Biological Politics? Out-Of-Touch Liberals And Fear-Mongering Conservatives
    By Hank Campbell | January 5th 2012 11:28 AM | 37 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    It's not correlation/causation (though less and less is, since science has learned that causation is now teaching us less and less about how to actually fix things) but some in the social fields are claiming there are biological truths to stereotypes about the left and right, like that progressives are self-indulgent and clueless on national issues while conservatives are fear-mongers with a fetish for exaggerated dangers.

    Neither is overly true, of course but if you agree with one and not the other, it is obvious which you are.  A group of political scientists and psychologists think they have helped with a recent study. They monitored physiological reactions and eye movements of study participants when shown pleasant and unpleasant images; the usual stuff, they measured skin conductance changes, which is basically a lie detector test and just as accurate. And they gathered cognitive data with eyetracking equipment that captured eye movements while combinations of unpleasant and pleasant photos appeared. 

    Conservatives reacted more strongly to unpleasant images, they fixated on those more quickly and looked longer, while liberals had stronger reactions to and looked longer at pleasant images. Conservatives reacted more to a crashed car while progressives reacted more to a bunny rabbit.  Neither is bad, obviously, but certainly different.

    "It's been said that conservatives and liberals don't see things in the same way," said Mike Dodd,
     University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) assistant professor of psychology and the study's lead author. "These findings make that clear – quite literally."

    Consistent with the stereotype that conservatives respond more to negative stimuli (they worry) while liberals respond more to positive stimuli (they hope) when it comes to politics itself, they found conservatives exhibited a stronger physiological response to images of Democratic politicians than they did on pictures of well-known Republicans while liberals had a stronger physiological response to Democrats than they did to images of the Republicans, obviously the former was likely negative and the latter positive, though there is no way to know for certain - the response was just stronger.

    The conclusions the researchers draw are not as grounded; rather than showing that tolerances are why people pick parties, they try to say evolution is at the root, claiming political leanings are at least partial products of our biology, which goes to show you that political scientists and psychologists who don't understand biology should not invoke it, at least as cause and effect.  But the new study's use of cognitive data regarding both positive and negative imagery adds to the understanding of how liberals and conservatives see and experience the world and that has value, even if the more broad conclusions are not evidence-based.

    UNL professor of political science and psychology John Hibbing goes too far when he tries to play evolutionary psychologist, claiming the results might mean that those on the right are more attuned and attentive to aversive elements in life and are more naturally inclined to confront them, which makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, he said.  That would mean humans are two distinct species, but only in America, so science readers should just ignore the conclusion woo and focus on the negative/positive responses they found in people already left or right and see where it can take us.

    "When conservatives say that liberals are out of it and just don't get it, from this standpoint, that's true," Hibbing said. "And when liberals say 'What are (conservatives) so frightened of? Is the world really that dangerous?' Given what each side sees, what they pay attention to, what they physiologically experience – the answer is both sides are right."

    Of course, there is a bright side to their claims about a biological imperative for political persuastion; anti-science people on the left who think vaccines cause autism and anti-science people on the right who think pollution is not bad for us can perhaps be a little easier on each other given these results.  Instead of claiming those with opposite political views are uninformed or willfully ignorant, they can now claim physiological and cognitive differences. The other side is simply brain damaged.

    If differences are biological, people have to be nicer to each other, right?  No one picks on the mentally disabled. Front page image:

    The study will be in a future issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.


    The other side is simply brain damaged.
    I wonder if there's an age/left,right difference in the test subjects, I can see how as you gain experience(ie age) you're more aware of things that can kill you.
    Never is a long time.
    And life experiences matter, which also says biology has little to do with it - 60% of the time, a Republican is a Democrat who got mugged.
    I think it's interesting that, according to this "study" (or, at least, to the interpretation given by Hibbing), "conservatives say that liberals are out of it and just don't get it" while "liberals say 'What are (conservatives) so frightened of? Is the world really that dangerous?'".  Yet, cases like "anti-science people on the left who think vaccines cause autism" (and, similarly, that genetically engineered crops will "kill us") would seem to fit in the "fear" category, while "anti-science people on the right who think pollution is not bad for us" would seem to fit in the "just don't get it" category.  Similarly with the "fear" of Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate-Change on the left, vs. the "it's not that bad" view on the right.

    Either their interpretation doesn't fit, or these particular situations are the exceptions.  Maybe the "anti-science" subsets are always the opposite of their respective "sides"?

