the archives

dusted off in read-only


Origin of Morality posted 14 Oct 2004, 02:10 by NorthernPlato, Candidate

just a thought that occured to me the other day while I was reading 'Calculating God' by Robert J. Sawyer. It was after the section about the how the numbers of digits on the hands influenced the developement of math. It's kind of a tangential line of thought...having nothing to do with my idea on morality, but it was the idea that was my inspiration. As back ground info (sort of a 'full disclosure') I've always been miffed when people compare degrees of grief over tragedy (ie. my cat/dog died gets the required 'my mother/father died' type of one-upsmanship at the office) as the experience is relative (before flaying me for the crime of relativism, let me explain :P ). If someone has never lost anyone/anything then the best that they can do is empathize with someone over that persons grief. However, if the person has lost something special (loved one, pet, ect.) then it is likely that they can identify with someone expressing grief. Losing something like a pet can be as upsetting as losing a parent, sibling or grand-parent. My reasoning is based in the loss of 'innocence' (how I used to refer to it) but now I've started refering to it as the rape of disillusionment. I've attempted to catergorize how any loss or crime leaves the affected feeling afterwards and all seem to have a common root. Having been stolen from quite a few times (funny how losing a bike was as painfull as the theft of a pen recently....though the pen did have sentimental value, it wasn't just a Bic :wink: ) and knowing women how have either been raped, known someone who has or had it happen in close proximity have been changed by the experience to having experienced loss of a loved one (grandparent) and 3 pets as well as going through my parents divorce several years back, I reflected on how these types of events can change a person. Now explaining this succinctly is a problem I'm having. I believe that as members of society we come pre-programmed with certain 'assumptions' about our safety and well-being. This is probably why young adults are often described as 'feeling immortal'...we've simply had less experiences that have stripped us of our illusions. Now how does all of this tie into the origin of morality? Well, I believe that the ability to hold a groundless belief is our species evolutionary pinnacle. More important than the opposable thumb. The ability to think abstractly (and by extension: language, math, art) is a by-product of our ability to fool ourselves. The belief in God is inherent in our minds, not because He necessarily put it there (though I don't rule out His existance) but because we believe in ideas without proof as an evolutionary development. For example, how could humanity ever have begun living in communities larger than the immediate family unit if everyone involved didn't hold the outrageous belief that their belongings, family, [i:n7kctjra]life[/i:n7kctjra] wasn't going to be exactly as it was when they left? Think about every time you leave your house - do you really expect that someone has broken in and either stolen everything or trash the place? Why not? In Sudbury alone, I'm surrounded by at least 100,000 people I don't know, and I know that crime exists. Then how do we do it? Imagine being the first members of Homosapien sapien (i believe i have that right - thats our species, correct?) and gathering in a community (village, tribe, whatever) and leaving to go out hunting or foraging, and returning to find something amiss. Obviously, as a community these types of actions (murder, rape, theft, etc) threaten the continued existance of the community and therefore must be curbed. Hence the creation of rules, laws and codes. Whether punishment or banishment, there must be some sort of deterant to these actions. Not because the actions themselves are 'bad' (afterall, stealing bread for your starving children cant be 'bad') but because these actions erode our confidence in the social unit. Hmm...just realized that I stated earlier that our ability to hold a groundless belief was our evolutionary pinnacle...sorry...I should write this stuff down better before posting...forming societies is the pinnacle....deluding ourselves is the method by which societies can form. I hold that this ability for dillusion is paramount to the creation of societies. Therefore, any other societies could reasonably be expected to have languange, math, religion of some sort, art, et cetera in a similar manner to our own varried cultures. Societies themselves have become the object of our evolution as opposed to our physical form. Now I'm not saying that our ability to have faith (groundless, unreasonable belief in our own welfare) is without its faults. After all, at its worst we have fundamentalism on one extreme and blind, naive trust on the other. But then, the ability for physical mutation and developement by nature for new species isn't without its flaws, namely cancer. But it by these traits that species (via mutation) and societies (changes in belief) can grow and evolve. I'll try to organize my thoughts on the evolution of societies and by extension language and science more fully so that it's not so scatter-brained. After all, I've been living in my head for the last 25 years and being a rather introverted individual, I've spent a great deal of time connecting seemingly random dots. Fior Go Bas view post

