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← Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence

Jonathan Haidt: Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence - Comments

mgjinich's Avatar Comment 1 by mgjinich

I would love to read Richard's opinion.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 03:07:56 UTC | #928815

canadian_right's Avatar Comment 2 by canadian_right

I agree that taking part in your community is important. While I'm not the sort to ever have an out of body experience, I do enjoy being part of a community that is working for more than just my own self interest, but is working towards improving society in general.I also feel it is important to not impose what I think is best on others, but only help by education, and only "help" directly when I'm invited to.

There is nothing more dangerous than a man that knows the truth.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 05:16:26 UTC | #928823

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 3 by Michael Gray

There is nothing more dangerous than a man that knows the truth.

Is that a fact?!

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 06:04:32 UTC | #928832

William T. Dawkins's Avatar Comment 4 by William T. Dawkins

Re: "Modern secular society was built to satisfy our lower profane selves."

I consider a secular society based on reality to a great extent, to be more noble and virtuously elevated than any grounded on supernatural myth.

The secular "Stairway To Heaven" is a symphony of actuality.

William

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 06:53:26 UTC | #928846

This Is Not A Meme's Avatar Comment 5 by This Is Not A Meme

If we accept the premise of Group Selection, could suicide bombers be an example of Kin Selection?

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 06:57:06 UTC | #928847

JuJu's Avatar Comment 6 by JuJu

I couldn't listen to the whole thing. I've heard nothin' but rubbish so far. "Self transcendence takes you from the profane level to the next sacred level" Dude, that's way out there.

Am I the only one that hasn't experienced my inner self melting away? This guy makes it sound like a normal everyday human experience. I must be defective, because I don't self transcend nor have I ever felt myself melt away.

Most of what he says is built off a false premise. What follows is a gauntlet of logical fallacies attempting to tie his magical thinking to reality.

Seemed like a lot of people raised their hands on the spiritual question though. Mine would have stayed down.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 07:05:51 UTC | #928853

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 7 by Stafford Gordon

Comment 1: mgjinich.

"I would love to read Richard's opinion."

My first thought; is group selection back in the frame?

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 07:38:34 UTC | #928857

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 8 by phil rimmer

This looks like a real low for Haidt. His evidence is of the weakest kind, the logical linkage sometimes non existent and the emotional volume is turned up to max to drown out the glaring deficits. There is a narrative that looks a little like this one that observes that co-operation was once mediated mostly by religion that allowed a substantially coercive co-operation. Shamans endorsed the tribal chief's power by proxy from the spooky invisible super chiefs of life and death. But these are the smart exploiters evolved into the most effective exploiting position.

Metaphors of religion without the ever present fact of religious leaders are woefully incomplete. The worm is in the rosebud right from the start.

The "transcendence" invoked at the start can now be seen as one of the the levers exploited by those leaders, part of their justifying spiel. It is unconnected to group behaviours else. It becomes the proof of the shamans' own insightful powers.

Co-operation has evolved though from absolute mind control dogma to the slightly lesser cultural then political dogmas and thence via enlightened reasoned evidence to the starting of something genuinely co-operative with a potential for fairness and co-equality throughout the groups.

This is the typical failing of social science, a just-so story offered as proof of humans as fixed in their natures. A dismally parochial (21st century American-centric) offering.

(And I speak as a fan of some of his earlier work...)

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 08:28:49 UTC | #928867

Metamag's Avatar Comment 9 by Metamag

Comment 6 by JuJu :

Seemed like a lot of people raised their hands on the spiritual question though. Mine would have stayed down.

I still don't know what that means, not grumpy perhaps?

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 08:39:00 UTC | #928868

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 10 by phil rimmer

Spiritual means going "Whoa!" on a mountaintop and "Ahhhhh!!" at the prettier sleeping babies and not saying much for a bit afterwards.