    I think it's the latter.  They seem to think that there aren't numerous knobs in why people think the way they think and they wanted to pick something and see what happens.  It's a real flaw in these sorts of studies because they can't generate meaningful data (well, not yet - I assume psychology will become more powerful in time) but they try and draw meaningful conclusions.
    Gerhard Adam
    One thing I've never seen discussed, is why there's an assumption that someone is liberal or conservative their entire lives.  It should be clear that people's political views change, which pretty well precludes there being any evolutionary psychological basis for it.

    Then again ... what can you say when an evolutionary psychologist has no problem in claiming that natural selection isn't about survival.
    Mundus vult decipi
    That would mean humans are two distinct species, but only in America,
    Come on - no it doesn't mean that. Two different traits are not different species before speciation occurs, which won't happen as long as liberals still like conservative wives to make them sandwiches. The problem here is not so much the science or the evolutionary interpretation, but the fact that the labels "liberal/conservative" simply indicate a slight division through a test subject pool full of pretty much middle of the road American psychology undergrads (probably - as almost always - that or mice). Of course the hate response of a European communist puking over a picture of G. Bush is not predictable in this scheme. Can we please stick to criticizing what needs to be criticized rather than persistently ridiculing evolutionary approaches in social sciences? Yes, biology does also determine attention and stress levels (scared by certain images) and all of that. Chimpanzees are not Bonobos who got mugged. And of course our emotions do determine largely our political leanings.
    And of course our emotions do determine largely our political leanings.
    Are you contending you evolved different emotions than other?  How many different phenotypes is in evidence here?
    ?!? Not sure what you are asking, but in general one can only much later ever make the distinction. It is up to you to make a distinction at some point. The next generation is always basically the same, nevertheless, we are certainly not the same as the first animals, especially in terms of emotions.
    Just because we are intermixing so much that no diversification into several species occurs (like that between Chimps and Bonobos), that does not mean we do not evolve or that biology has nothing to say. If Chimps and Bonobos could vote, they would vote (on average and all other things equal and all that) differently. It would be a huge coincidence if they ended up voting the same (plus mere statistical fluctuations) - a coincidence so unexpected, one would need to explain it. With the difference being only biology, the case is basically proven.
    See, I am not saying that much of the conclusions brought forward are not plain self-serving bullshit. But you trample very hard and often, so that it sometimes seems there is some hidden right wing anger you carry against evolution. If social sciences want to be scientific, evolutionary theory must take center stage. Of course, the beginnings of that are primitive and too often "just-so-stories".
     It is up to you to make a distinction at some point.
    Well, no, you tried to make that distinction and I asked the question how you would know.  No biologist would contend, other than philosophical speculation, that how we react to imagery evolved and it guides us into political parties; I agree some are prone to drug addiction just like some are prone to cancer but those are not artificial social constructs.
    "No biologist would contend, other than philosophical speculation, that how we react to imagery evolved and it guides us"
    Reasonable biologists contend precisely this!
    In how far macro-evolution exploits this biological basis in such a way that one could interpret it as overriding the guidance, that is another question. How far you think that you can override the biological guidance (and the culturally evolved constraints that exploit them) via rationality (rather than rationalization) is your own degree of hubris.
    It's obvious there's some sort of genetic defect which causes certain researchers and journalists to purport, without any sense of irony, how other people's beliefs are a result of biology, while their own access to the higher truth is unfettered by anything but reason.

    Do tell, is one's belief in determinism arrived at freely by the choice to reason on evidence alone--a product of your free will-or is it something your body forces you to believe whether or not it's really true or false?

    I'm not sure what your point is; you claim a piece about a flawed study is impacted by my biological makeup?  If someone claims the Moon is made of green cheese and I write about it, is evolutionary psychology making me disbelieve this green cheese business?
    Thanks, Mr. Campbell for your response.

    The point I want to make is very simple. The belief that beliefs are the product of our biology or genetics (i.e., physically determined) is itself a belief. Therefore, a person who claims that a person's beliefs are not the product of their freely choosing to use reason to seek the truth, but are, rather, forced on them by their biology, is claiming that his own belief that beliefs are determined by physiology has nothing to do with the truth per se, but just with what his own physiology forces upon him.

    Any sort of belief-determinism refutes itself because it entails the argument that what the determinist (who himself is a product of his genes) is saying has nothing to do with an independent grasp of reality. The determinist cannot argue that he objectively knows what he is saying is true. He is reduced to saying I have to say I believe in determinism because because my body forces me to do so, whatever the actual facts are. (The deep problem here is a naive materialist reductionism which views beliefs as determined rather than the faculty of consciousness as emergent, but I will just drop that hint rather than write a treatise here and now.) The bottom line is that determinists are treating beliefs as pathological symptoms, not claims with actual truth values.

