electroreception (re: The Ampullae of Lorenzini), which allows them to perceive small changes in electrical fields as well as what’s termed a lateral line ( mechanoreceptor function), which allows them to recognise changes in environmental pressure. Other known sensory adaptations are echolocation in bats and dolphins and chemoreceptors (notably in insects and snails).

We are probably also aware that different animals have differing degrees of sense acuity compared to humans. Dogs hear frequencies above the human threshold and have better olfactory discrimination. Birds of prey have superior vision. Women typically have a broader colour vocabulary.

Bees see in ultraviolet; snakes can ‘see’ in infrared; owls have night-vision.

And then there’s synesthesia, a condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. A person with synesthesia may perceive sound as colour (chromesthesia) or perhaps taste.

Given concepts of normality, we presume we are synesthesia are normal and these other people are somehow not, but for all we know, we normies are evolutionary dead ends, soon to be displaced by synesthesiacs. (Is that even a word? It is now.)

But I digress.

Perception is reality. If one can convince you of something, e.g. Donald Trump is a good president, then it’s ostensibly true to you. If one can convince an entire population that something is true, e.g. the plot of Orwell’s 1984, or The Matrix, then who’s to say otherwise.

FOURTH

Intent in communicating perception does not get one closer to some corresponding reality. It merely converges perception.

This fourth entry is a response to this comment by Landzek from The Philosophical Hack regarding the notion of intended truth in communication.

Extending the simple asymptotic function from the first section, we might see (in Graph 4a) a slight variation in interpretation due to the insufficiencies of language—providing us with a close enough for the government approximation to some shared perception. People in this group will tend to agree on some perception, say, that the earth is spherical.** The average distance from perception to reality is the same for all in-group members, give or take some small variance that I’ll dismiss as an insignificant rounding error.

Graph 4a: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Simplified in-group concurrence)

Graph 4b, however, illustrates two opposing perceptions of reality. In this example, I show proponents of orthodoxy (group O), who claim the earth to be roughly spherical, arbitrarily closer to reality than proponents of an alternative theory (group A), who claim that the earth is flat.

Each in-group has some variance from the mean notion, but ex-group members are orders of magnitude apart, as measured by the blue and red bars to the right of the chart. If we assume some binary condition that the earth is either spherical or flat with no other options, one of these might be considered to be right whilst the other would be wrong. We can establish this situation relative to the ex-groups, but, still, neither of these is comparable to Reality™ .


Graph 4b: Correspondence of Truth to Reality (Simplified ex-group concurrence)

The intent of each group may be to promote the perspective of the group—each claiming to be closer to the truth than the other. It is easy to imagine a situation where both claimants are equally distant from the truth:

Imagine two groups, each making opposing claims:

  • Tarot is superior to Astrology in predicting the future.
  • Astrology is superior to Tarot in predicting the future.

I’ll go out on a limb here and create a reality where the future is not predictable by either measure, irrespective of what each in-group believes.


* I am not versed well enough in the history of science, but I’d be interested to know which, if any, scientific advances have been a step ‘backward’, that a belief had overtaken a prior belief only to have reverted to the former.

I am aware of the slow march of science and the ignorance of possibly valid assertions simply because the rhetoric was not strong enough or the PR just wasn’t adequate. An example might be the debate of theoretical Democracy versus Communism: which is better than the other. Of course, there are too many dimensions to consider, and the adoption or exclusion of one dimension over another might be enough to tilt the outcome.

In the real world—see what I did there—, the US spend billions upon billions of dollars to interfere with Communism—and I am not taking a position whether it would have succeeded or failed on its own terms—, just to be able to knock down the strawman some century later though propagandising and disinformation campaigns.


** I understand that the earth being an oblate spheroid is primarily an analytical distinction, so is tautologically true, but I am using a simplification of a commonly accepted fact.


DISCLAIMER: In order to keep generating new content (or even content) on this blog, I will occasionally adopt a new approach of publishing unfinished thoughts instead of waiting to complete the thought. This means, I may be editing pages in place to correct my position and alter narrative flow, of not the narrative itself.