Haidt's staircase experiences are those occasions, common amongst schizophrenics and mushroom eaters where a mass of formerly un made associations are made. Most of the population have these fun schizoid events once or twice in their lives. The schizophrenic brain is hypothesised to have a deficiency of the usual linkages (at least temporary non access to them- schizophrenics can lose a lot of cultural and personal knowledge during "bouts"). The brain then appears to compensate, filling in with new wild and grand explanations. (Sometimes the invisible is all that is to hand.) A "bit schizo" can be a very creative mode when couched in a stable mostly non-schizo society. That may be why its there.

So, a bit schizo breaks down earlier knowledge to let new and potentially better solutions evolve. Mirror neurons in super abundance make the rest copy them faithully until the next useful breakdown.

So many interesting hypotheses he could have pursued....

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 08:53:37 UTC | #928874

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 11 by Richard Dawkins

Comment 7 by Stafford Gordon :

Comment 1: mgjinich.

"I would love to read Richard's opinion."

My first thought; is group selection back in the frame?

What a maddening, infuriating, enraging talk, a talk as badly misguided as it is well delivered (albeit with a style of slick, adman showmanship that rubs me personally up the wrong way). I have to go and catch a plane, so no time to spell it out. But, briefly:-

  1. No, group selection is not back in the frame. E.O.Wilson, for all his merits, has never understood kin selection. Even in 1975, in Sociobiology he was treating kin selection as a kind of group selection, which it utterly is not. Maynard Smith coined the phrase 'kin selection' precisely in order to distinguish it from group selection.

  2. The social insects work entirely by kin selection. The theory is well-worked out and it works. Sterile workers contain copies of genes that are also in reproductives. The worker phenotypes are driven by those genes to work for their copies in reproductives.

  3. Mitochondria and other 'membrane-bound' examples. As I have spelled out at great length in numerous places (e.g. The Extended Phenotype, The Selfish Gene, Unweaving the Rainbow) the key here is that groups of genes who share the same exit route from the present vehicle into the future have common interests and work together. My earliest attempt to explain this actually made use of exactly the same metaphor of rowing crews (developed at some length in two places in The Selfish Gene).

  4. It is true that Darwin, in The Descent of Man, did uncharacteristically resort to a form of group selectionism for the particular example of humans. But I suspect that if Darwin had known of the later work of men such as Hamilton, Trivers and Maynard Smith, he would not have done so. The only good part of Haidt's talk, where he evokes the group solidarity of humans, for example in warfare, is beautifully explained in non group selectionist terms. For example, kin selection using 'fictive kin'. Consider the lengths to which military and paramilitary units go to foster notions of 'brotherhood'. Look it up in Andy Thomson's excellent book.

Got to rush, sorry

Richard

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 09:16:21 UTC | #928880

peter mayhew's Avatar Comment 12 by peter mayhew

There is no need to use the misleading term "group selection" here, and the speaker knows this and in fact backs off from it. Everything here can be explained by gene selection, and the man who coined the term "Major transitions in evolution", John Maynard Smith, would certainly take that view. Far from group selection being about to make a major comeback, people will simply re-discover why it's never been convincingly argued or demonstrated.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 09:34:11 UTC | #928884

Metamag's Avatar Comment 13 by Metamag

Lol, I had a suspicion this talk is bullshit, although mainly because he is a psychologist and they tend to overlook and misunderstand hard sciences, just last month Jerry Coyne blogged about this bullshitty group selection.

But what I'm wondering is why is this

Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

even asked as some kind of profound question, is it not quite banal and has been discussed and answered on this very site many times?

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 10:12:45 UTC | #928892

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 14 by AtheistEgbert

It is a mistake to think that all human behaviour must be driven by evolutionary or genetic factors. It is simply mathematics that a group will probably do better than an individual when it comes to survival, you don't need genes for that.

It is also a mistake to think that morality means being unselfish. A suicide bomber unselfishly blows themselves up for the group and kills another group. Is that moral? No. The very opposite.