    Of course you could also make the much weaker argument that only certain people are predisposed by their natures to have certain beliefs, whereas others grasp the truth. But that is tantamount to declaring for the theoreticians some sort of either racialist genetic superiority or Platonic otherworldly insight, either of which sort of elitism is even more discomfiting than just outrightly declaring that you can't help believing in determinism because your body forces you to do so whether or not it's true.

    And all of this leaves aside of course the fact that there is no rigorous scientific (let alone philosophical) definition of conservatism versus liberalism. The only consistent and coherent and self-respecting stand is to accept that functioning adults are moral agents responsible for the validity of their own beliefs.

    This is a 'post-modernism free' zone.
    I am not sure if you are disavowing postmodernism on your part--I haven't accused you of it--and I quite hope you aren't describing my argument as post-modernism. If so, please clarify. Certainly you haven't refuted my points by describing them as such. Again, denials of free will are self-refuting, since they imply that the person denying free will is not doing so of his own free will. That's an application of and validation of reason, not of post-modernism.

    As for evolutionary psychology, the mindset does have some value in explaining to us why certain types of fallacies and misconceptions are common, such as our difficulty dealing with extreme such as the cosmological and quantum-level scales and other unexpected results from game theory. (Humans are apes, and when they don't bother to reason, that can become quite obvious.) The main problem is the notion that certain reasoned beliefs can be attributed to certain reductive biological causes. Consciousness is an emergent property of the brain/body system as a whole. There is no gene for a belief in gun control or the gold standard for any other belief. Genes code for the expression of proteins and brains as a whole are the contexts in which our beliefs arise.

    Let us take for granted the assumption that there is a reductive genetic basis in certain people for a fascination with bunnies or car crashes. If such people choose not to reflect on their tendencies, then they may simply be unreflective people with incoherent belief systems. That doesn't mean coherently argued liberal or conservative positions arise from ignorance congealed over the ages. Rather, some people more than others choose to think hard and long on various issues in science, law, philosophy, mathematics, and so forth. Physical science has no exclusive claim to the use of reason. And is that rigorous thought by people who choose to use self-correcting reason which matters. Yes, certain types of mental defects like schizophrenia may predispose one to certain fallacies like conspiracy theorism. But simply ascribing conservativism or liberalism (again, not even well-defined terms even so far as political scientist are concerned) to genetic tendencies as such is like saying belief in preformationism versus epigeneticism was a matter of the thinker's balance of humors. Rigorous thought is possible in all valid human fields of endeavor, politics no less than genetics or evolutionary psychology.

    My careful prior response above was offered in a generous spirit of explanation, and if I was unclear, or if you actually want to point out any mistake I made in what I said, please do so. In any case I am an Aristotelian, not a Kantian, and my education and interest here has been in biological science and classical philosophy. I hope what I have said is clear and interesting and that you believe I believe it because I have thought long and hard on it and not because I loathe horror movies.

    Gerhard Adam
    Again, denials of free will are self-refuting, since they imply that the person denying free will is not doing so of his own free will.
    Since you brought it up, then what is the "will" "free" of?  Where is the agency by which this freedom is exercised?  It clearly can't be within the brain/mind since that would argue that the brain/mind is "free" of itself. 

    However, it should be clear that you are incapable of exercising any idea or element of "will" that hasn't previously been placed into your brain.  So, what is the basis for asserting that you have the means of operating outside the deterministic operation of your brain?

    NOTE:  Also consider that "free will" is the ultimate act of determinism, since it absolutely requires that you have the ability to "override" your normal intentions.
    There is no gene for a belief in gun control or the gold standard for any other belief.
    Absolutely, but it would be much harder to argue that there isn't a gene that is responsible for something like a "belief system" to begin with, since this would likely be a data organization process. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Yes, that is a very valid question. Will is an emergent faculty at the organism level. And the organism is the body, so, no, freedom of the will cannot be freedom from the body. Volition itself is basically the ability of the higher organism to act when external circumstances are not determinative. Will is a faculty like (or, indeed, of) consciousness whiche exists at different levels in different species. Under the same set of external circumstances, a healthy single celled organism will necessarily move toward or away from certain stimuli. But whether I leap out of bed, to the left or the right, or lay still and stretch, or go back to sleep (at least on weekends) is not mechanistically determined by external circumstances. The evolutionarily psychological reason Buridan's ass does not starve is because he has evolved a primitive form of the faculty we call will.

    The freedom of the will, as opposed to the idea of volition itself, is essentially a moral and psychological concept. We hold someone morally responsible for his choices if he is not coerced by another and his faculty is not disrupted by illness. We do recognize that actions can become pathologies, rather than choices, due to certain types of illnesses that reduce us from functioning agents on a conscious and moral level to malfunctioning machines. And we have to make that distinction. We cannot reduce all actions (belief is a type of action) to pathologies or mere physiology. We cannot say there is no difference between the functioning adult and the insane man or the ignorant child or the demented senior without admitting that our own claim that there is no difference is just as insane or ignorant or demented.