posted 14 Oct 2004, 13:10 by Grantaire, Moderator

Very interesting thoughts. I still haven't come to my own conclusions about morality yet, but you gave an intriguing possibility. However, I must disagree with you about your idea of the pinnacle of evolution. While, granted, society certainly does evolve, I disagree with your conclusion that current society is the pinnacle of that evolution. We are not the best possible society- we simply aren't. We have crime, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and all of the other domestic evils. You might argue that those are inherent to humanity, but I believe that human nature and human society are a sort of coevolution. We are not the same humans that existed 2000 years ago, 5000 years ago, and so forth. A change in either humans or society further fuels change both in itself and in the other. Human nature isn't necessarily a constant, and with each generation, we evolve, hopefully becoming more intelligent, kind, etc. But since the state of human nature is one of the driving forces behind the evolution of society, I think we cannot reach a pinnacle of society until humans have reached the point where they can create that society. We cannot. We are still extremely far from what that would take. But perhaps sometime far in the future, perhaps with the aid of technology, man is something that will be overcome. view post

posted 15 Oct 2004, 19:10 by NorthernPlato, Candidate

My bad. I hope no one else thought I meant that [i:317srmpe]our[/i:317srmpe] is the pinnacle of social evolution :shock: . That would be quiet arrogant of me. Now I have been known to be a little arrogant from time to time (but only the tiniest little bit of a speck so) but that's a little much even for me. I meant that the ability to develop societies at all was our species' greatest biological evolutionary leap. I hypothosize (sp?) that it wasn't until our brains were rewired to connect pain with abstract concepts like loss that we were able to classify actions causing loss as 'wrong', therefore giving us a reassurance that what we believed to be true would remain so and allow us to congregate in groups larger than the immediate family unit. I'm currently pestering my girlfriend to dig out her old university texts on the function of the brain so that I can determine how one could prove/disprove my hypothesis. Then I'll start politely haraasing the neurology professor at Laurentian. heehee. Right now I assume that if I'm correct, one would be able to compare the physiology of our brain with that of apes and then other mammals to determine what part of our brain seems to instictively understand personal belonging/sense of safety and experience 'pain' (for lack of a better term; betrayal was my other choice). As an aside, I once tried to imagine what it would be like to try to understand the world around me (immediate surroundings) without language and how I would communicate that idea to another without some common understanding. Try as I might, I couldn't see how that would be possible and I refuse to accept that the original members of our species came pre-programmed with the ability to create language. That must have been an evolutionary developement. Therefore, other mammals also need a method to communicate (which is obvious if one has ever watched two cats be introduced to each other for the first time or introduced a different animal such as a dog into the same environment). But then why did we develope the ability to gather in societies and not another species. It's really too bad that there are no other members of our Genus still kicking around; I wonder if we were alone in this developement or if others shared it. In my first post I stated that I believed that our ability to gather in societies came before our ability to develope language, and in this post I have used the term language to describe an ability that would predate the ability to develope societies. In the interest of semantics allow me to clarify my meaning; language would be the structed use of sounds/gestures to assign meaning to something other physical objects such as abstract ideas; in this post, where I used language I maybe should have used communication, which would allow common understanding but doesn't require grammar or have the need to express something other than the immediate physical space. Patrick view post

posted 17 Oct 2004, 22:10 by Twayleph, Auditor

I find your explanation on the origin of morality very impressive; in some way it relates to my own beliefs. But there are some parts of your argument that I can't seem to understand clearly. Per example, you state that morality is based on ungrounded beliefs and that these delusions are what allowed us to create a society of mutual trust. But how can you determine that it was these beliefs that allowed the creation of society, that ungrounded trust still keeps us together? You said the belief that, per example, our neighbours and society are trustworthy and won't trash our home when our back is turned, is what allows us to leave home. But reason also tells us we should leave home; otherwise we won't get to work, get money, get food, etc. Besides, the probability that a crime actually occurs when we're gone is very low. So how can you say it is not necessity and reason, instead of ungrounded beliefs, that guide our society? By the way, I'm not used to philosophical arguing, so my post may not make much sense, but I find this forum's philosophy section fascinating so here I try to join in! view post