EDIT: I’ve included my amendments in line above, though I’ve retained links to the original content.

Gay Genes

I’ve been so busy attending to other things, that my blogging here has gone by the wayside. Philosophy is an activity meant for those with spare time.

Besides philosophy, genetics is an interest of mine. An article I was reading, Genetics may explain up to 25% of same-sex behavior, giant analysis reveals, prompted me to react and respond. This article by the Economist came out ,too.

As the article states, there is no one gene, and we can’t even predict ‘gayness’ based on some configuration of genes. That humans’ knowledge of genetics is so nascent is one reason, and over-imagining the impact of genes on behaviours may be a problem. Just because you want to find a relationship doesn’t mean one exists.

My take is that genetics establish a predisposition. Genes may limit your height to 180 cm, but environmental factors may not allow you to reach this limit, and anything short of genetic modification will not allow you to surpass this limit.

I don’t see a reason for sexual orientation to be different. One may have a propensity to same sex attraction, let’s say 70%, but if environmental factors fail to catalyse this predilection, it may never manifest. Even this is too simplistic.

Being ‘gay’ is an identity marker. Just because a person has same-sex relationships does not mean the person identifies as gay. Moreover, one can be ‘virginal’ or celibate and otherwise have had unexpressed same-sex tendencies. More-moreover, ‘gay’ is not about activity; it’s an emotional attraction. A ‘gay’ person might have sex outside of their identity orientation for myriad reasons, for example, access to a partner of the preferred orientation (say, prisoners) or for survival (say, prostitutes).

On balance, I’d argue that this is a quixotic venture into finding the underpinning of a human social construct. Once again, humans obsessed with categorisation, as if finding a category provides special meaning to the thing in it.

The Rhetoric of Truth

I’ve shared a new video on YouTube discussing the rhetorical nature of truth.

Before the Classical Hellenes, Mesopotamians recognised the power of rhetoric as the art of using language to convince or persuade.
The term itself derives from the Greek ῥητορικός, rhētorikós.

As with any human construct such as language, truth and rhetoric are confined by limitations of the system and its logical structure.

In “Gorgias”, one of his Socratic Dialogues, Plato defines rhetoric as the persuasion of ignorant masses within the courts and assemblies.

Rhetoric, in Plato’s opinion, is merely a form of flattery and functions similarly to cookery, which masks the undesirability of unhealthy food by making it taste good.

Rhetoric typically provides heuristics for understanding, discovering, and developing arguments for particular situations, such as Aristotle’s three persuasive audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos.

But it’s more insidious than all of this. The notion of truth—or whatever we believe to be true—is nothing more than rhetoric.

If one is aptly convinced that something is true, it is. The physical world—the world of objects—contains facts—attributes of these objects, but these facts are tautological descriptors: a red car, une voiture rouge, ou quelque chose. In the conceptual domain of abstractions such as truth, justice, gods, and love, all bets are off.

As Geuss aptly suggests, most of society and civilisation don’t care about philosophical thought at this level. This is privileged activity. It’s not about level of intellect, per se; rather, it’s the privilege of free time to devote to abstract thinking.

Most people are more concerned with getting to the next day to earn a paycheque, and they accept sloganeering for any deeper meaning.

Humans are said to be rational beings. In fact, this predicates entire disciplines such as economics…

…and jurisprudence. Legal systems are founded on the concept that humans are at least rational enough to make fundamental decisions about right and wrong—and this, of course, presumes that the notions of right and wrong in and of themselves are meaningful.

For the sake of argument, let’s presume that humans are at least rational enough for our purposes, and whilst right and wrong may not be objectively validated, that within the context of a society—presuming that not to be mired in its own identity problem—, it can be defined in the manner of a social compact envisaged by the likes of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, et alii. As the saying goes, ‘if it’s good enough for the government… well.

Language is a human construct, yet it’s an apparition. Like a physical object, it appears solid, but there’s more space than not. What’s there is exiguous. Echoing Heisenberg’s observations at the atomic level, one cannot be fully certain of a particular meaning. This is what Derrida (via Barthes) meant by ‘the death of the author’, though there is nothing to guarantee that the author could fully articulate the meaning or intent even if they were present to defend it.