    The temptation to the materialist is to say that the healthy and the ill are all just collections of atoms deterministically whirling about, even though chaos theory and quantum mechanics question that view. And it is especially tempting to prefer reductive materialism to Cartesian body/soul dualism, as if that were the only alternative. But the proper attitude is one of emergence, in which more complex entities, due to the arrangement of their simple parts into certain forms, develop new properties. (See the dean of Evolutionary Biology, Ernst Mayr's What Makes Biology Unique for a detailed scientific discussion of emergence, and commentaries or Aristotle for the importance of the difference between matter and form) The result in our cases is a being whose actions, yes, were made possible by all the prior events which led to his current existence, but the resultant being is more than the sum of its trillions of parts. If someone even then wants to insist that he is not morally responsible for his words or actions or beliefs he can be taken at his word. But there is no scientific reason to deny that we are our bodies, that our bodies do have an evolved, emergent faculty of volition, and that it is vitally meaningful to distinguish between free and non-free action.

    Gerhard Adam
    Unfortunately, there's nothing in your comments that suggests that the "will" is "free" in any meaningful way.  We are directly a product of our chemistry and your idea of "choices" will be governed by those.  This is precisely why we can see a perfectly "normal" person suddenly develop suicidal thoughts when that brain chemistry is altered.  We are undoubtedly familiar with other drugs that directly operate on that brain chemistry and produce all manner of results, none of which could be argued as being "free" of anything.

    The fundamental problem is that we are not "free" to operate outside the bounds by which we have been taught and gained experience.  Depending on the circumstances, we may acquire additional information and modify our options for choices, but we cannot act outside the bounds of who we are as individuals (which is specifically defined by our brains).  It seems that you're bound to the argument for "free will" because of moral responsibility, and yet there shouldn't be any contradiction in being morally responsible despite not having "free will".  After all, the absence of "free will" doesn't default to being an automaton.  It simply means that we are inevitably going to behave according to all of our physical circumstances, up to and including our point of action.

    It is impossible to determine whether any particular act is the result of a "reasoned choice" or insanity.  The insane also presume that they are behaving rationally and invariably have numerous explanations that precisely indicate that their choices are quite well reasoned.  It is nearly impossible to find even anecdotal information that suggests that an individual acted without the slightest idea of where their actions stemmed from.
    The temptation to the materialist is to say that the healthy and the ill are all just collections of atoms deterministically whirling about, even though chaos theory and quantum mechanics question that view.
    But chaos theory and quantum mechanics do not make such claims.  At best they can offer an element of randomness [which has no place in discussions of "free will", since that isn't the trait attributed to its function].  In fact, chaos theory operates precisely on being completely deterministic, albeit unpredictable because of the large number of variables involved.

    In fact, I would argue that what we consider "free will" has little to do with anything beyond making simple choices, which begs the question of "freedom".  After all, making choices simply means "picking" a possibility out of a range of possibilities which already exist in our minds, so once again, it is completely deterministic [although which particular choice is made is likely shielded even from our own assessment]. 

    The point in "free will" isn't to consider whether we have the ability to make choices, but rather whether any particular action we take, could've have occurred otherwise, by some action beyond ourselves in the moment.  In other words, given exactly the same circumstances, physical conditions, brain chemistry, mood, etc.  Could we have chosen to act differently than we did?

    We often presume that we could've acted differently, especially if we feel that we made a poor choice and plan to do better next time, but that is the process of learning or acquiring experience.  It says nothing about our ability to actually have acted differently than we did.

    It is my contention, that the majority of our choices have already been made, well in advance [beyond the trivial] and that we will act and react according to those choices in the moment.  An individual may act violently, only because they've already given themselves "permission" to make that choice.  Another may not, because that simply isn't a choice that they will "permit" themselves to make.  This gets to the very nature of who we are as people, and there's no question that our brain, unequivocally, establishes that [as evidenced by the changes in people that suffer injury].  Therefore, since there is no alternate "us" that can make choices, there is no place for "freedom" to exist in the operation of our minds.  In short, I expect that people are simply conflating complexity of choices with "freedom".
    Mundus vult decipi
    I explained elsewhere on this page that volition (not free will, just will for now) is a psychological (not a physiological, cellular, chemical, atomic or quantun level) concept that validly applies to animals with a certain level of consciousness. (That is important, if you don't distinguish between equally valid but separate levels of explanation, you can stop here.) The faculty of volition allows conscious beings to initiate action when no external stimulus is strong enough to force them to act in only one way. Surely you are familiar with the phenomenon of waking up on a non-work day and facing the choice off whether to get up or sleep later, to wear the red shirt or the blue one? And I hope that you do not feel mechanically or reflexively compelled to always take one action regardless of your thoughts? If you understand me, then you have the concept of volition in the way that I use it.