posted 17 Oct 2004, 23:10 by NorthernPlato, Candidate

I'm not that used to discussing philosophy either, this is actually the first discussion that I've started; but welcome aboard :D . While reason may tell us to leave home to go to work, I'd argue against myself saying that hunger was the first motivation to leave home. After all, I'm sure that pre-society congregration of humans had a viable 'Meals-on-Wheels' program for the village. But if we as a species inherently place value on objects (whether sentimental or monetary, for example), and all members of the community need to work together (especially in a smaller, hunter/gatherer capacity) then if one member of the group fears for their belongings more than they trust in the community, then that member may not integrate into the rest of the group and the group loses as a whole. It would be similar to a soldier holding the line losing faith in the ability of others to safe-guard his person, he breaks from the line, followed shortly by others until the entire line is routed. The same can be said for the beginings of a society. If one person doesn't feel "safe" then others may not feel the same and society falls apart. Also, wouldn't be finding comfort from the fact that it's 'statistically' unlikely that yur house will be robbed, be the same as believing in an unfounded sense of security. Actually, I'm amazed at the number of people that feel the same way. For example, there is a large percentage of Canadians who believe that winning the lottary will be their retirement fund. Numbers and percentages are not a very useful indicator for rational behaviour. That is why I believe that we were meant to be irrational and that our behaviour is founded on irrational belief. My girlfriend just told me about a signing primate named Coco. I was saying that my hypothesis could be proved/disproved by comparing the neurological reactions in primates (and latter other mammals, perhaps) by testing for reactions to loss. Apparently Coco had a kitten that died and Coco showed the stages of mourning. I believe I'm off to read up as much as possible. If anyone knows of any similar studies that may have already been conducted, please let me know. Patrick view post

posted 17 Feb 2005, 17:02 by Echoex, Auditor

Morality is a brand for survival. Infidelity spreads diseases. Murder...well...kills... Theft strips one of objects necessary to live (clothing, food, etc.) You name an immoral act and there is some survivalist instinct that it can be traced to. view post

posted 17 Feb 2005, 21:02 by RevCasy, Candidate

However, evolution isn't geared toward [i:3lo1ismq]survival[/i:3lo1ismq], but toward [i:3lo1ismq]reproduction[/i:3lo1ismq]. Infidelity may spread disease, though there was very little communicable disease until very recently from an evolutionary standpoint (it is only with "civilization" that the world has got crowded enough for them to become a problem). However, infidelity also spreads your genes. Murder might secure a place for your offspring in the tribe. Theft might help your children to survive to reproductive age. I think that empathy and selfishness are competing motivations that create a dynamic tension in individuals, and that evolution has shaped us to listen to the one, in any given situation, that makes it most likely for us to pass on our genes. Law, of course, is a different matter. Law is designed to maintain the status quo. Laws are created by those in power and designed, at least in part, to keep them in power. And obviously it benefits others most if you listen to your empathy rather than your selfishness (regardless of the outcome for you). So, the origin of morality IMHO, is that motivation of what I call empathy. That societal instinct. One side of the coin. view post

posted 18 Feb 2005, 13:02 by Echoex, Auditor

[quote="RevCasy"]"However, evolution isn't geared toward [i:1z6wnoez]survival[/i:1z6wnoez], but toward [i:1z6wnoez]reproduction[/i:1z6wnoez]." Reproduction is designed to ensure the s_r_iv_l of the species. (Please remember to phrase your answer in the form of a question.) Before I thank you for strengthening my argument, think back to those mythological references where mankind is punished for mass copulation. Do we really believe that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by a rain of fire and brimestone? I certainly don't. But it is possible that the horny little denizens of these hedonistic locales had some other physical malaise inflicted about their persons. Now, thank you for strengthening my argument. Evolution. What was once the common cold that wiped out the village (colds being spread through mucus transfer, ergo proximity, ergo human interaction, ergo boinking) has evolved into the guerilla STDs et al that seem so rampant among the less discreet of our kind view post

