Posts Tagged ‘darwin’

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On Animal Morality

September 4, 2013

Kindness and patience seem to have a clear moral dimension. They are forms of what we might call ‘concern’ — emotional states that have as their focus the wellbeing of another — and concern for the welfare of others lies at the heart of morality. If Nina and Tess were concerned for the welfare of my son then, perhaps, they were acting morally: their behaviour had, at least in part, a moral motivation. And so, in those foggy, sleepless nights of early fatherhood, a puzzle was born inside of me, one that has been gnawing away at me ever since. If there is one thing on which most philosophers and scientists have always been in agreement it is the subject of human moral exceptionalism: humans, and humans alone, are capable of acting morally. Yet, this didn’t seem to tally with the way I came to think of Nina and Tess.

Many scientists (and more than a few philosophers) would have no hesitation in accusing perhaps several billion people of such delusional anthropomorphism. A growing number of animal scientists, however, are going over to the dark side, and at least flirting with the idea that animals can act morally. In his book Primates and Philosophers (2006), the Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal has argued that animals are at least capable of proto-moral behaviour: they possess the rudiments of morality even if they are not moral beings in precisely the way that we are. This was, in fact, Charles Darwin’s view, as developed in The Descent of Man. In a similar vein, the American biologist Marc Bekoff has being arguing for years that animals can act morally, and his book Wild Justice (2009) provides a useful summary of the evidence for this claim. Perhaps scientists such as Darwin, de Waal and Bekoff are also guilty of anthropomorphism? The evidence, however, would suggest otherwise.

Excerpt from an article written by Mark Rowlands at AEON. Read it THERE

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Did Humans Invent Music?

May 1, 2012

Did Neanderthals sing? Is there a “music gene”? Two scientists debate whether our capacity to make and enjoy songs comes from biological evolution or from the advent of civilization.

Music is everywhere, but it remains an evolutionary enigma. In recent years, archaeologists have dug up prehistoric instruments, neuroscientists have uncovered brain areas that are involved in improvisation, and geneticists have identified genes that might help in the learning of music. Yet basic questions persist: Is music a deep biological adaptation in its own right, or is it a cultural invention based mostly on our other capacities for language, learning, and emotion? And if music is an adaptation, did it really evolve to promote mating success as Darwin thought, or other for benefits such as group cooperation or mother-infant bonding?

Excerpt of an article written by Gary Marcus and Geoffrey Miller, at The Atlantic. Continue HERE

Image above: A neanderthal instrument. A 40,000 year old flute at Divje Babe, Slovenia. Via Glen Morton.

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BRAINTRUST: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality

December 30, 2011

BRAINTRUST: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. Patricia S. Churchland. xii + 273 pp. Princeton University Press, 2011.

Robert J. Richards at American Scientis: In Braintrust, Patricia Churchland, a philosopher at the University of California at San Diego, seems intent on advancing a project comparable to Darwin’s through the application of the most recent science, as the subtitle of her book suggests: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality. Readers may, however, decide instead to stick with that old-time evolution.

Churchland does not think that moral behavior can be reduced to any special kind of activity, as Darwin believed; rather, in her view, the term “moral” hovers over a variety of social behaviors, behaviors that might attract the same term but vary considerably across different cultures and individuals. Such behaviors, she argues, are not usually governed or motivated by explicit rules but are constituted by habits and emotionally guided decisions. She seeks to understand those habits and emotionally fed values as consequences of our neurobiology. She thus undertakes in several chapters to lay out the terrain of the brain, its regions and functions, and the kinds of hormones important for fertilizing the flowering of social relationships.

Churchland investigates other neurological features that might plausibly be offered as part of the scaffolding of moral behavior. She considers, for example, the possibility that there is an innate and heritable impulse to behave morally (Darwin’s view) and the hypothesis that moral behavior is grounded in mirror neurons, so that we might effortlessly imitate empathetic behaviors. Churchland chips away at these as possible neural structures for moral behavior. For instance, she attempts to undermine the concept of innate behavior generally by requiring a specification of the relevant genes and their relation to brain circuitry—a criterion beyond reach even for highly heritable traits, such as height. Indeed, by that criterion Darwin’s general theory of heritable adaptations, for which he had no reliable genetic foundation, would be but a passing fancy for the delectation of Intelligent Designers. Continue review HERE