    As for the freedom of the will, as I explained elsewhere, that is a moral and politico-legal concept, not a chemical or subatomic one. You are your body. Claiming one's actions are not his own because his body did them either means one is a non-material soul trapped in a cage or, as I realized while writing other comments on this page, that one identifies only with the conscious voice that comments after the choice, but not the subconscious that gives rise to that choice. (That's a new idea for me. I identify with both my critical voice and the subconscious and its urges which give rise to it. I don't know what other people think.)

    But in any case, we say a person has chosen when he has decided to act on a thought and think no longer. We hold him morally responsible for the consequences and implications of that choice unless he has either been physically coerced (not acted freely) or he has for some reason lost the faculty of considered choice (become incompetent). What could be more meaningful than to be morally responsible for one's thoughts and actions?

    I assume the concepts of coercion and incompetence are distinct in everyone's mind from the normal situation of acting freely. I don't think the fact that we are bodies makes distinguishing between acts of free will and incompetent or coerced acts incomprehensible or not useful. And I don't understand what purpose an objection that we are not responsible for our acts or arguments because we are subject to the laws of nature serves.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...a healthy single celled organism will necessarily move toward or away from certain stimuli.
    While that's true to a limited degree, the notion of simple stimulus-response behavior isn't complete nor accurate.  In the first place, we also respond in that fashion, although we may have significantly more input sources, it is simply an irrelevant comparison.

    Consider that single-celled organisms [i.e. bacteria] are capable of sensing each other as well as others of different species.  They are capable of directing their behavior based on population density [quorum sensing].  In addition, they are capable of exhibiting cannabilistic behavior, cooperative behavior, and aggressive behavior, depending on the circumstances in which they exist.  Even the concept of cancer in multi-cellular organisms hinges on the behavior of individual cells that no longer elect to "cooperate".

    It isn't sufficient to argue that this is different because they are only responding to various chemical cues and can't possibly understand the basis for their actions, and yet how would you differentiate the chemical cues, sensory stimulus in "higher" organisms?  Certainly there's greater complexity involved, but when would a transition occur between responding to stimulus and some "higher" order response?  What higher order response could even be postulated?  What behavior is NOT in response to some stimulus?
    Mundus vult decipi
    The determinist cannot argue that he objectively knows what he is saying is true.
    Nonsense. Even if strict physical determinism were proven, it would be determined to be proven at some point. You claim that the way to invert this is not "If determinism is unprovable but true then ..." or "If determinism is disproved, it may not necessarily have been figured out" but instead "If determinism is not true, there still could exist a prove for determinism", which is obviously wrong.
    Thanks, Sascha, but rather than say "nonsense", I will try to clarify.

    First, you would have to explain to me exactly what you mean by determinism. Again, I am not denying that we are our bodies, that our consciousnesses are the harmonic relationship between our bodies and their environments by which we apprehend the world's form, or that our bodies are physical.

    What I am saying is that naively reductionist notions of causation have little explanatory value when they ignore emergent properties such as the membrane-bound metabolic life of the cell, which cannot be reduced to descriptions of atoms as such, but must refer to the cell's structure, which is independent of any specific unit, or of the transmission of neural signals which can be for all intents and purposes be identical in effect whether the end result is a signal passing between two neurons or three. There are all sorts of levels of deterministic and emergent causation in an entity as structurally complex as the brain, and the levels cannot be conflated or all the causes reduced.

    For an analogy, in case you aren't familiar with emergence, think that whether your car gets repossessed because the electronic payment you made was lost due to a server outage, or because the check-carrying envelope burned in a fire at the rail station, or because the drunken postal carrier threw the sack containing your express mail package in the river, the end effect is the same. They tow your car, even though the mediate physical causes; an EMP attack, a train wreck, and drowning are all entirely different on the physical level, and molecular explanations as to why your car got towed are entirely irrelevant. Yes, there is always some physical underlying event. But the relation between the underlying physics and the emergent level higher events is non-reducible. For more on the topic see

    As for your notion of determinism being proved at some point, the claim could not make itself known or be proven out of context. Someone would have to be making the claim. He could not claim special privilege for that claim. He could not claim his statement was immune to questioning.