However, group mentality does explain religion very well. People do lose their sense of identity when in a group, and it is this fragile sense of identity that explains why people do evil things for the group.

Of course there are individualistic forms of evil too; there are many evils, but group mentality gives rise to the worst evils of all.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 11:31:43 UTC | #928906

Jonathan Haidt's Avatar Comment 15 by Jonathan Haidt

Richard, and others:

We can't work out our disagreements based on what I said in a TED talk. That's 18 minutes with no footnotes and a mandate to make novel ideas accessible to a broad audience. The debate that I look forward to having with you is over whether the situation has materially changed since you wrote The Selfish Gene, which completely convinced me when I was in college that group selection was rubbish.

In chapter 9 of The Righteous Mind I describe four pieces of new evidence -- four findings or new perspectives that make the case must stronger than it appeared in the 1970s: 1) major transitions theory, extended out to human cultures as a transition 2) shared intentionality (work by Michael Tomasello) 3) Gene-Culture co-evolution (Boyd and Richerson) 4) Genetic evolution is much much faster than we thought 30 years ago

I do not believe the case is proved either way, but I think multi-level selection is "back in the frame," at very least, and it is time for a broader discussion of it -- one conducted with curiosity, not anger.

For those of you who don't want to buy my book, just email me and I'll send you chapter 9.

jon haidt haidt at virginia dot edu

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 12:08:27 UTC | #928915

EtotheiPi's Avatar Comment 16 by EtotheiPi

"I mean, these things sound trite...". Because they are!

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 12:09:53 UTC | #928916

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 17 by Peter Grant

Aside from it being wrong, I also find the idea of seeking self-transcendence in terms of group selection slightly nauseating.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 13:35:54 UTC | #928930

helena!'s Avatar Comment 18 by helena!

Social scientist? I'd say rename that to be the new spiritualists.

All I got was got from this mushy thinking is that delusion feels good.

I prefer an honest relationship with reality. Nothing beats it.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 14:49:21 UTC | #928961

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 19 by Peter Grant

Watching this video reminded me why I so dislike the term. You say group selection, but I hear genocide.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 15:29:52 UTC | #928980

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 20 by MilitantNonStampCollector

Seems like new age wishy washy woo woo mixed up with well established hard science to give the illusion of credibility.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 15:53:29 UTC | #928986

YHWH's Avatar Comment 21 by YHWH

I got as far as it being difficult to think about something abstract without a good concrete metaphor.

Jonathan Haidt clearly suffers from an irony deficiency.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 16:27:15 UTC | #928997

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 22 by aquilacane

I read self-transcendence in the title and figured it for hippie, feelings, spirit bullshit. They're called chemicals.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 16:38:51 UTC | #929001

AULhall's Avatar Comment 23 by AULhall

Comment 15 by Jonathan Haidt :

I do not believe the case is proved either way, but I think multi-level selection is "back in the frame," at very least, and it is time for a broader discussion of it -- one conducted with curiosity, not anger.

Should not one find it intellectually dishonest to give a TED talk about a subject without mentioning these possible points of contention? You cite a lack of time and an appeal to a broader audience as reasons to condense your argument, which is understandable, but the end result seemed to me to convey a level of certainty that you are now not willing to get behind.

To a certain percentage of people, such self-assurance will be reason enough to accept your conclusions without doing further research. Do you not find that to be disconcerting?

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 17:20:11 UTC | #929021

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 24 by crookedshoes

Jonathan commenting here is very ballsy. Welcome to the discussion, hopefully it is productive. I have read the Selfish Gene but have not read The Righteous Mind. I'll reserve further comment until I have read it.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 17:36:56 UTC | #929028

JuJu's Avatar Comment 25 by JuJu

Comment 15 by Jonathan Haidt

I do not believe the case is proved either way, but I think multi-level selection is "back in the frame," at very least, and it is time for a broader discussion of it -- one conducted with curiosity, not anger.