posted 18 Feb 2005, 21:02 by RevCasy, Candidate

Well, just to derail this thread a bit more... (Now that I think of it, are there degrees of derailed? Or is that like saying someone is "a little" pregnant?) I said evolution was geared not toward survival, but toward reproduction. I should have been more precise. Evolution is geared toward the continued existance of a particular set of DNA, that is to say the continued existance of a particular highly complex organic compound. That is all. To say that reproduction is "designed" for anything at all is to anthropomorphise (my 10 cent word for the day) a very simple process and thereby attach all sorts of connotations and implications to that process which do not exist in the real world. Also in regard to communicable disease, places like Sodom and Gammorah and "the village" only began to exist with the advent of "civilization". From the perspective of an evolutionary timescale, civilization is a very recent, very unusual blip. Recently, the date of the first modern humans to evolve in Africa was pushed back to ~195,000 years ago, whereas people have had enough dense population centers to support widespread communicable disease for, what 6,000 years (at most)? In addition, before the rise of modern humans, our evolutionary history, beginning with the first ancestral ape, goes back for hundreds of million of years. So, the idea that we evolved a moral sense even partly in response to communicable disease doesn't (IMO) hold much water. [quote:2k55ksc1]What was once the common cold that wiped out the village (colds being spread through mucus transfer, ergo proximity, ergo human interaction, ergo boinking) has evolved into the guerilla STDs et al that seem so rampant among the less discreet of our kind [/quote:2k55ksc1] By that logic, not covering your mouth when you sneeze should be considered among the most evil acts that a person can commit. :P view post

posted 21 Feb 2005, 13:02 by Echoex, Auditor

That's the point where morality manifests as etiquette -- another side-reaction to survival. Ex. view post

posted 22 Feb 2005, 07:02 by Faelcind Il Danach, Peralogue

I don't think the capacity for faith and morality are really connected. To me from my sociobiology background, morality is essentially an evolved capacity to allow cooperative groups. In order to cooperate we need some ability to project the feelings of others to understand them and respond to them. The drive to do so in moral way is what allows us to live cooperatively. Without the understanding of the golden rule we would fight over food rather then share it, we would kill each other at a whim including out own children (crocodiles will). Faith is an outgrowth of our curiosity I think those things we can't explain we still desire explanations for and spirituallity has been they way such things were explained for most of human history. The important thing to remember is that evolution is not unidirectional there are competing strategies and multiple paths to success so people are variable, we have competive drives just as we have cooperative drives, their equally naturally, rape is as natural as romantic love, it may not be as effective a strategy and it certainly isn't moral or okay but it is natural. Morality is based on evolved responses that doesn't mean it is any less valid or that we shouldn't struggle for moral life. view post

posted 27 Feb 2005, 22:02 by NorthernPlato, Candidate

Wow...I've been away for awhile. It's great to see someone else from Sudbury around - I knew someone else had to have bought that other copy of TWP. Anyway... [quote:2mjk6dxw]I don't think the capacity for faith and morality are really connected. To me from my sociobiology background, morality is essentially an evolved capacity to allow cooperative groups. In order to cooperate we need some ability to project the feelings of others to understand them and respond to them.[/quote:2mjk6dxw] My original argument (perhaps not from this thread, but I guess I can merge them now) was that morality is based on unfounded perceptions, perceptions that are necessary to function in a group. Perceived safety (which is why a sudden death or accident is so traumatic to those around the victim, their perception of safety is shaken) is important to us so that we are less concerned about being harmed and are able to focus on getting ahead (ie. going to work, plowing the field, etc). Faith is an extension of that same 'evolved capacity'. Morality is a tool used to teach our children how to interact with others, how to preserve our illusion of safety. Faith is a tool used to restore trust in the illussions created by morality. Religion combines the two into one 'life-coping mechanism'. As societies grew, I believe religion was also required to create and maintain an administrative branch that cemented a sense of belonging by creating the abstract illusion of authority. I myself don't find anything special about humanity. We were simply the lucky ones chosen by evolution to develop an 'evolved capacity'. Watching any group of animals interact, I see the same potential for abstrtact thought, art and language. Most animals seem only an evolutionary push away from sentience. Communication and language play the most important role in developing the ability to process abstract thoughts and ideas, I believe. Patrick view post