    Det, "I have proven determinism to be true!"
    Phil. "Are you saying that because you believe it, or because you have to?"
    Det. "I am saying it because it is true."
    Phil. "Well, rather than ask you why you say that, and whether everything you say is true, would you say the same thing if it were false but your body forced you to?"
    Det. "But it's not false."
    Phil. "Are you sure you aren't just being tricked into that belief because you body is forcing you to?"
    Det. "Look, I put a lot of hard work and effort into this. I considered all the facts I could find, looked at all the counter-evidence and counter-arguments, and took every responsible step, and that is why I can say with confidence that my conclusion is correct."
    Phil. "Not because you are forced to say it whatever its truth?"
    Det. ...

    Gerhard Adam
    What is with your use of the word "forced"?  It creates an artificial condition that we already know isn't true. 

    Are you "forced" to see only visible light?  Are you "forced" to move in only 3 physical dimensions?  Why not simply argue that "free will" is real because we are "forced" to that conclusion by our biology?  It's a false argument, since you're presuming that an individual is capable of objectively overcoming their own delusions. 

    However, this is precisely why we have a scientific method, because we are "forced" to respond to our bias' and preconceived notions.  We are perpetually influenced by all manner of mental processes that we cannot "turn off".

    Since we know that this mental condition exists, but we also recognize that we are capable of obtaining information from our environment that is "objectively" correct, then we must conclude that we are capable of "proving" determinism just as readily as we can "prove" anything else to exist.  By extending the data and results beyond a single individual and accounting for repetition of results, we can be more confident that we have uncovered an "objective" statement about the world and how it operates.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I am simply using a word, forced, which has different senses in different contexts. Physically, to be subject to a force is to be acted on by some outside influence that causes a change of velocity. Mechanically, to be forced is to be compelled to move in a certain direction by another body, like a wall, or a predator. Psychologically, to be forced, is to be compelled by some uncontrollable abnormal compulsion. Criminally, to be forced is to be threatened with violence or harm. I doubt any of these senses is unclear to you, or indistinguishable from the equivocal example you give of being "forced" to obey physical laws. None of this or the fact that physical laws are physical laws has anything to do with showing that the concepts of volition and free will as I have explained them are incoherent. If you find me unclear, do ask, but otherwise I think my points are clear.

    Gerhard Adam
    Therefore, a person who claims that a person's beliefs are not the product of their freely choosing to use reason to seek the truth, but are, rather, forced on them by their biology, is claiming that his own belief that beliefs are determined by physiology has nothing to do with the truth per se, but just with what his own physiology forces upon him.
    While I certainly won't go for the biological explanation [regarding a specific belief value], I'm not sure where you came up with the rest of this.  Overwhelmingly, beliefs are formed through learning and not "reason".   However, biology is clearly involved with respect to what a "normal" brain is, since it is obvious how pliable the "truth" is when there is a defect.  In that respect, people are very much forced by their physiology/biology in determining what their brain sees, how it interprets the data, and how they respond to it. 

    Consequently, since we can clearly see this effect in studying defects, it is difficult to argue that such effects don't also govern what we consider to be "reasoned" conclusions.  I don't think there's any question that specific beliefs aren't shaped by biology, if for no other reason in that they aren't persistent enough to have a selective influence. 

    Also your use of the term "truth" is dubious, since that suggests some objective definition which argues that it can be arrived at by reason.  This clearly isn't the case, since we can only assign the "truth" to the results returned by our brain [errors and all], and consequently the only reasonable way to employ a term like "truth" is in claiming that the results are not deceptive.  Any claims beyond that are simply fanciful and speculative.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, by reason I do mean conscious learning actively engaged in, especially self-critically, and of course based on observation, and not just formal use of say, deductive logic. And I cannot deny that many people do hold incoherent beliefs unreasonably maintained.

    As for saying we are forced by our brains to think in a certain way, again, we are our brains (and bodies, in their circumstances) and our brains can do things because of their complex forms that atoms on the atomic level cannot do. So we simply can't treat properties of the brain as a whole like being momentarily confused, exactly the same as properties of the atoms of the brain such as its mass or average temperature.

    I think the best way to get my point would be for me to ask did you just make to me a reasoned argument whose truth you believe in because you are actively trying to relate to reality and communicate with me, or did you just write those words because you have certain genes and couldn't help but do so? I assume you will answer the former. and that most conservatives and liberals would also.

    Gerhard Adam
    ...did you just make to me a reasoned argument whose truth you believe in because you are actively trying to relate to reality and communicate with me, or did you just write those words because you have certain genes and couldn't help but do so?
    Your question doesn't make sense.  How can I believe something that isn't part of the way my brain is organized, which is a result of my genes?  In addition, the content of my brain is a result of my experience, education, etc.  So, the more interesting question, is whether given my history and genetics, whether I could've answered differently than I did.  My point is that, I had little choice in the matter, since my entire biological, behavioral, and cultural history has resulted in the individual that I am. 