There you go, make it seem like natural selection is considered one dimensional (which it isn't) and because of that false premise you've decided that your ideas should should be discussed. Its all been hashed out in many, many books. Its was written about and analyzed because of curiosity and a desire to understand the natural world. Nobody here is angry, most of us have read about this subject and came to our conclusions through broader discussions. It's not like we all plug out ears and go la la la when the subject comes up.

For those of you who don't want to buy my book, just email me and I'll send you chapter 9

I listened to most of your talk, and if your book is anything like your talk then I feel as if I would be wasting my time. Some of your thoughts are Deepak Chopra like crazy. No thanks.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 18:09:16 UTC | #929040

Chad_Is_Rad's Avatar Comment 26 by Chad_Is_Rad

I'm no scientist, so maybe I'm not getting caught up in the specific nomenclatures that some of you are, but I fail to see the controversy here?

I understand that some of you are emphasizing the semantics of "group selection" vs kin selection, natural selection, group dynamics, etc .... but again, why so "militant"? {that last part was a joke}

But seriously, I didn't see much wrong with this talk, at least from a laymen's perspective. But maybe that's my problem?

At any rate, here are the main points that I took away from his talk. Please let me know how I'm mistaken.

1.) Everyone is "spiritual" in some form or another. This has absolutely nothing to do with actual "spirits" or gods, but everything to do with the simple fact that the human condition and self-transcendence are intertwined and overlapping. The very aspect of "being human" influences our ability to have numinous, transcendental experiences.

2.) Group dynamics are a major influencer on our social constructs, and help dictate which traditions and/or societal norms we gravitate toward.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 19:20:30 UTC | #929061

Sanpete's Avatar Comment 27 by Sanpete

It's not like we all plug out ears and go la la la when the subject comes up.

For those of you who don't want to buy my book, just email me and I'll send you chapter 9

I listened to most of your talk, and if your book is anything like your talk then I feel as if I would be wasting my time. Some of your thoughts are Deepak Chopra like crazy. No thanks.


Not all plug their ears, but some do. It's a fair inference from Jon's comment that the book cannot be judged by the talk, a point I can attest to. Most of the comments so far are based on misunderstanding. The book won't run to the tastes of those who are more engaged in preserving their views than challenging them, but it's full of interesting ideas and evidence, even if it's largely speculative at this stage.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 19:40:10 UTC | #929068

Donald's Avatar Comment 28 by Donald

I liked Jonathan's talk.

The dispute over "group selection" has intrigued me since I encountered it.

No-one disputes that living in groups can be beneficial, and I think everyone agrees that:

Evolution is the differential survival of competing genes.

Natural selection is the differential selection of individuals to contribute genes into the future.

Also:

The reproductive success of genes is the product of the success of the individual and the success of the group.

So I'm not sure why there is so much antagonism to the term "group selection".

If groups have differing success at propagating the genes within them, why can't we call that "group selection"?

Is it merely terminology? Is it fear that someone will mis-read the term as meaning that groups replicate?

I don't think it is merely terminology. I think it is an attempt to ward off claims that groups can explain altruism. And Jonathan seems to me to be hinting that they can explain some kinds of altruism. I look forward to reading his Chapter 9.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 21:31:26 UTC | #929100

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 29 by Peter Grant

A lot of people seem to think that "group selection" refers to something like peer pressure. It doesn't, it refers to selection between groups i.e. entire populations getting wiped out.

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 22:44:37 UTC | #929112

alaskansee's Avatar Comment 30 by alaskansee

@ canadian_right

Did you enjoy the little Canadian church at 2:35? It's the McDougal Memorial Church, just down the road from me. McDougal die a year later during a buffalo hunt. It was built in 1875 and is of "Carpenter Gothic" style.

There's not much history round here and I do miss the great cathedrals, style wise.

Sorry Jonathon

I didn't like the "who here is spiritual" question. Just what does it mean? But I would like to echo crookedshoes, thanks for coming!

Tue, 20 Mar 2012 23:32:22 UTC | #929122