posted 28 Feb 2005, 03:02 by Faelcind Il Danach, Peralogue

I don't think the connection works. Morality is matter of projection what hurts me hurts other people, when I cry it means I am hurt when they cry it must mean the same thing. Faith is not about extending our perception to understand players in our world that are like us but rather the things we can't understand at all. I like your signature by the way I think I know what it means "True till Death"?. I studied scottish Gaelic but based on my very limited understanding the phrase didn't make any sense. I assume it must be irish, pretty cool. view post

posted 11 Mar 2005, 17:03 by NorthernPlato, Candidate

Hey Faelcind, you know, nobody's ever recognized my signature before. You're close by the way. It is (supposedly) Irish Gaelic, and it means "Faithful unto Death". I "borrowed it" from the 2nd Battalion Irish Regiment of Canada. As for the connection of morality and faith, I'm saying that when a person says "what hurts me and makes me cry, must hurt them and make them cry, therefore I shouldn't do that", they aren't really talking about the action (what hurts me) they are really referring to the [i:bjqei7jc]illusion[/i:bjqei7jc] of reality they hold. People [i:bjqei7jc]believe[/i:bjqei7jc] their homes are safe and everything will be the same as when they left because the [i:bjqei7jc]need[/i:bjqei7jc] to believe this in order to leave home and function as a member of society. Therefore, society teaches its children and enforces these beliefs with laws and the idea that what you believe to be safe, others believe to be safe, and let's all take this for granted and go about our lives. When a person is victimized (by any destruction of this illusion) they are hurt. Therefore it is not the act that hurts most, it's the betrayal of our illusions. Basically, someone shined a bright light against our part of the cave wall and we realized that the safety we take for granted is crap. Now enter faith. Religion is used as a means to restore "faith" in the illusion, thereby letting us get on about our daily lives. I'm saying that both morality and faith are tools created by evolution to allow us to work as a society. My theory is that evolution didn't only create humanity, it created societies and that similar to the cells in our bodies, we are no more than parts of the greater organism. Well, in theory anyway. view post

posted 12 Mar 2005, 08:03 by Faelcind Il Danach, Peralogue

Let me ask you question do you think animals have a since of spirituality? view post

posted 13 Mar 2005, 18:03 by NorthernPlato, Candidate

If you mean a sense of spirituality as believing or worshipping "God", no. I believe "God" is an abstract idea we created because we could, because it is a requirement of healing damage done to one's faith in the illusion of security. Does this mean I believe God doesn't exist? No. I don't buy any religions view of God simply they're all to self-serving. I do, however, believe that animals are capable of a sense of self. I'm not going to assume that we're the only creatures with a sense of self and/or community. I believe that our sense of self is much more developed. I believe I've hypthosised in earlier that it's our brains ability to create illusion (not the best word for what I mean, but it's stuck in the head at the moment) and create our capacity for language to define abstract concepts that seperates from most other creatures. Not that I believe other creatures (specifically mammals) incapable of achieving the same feats, I think they're just an evolutionary push away. I'd say we're simply an evolutionary crap-shoot, so to speak. Physically, we're very poorly suited to survival. So evolution tossed us opposable thumbs and a brain wired to form societies. view post

posted 14 Mar 2005, 17:03 by Echoex, Auditor

That's a fairly astute hypothesis, and not far-off from my own thinking. Let's change the context and see if we come up with the same result: Do other animals seek to unravel the physical tapestry of existence? Does your family dog plot the course of the stars or debate Relativity with other dogs in the short time that you let it out to pee? Do zoologists catch leopards making snow angels in the Himalayas? I'm speaking in a purely scientific sense -- science being anathema from spirituality or religion. Although these points of view travel in two separate directions, they both require the same level of sentientism -- that ability to ask the question "Why". Art, Science, Religion all sprout from the seed of higher consciousness. view post


The Three Seas Forum archives are hosted and maintained courtesy of Jack Brown.