    In other words, reading your post is similar to the bacteria feeling some stimulus that results in motion.  It will elicit a response and reaction from me, which based on my entire history will determine whether [and how] I responded or not.  

    Consider when you read my response.  Are you able to control your thoughts or reactions?  Do you find your brain simply pursuing a line of reasoning or arguments without your having initiated them?  Do you feel compelled to respond?  If you try to avoid your general reaction, how do you feel about it?

    The specific words we use don't matter, because they will be a product of our collective history and be placed according to our own reactions.  However, the fact that you would read the post, formulate a response, and wait for a reaction .... those are going to be determined by your behavior, which is going to have a genetic component to it.

     [NOTE: I'm not suggesting an automaton, nor am I suggesting that genetics is destiny]
    Mundus vult decipi
    "Consider when you read my response. Are you able to control your thoughts or reactions? Do you find your brain simply pursuing a line of reasoning or arguments without your having initiated them? Do you feel compelled to respond? If you try to avoid your general reaction, how do you feel about it?"

    Well, yes, I am my body (it does not force some other "me" to do anything) and I do have a choice. That doesn't mean my conscious awareness knows what ideas it is going to have before it has them. It is logically impossible for me to decide what to do before I have decided what to do, so the ability to control your thoughts or reactions before you have them is a false one. Rather, your subconscious will come up with various ideas which will be presented to the conscious and the subconscious will settle on one of those ideas or vacillate further. This ability to summon ideas to the conscious mind and then choose between them is the faculty of volition. (Does anyone deny such a faculty exists?) It requires conscious awareness. Bacteria don't have that faculty, and to equivocate between bacteria and humans on that behavioral level stops all discussion.

    In the specific case of your quoted question above, I thought first of not responding at all, then of saying only "I choose not to respond," and then of answering what I think are your points of difficulty with me, because that would be most enjoyable. That final choice presumably happened because a self-enforcing network of neurons sent out a signal which overpowered the other local networks (saying "don't respond" or "just say you chose not to respond") and some higher-level neural feedback activity caused me to become conscious I had made a choice. That is still all me, of course. I do not deny that I am both the subconscious that speaks and the conscious that hears the thoughts it generates. It was I who decided. It is just surprising when we realize that phenomenologically our ideas seem to come out of nowhere, or at best from that nagging spot on the tip of our brain.

    A reductive description of that what went on in those competing brain networks would include some neurons that were essential, and some that weren't. A full description of the inadvertently firing neurons not essential to the feedback would be reductively, but not causally relevant in the choice. Likewise, whether one of those neurons fired because 10,000 neurotransmitter molecules or 20,000 neurotransmitter molecules were uptaken, the neural cause would be identical, while the reductive description would be quite different at the level of the mass of the atoms involved. Likewise, lets say that without the stimulation of the X receptor by the Z transmitter, certain types of emotions can't be felt. You lack the X receptor gene, and I lack the Z transmitter gene. So perhaps neither of us can get the emotional thrill of sand through our toes. You, therefore, never enjoy the beach and die a pale old codger, but I like surf fishing, and spend my weekends on the beach anyway, to die of skin cancer. Which of us had the gene for skin-cancer and who was genetically determined to avoid sunshine?

    Can any of this meaningfully be reduced to mass and velocity and nothing but mass and velocity? Determinism isn't determinism in any morally meaningful sense if it rules out reductive explanations and requires an entire life history. Frankly, I am not sure where the concept serves any purpose except to explain generally discarded theories of classical physics and in the strategies of certain defense attorneys..

    To make myself clear from the other direction, I do think that certain very basic sensory level experiences have relevant genetic explanations. That someone might have a sweet tooth or find broccoli bitter, or alcohol palatable or prefer the smell of one sex over the other can have huge life-changing implications for things like nutrition, alcoholism, sexual preference. But how that plays out in development depends on our choices, whether we settle for convenient options or continue to think of better alternatives.

    But whom I myself will vote for in November will be determined by all too many hours of agonizing thought based on years of debate and reading and a set of principles I hold dear and the information I can gather, and not whether I have a gene for reading spy-thrillers. At some point I will have decided that I have thought enough, (as I have polished this response enough) and will hold myself, not my genes, responsible.

    Gerhard Adam
    There's no dispute regarding the political choices one makes, nor the particular philosophy you might live your life by.  I would certainly agree that there is no simplistic physical/biological root cause that can be explained by something like genetics.