About the same time, Saussure was finding promise in the structure of language, Russell was creating a new language of logic to obviate its deficiencies. Structuralists and logical positivists were a natural extension of the scientism of the 20th Century, the prevailing wave since the Enlightenment, but as with the demise of gods, religious belief, and other things metaphysical, this faith in structure was also specious.

Historically speaking, there is progress (another illusion), and there are paradigm shifts. When a paradigm shifts, an old truth is replaced by a new one. This is typically credited to a progression of knowledge, but it’s actually just that, on balance, people have accepted a new frame, chalking it up to scientific method rather than some rhetorical sleight of hand.

Even so, scientific discovery is different to archetypal notions such as truth or justice. At least we can empirically test and verify a scientific notion, even if what we are observing is later revised because of some previously unknown factor or removed constraint. For example, until Einstein’s day, Newton would not have known that his theory of gravity would break down as it approached the speed of light. But truth is just an opinion—even if widely held. Enter the ‘appeal to tradition’ flavour of logical fallacy—I’ll not dwell on the fact that systems of government are based on this quaint notion of precedents. #JustSaying

“Truth is simply a culmination of the rhetorical power to persuade the ignorant masses.”

Plato

I’ve arrived at my philosophical position as an autodidact. I am not a conventional scholar, and my exposure to philosophy derives from books, videos, and online sources including Wikipedia, blogs, Reddit, and the such.

I consider myself to be a non-cognitivist in the realm of Ayers’ Emotivism, and I fully realise that society as we know it relies on some notion of ascertainable truth. Of course, Nietzsche was vilified for observing that ‘God is dead’ and unceremoniously subjected to the ad hominem attacks afforded to the likes of Marx.

I’ve got a certain amount of respect for Existentialists (and Absurdists), but I find the teleological component a bit at odds with the central tenet. To that extent, I am more of a Nihilist.

I am more comfortable with what’s been called ‘Post-Modernism’, despite admiring the effort of some Structuralists and Logical Positivists. Where this love affair ends is where the permeation of science fetishists begin. Scientific Method and Logic are the gods of the New Age.

As a post-Enlightenment child, I’ve been steeped in all of its unfound glory, and it’s harder still for me to escape the pull of my Western indoctrination. So, to argue, one is forced to comply with the rules of logic within the limitations of human language—even the limitations of Russell’s language of Logic. And like arguing with a proponent of religion who points out that you can’t disprove his Ethereal Unicorn, one is forced into positions of arguing against Quixotic figments introduced as metaphysical elements.

Movement Is Not Progress

Before creating this, I searched online for instances of ‘movement is not progress‘ and ‘motion is not progress‘. I got results, but these results were generally either motivational or spiritual, which may amount to a different side of the same coin. To this contingent, movement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress. The dictionary defines progress as:

1. Forward or onward movement towards a destination

— or —

2. Development towards an improved or more advanced condition

Progress appears to be related to a specific type of movement: forward, but this still doesn’t seem to capture the essence of what we mean by the word progress. This is captured by the second definition by the inclusion of improved or advanced, but on what dimension are we assessing this improvement? Except in the minds of the adherents, this appears coincidentally to be arbitrary; anything in line with their wishes appears to be an advancement.

Unfortunately, progress is more than this still. Take the expanding universe model as an analogy—let’s not even discuss how a multiverse would further exacerbate things. Imagine that I can travel from Earth to Mars, and if I define Mars as the destination, then I have satisfied definition Nº 1, as I have made progress towards Mars (my stated destination), but I haven’t actually made any improvement. All I’ve done is changed position. I’ve gone from here to there, but now there is here, and here is there. If I retrace my route from Mars to Earth, again I’ve made progress under the first definition, but, in fact, I’ve just completed a circuit. Sure, I can argue that I may have done something on Mars that I can label progress: perhaps I’ve planted a flag or started a colony, but how is this progress? Following the same logic, is a cancer in your pancreas colonising your, well, colon progress? A disinterested observer taking the perspective of the cancer might say that the cancer has progressed or spread, but the patient may disagree with the assessment of progress.

