As I reread the section (pgs 187 to about 191) of Matthew Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect that both Berni and David commented on I was struck by how familiar Liebermann findings or conjectures were to The Lonely Crowd: A study of the Changing American Character, by David Riesman in collaboration with Reuel Dwnny and Nathan Glazer back in 1950. Which was still big in the sixties when I read it.
Berni specifically quoted from Lieberman’s page 191 that the self “exists primarily as a conduit to let the social groups we are immersed in supplement our natural impulses with socially derived impulses. The social world imparts a collection of beliefs about ourselves, about morality, and about what constitutes a worthwhile life.”
Riesman quotes another big name from his era, Eric Fromm who declared, “In order that any society may function well, its members must acquire the kind of character which makes them want to act in a way they have to act as members of society or a special class within it. They have to desire what objectively is necessary for them to do. Outer force is replaced by inner compulsion, and by the particular kind of human energy which is channeled into character traits.”(Emphases in original) This quote and a lot about Riesman’s work almost leads me to believe that Lieberman set out to prove the validity of Riesman’s work about the relationship of human beings to the society they live in; but instead of using population demographics as a justification for the changing relationship of individuals beliefs to that of the ‘Crowd’ as Riesman does, Liebermann uses evolution and neurology to account for how society can mold our individual beliefs.
What I have not been able to find in Liebermann’s work is why human beings, made such a dramatic departure from Darwinian Theory of Evolution of why biological life divergences and becomes more complex as it adapts to the ecosystem into which it is born. (Even though he use the word ‘evolution” over a 100 times in his work). For example such statement as “supplement our natural impulses with socially derived impulses”, which at times can override our biological instincts for self-preservation, seems to totally contradict Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin or more recently the Neo-Darwinist, basically states two conditions for biological diversity. The need for random mutations of genes, and that the through natural selection, only the fittest survive to pass on their genetic traits. The assumption here is that the survival of Uno Number One takes precedence over all else except in the case of protecting your offspring when they are young (who have your genes). And this condition only seems to happen with mammals. Other species, given an opportunity will eat their young. I guess their genes hadn’t yet learned how to communicate that this was a no-no.
Either Darwin’s theory is wrong when it comes to biological human evolution, or humans are an exception to the rule, especially when it comes to such traits as fairness and altruism in human beings, which Lieberman spends a couple of chapters in his book defending neurologically, without ever clouding his arguments with even a hint of how his findings contradict the Neo-Darwinists on this issue.
Am I seeing something that isn’t their?
- Alva Noë: "Why Is Consciousness So Baffling?"
- Antonio Damasio: "The Quest to Understand Consciousness"
- Big Think: "Antonio Damasio & Siri Hustvedt"
- Big Think: "Daniel Dennett"
- californica: portrait of the artist as an organism (Jason Tougaw's blog)
- Daniel Dennett: "Cute, Sexy, Sweet, Funny"
- Emily Singer: "The Measured Life"
- Extraordinary People: The Boy Who Could See Without Eyes
- Gail Hornstein's Bibliography of "First Person Narratives of Madness in English"
- Gail Horstein, "The Hearing Voices Network"
- Gary Wolf on "The Quantified Self"
- Hearing the Voice Project
- Interview with Alva Noë (Salon)
- Jesse Prinz: "Waiting for the Self"
- Jill Bolte Taylor: "My Stroke of Insight"
- Koestenbaum on Viegener
- Maud Casey
- Rufus May: "Living Mindfully with Voices"
- Siri Hustvedt
- Tarnation Trailer
- The Quantified Self
- V.S. Ramachandran: "3 Clues to Understanding Your Brain"
- We Live in Public Trailer
It’s a great–and complex–question. Lieberman does suggest that we evolve traits that facilitate social harmony because it has benefits for our species. But of course we also evolve traits that facilitate plenty of social disharmony.
It seems to me that any argument about why humans have evolved particular traits is highly speculative. There is no trait that serves a single purpose; most traits can’t be linked to single genes, but to the interaction of genes and with epigenetic influences from our environments (or habitats?). But I’m no expert on evolutionary biology.