    I would also agree that from an evolutionary psychological perspective, it is likely that higher order recognition of stimulus occurs, but that specific responses are affected by behavioral and cultural influences more than simple genetics. 
    It requires conscious awareness. Bacteria don't have that faculty...
    It was never suggested that bacteria did have that function, but you'd be hard pressed to argue that comparing individual bacteria with individual neurons isn't appropriate.  In the same way that a collection of neurons can give rise to a brain, so can a colony of bacteria result in behavior much more sophisticated than that of the singular organism.

    I'm not trying to argue that they are the same thing, because clearly the brain has a much higher degree of organization and you would refer to that as the emergent properties of that organization which distinguishes our collection of neurons from the bacterial colony. 

    However, I raise the point, because life is ultimately a continuum in that respect, where colonies give rise to multicellular organisms [which are also ultimately colonies] which result in the unique organization that gives rise to our consciousness.  I do recognize that an emergent property can produce results that are greater than the simple sum of their parts.  However, we cannot argue that the individual components operate any differently, except in a fully deterministic manner.  Therefore, the original point regarding "free will" is automatically suspect because there is nothing in that continuum that suddenly causes a transition of operation.

    Personally, I suspect that these boundary conditions are similar to the non-life to life issues that surround the origin of life questions, just as the emergency of consciousness is a result of routine behaviors resulting in a more complex result.  In fact, we can readily see this in the human society which achieves far greater results than could ever be achieved by an individual human.  There's no doubt that such emergent properties occur.

    To come full circle, my point is that just as non-life processes give rise to life, so does neural complexity give rise to consciousness.  However, there is no basis for asserting that it is ever anything except deterministic.  Therefore, we can lay no claim to "freedom" regarding those processes.  However, to reiterate your point .... they are not simplistic enough to relate to something as trivial as political affiliation.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Slightly off-topic (But, right up Hank's alley)The New Yorker: Republicans vs. Science: Ranking the Candidates

    Yeah, it's 2006 all over again.  And 2008. And 2010.  The mainstream media ignores all the kooky left-wing anti-science yet trots out these articles annually.  Scientific American just did basically the same piece.  I mean literally the same piece, just by a different - and uber-progressive - journalist. Clearly, Cargo Cult Science Journalism needs to be written more than another article lamenting that some Republicans supported restricted funding for hESC research way back in the day - which Obama still does now - yet they make it seem like current news.  Will any if them bring up old news like Obama claiming vaccines cause autism and make it sound current?  I bet not.
    And where do us liberty-minded individuals fall on this supposed spectrum of fear vs feel? Stories like this make me roll my eyes. People are individuals with a complicated matrix of thoughts, opinions, experiences, preferences that are changing every day. Putting people into nice little classes that happen to coincide with the historical artifact that Americans in 2012 call "liberal" and "conservative" says more about the false choice of politics than it does biology. And how strong are these differences that reach statistical significance...10 percent? 200-fold different? And could it not be said that the fear of more thalidomide babies driving "liberals" to push more and more for destructive FDA regulations is a "fear"? This notion that fear is monopolized on one side is simply arbitrary. Excuse my libertarian preaching, but I would love to see a study of why it is that "liberals" and "conservatives" insist on using the threat of violence to manipulate people to do what they want...THAT'S fear

    I agree.  And nice to hear from one of the 10 non-progressive scientists in academia.  Left/right-wing, and even quadrants are archaic boxes people invent to feel like they have numbers on their side but invoking fear and demonizing the other side are as old as time.  Oddly, evolutionary psychologists never bother to try and study that.  If it can't be solved by surveying college students and making it about sex, they pretty much stay away from the topic.
    Evolutionary psychology can be a fun exercise, especially in the classroom setting, but that's about as far as it goes for me...a fun exercise. I have actually been curious about political viewpoint from a historical/evolutionary viewpoint. Did Frederic Bastiat carry a "liberty" trait that was a part of a genetic phenomenon brewing in Europe? Again, a fun intellectual game, but nothing not much more.

    idiot. of course there are reasons why we do what we do. the only problem with the various explanations is not that they may be false or incomplete, but that they become exuses. get real.

    I always counsel people in conflicts that feelings are never facts - even when they conform to your repeated experiences. Subjectively all feelings are important. Facts similarly are only persuasive when the mind is relatively calm and unbiased. Neuroscience indicates that anxiety disrupts the neural pathways required for learning and retention. All humans are the same in this regard, although we have highly conditioned responses to the same stimuli as the authors suggest. "The truth maketh a bloody entrance," as the poet says.

    without any sense of irony, how other people's beliefs are a result of biology, while their own access to the higher truth is unfettered by anything but reason. ...

    The Scientist at Work - Discovering the God gene.mp4