In the sense that history is (anecdotally) written by the victors, we may have the illusion of progress, but as notables from Rousseau to Thoreau have quipped, progress is no progress. Even so, this progress presumes a wholesale concept of worse and better, yet there is no objective measure. This can only be claimed within some context. So, if I accept, within in the human domain, that Capitalism is better than Feudalism, then I can claim to have progressed. If I build a house on a plot of land, I can claim progress. Of course, to the previously standing wood, this is no progress. To the creatures who had occupied the wood, again, no progress. So, is progress a zero-sum game that I can qualify as a positive sum game by narrowly defining the system boundaries? Probably so, but let’s leave that for another day.

“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.” ― Alfred A. Montapert

So what’s my point? My point is that there is only the illusion of progress, and that only in the realm of jingoistic specieism can we accept this illusion. In reality, there is no progress; there just is. We just are.

God is Dead. God is Necessary.

I stumbled upon Professor Jordan Peterson and his defenders of virtue morality, like Dr Stephen Hicks, and I decided to watch some vids.

Full Disclaimer: Not a fan

I ended up on his lecture about Carl Jung.

I’d been interested in archetypal and depth psychology for ages, and I’ve read most of Jung’s work. I still own all of the volumes of his complete works. The difference between me and Professor Peterson is that I take it as metaphor and, by his words, I presume that he doesn’t.

The video clip is cued to the location where Jordan says, speaking of Nietzsche,

“…‘God is dead, and we have killed him’ led Nietzsche to pose another question, which was: What are we going to do to replace him? Because Nietzsche believed—and I think he was absolutely right about this. I can’t see how it could be otherwise—, he believed that the morality that had structured Western society was predicated on the fundamental axiom of divinity, and so, as far as Nietzsche was concerned, the whole purpose of morality was dependent on that axiom being true—or at least being accepted as true. And when that axiom was knocked out by, say, the conflict between science and religion—because in some sense that’s what did it—, then the whole system no longer had anything to stand on and could become entirely questionable…”

The whole purpose of morality was dependent on [the existence of divinity] being true.

As I’ve said time and again, this is the primary reason people—especially those defending or seeking some sense of status quo, conservative vanguards, and morality warriors—insist on the existence of a real, objective moral centre or a good-enough version of it—one that coincidentally conforms to their worldview.

I’m afraid that I am going to need to hear something well more convincing than that because I’m not buying what these guys are selling.

3 Laws of Behaviour Genetics

Genetics

[EDIT: Researching immediately after I wrote this article, I skimmed—I’ll have to find time to read it later—Turkheimer’s paper Still Missing (PDF, 2011), where he walks back his original assertion.]

The question, “why are children in the same family so different?” is answered, “Because measurable differences in their environment make them that way.”

I finished Pinker’s The Blank Slate the other day, but I didn’t have much time to capture my reflections. I’m already onto my next book, Mill’s Utilitarianism, so I figured I record some thoughts before they become too distant.

In chapter 19, Pinker summarises Eric Turkheimer’s paper Three Laws of Genetic Behaviour Genetics and What They Mean (PDF, 2000, dead link):

  1. The First Law: All human behavioural traits are heritable.
  2. The Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.
  3. The Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

Elaborating on this, he summarises Turkheimer’s assessment on the variance in personality contributable to three factors: genetics, society, and family. According to this theory, variations in personality due accounted for by environment, are composed as

3 Laws of Behaviour Genetics

50 percent accounted for by society (non-shared environment); 40 – 50 percent accounted for by genetics (biology) and 0 to 10 percent attributable to family (shared environment). In his assessment, he was able to eliminate usual-suspect factors like birth order and siblings.

“Genotype is in fact a more systematic
source
of variability than environment.”

According to Pinker, the 0 to 10 percent is generous, and it could just as well be 50% society and the rest is genetics. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for psychoanalysis, a discipline who strongly pushes back on this concept—just with emotional appeal in lieu of science.